The PTSD Highway

 

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Freewriting Exercise at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference’s

Creative Nonfiction Workshop

As my husband Craig drives our daughters on Highway One in a rented cobalt blue Nissan Pathfinder, I spot the Holman Highway exit. My stomach drops, then sours. The fresh ling cod sandwich I ate half an hour ago at the Sea Harvest Restaurant is not sitting well. 

In the backseat the girls chatter nonstop with high-pitched, tween voices. The novelty of riding in a new car excites them, and they’ve begged us to buy the fancy SUV – we said no. Perhaps the “new car smell” contains a chemical that makes them even more hyper than usual. Who knows? It’s not affecting our collie Lucy who’s resting in the rear storage space. She’s in a rare moment of calm, tired after the brisk walk I gave our puppy in the Sea Harvest’s parking lot back at Moss Landing. 

When Craig takes the Holman Highway exit, no one notices the waves of terror that strike through my soul. A silent tsunami. I keep my panic deep inside, a learned behavior, and not a healthy one by any means.

It has only been two years since I was on this road headed for the psychiatric unit at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, also known as C.H.O.M.P. 

As we pass the majestic Monterey Pines lining each side of the highway, vivid memories of my despair surface. My hands grow cold and shaky, and I feel nauseous and dizzy. I take a deep breath.

And again.

I pull out my tiny, $15.00 bottle of homeopathic Rescue Remedy from my purse. I quickly squirt a few drops of it under my tongue. No one notices my doing this – I’m fast. The tincture helps me somewhat, but the effect is very subtle.

Still, it’s better than nothing.

I first admitted myself to C.H.O.M.P. when I was thirty-eight-years-old. I returned there four more times for my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. While “suicidal ideation” doesn’t quite have the ring to it that “suicide attempt” does, I came close to taking my own life. Very, very close. And to this day it’s a miracle that I didn’t use my bathrobe belt to take me out of this world.

C.H.O.M.P. is where I pleaded for electroconvulsive therapy after my father died. I requested ECT yet again after attempting to taper off lithium. For my second round of ECT the psychiatrist and I agreed that I’d switch from unilateral to the much more intense bilateral form, and I have no regrets about doing any of it. It helped me, and my side effects were minimal. I can even still remember being born. 

Once released from the hospital, I commuted to C.H.O.M.P. many, many times for the outpatient ECT treatments I was informed I’d need to stay out of the suicidal ideation zone. I left my small children at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 6:00 a.m. appointment time. 

I drove back and forth to these treatments by myself. (Just to be clear – doing that wasn’t ethical/legal in any way, shape or form, nor do I ever recommend that to anyone. The explanation behind my decision is explained at length in my book.)

 

 

 

Today I look out the car window and see nothing but pines; it’s a landscape fitting for a postcard. This area is so spectacular that classic films such as “Play Misty for Me” with Clint Eastwood and “The Sandpiper” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were filmed here. This town is a destination point for honeymooners from every corner of the globe.

No one would guess that past the dense forest are ugly buildings housing the hopeless. The sterile, stuffy units are devoid of the beauty found just beyond their windowless rooms. 

I believe that places can activate our good or bad memories. While driving on the Holman Highway on this warm August day, little do I know that I’m on my way to a writing conference that will change my life for the better. Participating at this event will shift the traumatic memory of the Holman Highway into a mixture of horrible and good.

To my total non-ECT shock, I’m about to enjoy one of the happiest weekends of my life. The conference won’t erase my C.H.O.M.P. past – nothing short of a lobotomy or death could do that, but now this road is no longer solely reminiscent of a nightmare. It now holds better memories to offset my bipolar depression and suicidal ideation. And for that I’m grateful.

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016. Because Dyane isn’t going to screw up her 2nd book deal like she did with the first one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Too Tired to Write…Here’s A Video Check-In!

My Catamaran Writers Conference creative nonfiction class. We were taught by Frances Lefkowitz, an extraordinary instructor/author. Her memoir To Have Not, about growing up poor in San Francisco, is amazing. I’ll be sharing some of my talented classmates’ websites with you next week.

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Dyane’s book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in 2016.

The Catarmaran Chronicles: Killing Chickens & More!

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Dyane (looking rather porcine but happy!) with her creative nonfiction teacher Frances Lefkowitz. Frances is author of the stunning memoir To Have Not about growing up poor in San Francisco

Here’s the cover: one of my all-time favorite book covers!

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The 2nd annual Catamaran Writers Conference brought me back twenty-four years ago to my days working at Labadie Productions. That was my first “grown-up” job. I helped plan and produce large-scale festivals in Silicon Valley such as the San Jose America Festival, the San Jose Jazz Festival, the San Pedro Square Brew Ha Ha, Villa Montalvo Concert Series, Music in the Park and many more. special events.

Those music/arts & crafts festivals drew several hundred thousand attendees over a weekend, and I often worked twenty-hour days. I was able to do that since I was young, although it was (cough, cough) unhealthy, especially when a dormant genetic code for bipolar disorder was in my brain.

I became hypomanic with the lack of sleep, although no one recognized it back then including me. Barely sleeping at those events was crazy, and it kinda made me crazy. But I got a kick out of being a staff member. I enjoyed interacting with musicians and artists, and I really loved getting lots of free food and drinks from my 75 food vendors at each festival!

My boss founded the renowned Paul Masson Mountain Winery Concert Series before starting his own company. He and his wife, co-owner of Labadie Productions, taught me so many things. They became my second family and had very high standards on how I did my job. Event production is not for the weak!

Working a festival is very similar to working a conference. As I observed and interacted with the amazing Catamaran staff I couldn’t help but wish I had been able to work at this kind of event when I was at Labadie. It’s absolutely exhausting to do event production, but so fulfilling, which is why I lasted for almost four years at Labadie.

Apart from reminiscing here, I’ll sum up my Catamaran experience by explaining more about why I loved it so much. I had no idea that a bunch of writers and poets would be so cool, fascinating, and most important: friendly. I thought I’d show up there, keep to myself and feel lonely. I didn’t think I would make a single friend. 

I was wrong on all counts, thank God. I connected with the students in my (albeit small) creative nonfiction class. I thought each writer was fantastic, and while I wasn’t going to be able to be BFF’s with them all, I knew that I’d like to keep in touch with them and promote their work, and for some of them, their books and websites.

As for my teacher Frances Lefkowitz…there are no words for how “packed with awesome” she was. Plus, I didn’t have the chance to tell you what a trouper this remarkable writer is. The night before the conference Frances was washing dishes, broke a glass and she came close to cutting the tendon in her right (writing) hand. She had to drive by herself to the ER at midnight. Yikes!

99% of people would have bailed on driving to the conference in that condition (I think she had to drive 3 or 4 hours to Pebble Beach) to teach a demanding class, but she stuck to her commitment and made the trip. Poor Frances’ hand was bandaged up and it looked like a big white lobster claw, but she was able to write.

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Frances didn’t complain about her injury – not one word. Now that’s dedication and true guts. That’s my Teacher. I cannot WAIT for her next book (about learning how to surf later in life and breaking her neck) to be published and become a bestseller – she’s one to watch! 

And now I’d like to share a few highlights from the conference…

 

Chicken Killing Poems #1 & #2

If you told me that I’d listen to not one but two lengthy, extremely detailed, disturbing poems about the mechanics involved and emotions triggered when killing a chicken, I would have said, “No way!”

Well.

On Friday night, the renowned poet Ellen Bass recited a poem “What Did I Love” about her first time killing a chicken accompanied by her wife Janet.  It was extremely well written and I could never pull something like that off, but the subject matter wasn’t what I’d choose to listen to in a chapel on a balmy August evening. Guess what? 

You can listen to it too via The New Yorker – Bass fan Phillip Levine reads it!

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On Saturday it was our big night. The evening was designated for a reception and the opportunity for most of the teachers to read their latest work. Twenty students were invited to sign up so they could read their work too. I wasn’t going to do this as I thought I’d probably pass out if I did it, but I wound up caving and taking part. (More on that later.)

On Saturday night a student named Marek from Warsaw, Poland recited his chicken killing poem in his heavy Polish accent. Marek read with such feeling; it turned out he was quite talented. Boy, it was a grim poem – even gorier than Ellen’s masterpiece. Marek had me in tears at the end. 

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Back to my decision to read- on Saturday afternoon during my meeting with agent/San Franciso Writers conference founder Michael Larsen, he advised me to do as much public speaking as possible. When we finished our session, Michael had me so pumped up that I sprinted over to the sign-up sheet. With a fleeting sense of confidence, I scrawled my name in the #18 slot. That wasn’t the greatest placement since by then everyone would be totally pooped out, but I did it anyway. Whatever, I thought, throwing caution to the wind.

I decided to read a four-minute-long piece that I wrote in class about a significant place. I chose the loony bin literally (ironically) down the road from the conference called CHOMP where I stayed five times. I titled it “PTSD Highway”.

However, by the time I was set to speak (11:15 p.m. – a late time for someone who usually goes to bed around 8p.m.) I decided to wimp out on my choice. I recited my poem “Enough” instead. I didn’t care if everyone else read for much longer periods of time. What mattered was my getting up in front of the crowd and doing it. Fortunately, I had my beloved Kindle with me so I could access “Enough” via my blog.

There were so many fabulous readings. In a deadpan voice, a nonfiction teacher named Robin Hemley read about an Air Supply reunion concert that was absolutely hysterical. Frances’ micro-memoir about breaking her neck while surfing was so brilliantly written and intense that you could hear a pin drop in the theater.

When I was called up to the stage, I stood in the wings and started to freak out. I whispered to the seasoned co-MC Kevin (our poetry slam master/owner of the Art Bar & Cafe @ The Tannery in Santa Cruz) for advice. Kevin whispered two bits of wisdom:

1) Breathe in, breathe out, and…

2) Keep my feet in the same place.

The other MC named George, also a terrific speaker, announced my name. On shaky legs I hobbled onstage in front of the podium.  I had been warned about the extremely bright spotlight which nearly blinded me. I looked out at a sea of blackness. I couldn’t see one face. It sounds kind of good, right? It wasn’t – it was really weird. My legs kept shaking but I remained glued to my spot, following Kevin’s dictum.

As an icebreaker/stalling device, I told the audience that I was nervous and explained how I asked Kevin for the last-minute public speaking advice. Some of them may have thought that was a bit funny. I certainly hoped so. Then I commanded them to give Kevin a round of applause for all his hard work, which they were happy to do as he had been a great MC/teacher throughout the weekend.  

I explained my switcheroo from a 4 minute-long piece to my forty-second poem, and I know they were glad about my decision. I could feel it in the air. Everyone was ready to call it a night!

Since I was saving everyone so much tine, I gave a brief introduction to my piece. I leaned in toward the big, black microphone, making sure I looked at the audience even though I couldn’t see anyone. They could have been a bunch of aliens for all I knew. I said,

“I made a last-minute change from a four-page-long freewrite to a very short piece I wrote for a wonderful, cutting-edge website called Stigmama, which is on hiatus. It was founded by Dr. Walker Karraa, a mentor of mine who has believed in me as a writer. She’s the author of the book Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth. Walker is also a trauma expert so she really knows what she’s talking about. Stigmama’s purpose is to break apart the stigma that our society places upon mentally ill women. It’s called Enough.”

I proceeded to recite my poem with as much emotion as possible despite feeling like a zombie. I tried to keep looking up, not down at the podium, although all I saw each time I glanced out at the audience I saw that unnerving black.

Enough

Enough of feeling obligated to you even though I don’t owe you anything

Enough of supporting you as much as I can, yet you never throw me a bone

Enough of worrying if others like me – that went out with the 70’s

Enough of comparing myself to Photoshopped fourteen-year-olds with professional makeup artists

Enough of comparing myself to others’ social media: likes, comments, pages, blogs & followers

Enough of trying endlessly to accomplish what our society deems respectable

Enough of bipolar depression kicking my ass

Enough of putting pressure on myself to be enough

Now I’m strong enough to say…

Enough

—-

As I reached the second-to-last line about strength, I emerged from the podium & busted this move!fly

It was well-received – people even clapped! 🙂

 

Elated after facing my fear of public speaking, I made a deep curtsy as if I was in front of Princess Kate or starring on Downton Abbey. It was hilarious! The audience was so kind, probably due to the heady combo. of exhaustion, the sea air, inspiring writing, gifted minds, and lots of high-end drinks imbibed at the reception.

It didn’t matter why they were nice – I think they meant it. I even had one writer named Barbara hop out of her seat to come hug me, and she thanked me for speaking about mental illness. Several other attendees thanked me later on, mentioning they had experience with bipolar in one way or another – talk about awesome.

There were more adventures, but I’m beyond tired tonight so I’ll save them for tomorrow. I’m lifting my rule to blog 1x/week just for this week. I want to capture a few more memories and share them with you.

In my next post I’d like to share some websites of some very special writers I met at Catamaran.

In the meantime take care, hope your Monday wasn’t too Mondayish, and I send you my love.

Dyane

A Writing Paradise – My 1st Day at Catamaran

Unknown-2The Stevenson School, Pebble Beach – what a gorgeous setting for the 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference

 

I wasn’t planning on blogging at the Catamaran Writers Conference taking place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.

But I can’t help it! I feel compelled to share with you today’s highlights as well as let you know that I didn’t melt into a puddle due to my extreme social anxiety.

Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, I’ve battled terrible social anxiety merely going to the coffee shop or market, so imagine what I felt when I showed up at a conference of 100 writers, all perfect strangers. Yikes!

After Craig, the girls & Miss Lucy dropped me off, I was scared. Ten minutes before our arrival, we drove past Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). I stayed at CHOMP five horrendous times, and today my PTSD from those experiences was triggered.  I drove on that road so many times to admit myself for suicide-related reasons and also for a ton of outpatient ECT.

At the Stevenson School entrance, I busied myself with the logistics of checking in and finding my room. The weather was my favorite kind: clear, warm and sunny. Thankfully my thoughts moved away from CHOMP as I got caught up with how incredibly beautiful this campus is. The school is sa-weet! It reminded me of my alma mater UC Santa Cruz, but it’s fancier.

Here’s a picture of my dorm:

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At 4:00 p.m. the day’s events began with an orientation. That was fine because I didn’t have to schmooze and I only needed to pay attention to the speakers. But after that introduction, the schmoozing began in full force. I took a few drops of the homeopathic anxiety reducer Rescue Remedy; it does help (at the very least on a placebo level) but it’s subtle. 

The first reception began. (Yes, the first one.) It was fine and I had some good talks getting to know a few of my classmates. The next agenda item was meeting with our teacher Frances Lefkowitz, but unfortunately she was running late and couldn’t make it. Luckily for us, one of my classmates, Rayne Wolfe, was Lefkowitz’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” but she wasn’t a mere groupie. She knows Lefkowitz and conference staff assigned her the task of filling in. She gave a fabulous testimonial about her teacher and was hilarious, so she won me over in about 10 seconds. I was already impressed with her submission and intimidating background. (Wolfe’s book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, has garnered the kinds of 5-star reviews writers yearn for and has sold like hotcakes around the world.) Oh, and she worked as a longtime journalist for the New York Times and more! Check out Rayne’s blog – she’s also giving her take on this conference and I love it.  Then our six-member class did a brief round of introductions. It was so cool to meet such passionate writers whose heartfelt submissions I’ve analyzed over the past month.  

Dinner followed and it was all good – portobello mushrooms, broccoli, rice, baked tomatoes – so healthy, yes?  (But thank God, they had chocolate cake, people!)  Then came another reception, also enjoyable, another shot of Rescue Remedy and finally a poetry reading by the two acclaimed instructors Ellen Bass and Jericho Brown.

Yesterday I wondered how the hell I’d get through Day One, let alone the rest of the conference. I was so freaked out knowing I’d have to make small talk with a variety of strangers – it had been a long time since I was in this kind of situation. To add to the fun, as a person who sweats like an Olympic Athlete when anxious, I oooozed wide circles on either side of my tank top and at the breastbone area. It was almost funny, except for that it wasn’t!

It’s difficult to make a seamless transition from sweating to poetry, but here goes: some of you know I’m not a poetry fan. Wow – after I typed that sentence, a bolt of lightning tried to strike me.

I’ve published a couple poems but I didn’t consider them to be Real Poems, if that makes any sense. I wrote them just to give it a try. I was going to pass on tonight’s poetry readings, but at the last minute I decided to give them a chance.

The building used for this reading was a stunning chapel. It had an enormous window overlooking the trees and sky, and unique architecture. It was an uber-cool chapel.

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Jericho Brown gave the first reading, and his delivery alone was absolutely incredible. His poems had palpable power, although it was hard for me to follow them because I was exhausted and I have a “poetry block”. I also had a full bladder and I was too lazy to leave the room, which I don’t suggest if you’re going to a poetry reading. He’s a brilliant scholar/teacher/author and has all kinds of impressive credentials you can read on his website

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Ellen Bass followed Jericho, and she remarked that he was a hard act to follow. Now, she lives in my town and she’s famous there. She has sold millions of books and co-wrote the international bestseller/classic The Courage to Heal. 

I had never seen her in person nor read any of her poems. To my surprise, I really enjoyed her poems as most of them (but definitely not all) were quite funny and easy for me to follow. She was charming and had a great rapport with Jericho, who told us that he considered her to be his “Aunt Ellen” and that one of her poems helped him “believe in God”. (He didn’t say which one – I need to find that out.)

After the intense reading, I walked back to my dorm wiped out but I was happy. Then I realized something icky. Ellen Bass was the contest judge who rejected my poem that I entered for the Felton Friends of the Library Contest!

I wrote this rather scathing blog post about Ellen Bass. While it was quite a let-down to have a muckety muck writer reject my writing, I’ve come to terms with it. I won’t pull her chair out from under her at dinner or anything mean and immature like that. She won me over tonight. 

So that was my day. I’ll be writing about the next huge challenge I face here: getting my writing critiqued by seven writers. I’ll probably sweat a small pool around my feet when that happens, but it’s for the greater good of my book. 

Thanks for reading this!

lots of love,

Dyane

p.s. I wouldn’t be here if not for the encouragement of bestselling author, friend, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Santa Cruz County’s Vice President, my fellow Board Member Wendy K. Williamson! 

 

 

 

Writing Envy Redux & My Dog Lucy Is Writing A Book!

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My hound Lucy looks twice as focused as this dog when she spots a fly!

 

 

I’ve written before about my writing envy

And while I’d love to rhapsodize how much brilliant writing inspires me to better my craftor exclaim how thrilled I was when my friend’s debut novel hit the New York Times Best Seller list, I won’t. 

I’ve been reading such incredible books and blogs lately. When I looked at my Seroquel belly this morning, it was a rippling, verdant hue. 🙂 

During the years I was mired in bipolar depression, I couldn’t care less about others’ writing because I no longer felt human. I abandoned the freelance writing relationships I had nurtured, but what hurt the most was that my writing identity vanished.

When I had the great fortune to find a psychiatrist who suggested an “out-of-thebox” medication, my depression lifted. In late 2013 I resumed writing and began blogging. And I remembered someone I used to be friends with in junior high named Aimee Bender.  

We weren’t very close, but we shared a mutual love for books. On a whim, I sent a photograph of us to my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle. A couple months later, L’Engle mailed me a postcard with a picture of the Milky Way. (A fitting image to represent the author of A Wrinkle In Time.) L’Engle wrote few lines thanking me, and added, “I always enjoy seeing what my readers look like.” I treasure her postcard and keep it near my laptop.

Toward the end of junior high, Aimee and I lost touch. Thank God no drama was involved in our parting – we simply went our separate ways and I wished her well. 

In 2011 Aimee’s book The Girl in the Flammable Skirt was published, and it received rave reviews along with the Los Angeles Times best seller status. I bought it and while I found the book unique, it didn’t wasn’t my taste. I was envious of Aimee’s success, but it was a fleeting feeling. 

Recently I checked the internet to find out about Aimee’s most recent book. Her writing career is nothing short of amazing: a prolific output of books, heaps of awards, a book made into a film, a cult following, fancy teaching positions, healthy twins at age 43, a relatively good-sounding marriage, etc. The one thing she didn’t seem to have was a severe mental illness.  That’s the day I knew it was time to stop following her accomplishments! 

My literary envy is often triggered when I can’t put down a compelling book that’s so beautifully written it makes me wish I had written it. I finished such a memoir last night. As with any intense, engaging book I immerse myself in, I was sad to reach the last page. 

To Have Not is about the author’s life growing up poor in San Francisco. It was written by my upcoming Catamaran Writing Conference instructor Frances Lefkowtiz. To Have Not is an unforgettable, lyrically written memoir.

You could say that I’m a wee bit envious of the gifted Lefkowtiz. 

Gulp.

Despite the intimidation I’ll feel in the presence of this accomplished writer, I’d rather have a fantastic nonfiction instructor than a mediocre one.  More than anything, I’m incredibly grateful that I won the fellowship award to attend her class.

What helps me grapple with my nasty emerald bits is reading insightful posts by those who expose their writing jealousy. Today I found a refreshingly honest post about this very topic! Acclaimed author Robin Black reveals the not-so-nice parts of herself after her writer friends hit the literary lotto. Interestingly, Black discusses how bestselling authors possess cases of the envies just like the neophytes do. She includes original advice on how to handle waves of envy, and trust me, her post is definitely worth the read.

Happily, I didn’t get consumed with jealousy over Robin Black’s talent. Well, I wouldn’t mind having one or two of the achievements listed on her bio; they’re nothing major, really…I mean, being published in small rags like the New York Times Magazine and receiving several major grants is not that big a deal.  

http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/green-eyed-writer-literary-envy

On a separate note, you might be wondering about my collie Lucy’s blossoming writing career. Well, being a goofball, I thought I’d touch upon another phenomenon that freaks me out: the fact that almost everyone I encounter is writing a book, even my beloved beast.

With her two furry paws bursting with creativity, Miss Lucy has already amassed 80,000 words about her life. 

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With the enormous amount of books being published annually, sometimes I wonder what’s the point of adding my book to the mix. Will Birth of a New Brain truly help anyone or is it primarily a quest to massage my ego? 

Although I believe these are totally normal thoughts, I must kick them to the curb.

I can reflect upon this gem of a mood booster: 

If books such as Reusing Old Graves, Why Cats Paint, Mommy Drinks Because You’re Bad (Arch Books – Quality Religious Books for Children), Make Your Own Sex Toys, The Bitch Who Forgot Birthdays, and the page turner Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns can be published, then my book has a place in our world!

I remind myself that my book will be a worthwhile read. I’m writing for a niche market, with absolutely no aspirations of having it become a bestseller. Madeleine L’Engle said, “You must write the book that wants to be written…” and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

So what if there are trillions of books out in the world?

It’s okay.

So what if  countless writers possess such off-the-hook talent that I feel odious by comparison?

It’s okay.

It’s not easy being green, but at least I’m not alone…

* Lithium and tranylcypromine/Parnate (an MAOI, which stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor)

 

 

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (author of  Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016. 

My 1st Fellowship Award! The Catamaran Writing Conference

 

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On Tuesday I was awarded a Fellowship to study Creative Nonfiction and Memoir with Frances Lefkowitz at the 2015 Catamaran Writing Conference. 

I still can’t believe it!

A little backstory: in 2012 I read about the new, local Catamaran Literary Reader. Each issue was filled with first-rate writers. Many of them had received the highest writing accolades possible. I never dreamed of submitting my writing to the editors, especially since my unrelenting bipolar depression got in the way.

In 2013 after a seven-year-long search, I finally found a medication combination that alleviated my paralyzing depression: lithium and an MAOI. I started this blog and returned to work on my partially written memoir Birth of a New Brain.

Fast forward to last month. I wanted to attend a writing workshop that could help me improve my first draft. Through a Google search I found the Catamaran Writing Conference. This annual event is held at a beautiful Pebble Beach campus complete with field trips. It sounded like a glorious summer camp for writers!

I looked at the cost and gulped. No way, I thought. Ain’t gonna happen. 

However, I couldn’t get the conference out of my mind. After three cups of Steve’s Smooth French coffee (for the record, the coffee mug was small!) I wondered if scholarships were available  I emailed an inquiry to the Catamaran office and got on with my day. Within hours the conference coordinator emailed me,”Yes, we offer several fellowships, and here’s the link to apply.” 

Why the hell not? I thought.

Some of you know I’ve been through plenty of literary rejection that brought up slight 😉 anger and insecurity issues. See this link for the gory details: https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/lets-play-the-schadenfreude-game-a-writers-1st-rejection/

 

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To get fired up to write my application, I re-read the description of the Nonfiction Workshop I wanted to take. The teacher, renowned writer Frances Lefkowitz (author of To Have Not, a highly acclaimed memoir about growing up poor in San Francisco), seemed like she’d be an ideal guide. Lefkowitz has led numerous memoir workshops. She won a grant to teach free memoir workshops at libraries – how cool is that? (I’ve worked for the Santa Cruz Libraries and Friends of the Santa Cruz Libraries; I’m a bit of a library fan.) Participating in her workshop would be a unique opportunity, bar none.

Moreover, Frances Lefkowitz has the same first name as my beloved Granny who was also a gifted teacher. I blogged about my remarkable grandmother for the first time last week. The name coincidence and timing seemed like a good omen that tickled me in the face.

Still, I knew that it was highly unlikely I’d be awarded a fellowship. Surely the staff received a gazillion entries from outstanding writers with talents far superior to mine – writers who were destined to win oodles of Pushcart Prizes and PEN Literary Awards. 

On Tuesday morning I sat in front of my laptop, perplexed. The past month I’ve gone through an awful writing block. I’ve worked on my book here and there instead of during every precious child-free opportunity that I’ve had. (I suspect that my Seroquel withdrawal has had something to do with my struggle.)

My dog Lucy sat on my foot, her warm, furry flank reassuring me of her affection. I began to sob with frustration. Lucy immediately jumped up in alarm and licked my face. As soon as I dried my tears, I noticed a new email had popped up in my in-box.

It was from the Catamaran Literary Reader.

I stared at my in-box. I felt slightly sick to my stomach. I wanted this fellowship. Ever since I emailed my application I wrote nightly affirmations stating I’d receive the award. I furtively placed these slips of paper under my pillow. (This is hippie-dippie Santa Cruz after all, and in twenty-seven years of living here, I’ve never written positive affirmations!)

Despite my pillow plea to the Universe, I knew that the email was likely to be a rejection. Before opening it I braced myself. I took a deep breath. I opened the email and read, ” The editors have chosen you to receive a Fellowship Award to study Creative Nonfiction and Memoir with Frances Lefkowitz during the 2015 conference.”

I let out an enormous, happy scream. Poor Lucy. She barked madly while I danced around in circles like a freak. I’m so grateful for this beautiful award, and I’m honored that the Catamaran editors were “impressed” with my submission!

Since then, I’ve been absorbed with reading my teacher’s memoir; it’s not required, but after reading its rave reviews and spotting its $2.99 cost on Kindle, I was compelled to buy it. I’ve read the first few chapters and it’s incredible. My good friend/blogger Kitt O’Malley (http://kittomalley.com) noticed my enthusiastic tweet about this book and she also bought it. I know she’ll find it a riveting read as well. 

I’ve checked out Lufkowitz’s blog Paper in My Shoe and some of her interviews to get a sense of her teaching style and philosophy. All of these interviews contained excellent writing advice.

Here’s one piece of wisdom she shared on the Fictionaut blog that many of us bloggers/writers can utilize. 

http://fictionaut.com/blog/2012/04/11/fictionaut-five-frances-lefkowitz/

What’s the best writer’s advice you ever got?

Frances Lefkowitz: When submitting stories to publications, always keep several pieces in circulation, so when one comes back rejected, you still have the others keeping hope alive. Also, for the same reason, send that rejected one out immediately to another journal. This advice came from the wonderful Pamela Painter, who taught me fiction at Harvard’s night school.

It’s not too late to sign up for the conference! Details are posted below. 

I’ll be back next week with an update on the Seroquel withdrawal blues, which was meant to be today’s original topic until I got this lovely conference news. 🙂 

take care, and have a wonderful weekend!

love, Dyane

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To buy To Have Not go to :http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003GDIA32/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0434WR0JN7PNWSVJ7ACW&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=2079475242&pf_rd_i=desktop

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@YesFrances
Frances Lufkowtiz’s cool website/blog Paper In My Shoe 

http://www.franceslefkowitz.net/blog/

 

For information about the 2015 Catamaran Conference in Pebble Beach this August, visit:

http://catamaranliteraryreader.com/conference-2015/

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Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder with a foreword by Dr. Walker Karraa (Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growth) will be published by Post Hill Press in Fall, 2016.