Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Just before I turned the big 5-0 (fifty--which you very well know!),  I was delighted and honored to receive an invitation from my friend BeverlyWillett to join an online feature called The Next Big Thing.  Some people call it a "blog chain, and some folks call it a "blog hop."  Whatever you wish to call it, it's pretty damned exciting for a blogger/writer like me! Once "tapped" by Beverly, I shall respond to ten (10) questions which all the previous participants have answered.  Now, I'm over the moon about this opportunity, but before I field these questions, I would like to introduce you to Beverly.  (I may be biased, but she's rather an incredible writer and woman!)

Beverly Willett is a freelance writer and attorney.  She is a founding member and Co-Chair of the Coalition for Divorce Reforma volunteer, non-partisan organization dedicated to supporting efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages.   Beverly has written and continues to write for national newspapers, magazines, and online reporting and opinion sites, including The New York Times, TheHuffington PostThe Daily, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Prevention, and Parenting.  Beverly is now at work on her first book.   

Now here are the questions, but I'm going to start with Question 5 for the sake of--as my mother would say--keeping this "quick, easy, no fuss."

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In 1994, at age turning thirty-one, I was misdiagnosed by one psychiatrist with Bipolar II Disorder, and spent fourteen years of my life living as a person with a serious mental illness, suffering terrible mistreatment by the medical establishment, Big Pharma, and the legal system, until 2008, at age forty-five, when I met a young psychiatrist who correctly diagnosed and began treating me for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What is the working title of your book?
I call it Disorderly Conduct.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
There is no guidebook for how to conduct oneself when you have a mental illness.  So I really had to wing it.  Also, I was arrested on false charges, and was charged with--but not convicted of--disorderly conduct.

What genre does your book fall under?
 It certainly is a memoir, but I hope that my book has the far-reaching effects of a political and social science nonfiction book.  I intend to tell readers that people with mental illness in the United States are still not receiving proper diagnoses, nor do they get competent medical care, either for their mental illness or for physical illnesses and diseases which are brought on by the terrible side effects of their medications.  They--and I mean "we"-rarely are the recipients of fair administration by law enforcement and the courts.  We are stigmatized, socially isolated, ridiculed, feared and despised.   

Which actors would you choose to play you in a movie rendition?
 I certainly know I do not resemble her in any physical way, but I would choose Angelina Jolie.  "You must be crazy!"  No, seriously, I think she possesses the intelligence, sensitivity and strength of character which I needed in order to survive my experience.  Also, she already has played characters who were locked in psychiatric facilities.  She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2000 for her portrayal of Lisa Rowe in the film adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's memoir Girl Interrupted.  In 2008 she was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Christine Collins in Clint Eastwood's film Changeling.  Miss Jolie understands and conveys serious emotional and psychic distress as an actor.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
 Since I worked in the literary department of ICM from 1987 to 1988, and then for Georges and Anne Borchardt from 1988 until 1990, I know that there are many advantages to being represented by a literary agent.  I do not knock writers who self-publish, but I prefer the "old-fashioned" method.  Luckily, I already have several agents who have expressed interest.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Once I started what I refer to as "recovery" nearly five years ago, I was too traumatized to write anything.   Then, in 2010, I realized that the clarity of my mind had returned.  I was letting go of "what might have been" if I had not been misdiagnosed, and all the rage I had from trauma upon trauma upon trauma.  By the end of 2011, I had completed my first draft.  Then, in 2012, because my mind and my heart opened up even more, and wrote another, different draft.  I hope to have the final manuscript completed by this summer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
While I could point out numerous well-written, well-received memoirs by and about people who have mental illness, I have enough of a background in the commerce of books to know that my story is very unique.  My psychiatrist told me I was a "one-in-a-million" because I knew that I had been misdiagnosed.  There were more traumatic events and horrors in store for me before I met my doctor, but, even at my lowest points, I knew that I did not have Bipolar II Disorder.  And I do not judge people who do!  I do have PTSD, and that's not exactly a cakewalk.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I never cease to be amazed by the resilience of the human spirit.  I have met and know many people throughout the years who inspire me by living with mental illness every single day.  I want to be able to speak for those who are trapped and entangled in their illness that they are unable to raise their own voice.
Also, I have dreamed about being a writer since I was a young girl.  I am so lucky to personally know quite a few wonderful writers, and some, like me, didn't begin to write full time nor were they published until after they turned forty.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
 My memoir has a lot of humor in it.  Family and friends tend to remember me for my quick wit.    I have long used comicality as a tension breaker.   My late mentor Raymond Bongiovanni used to write in "hijinks ensue" to save on detailed explication of events in manuscripts.   When my own personal hijinks ensue, I manage to see the absurdity and the comedy in situations which can be fraught with horror or peril.  The glass of water may be being thrown at me, but I choose to see it as a full glass!

Now it is my great pleasure to pass the torch to five of my favorite writers.  Here they are (in alphabetical order):

Adrienne Crezo is an editor and freelance writer. Her work appears regularly on, The Atlantic,, and in Optimum Wellness Magazine and various other web and print publications. She spends her days drinking too much coffee, talking to her too-smart 7-year-old, and tackling whatever interesting work comes her way. You can find Adrienne on Facebook, Twitter, or her poorly-maintained website.

Danielle E. Curtis has both MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.  She writes fiction and creative nonfiction, and has completed her first novel, Come High Water.  Her comedic short story, "Lilac Blossoms:  A Dead Squirrel Story" appears in the November/December  2012 issue of Split Lip Magazine.  Danielle grew up in northeastern New York near the Adirondack Mountains, which serve as her novel's settings.  She now lives in New York City and is a publishing marketing professional   As @DaniWritesWords on Twitter, she frequently contemplates life, literature, baked goods, and bad jokes.

Kaylie Jones is the author of five novels: A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, Speak Now, Celeste Ascending, As Soon As It Rains, and Quite The Other Way (see her author page on Her novels have been translated into many languages, including French, German, Polish, Turkish, and Japanese.  Jones chairs the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, which awards $10,000 annually to an unpublished first novel. During the past 15 years, 12 of the winners have been published to impressive critical acclaim.  A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, based on Jones's experiences growing up as the daughter of celebrated novelist James Jones (From Here To Eternity, The Thin Red Line, Whistle), was made into a Merchant-Ivory film starring Kris Kristofferson, Leelee Sobieski, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Barbara Hershey, and Isaac de Bankole.
Kaylie is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She received her MFA from Columbia University and studied Russian at The Harriman Institute at Columbia University and the Pushkin Institute for Russian Studies in Moscow.  Ms. Jones helped found the MFA Program in Writing at Long Island University's Southampton campus and the MFA Program in Writing at Wilkes University. She currently teaches memoir, literature and fiction writing at both universities.  In 2011, she was instrumental in publishing an uncensored edition of James Jones' From Here to Eternity.  Jones currently teaches in the MFA Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton and at the Wilkes University MFA program in professional writing.  Born and raised in Paris, Jones lives in New York with her daughter, and a mixed-breed mutt named Natalie.  You can find her on her website , and on Twitter.

Nina reads hundreds of books and reviews them on her website, Readallday.   She also is on 
Twitter.  Her 2010 book,  Tolstoy and The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading published by HarperCollins, tells the story of her lifetime of reading, and of one magical year when she read a book a day to rediscover how to live after the death of her oldest sister. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways.  Sankovitch is now writing a book about letters, both the writing and the reading of them, to be published by Simon & Schuster in November 2013.

Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., is a New York Times bestselling author of fiction.   She also is a psychologist.  Her novels include, The Comet's Tale, a novel about Sojourner Truth, Lost & FoundNow & Then, and Picture This (Amazon's Jacqueline Sheehan Page).
She has published travel articles, short stories, and numerous essays and radio pieces.  In 2005, she edited the anthology, Women Writing in Prison.  Jacqueline has been awarded residencies at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland and Jentel Arts Colony in Wyoming.  She teaches workshops at Grub Street in Boston and Writers in Progress in Florence, Massachusetts.  She has offered international writing retreats in Jamaica, Guatemala, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  You can find her on her website , and on Twitter.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Parting Glass

There are many historical landmarks on the Upper Westside of Manhattan.  It's nearly impossible to believe that this section of New York City was once sparsely populated.  Back in 1884 an apartment building commissioned by Edward Clark, the head of the Singer Sewing Company, opened its doors on the northeast corner of West 72nd Street, directly across the street from Central Park.  One possibly apocryphal account as to how the building to its nickname, "The Dakota," is that most New Yorkers believed that the area had about as few residents as "The Dakota Territory."  Twenty years after The Dakota first opened, in 1904, the IRT, the original underground New York City subway, began running up to West 72nd Street and Broadway.    

When I first moved here in 1991, there was a bar with a restaurant named Donohue's located directly across the street from the West 72nd Street subway station.  It was located at 174 West 72nd Street, just east of that famous hot dog joint, but nearly two long blocks west of Central Park.  The sight of an Irish pub near my very first "just mine" apartment made me feel less alone, and braver.  When my Irish cousins came over from County Meath to visit me in New York in the summer of 1992, Declan, Mary's husband, asked me where my "local" was.  "My local what?" was my reply.  He looked at me as if I were more than a bit dim, and said, "Mary, Maura, I’m going out."  Declan returned about two hours later with two pieces of news. My "local," according to him, was Donohue's.  Second, Dunkin Donuts were absolutely brilliant.

I was very involved with my career as an entertainment executive in the first 6 years of the 1990s.  Life changed, and, as with life, so did our neighborhood.  Around Thanksgiving of 1999, I noticed that Donohue's had taken on a new identity.  Now it was called "P.D. O'Hurley's."  I don't believe I went and had a drink there until after 9/11.  The bar is frequented by firefighters from FDNY Engine 40 Ladder 35, the "firehouse" about which David Halberstam wrote his astonishing book.  The astonishing firehouse whose trucks left with thirteen men for the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning, who lost twelve firefighters that day.  When I walked past P.D. O'Hurley's shortly after St. Patrick's Day on a lovely spring day in 2004, its front doors were open.  I glanced in and saw that there was a memorial to those firefighters.  My boyfriend and I started to go there and have a few beers.  Finally, after living in the neighborhood for thirteen years, this pub was becoming part of my personal history.

What I liked best about O'Hurley's was that it was the type of place where you would encounter all different types of people.  People of every race, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation, educational, professional and economic strata were regulars at the bar.  You wouldn't know about what anyone's religious or political affiliation.  There is one rule at O'Hurley's, and at every bar:  "Never discuss religion or politics.

As a writer and a full-time observer of human behavior, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the people who came here to relax, have a drink, eat dinner, watch "the game," and meet up with their friends.  Many of these friendships had been formed at O'Hurley's, and they were true friendships.  People celebrated each other's life triumphs and tragedies.  There were lots of jokes, and lots of jokes at the expense of one another.  There was a lot of fun.  I envied them their friendships and their fun.  Then, I broke up with my boyfriend, and I withdrew from O'Hurley's for several years.  

In April 2011, after another failed attempt to quit smoking by visiting a hypnotherapist, I had gone home and managed to self-hypnotize myself.  Odd as it may sound, I found myself several hours later sitting at the bar at O'Hurley's, sipping a Coke.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself that evening, and I began coming to the bar on my own.  Initially, I always came in with a book, but the goings-on at O'Hurley's were much more enthralling and entertaining than anything a book could provide.  I gradually got to know and care about the staff--people tending bar, waiting tables, working in the kitchen--and they got to know me, and called me by name.  Then I eventually began to meet and speak with "the regulars," those people whom I had watched and envied when I first went to O'Hurley's.  The "regulars" eventually became actual people, and many of them have become friends. Since they are real people, I won't identify them, to protect the innocent.  (Whether that's them or me, I'll never tell.)  I spent  the night of St. Patrick's Day 2012 at the bar listening to members of the FDNY Bagpipe Band playing their bagpipes, banging their drums, and having a complete, utterly primal Irish blast.  There were many summer nights in 2012, after yet another heat wave had fallen upon our city, leaving me trapped in my air-conditioned apartment, when I escaped to O'Hurley's.  They served an amazing cheeseburger with French Fries like manna from heaven.  The beer was cold, and the jukebox was the only thing too hot to handle those nights.  By the time I had my fifth spinal surgery this past September, I knew that I had friends from O'Hurley's who had prayed for me and who cared about my recovery.  They were so happy to see me when I made first public outings to--where else?--O'Hurley's.  

They say that all good things must come to an end.  I don't believe this is true, yet at 4:00 a.m. on Monday, January 14, 2013, P.D. O'Hurley's, located at 174 West 72nd Street, shall be closing its doors for the last time.  Further west on West 72nd Street, just before you hit West End Avenue, there is going to be a "new" O'Hurley's at 250 West 72nd Street.  But you cannot take the magical essence of a place, the chemistry of people, experience, wood and glass, and simply move it down the street.  When those doors close for the last time, for all the many good times and many laughs I have had there, I shall weep.  I do not believe I shall weep alone.

The Parting Glass - The Wailin' Jennys

Oh all the money that e'er I spent
I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e'er I've done
Alas, it was to none but me And all the harm that e'er I've done
Alas, it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had
Would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

Friday, January 11, 2013

Grandma Helen

When I was home on winter break during my sophomore year in college, just a few weeks after turning nineteen, my grandmother died.  Her name was Helen McDonald Lynch, and she was my father's mother. She had been suffering from emphysema for years, and then got lung cancer.  Yes, she was a smoker.  If you were born in 1910, chances are that you were a smoker.  She had not had an easy life, but she certainly enjoyed her life.  She was sweet, and kind, funny, enjoyed reading mysteries, but she wasn't your average grandmother.  She really knew how to get dolled up and had great style.  She cooked a fantastic Hungarian goulash, and great lasagna.  She played Sophie Tucker songs on the ukulele.  She enjoyed her cans of Rheingold beer.  She was the life of the party -- hell, she was the party.  Grandma Helen had what they used to call "moxie," a word which means "the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage."  She suffered no fools because she had had the misfortune to suffer one particular fool for far too long.

My Grandma was a gorgeous redhead when she was young--she was a gorgeous redhead when she was older too--and as a teenager caught the eye of a man whom I only can describe as a scoundrel.  He was, purely, in terms of my genealogy, my paternal grandfather.  This man was a true bastard.  He was a drunk, a gambler, a womanizer, a slaggard, and an abuser.  By the time Grandma was twenty-three, she had three children--Helene, my father Danny, and Jimmy.  It was 1933.  The Great Depression was well into its fourth year.  FDR and Congress was working hard together (imagine that!) to pull the United States out of economic devastation.  However, in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York, a young mother of three, with a man who came and went, took, and did what he pleased, had to earn a living.  So my Grandma became a Ma Bell switchboard operator.   Someone had to bring home a regular paycheck and put food on the table.  Since the man spent whatever wages he managed to earn on whatever pleasures he sought, the duty fell upon Grandma.

What was "Ma Bell," you ask, kids?  This was the Bell System which, between 1877 through 1984, provided telephone service to almost all of the United States and Canada.   Ma Bell also was virtually the sole provider of this utility.  We would call that a monopoly, and I'm not talking about the board game.  You do know the board game Monopoly, yes?  Well, anyway, that's another story.  So Grandma Helen, like all switchboard operators, manually put through all telephone calls.  M-a-n-u-a-l-l-y.  That means "by hand."  There were no computers, see?  Nobody could make a telephone call unless a switchboard operator inserted a pair of phone plugs into the appropriate jacks.  You can look it up on your search engine on your tablet.  My point is that she had a very stressful, physically demanding job.  And she did it with pride and supported her family.  She would tell me stories about some of the perverts who would try to get fresh with the switchboard operators.  "That's why, honey, it's always a good idea to have a police whistle hanging around your neck.  Because, if a man starts with smart talk, you blow that whistle long and loud.  I promise you, he will NEVER try that again.  Haaa!"   What she did not tell me about was how most of the supervisors were men, and that quite a few of them were "handsy."  If you were a single mother supporting three kids, you really couldn't afford to speak up or speak out about what we now call "sexual harassment on the job."  You needed to keep your job.

When my father Danny was ten-years-old, he saw the man hit his mother and his older sister.  He went over to the man, and punched him right in the nose.  The man was clipped pretty hard by the kid, and he was stone-cold shocked.  The man left and never came back to the house again.  It was 1941.  By then, Grandma Helen had her mother and her grandmother living with her.  Her mother's youngest brother, Uncle James, was actually closer in age to Grandma Helen.  He did what he could to help out, but he had a wife and four kids of his own.   Still, Grandma Helen had good kids.  They all had jobs after school, they basically stayed out of trouble (save for a few escapades by the boys), and they each grew up to be fine, responsible adults with families of their own.  

By 1965, when the age expectancy for a woman in the United States was seventy-three years, Grandma Helen retired from Ma Bell.  She spent the next seventeen years enjoying her family, her nine grandchildren, her friends at the Senior Center, and even had a few "gentlemen friends."  She was a practicing Catholic, and although she was separated, she never divorced the man.  She died five weeks short of her seventy-second birthday.

A couple of years later, when I was involved in some lofty, academic discussion in college, the participants (all of us over-educated and inexperienced with the real world), both young men and young women, were bemoaning the fact that they did not have many "female role models in the career force."  Many of us, being Baby Boomers, had mothers who had stayed home to raise their families.  They were "homemakers" or "housewives."  A few had mothers who had "professional" careers, being physicians, attorneys, bankers, scientists, artists, educators, and executives.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that I did have a very important "female role model in the career force."  When I graduated from college, and entered the work force, I too faced sexual harassment.   One or two male supervisors even tried to get handsy.  I reminded myself that my Grandma Helen had not worked hard her whole life and raised her family so that some man could make her granddaughter feel less.  So I blew my police whistle long and loud, in my own way.  And, I promise you, they NEVER tried that again.