Category Archives: books

The magic of inspiration

I began writing a book about my journey through mental illness back in February of this year. I had written a few chapters but eventually hit a road block so I put it away in a drawer and haven’t look at it since.

However, one of my literary heroes, Elizabeth Gilbert, just released her new book Big Magic which profoundly changed the way I think about creativity and the “hidden jewels” lying inside me.

After finishing the book, I pulled out the chapters I had worked on so diligently for several months and the words made me cringe. The meat of everything I had written was about what happened to me rather than how it transformed me. Basically, it was dull and boring, even to me.

So I went back to the drawing board and asked myself, “Lindsay, at the beginning of your journey what would have been the ideal outcome of your story? Because that is what you should write about.”

It took an hour of soul-searching and self-introspection to get to the bottom of it, but in the end my ultimate desire was this: I didn’t want to waste my suffering. I wanted to use it to get closer to myself and to become the heroine of my own story.

I thought that sounded pretty cool and when I wrote that, inspiration struck me with such ferocity that I wrote and wrote and wrote. Before I knew it, nearly ten hours had passed, my Saturday virtually gone. But I looked through my composition notebook and realized I was looking at the outline for an entirely new book – a more real and genuine one than what I had previously written. One I was writing purely for me, not anyone else.

And you know what’s strange? I found myself writing about the profound pain and suffering and emotional confusion I had endured and was actually enjoying it, which is to say I am in a drastically different state of mind compared to where I was many months ago. Maybe that is because enough time has passed for me to look at my story as a spectator rather than writing it all as it unfolded.

At the time I had begun writing my book I had only been out of the hospital for a little over a month. I was still depressed as my medications hadn’t quite kicked in yet. And I was angry. Why did this happen to me? Why is life so unfair? It’s no wonder, then, I had written a book from the viewpoint of a victim. Thank god I’ve moved on.

Perhaps the most encouraging piece of advice I took away from Big Magic is the idea that your creativity and art is begging to be made manifest. It doesn’t matter if what you create is any good. It just matters that you finish it. It may not always come easy or naturally, but then again your work never promised it would be either of those things. It just promised it would interesting. And it is interesting, indeed.

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Filed under advice, books, heroes, inspiration, self-introspection, Writing

Chicago off the beaten path

One of my favorite things about living in Madison is its proximity to the Windy City. I’ve been to Chicago several times and I’ve hit all the typical tourist attractions like the Art Institute, Navy Pier, the Magnificent Mile, and the Sears Tower (side note: I will never call it the Willis Tower, sorry).

Having already gone to these places (and loving them) I wanted to dig deeper and go further off the beaten track. My typical approach to travel is based on my passion for the people so whether it be near home or somewhere far away I want to be immersed in the community and pretend I’m a local for the day.

On Saturday I roamed the neighborhoods of Chicago and the Pilsen neighborhood quickly became my favorite. Largely Hispanic and predominantly Mexican, there’s a treasure waiting to be found around every corner. There were heaps of vintage shops, bold murals, and authentic Mexican food and deserts from the taquerias and panaderias that lined the street.

One of my first finds was the National Museum of Mexican Art, a lesser-known Chicago attraction. I really loved the exhibitions on display as they were so lively and colorful it reminded me of being back in Central America. In general, I think I prefer this kind of art over those that are more abstract, maybe because every way you look at it there’s some sort of story being told that you really don’t need to infer what the artist is trying to tell you. Plus, admission was free and you can’t beat that. Here are two of my favorites:

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Most striking, though, were the streets lined with bold, colorful murals – an art that seems to be disappearing in the States. I was particularly captivated by a house that sits on the intersection one block before you get to the museum. This piece was painted by Hector Duarte called Bulliver en el pais de las Maravillas – or Gulliver in Wonderland. It is supposed to represent the struggling Mexican immigrant.

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Although it was Hector’s house and art gallery I don’t think he minded the photo shoot my parents and I had outside his place.

As my friend Jesse says, “This one represents every 90s rap video.” He is so right.

As my friend Jesse says, “This one represents every 90s rap video.” He is so right.

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I wish street murals weren’t such a dying art breed because they speak to the history and characteristics of those living in the neighborhood. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say it could actually attract people and bring in business if it was included as part of the thriving arts gallery movement in Chicago. Take note, you Chicagoans!

No matter where I go I always buy a souvenir, usually something like a piece of art or a corny postcard to remember the place by. On this trip, my souvenir came from Irv’s Bike Shop – a mom and pop shop that’s been in the Pilsen neighborhood for more than 40 years. Given I only live 5 miles from work and Spring is just around the corner, I’ve resolved to start commuting to work via bike.

A few years ago I bought an adorable pink bike with a basket on the front (total 60s fan girl) but for longer commutes it just doesn’t cut the deal. So, I’ve been on the hunt for a used road bike in good condition (and one that doesn’t break the bank). Irv’s came highly recommended from an avid biker I work with and I have to say it’s the least pretentious bike shop I’ve ever been to.

Over the course of my time there people came in and out, some for tune ups others for bike shopping and still others just to chat with the store manager. Everyone was friendly and very helpful and stuck to showing me bikes that met my needs and price range. Something my Dad taught me growing up is that a warm smile and friendly banter can go a long ways, which seems to always work in my favor. The store manager gave me $25 off my bike and threw in a free cart so I could attach a basket on the back. I walked out of there with new digs and a helmet for $200.

On my first spin around the block I momentarily forgot how to ride a bike. Embarrassingly enough I ran into the store window. And then into the stairs down the street. You know the old phrase, “It’s like riding a bike. Once you learn you never forget?” Well, not for me! I need a little practice before I get on the road so Bobby and I took it out for a test spin today over lunch. Isn’t it gorgeous!?

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To round out my trip I just HAD to check out Bookman’s Corner. It’s a fire hazard waiting to happen, with books stacked from floor to ceiling. Half of them aren’t even on shelves and you have to be careful when you pull one book out because about four others come crashing down. The front of the book store can be hard to miss if you aren’t looking for it but the store has been selling used books “rare, medium and well done” since the early 1980s. It’s ridden with character and worth a trip just to listen to the owner banter with the customers. A writer and reader’s dream, it’s definitely a place you could easily spend all day in. You’ll find small treasures and unbeatable prices. Just make sure you take a Lorazepam before going in. Also, there is a massive sign in the front that says no photos. Obviously, rules are made to be broken.

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Filed under art, biking, Bookman's Corner, books, Chicago, Hector Duarte, Irv's Bike Shop, murals, museum, National Museum of Mexican Art, travel

Thoughts on anger

I read a line in one of my self-prescribed self-help/do-good books this weekend that made me pause. For the most part, I loved the book because it was about embracing your messy, fucked-up life but there was one chapter in particular that talked about forgiveness, saying we must always forgive because “Forgiveness helps quiet the anger.”

What gave me pause wasn’t that we should aim for forgiveness so much as it was the idea we should quiet any negative emotions we feel for fear of how others will perceive us. Anger is not meant to be quieted, it is meant to be expressed in whatever safe and healthy medium that we identify with. For me, I choose to express my anger through writing and running because both activities leave me feeling empty of hate instead of consumed by it. For others, anger is expressed through painting or even smashing plates on the sidewalk (Liz can attest to how much fun this actually is). Whatever medium you identify with, expressing your anger is far better than stifling it.

I think back to the day I found myself curled up in a ball on the hardwood floor of my parent’s bedroom sobbing and gasping for air. I kept telling myself the best thing to do was to forgive and let go. The reason I didn’t – couldn’t – do that is because I was not capable of forgiveness at that point in time. As much as I would have liked to say I forgive you and I wish you happiness and love because I have loved you so much, I just couldn’t. I still can’t. Why? Because that’s not actually how I feel. In fact, at the risk of sounding maniacal, this is what I really feel: I hope he loses all his money because he prizes stance and stature more than anyone else I know. I hope he gets divorced as quickly as he got engaged and married. I hope his new wife cheats on him and gets pregnant by someone else (because he did that to me twice and I would really love for him to know how that feels). I also really hope he ends up unhappy and alone and the sooner that happens, the better. I am not ashamed to say I feel any of this because this is HONESTLY where I’m at.

The point of sharing this is to illustrate that we can only hope to reach forgiveness by going through all of the other emotions we feel, not around them. Whether its depression, anger, hate and bitterness or just plain hurt feelings, we are so often taught to quickly release those emotions as soon as we feel them because they’re exhausting and they consume our energy. Yes, they are all of these things, but I can honestly say that quieting those emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you are ready to do so does not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. To forgive someone before you actually feel it in your bones is not forgiveness. It is something else entirely. We must endure the ugly side of hurt even if it brings out the most un-redeeming qualities.

I believe the idea that we must always forgive (and well before we are ready to) creates an undue pressure and hardship on our hearts. I also believe it is not necessary to forgive in order to let go. It is only necessary that you first be kind to yourself and second that you love yourself more than anybody else could. The only way to do both is to honor what you feel by going through your journey, not around it. To promise to show up every single day and embrace the ugly side of hurt. To express the emotions that rise up because otherwise (like me) you spend years forcing yourself not to feel. You really only need reach acceptance in order to let go. Quieting the anger is not an option but releasing it is.

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Filed under advice, books, depression, forgiveness, insight, love, self-introspection, self-love, truth

*Affection training

I left counseling this week feeling challenged and changed in a fundamental way, which is to say I did a complete 180 compared to my first session (spent sobbing into a box of tissues while recounting the last four years of my tumultuous relationship). At the end of that first session, my counselor said, “Get angry! Stop blaming yourself! You have every right to feel the way you do and until you understand what prevents you from expressing that anger, you’ll be stuck in a place characterized by complacency and victimization.” When I left that first session, I felt deflated and beaten up. It didn’t make me feel better. It actually made me feel worse.

One of my main goals in counseling is to understand and change my behavior so I don’t carry those mistakes into future relationships. Knowing this, my counselor  gave me a few books to read and asked me to highlight passages that stuck out to me, especially where I recognized my own behavior patterns. Books in hand, I did exactly as she asked. I devoured every word.

The book that struck me the most was about training animals, called Don’t Shoot the Dog. It had nothing to do with relationships per se but the underlying theory of training animals to respond in specific ways has implications for human behavior (after all, we are animals too). The basic idea is that without understanding and knowing how behavior is shaped, you can’t actually change the way an animal responds.

There is one chapter in particular where I saw my relationship from beginning to end and which provided a possible explanation for all the “why” questions I so often ask. In this chapter, the author talks about the powerful effect of using invariable schedules to train animals. The premise is that the rarer and more unpredictable the reinforcer (or reward), the harder the animal works for it and the more likely you’ll get the desired response. Basically, if you never know exactly when you’ll get your reward, you’ll do exactly as the trainer wants every single time just in the hopes of getting it. I practically highlighted this whole chapter, making lots of side comments in the margins. All of a sudden, I realized was the dog in my relationship and had unknowingly been conditioned to respond to one reinforcer in particular: affection.

Here’s how it played out:

  • A charming, fun, sexy guy and I have really great moments. There is lots of love and affection. I’m in my happy place.
  • Something happens. I get upset. I voice being upset and the blame is projected on to me. Affection is withheld.
  • I accept blame. I apologize in an attempt to smooth things over. Affection is given and I feel loved again.
  • Over time, those moments of love and affection become increasingly rare and more unpredictable (probably because other problems start to creep up and I keep getting upset). But I know he has it in him somewhere because I’ve seen it.
  • The rarer and more unpredictable those moments, the more I pursue or work to make them happen. I want to be loved after all!
  • The more I pursue, the more he emotionally distances himself.
  • I do whatever I can to feel love and affection again. Nothing seems to be working so I leave.
  • Affection magically appears either to get me to stay or to get me to come back (if withholding hasn’t gotten me to come back on my own). For a few days it’s all rainbows and unicorns.
  • Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • For nearly four years.

I understand now this is what emotional abuse looks like. I couldn’t see it before because all I wanted was to be loved. I see it clearly now and it is fucking scary. My desire to be loved in return was used against me as a form of manipulation and control. I cannot convey how much recognizing this ignites a fire deep within me but for the first time in years, I actually feel the shackles to this person give way. I see the pattern. I see my part in it. And now I have the freedom to quietly walk away from it all. I can stop obsessing and start expressing the anger I have felt for years (justifiably) instead of bottling it up inside.

This is the heavy shit I’m working through. After my life was turned upside down in June, I couldn’t get angry at all. I was just sad. But coming to this particular realization about my own behavior (all on my own) has only fueled my desire to learn more, to understand, and to change. When I talked about this with my counselor she reminded me that the way other people behave with us has something to do with the way we behave with them. She pointed out that I can’t change who he is or the cruel way in which he treated me at the end, but I can look at it as an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow more fully into my own self.

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Filed under books, counseling, insight, self-introspection

Literary Heroes

There are writers – literary heroes – whose work you identify so strongly with and whose words touch your very soul it changes you. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is that person for me. So when I heard she was in Milwaukee for a book signing and Q&A session, I couldn’t help myself; I just had to meet her. And I have to say that she is even more lovely in person that I could have ever imagined.

For those of you familiar with Gilbert’s work, she often writes about the movement between disappointment, sorrow, and suffering to wisdom, joy, and strength. Given my own struggles recently I was curious to know what advice she could offer to someone who felt they were at the lowest point of their lives. Here’s what she had to say (although in my own words because hey, I just met my hero and couldn’t believe I was actually having a one-on-one conversation with her that I’ll freely admit I can’t quite remember everything she said word-for-word).

Read anything and everything you can about mythology. Find stories of goddesses and of heroines and clutch so tightly to that magic. Let it be your totem pole and guiding force because there is a supernatural power lying inside of you. You may feel like you can’t survive the disappointment but all the great goddesses and heroines of this world do survive and they are wiser and stronger because they’ve experienced that loss and grief. At the lowest point of your life is the greatest possible invitation for you to transform and to rebuild. Don’t waste that pain. Learn from it. Be the goddess of your own story and be so incredibly good to yourself because the only direction you can go now is up.

Afterwards, she embraced me in the warmest, most loving way. She kissed my cheek and squeezed me ever so tightly that I almost felt like she was transferring every ounce of love and support she could offer up over to me. She cloaked me in an armor of protection, a sort of force field that nothing bad could penetrate. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and I am forever touched…

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