August Roundup

A quick note to share art and conversations that I think you might enjoy, too.

My recent favorite book is Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn. For anyone considering beginning a writing career, the author gives a step-by-step guide of how to succeed. And in a perfect world, I would love to think that I could become my own publisher one day and have more autonomy over my career as a writer.

Best watch at the theater: The Peanut Butter Falcon, reviewed here by Forbes. Sentimental and kind without being simple, I loved it so well that I saw it twice.

Addictions and recovery have been on my mind. My work, my family, and my community in Alaska are heavily impacted by substance abuse. This interview finally helped me understand how the incredible shame people in recovery face can make their success a near impossibility. I hope I will never look at a newly sober parent of a delinquent minor the same way.

I joined some dynamic authors for a talk about domestic violence. Leslie Morgan Steiner, Dr. Christine Ristaino, and Kerry Schafer and I each hope that you’ll join the conversation, and share it with your loved ones as you see fit. It’s now available on YouTube.

Thank you for the emails and comments. I never feel alone with this community.

Sincerely,

Lizbeth

June Listens, Watches, and Reads

How are you?

Welcome!

It’s June with a vengeance. With warmer temps and thicker wildfire smoke than I can remember in Alaska’s history, it’s one for the books. And movies. And podcasts.

Due to the long and lovely summer days, I still have 6 hours of bright sunlight to enjoy after I get off work at 5:30PM.

Here are a few of the books, podcasts, and movies I’ve filled those hours with. And I’d love to hear what art you’ve been enjoying.

Podcasts

Alaska, Unsolved A new podcaster digs up the cold case of Erin Marie Gilbert who went missing from a crowded festival here without a trace in 1995.

The Creative Penn Podcast So filled with energy and ideas for writers.

Movies

Poms-Though the reviews were terrible, and the start was weak, this was a sweet film about friendship and aging.

Late Night– Another terrific film that addresses aging and being marginalized.

Yesterday– Such an original story, and a terrific escape.

Books

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy my Audible subscription since giving up cable TV? It’s terrific to be read to again.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro. A gracious memoir about family and love.

(pictured to the right of the image by Pieces of Me in 2/19 for the glorious days mine was a bestseller)

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (paperback). Gorgeous storytelling. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

What have you been enjoying?

Thank you for joining me today.

The Importance of Sharing Ugly

Yesterday, I had a conversation with the Seward Library Book Group about coming clean in my memoir, or, as one member put it, telling on myself.  Referring to the times I mentioned my own flaws and frailties, being judgmental or quick tempered, that are sprinkled throughout the book.

Then conversation quickly morphed to social media sharing, how we can feel so alone as we scroll through picture after picture of seemingly perfect images posted, and the disconnect so many of us feel, now that we’re all “connected.”

It reminds me of the memoir I’ve been reading, Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.

The author, Elizabeth Silva, structures her story with chapters beginning with the sunshine-y newsletters she sent out over the years tucked inside Christmas cards, followed by the backstory of what was really going on. Her feelings of helplessness as her now-grown children did not launch as planned. A daughter’s heroin addiction led Silva and her husband to become parents all over again of three vulnerable and resilient grandchildren. A second daughter’s divorce, and a son’s prolonged lack of ambition only added to the stress.

The Christmas newsletters and the social media phenomenon bring up the same feelings. When we only share only our best side, where we look attractive, accomplished, our kids seemingly brilliant and irrepressibly happy, we perpetuate the notion to others that they’re alone in their loneliness or failures or even despair. Even though that’s not the intention.

I’ve struggled with sheepishly giving optimistic updates on my Facebook author page. While it doesn’t make sense to draw attention to negative reviews or my angst about the financial hits I’ve taken to keep my book positioned well, it feels dishonest. So I’ve written essays about writing and parenting to present a more honest view.h

If one compared my author Facebook page with my real life this week, they would see an information gap that defined my days.

While it is true that I loved my youngest daughter’s 30th birthday soiree and the various writerly events, they were sandwiched between an increasingly impossible day job and an even more impossible, never-ending job as the parent of an oldest child experiencing profound mental illness who continues to flounder as an undue amount of tragedy is thrown her way.

Last week, her only asset, an old Camry, was shot repeatedly in the commission of a crime in downtown Anchorage while she slept nearby in her apartment. The car was parked at a meter outside. It was totaled. But worse than that, it triggered her PTSD, and has set her back further. The crime is unsolved, so no one will be paying restitution to compensate her loss.

Of course I’m fortunate she was not physically harmed. She’ll get through it, but not without a lot of support.

On good days, I remember to be thankful that I can give said support.

On many others, I’m angry or just worn out for having to.

I so appreciate social media for the many positives it brings, the same way I do when I get a chatty Christmas newsletter. But there is no substitute for real human contact, and authentic interactions. Sometimes, it’s important to share the ugly.

We all struggle. We all fail. We all get overwhelmed.  And none of us have to be alone as we slog through our journey, or keep our struggles a secret.

Maybe one of the greatest gifts given me post-publication is going place to place, finding pods of community where ever I’m invited to speak, and feeling encircled with caring readers and writers who often share their own stories.

I hope you have a supportive circle to both celebrate and grieve all life dishes your way. And thank you for being a part of my community.

A Week Inspired by San Jose’s Recycle Book Club

At the risk of sounding superstitious, I’m fairly certain that my house is jealous of my efforts to leave it.

The web searches for homes in less expensive states to live in after I retire, the upgrading of the bathrooms, the kitchen, and the floorings. The conversations that must’ve been overhead about my need for sun and warmth and a place closer to my extended family have not gone unnoticed.

I know this, because just before or just after leaving the state, some catastrophe occurs. Flooding. An earthquake. Flooding again. Every time I leave, some punishing event that catches me completely off guard.

As I packed for my book event in San Jose, California a couple of weeks ago, I found a huge puddle of water on the newly tiled kitchen floor. I sopped it up, hoping I’d simply stacked the dishes in the wrong direction and ran the dishwasher. It wasn’t. The puddle appeared two more times, the final one just as I was getting my luggage packed. My neighbor kindly guided me through the process of shutting the water supply off in the crawl space, schooling me first by phone and then finally leaving his date miles away to help me. Together, we slogged through the dirty area beneath the garage for a short-term solution.

I got to the airport just in time for my flight, smelling of scented kitty litter, with cob webs still in my eye lashes. Only to realize that in my haste to shut the water off, I’d forgotten to pack shirts.

At least I remembered copies of my book.

To my happy surprise, the person I rented a room from picked me up at the airport. James worked in Silicon Valley before retiring and re-tooling, now renting affordable rooms and cars to people with short work stints in the area. Chatty and firm in his convictions that we must offer hope to the hopeless among us, he became my accidental life coach, filled with ideas and concepts of books he was certain I needed to write. They were great ideas, it turned out. “Stop aiming small,” he told me.

I felt welcomed and safe, and enjoyed some six- mile walks without ever getting lost, a true miracle in my world.

San Jose had warm temperatures, generous walking trails, and friendly people. I was impressed. Book group organizer Lloyd Russell of Booksage and his wonderful wife Joni took me to dinner. My longtime friend Richard from Berkeley made his time and home available, and I finally got to meet his new (to me) wife.

Richard is a loyal friend who never stopped encouraging me to write my book. When my computer died a decade ago, he gifted me my first laptop. He was that committed to the story being published. And it was through Richard that his cousin Lloyd got a copy of my book. I owe this once-in-a-lifetime book event and trip to him.

My friend Richard.

During the event itself at Recycle Bookstore, I got a warm round of applause as I entered the bookstore. Wow! An evening to talk with thoughtful readers about writing and publishing and the inevitable setbacks life dishes all of us, and how we choose to handle them. I enjoyed every moment of it.

Booksage’s Lloyd Russell and his wife Joni.
Wonderful Recycle Book Group

I took trains and busses to visit my cherished friend and former roommate Barbara, hosted me for a night in Redding at her apartment in a lively retirement community. We stayed up late, pouring through old pictures of when we lived together in ’92-’93, reminiscing about my daughters before their abduction, and the zany things the girls did in those years of near normalcy before the event that severed their childhoods.

 I returned to my welcoming little home and two needy cats just after 2am, and found that the water shut off had been successful. No new damage occurred in my absence. I crept around in the crawl space and turned the water back on. By default, I learned that this particular problem was the new dishwasher installation. No big deal. I’ll fix it when I can.

I got a text from James the day after I returned with another new book idea. His best yet. He’s asked that I send him a completed synopsis by next Thursday. He’s not kidding.

“The idea is to give victims and their families, as well as the good people in America, hope among the hopelessness… Your book is a step in the direction to help victims or potential future victims.”

So much love and inspiration packed in to a few days reminded me that home isn’t simply a place. It’s a moveable part, a sense of connection, not just where I toss my belongings.

But I do love my little weird place, with its memories of raising kids and cats. Of hosting friends for get-togethers. Memories of my neighbors, delivering freshly caught fish or helping when I needed them with frozen pipes or car or kid troubles.

Who knows? Maybe I can rent my house out and live here in the summers. It will be a while yet before I figure out where I will ultimately land.

But as a cautionary measure, I’m writing all of this from a coffee house rather than from home, just in case my home is looking over my shoulder.

The threat is just too great.

Thank you for stopping by, and thank you Lloyd Russell, Richard Illgen, and Recycle Bookstore and Recycle Book Club for the book love.

And thank you to my daughter for taking care of Oliver and Lou.

Author Interview with Linda M. Kurth/When Abuse and Faith Intersect

 

There are many reasons an abused partner may choose to remain in their relationship. Faith and ties to their faith community factor in for many.

Author Linda M. Kurth

I’m honored to have author Linda M. Kurth sharing from her experience and upcoming memoir.

Crazymaking: A form of psychological attack on somebody by offering contradictory alternatives and criticizing the person for choosing. -www.yourdictionary.com

“Your husband is a crazymaker,” Susan, my new counselor declared.

Susan was one of several counselors Jim and I had seen during the last half of our twenty-five year marriage. Yet none of it seemed to get to the root of our problem. Jim was a “good Christian.” He was a good provider. He was smart and had a great sense of humor. His hugs were legendary. Yet I was dying inside, and my prayers had not changed our dynamic.

Susan had listened as I told her how Jim promised to change over and over again, and yet hadn’t. “I’m having difficulty believing him anymore,” I said. “He tells me one thing one day, then the opposite the next. When I try calling him on this stuff, he always denies giving me a double message.”

Susan sighed. “I believe Jim’s personality type will try every trick in the book to avoid taking responsibility for sabotaging your marriage. His type is good at keeping the opposing party off guard. I’m not optimistic he’ll own up to his behavior.”

I felt a mixture of relief and what? Resistance? Disbelief? I’m the kind of person who rips a band-aid off, but part of me wanted to cling to hope. Acknowledging that my husband was not going to change meant I’d either have to resign myself to being hurt again and again by his emotionally abusive passive-aggressive behavior. Or, I’d have to leave. I hated both options.

The thought of leaving left a churning in my stomach and a tightening in my chest. I was fifty-five and hadn’t supported myself in years. When I tried to visualize my future alone, the picture was dismal. Besides, as a Christian, I worried that divorcing was not part of God’s plan for me.

During this time, my husband accepted a new job that was near my home town. I agreed to move with him and engage in counseling one last time. Jim found Norma, a conservative Christian counselor, but we made no progress. I saw clearly I had only one choice if I was to survive emotionally.

“I’d like to discuss divorce,” I told Norma, my voice shaking.

“We don’t talk about divorce,” she replied, and then proceeded to talk about it. She quoted the Bible in Matthew 19 verse 9, in which Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

“If you divorce Jim, Satan wins,” Norma explained.

Heat rose in me. I blurted out my truth. “Satan has already won. Jim may not have been physically unfaithful to me but he’s been emotionally unfaithful. He’s unrepentant, and I’ve lost all hope for reconciliation.”

Norma shook her head with sadness. “You’ll be making a huge mistake if you leave the covering and protection of your husband.”

I almost laughed. I certainly had not been feeling my husband’s “protection.”

That night, I threw myself on the Lord’s mercy and discerned his permission to leave.

As I struggled to regain my sense of equilibrium, I was met with a dichotomy of responses from the Christian community. I received a scathing letter from a Christian friend of my husband, condemning me for choosing divorce. For the same reason I was turned away from a church I had considered joining. On the other hand, my former church embraced me when I went back to visit, even providing me with a divorce ceremony. Best of all, I was welcomed by a new church that had a large singles ministry. There, I met many other singles, many of whom became my friends and support during my recovery.

Since that heartbreak time, God has blessed me in many ways. I bought a townhouse in which I felt secure. Eventually, I met a wonderful man while ballroom dancing. We’ve been married for fifteen good years.

I’ve recently completed a memoir, tentatively titled God, the Devil, and Divorce: A Love Story from which I’ve drawn material for this article. (I hope to see the memoir published soon.) I have a blog, “Help and Healing for Divorced Christians,” where I offer what I’ve learned about going through and surviving divorce, and where I encourage churches to welcome divorced people with love and grace. I pray both the book and blog will help people achieve a happier divorce recovery experience.

Linda Kurth is offering advice, “Ten Steps for a More Joyful Life after Divorce,” to subscribers of her blog. Click here for the link to download.

 

Would you like the chance to win a set of compelling memoirs about domestic violence? For the month of October, 2018, enter here to win!

How My Daughters Are Today/The Question I’m Asked Most at Author Events

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

As I prep for a few book events, including a FaceTime conversation with a Florida book group,

The question I get asked the most is always How are the girls now?

And just after that, Do your daughters mind you writing and talking about them?

They’re fair questions with dynamic answers.

At the moment, both my grown daughters live in the same city as me.  Neither have married. Neither have children. Neither appear interested in getting married or having children.

My oldest daughter, recently back in Alaska after a year in Mexico, is presently taking seven classes at the local university to finish her degree in psychology. I don’t know what kind of work she’ll go in to, but I’m so proud that she will have options, thanks to her hard work.

Life has been incredibly challenging for her, not simply because she was a child-witness of domestic violence or because she and her sister spent two years living in hiding in Greece. She manages anxiety and significant mental health problems that threaten her quality of life. This has been compounded by losing a shocking number friends to early deaths.

Still, she persists. She has a long-term relationship, adores her pets, and even at times when she’s shut off from other, she remains in close contact with her sister and me.

My youngest daughter finished college some years ago and works in finance. She too has a long-term relationship. She is athletic and busy, volunteering in the community and on a board of directors. She has a thriving dog-walking, pet-sitting business on the side. While her sister’s emotional wounds were deep from being the oldest child who shouldered adult responsibility early, my youngest has had medical leftover concerns.

 

Still, when I read the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study and compare their scores to the potential outcomes, I’m awestruck at how very well they’re doing.

Some of the resiliency factors after the kidnapping were having stable housing and kind neighbors, good schools, involved family friends, access to community mental health providers, team sports, and knowing they had family-far away-that loved them dearly. And their pets were a healing balm that reduced their stress levels every day.

All things considered, my daughters are doing exceptionally well. Funny and feisty, lovers of hiking and Greek food and good people, and able to incorporate old traumas into their lives while embracing new joys.

 I’m sure at times they mind the invasion of privacy of having a mom who’s a writer, but they’ve not said so. I’ve tried to minimize it by not using their names in essays and in local talks.

More often, they sincerely appreciate that people care to ask about how they are.

So do I.

Thank you for stopping by.

Love at the Speed of Email-Interview with Author Lisa McKay

After sailing through her fascinating memoir in which issues of love, faith, work, and passion are examined, I interviewed author Lisa McKay. Lisa, who presently lives in Laos, answers questions about Love At the Speed of Email as well as the writing process, and her thoughts on traditional versus self-publishing. 

Below is an excerpt from her book.

What drives any of us to stick with something for years when it’s not a constant carnival? 

For many, a need to pay the rent and eat, clearly. But that’s not all. Few of us who live in the Western world must do exactly what we do to feed and clothe ourselves. Many times our career choices are really more influenced by a cocktail of duty, fear, apathy, talent, priorities, and passion. Alternate lives, at least one or two of them, often lie within reach.

  Thank you so much for your time, Lisa!

Can you describe LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL for us?

Love At The Speed Of Email is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology. Here’s the back cover text:
Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.
While writing your memoir, you split your time between humanitarian work in several countries while being newly married. When did you actually find time to actually do the writing?
It was a challenge (although I must say I think it’s usually a challenge to find/make time to write, no matter where you’re at in life). I wrote the first draft during our first year of marriage. Mike was away for about a third of the year working on consultancies in different countries, so I had several months of free evenings. I was also only working four days a week – I had previously made the decision to drop down to 80% schedule and take a 20% paycut to concentrate on my writing. (Here I should pause to say that although that did cost us financially, it was a decision I never regretted. I loved having that extra time on Fridays).
The 2nd and 3rd drafts were a lot easier to find time to work on – we’d just moved to Laos, and apart from doing some consulting all I had on my hands was time. That first nine months in Laos was a huge luxury for me in that regard.
What’s the hardest part of taking your relationship, analysing it, and putting it into a book for all to read?
The hardest part of writing about my relationship with the man who is now my husband was figuring out what to leave out. We had written each other 90,000 words worth of letters before we ever met, and that was just the start of the raw material I had to work with.
Writing about my previous relationships was harder. One chapter, in particular, I must have rewritten a dozen times. I went over that story over and over again, trying to pin down what had happened during that time and, in particular, my own contribution to the unhealthy dynamics of that relationship.
How was the process of writing memoir different than writing fiction?
When I was writing my first novel (My Hands Came Away Red) I found myself getting surprised by what was happening. As I figured out the “what” of plot, however, an understanding my character’s actions and reactions followed fairly naturally.
Writing a memoir reversed this process. I already knew what happened – I’d lived it – but I had to work much harder to figure out what it all meant to me, then and now.
The plotting process was different, too. With the novel I wrote my way into the story blind, without an outline. As I wrote, the story gained momentum as events unfolded.
In contrast, I had a clear vision for the start and end of the memoir, but little idea of how I was going to get from one place to the other. Despite repeated outlines I continued to flounder in the middle until the very final drafts of the manuscript.
How has the process of promoting your self-published book been different than your traditionally published novel, MY HANDS CAME AWAY RED? What role has blogging played?
Self-publishing’s been more work than I had anticipated, taken more time, and has cost me more money. How’s that for a depressing summary?
In all seriousness, I don’t regret having self-published this book. I’ve learned a huge amount through this experience that I’m sure will serve me well. However, I also have even more respect for the role played by traditional publishing companies now. The editing and mentoring I received during the process of publishing my first book was invaluable – I am so grateful to all the staff involved in that process.
A word about money on this topic … Proponents of self-publishing often ridicule the royalty rates that traditional publishers pay (often in the range of 17%), and there is perhaps room for those to be increased. But on many versions of my self-published books I’m not earning a huge amount more than that. Amazon, for example, only pays you 35% on kindle downloads from a whole bunch of countries instead of the 70% it pays when a US customer downloads your e-book. Sure, that’s double what you’d earn if you had been published by a traditional company, but you’re also out there working to sell books without the benefit of marketing or publicity help unless you pay for it. (If you want to think more about money, jump on over to a pair of posts I wrote recently about costs and earnings associated with self-publishing. Here’s the link to the first one, Let’s talk money: What it cost me to self-publish my book). 
As for the role blogging has played … the blog has been a useful forum for helping me process the self-publishing journey and keeping people up to date. I also have no doubt that I’ve already reached more people with this story because I keep an active blog than I would without it. But I don’t have a huge audience by blog standards. I’m not nearly a mega-blogger, and it’s the mega-bloggers who are in a position to sell thousands of books just through the power of their own blog. So blogging for me has been something I do because I want to more than anything else, not a calculated publishing move.
Do you have any words of advice for others who want to write a memoir?
Screeds have been written on this topic, but here are a couple of points I tried to keep in mind:
Tell a story: When I started writing this memoir I thought I might be able to “glue together” a whole bunch of essays and blog posts I’d previously written and call it a book. A friend and editor bluntly told me that I was neither famous nor good enough to get away with that yet and that I had to tell a coherent story if I wanted to write a memoir. He was right. If you want to write a memoir and you don’t know anything about story arc, google it (for starters).
Write into the unknown: I don’t know who it was that said that if the author hadn’t discovered anything during the course of the book the reader likely wouldn’t either, but it’s stuck with me. If you want to write a memoir be prepared to do some soul searching and struggling to put into words some of your shadows and your fears. Work to learn about yourself while you’re writing.
Take your time: I know some people can write a book in a couple of months. I’m not one of them. My work is always stronger when I’m prepared to edit, edit, edit, and let it sit and breathe between drafts.
I’d love to hear about the Lao charities you support, and what you’re working on next.
A portion of my profits on this book will be going to support charities operating here in Laos. The two I have in mind at present are two organizations that focus on literacy and education, Pencils of Promise and the Luang Prabang Boat Library. Pencils of Promise builds schools and trains teachers. The Library Boat carries books up and down the Mekong to villages that can only be accessed by boat.

As for what I’m working on next, I’m not sure. Long term I know I want to write more books, but not in the next couple of months! A couple of things I know I will do in the next six months is guest posting to help get the memoir off the ground and starting to write more on the topic of long distance relationships. If you have a blog and you’d like me to guest post for you, do let me know! I’d love to hear from you. 

Lisa McKay can be reached at www.lisamckaywriting.com

 

The Balancing Act: Working Tourism, Writing, and Working

Remember a while back when I mentioned I’d be working in tourism this summer?

I work in Whittier on Saturdays, an hour and a half drive from my home in Anchorage. I wanted to try a side hustle that fit neatly in to my already full workweek.

In a perfect world, this would be a job I return to after I retire and spend winters out-of-state or move altogether. It would allow me a connection to Alaska while keeping my brain engaged learning new skills, and hopefully earning me some travel credits for winter.

And in my imperfect world, this job would help me be a part of someone’s good experience. Having worked as a battered women’s advocate, a child abuse investigator, and now a juvenile probation supervisor, I’m ready to bring smiles instead of misery. And to enhance visitors’ trips to Alaska. It’s also a way for me to experience second-hand travel. All the excitement, none of the worries.

From the long cozy ride to the port with seven other workers to the crowded lines of stressed-out passengers, there is a theme of belonging. Maybe it’s the uniforms. Or maybe it’s the constant push to get people moved from train or bus to ship, or how we greet passengers. “Thank you for coming to Alaska,” or “Welcome to Whittier.” And then cram back into the van for another hour and a half drive.

There are lots of fun times. And there are a lot of other times. It’s very satisfying to stay in motion rather than sitting at a desk all day, and to help people with short-term, easy problems.I work with some terrific people, mostly women from young ones in their 20’s to others in their 80’s. We represent the full spectrum, and I love hearing their stories—of gardening, of fishing, of husbands and grandkids and pets. I couldn’t ask for a better group.

That said, I don’t have as much energy as I once did. I may need to re-think this plan until I actually have retired.

But there’s something so exciting about traveling, whether it’s going on a trip to a place I’ve never been, or hearing about someone else’s wild experience coming to Alaska. I think travel is better in the planning and in the retelling. I know I’m not alone when I say that while it’s exhilarating to reach a travel goal, amazing to keep the new friendships made, it’s just plain scary at times to be an uninvited guest in someone else’s yard.

So I’ll book a trip to a destination soon in South America. It’s long been my goal to hit all continents by 60. Time is moving fast.  When each continent is complete, a book of travel essays with a companion guide of how to travel on a slim budget will result.

In the meantime, I’ve began vlogging on YouTube, giving Alaskan tourists some travel hints, and introducing readers to characters in my stories, past and future. Alaska is a big character in my memoir. More than a simple setting, Alaska has been an adoptive parent.

I’ve continued to do interviews about Pieces of Me from home on podcasts and in publications, and work with an editor to completely renovate my forthcoming novel.

If you have questions or comments about Alaska, about travel, feel free to drop me a line. And if you’re so inclined, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

And please say hello if you pass through Whittier some Saturday afternoon, where I will say,”Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”

And I mean it. Thanks for stopping by.

Preventing Domestic Violence/Interview with Dr.Sally Dorman


M
My longtime friend, Dr. Sally Dorman, will return to Alaska next week for a summer visit.

Twenty-something years ago, I worked at an agency that served battered women and children. Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis. Sally was one of my favorite coworkers. We worked in the trenches together with other dynamic staff members, facilitating groups for battered women, creating school curricula for grades K-12 on family violence, and giving countless school presentations on the topic.

In the late ’90s, Sally moved out of Alaska to advance her education, and I became a social worker. We lost touch. Two years ago, we reconnected through Facebook.

Today, Sally is Dr. Dorman, a school psychologist in Maryland specializing in violence prevention programming. Her research on the impact of training school personnel to recognize the signs of childhood exposure to domestic violence was funded through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and  published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. in 2008.

Thank you Dr. Dorman, and welcome!

How did you go from working with battered women and children in the battered women’s shelter to the violence prevention work you do today?

I did clinical work for my master’s degree at a community health center while attending Mansfield University for a degree in Community Clinical Psychology. As a part of that, I worked at a local community mental health center for my internship, which got me thinking of the dire need for mental health promotion and prevention.

After the prevention work we did back in the day, it was only natural that my interests lie in violence prevention and decided to enter a doctoral program in school psychology. I wanted to do the prevention work through policy change.

What kinds of projects have you worked on to address kids affected by domestic violence?

I worked on a coordinated community response around domestic violence in western New York.  We used a public health model, looking at primary, secondary, and tertiary responses. The response focused on getting everyone in the community to realize domestic violence is a problem, and we all have a role in solving that problem.

As an example, if the police respond to a home in which 8 year-old Suzi is a child witness of domestic violence, they’ll make an arrest if applicable, and give community referrals to the family to address their concerns. The officer would notify Suzi’s school staff the next day so that they can follow up with Suzi to make sure she has counseling or supportive services that she needs at school.

With the coordinated community response, everyone in a community has a role in the intervention and will have training to know what that role is. The state of Texas has a project that outlines agency roles related to domestic violence. It is very innovative.

What’s the focus of educators today with regards to children exposed to domestic violence?

The study I worked on for OJJDP demonstrated the importance of giving educators information on how to recognize kids exposed to domestic violence and how to respond individually, in the classroom, and school wide through policy. It was important because those same kids were being mislabeled as having ADHD, and were getting medicated for symptoms that mimicked ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention to classroom work, and fidgety when they may be reacting to trauma.

I’m at a the US Department of Education’s Safe and Healthy Students conference right now, and yesterday, the topic of bullying was being covered. The definition given for bullying was just about the same as the definition of domestic violence; when one person uses emotional or physical force to gain control of another person. The behavior has to be repeated, intentional, and used to gain control in both cases.

That really surprised me, and I think we’ll be hearing more about the link between domestic violence and bullying in the future.

Please give some examples of how we can support kids we suspect are witnessing the abuse of one of their parents by an intimate partner.

I think it’s important to let them know that if abuse is happening, it’s not their fault. Domestic violence is an adult issue, and it’s not theirs to fix. Let the child know you believe him/her, and tell them where they can get support.

For more information about a coordinated community response to domestic violence, go to or Close to Home.

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Saying Goodbye to Page 139/Remembering Judge Ira Uhrig


Bellingham Police Department

At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly.

I’d been deliberately scaling back on Facebook in May. Partly to manage my writing time better and largely to reduce anxiety, for a while, I embraced the calm.

And then, I had a sick feeling. I’d not heard from my old friend Ira in a couple of weeks, even after writing him twice about his birthday.

I pulled up his Facebook profile, and there it was.

His death announcement.

***

It never occurred to me that my dear friend would not be there to speak with me about the death of my dear  friend. It never dawned on me that I would find out on social media that his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma he’d fought for years was finally over.

I met Ira Uhrig when I was 19. He was a young lawyer in the town where I first attended college. A friend set us up on a blind date, and while I wasn’t mature enough then to understand that a loyal, humorous, intelligent, artistic, compassionate, and hard-working person could indeed be the catch of a lifetime, we became instant and lifelong friends. (Not too much later, a lovely mutual friend was smart enough to realize what I didn’t, and wisely scooped him up!)

Ira tried to teach me to drive back then. He failed. Ira tried to teach me guitar back then. Again, failure. Ira then searched for my long-lost father. And that was a huge success.

In June of 1985, I met my father and so many more siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins than I knew existed. What a lifelong game-changer. Ira thanked me for the opportunity, and after every family reunion I have attended since then, he’d been so ecstatic to get my family’s updated photos.

Ira had his own chapter in my memoir in its early drafts. By the time the final edits were complete, he was mentioned in a page, a fact he loved to tease about. He couldn’t have been more supportive, buying copies of Pieces of Me for friends and colleagues alike, asking them if they wanted him to autograph his page.

I will miss getting daily Facebook updates on what happened on this day in history. I will miss Ira’s corny jokes and frequent YouTube forwards of old gospel or country music. I will miss his words of encouragement, his genuine interest in all of the people in his world, hearing stories about his work as a judge, and the updates about his large and talented family.

Last year, after a Seattle book reading/signing event at the University, I took a train to see Ira one last time. It felt like a goodbye. But then he bounced back. It seemed as though he was beginning to make gains on his health concerns.

At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly. And the hurt inflicted is both dull and sharp.

Ira’s death is sad for his family, the Whatcom County community,  and for all who knew him. 

I read that death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

Thank you, Ira Uhrig, for not only reuniting me with my father, my birth name, and my family, but for decades of memories. I will hold them close, forever.