Guest Post with Lori Schafer

It is my honor to host Lori Schafer today. Her memoir, On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened, is being released today. I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy and will be posting a review next week. Lori writes about a subject close to my heart – the effect of mental illness of the family. My extended family has been touched by several different forms of mental illness so I appreciate the struggles that Lori endured. Well, without any further delay, here is Lori Schafer.


 Thank You: An Open Letter to Those Who Stood By Me During My Mom’s Mental Illness

Dear Friends from My Youth,

Next June will mark the twenty-fifth year since our graduation – the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day I left home.
Some of you I have not seen in those twenty-five years. Some, I fear, I won’t see again. I’ve never been one for reunions or for keeping in touch, yet you might be surprised at how often I think of you still. Lately my memories of you have drawn even nearer to the forefront of my mind, as I think back on the day that I ran away – as I think back on all the other days when I wished that I had.

In the spring of last year, I learned that my mother had died, six years before, in 2007. In the months that have passed since, I’ve written a book: On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness.

I know that to you I don’t need to explain; that I don’t need to tell you why I say mental illness, and that you’ll understand fully why it took so long for me to hear of her death. And perhaps you’ll understand, too, why I think of you now more than I have in two decades; why I’m writing this letter years after you should have received it.

We were all of us helpless during Mom’s mental illness, adolescents with limited experience and limited resources. There was little we could do to manage my personal situation, and nothing we could have done to manage my mother’s psychosis. Yet each of you did something, some small thing, perhaps, to ease my distress and lessen my pain. Each of you, in your own small way, helped me escape, helped me move on, helped me survive.

So to you, Maria, my long-time chum, I want to say thank you. For letting me call you at midnight when I got too lonely to stand it; for letting me talk and also letting me listen. For persuading your parents to permit me to use your phone number on my college applications, so that Mom didn’t have to know everywhere I’d applied. Maybe it didn’t seem like much to have done to help out a friend. But it got me my scholarship, and that salvaged my life.

To you, Karina, let me also say thank you. For helping me plan and then helping me move; for corralling our dog back into the house while I was frantically packing, for knowing that even in that desperate hour I wouldn’t have wanted him to get hurt or get hit. For being my friend in spite of what anyone thought; for never giving a damn what anyone thought. For that, Karina, I thank you.

George, my former friend, my later lover, how can I thank you? You did so little, and yet so very much. You came when I called. You’ve always come when I called. I think you still would.

Josh, my old friend Josh. What a wonderful time we had while Mom was insane! For so long you were my sole solace, my sole support, my sole source of happiness. I’ll never understand why Mom, even in the depths of her dementia, took such a shine to you and your charms; why her suspicions never turned upon you as they did the rest of our friends. You were the only person, kid or adult, that she would still allow into our house, and what a dreary, depressing place it must have been for a cheerful and energetic young man to enter time and again. Yet you did. Week after week and day after day, you came and kept me company, kept me alive, kept me sane. You perhaps can’t imagine how much I looked forward to your visits, or how often I’ve wondered what impelled you to make them. Or how hard it hit me when they finally came to an end, when even your most good-natured arrows could no longer pierce my mother’s thick armor. Yet the light of your smile, that you shone upon me and that you even shone upon her, lightened my burden and smoothed my transition. Those afternoons that we spent side by side were the most precious gift I had ever received. I thank you for giving them to me. I will never forget them.

Jesse, sweet Jesse. Quiet and shy, lacking, like me, even a license, you weren’t well-prepared to swoop in like a knight and come to my rescue. No, you weren’t able to take me away – but you never went away, either. You continued to love when there was no reason to love; you continued to wait when the waiting seemed without end. You were there when I emerged, blinking hard against the sun now burning my eyes, and you were there when I sank again into black pits of despair. There were times when I couldn’t have counted the days since I last saw you – and there were more when I didn’t want to count those that would pass before I saw you again. But I knew that however many had passed, and however many more would, you would still be waiting, and that was everything to me. Thank you, Jesse. Thank you for being with me.
And thank you, friends, for listening and for reading my letter. I know that we may never again meet, and may never again speak. I know that you’ll understand why I haven’t written you sooner, and why I won’t ever write you again. And I know, too, that you’ll forgive me for so long maintaining my silence. Because what’s a mere twenty-five years between friends?

Forever yours,
Lori


Mother's Death Front Flyer

On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness
It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.
Then came my mother’s psychosis.
I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.
My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.
But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.
She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.

On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is now available in eBook and paperback from Amazon. The audiobook, which Lori narrated, is also forthcoming.

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Lori Schafer’s flash fiction, short stories, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online publications, and her first two books were published this November. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness commemorates Lori’s terrifying adolescent experience of her mother’s psychosis, while Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past is an autobiographical collection featuring stories and essays inspired by other events from Lori’s own life. In the summer of 2014, Lori began work on a second memoir, The Long Road Home, during the course of a solo two-month-long journey across the United States and Canada. She anticipates that it will be ready for publication late in 2015.
When she isn’t writing (which isn’t often), Lori enjoys playing ice hockey, attending beer festivals, and spending long afternoons reading at the beach in the sunshine. For further information on Lori’s upcoming projects, please visit her website at http://lorilschafer.com/.

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Author Interview: Behind The Scenes with Elizabeth Hein

It was an honor to be interviewed by Maggie on Just Get It Written about my writing process and about my latest book.

Just Get It Written

Behind The Scenes2

I’m thrilled to have Elizabeth Hein with me today for this edition of Behind The Scenes. Her latest novel, How to Climb the Eiffel Tower, follows the journey of Lara as she goes through cancer treatment, and in the process, learns how to live.

1. Tell us a bit about your writing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get to where you are now?

Before I ever sat down at my keyboard to write, I was a reader. I was that little girl that always had a book in her hand. It wasn’t until I had lived a little that I considered sharing the stories in my head with the world. When I first sat down to write, I intended to put together a series of essays based on my experiences as a cancer patient. It was awful – dry, maudlin, a bit academic…

View original post 1,407 more words

Launch party and updates

We had a lovely time at the launch party for How To Climb The Eiffel Tower.

I was overjoyed that we had such a nice crowd for a short reading and question and answer period. After the months of  preparation, it was great to finally be able to talk with people about the book. The folks at our local Barnes & Noble were extremely gracious and even found more chairs when we ran out. Thanks, Val.

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On another note, I have several guest posts running this week. Check out these blogs to read my posts, then click around a bit and get to know Eileen and Julie.

Guest post on Booktalk With Eileen

Eileen’s review of How To Climb The Eiffel Tower

Guest post on Julie Musil

Keys that unlock more than doors

I’m excited to be a guest today on Maryann Miller’s excellent blog – It’s Not All Gravy. You should check it out. She posted a lovely review of How To Climb The Eiffel Tower on Sunday. 


 

In the post on Maryann’s blog, I  talk about how the scarab ring I frequently wear serves as a reminder of my journey throughout the land of cancer and how it became an inspiration for the special pieces of jewelry in How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. 

In my current work-in-progress, a small object also plays a pivotal part in the plot. As I work my way through an extensive rewrite of the story, the main character’s inability to enter a room is emerging as a major theme of the book. One plot line follows her progress in renovating her family’s estate and learning about each of the women who lived there before her. She works her way through the house room by room, except for the library on the first floor. She doesn’t have the key to open that lock – or does she? 

I have been researching the symbolism behind keys and locks for the last day or so. Had you ever heard of a mystery key? I had not, until I stumbled onto Antique Locks Knowledge and fell down a research rabbit hole. A mystery key is a working key that also contains symbols that the bearer could use to solve a puzzle. I think the key in this photo is gorgeous. According to Brian Morland on Antique Locks, the symbols on the face of the key are an ant perhaps for hard work, a ladybug perhaps for harmony, and a wizard’s face perhaps for wisdom. The reverse side has a face that Mr. Morland thinks might signify the moon. I think it would be neat if it was a caricature of the original owner of the key. Either way, having a key like that is far more interesting than the keys in my pocket. I like the idea of a key being imbued with meaning. I envision the main character finding a key in the shape of an ‘H’ that will unlock some important door or drawer. I will be tinkering with the idea for the next few weeks. Stay tuned for further updates on how the rewrite is going. 

An example of a mystery key full of symbolism (c/o AntiqueLocks.com)
Reverse side of mystery key.

 

 

Guest Post – Victoria Musgrave

It is my honor to welcome Victoria Musgrave to my little corner of the web today. I encourage you to follow her blog of sharp insights and lovely photos. – Elizabeth
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Last night, I listened to an interview with Joni Mitchell, the legendary Canadian singer, songwriter, musician and painter. The interviewer, Jian Ghomeshi, asked her to reflect on her songwriting and painting.
While she is probably best known for her singing and songwriting, she thinks of herself first as a visual artist. She started performing in coffee houses as a way to support herself while a student at art school. Her singing and songwriting eventually took her to California and fame, but she never stopped painting or seeing the world as a painter would. Indeed, many of her songs are very descriptive and by listening to them you can paint pictures in your mind.
Joni sees songwriting and art as different languages and some ideas can’t be translated from one language to another. She applies painting principles to her music. Painting is her “mother tongue” and music is a learned language.
Now, I would never consider myself to be anywhere near as brilliant as Joni Mitchell, but the interview did make me think about how my own writing and photography relates or intersects with each other. I consider myself first and foremost a writer. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old and have known since that age that writing was always going to be an important part of my life. I’ve made a living as a journalist, writer and corporate communicator for over a decade now.
However, throughout my career I’ve been called on to take photos for articles, brochures, conference posters and websites. I’ve worked mainly in non-profit organizations that couldn’t afford to hire a professional photographer.
Slowly, I began enjoying capturing moments and events with the camera. I took an interest in composing my shots, working with natural light and trying to capture the essence of an event or person with a single image. I have a camera with me at all times (mostly my iPhone, but I do carry a DSLR camera with me often). I take pictures every day, mostly capturing slices of my life.
How does photography relate to writing?
Taking photos has helped me to become a more descriptive writer. The camera forces me to pay attention to details. A few weeks ago, I sent myself on a photo walk through one of the oldest cemeteries in Toronto – many of the graves are more than one hundred years old. With my eye to the camera’s viewfinder, I paid far closer attention to gravestones and statuary that had become softened and worn with age. I noticed the tiny blue flowers that were sprinkled across the ground, bright bursts of life amidst the tombs. I marveled at the vines that were entwined around a tomb, wondering if there was anyone left to cut them away. I’m not certain if I would have paid as much attention if I didn’t have my camera with me.
I take photos to capture specific moments or details that will strengthen a story or blog post. It has been said a zillion times, but a photo really is worth a thousand words. The web is becoming increasingly visual and I love how easy it has become to include a picture with a blog post, a Facebook status update or to simply share images through Instagram or Twitter.
Photography is also a way to connect with yourself and others. I take photos to remind myself of moments, both ordinary and extraordinary. The morning cup of coffee, the lilac tree in bloom or a special place while traveling. I take self portraits occasionally, not for vanity, but as a way to remind myself that this is who I am right now.
Through social media, and especially Instagram, I can share glimpses of my life and catch glimpses of other people’s lives. I don’t consider this voyeurism, but connection. By sharing our lives, we don’t feel so isolated. We can see how similar we all really are.
For years, I’ve kept a diary or a journal and I enjoy being able to read entries I wrote years ago when I was at a different stage of my life. I can catch glimpses of who I was at the time. Photography also gives me a detailed visual record, a visual journal of my life. My parents took pictures when I was a kid and I treasure those yellowing snap shots. I love the fact that digital photography has made it so easy to capture daily moments. I will have thousands of photos to look back on years from now.
I think perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from pursuing photography in addition to writing is that I don’t have to put myself into a creative box. I’m not just a writer. It is good and healthy to pursue other forms of creativity because each will feed and strengthen the other.
VM-Selfie-FloralVictoria Musgrave (www.victoriamusgrave.com) is a writer and photographer passionate about telling stories through words and images and is currently writing a memoir about living aboard a sailboat and traveling to the Caribbean as a teenager. She spends her days doing yoga, journaling, working on the book, designing websites, snapping pictures with her iPhone and will soon launch an ebook on creating a daily journaling habit.