Here, There and Everywhere

51Zxe5MHNvL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnxiety & Panic Workbook: Stop Stressing, Start Living by Jodi Aman. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

It’s one thing for friends, books, family, TV, counselors, or others, to tell us what we should do or not do about a problem, and something entirely different when they show us “how” to do it. Changing our habits, conditioning and fears, isn’t easy. If it was, we would have done so on our own a long time ago. Enter Jodi Aman and her Anxiety & Panic Workbook, which not only clearly defines anxiety, but shows us how to overcome it.

Ms. Aman has lived with anxiety herself for many decades, thus she is speaking from experience, and not some theoretical therapeutic idea about what it is like, or how to live with it. The National Institute of Mental Health has shown anxiety to be the number one mental health problem in the U.S. Thus, there is a large audience of people who can readily relate to how difficult anxiety/fear can be and how often it stops us from living a complete fulfilling life.

There is lots of space in the workbook for readers to answer the thoughtful, and important questions that are asked, and help clarify and identify how anxiety effects us personally, and to what extent. Ms. Aman talks about the importance of motivation, and having a vision of what life can be, as opposed to simply wishing to be free of what is. She says, “‘Want’ and ‘can’t’ are ideas, not truths.'” The book helps us get to know anxiety, as opposed to trying to avoid it or get away from it.

The Anxiety & Panic Workbook is laid out in an easily accessible manner, is clearly well thought out, and can help many. Her five rules for a happy life are: 1) Make people important. 2) Step back. 3) Have fun. 4) Be Creative. 5) Practice doing hard things. It is, of course, easy to come up with five “rules”, and another to learn how to practice them. That is the gift of this book – it shows us how, and not just why. The following was especially poignant, in referring to anxiety, and what we tell ourselves about it. “It is all just stories. The story is not over. It continues to change. Breathe through the story.

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Who is it this morning?

51hmYNSvtFLMagnetic Reverie (The Reverie Book 1) by Nico J. Genes. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

This wonderful story gives the film Inception a run for its money. Lana keeps waking up in two different countries, with two different lovers, not knowing which is a dream and which is real. Is she with Claire, in Slovenia, or her husband Greg, in the U.S? Lana’s dreams about Claire seem as real as her life in Washington, D.C., with her husband Greg. When she’s with Greg all she thinks about is going back to sleep to be with Claire. “It was the morning and it was time to wake up. I looked around to see which bedroom I was in.”

No mistake about it, Lana is in completely new territory, as she has never been with a woman before her “dreams” began. She is not familiar with the attraction, sensations and feelings that Claire arouses, though she is quite familiar with the language, city, and less-openly expressive country in which she was raised (Slovenia). The two women eventually go on holiday around the country, fall deeply in love, and Lana is overwhelmed with her reactions. “Her eyes were amazing. Her voice was such a pleasant melody to the ear. I kept thinking about her in a way I never thought of any other woman. Was I feeling butterflies?”

Lana is torn between both worlds, and people, not wishing to deceive the other, and not knowing how to explain or deal with either. Definitely read this story to the end, as there are a number of realizations, events, and decisions that Lana makes in the final pages which provide new perspectives and open’s the door for other possibilities. Look for the line, “I felt like she was my ____________ while Greg was my ____________.” This line helps to understand how Lana reconciles the two worlds. Magnetic Reverie is a convincing bi-sexual romance, with shades of surrealism and mystery. After reading this story by Ms. Genes, I wanted to go take a nap and see if there were any unknown loves waiting for me in my dreams.

 

Say It Outloud

51TNQTUdZkLThe Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name – Short Stories by Fiza Pathan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Confession time. When I saw that this collection of short stories was over 450 pages long, I planned to skim over them and write a brief overview. After reading the first one, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, I was hooked and ended up reading each story from start to finish. They are all excellent, different and well written. They take place in different countries (India, Canada, United States, Iran, Syria, un-named South American country, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). What they all have in common is the portrayal of someone who is not part of the stereotyped heterosexual majority.

Each person must deal with the prejudice, religious intolerance, and/or ignorance, of their family, community, friends, culture, and/or government. Oscar Wilde quotes are also part of many of the stories, and match each perfectly. Each tale in The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name begins with the primary characters name as the first word of the story, thus speaking there name out loud, and validating who they are.

Sreekanth declares his love for another man to his father. Stanford’s father is outraged when he finds out who his son is friends with. Mrs. Almeida has to deal with her ex-principal who is outraged when she hears that one of her children was born biologically a boy and changed to a girl. Salman secretly lives with his boyfriend and wife, fearing the ISIS leaders will discover them at any time and put them to death. Melody discovers that she doesn’t fit into the sexual stereotype she expected. Five-year-old Ken wants to be Wonder Woman, and starts to take drastic measures to make it so, much to the dismay of his parents.

Another confession. Being the parent of a daughter who married her long-time girlfriend, a son who married another man, and some long-time friends who are transgender, as well as living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, made it difficult to accept all of the violence, hatred, and mis-understanding portrayed in these stories. The longer I read however, the more I realized how much of a bubble I’m in, and that many parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world still have intense prejudice, fear, and anger, towards people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, born intersex, pansexual, bi-sexual, transvestite, or anything that is not the “norm”.

It is sad, but vital, that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name was written. Giving a voice to those who cannot speak, who are shunned, dismissed, minimized, degraded, chided, threatened, misunderstood, and sometimes killed, just for being themselves, is proudly proclaimed with each tale. Though this is a work of fiction, many of the events, and reactions within this collection have, and are, taking place throughout the world. Ms. Pathan not only understands these realities, but is also able to share them with splendid prose, insight, and dramatic effect. It is one thing to aware of others lives, and another to be able to write about them so eloquently.

Each story in Ms. Pathan’s collection of shorts could be part of its own novella, but they stand on there own just as they are. The theme of acceptance, being true to oneself, and the possibility for change, is the constant between them all. As Oscar Wilde states so knowingly, On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Afflicted With Vision

41GnYDgDNIL._SY346_Twisted by Uvi Poznansky
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Six tales told with words and pictures. The first being I Am What I Am, which follows Job’s wife after death to hell and a very interesting discussion with the devil. Other Twisted stories include a woman opening her diary for the first time since her husband’s death (The Hollow); a slab of clay speaking about her creator (sculptress) and her awareness of herself and the creator’s other work (I, Woman); a poem with “He” and “She” speaking to one another poetically (Dust); two photos of clay sculpted dancers, called The Art of Dust I and The Art of Dust II; and the final short with a cat talking to their caretaker, as if she understands what she is saying (The One Who Never Leaves).

Other than the beginning of the first story, none of these writings are really horrific, or in the horror genre, but instead exude a sense of realism, and fantasy, with inanimate objects becoming the main characters, and/or people, and pets, speaking from uncommon perspectives. The author’s writing is very accomplished and precise. Questions, dialogue, inferences, fears, hopes, and dreams, are presented with clarity, and complex situations, emotions and/or issues, are understandable. For example, these words from clay that is becoming aware of itself and surrounds, “For now that I am afflicted with vision, I appreciate how obscure things really are. The sharper the perception – the more complex the interpretation.”

Ms. Poznansky is a master storyteller, and artist, who is able to combine insight, nuance, place, and time, with abstract ideas, situations, and characters. To say her stories are “one of a kind” would be a disservice, as they are really “one of no other kind”. Twisted is unique, yet strangely approachable and identifiable, even though the context may be within a setting unknown, or not previously pictured, by the reader. I was somewhat wary of this collection, believing it might be filled with esoteric, or philosophical ramblings. Much to my surprise, and benefit, I was instead taken inside the creative mind of a brilliant author, and sculptor, of beautifully twisted views of the self, others, and the world within which we live.

 

Your Son Can’t Hear

61Q3NRycOJLA Mother’s Heart: Memoir of a Special Needs Parent by Eichin Chang-Lim. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A clear-sighted, perfectly weighted memoir with balance of experience, insight, and observation. A Mother’s Heart doesn’t stray into un-associated material, and stays right on track, as Ms. Chang-Lim explores what it was like raising their son, Teddy, who is severely hearing-impaired. From his first days as a baby, up through the present (with Teddy now in his 20s), the author conveys the joys, frustrations, and what she has learned being the parent to her son, and her daughter (Victoria).

Upon hearing that her son couldn’t hear, the author writes, “Although the diagnoses was not a surprise, I was still sad and angry. I was angry that the whole universe did not show a shred of remorse for my son’s deafness. I was angry that my husband seemed so calm and in control. I was angry that I blamed myself for my son’s disability.” What she discovers is that her son’s hearing loss was a result of a disease called Waaredenberg Syndrome, though didn’t help much knowing when it came to his educational and social adjustments.

Most everything a parent of a hearing-impaired, or deaf, child needs to know, is either discussed, or mentioned in these pages. Chapter include headings such as, It’s Okay to Cry; A Support System Is Crucial; Early Intervention; Spouse Communication; Motherhood vs. Career; and Choosing the Right Special Education Placement. None of these issues are over-dramatized, or indulged in, nor are they skimmed or minimized. There is just the right amount of honesty, information, and personal frustration shared for readers to easily relate.

Each chapter begins with a perfect quote, such as E.M. Foster’s, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, to have the life that is waiting for us.” Ms. Chang-Lim didn’t plan on having to confront the realities of having a hearing-impaired child, but she has done so with grit and grace. An especially helpful portion is a segment her daughter writes about growing up with her brother Teddy, and how the attention he got effected her, and their relationship as siblings. Whether you have s child with special needs, or not, A Mother’s Heart speaks volumes for mothers and fathers everywhere.

Happy Family, Happy Cats

51WoCiuudlLThe Happy Cat’s Detective by Alex Mahon
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

The Happy Cat’s Detective is a delightful story combing a budding romance, close family escapades, and trying to figure out why, and who, stole Mrs. Casanova’s cat, Fetish. The tale begins in Canada, but takes place primarily in the small town of Lleida, outside Barcelona, Spain.

Told in the first person, by Christina Solans Sentis, we hear about another volunteer veterinarian she meets in the forests of Canada, Alex. They fall for one another and he promises to visit her upon her return to Spain. Christina fails to inform her mother, or her mother’s friends, about Alex upon her return home. This fact eventually comes out, but none too soon.

It is the relationship between Christina, her mother (Irene), and her mother’s close friends since childhood (Laia and Ingrid) that steal the show. They all move in together in the country and start a cat sanctuary they call The Happy Cat’s Home. It isn’t long until Christina is asked to search for a missing cat (and get paid for it), that she becomes the books title.

I really enjoyed The Happy Cat’s Detective. The sense of familiarity between Christina and her mother, and between her mother and her friends, is heart-warming, funny, and authentic. Their joking around, memories, and shenanigans, make them seem much younger than their years. Nobody is perfect, yet they enjoy one another’s company and always have each other’s back.

A Compassionate Challenge

51xULqwkGaL._SX260_.jpgMaximum Axioms for mental acuity: 100 simple sayings for intellectual inspiration (Vol. 1) by Faydra D. Fields. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Though the title may sound complicated, or high falutting, it is anything but. Right from the get go, Ms. Fields explains that the axioms are not new thoughts, but are said in her own words. They are simple, yet profound.

“Life would be so much more straightforward if it came with directions, but it would also be less flexible.”

There are no flowery, or unrealistic statements in this collection of screenshot ready comments.

“Help others feel better, and they will survive. Help others be better, and they will thrive.”

Some of the words are challenging, yet compassionately so.

“Life is lived in the midst of your storms, not after they have passed you by.”

Others find the humor in living and self-reflection.

“Don’t depend on others to toot your horn, especially since you don’t even know where their mouths have been.”

“Do all you can to keep the game of life from becoming a trivial pursuit.”

Maximum Axioms for Mental Acuity hits the spot – the sweet spot of being honest with one’s self, taking care in what you say and do, and reminders about what is, and is not, important. Am looking forward to the next volume in this collection.

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