Tag Archives: Non-fiction

[Judge Perd is not a judge.]

3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.

One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review, Writing

One thing I know will stay true for the next four years: Guinea pigs will still be cute.

63. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson

Last year ended for me under a dark cloud, this year started under one, and frankly I’ve been debating a lot about what to say or to post this year. I was tempted to just cover nothing but horror novels, and they might heavily feature in my posts, but I have a hard time with that because it isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be to find horror novels by female authors that appeal to me and I like to try to be balanced in my review coverage, especially when things don’t appear to be getting any easier for so many people. We are living in a time when people think feelings matter more than facts, being reactionary is somehow applauded, and being an elected official is losing its true focus – public service – when it comes to the highest office in the U.S. because of endless tweets and indignities. When your brain already tries to trick you into thinking nothing is going to get better, it just doesn’t help to watch someone light the match to make the world burn. It’s a lot to fight against both internally and externally.

However, I also appreciate a little escapism as much as the next person who can’t believe this is reality and that’s a little bit of what I’ve been providing content-wise here for several years. So, now I’ll let you gentle readers in on another little cloud that prevented me from posting – Miss Peregrine, queen to my herd, made it clear that she had ovarian cysts and had to be spayed; her surgery took place one week ago. I have never lost a pig to surgery and I know that’s unusual because I’ve had about sixteen pigs all together and several have had surgeries. Every time I’ve noticed and researched symptoms that would lead to surgery I’ve seen accounts of people who have lost their pigs that way. I also lost Danger Crumples last January, so January and anesthesia and I are not necessarily on non-terrified terms. Peregrine made it through, I’ve spent a lot of time hand feeding and staring at her and asking her to tell me how she feels to very little interpretable response, and she is doing well now.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn't need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn’t need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

To bring in a book, as would be tradition, I read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson two years ago, but it surely will be helpful to people now and in the dim future. One of Lawson’s methods for dealing with depression involves a bit of funny extremism in that she will not strive to be happy, she will strive to be “furiously happy.” My version of that is being able to say “I’m actually a depressed person! I’m not just sad! I sometimes have very little will to live! Spring break!” to people who mention they’re “depressed” when their brain is not currently trying to tell them the world would be better off without them. Not that I do say those exclamations out loud – I’d never use that many exclamation points unironically. For shame, spring break, for shame. Many people are actually just temporarily sad, which is fine, but it’s not the same and should never be equivocated with depression. There are a lot of ways to be temporarily depressed, but they’re not all in need of medication or therapy and it’s not nice to equate things that will definitely alleviate with true depressive symptoms because it does tend to make people who need more significant help feel ye old stigma. Nobody needs that. Everyone’s sadness counts. Everyone’s sadness will not alleviate and you should be happy if yours does. Furiously happy.

A lot of whimsical descriptions of taxidermy appear in Furiously Happy, as does a Republican husband. I wonder about the current status of both of these, and Lawson does have a blog. It’s very popular, which is still not enough to cure depression. And if whimsical taxidermy did, I’d probably still be scared of most of it.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That's what queens do.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That’s what queens do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review

Summer Ends

20. Touched with Fire – Kay Redfield Jamison
The title comes from a line in the Stephen Spender poem “I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great.” The subtitle of this book is “Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” After finishing this book, I know two things: 1. I am not manic depressive. I have never been manic in the manner described in Touched with Fire; although perhaps in retrospect it will seem like I was when I finished so many creative things this year. And I haven’t even put all of them up in my store . 2. I relate more to Henry James than I like. I hated reading Washington Square, now I begrudgingly respect it. Actually, I still have that “ugh” feeling in my gut thinking about reading it, so it may mostly be a product of whatever mental state I was in at the time.

One of my favorite aspects of Touched with Fire is the list of artists, composers, and writers who were either manic depressive, had probable cyclothomia, or had major depression. It’s marked with who was hospitalized, who made a suicide attempt, and who committed suicide and it was super interesting seeing who did what. Like extremely late to the party gossip.

There was also a section of shorter biographical pieces dealing with the family histories of “madness” of famous artists and writers called “Genealogies of these high mortal miseries” after a phrase by Herman Melville that I truly love and that was the section that resonated with me the most. Writing and art are both solitary pursuits and when you consistently wonder if anyone is ever going to connect with your work or why you should care or if you should really be doing this work when you’re not that stable financially and it’s not really helping with that and you know that it’s all you’d like to pursue regardless but you can’t put aside everything you care about aesthetically just because people tell you should if you want to make money… well, that whole section just provided a lot of material for me to relate to. There are a lot of differences between the time period when Herman Melville was writing and now, but, those differences are easily bridged by the mental anguish a large swath of artists and writers feel on a regular basis.

Personally, I remain true to my artistic vision regardless of what anyone tells me; which doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to criticism. I just look for relevance in the criticism. Sometimes you’re doing something people don’t get, and the main thing to consider in that case is whether or not what you’re aiming for people to “get” is coming through. If it’s not, there’s work to do. If it is and they don’t like it, that’s a different story altogether. You’ll have to beat them to death with their own shoes. Or not. To be fair, I know that many people are not ready for guinea pig domination or ladies being clever in realms where men are used to being the only clever ones. I would like things to be different and therefore I create. And I had a shitload of catching up to do after my on and off dealings with depression over the past thirteen yearsish. I proved to myself that even if I’m very stressed and very depressed I can write and paint and when I can focus, I can write and paint A LOT. I did drop one giant amount of baggage between last year and this year, which enabled me to focus on myself and what I want and apparently that was to finish manuscripts, print, paint and paint and paint, print some more, and actually execute some of the ideas I’ve had for so long while still working full time in a job that can be really stressful in so…many…ways. And I can’t say that me doing all of this has been met entirely positively. Some people really want you to stay in the place they expect you to be. But it’s not up to them and I have also received a lot of very encouraging sentiments too and I do want to specifically thank everyone who came out to see me at the Wizard Worlds I participated in this year, it made it clear to me that my work is unique, and, Cute, – and a special additional public thank you to those that facilitated me actually being able to participate. Overall, my experience reading Touched with Fire worked like a door through the darkness I get overwhelmed by sometimes and reminded me that I’m not the only one like this, even if I’m on the major depression side and not the manic side. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Presley, I’m a bit more “Filled with fire” now than anything else – no touching-; although that fire has turned to a smoky haze quite often in the past. No phoenix metaphors, it was there the whole time.

I also have muse-pigs to honor and I'll never let them down. Danger Crumples, perpetual muse-pig, stepping on all my journals, would personally thank everyone who purchased images of him and expressed how adorable he is, if he was available.

I also have muse-pigs to honor and I’ll never let them down. Danger Crumples, perpetual muse-pig, stepping on all my journals, would personally thank everyone who purchased images of him and expressed how adorable he is, if he was available.

 

My little unexpected muse-pig Peregrine and the start of my Pigoween painting. She (and Merricat, their relationship was very Duke of New York-Snake Plissken) was very much the inspiration for my John Carpenter's Guinea Pigs series of paintings.

My little unexpected muse-pig Peregrine and the start of my Pigoween painting. She (and Merricat, their relationship was very Duke of New York-Snake Plissken) was very much the inspiration for my John Carpenter’s Guinea Pigs series of paintings.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Books, Review, Writing

Misadventures in Memorial Library

72. Shoot the Damn Dog – Sally Brampton

I was hunting down a book that most likely was mis-shelved some time in the mid-1990s when this title gave me pause. In many academic libraries, the dust jackets do not make it to the shelves, the budget for mylar is very low… anyway, without their dust jackets, there’s no blurb to read and no illustration that could have told me that, hey, she didn’t mean just any dog and the book wasn’t about being very insensitive to pets. It took me a bit to realize that the dog referenced by the title is Winston Churchill’s black dog, the one that symbolizes his depression. That’s the long way round of explaining that this snappy title came back with me, unfortunately, the book I was hunting did not – and that is kind of rare. Technically. Book hunting is one of my best skills. I have learned from reading Shoot the Damn Dog that nicknaming my own depression or choosing a symbol for it, does not fall under any of my best skills.

Sally Brampton lives in London, bonus for her, and relates her very strenuous struggle with depression, and then alcoholism to treat the depression, and then depression again plus the knowledge that alcohol is very ineffective at treating depression, and what actually helped in her case. Hers manifested itself in her throat and so she called it her “throat monster.” I’m actually very disappointed in my depression for not even bothering to manifest in a specific area or take on a recognizable animal personality. I’ve always thought it was just part of my personality- any dogs or monsters would have a hard time convincing me otherwise, and I’ve recently done some reading about the connections between chronic respiratory illnesses and depressive symptoms and that makes more sense in relation to how my depression ebbs and flows than any specific manifestation. I can say that although the lack of animal personality disappoints me, reading about how others have survived their depression and how they experience their symptoms is very helpful. And when you have depression, seeking help is the main thing you should do. Especially if you can give yours a nickname, that’s significant.

Duncan was blacker than the blackest black times infinity, plus a giraffe nose and a couple of dark red rings, but she’s a symbol of cuteness and snippy guinea pig kind. Snippy guinea pigs help me find reasons to keep living through my depressive periods.

Duncan was blacker than the blackest black times infinity, plus a giraffe nose and a couple of dark red rings, but she’s a symbol of cuteness and snippy guinea pig kind. Snippy guinea pigs help me find reasons to keep living through my depressive periods.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review

On the way up, it was state three of six; on the way down, it’s state four of six.

63. Devil’s Knot – Mara Leveritt

As a long time metal listener who wore a lot of black while pissed off in high school and who always will, I was very concerned about this case when I first heard of it. To me, it was clearly a witch-hunt and nothing else. The clear mishandling, superstitions believed over facts, and ignorance on display added weight to a lot of stereotypes about the south and certainly influenced my own views before I lived there. It’s easy to lump all of the southern states together, and in the case of West Memphis, I’m sure there are still many people who don’t know that it’s in Arkansas and not Tennessee…there’s a whole Mississippi River in between West Memphis and Memphis, and when three teenagers get locked up for a crime that involves a lot of forethought like the murders of those three boys, it’s easy to make sweeping generalizations.

Devil’s Knot is a very thorough examination of the murders, the trial, and the evidence that makes an excellent companion piece to the Paradise Lost documentaries and that holds the region, the people involved – except for maybe Mr. Byers, and the evidence at a pretty objective arm’s length, which I appreciated since I read it after moving back up. I can’t say that I didn’t find any ignorance during the years that I spent driving up and down I-55, which does take you through West Memphis and past the wooded area where the boys were murdered, I can say that I found it in both directions and one side is just a tad more self-righteous about it and that still annoys me. The bureaucratic process doesn’t seem to be all that helpful for most poor people, regardless of where they’re from or currently living, so, really, ignorance and agendas that harm the poor abound across this great land – and that bureaucratic bullshit was egregiously on display in relation to this case. I can say that I was very happy to read this knowing that the West Memphis Three were already free, even though the state refuses to acknowledge how horribly they mishandled the whole case and that does not help any of the families involved.

Leveritt has also combined forces with Jason Baldwin to write a sequel to Devil’s Knot called Dark Spell, I’m looking forward to reading that one.

Mr. Cheese and I stopped for gas in West Memphis on the way back to Mississippi once and some people saw us feeding Pammy (she would not eat her roadtrip lettuce in her carrier, she had to be taken out and convinced that it was fine to eat) and thought she was a monkey. She did have a butt skirt, but no prehensile tail, not a monkey.

Mr. Cheese and I stopped for gas in West Memphis on the way back to Mississippi once and some people saw us feeding Pammy (she would not eat her roadtrip lettuce in her carrier, she had to be taken out and convinced that it was fine to eat) and thought she was a monkey. She did have a butt skirt, but no prehensile tail, not a monkey.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review

The word of the day is “disappointed.” Scream accordingly.

44. I Know I Am, But What Are You? – Samantha Bee

Samantha Bee has always been one of the correspondents I enjoyed most on The Daily Show so I was happy when I saw that she had written an autobiography. It seemed like a good way to find out more about her own sense of humor for longer than a Daily Show segment. I cannot say that I really enjoyed the experience of reading this though, there were parts of it that were pretty messed up and I can’t really sympathize with her short crime spree. I definitely cringed inside more than I snickered at anything that happened and it left me feeling uncomfortable as a human. Definitely not what I expected, but I guess I should have inferred that the reading experience might be cringeworthy based on the fact that the title isn’t capitalized on the cover of the hardback edition. What are you trying to tell me with that?

Twiglet, nearly napping in protest of the proper nouns that remain lowercase in the title.

Twiglet, nearly napping in protest of the proper nouns that remain lowercase in the title.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review, Writing

Why am I sticky?

74. Just Checking – Emily Colas

Guinea pigs and I have several things in common – we cannot produce our own vitamin C, we have hair rather than fur, and we are at our best with a consistent routine. I came to this book hoping for some kind of insight into whether or not my personal tics that have occasionally made me seem a bit too particular in situations where I’m apparently not supposed to be so concerned about whether I sit in the exact same chair every time or the fact that someone put some kind of drizzle all over the plate underneath my sandwich when I specifically ordered a sandwich because I didn’t want to use a fork and there shouldn’t be anything sticky underneath a sandwich for fuck’s sake and now I have to leave because my brain is short circuiting are actually OCD. I have decided that they are not, but not based on this book.

I’m basing my “I don’t have full on OCD” armchair-self-diagnosis mostly on the True Life episode about OCD, that one David Sedaris essay where he wants to lick the light switch and has to rock a certain number of times before he goes to sleep, and a mild viewing of an A&E show that I can’t remember the title of. I’ve decided I just have anxiety, which I do, about many things. Don’t drizzle underneath sandwiches. That seems like it should be obvious unless you’re trying to force someone into a meltdown – why would anyone want anything sticky on their hands from underneath the sandwich?! I have eczema, I do not choose things that will deliberately force me to be sticky. That one nearly caused a public scene, and I had no idea it was coming or would seem as bad as it did in person, so it is stuck in my mental craw forever.

Just Checking for me was not an insightful reading experience. It felt like a slice of life with no purpose, no through line, nothing beyond the robotic reciting of events. The praise on the jacket promised much more, but perhaps those reviewers had the same specific concerns that Colas did. I found her to be a mite on the insufferable side even though I have some similar concerns. Really the whole thing disappointed me, because there are so many dude memoirs where their issues are meant to be funny or relatable, and I “just check” and worry about things all the time, but I couldn’t find any common ground here.

Pammy had a lot of beautiful little habits like not eating the parsley until the stalks were placed by her mouth – damn those messy leaves! - and eating celery stalks in little rows like she’s doing in this picture; I believe these were the result of being a pig who perhaps received too many treats and became accustomed to a different level of personal service...not my fault at all.

Pammy had a lot of beautiful little habits like not eating the parsley until the stalks were placed by her mouth – damn those messy leaves! – and eating celery stalks in little rows like she’s doing in this picture; I believe these were the result of being a pig who perhaps received too many treats and became accustomed to a different level of personal service…not my fault at all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review, Writing

Megatherium and me

8. Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy – Melissa Milgrom

This book is glorious. I learned so much from it and took away so much more appreciation for sculpture and silicone and Damien Hirst than I would have expected.

Taxidermy and I have a complicated relationship. I’ve been going to the Museum of Natural History at the University of Iowa since I was a small child.  Mammal Hall, and Bird Hall, and Rusty the giant sloth, have tortured/inspired me. The wombat in Mammal Hall may have been a part of jump-starting my love of small, guinea pig shaped mammals (there is no guinea pig in Mammal Hall, there are a lot of terrifying mice though) and since I have yet to see a wombat in person, I’m happy I got the opportunity to see that one. My other favorite piece in there is the skunk that’s posed to spray with its back feet up in the air – nice one to whoever decided on that pose. Mammal Hall also includes a giant room full of skeletons, including an Atlantic right whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, that I have always loved. Bones are my favorite thing to draw, and they’re just so damn important to understanding why vertebrates look the way they do and how they fit together. The main level of the museum also includes the terrors of my childhood – Rusty the giant sloth and that Devonian Coral Reef beast creature springing out of the wall. I thought Rusty was real for a very, very long time. I also thought that bones were inside the stuffed animals, even though there’s a very clear display on the ground floor of the museum that should have clued me in about that but it didn’t sink in until I read this book.

Rusty is a recreation of a Giant Ground Sloth. A terrifying, costumed for holidays, recreation that many people enjoy. He’s a pretty awesome achievement. In Still Life, I learned that taxidermists and naturalists recreate animals from other kinds of animals in competition and I did wonder what was used to make Rusty happen (and the Gigantopithecus in the basement). The competition discussed in the book takes place at a hotel that I drive by on my way to and from Mississippi, so that struck a chord too. Now I just need to visit the Dead Zoo (not mentioned, but it’s not like I can just go hang out with Damien Hirst’s official taxidermist in her clearly awesome set up) and the Museum of Natural History in New York to finish my appreciation tour. And I’d like to see one of Walter Potter’s works in person. Preferably one with guinea pigs, it’s unfortunate that the collection couldn’t stay together, almost as unfortunate as guinea pig taxidermy usually looks.

I still feel sorry for the Victorian-diorama stuffed guinea pig at After Life.

It is next to impossible to produce an effective guinea pig via taxidermy. That nose is not meant to be preserved, apparently, and it is one of their cutest features – just look at Peregrine’s beauteous nose for proof.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review

I’m pretty sure Jez from Peep Show is Jason Mulgrew’s English equivalent. Jez might not finish his memoir though, unless Mark helps him.

42. Everything Is Wrong With Me – Jason Mulgrew

Ah, a memoir written by a guy who doth protest too much…I believe there are several of these. I’ve read two, that seems like enough. When someone spends a lot of time telling me that they did not spend very much time writing the book I’m currently reading because they were squandering their advance on bullshit and it shows, I get a bit tired. Don’t brag to me about your advance while writing about how much you suck as a person and how you’re a shitty writer and practically had to be forced to finish this memoir, it just makes me wonder how you got your advance to begin with and whether or not you and Cooking Dirty dude hang out and talk about how you just stumbled in to this “writing” thing. Clearly, Mr. Mulgrew did not stumble in if he was taking any kind of class from Steve Almond. Did he use magic to obtain a book contract? Commune with Satan? Blow the right person in the right bathroom? Other things I wouldn’t be caught dead doing? I mean, I understand from the back of the book that dude has a blog and that’s great. I have one too. He also has a family that he grew up with. You don’t say. It seems like some people have those. Said family is more interesting than he is, which isn’t terribly surprising. Honestly, I just wish this had a point. And I mean that in all the potential ways that the end of a rambling blog paragraph about a rambling book could mean.  The last chapter though, my reactions were, “Ew” and “What the hell is he doing using this as the epilogue?”

I can’t necessarily say that this memoir is without merits, I wanted to read it for three reasons: 1. The cover is awesome. 2. The preface about writing is dead on – it’s nice to see others acknowledging that you have to forgo the work you’d most like to do, that you’re inspired to do, in order to feed yourself. 3. There’s a blurb from my fave writing instructor Mr. Steve Almond that’s actually funnier than the entire book about when Mr. Mulgrew was his student.

Twiglet, "Snorecery."

I’ve made Twiglet’s catchphrase “Snorecery” for a reason. It fits this situation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review, Writing

Undead…undead…undead

35. Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters (2003 version) – John Waters

I love this book for many reasons, however the main thing I love about it is that John Waters included little story lists of things he loves and hates. He hates many little, arbitrary things. Me too. He also has a story about true crime paperbacks, which invaded my consciousness via repeated fixing of the 364.1523 shelves and haven’t left yet. Since I didn’t have to look up that Dewey designation (not initially, although I did double check to make sure I was right), I’m sure they never will.

John Waters is one of my role models, although I haven’t read his book called Role Models to find out what his are (beyond Squeaky, and I just can’t quite get behind that despite the shades of gray surrounding the situation), and I’m sure that watching his films as a young child had a profound effect on how much I enjoy high and low culture simultaneously.  Their influence could also have something to do with my taste for the absurd and morbid, although that’s more likely to have come directly from my borderline lifelong interest in Edward Gorey. If I was writing my own version of this book (which I could, I guess, but no one would care and I would have to do research to make the essays worthwhile…) there would probably be Gorey and Waters chapters interspersed between all the chapters about guinea pigs and other cute little fat things.

I use the Bauhaus title because I'm not dead, but I haven't been posting much. But I'm not dead!

Murderface is so cute….

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Review