Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


B(u)y the Book, By the Pool, Bipolar

I spent the better part of an hour tinkering with the title for this post.

Hmmmm, should it be?

Letctio-Mania-Divina?

Bipolar Beach Book Bonanza?

Bipolar Summer Reads?

I settled on the B(u)y the Book, By the Pool, Bipolar because it captures it all. The season, my library, my finances and my moods.

And ’tis the season! Everywhere you look there are lists of “Best Beach Books” or “Sumptuous Summer Reads.” And here on U&U, I wanted to add my own.

I am well qualified (or at least so I think.)

Joani is a voracious reader whose reading knows no seasons — or at least there is no season in which she doesn’t pick up at least a dozen books. But summer is different. In summer, she believes she can read at least a dozen more!

And I am not alone. On vacation, lots of us bibliophiles shove a few novels into our suitcases, a few mysteries, a biography, maybe a memoir or two.

So just why do we read so much pulp fiction by the pool?

Just in time for the summer solstice, The New Yorker answered this question in this fabulous piece: The Invention of the Beach Book. And in it, Katy Waldman reviews a book about books (my favorite kind.)

“”Books for Idle Hours,” a new history by the academic Donna Harrington-Lueker, unpacks both the constructedness of “summer reading” and its gravitational pull. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, urbanization and industrialization gave summertime a new radiance—it offered a chance to escape the sweaty, overcrowded city and reconnect with nature. The steamship and the railroad made vacation getaways more accessible. Periodicals and newspapers began running features on resort towns and advertised summer activities and goods: cruises, camping gear, mineral springs. In the pages of Harper’s, the artist Winslow Homer published chic illustrations of fashionable, sun-dazed women watching horse races or strolling along the ocean. In short, bolstered by the era’s print culture, a new market of pleasure-seeking Americans emerged.

So in the summer, book shops, libraries, book stalls and drug stores all stocked up on beach books. As the reader’s appetite soared so did the publisher’s profits.

Schools and colleges and universities hijacked the tradition. The “Summer School Reading List” unfortunately is a buzz killer. Mandatory reading on holiday is just homework by another name.

But I digress.

Happily my reading is virtually all voluntary. I juggle a few volumes at a time, picking up whichever title matches a particular mood.

So let me “offer unto thee myself, my soul and my body” in my very own Bipolar Beach Book List. Here are a dozen mostly-read and a few hope-to-read titles. Fiction and non-fiction, familiar and far-flung. And be forewarned, my reading tastes tend toward the dystopian and dark, the provocative and the historic with a bit of self-help-psychology thrown in (like a cherry on top.)

(Blurbs are directly lifted from digital book jackets.)

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley “This groundbreaking dual biography brings to life a pioneering English Feminist and the daughter she never knew. Author Charlotte Gordon reunites the trailblazing author who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the Romantic visionary who gave the world Frankenstein…two courageous women who shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy.”

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman “Arguably the earliest written work of feminist philosophy, Mary Wollstonecraft produced this manifesto of woman’s rights in the time of the American and French Revolutions. This era induced many to reconsider not only the rights of men, but also of women, and none argued for female emancipation more eloquently or effectively than Wollstonecraft.”

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley describes the ethos behind what became her famous and frightening cautionary tale, “My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world.

M.R. James Collected Ghost Stories “Considered by many to be the most terrifying writer in English, M.R. James was an eminent scholar…His classic supernatural tales draw on the terrors of everyday life, in which documents and objects unleash terrible forces often in closed rooms and night-time settings where imagination runs riot. Lonely country houses, remote inns, ancient churches…great libraries provide settings for unbearable menace. These stories have lost none of their power to unsettle and disturb.”

Dark Tales “After the publication of her short story “The Lottery” in the New Yorker in 1948, Shirley Jackson was quickly established as a master horror storyteller. This collection of classic, unsettling, dark tales, includes “The Possibility of Evil” and “The Summer People.” In these deliciously dark stories, the daily commute turns into a nightmarish game of hide and seek, the loving wife hides homicidal thoughts and the concerned citizen might just be an infamous serial killer. In the haunting world of Shirley Jackson, there’s something sinister in suburbia.”

Picnic at Hanging Rock Joan Lindsay’s classic Australian novel. “It was a cloudless summer day in 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing through the scrub into the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned…”

Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table “A fascinating and unusual chapter in American history about a religious community that held radical notions of equality, sex, and religion—only to transform itself, at the beginning of the twentieth century, into a successful silverware company and a model of buttoned-down corporate propriety. ” Written by Ellen Wayland-Smith, descendant of John Henry Noyes, the founder of the Oneida Community in upstate New York.

Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Growing Up and Starting Over “In the first in-depth research of its kind, Janja Lalich interviewed sixty-five people who were born in or grew up in thirty-nine different cultic groups spanning more than a dozen countries. What’s especially interesting about these individuals is that they each left the cult on their own, without outside help or internal support. In Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over, the authors craft Lalich’s original and groundbreaking research into an accessible and engaging book, the first of its kind.”

The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood’s dystopian tale that inspired the Hulu Original Series. “The story is told through the eyes of Offred. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate and wry, Offred reveals to us the dark corners of the establishment’s facade…It is at once scathing satire and a dire warning and Margaret Atwood at her best.”

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better AngelsWe have been here before. In this timely and revealing book, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham helps us understand the present moment by looking back at critical times in our history when hope overcame fear and division. With clarity and purpose, Meacham explores contentious periods and how presidents and citizens came together to defeat the forces of anger, intolerance and extremism.”

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are “A motivational and inspiring guide to wholehearted living, this eye-opening work of Brene Brown, Ph.D. bolsters the process of personal development with characteristic heartfelt honest storytelling. Based on her original research, Brown explores the psychology of releasing notions of an “imperfect” life while embracing a life of honest beauty — a perfectly imperfect life.”

Attached “Is there a science to love? In this meticulously researched book, psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel S. F. Heller reveal how an understanding of attachment theory – the most advanced relationship science in existence today – can help us find and sustain love. Pioneered by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s, the field of attachment explains that each of us behaves in relationships in one of three distinct ways: Anxious, avoidant or secure.” Which one are you?

All available in multi-media – ephemeral and real. Click on the links to learn more.

Happy reading!


1 Comment

Differently Wired, Elektra-kly

The Bipolar Brain, wired bright.

The Bipolar Brain, wired bright.

Medusa. I definitely resembled Medusa. Twenty-one electrodes, like snakes had been glued to my head – a crazy helmet I had to wear for forty eight hours. A crazy helmet I had to wear because a crazy neurologist was trying to figure out how my crazy brain had gone crazy haywire.

But not because I was crazy.

Three years ago I started having side effects from one of the crazy drugs I was prescribed. The symptoms were both surreal and terrifying. They occurred only at night. It was like a power outage, like someone had flipped a switch. One minute my brain was on. The next minute it seemed my brain was about to shut off. I didn’t want to close my eyes. I did not want to go to sleep. I was scared to death that I might just wake up dead. Short circuited. Wires fried. Unplugged.

Dr. Khan stared at the scratches and the scribblings. Silent seizures, she said. That’s what wrong with your head. You’re not bipolar. You have silent seizures. Days of mania? Nights of depression? One EEG and she thought she had my brain all figured out. Diagnosis done. But Dr, Khan in the end turned out to be the crazy one. Crazy wrong.

But it’s really not so crazy to want to understand. The mystery of the mind is not solved with an x-ray or a blood test or an EEG. Cracking open the skull is like trying to crack God’s own safe. It is virtually un-crackable.

Just ask Michio Kaku, a theoretical astrophysicist and author of “The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind.”

There are 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, roughly the same number of neurons in your brain. You may have to travel 24 trillion miles to the nearest star outside of our solar system, to find an object as complex as what is sitting on your shoulders.”

“The Universe is concerned with the vastness of outer space…. black holes, exploding stars, and colliding galaxies. While the brain is concerned with inner space, where we find our most intimate and private hopes and desires. The mind is no farther than our next thought, yet we are often clueless when asked to explain it.”

100 billion lights to light up my brain. 100 billion lights wired 100 billion different ways. To the 100 billionth power. Welcome to my wired world. There is a symphony of synapses firing in my head. Sometimes the music is exquisite.  Sometimes cacophonous. Sometimes incomprehensible.

And sometimes my brain erupts like fireworks. Bright flames of orange and yellow and red. Flames I am most reluctant to extinguish. Flames that keep me up at night. Once upon an October just two years ago, I barely slept for ten straight days and ten straight nights. For ten straight days and ten straight nights, my fingers flew like lightning on the keyboard of my Mac. Twelve sermons in two hundred and forty hours. Brilliant. Profound. Inspired. Glorious. Indeed so  — maybe the first five or six. The next half dozen – not so much.

Manic fire fizzles. It fades to shades of purple, blue, and black. Just how purple, blue, and black depends. Sometimes dim and depressed and distracted. Sometimes as deep and dark and black as a black hole.

The brain burns itself out — shattered in an electric storm as surely as when lightning strikes a tree. A matter of scientific interest  of great interest to none other than Mary Shelley’s, Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

…for a time I was occupied by exploded systems, mingling a thousand contradictory theories and floundering desperately, guided by an ardent imagination and childish reasoning, till an accident again changed the current of my ideas.”

“When I was but fifteen…I witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm. It advanced from the mountains…and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood twenty yards from our house; and as soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump….shattered in a singular manner….not just splintered by the shock but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood.”

My mother once was shattered thus. So shattered she could not speak. So shattered she could not hear. So shattered she did not eat. So shattered she could not raise her head.  So shattered all her days were night. So shattered it seemed – it would take a lightning bolt to raise her from the dead.

A lightning bolt did. It’s called ECT – electro-convulsive therapy. And my mother, a bit like Frankenstein, had these electrodes wired to her head. The doctor flipped the switch and she was resurrected. Maybe not the first time, but after several treatments — with all the electricity of a 100 watt light bulb — my mother was resurrected.

And no one knows how. No doctor, no scientist could explain how my mother’s brain got rewired but it did. Who needs a psychiatrist when you can call an electrician?

Differently wired. I have come to understand my bipolar brain as differently wired. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and Mt Sinai Hospital Center are all working on the same thing. How to make visible that invisible thing called bipolar disorder. How to rewire the manic side and the depressive side just so. How to rewire the brain chemically and genetically just so. The very best scientists of the very best kinds are all exploring that inner space — magnetically, electronically, digitally.

All to find out what I already know. I am differently wired. My brain is bipolar and that is how it works. It is how I perceive the world. It is how I experience the ups and downs of life. It is how I think. It is how I feel. It is both blessing and curse. It is a gift I did not ask for, but I am grateful for it just the same. I am differently wired. That is who I am.

My mind dances in spirals and does not walk in straight lines. My thoughts fly like fireflies and my head is often in the clouds. Words spill out of my mouth both melodious and ridiculous. I am a one woman band, getting so much good stuff done in so little time. At least so I believe of myself — most of the time. I do not want to medicate myself away. But my brain can do with a little management — at least a little bit.

You see, I resemble Elektra more than I do Medusa. In Greek mythology Elektra is a nymph of the ocean married to a god of the sea. One daughter is Iris, the rainbow. The other daughter is Harpies, the storm winds that blow. Elektra — amber, shining, and bright — pierces the storm clouds with rainbows of light. I am Elektra. At least so I believe most of the time!

So with a little bit of science, with a little bit of magic, with a little bit of prayer, with a little bit of humor, with a little bit of faith, with a little bit of help, with a little bit of spark, and yes with a little bit of medication, and more than just a little bit of sleep — that is how I manage to be me. Joan Louise – Elektra – Peacock.

Differently wired. Definitely me.

So…

Thanks  be to all the gods and goddesses.

Thanks be to God, The Holy Three.

Thanks be to God for wiring me,

Electrically,

Quite differently.

For making me — just me.

JoaniSign