Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir by Melissa Cistaro

Dear Lit Loves,

Greetings!  I am proud to say that I completed reading the newly released memoir entitled Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro.  What triggered my interest in this particular book?  Well, the memoir is about the time span of when the author's mother left the family until when the author gets a call years later from her mother's sister letting her know that her mom is dying.  The ultimate question that reels the reader into the story is what happened to cause the mother to up and leave her family and will the author return to see her mother upon learning that her mother is close to death. 

The synopsis of the memoir is this:  A mother decides to pack and leave her young family which included a daughter and two older brothers along with their dad.  Actually, I think the mom in this book became defeated by the demands of motherhood and exhausted from the responsibilities as well.  I  think the author's mom wanted to explore her options as an independent woman and I think she was also a creative type who wanted to be free to explore what she really wanted to do with her life.  Furthermore, I think this particular mother wanted peace, quiet, and to live in a wide open space in the country.  So the memoir is told with one chapter reflecting on the author's childhood, family, and life without her mother and then the next chapter focuses on what she decides to do upon learning her mother is currently dying.  So the reader sees what transpires as the author matures from age five and grows up without her mom and is limited to short visits with her mom.  She elaborates on what happens to her family once the mom "checks out" of living with the family.  Some aspects of the author's experience were traumatic while others were quite moving in that the author becomes a mom herself and reflects on how she approaches parenthood given that her mother left the family when she was around five or six years of age.

The author learns quite a bit about her mother while visiting her when her mother has just days to live.  Most interestingly, the author discovers her mother wrote to her and her brothers, but never mailed the letters.  I won't give away the ending as I don't want to spoil this book for future readers.  The book was written quite clearly and concisely.  There was no use of overly frilly language.  I liked that she explained the experience in a very vivid and raw fashion.  Additionally, I liked how the author analyzed how she was and was not influenced by her mother leaving the family and by the mother only visiting the children sporadically.  It causes the author to examine its effect on her as a mother currently.

I selected to read this book as I just lost my father recently.  And I wondered how someone in this author's position would handle the death of a mother who essentially vacated her daughter's life.  It made me especially grateful for my dad as he came from a broken home, yet he was married to my mom for fifty years. And he was an extremely devoted dad who never lost contact with "the child"within him.   I do not have children of my own, but I often reflect on what my dad taught me in terms of life lessons and the development of a strict work ethic as well as the spiritual strength he always maintained in the face of a third recurrence of the brutal disease known as Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma.  I am natured like my dad in many ways.  He always used to say that I got my looks from my mom and my character from him.  I still miss him to this day and he has only been gone for two months. 

I did discover toward the final one third of the book where there were sentences that did not make sense because words were omitted.  Actually, there were several errors like this.  I'm not sure if this was due to an editorial problem or possibly a printing problem with the book.  Overall, I would recommend this memoir and I found the author's life quite fascinating.

Currently, I am reading My Stroke of Insight:  A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Dr. Jill Bote Taylor and perusing fall 2015 memoir releases to determine if there are any "regular people" memoirs that I would read because I do not read celebrity memoirs.  I am all about the lives of real, regular people and their experiences.  So until my next review or publishing update, I bid you Happy Reading!


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Do Your Homework: Be Your Own Healthcare Advocate

Dear Lit Loves,
Greetings!  Well, I haven't concluded reading Pieces of My Mother by Melissa Cistaro yet, but I am close to finishing it.  I learned recently of a memoir that reminded me of an experience a close friend of mine had about three years ago.  The book that reminded me of this friend's experience is entitled Stir by Jessica Fechtor.  My friend had been experiencing headaches, dizziness, nausea, and mild seizures over the course of about eight months.  Her primary care doctor kept "blowing it off" as hormonal changes and depression.  I advised her to see a neurologist and she did.  After having a CT scan and other tests, she called to thank me for my advice because the neurologist had called to tell her she had a meningeoma (brain tumor) sitting right between her eyebrows and within her nasal cavity.  She was going to need brain surgery to remove it and obviously, the tumor would need to be biopsied.  She looked up the neurosurgeon who she had been referred to for the surgery and she just didn't get good vibes about him.  She called and asked me what I would do.  I asked her to give me the afternoon to contact my medical specialists at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. 

Here's the thing:  I looked up the neurosurgeon my friend was referred to and not only was I NOT impressed with his educational background, but worse, he had already settled one malpractice lawsuit and was in the midst of settling another malpractice lawsuit.  (I did a background check on the surgeon and looked up the medical malpractice case histories online).   The whole situation gave me chills.  I called one of my trusted specialists at Emory and asked him if his twelve year old daughter had received this diagnosis, who would he trust to do the surgery, biopsy, and follow up care?  He told me the name of a specific neurosurgeon at Emory.  I researched the educational background and number of surgeries for this neurosurgeon as well.  Stellar.  So I called my friend and gave her the neurosurgeon's name and contact information and told her what I discovered about the first medical referral she received.  Let's put it this way, she had the surgery, the tumor was removed and found to be benign, but she did lose her sense of taste and smell.  Now, that may be bad, but I cannot tell where on her scalp the neurosurgeon did the surgery.  There is no scar, line of demarcation, and her face, as always, looks impeccable.  The author of the memoir Stir had something similar happen and I can't wait to read her memoir.  Here's the lesson though:  Do your homework when it comes to your health or any surgery you have.  Research the doctors.  Do a background check to see if your doctor, specialist, or surgeon has any malpractice or negligence cases.  Ask a surgeon for references of patients who have had similar surgeries or treatments.  Call those patients and find out how they are doing, their opinion of the doctor, and how well they felt cared for after surgery or treatment.  No one else has to do this for you.  And don't expect specialists to tell you that they have had malpractice or negligence suits lobbied against them.  You owe it to yourself to get the best medical care for yourself.  And if you need something serious done, get about three or four recommendations medically and not just one.  It makes a difference.  Trust me.

Recently, our family lost a very dear acquaintance.  A very generous and successful business man.  I admired him greatly because he always tried to do what he thought was right.  He had no problems standing up against an injustice.  And one time a doctor left him waiting in an examining room for an hour and he took off the patient gown, got dressed, and left.  His time was just as valuable as the doctor's so he told them he would come back when the doctor could see him without requiring the patient to spend an hour waiting in a patient room.  He may have just found an entirely new doctor, but the point is, he stood up for himself and his right to prompt and vigilant medical care.

About a month ago that same family acquaintance developed intestinal turbulence.  I believe he tried treating it himself for two weeks.  Finally, he made it to a local hospital at which point, it was discovered the man had an E. Coli intestinal infection that evidently had spread to his bloodstream.  He was severely weak and mentally confused.  The hospital placed him on a ventilator and feeding tube while they tried to get him to respond to an array of high-powered antibiotics.  Briefly, he was able to be taken off the ventilator, but not the feeding tube.  He must have tried to communicate to his family and doctors, but no one was able to understand what he was saying.  Four days later, he died.  I was saddened.  I had also had experiences with intestinal C.Difficile infections, Ischemic Colitis (inflammed colon), and an E. Coli infection.  Seven years ago I spent two weeks at Emory Hospital for treatment of Ischemic Colitis so when I began experiencing intestinal problems two years ago, I called my gastroenterologist at Emory and was seen that afternoon.  She immediately suspected a C. Difficile bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics.  I also had to have stool and blood tests done.  One week later my gastroenterologist called to tell me my stool test was positive for E. Coli.  I was placed on a much stronger antibiotic for a longer period of time.  And the gastroenterologist told me that I did the right thing.  When I started having the intestinal symptoms, I called her office and demanded to be seen.  If I had not done so, I might have found myself in the ICU with my own E. Coli infection.  I was treated with antibiotics for a month and had to return to Emory for repeated stool and blood tests.  I finally got the "All Clear" from Emory's lab department.  And now, whenever I am placed on antibiotics for any illness, I have been advised to also take a daily probiotic to prevent any intestinal distress or infection developing.  Also, the CDC had to be informed of my E. Coli infection and I had to document where I had bought my groceries in the last month and which restaurants I had visited over the last month along with documenting what I ate while I was there.  The CDC goes to check the stores and restaurants food to make sure there is not E. Coli present on any of the food so they can potentially prevent a massive E. Coli outbreak. 

Here's the deal:  Folks, do your homework when it comes to who you allow to treat you.  Be aware of potentially serious symptoms.  And if a doctor can't get you in to his/her office fairly quickly, don't be scared to seek treatment at a hospital or find a specialist who can get you in for an examination as soon as possible, preferably that day or the next.   And for heaven's sake:  take someone with you if you think or know you have something serious, particularly something like cancer, because honestly, as a patient you may freeze and stop hearing anything beyond an oncologist telling you your diagnosis.  Trust me, I've seen it happen.  I've been my dad's medical advocate through a rare form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and my husband was with me when I needed to be treated for basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my left arm.  Get the best medical specialists you can, don't be afraid to fire a doctor if you have to, and always ask or seek medical help if/when you need it.  In my experience, you will never be sorry for helping yourself if/when you need it.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What Publishing Needs Right Now: Real People, Real Stories, and Stone-Cold, Real Writing

Dear Lit Loves,

Oh Lord, what a week.  Let me just say that I received a book proposal rejection from an international literary agent explaining that she could not connect with the "voice" of my book, my writing needed more "creativity", and something about changing the chronology of events in my memoir.  My first reaction was literally, Seriously?!!  I swear if one more person tells me to "elevate" my prose, I may stop buying books completely.  And folks are wondering why more and more writers are opting to go the self-publishing route.  Henceforth, let me advise agents, editors, publishers, and anyone else in the book industry who would care to get in the ring with me on this:  Here Is Exactly What We Need In Publishing Right Now:  Real people writing about Real life in a stone-cold, blatantly Real Manner.  I'm serious, look at Lena Dunham and the television show "Girls" or Piper Kerman's memoir Orange Is The New Black as well as the television series of the same title.  The writing is NOT fancy-dancy, metaphorical, lyrical, or some form of nose in the air writing.  It's not about swirly, sugary, challenging writing folks.  If you want that then by all means go find yourself someone with an MFA from Iowa, Harvard, Stanford, etc.  And here's why this is true:  Because according to The National Adult Literacy Survey in both 1992 and 2003, the average American reads at a ninth grade high school reading level.  Right there, is where you hear the "cha-ching" people.  There's your money-shot and grand slam.  Do you hear it?  I do. 

Now, let me explain my style of writing:

1)  Shoot-from-the hip and No-holds-barred:  I don't mince words, spend long passages describing a mountain or grief metaphorically, and I get to the point.   I tell the story and I am passionate about the stories I have to tell, but I don't express my passion with "dry" writing that's going to sound like something from a master's level course in the merits of Lord Byron's writings.  Tell it like it is, get to the point, and get on with the story. 

2)  Do Not Over-Describe Or Babble On Excessively:  Honestly, I came across a writer recently who did nothing in her memoir but seemingly put down men and marriage while also describing in excrutiating, boring detail what it is like to experience menopause.  By the end of the book I just wanted to shake the female writer and say:  You could have Googled this and discovered all this information on menopause.  And maybe if you don't like men and marriage, I suggest you try being single or seriously think about acquiring a butler because no man worth his salt is going to baby you like you feel you deserve.  Here's a clue:  Pamper yourself woman!

3)  Chronologically tell the story to the best of your memory.  That's it.  People will get either get it or not.  As long as you stay true to the story you remember when writing a memoir, it's okay.  If a literary agent advises you to change the chronology of your memoir to make it "flow" better then skip the literary agent, find a new one, or just self-publish.  I'm not going to lie about the timeline of how I remember something happening.  Nope. End of story.

4)  There is no such thing as a memoir being too long or too short:  This is especially true if you are just getting the story down on paper for the first time.  There are some memoirs that are entirely too long mainly because the author is utilizing grandiose descriptions or babbling/whining about someone or something.  Here's what my English teacher advised me about my writing:  Make your story like a woman's skirt:  long enough to cover the important, parts, but short enough to keep it interesting.  Comprende?!!  Si!  Oui!! Aka...Preach it, Sister!!

5)  Getting more "Creative" with your writing does not have to mean including recipes, directions, lists, or an entire travel guide in your memoir.   I'm serious.  I write with a southern flair and often utilize southern sayings which most agents, editors, publishers, etc. should probably try Googling or just ask me what it means.  Usually, I will explain the meaning to the reader or give examples, but for some gatekeepers at the publishing entrance, this is a detriment to my writing.   Not buying it folks.

And finally I just want to say I HAVE NO PROBLEM PROMOTING MY BOOK.  In fact, I would rather plan my own book and publicity tour.  I would rather select where I promote my book.  In essence, it would be quite nice if a publisher helped in a small way, but I don't need or expect you to because I'm the one who is passionate about the book and I know who my readership is.  So to be entirely truthful, I think it's entirely acceptable to expect an author to get out and plug their own writing.  If you believe in your writing, are passionate about your writing, and want your book promoted in the right way, hell, just do it yourself.  No one's going to do it better than you because it's your baby, understand?  And that comes directly from my Dadio, sweethearts.  God Rest His Soul.

Till my next soap box speech or review, happy reading!



Sunday, August 2, 2015

Review: The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh

Dear Lit Loves,

So recently I wrote a blog post regarding a contributing editor who perpetually ticked me off when she completed a blog post for a digital magazine in which she outlined what she automatically knows about a woman who wears anything related to Lilly Pulitzer.   If you read my last blog post, I'm sure you will understand why I became blatantly angry with this contributing editor and decided to make my own rebuttal regarding her assumptions or "known facts" she adheres to when encountering women who wear Lilly Pulitzer.  Now, I have come upon an author of a memoir who places herself within the same demographic as me, Generation X; however, I assure you I do not identify with this author and really found absolutely no humor in her memoir.  So here goes. I recently attempted to read, and after putting the book down many times due to disgust, did finish the memoir entitled The Madwoman in the Volvo:  My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing Loh.  To be fair, the memoir had gotten some good press and it was advertised as one of the 100 notable books of 2014 by The New York Times Book Review.  And hence, there goes my faith in the book reviewers at The New York Times.

Let me try to explain this memoir in a nutshell:  The author is a woman approaching the age of fifty and she's married to some "allegedly" major guitarist whom she refers to as "Mr. X".   He is on the road quite a bit and they have two children together and apparently lived in a rather nice home in California.  At this point, I think the author and guitarist had been married for maybe twenty years when essentially the author has some kind of hormonal whiplash and has an emotional and physical nuclear meltdown.  Obviously, she was experiencing menopause, but it apparently didn't occur to her that this might be the case until she pulled her Volvo off the side of a road, found herself in a state of anger, tears, depression, panic, and then called a friend who told her about the concept of menopause.  I just want to say that there were so many moments during the reading of this book that I wanted to yell, "Oh God!  Don't be a nitwit, for Christ's sake!  Put on your big girl panties, take a freaking Valium, see a gynecologist and pull yourself together!!"  

Long story short, the author divorces the guitarist, who by the way I had never heard of, and she seemingly discovers the love of her life in a man who is somehow also managing her career.  She calls him "Mr Y" and all this goes down when the two of them decide to go to some Burning Man refuge out in a desert.  Personally, I think they had both been inhaling a few too many fumes.  So the author sets out to find her some kind of refurbished house, splits time with her children on a fifty/fifty basis with her ex-husband, and also has "Mr. Y" move in with her.  "Mr Y" then returns to his wife and kids briefly before I believe, though I can't' be sure, his wife throws him out and divorces him.  Hence, he goes back to live with the author of the book.

In the meantime I'm learning as I continue reading, why I have no idea other than that I promised myself I would review this memoir, that the author's mother died of dementia at age 59.  And her father has married umpteen Asian women, has rented the rooms of his home out to some questionable tenants, periodically goes through trash cans or dumpsters, and is eventually found at his home unresponsive by the author.  The author, after calling her sister first to tell her she thinks their father is dead, finally calls 911.  The father goes to the hospital and we discover that he is not dead, but dehydrated.  I don't think this author was required like I was to take CPR before graduating high school; otherwise, I think she would have known what to check for regarding her father's health status when she found him at home unresponsive.   And to beat it all, the author's father places his monies in bogus banking accounts and oftentimes forges his daughter's signature.   I know what you're thinking, Grace would have had the "Come To God" meeting with that dadio right then and there, but this isn't my book dearest Lit Lovies.

So eventually the author and "Mr. Y" throw themselves into couples therapy because she's upset that he has taken on the role of executive producer of some play for six to eight weeks and he is never home.  And then honest to Jesus, it was just a whine fest.  He doesn't do his household chores, he doesn't remember appointments, his stuff is all over the house in "nests",  he's not home to have supper at a decent hour, they barely see each other, etc. etc.  I'm hoping by this point in the book that someone gets this woman to a gynecologist who will give her some copious amounts of Estrogen, Xanax, Prozac, and Restoril because honestly, I have legitimate reasons for taking all these drugs, but this author needs them more than I do and she needs them daily and not on an "as needed" basis as I do.  Truly, reading this memoir brought me to the point of knowing for sure how some people manage to have so much success in their lives and are still terribly unhappy with life. 

Finally, the author goes to spend time with a friend who lives in some extraordinary home in California and is married to a quite domesticated man.  The author is ready to move in and proceed to possibly take up a residence with them.  It dawns on me at this point in the book:  This woman wants and probably requires a handmaiden, butler, or executive assistant as opposed to a husband or significant other.  THANK GOD, the author finally sees a gynecologist who prescribes estrogen gel and the author also decides to find various books on how to survive menopause which she discovers is truly a revelation.  Why On God's Green Earth She Didn't Do This To Begin With, I Have No Idea!!

In the end, the author starts giving tips on how we middle-aged, Generation Xers should handle menopause.  Lord help her because she could have learned all this had she just Googled the word "Menopause".  Okay Lit Loves, I am not claiming this author chick to be part of my Generation X.  There, I've said it.  I thought she needed to get over herself and her Texas-sized ego.  And if I ever act or behave in any fashion as this author describes in this book, please, dear close friends or maybe my brother, smack me back into reality, throw a bucket of cold water on top of me, or have me jailed for a day until I get my compass pointed properly, okay?!

And hey, was it really necessary to diss other memoir writers in the book?  I thought that was just suggestive of delinquent behavior, okay?  And um no, fellow Lit Loves, I will not be recommending this memoir to you.  I will be recycling this book in the very near future.  It's not my cup of tea.  I don't live in Orange County, California, have a television or radio show, was never married to a guitarist, and most certainly DO NOT feel I need a maid or servant.  Oh, Hell To The No Lit Lovies!  I clean my own house, regularly see medical specialists for all sorts of weird maladies, and most of all, I know how to find and make my own happiness.  And for that I thank my Dad who is no longer here, but I sure as heck fire do reflect his humble, humorous, personable, curious, and wild-natured self.

Do with this memoir what you will Lit Lovies.  I am now moving on to reading the memoir entitled Pieces of my Mother by Melissa Cistaro.  Until my next review, update, or soap box rant, walk around proudly with a good book, read it, and then critically think to yourself, was this worth my time?