Archive for the Research Category

A New Year, A New Path

Posted in Reads, Research on February 8, 2010 by Melissa Henry

It’s February, a little late for a year in review but here it goes.  You ready for a long one? A big year for this kid, it began halfway through 2009 in July.  I don’t know what sparked this change, but it’s been one hell of a great ride.  I decided it was time to give writing a go, see where it would take me.  From there everything else fell into unexpected but interesting places that then pulled me down a new path of understanding and growth.  Regardless of where this will all lead I know this to be true: no regrets.  The adventure is far more valuable than any achieved goal. Without hesitation or regard for personal pride, I dove in head first knowing I would make mistakes and embarrass myself from time to time.  What is life without losing a little face now and again?  I’d much rather try and fail, face plant in the muck, than do nothing.  Temper this with what a wise guy in a red snowlflaked sweater (said to make him look like Charlie Brown) recently said.  He commented that we shouldn’t fling ourselves to the ground for the mere purpose of obtaining the self-gratification found in picking ourselves up again.  Fall when you must, but don’t trip yourself. So here is what I spent the last half of my 2009 doing… Enrolled in a three-part creative non-fiction workshop and submitted my work without apology or qualification.  It sounds easy enough, but it takes some mental filtering to generate writing outside of your training/area of expertise without saying, “Well this piece is still really rough” or “I usually write analytical stuff but here’s a creative piece.”  If it’s crap, tell me so.  If it’s good, tell me so.  Pull no punches and I’ll give you no excuses.Made a decent go of the first draft.  I’m not there yet but I am

435 pages of their multi-colored records on top of the two years of mine

beginning to see the edges form around it.  Importantly, I got my hands on all the records I needed, two years worth in 435 pages.  Yes, all the complaining of bureaucracy is behind me and in the end?  An unexpected modicum of closure.Single-handedly rolled myself into the madness of LitQuake, without friend or guide, and had an absolute blast.  It was ten days of ping-ponging between San Francisco and the Peninsula, BARTing at all hours and finding my way between venues.  Just a tip, when getting off in the Mission at night, alone, make sure you head in the right direction…towards the lights and people.  Do not head down a street with severely neglected streetlamps just because you are determined to be right about which way the Roxie is.  Determination does not actually affect geography.  My favorite event and perhaps the most difficult to get to in the pummeling rain?  I navigated through the river formerly known as  I-880 to see Mary Roach, who got my dendrites crackling about scientific writing.Went to every reading I found even remotely interesting or related to my project.  Many thanks to Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park for memorable experiences and for stocking every book I might ever want to read.  Also, took a long drive to see another author which was well worth the experience and laughter even if I did make a moronic comment.  Yes, that is mud on my face, I wear it proudly.Went to my first poetry slam.  A poet I am not, though new experiences and entertainment I do seek.  This is where the dominos start to line up.  LitQuake screened “Drums Inside Your Chest” featuring a number of utterly enthralling contemporary poets.  This led me to Santa Cruz to see one of them, Buddy Wakefield, which will then lead to the next item.Applied for and will soon attend Vipassana, soon as in less than 72 hours.  After reading “Live for a Living,” I decided I had to see what this was all about.  Ten days of mediation observed in noble silence, sans: cell phone, computer, books, writing materials and nearly everything else you can imagine that contributes to the Total Noise we exist in.  Me shut my mouth for ten days?  If you’ve read the aforementioned book, you’ll understand that it will be quite a feat to quell the laughter in my head if they serve vegetarian tacos on one of those days.  Noble silence, indeed.Applied for a new position.  While I can’t imagine leaving the job I love so much, the lab in which there isn’t a single person I don’t respect and enjoy working with, I’m finding it necessary to think long-term.  I don’t precisely fit into this new position, but I’ve been told that given other strengths, it just might work.  We’ll see.Began taking an interest in the delicate balance of my life.  Make no mistake, there is enormous power in making small behavioral adjustments that ripple through and effect great change on your life experience.  It has brought immense joy into my life to find my own way through struggles and responsibilities without the things I once leaned upon.  This is not to say that I have achieved that perfect balance.  However, the falls I’ve taken to either side have kept me perched upon that high wire that much longer the next time I climb atop it.  Did that meandering make sense to anyone? So that’s what I’ve done, now for what I have planned… Wrap this project.  Others are floating about in my skull nagging to be worked on.  Stubbornly, I am refusing to divide my attention until this one is more developed.  I’m at that murky place where you find yourself at war with scope and themes and what belongs.  At some point you just have to keep writing knowing that the majority of it will (as it should) succumb to the slash and burn of editing.  You have to continue pushing outwards until you find yourself with a beginning and an end that makes sense with the middle.Complete Vipassana.  If I don’t complete it the first time, I’m going back until I do.  Stubbornness again? The advice I received from an “old student” was simple: STAY.  That’s what I intend to do unless, say, I have a psychotic break.  Then I might just have to try again.Submit more, post more.  I think this one is on all of our lists.Do more, give more.  I waste far too many of these opportunities, the crush of everyday life is no excuse for not doing my part.Gesticulate less (tired of all those ‘mores’) when barreling through the tollgate, over the bridge and down the freeway.  What can I say? Bay Area driving.  Thank God we don’t have bullhorns attached to our hoods. That’s about all the wide-eyed optimism I’m going to spout for now.  Mindfully and fearlessly, that’s how I plan to attack this.  Best laid plans and all of that aside, it will be what I make of it. Cheers, Melissa

The Last Smells of Summer, Type A Brain, and Finally Getting Home

Posted in Research on October 18, 2009 by Melissa Henry

Bare Feet in the Grass...Enjoying the last day of a California summer.

Bare Feet in the Grass...Enjoying the last day of another California summer.

Today I pushed my way through the double doors and walked out into the last day of summer.  Well, we don’t really have winter here but fall is already pushing its ugly nose in on us.  It’s making the days shorter and keeping the light from our windows as morning alarm clocks blare all over town.

I filled my lungs with the last sweet smells of the lavender bushes just outside the building where I find myself working today.  A jump-suited man with an angry sawing contraption has desecrated their massive planter.  Fifty or so bushes stood proud there not long ago, tall as toddlers, a shock of purple against the mundane sandstone.  Bees danced and buzzed and nipped at their nectar in parties of ten or twenty.  I imagined the conversations they would’ve had at their buffet, if bees were to have conversations, that is.  Were it not for the bees I might give in, I might jump face first into the purple and roll around in the majesty of all that greatness.  Then again, I might just edge back towards normalcy.

Now they sit there, tiny bobs trimmed down to nothing for the winter that is to come.  They are hibernating for the cold that will soon blow in and we, their subjects, mourn their absence.  We forget that they will be back and that we might once again enjoy their splendor.

On to less fanciful and more pressing matters…

It should be said that very little surprises me, I am too Type A to be surprised.  A Type A brain generally accounts for every possible outcome, in every possible scenario, at least five steps in advance.  We are excellent chess players.  Chess, I must learn to play chess.

Given my last blog, complete with the bemoaning of HMO bureaucracy, you might surmise that I have been pushing boulders uphill every since.  If so you were in good company, though you would be mistaken.  I certainly was.  I did not account for this, this scenario did not flicker through my brain as I was making calls and setting up appointments after my run in with the stubborn medical secretaries.

Access to my full records ended up being as simple as: calling the primary therapist on my case, making an appointment, and chatting in person about my reasons for needing the records and how life has been over the past few years.

Worries about this or that, thinking this was a lost cause, wondering if I should keep wasting my time running in circles…all of this turned out to be an epic waste of time.  Why do we sometimes feel the need to make things more complicated than they have to be?

At some point I will blog about this exceedingly positive experience and the peculiarity of that day.  The beginning of that Friday and the end were oddly connected and yet sharp in contrast to one another.  Everything ended up backwards by the time all was said and done.  So it goes.

There it is, the blog I started on the last day of summer and that I have been meaning to finish for so long.  September was a traveling month, traipsing up and down the length of California for too many things and reasons to mention.  September was: 1,437 miles, that’s 22 hours and 44 minutes of sitting behind the wheel, approximately 7 tanks of gas from as far north as Tahoe and as far south as Los Angeles, 8 old cassette tapes, 20 CDs made just for this month, a loaded MP3 player and three different cars, two of which were mine and needed full servicing and registration before the trips.  No partridge.  No pear tree.

Every year there is just not enough time for September.  For all the things that happen and gear up and do their yearly renewal dance, 720 hours is just not enough.  That said, it was a great one.  It always is.

-Snarky Lark

Next: Workshop and LitQuake X (unrelated but both gnawing at my brain)

Delving Into the Crisis: Research, Paper Pushers, and A Sorrowful Lack of Excuses

Posted in Research on August 23, 2009 by Melissa Henry

Staring down the section of the book in which the main crisis reaches its apex, I find myself stuck for a number of reasons.  There is the necessity for documents I don’t yet have in my possession and a slight unwillingness to write the damned thing.  But of course that is the nature of memoir writing, any kind of writing, the good and the bad.

The upside of writing a memoir about psychopathology…addiction, disorders or anything in that realm…is that some sort of treatment was likely acquired, somewhere along the way.  So the fuzzy areas are generally well-documented and available for the taking with some footwork.  This section requires those documents and that footwork to help things come together.

Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to research, research is very much a part of my real life.  Research is a part of the life that actually pays me.  Scientific articles, background, no problem!  Some heavy PubMed searching and library scouring, great!  Dealing with the medical secretaries at my HMO…quite a different story.

After faxing and calling back and forth for weeks and one failed trip (236 miles, 3 hours and 58 minutes alone of driving, one full day lost), I still haven’t gotten very far with them.  The issue from this initial go-around was that, yes, my request was for both medical and mental health records, and no, my request was not understood.  Let me be clear that I did in fact X the box for mental health records right alongside the medical health records box.  The medical secretary missed it, but it was my gas tank and schedule that took the hit, not hers.  Still, I moved on and politely accepted that she would need to make other arrangements for those additional files.  I understand that people are overworked and overburdened, the economy squeezing down workforces until one person is doing the work of two or three.  Leeway graciously granted.

A few days later I received a call and was told that the clinic I was seen at would provide a summary of my mental health records.  This summary was contingent upon my contacting the primary therapist responsible for my care during that time.  When I asked why my full record would not be provided to me I was told that the therapist believed the full record would be confusing to me and therefore she would compose a summary.  I did not request a summary, I requested my full record.  Again, I find myself a little frustrated that my simple and straightforward request was not understood.  When I clarified my request and gently pressed for more information, the paper pushing medical secretary got snarky.  Fine.  More hoops, I got it.  Patience heroically still intact.

That’s where I find myself at with research now.  I’ll make the call this Monday and see what happens.  I have mixed feelings about having to make this call and argue to see records that I have every right to examine.  But that’s life and I’m not going to launch into attack mode just yet.

Working at home...a rare occourance...

Writing at home...a rare occurrence...

As to the slight unwillingness to delve into the depths of the crisis for this section of the book, there are a few things at play here.  It will probably require at least a couple of lengthy full emersions in those medical reports and journals in order to capture the voice of that time accurately.  Being in that space for an extended period of time will be exhausting and difficult and likely make me grumpy as all hell.  It will be a pain, but it will get me what I need and jumping in with both feet is better that dipping my toes in the water and then running away from the waves.

In addition to my trepidation of launching myself into that space, I am wary of proceeding without those aforementioned records (see Dan Schacter’s book “The Seven Sins of Memory” for a list of reasons…I saw him give one hell of a talk some years ago).  The saving grace (or downfall of my procrastination) is that I do have my own records from that time, journaling, worksheets, etc.  So it is possible that I can proceed with my own resources and verify with the medical records once I receive them.  Damn.  No more excuses?  I didn’t expect this blog post to offer a resolution.  Damn damn damn.  On with it then!

-The Snarky Lark

As to the book…

Posted in Research, Writing on August 23, 2009 by Melissa Henry

Now let’s be honest with ourselves, everyone and I certainly do mean nearly everyone, believes it’s their God given right to write a memoir. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Regardless, we’ve been warned: just because you have the right doesn’t mean people are going to read it and that’s their right. Just as the obnoxious man in a suit sitting near me at this very moment has the right to obliterate my concentration. His nonsensical phone call seems to issue from some unseen loudspeaker informing us of his latest romantic conquest as we commute across the bridge. I hate lawyers. Ah, the wonders of mass transit where you forfeit your sanity in the name of shrinking your footprint. But that’s another conversation entirely and the consolation prize is mollifying…free WiFi. Nonetheless, onward!

This is where the leap of faith comes in, the grand (or not so grand) feat of exposing one’s self to the critics. I’m not even talking about the critics that get paid, I’m talking about every other person besides yourself who will pft and huh and phaw at what you put out there for one reason or another. These are the people that matter. After all, whether the guy is jumping off his chair clapping or reclining in his chair with deadly Z’s issuing from his mouth, there is still a good chance that you will go see that movie if you want to. But, if one or maybe two friends say, “Video, oh totally, video,” it will be a loss. It’s hard to find a good critic, easy to listen to the masses. It’s easy to write in the safe corner of a café, quite another story to query publishers and ask people to read your meanderings. The world of publishing can be an intimidating place.


Downtown...working again...lemon scone goodness...

So here is my leap of faith, grand or not, it is another adventure or misadventure to add to my little timeline that is slowly creeping onward. This book will be a snippet of time on that ever moving line when crisis became the catalyst for permanent change. While that crisis may seem to be the focus of this book, and will likely categorize the work, I’m hoping the reader will look deeper, for a profoundly more interesting story. Addiction, disorder, hospitalization and the chaos that surrounds them is the train wreck, important to the story but not the point. It’s actually the long-term change, the difference in the character that is most visible when the beginning and end of the story are set side by side, that I want to be most intriguing to the reader. As does every other writer I’m sure. But how do I get there and how do I take you with me?


-The Snarky Lark

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