What Veterans Can Teach Us About Healing from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

 

Happy Veterans Day.

Today, I stumbled upon this great slide show about new techniques used to restore our returning Veterans from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).http://takepart.msn.com/veterans/?section=gallerylong_4_1#section=gallerylong_4_1

A simple definition of PTSD given by the Mayo Clinic is that it’s a mental condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

While PTSD was initially identified after veterans from the Vietnam War returned home in tatters, it turns out veterans don’t have the corner on the market to PTSD. Victims of domestic violence, natural disasters, or any frightening event can develop PTSD.  

The Veterans Administration has a useful quiz on their website to identify the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. If you’ve been through a devastatingly life-changing event but aren’t a veteran, just mentally omit the word military in the questions below.

Do you have

Repeated, disturbing memories, thoughts, or images of a stressful military experience?
 
 
 
 
 
Repeated, disturbing dreams of a stressful military experience?
 
 
 
 
 
Suddenly acting or feeling as if a stressful military experience were happening again (as if you were reliving it)?
 
 
 
 
 
Having physical reactions (e.g., heart pounding, trouble breathing, sweating) when something reminded you of a stressful military experience?
 
 
 
 
 
Avoiding thinking about or talking about a stressful military experience or avoiding having feelings related to it?
 
 
 
 
 
Avoiding activities or situations because they reminded you of a stressful military experience?
 
 
 
 
 
Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy?
 
 
 
 
 
Feeling distant or cut off from other people?
 
 
 
 
 
Feeling emotionally numb or being unable to have loving feelings for those close to you?
 
 
 
 
 
Having difficulty concentrating?
 
 
 
 
 
Being “superalert” or watchful or on guard?
 
 
 
 
 
Feeling jumpy or easily startled?
 
 
 
 
 

How to score your answers.   

Go to www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-po_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=mentalHealth&contentPage=mh_screening_tools/PTSD_SCREENING for more information

Thankfully, we can take a page from our veterans, and share in their healing. Yoga, acupuncture, exposure therapy, and even music can be a part of the plan.

Trauma happens to all of us. But it doesn’t have to last for the rest of our lives.

 

Today, thank a Veteran for their sacrifices.  

It’s a small step towards helping them heal.

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More Than Happy In Our Shrinking World

This was a crazy week. With Hurricane Sandy images everywhere, Halloween coinciding with a full moon, and too many evening commitments after my nine hour work day, the one thing I did look forward to was my friend Duane’s birthday party. https://www.lameredith.com/2012/09/tuesdays-with-duane-and-teachings-from.html

Visiting Duane has been the highlight of my week for quite a while now, so I wanted this birthday to be everything he wanted.

Pumpkin pie with chocolate ice cream?( Blech!)  Sure!  A singing gram from Fiverr.com sent to his home computer? Fun! Mexican food from East Anchorage’s Hacienda restaurant? Why not?

Life is short, and he’s so grateful for every day that he lives. He deserves a surprise.

His birthday was on Wednesday, but the surprise was on me. Tuesday, Duane died.

Like me, Duane loved true stories with happy endings. I found two short ones to share this week that begged the question:

When is it time to give up on finding a lost loved one?

When fifteen year-old Thomas Beck scaled a wall in a Budapest Nazi Concentration Camp in 1944, he left behind the love of his young life. Fourteen year-old Edith Greiman’s image stayed with him a long time. Through his childhood and young adulthood. Past his marriage, and even after retirement.
Beck lived his life with gratitude and attitude.

“Being locked up in Nazi Germany, what else can happen?”

It wasn’t until making a documentary about the experiences of his youth that he learned Edith was still alive and recently widowed.

Four years later, they still take nothing for granted. “We are more than happy,” Edith has said about their life together during interviews.


More than happy
. What a great statement.

Thousands of miles away, Cambodians are finally getting help finding their loved ones.  The Los Angeles Times reported that a TV show called It’s Not a Dream receives more than 50 calls a day from Cambodians separated from their families after the Communist government of the Khmer Rouge attempted to separate nuclear families, considering them to be a stronghold of capitalism.

Heng Vicheka reunited with his parents recently after being separated from his family as a little boy in 1993.

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-st-cambodia-its-not-a-dream-reality-show-20121104,0,5962955.story

When his parents joined him on the stage, he showed them the ultimate respect by removing his shoes. His mother cried and promised to show her gratitude to the gods by shaving her head.

When is it too late to reunite with your missing loved ones?

If you’re still alive, you’ve still got time. Life is fleeting, and we all deserve to know what it is to be more than happy.

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The Transformation: Signs a Victim Has Become a Survivor

You can now order  my e-book THE SANTA NEXT DOOR on Kindle for 99 cents!
(warning:graphic image below)
Have you ever survived something that you feel completely defined you? The event defines how you divide your life?
For some of us, it’s a break up of a relationship, the death of a loved one, getting a cancer diagnosis.
For me, it was the day I left my husband after getting strangled. Then it was replaced by the day my daughters were kidnapped.
For my daughters, it was replaced by an act of violence a year ago.
http://articles.ktuu.com/2011-08-06/third-party-custodian_29860233
8/6/2011- an hour before the assault/robbery
At the end of summer 2011, I dropped my college-aged daughters off reluctantly before midnight in downtown Anchorage, where they were meeting up with five friends for drinks. Our conversation just before went something like this:
Me: “Nothing good happens after midnight. You girls should stay home.”
Girls:“Mom, knock it off. We’ll be in a group. We’re safe. Don’t worry.”
 
Less than twenty minutes later, I got a call. The girls and their five friends had been victims of a random attack on the street by three Polynesian gang members, two of whom I knew from my work as a juvenile probation officer.  My youngest daughter’s date Joe got his head stomped into the cement repeatedly. The police told us he wouldn’t likely survive. My daughter had tried to protect him and was subsequently beaten and robbed. My oldest daughter intervened to protect her sister, becoming the complainant and the state’s key witness.
In all, six of the seven kids in my daughters’ group were hurt.  Six hurt by three, you say? You have to picture the size difference. Something akin to grizzlies attacking koalas.
Joe spent nearly a month in intensive care.  With multiple skull fractures, he’s still in the process of healing.

The many months since have been filled with court, bail reviews, problems at the District Attorney’s office, a change of plea, trial, and chronically rescheduled sentencing hearings.

But that’s just the bad stuff.

The surprisingly good stuff?

Watching how they came through it.
I knew the girls moved easily from victim to survivor by a few markers.
The return to everyday routines
My daughters returned to their jobs and university courses nearly immediately. No fanfare or theatrical displays of sadness. They refused to let the perpetrators steal from them what they were working towards before the robbery and assault. Added to the everyday routines were visits with Joe in intensive care, court hearings, and doctor appointments, but that simply became the new normal.
Reaching out for support
Without hesitation, both contacted therapists to help them process the trauma. My youngest daughter contacted the Office of Victim’s Rights after all of the victims were repeatedly left out of court hearings they had a legal right to participate in (“Not enough staff to notify victims of hearings,” a staff person at the District Attorney’s Office said).
Why Me was replaced by What’s in it for me?  Not in an exploitive sense, but in the Look How I’ve Grown sense.
My oldest daughter, anxious in daily life, was a rock star at the trial, bravely facing two defense attorneys, the offenders, and the jury panel without flinching.
My youngest daughter told me, “I’m not glad any of this happened, but I know now that I’m stronger than I thought I was.”
Quite right.  I wish none of us would experience traumatic events, though they’re clearly a part of all of our lives.
But I hope we remember to honor the strength gained in the process.
My daughters and the other victims didn’t linger in that role. They’ve gracefully morphed into survivors.
Today

Think back to your own trauma(s). What strength did you gain from the experience?

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In Search of Gratitude

 

My work took me to beautiful Ketchikan, Alaska this week.

With flooding in my hometown of Anchorage and neighboring towns of Kenai and Talkeetna, I was fortunate to be a part of a nearly 70 degree heatwave in a place that’s nearly constantly rainy.

I should be grateful. Instead, I’m exhausted and outstandingly cranky.

Earlier today, I read Leo Babauta’s post in Zen Habits, and thought I’d share it. I myself need to find rest and grace, as I’m simply mean and grumpy today. So here it is.

The Only Way to Respond to Life

Post written by Leo Babauta.
I went for a run along the beach at sunset yesterday, foam kissing my bare feet, smooth sand caressing my soles, and the sky exploding with color.
I paused for breath, mostly because the sky, and the Pacific, had borrowed my breath from me.
I stopped and applauded.
This is the only response that life deserves: overjoyed applause.
This morning, wherever you are, whatever life has given you, take a moment to really appreciate this gift, and applaud. I mean, actually applaud.
Then give back to life, something, anything, to show your gratitude for this miracle you’ve been given. Do anything: be kind to someone, create something, be gentle with your children, do something where your body feels full of life.
We often not only take life for granted, but complain about it. Life isn’t perfect, work is boring, people are too rude, drivers are idiots, no one gets me, I have too many things to do. But goodness, look around you! What a wonder life is! If only we would take the time to see it, to really appreciate it, and to applaud.
This moment is a ridiculously generous miracle. Give it up, folks, for life.

http://zenhabits.net/

___________________________________
Have a great week. I’ll be back to normal next Sunday.

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Four Secrets to Lifelong Friendships

As a little girl in the mid-seventies, I began collecting friendships that have lasted for four decades. Back then, Laura, Sarah, Susan, and I loved nothing more than to grab our sleeping bags and huddle in Susan’s living room for weekend slumber parties at her parent’s house in Chugiak, Alaska.
Volleyball team, 1978. Can you find all four of us?

This past weekend, the four of us caravanned to Sarah’s cabin and enjoyed a slumber party at Big Lake.

It turns out, the conversations haven’t evolved that much, really.  During our slumber parties in the 70’s, the four of us spoke predominantly of boys and bras. This weekend, we spent much of our time talking about boys and bras, with brief detours into children, pets, and the newest evidence of aging as we approach 50.

I’ve been asked how my little group of grade school friends managed to keep our friendships alive and well. Below are my top four secrets to lifelong friendships.

The four of us at Susan’s wedding, 2002.

 

1)Listen to understand, not to respond.
It’s tempting to give advice when there’s talk of health quirks, family concerns, or career blunders. But I’ve noticed conversation is healing when we don’t, instead taking the time to carefully hear one another and suspending judgment.
2)Make time for each other.
Between jobs, kids, and other obligations, time is at a premium, but we’ve always managed to squeeze time for a cup of coffee or dinner once or twice a year. We’ve increased our group times to four times annually now, and even added an occasional retreat like this weekend’s.
3)Discover new ways to have fun
In junior high, it was volleyball.  Post college, it was line-dancing. Now, we four have swap meets through fall and summer, collecting our unwanted clothes, books, pots and pans, and meeting at my place to trade them.
4)Remember to Thank You
Always. For everything. Because there’s no gift quite like a lifelong friendship.
Thank you, my friends. My life is forever enriched because of you.
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The Four F’s to Zen

My life’s been so clenched lately.  At work, we’re reorganizing. At home, I’m reorganizing, looking forward to a year with both of my daughters at home with more than a little anxiety.  And there’s no reprieve in sight in my work or personal life for the next few months.
This weekend, I told a friend that I had find my Zen again. As it turned out, I didn’t have to go too far.
1. Family
An afternoon spent with my daughter, listening to her happy chatter while she potted plants on the balcony did wonders for my mood. We looked at a recent picture of my newly engaged aunt, transformed into a youthful girl again by the ring on her finger. Later I enjoyed a relaxed phone conversation with my sister in New Mexico, and then had a few Facebook scrolls to see how the rest of my large family was doing. There’s nothing quite like family to help me find my footing again.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
2. Friends
Most every weekend begins with me going to see an old friend just after work on Friday. We eat, tell secrets and lies, and I go home with my curls unwound. The next morning, I jet over to the gym to do water aerobics with my closest friend from high school. Afterwards, we carve out an hour, just the two of us, and catch up on life’s ups and downs. It’s a ritual we’ve enjoyed since our now-adult children were in school, and we protect it as though our time together is sacred.
 There are lots of nice people in life I enjoy. But these are refrigerator friends. I can open their cabinets and graze without asking if I want, and they can do the same with me. We’re that comfortable.     
Friday Friend
Saturday Friend
3. Food
 
 I love reading the zenhabits blog. In a guest post by Scott of the Modern Forager Blog, he offers tips on how to recognize healthy, nourishing foods. http://zenhabits.net/the-zen-of-real-food-keeping-eating-simple/
  •          Food grows and dies. It isn’t created.
  •          Food rots, wilts, and becomes generally unappetizing, typically rather quickly.
  •          Food doesn’t need an ingredient label (and probably isn’t in a package either).
  •          Food doesn’t have celebrity endorsements.
  •         Food doesn’t make health claims. 
My tricky relationship with food improves when I take the time to shop and fix my meals at home. https://www.lameredith.com/2012/03/to-eat-or-not-to-eat-end-of-troubled.html
 This weekend, my friend Heather had me over for some scrumptious paella.  And tonight, when the need for dessert overcame me, I went online and got a gluten-free recipe, and made some substitutions so I wouldn’t have to drive to the store. My baked banana creation may not be photogenic, but trust me, it was good.
paella
Liz’s banana dessert
kale
4. Fitness
Gyms are fine. Home workouts will do in a pinch. But the exercise that heals my soul is simply walking outside. The sounds, the smells, and just the feeling of the air on my skin is medicinal. Walking creates no stress on the joints. There’s no waiting for a particular machine at the gym. My best times of reflection are when I’m walking alone, my best periods of clarity are just afterwards.
It’s been just 48 hours since I told my friend I needed to find my Zen again.  I watched less television, spent less time online, and more time in the moment with my Four F’s.
And I feel fabulous.
What do you do to find your Zen?

Can you estimate how many F’s are in this piece?

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A few of my favorite blogs

This week, I’m a bundle of nerves.  I don’t know if it’s information overload about all that is wrong with the world today, upcoming travels, or just too much caffeine.
What I do know is there are certain blog links I read that help pacify, even inspire me. Below are a few examples.

How to Quit Your Job, Move to Paradise and Get Paid to Change the World

http://www.problogger.net/archives/2011/05/18/how-to-quit-your-job-move-to-paradise-and-get-paid-to-change-the-world/

How to Get Great Blogging Clients…Even if You’re a Teenage Nigerian

http://www.makealivingwriting.com/2012/02/29/great-blogging-clients-teenage-nigeria/

How to Live Well
http://zenhabits.net/live/

What have you read lately that’s caused your heart to dance? I’d love to hear from you.

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Web of Friendship

Editor’s note:


The connections I’ve maintained with my childhood friends taught me how a lot about how family could be, and equipped me to find my missing family. I met Susan Sommer when we were in grade school, and am so pleased to have her as my first guest blogger.

By Susan Sommer

I’ve done battle with my share of remote controls, new TV set-up instructions, and computer software glitches, but I have to say, technology is my friend—especially the internet. Yep, I’m Googley-eyed and face Facebook daily, I’m LinkedIn and loving it, I cheer along other “losers” on LoseIt!, I read blogs from A to Z, and my comments are scattered across the globe.

Now, I’m not some loner dork who sits all day at the keyboard and doesn’t know how to converse at
parties. I have plenty of real-world friends and do get out enough to know, for example, whether it’s still winter or not.

Seriously, though, the internet is a thing of beauty, IMHO (and just a few short years ago I didn’t
know what that stood for). I’ve reconnected with people from my past who I thought I’d never see or
hear from again. And not just old boyfriends either, but true friends—people I’d traveled with, a
childhood pen pal, high school classmates who are now as (gulp) middle-aged as I.

I treasure my family and friends who live near enough to see on a regular basis—these are the people
who know me best and who I know I can always rely on no matter what. They are the base of my days, weeks, months, and years. Without them, I would be the loner dork. But getting reacquainted with old friends online—as well as making new ones who I might never meet, but could, if one of us happens to be passing through the other’s town or attending the same conference, and you never know who is destined to become your next old friend—has broadened my world.

I grew up in Alaska, sometimes in the far reaches of the Alaskan bush. I always felt sheltered. I remedied that by traveling as a young woman, but now that I’m married and stable and I work from home, I’ve once again become somewhat cut off from new experiences. The internet offers me the web of friendship outside my immediate sphere of existence. I trade thoughts on editing with LinkedIn members; I learn fascinating tidbits about farming from a Facebook group (like the best way to kill a chicken before plucking and processing, and that you can use goat placenta in a facial mask); I receive encouragement to keep shedding those extra pounds from my LoseIt! friends, only one of whom I actually know in person; and as a member of our 30-year high school reunion planning committee (which I sucked myself into by being the first to open my mouth online about the upcoming event), I can’t imagine trying to find old classmates by perusing the telephone book (you now, that big heavy paper tome plopped unceremoniously at the end of our driveways each spring?).

Despite the fact that for some reason my husband seems to think I’m just goofing around on Facebook all day (not ALL day, I tell him when I stagger down from my office and open the fridge and think hmmm, what am I going to make for dinner?), social media and search engines have changed my life for the better in unique ways. Our rural-ish neighborhood has drawn closer through use of a handful of closed Facebook groups—one for wildlife sightings, one for bartering, and another for general ramblings. I recently, finally, found my old pen pal from when I was ten years old. We’d met once, traded a few holiday cards over the years, then lost touch; turns out we’re leading very similar lifestyles, right down to how many and what type of pets we have. And just this week when I was doing research online for a freelance article, I “met” a woman who had visited Alaska several years ago and was familiar with my parents’ old trapping cabin from the 1950s.

It’s a small world out there. I don’t panic when I go off-grid for a few days like some people do. My
phone is dumb so I can’t check email. But if the internet ever disappeared, for whatever reason, I would surely miss its power to connect.

Susan Sommer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Alaska.  She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Literary Arts.  Visit her at www.akwriter.com

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To Eat or Not to Eat: The End of a Troubled Relationship

Not all bad relationships are between people. I’ve limped along my negative relationship with food for decades, carrying the associated emotional and physical baggage.
My old diaries from ages 13 and 14 are missing the cursory teenage angst about boys and mean girls at school. Even the fact that my mother disappeared with her last husband, leaving me and high dry with a barely- adult sister.
Instead, the journals contain page after page of what I ate:
          Monday- cornflakes with skim milk.
     Tuesday-same.
    Wednesday-same.
    Thursday- one box of Suzy Q’s, one pound M&M’s, cornflakes with whole milk.
You get the point. Starve, starve, starve, and binge.
When I was in my mid-twenties, already a single mother of two girls and on food stamps, a friend set me up on a date. The date wanted to meet for lunch at Simon & Seafort’s, an Anchorage landmark known for its fabulous seafood and steaks. I spent the next few days fantasizing about what I would eat. Should I order something I knew I’d love, like a burger and fries, or venture into new territory and order a shrimp louie?  My poor future date.  I never thought a lick about him.
Just as well.
We met for lunch a few days later. My date was a portly brunette at least twenty years older than me with a mustache that covered his upper lip. He didn’t smile much, but talked a lot. He was a museum curator, and he assured me he had LOTS of money. “Order anything you like,” he said. Seeing my look of surprise, he said, “I’m serious. Anything.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. But since he did, I went wild with the appetizers. Calamari, potato wedges with gruyere, beef tips, and crab and artichoke dip on bread. Yum!
My date? I don’t know what he ate. He just talked and talked and talked. But I didn’t mind. I was self-medicating. Our waitress circled the table repeatedly, trying to take away baskets with food still in it. Since my mouth was full, I had to shoo her away by waving my free hand.
When the bill came, my date finally got quiet. “I’ve never had a lunch cost so much,” was his only comment.
Another one bites the dust.  Although it was a great temporary departure from poverty, the food hangover lasted for days.
As much as I adore eating, I don’t love the feeling of being that out of control.  I want to eat food that’s kind to me, and eat what I need, not everything I can swallow.
It’s important to be intentional about all relationships. I don’t hang out with people who bring out my worst qualities or encourage me to abandon goals and core beliefs.

 And the same is true with food.

Recently, I’ve come to love the show Hungry Girl on the Food Network.  I’m confident Lisa Lillien and I would be friends if she lived in Alaska.  The food is fun, with respectable portions thanks to some innovative substitutions. I haven’t tried a recipe of hers that I didn’t love.  A close second is Not My Mama’s Meal’s by Bobby
To Eat or Not to Eat: Three Questions I Ask Myself When Deciding
  1.       )      Is this food good for me?
    2)      Will I like myself after I’ve eaten it?
    3)      Have I exercised enough to burn the energy it will give me?
Pretty simple, but I’m used to telling myself I deserve to eat this cake, French fries etc., instead of I deserve to feel healthy and fit.  And I do deserve to be healthy.

You do, too.

Any recipes or tips you’d like to share, Dear Reader?

Turkey burger with Hungry Girl Onion Rings
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3d Book Group/ AfterImage by Carla Malden

Every six weeks or so, I get together with some of my favorite friends and talk books.  Until now, we’ve met at a coffee shop, spoken about our impressions of the book, and let conversation morph into one about our lives and loves.
 

(1/2 the group at Cafe Del Mundo

This time, we tried something different.

I selected the book AfterImage by Carla Malden. It was recommended to me last summer at a writer’s conference as an example of a memoir that seamlessly moves from the past to the future while telling a beautiful love story.
Normally, books about women whose husbands have died make me jealous. My marriage was heinous, and I really wanted my husband to die. I prayed for it to happen. It never did.
But this book tells of an enviable relationship that began for the writer as a teenager and led to a personal and professional partnership (the two were screenwriters) that ended too soon. The author had me hooked in the first paragraph:
“Mrs. Starkman,” said the doctor, “sit down.”
          Ten months, three week later, my husband was dead.
           Cancer is an awesome opponent. Sometimes it wins. Even when it most should not. Even when all goodness is on the other side.
I wasn’t the only one who loved AfterImage. We all agreed that it was lyrically written, universally relatable, and pretty funny in spots for a book of its kind.
I saw on the author’s site that she attends book groups in person or via Skype when possible. She responded immediately when I submitted a request. Due to the time difference between Alaska and California, we settled on a Q and A format. The group submitted their questions and comments to me which I forwarded on to Ms. Malden.
What was it like, writing this without your husband who you wrote with for ages?
It was the only type of writing I could do without him.  I could not return to screenwriting (and still have not). This was a completely different type of writing — more individual, less dependent on a particular structure.  I found I could access that voice, whereas I didn’t feel I had the confidence or the inclination to write a screenplay without him.  We had developed a rhythm as to how to do that together over the years that I didn’t feel I could re-invent.  This book took on a method of its own.  I had to write it, in a way, even though it was agonizing.  
  Was it a cathartic experience? 
   “Cathartic” isn’t precisely the right word.  But it was a learning experience.  I learned that I really love writing prose which I hadn’t done in a long time.  In retrospect (as it’s been a few years now since I finished the actual writing), I realize that it was important for me to turn the events of that year into some sort of narrative that I could wrap my arms around, to make it less surreal.  Writing the book helped me understand that this had really happened… and, at the same time, turned it into a “story” that I could somehow contain (or, at least, have the illusion of containing).  Maybe it helped stop that “story” from subsuming the rest of my life because for a while there, I really felt like I would never come up for air. Wasn’t sure I wanted to — which I think is necessary part of the process.  I now believe you have to make that daily choice to live — in whatever limited way you can — when you’re in the darkest depths of an experience like that.
  What are you reading now?
  Right now I’m reading “Defending Jacob” which is a courtroom best seller — the kind of thing I very  rarely read, but it happened to be on a Kindle that was given to me.  (I rarely read on the Kindle either — I prefer the old-fashioned way!).  Before that, I read a book called “Heft” that I found enormously inventive and compelling.  Within the past year I was on a Meg Wolitzer kick — caught up with everything of hers I hadn’t read before, and then, coincidentally, her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, just came out with a new book called “An Available Man” which I really enjoyed (though it kind of freaked me out because it’s about a widower and parts of it were so much like a fictionalized version of my book).
There were a few more questions she answered, but you get the drift, Reader. Suddenly reading a touching story became a real conversation, and our book group was so thankful that our author provided insight. And the author was sincerely touched that we chose her book to read and spent time discussing it.
Our 3d book group was a great success. Next group, we’re hoping to have local author Bong attend with us and tell us about writing Escape to Survive.
What tips do you have to keep your book group fun and relevant?

AfterImage will soon be available in paperback.

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