Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for August, 2018

Strange Bodily Happenings

My Terrible Book of Happiness… Love, Anxiety and Everything
by Margaret Lesh. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51DM674eXbL._SY346_One of the things I greatly appreciate about My Terrible Book of Happiness, is that Ms. Lesh doesn’t claim to be an “expert”, or have all the answers, but simply shares what she has experienced, and what has helped her in her life, when anxiety, hopelessness, and depression are present. The very first line says, “There is no one-size-fits-all cure to sadness, but it helps when we share our life experiences – the stumbling parts, the dark places – so we know we are not alone. The end of 2016 and first half of 2017 found me mired in a trap of anxiety, worry, and depression: three things I happen to be good at.”

These essays, antidotes, stories, and trivia, includes four sections (Anxiety, Peace, Love, and Hope). One of suggestions is to take a break from social media and the news, and only take it in in small amounts. There is also a chapter with a great title “Swiss Cake Rolls, Other Strange Bodily Happenings, and Walking”, where she shares the affects that having a child and going through menopause have had on her belly and health, and the benefits of exercise to not only make one fit, but to also ease anxiety. This essay is called “Move It, Baby”. The author speaks frankly, and insightfully, about the benefits of meditation in her section called “Meditation for the Meditatively Challenged (Like Me)”.

After a number of entertaining, and enlightening stories and events, Ms. Lesh summarizes what she has learned by saying, “Unplugging, turning inward, reassessing, and refocusing on my mental and physical health were what I needed to do to pull myself out of my long slump. Walking, yoga, meditation, prayer, active gratitude, mindfulness, music, laughter, and spending time in nature are all things that helped me through the dark times.” The postscript includes a list of what has helped her the most, resources available to readers’ and numbers to call for help. My Terrible Book of Happiness isn’t sad, or depressing, but hopeful, honest, and perhaps a lifeline for someone reading the words within.

Compost Time Travel

51-2RWwdV8LEscape From Samsara: Prophecy Allocation Series Book One by Nicky Blue. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This story is a corker! Without much ado, ifs, ands or buts, Mr. Blue brings readers’ into the seemingly mild mannered life of Barry Harris, who appears to be a sedate gardener, living with his 82-year-old heavy metal loving mother, Molly. They both live with the aggrieving fact that Barry’s father (Yamochi) and sister (Mindy) went missing twenty-two years earlier, in 1993. Barry has never given up hope that they will return.

Escape From Samsara is a hilarious combination of wit, wisdom, and nonsense. If you took the following films and TV shows, and put them in a blender (like what happens to a cat in the story), you’d have an inkling of the tale that is told. A Hitchhikers Guide to the UniverseAlice In Wonderland; Dr. Who; The Good Place; and clips from 1960’s and 70s Kung Fu movies, come to mind.

Here’s a brief example of the satirical new-age dialogue and shenanigans, that abound. Barry is trying to describe Buddhism and mindfulness to his mother’s friend, Merrill.

Barry, “By observing our feelings and sensations, we can gain insight into true reality.”

Merrill, “Ooh that sounds good. Doctor Harper gave me a relaxation tape once to help me sleep but the bleedin’ seagulls outside my window were doing me nutin. I couldn’t concentrate for toffee.”

The cast of characters include an ethereal being (Terry Watkins), Barry’s best friend (an Australian named Tom Carter), Barry’s doctor (Dr. Harper), Brian (Barry’s coworker, who discovers a compost pile that has turned into a time travel portal), Miss Miggles (an employer’s son’s cat), and Robbie Jarvis (a seemingly friendly hairdresser for all the older ladies in town). One of these delightful fellows dies by having there head impaled by a 12-inch steel vibrator.

If you’re a fan of fantasy, ninja movies, or any of the films and TV shows I mentioned (or not), you’ll find this adventure to be a hilarious kick in the butt. Humor is a hard nut to crack, and to write a story that contains so many cracking good lines, is even more difficult. With Escape From Samsara, Mr. Blue blesses this indescribable genre, by not giving a shit about what is, or isn’t “supposed” to be, or what “should” happen.

Upsetting the Status Quo

51AAuLof0GLNot Just A Girl: A Lesbian Romance
by Judy Folger.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

What happens in Royal’s life, in Not Just A Girl, has been experienced by many men and women. Living up to society’s expectations, not wanting to “overturn the cart”, let alone acknowledge there own feelings, they do what they’re “supposed to do”. In this case, it is Royal marrying a man not long after high school, while still being in love with her best friend, Mackenzie. Such circumstances were especially prevalent up to the beginning of this century, and still continues for some.

When Royal talks to her gay sister-in-law, Avery, she becomes acutely aware of herself, and how she’s been living to please others.

The words shot out of Royal’s mouth before she could stop them. ‘When a woman decides to make her own happiness, she upsets the status quo!’

‘Yes!’ Avery shot back, smiling, ‘Everyone else’s status quo…’

She reflected for a moment. ‘Oh. Oh, I see.'”

The youngest of four siblings, with three older brothers, Royal is told by them, and her parents, that she is “just a girl”. Which, in their eyes, means she should get married, have children, and take care of everyone else. Once her children are teenagers, and her husband (Jim) takes extended time away from the family, Royal begins to tentatively look at what she wants, and who she is. With the help of her friend at work (Claudia), a professor from her college days (Professor Belkin), and Avery, she slowly begins to acknowledge who she is and what she wants.

There are a number of family scenes with parents, and in-laws, which were all too familiar. For example, the Thanksgiving dinners found the men and women playing all the stereotyped roles of men watching football, and the women cooking and providing. It takes Royal half her life to start believing in herself, and break out of these roles. Ms. Folger has created an insightful, heart-felt story of one woman deciding to set herself free and find happiness. Not Just A Girl is not just a book, it’s an inner journey of discovery brought to the page for all to see.

Living With What Is

Purpose – Volume I: Meditation On Love, Relationship, Fear, Death, Intuition, and Power – Uncovering Our Resistance To Life by Noura. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51N-HDlr0mLPurpose is a brilliant artistic exploration of our hearts and minds, what we see, and what we tell ourselves about our experience. Noura looks at, and investigates, major principles and subjects within meditation, psychology and philosophy, with clear vision and insight. Her descriptions of words and phrases (awareness, belief, conflict, content, energy, form, ideas, illusions, intelligence, reality, sacrifice, selflessness, truth, etc.) are spot on and all inclusive. She simplifies what can seem complicated.

This is a book about asking questions. She says, “Is it possible to have clarity about ourselves that enables us to understand ourselves totally, so we never have to rely on any belief? If we can look and see clearly for ourselves, are beliefs necessary?” The author asks readers’ to look in the mirror. “What is purpose? What is our purpose? How do we find it? Where do we look? What gets in the way of seeing it?” We seldom stop to ask ourselves such questions, let alone inquire deeply into what these questions mean.

How does one do this? “The only tools we use to investigate into our minds are the following: 1) Looking without judgment and without excluding anything in particular 2) Inquiring into the purpose of everything in our lives, including the obvious 3) Being open to hearing an interpretation of life that’s different from ours, not accept or reject, only listen.” She explains how to pay attention. “Meditation is the art of living with what is, without condemnation, judgments, fragmentation, or covering it up with ideals.”

Noura also looks at projection, magical thinking, darkness/fear/unknown, and duality, with a section about mental health. She says, Psychological Hygiene is the habit of building awareness through observation, self-inquiry, and self-contemplation…” “Very often, we focus on what’s going on externally at the detriment of what’s going on in the inside.” The stories and tales told in Purpose, lend further credence and understanding to the concepts and inquiry provided in this engaging and insightful volume.

Her Voice

The Midnight Couch by Jae.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51BfJCryMOLWill Paula ever get the nerve to ask Dr. Christine Graham out? She’s had a crush on her for over two years! Paula, who is a broadcast technician at KWSG radio in Southern California, has it bad for Dr. Graham, who hosts a late night call in show, perfectly named, The Midnight Couch. Every night Paula is determined to ask the doctor for a date, but chickens out at every opportunity. She’s not even sure if Christine prefers women.

Though this is a short tale, it encompasses a wide range of feelings, issues, and personal insights for its narrator (Paula). When it comes to fixing things with her hands, she’s great. Getting the nerve to simply talk to, let alone make a move for her crush, is quite another. This story is like watching a good romantic movie. Before you know it, you’re rooting for the shy girl to take a chance and “Say something… anything!”

Just hearing Dr. Graham’s voice on the radio gives Paula chills. “Oh, God. That voice. She could sell scuba-diving gear to Bedouins with that voice.” The question is, will Paula ever use her voice to express her feelings, without second-guessing herself? You’ll have to read The Midnight Couch to find out. Without hesitation, I must say that Jae writes extremely well. If the rest of her stories are as good as this one, I’ll call in every night.

I Used To Cry

Mulatto: Daughter of America by Florencia LaChance.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61I3yFhCTTLOur oldest daughter moved in to our foster home when she was fourteen, and like Florencia, became emancipated at sixteen. She survived a similar childhood as Ms. LaChance, with her biological family. Working through years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, is not easy for anyone, at anytime. In Mulatto: Daughter of Americathe author describes one terrible instant after another. With self-determination, and the help of others, she makes it to college, motherhood, and a successful career.

Florencia’s worst, ongoing perpetrator, was her step-father Jim. He beat her, sexually assaulted her, and demeaned her in every way possible. To top it off, she was growing up in Maine, where people of color are rare and far in-between. “So many kids against me. I used to cry. Run and cry. It was too much – the abuse at home and then coming to cruelty at school. I was always, in Maine, the ONLY black person in any school or town I ever went to. In the whole school!” Shame and not belonging became deeply ingrained in her psych.

Along her journey, Florencia gets support and care from her older brother, Joey, and from different friends and mentors, including: Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Royal, Danielle Hardigan, Melody, and the Goodmans. She becomes a ward of the state, and is cycled through various foster homes for two and a half years. When she finally gets to Boston College, against all odds, she is confronted with how to make a living, raise her son Joshua, and simultaneously go to school – exhausting in and of itself.

Mulatto: Daughter of America is sadly a story that still takes place throughout our country. Abuse (in all forms) is pervasive. Though we think we’ve come a long way, by talking about it and confronting it publicly, it continues to fester in homes everywhere. Like our daughter, who went to University of California, Berkeley, and now has two children, Florencia LaChance is an accomplished technical grant writer and project manager, with insight into her childhood, and the ability to write about it for others.

A Long Time To Die

Dying Takes It Out of You – Book One of the Madonna Diaries
by S.S. Bazinet. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

513xwn-wYJLMental gymnastics, emotional turmoil, and brotherly love, all add weight to this dystopian thriller. Dying Takes It Out of You is set in the near future, when a virus has been deployed by terrorists, and the entire world is threatened. Dory is one of those infected, who believes he’d rather die than live in this shit hole that has become his life. His brother Milton, a scientist and doctor, has other ideas for Dory, and tries to save him by finding a cure at all costs. It may cost them everything.

Ms. Bazinet has taken a terrifying world in the near future, and turned it into a philosophical and ideological tale about understanding, family, and what is worth living for, without giving up an iota of fear or suspense. The beginning is intentionally misleading, making readers believe that the pursuer is evil, and the narrator (Dory) is running for his life. The sudden switch in who is in danger, and the shift from which person is good, and who is bad, is well executed.

In the process of Milton’s heroics to save his brother, who craves blood, is afraid he’ll go crazy, and will most likely die a horrible death within weeks, Dory describes his experience. “Sometimes a person doesn’t know how strong they are until they keep dying and coming back. A few days in, Milton said that I was having a convulsion and then clunk, I was dead again. The old vessel in my chest decided it had had enough and just stopped working in mid fit. Even Milton was surprised. Most people take longer to kill.”

This fantasy, by S. S. Bazinet, explores the depths a loved one (in this case his twin brother) will take to keep them alive. The world she creates is not that distant, or foreign, and has a strong connection with its surroundings. Memories that Dory has of an abusive father, and kind mother, are also interspersed with lucid dreams and conversations with Thomas, an individual known as one of the Watchers. These dialogues provide Dory with insight and hope, and make Dying Takes It Out of You all the better.

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