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Things That Have Never Been: New Year’s Resolutions 2017

And now we welcome the new year.
Full of things that have never been.
Rainer Maria Rilke

Last year was the first time I ever thought of actually writing down my New Year’s resolutions, let alone sharing them with other people. Resolutions have always seemed like a private thing, something you were somewhat ashamed of, if only because you hadn’t been doing it all along. Since, for the first time, I don’t have to rely on memory for what I’d resolved to do in the previous year, I decided to revisit that list — to see how many of the resolutions I’d managed to keep — before I made my list for 2017.

Of course, some things on my annual New Year’s lists are perennial, like losing weight. Even when I weighed 123 pounds (far too thin for my 5’8″ large-boned frame, I assure you), I made resolutions to lose more weight (I wanted to look like a model, and maybe I did: people were always telling me I looked like a skeleton). Some things have been in my lists of resolutions annually, but only once I began seriously writing, with the intention of becoming a published author, and that was when I began college. Other items on my lists of resolutions began to appear as I got older: stay healthy, remain intellectually active, stay current with popular culture.

Here’s the list of my 2016 Resolutions, followed by my notes on progress, before I present my list of 2017 plans.

#1: Write More
#2: Lose Weight
#3: Write More
#4: Walk More
#5: Write More
#6: Spend More Time With Those I Love
#7: Don’t Forget Tom
#8: Read More
Final Resolution: Write More

Write More
Numbers 1, 3, 5, and 9 on last year’s list was Write More, by which I meant spend more time on my blogs, blogging more consistently, as well as spend more time on my books. I did succeed in blogging more consistently, thanks mostly to my participation in Rachel Thompson’s (@RachelintheOC) brilliant #MondayBlogs.

My readers seemed to like that I was blogging more often, as well as to like what I was actually blogging on: films and TV shows. From May to December 2016, The Alexandria Papers registered  over 720K unique views, for which I thank my readers and fans most sincerely.

I don’t recall when I realized that my readers liked the Entertainment Reviews more than anything else, but once I switched over to doing those sorts of blogs about 90% of the time (with the remaining 10% reserved for Things Wondrous Strange), I seemed to have hit my blogging stride. Despite the hard work of researching and writing the blogs, I love doing it.

Besides blogging, I did write on my books more often in 2016, working primarily on the revised version of Mastering Fiction and Point of View. It was originally scheduled for publication in Dec 2015, but I didn’t make the deadline. In traditional publishing, that kind of thing can void your publication contract, but my editors generously moved the anticipated publication date to Dec 2016.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make that deadline either, if only because of another 2016 “goal” that I wanted to achieve but hadn’t known about in time to put it on my list of resolutions. This goal made me so wretchedly ill and miserable, I often couldn’t write — or do anything else — at all.

Getting Off A Prescription Drug
I didn’t plan to spend most of 2016 getting off a prescription drug that had recently been linked to a possible increase in Alzheimer’s dementia, but you can bet I was wholeheartedly in favor of getting off it once I heard about those studies. My physician was very supportive: he set up a plan for me to get off the drug, which had been prescribed over 10 years earlier to help me manage panic disorder. According to his plan, it would only take 9-10 months to withdraw from the drug completely.

I was in shock. 9-10 months to get off a prescription drug? I never heard of such a thing.

To make it even worse, that was a “short” withdrawal plan: some patients were taking a year or two to get off the medication. Apparently, some prescription drugs, like benzodiazepines, are so dangerous that they affect every cell in your entire body, whether you are aware of it or not.

Stopping the drugs suddenly can literally kill you.

Getting off them slowly is no picnic, I can assure you.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Syndrome can cause anything from hallucinations and migraines to seizures and suicide. Obviously, I didn’t commit suicide — fortunately, I never even thought of it — but I’d say I had about 98% of the side effects of withdrawal, including almost incessant hemiplegic migraines — related to epilepsy and which can themselves cause seizures — as well as seizures from the drug withdrawal itself. I guess about the only benzodiazepine withdrawal side-effects I didn’t experience were feeling suicidal, feeling homicidal, and losing a lot of weight.

Around June of last year, I slightly accelerated  the withdrawal schedule, after consultation with my doctor. By that time I’d spent almost six months suffering from migraines, seizures, insomnia, electric shock sensations, depression, depersonalization, and super-extreme irritability and anger (which I kept inside, not wanting to subject my guy Tom, our furry babies, my friends, or complete strangers to the withdrawal-induced non-target-specific anger).  After my last dose of the drug — 29 June — I still had to wait a few more months for it to clear my body completely, as well as for my body to heal itself before the withdrawal side effects would stop.

Why didn’t the doctors who originally prescribed the drug warn me about the horrific side-effects of long-term use, which is considered anything longer than 3 months? Did they not know? Did they not care? (I’m quite certain that one or two of them wouldn’t have cared if they had known, but that’s probably the subject of another  blog post.)

I did the withdrawal at home, and I’m grateful for that: my doctor didn’t think it was necessary for me to be hospitalized, especially given my terror of hospitals stemming from the horrifying abuse my Munchausen’s by Proxy mother inflicted.

So, one of my 2016 resolutions became getting off a prescription medication that I’d been instructed to take over 10 years earlier, and which is now considered dangerous. I got off it, despite the vicious withdrawal symptoms, and I can only hope the damage it did to my body will heal eventually.

Lose Weight / Walk More
Despite my best efforts, I didn’t lose any weight. It’s exactly the same today as it was on 1 Jan 2016. My guy Tom thinks being the same weight a year later is a significant achievement. I think it sucks, honestly, and don’t understand why I didn’t lose any weight. I ate healthy foods, drank plenty of water, walked a lot (almost every single day, despite withdrawing from medication, since I was hoping the walking would help with the withdrawal side-effects), and did other exercise, too. I continued classes in Kundalini Yoga, which I’ve been doing for about 2 years now, and I also began T’ai Chi classes early in 2016. Encouraged by one of Lydia Schoch’s blog posts, I also began lifting weights again.

No weight loss, however.

Years ago, one of my physicians encouraged me to “get healthy” rather than to concentrate so much on losing weight. I guess I’ll just have to continue to keep that in mind: I’m getting healthy. I’d still like to be about 20-25 pounds thinner while getting healthy — I just want to go down one pants size, for heaven’s sake — but I’m guessing I’ll concentrate on getting a bit thinner in 2017, as opposed to losing weight.

Read More
I love to read, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to keep that 2016 resolution. I decided to read some books that I’d previously neglected, including some popular series of books that weren’t necessarily written for people my age. I read the complete series of  The Hunger Games, Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, and Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. I also read almost all The Saxon Tales (2 left to read in that series, but they just came out at the end of November, so I just received them in the last couple of weeks).

I read dozens of New York Times bestsellers by authors I’d never heard of before, as well as Indie authors’ books, and some of the classics that I’d previously avoided, like Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (5-volumes, about 700K words).  

Thanks to Rachel Thompson’s @MondayBlogs, I found wonderful blogs that I read almost daily in 2016. I share their posts regularly on Mondays on the twitter, but also on my FB Author Page whenever I find them. You’ll just have to check out those accounts to see all the blogs and bloggers I like since I don’t have room to list every single one here. These are just a few of my favorites.

Rachel in the OC
by CSA survivor and advocate Rachel Thompson, (@RachelintheOC) on surviving, preventing, and spreading the word about Childhood Sexual Abuse (#CSA), providing forums like her website and twitter’s Sex Abuse Chat

Bad Redhead Media
also run by Rachel Thompson, (@BadRedheadMedia) with an emphasis on helping writers and other small business owners master social media, or, as Rachel says, “Helping You Help Your Damn Self”

Lydia Schoch (formerly On-The-Other-Hand)
by @TorontoLydia, one of the best blogs with an amazing variety of topics, from anything dog-related to becoming a Canadian citizen, from the Zen of medical tests to her weekly Suggestion Saturdays, which feature blogs and websites that are fascinating

Mimi Matthews
written by @MimiMatthewsEsq, who got a multi-book contract last year based on her marvelous blog on all things Victorian Era, from clothes and pets to personalities and other authors who write books and blogs on the same time period

Anne R Allen
written by author @AnneRAllen, with an emphasis on posts to help writers with everything from writing the first draft to revising to marketing

Barking Up The Wrong Tree
by Eric Barker (@bakadesuyo) with posts on living your life better with the principles of meditation, Stoicism, mindfulness, and more

BrainPickings
one of the most diligently researched blogs I’ve ever found, written by Maria Popova (@BrainPicker), it covers writers, artists, books, and all things wonderfully intellectual and artistic

Raptitude
by David D Cain (@DavidDCain) who writes about meditation, awareness, mindfulness, and things like whether or not there’s something wrong with you because you (think you) read “too slowly”

Spend More Time With Loved Ones (and Don’t Forget Tom)
I have to say that this was one of my priorities in 2016, especially after I began withdrawing from that prescription drug and feared it was going to kill me. I spent more time reconnecting with friends who are far away, and spent as much time as I could with friends here. With Tom and our furry babies, I pretended that each day was going to be my last, and I wanted it to be full of love. It was. I don’t regret an instant of the time I spent with my loved ones.

New Year’s Resolutions 2017
So, what are my resolutions for 2017? Many are the same as last year, but I guess it would be good to list them, if only to make it easier to refer to them throughout the year. I was going to list things like Clean my writing desk and Not upgrade to any new iPhones, but I think I’m going to slightly change the way I make my New Year’s resolutions.

Instead of setting yearly goals, I’m going to plan some things I think I can do on a daily basis.

Write
Read
Exercise
Eat Healthy
Meditate
Spend Time With My Loved Ones

I’m going to try to keep it simple and attainable this year; after all, now that I’m writing them down and actually sharing them with others, it’s important to bear in mind that I’m going to be held accountable for the resolutions I make.

I’m off to a good start: it’s the first day of the year, and I walked for 45 minutes, did T’ai Chi, meditated, had coffee with Tom before he and SadieDoggie went off to work, and wrote a blog post.

Now I’m going to gather the #GangOfSeven Rescue Kitties and read some of my favorite bloggers’ posts, some of which are already posted for this week’s #MondayBlogs.

What are some of your resolutions are this year, my Lovelies, and  which resolutions from 2016 you managed to keep?

 

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Filed under Blogging, Memoir, New Year's Resolutions, Real Life of a Writer

Books That Changed My Life

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Someone on Twitter asked, “What books have influenced you or made an impact?”

How could any serious reader answer that in 140 characters or fewer?

Influenced me? How? My own writing style? That’s easiest to answer. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Hemingway’s The Sun also Rises, Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, anything by Alain Robbe-Grillet, anything by Chris Bojhalian, James Joyce’s short stories and the last (Molly) section of Ulysses.

Made an impact on me? Not sure what that means. Books you think about over and over? Books you read over and over? I don’t know. There are so many that I’ve read multiple times, for different reasons. Still, I couldn’t answer that in a Tweet. Or two. Or three.

What books irrevocably changed my life?

Ah, now that question I can answer.

When I was about 6 and T.S. Eliot died, the local newspaper ran a front page story about him, complete with picture and excerpt from his epic (and not always very good) The Wasteland. (When authors die today, they’re lucky if they’re mentioned on CNN’s ticker, momentarily, at the bottom of the screen during the morning news.) At 6, I tried to read The Wasteland excerpt myself, but couldn’t get it all, so I asked my mother who the man in the photo was. After she glanced at it, she said, “Some poet.”

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I asked her to read from the poem. She must’ve been in a really good mood that day because she actually did it. I was standing in the living room, looking up at a tiny window near the ceiling where shafts of sunlight poured in, watching the dust dance in the brilliant light, and listening to the most beautiful language I’d ever heard. I thought to myself, “One day, I’m going to write words like that, words that sound like music.”

My path as an author and life-long reader had just been chosen for me, and it began with poetry, specifically with Eliot’s The Wasteland, which you can read here, free, since it is in the Public Domain.

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When I was 8 and discovered Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales changed my life dramatically (this link will take you to the Prologue, free). My parents were always throwing my books away (after hitting me with them) because they thought the books were a waste of time since “women were supposed to get married and have babies so they didn’t need to read.” When I discovered a funny, dirty, interesting book written in English which they couldn’t understand (because it was in Middle English), it was an incredible epiphany.Unknown-8I was sitting at the kitchen table reading “The Miller’s Tale” and giggling hysterically over the arse-kissing part. My mother demanded to know what I was reading that was so funny. I obediently showed it to her. After a few seconds, she shoved the book back, asking, “WTH is this? It ain’t even in English.” I answered, “Old English” (because that’s what I thought it was). Her response, “You know, men don’t like smart girls. You ain’t never gonna get nobody to marry you if you keep reading crap like this.” (Only, being my mother, she didn’t say it quite so politely.)

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Since I was only 8 but already associated “marriage” with “control”, I thought, “Oh, goodie,” and kept on reading (although I did cover my mouth to laugh more quietly). Since she hadn’t found the book offensive, she hadn’t thrown it away. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English was the first book that gave me some power in my life: if my parents couldn’t understand what I was reading, I could read it without punishment. It also began my lifelong love of learning foreign languages: I’d simply read books in languages my parents couldn’t understand. No “crime”, no punishment. Besides the fact that Chaucer’s writing gave me power and increased my love for language(s), I adored all the characters in The Canterbury Tales, especially the Wife of Bath, looking for her 5th or 6th husband while on a “holy” pilgrimage to St. Thomas à Beckett’s burial shrine. What a riot.

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Though I read virtually everything I could get hold of (mostly in secret), the next book that altered my life taught me about espionage and spy-cunning. I was 12 when Zeffirelli’s classic film Romeo and Juliet came out, and, like all the girls my age, I desperately wanted to see it. That wasn’t going to happen: there was nudity in it – OMG! I decided I wanted to do the next best thing. Buy the book. My parents guffawed: “I had to read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar once,” said my step- (later adoptive) father, “and couldn’t understand it at all. If I couldn’t understand it, you can’t.” I was actually forbidden to purchase the book, and, furthermore, threatened with bodily harm if I was caught with it.

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That was when I learned to become a spy, an undercover agent, a female James Bond. I cased out my classmates, deciding relatively quickly that my partner-in-crime would most likely be the girl with shoe-polish-dyed-black hair who defiantly wore thick black eye-liner despite constantly getting detention for doing so. She was 2 years older than I, but still in the seventh grade because she’d skipped public school so much, she’d been held back two grades, and then sent to Catholic school after she’d been caught smoking her parents’ stolen cigarettes with a boy behind the family’s garage. Yep, she’d do.

She had an older brother who could drive to the nearest bookstore to buy the book for me. After I laid out my plan, she said she’d ask her brother and get back to me. The next day, in a corner on the playground, while looking in the opposite direction and pretending not to talk to me, she informed me that her brother had agreed but only on the condition that I also pay for his Coca-Cola (which came only in bottles that you had to uncap with metal bottle-openers, and which nobody called “Coke” back then). I was also instructed that I’d have to give her a “gift” for her part in this risky affair. I was specifically told what the “gift” was to be. I agreed to all terms and immediately handed over all my accumulated stash of allowance money (25 cents/week for all household chores, including laundry, cooking, cleaning up, etc.) Oh, by the way, her older brother instructed her to tell me that he got to keep any leftover monies for gas and his time. I had to agree that, since he was the only one with a car, said conditions seemed reasonable.

For over a week, I waited anxiously, worrying constantly that the plot would be discovered, and I’d be tortured into a confession, revealing my accomplices. Finally, one day, Shoe-Polish-Hair-Girl gave me our pre-arranged signal, tapping on her uniform pocket three times, nodding once. How my heart pounded as I watched the classroom clock, how slowly its hands moved until the bell rang for lunch and recess. Outside on the playground, My Girl and I casually passed each other. I dropped one of my mother’s redder-than-red lipsticks (that I’d stolen from her dresser) into my co-conspirator’s coat pocket while she slipped the coveted Romeo and Juliet into mine. I immediately ran the length of the playground, down the steps to the church beside the school (I, too, was sent to Catholic schools, though for a different reason: despite my family’s being Jewish, the schools were supposed to offer “protection” from anti-Semitism). I covertly slipped into one of the confessionals with the contraband book. Even at that age, the irony was obvious to me.

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In the dim silence of that curtained space, I gazed longingly at my treasure for as long as I dared, rapturously and repeatedly kissing the cover — which featured Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in a furtive, soulful embrace — before I began to dismantle the book. I tore off both front and back covers, ripped them to shreds, snuck out of the confessional, and crept around the empty church, depositing the shreds into separate waste-bins. Next I took the book out the opposite side door, away from the school’s playground, dropped it into the dirt, where I then stomped on it, bent it, ripped some of the pages (but carefully, so no words were obscured). I also scraped the spine of the paperback against the rough stone of the church until its print was illegible.

Success. It looked like some raggedy old book without anything to outwardly identify it. I returned to the schoolyard in triumph and immediately began reading. My Girl in the black eye-liner and dark red lipstick nodded once at me in passing. I nodded furtively before returning to my treasure.

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At home, I continued reading. Openly. Defiantly. Because neither my mother nor stepfather could tell what I was reading. I fell in love with Shakespeare’s language and with Romeo and Juliet’s story.

Did I understand it all? Of course not: I was 12 years old.

Have I loved Shakespeare ever since? Absolutely.

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His Romeo and Juliet taught me that love was tragic but beautifully written. Sigh. Again, with the beautiful language. Getting hold of Romeo and Juliet also taught me how to become a covert operative in order to deceive my parents so that I could read (almost) as many books as I wanted. It also taught me that, sometimes, the people you can trust most in the world dye their hair black with shoe-polish (until they can afford the real hair dye in a box like my mother used).

Although this first meeting scene is not as touching as the version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, it has a special place in my heart because it was this film which made me want to read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the first place.

The love song, played in this video, was a top hit on the radio that year, and I adored the film when I finally got to see it. It’s Romeo’s and Juliet’s first meeting, from Zeferelli’s 1968 film. Since the play is in the Public Domain, you can read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet free of charge.

Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist was my next life-changing book. And I  mean the book, not the movie. At fifteen, making plenty of money with all my baby-sitting jobs every night of the week and every single weekend, I’d bought the hardcover copy myself from another student who’d finished it. I removed the cover from the black hardback, and kept the spine lowered whenever I read.

One day, when I was about halfway through the book, my mother hung up the phone with my aunt, marched into the living room, and yanked the book from my hands. I protested vociferously. She claimed that my aunt had just read the book, or part of it, at least, and stopped, horrified by the scene where the satanically possessed daughter masturbates with a crucifix. Did I even know what masturbation was? she demanded loudly. I had to admit that I did not (my dictionary, also forbidden, was hidden under my mattress: I’d have to look the word up later).

My step-father then volunteered himself for the “awful task” of determining if I could finish reading the book I’d bought (though I’d already passed the crucifix-masturbation scene) by “bravely and unselfishly” reading it himself. After three weeks of annoyed but helpless waiting, I learned my sentence. My step-father announced that The Exorcist was, indeed, unfit for me to read. I was outraged. Not only had I bought the book myself but the very man who’d forced me to learn the actions (though not the words) for rape, incest, sodomy, and forced fellatio, was now deciding that I couldn’t read a book. My book. I crossed my arms over my chest, narrowed my eyes, and gave him, as they say, a look that could kill… (It never occurred to me to wonder when or how my parents realized I was reading a book called The Exorcist, I was so outraged by their taking it away.)

Though I’d never had study-halls before (too boring), I suddenly decided that I needed not one but two. The first in the morning and the second during lunch-period (I didn’t eat anyway). Both were granted because I was such a good, well-behaved, obedient student. I immediately purchased a new copy of Blatty’s book from another student and read it during my two study-halls, keeping the novel stored in my locker at school, never taking it home.

(Though we were technically too young to see the film version of Blatty’s novel when it came out, theater managers weren’t as strict as they are now about letting you into R-rated films as long as you looked like you were at least 17 (I was 15): we went with a friend’s older sister, who showed her ID, said she was our sister, too, and that we were all allowed to see the movie. The film version of one of the scenes that my stepfather objected to in the novel, though my parents themselves freely used such obscenities (and worse) was more horrifying that I’d imagined.

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Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist taught me that “a room of one’s own” — despite Virginia Woolf’s insistence — isn’t always sufficient: what one really needs is an off-home hiding/storage area to which no one else has access or keys.

After I turned 16 and purchased a ’68 VW Beetle with over 100,000 miles on it — so I could get to work without paying one of my friends for a ride — that VW’s massive front-end trunk, which locked, became the new “room of my own”- the storage facility for all my books. The keys never left my body, even when I slept. One does what one must to survive. And blossom, even in the intellectual desert that was my family.

Other books have changed my life, and me, but those are a few that I remember most vividly, and which I’ve read (and taught) countless times over the years. Though I do not have the original Romeo and Juliet, having replaced it with The Complete Works of Shakespeare, I do have my first copy of The Canterbury Tales and of The Exorcist. These books are some that are dearest to my heart: not just because of their beautiful writing or their stories, but because they, literally, changed me, my view of life, and my ideas of what I could accomplish if I was determined enough (and it my accomplices-in-crime didn’t confess under torture).

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What books have dramatically and irrevocably changed your life?
How?
I’d really like to know.

Use as many characters as you need.

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