Posted in advocacy, Community, Peer Support, Voices, writing

How I Got Into Peer Support and How You Can Too.

How Did I get Involved?

It was 3 a.m on a particularly difficult night. I was 20 years old. I found myself struggling with sleep, battling with rapid thoughts, and frustrated over my financial situation. A lot of us in the mental health community have dealt with nights like this, I’m sure. my desperation lead me to the Craigslist Job Board where scams glorified work from home jobs and door-to-door food delivery jobs. I didn’t have a very good car back then, nor did I have any secure or reliable internet connection, so both of those jobs were out of the question. I was only lucky that I stumbled across Second Story.

Second Story boasted itself as a peer-led respite house–I had to look up the word Respite–and said that it was looking for individuals from the community who had lived experience. What was lived experience? Mental health distress, diagnosis, and/or involvement in the county mental health system. I had distress and diagnosis and it paid $13 dollars an hour, a whole 3 dollars more than I’d made at the local amusement park. In my manic state, I essentially said “Fuck it” and applied.

This is kind of an unusual story in that the majority of people who got involved with second story either volunteered, had worked there in the past, or stayed there in the past, or were there when it first opened.

When it first opened, I think I’d been a junior or sophomore in high school.

But what really drove me toward peer support wasn’t the idea that I could get paid talking to people and get paid to be a mental health consumer, it was the idea that an alternative treatment to a medical-model made a real-life difference in people’s experience. I wanted to be apart of this, see it with my own eyes.

Through this opportunity, I’ve been to conferences on coercive treatment, been featured on Mad in America, experienced the Pool of Consumer Champions (the largest peer organization in California), helped train peers who were opening their own peer respite, told my story in front of a panel of clinicians and mental health workers, and received training in Motivational Interview, Intentional Peer Support, Mindfulness, and Trauma Informed Care, all without a finished college degree. Working in peer support has done nothing but help my individual growth, show me what true compassion is, and help shift my worldview out of the dark dungeon it was in. I learned about people, became interested in their story and their being, and we walked together, side by side, across whatever fire brews. We are a team and we manage together.

How Can You Get Involved?

It’s not as hard as it seems, although sometimes it can be difficult to break through. Many states (in the U.S) have what’s called Peer Specialist Certification. These are state funded certifications that show you have completed a specific amount of hours of training and therefore are certified to use your skills to walk through someone’s experience with them. California is one of those states that has no state funded certification, as the bill has not yet passed legislation, but there are different regional certifications that you can get that still provide some training and experience.

Now, I never had any of that. I was just some 20 year old punk hearing voices without knowing they were voices, with so much anxiety I’d shake at the thought of doing something out of my routine, who couldn’t keep a clean room and was pretty sure she had undiagnosed autism. I got lucky.

There are many easier ways to get involved, though. NAMI, the national whatever on whatever, does Peer-to Peer classes and groups where your involvement could lead to volunteerism or employment. (Sorry NAMI, I never remember what you’re called, and I don’t ascribe to the idea of mental illness). They’re great to become apart of the community and get to network in your area while also getting support for yourself.

If you are in an area where peer respites are a thing, you can always get involved with one of them. Call the warmline and inquire. Here is a list of some Peer Respites.

If you don’t see your state on that list, try google instead.

There are also smaller peer-run organizations that are always, always looking for volunteers or workers or drivers or someone to just come in and make a difference. Again, try googling it for your area!

If you’re worried about the impact it may have on your social security benefits, just remember that peer places are run by PEERS. They understand. A good peer place will create a mutual schedule, one that works for you and one that works for them.

How Much Training Do I Need?

This of course depends on the organization or respite house you’re working with. Second Story has an umbrella company, one that oversees the house, so we recieve paid trainings with other clinicians and mental health staff. Some respite houses are entirely peer run, meaning they own their house and all the expenses acquired. Grants and donations usually fund the whole of these houses which means trainings may be specific and limited.

If you hate role-plays as much as I do, just remember everyone is learning and it’s okay to sound like a complete idiot.

I hate group role-plays, I should say. One-on-one role plays are fine.

The point being, if you have social anxiety, you WILL be role-playing and you WILL either get comfortable with it or never get comfortable with it and you have to practice accepting one or the other.

Do I Have To Be A Peer Counselor?

No. There are different types of jobs peers can do with trainings and certifications and experience. You can work in a hospital, for example, as a peer specialist, running groups or just walking around and talking to some of the people. If you’ve been in a hospital your self, you can relate to them and just be a general kind person to talk to. If you’ve been in bad hospitals, you know that often you are ignored or seen as dumb or treated with disrespect. You get the chance to be that one person who treats another human as a human.

You can be a driver, you can be an errand runner, you could even work to help people with mental health diagnoses find jobs. You are not limited to being a counselor.

I, for example, am going to train as a NeuroFeedback Technician this next coming month. I will be hooking people up to electrodes and skull caps and watching their brain waves as they complete training tasks. I will talk with them, relate to them a little, gather information, while also working with technology and understanding the results of said trainings. I would not have been able to get this job, pre-bachelor’s degree, without all of the 5 years of experience I have in peer support.

Final Thoughts

The point is, if you’re interested in this kind of work, you will find it. We’re always needing people just like you to be a constant, familiar, kind face for those brothers and sisters who are still struggling deeply. We need people with all sorts of backgrounds, all kinds of experience, and of all racial ethnicities.

We need YOU.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on my instagram @alilivesagain or on twitter @happyschizobs.

Posted in Late Night Thoughts, psychology

The Philosophy of Altered States

I’d like to talk about altered states. This includes but is not limited to the resulting mind state of those in psychosis, those who are both recreational and addicted drug users, and the natural state of mood changes. Most specifically, we’ll talk about why the want to alter our state of mind is regarded as dangerous and undesirable.

First, I’ll start off with a story: before the pandemic, I injured my back running on a treadmill.

I have a short leg and a displaced hip, so it’s not that I don’t know how a treadmill works, it’s that my body is broken.

I was prescribed Valium and Percocet. The Valium did wonders for my anxiety, especially when it came to speaking in front of panels, but the Percocet did something more. The Percocet gave me unbridled, unregulated, inorganic happiness, something I could never have without the pill itself. It made me sociable, bubbly, understanding, empathetic. It gave me confidence. It made me feel more human than I’ve ever felt.

And so the other day, while watching a terrible talk show yap about a heroin user, I started yearning for what I’d lost: that inorganic happiness. I found my mind racing, focused on pulling any old name from the archives of people I know, so I could ask them if they knew anyone selling Percocet. Once I realized I was frothing at the mouth at work like some sort of tortured, rabid dog, I stopped and pondered.

What was it about inorganic happiness that made me froth at the mouth? And, more importantly, why was I judging this feeling? Why did I label it bad?

Let me explain.

If you are feeling sad, you want to stop feeling sad. When you can’t stop feeling sad by simply telling yourself to stop feeling sad, you start feeling bad because you can’t stop feeling sad. You fall into a circle of sadness, until something–maybe a hot cup of tea or a friend or a therapist–triggers some thought that triggers some chemical that triggers some electricity that triggers another thought that eventually triggers your sadness to alter itself. You feel okay again.

So, what happens when you feel okay and wish to alter that state? What if we held each emotion to the same standard?

If I feel okay, or I feel happy, and I wish to feel more okay, or more happy, is there a moral, universal law that stops me from making that a reality?

The answer is no.

Now, we all know the consequences of going off our meds suddenly and without proper care (I frequently did that in my earlier psychosis years) and we all know the consequences of long-term, heavy, drug use, including regular, doctor-prescribed medication. So, if you’d like, you can think of that as the only hiccup here: there are physical and mental and life-changing consequences for our actions.

But why is happiness the only acceptable emotion to have? Why do we strive simply for that? Why don’t we focus on respecting our sadness, our anger? Why was my first inclination to seek a stronger happiness than I already have? Why do I want to resort to inorganic happiness?

I’ve asked a lot of questions here with no answers because I really want you to think about this. I really want you to ponder why do we put happiness on a pedestal? Why aren’t we allowed to feel other feelings in the same way we feel happiness? And is that why we constantly want to change our state of being? Because happiness is the only socially acceptable form of emotion?

Think about it.

Any thoughts in the comments are always appreciated.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain.

Posted in psychology, Voices

The Schizoaffected Sense

Hey everyone, I have some exciting news.

I decided since this blog has mostly turned into book reviews and travel tips, I’ve moved my mental health segments into a podcast, aptly named The Schizoaffected Sense. Right now all episodes 1-4 are available for listening at this Spotify link.

If you’d like to give it a listen, we talk about self-care, medication, and being mixed race; if you didn’t know already, my mother is white and my father is black and while that’s not uncommon today, I didn’t get to grow up around a lot of kids like me. I knew two, in fact.

Just two.

I share some deeply personal stories in the episode about medication, so if you’re squeamish or triggered by talk of suicide, consider having some support on standby while you listen.

When you do listen, come on over to my instagram @alilivesagain or come back to this post and comment what you think. The good, the bad, and the ugly: I’m here for all of it.

P.S my recording studio right now is my car, so don’t expect perfect audio. I had to do a lot of mixing just to get it to sound as it does.

Also, my bad drawings prevail! Muahahahaha!

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me, again, on my instagram @ alilivesagain, on twitter @ happyschizobs and on Tok Tok @alisaysno.

Posted in travel

5 Things To Do While Visiting Las Vegas (that doesn’t include gambling).

If you’re someone with sensory issues like me, the thought of Las Vegas is maybe a little overwhelming, scary, or even intimidating; there are a lot of lights, sounds, people, and general sense of insomnia. Let me show you some ways you can enjoy Vegas too, with a little pre-planning, some ear plugs, and a budget.

1. Omega Mart and Area 15

Omega Mart is the second installation of Meow Wolf (don’t ask) and is a neon, glow in the dark, zip-lining, sliding, hidden treasure interact art installment. Tickets are about $45 USD each, but are worth it. There is a story to follow, with clues and information prompted by a “boop” card which is handed to you before you enter.

Warning: Once you enter, you will be confused. And the confusion will be glorious. I can’t write too much about it without giving away the secrets that make the installation beautiful.

Area 15 holds the Omega Mart as well as a few bars, some eateries–or snackeries depending on what you call ice cream and bakery items–as well as a track zip-line station and some more neon art sculptures. There are a few gift shops specific to Meow Wolf and Area 15, but enter at your own risk: prices vary.

Check that out and more here: https://meowwolf.com/visit/las-vegas

2. Rollin’ Smokes BBQ

If you’re looking for a quick, southern inspired meal, this is the place for you. Smothered in their own personal rub, built upon with several spices of deliciousness, you have the opportunity to choose from brisket, burger, rib, sandwich or salad, partnered with mouth watering sides like bacon potato salad, sweet cornbread, collard greens and brisket, and chipotle coleslaw. Their smoked meatloaf was featured on the travel channel, and has mama’s sweet D-licious sauce to tickle your tastebuds. I tried the Waygu Brisket Burger, which melted beautifully in my mouth and tasted fresh and seasoned like a good burger should. My only complaint was: where’s the bbq sauce, man?

You can expect to pay anywhere from $13 USD to $20 USD for a meal, and more if you decide to ty a sampler platter or a rack of ribs.

Want to see their menu? Check it out here:

3. Boulder City

This quaint little town is a great place to stay if you’re looking to avoid the traffic and crowds of Vegas but still want to enjoy what the city has to offer. It’s about 30 minutes outside of the city, depending on how fast you drive, and is about 15 minutes from the Hoover Dam, a very popular picture site, especially if you’re looking to build memories.

For a hotel, we paid about $250 USD for three nights and four days, a whooping 200 less than what we would have paid on the strip, and we got a beautiful view of the mountains. The only con for this is that you have to find parking in Vegas; this can be done relatively easily, as most casino resorts and parking garages are open 24/7jus, however, it’s pushing through the people that’s the hard part. They walk like they’re impervious to vehicles.

Boulder City has all the gas, markets, and ice cream shops you could hope for, perfect for that 107 degree (Fahrenheit) weather.

4. Pinball Hall of Fame

Get your nerd-on here. Pinball machines from the 50’s and onward give you hours of fun. There is no time limit, and when you walk in you simply put some cash in the change machine and use the quarters you receive as money for the machines. Some are vintage, some are new, all are fun.

How much money? As much as you want. Check them out here: http://www.pinballmuseum.org

5. Las Vegas Sign

Come on. If you go to Vegas and skip this picture site, you’ve wasted your time. It’s free, there’s parking, it’s beautiful at night, and it’s proof you visited Sin City. Be prepared to be interrupted by people standing with cameras offering to take your picture and be prepared for crowds also looking to capture that perfect selfie.

It really is the city that never sleeps. And I’m here for it.

What are some of your favorite places in Vegas? Let us know is the comments below.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @ alilivesagain, on Twitter @happyschizobs, and on TikTok @alisaysno

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), psychology, writing

Never Fear Chalk, Only Playground Bullies and Staircases.

I’ve talked on here before about my own manuscript: there’s stalking, there’s jealousy, there’s pain, pleasure, basically every ingredient you need to create a believable but obviously fictional life. There’s also crime, a smidgeon of it (not including the stalking), and so I’ve taken to reading a lot of crime novels lately. I’m halfway through two books in particular and much like Hollow Kingdom, I plan on reviewing them as I read them. So let’s get started with that today.

The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor

Not going to lie, I found this book in Goodwill for $2.99. It was published in 2018, so it’s considered contemporary fiction and the inside jacket revealed there’s a dismembered body of a teenage girl, so there was definitely crime; the book met my two requirements of myself at the moment.

We jump between 2016 and 1986, so far, from a time where our protagonist, Eddie, is a middle-aged adult and back to the time when he was a budding teenager. All of his friends have nicknames and thank God they’re nothing like the ones in Hollow Kingdom. Although they are a bit gimmicky, they’re believable for children: Metal Mickey, Fat Gav, Hoppo and Eddie is called Eddie Munster because his surname is Adams, such as in The Addams Family. Apparently “Eddie Munster was out of The Munsters, but it made sense at the time . . .”

Nicky is another one of their friends, a girl who loves hanging with the boys, and her father is the local Vicar. This only becomes a problem at Fat Gav’s birthday party because Eddie’s mother works at an abortion clinic; at some point an argument erupts and Eddie’s father punches Nicky’s father. A few days later, Eddie’s family receives a pig fetus in the mail; I’m hoping this is set up for some further plot development.

Right off the bat, we get a terrifying incident: a girl is severely injured by a rogue piece of fair equipment and Eddie is right in the thick of it, inches from being impaled. He sees the jacked up face of the girl victim but is urged to help her by a strange man, Mr. Halloran. The two, so far, have a decent relationship, although things did get a little weird when Mr. Halloran saved Eddie from some serious sexual assault from some bullies who seem more like budding rapists. He brought Eddie back to his house and Mr. Halloran has a bunch of paintings of some girls from the town, including the jacked up face girl. I think he’s being set up to be the crazed murderer of the town: he’s a teacher, he’s quiet, he’s got a bunch of paintings of girls, and he’s forming a close connection with a student. Yep. Checks all the boxes for fictional murderers.

In 2016, as a middle-aged adult, Eddie lives with a much younger roommate, a young woman he fancies but will never tell her really because he’s “too old.” Fat Gav owns a pub, and he and Hoppo are angry that Eddie didn’t tell them Metal Mickey was back in town. Metal Mickey, we learn, has returned because he wants to write a book on “the incident” and I’m assuming that means the dismembered girl, although I haven’t gotten that far yet. He says he knows who the real murderer is. Spooky.

What I find annoying so far with Tudor’s writing is the constant cliff hangers at the end of each chapter. I get that it’s meant to keep you reading and is a staple of crime fiction, it just turns me off. I want the story to flow some places and hang other places, kind of like how life does. There’s also nothing special about the writing style; Tudor’s voice is average: not quite bland but not quite unique. I’m interested in the plot line, but that’s the only reason I’m continuing to read it.

Fear Nothing by Lisa Gardner

Having a degree in psychology and living with schizophrenia and going back to school for cognitive science means I know a thing or two about disorders, including the personalities along the Dark Triad, and despite what people think, psychopathy itself is not a mental disorder. It’s a personality TRAIT, alongside Narcissism (which is different from narcissistic personality disorder) and Machiavellianism. So, when I started reading this book and realized it was about serial killers, I was waiting for the diagnosis Antisocial Personality Disorder, and sure enough, as cliche as aways, it came.

D.D. Warren is a detective called to a crime scene of a woman having been skinned (in some places) and killed, a bottle of champagne and a rose left on her nightstand. The detective went back to the crime scene, encountered what I’ve learned so far was the murderer, and got shoved down the stairs, enduring an injury that’s left her shoulder and arm completely useless during its healing process.

Doctor Adeline Day (although she goes by a different last name) is the daughter of infamous serial killer Harry Day and sister of infamous serial killer (and youngest to be tried for murderer in their area) Shana Day. Adeline is a psychiatrist and cannot feel pain due to a rare genetic disorder, but she does understand her sister’s troupe of “blood means love”, something their father taught her. Shana cut people to show them how much she loves them and is diagnosed, by her sister, with antisocial personality disorder.

I would like to point out that while the book mentions it’s quite unconventional for a family member to diagnose another family member, it’s something that wouldn’t happen. I’d also like to point out the majority of people diagnosed with and living with antisocial personality disorder are not serial killers. In fact, they live relatively normal lives. They simply don’t care for your feelings and will manipulate the hell out of you to get what they want. They are driven by their own desire and could care less what you think about that. That being said, aggression and violence come easy for them. It just doesn’t mean they’ll use it to harm people; it’s more like they could and would feel nothing if they did.

I’m tired of mental disorders being the reason for crime. Why can’t Shana just be a serial killer? Why does she need a label? Why does blood need to equal love? That’s more delusional than antisocial.

Adeline has a secret of her own, though. She goes on dates, sleeps with her dates, and cuts little strips of their skin and puts them in jars as keepsakes. I’m on page 209 right now so I don’t yet know the significance, but it better be something good. I swear to God.

So far the book has been mostly dialogue and I mean this. We get a paragraph or two of set up and story and then we get pages of dialogue, which is fine because most of the time it’s written well, but there are instances where I think the character of Adeline is much too “Hollywood psychiatrist” and a lot less “average psychiatrist,” meaning she talks like she was written for low budget movie. She has great explanations for everything and constantly knows what people are thinking without them saying more than a few words. She also talks kind of like a type-writer: old-fashioned and stiff.

That being said, I want to know who the murderer is and if he is conspiring with Shana Day, as some detectives are starting to think. I want to know if Adeline will get caught with her creepy skin obsession and lose her license (hopefully) and I want to know whether detective D.D. Warren’s shoulder will ever get better. I mean, that’s the real plot line here.

Would you guys read either of these books? What’s your chosen genre these days?

Until Next Time

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain or on Twitter @happyschizobs

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), writing

Surfing in Forever Land

I’m back with a new book.

Where did I go, you ask?

Into the Ocean at the End of the Lane. And I Fear(ed) Nothing. I did come across The Chalk Man, though, and he was an interesting fellow. He asked me a lot of questions, including the ever daunting What Is Life.

If you haven’t guessed already, those are all books I’ve been reading and finishing while I took a little break from writing. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman has been by far the easiest and quickest to finish, so today we’ll be reviewing (with spoilers) that book in its entirety. Next time we’ll be talking a little bit about the crime novel Fear Nothing that I picked up from Thriftbooks.com.

If you still buy your books at full price, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but cheap books ain’t one.

Okay, enough jokes. Let’s get into it.

The Ocean at The End of the Lane.

Firstly, Neil Gaiman is not an indie author. He is a seasoned, accomplished one, with quite the knack for what we call Magical Realism over here in America. His imagination is impeccable. That’s not to say there aren’t a few things I wish were different in his book.

We start off meeting a man attending a funeral. He decides to re-visit the farm at the end of the lane of his childhood house where he met a girl aptly named Lettie Hempstock, an eleven-year-old mystery. We flash back to his childhood when he first met Lettie, after a man had stolen his father’s Mini Cooper and ended his life in it. The scene too gruesome for a seven year old, our protagonist is granted the opportunity to spend some time with Lettie, Lettie’s mother (Mrs. Hempstock) and Lettie’s grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock).

To right a wrong, Lettie takes our protagonist to this Forever land where the sky is orange. She tells him “do not let go of my hand” no matter what happens, or what he sees. They come across this thing made of canvas with “deep holes in the fabric” and Lettie demanded she name herself. Of course this doesn’t happen and through the course of the terrifying conversation, our protagonist lets go of Lettie’s hand.

Oh how the young doom themselves.

When he returns home, there is something burrowed in his foot. With tweezers and warm water, he pulls half of the worm out (only half because it broke off inside of him) and the next thing we know, a new babysitter arrives named Ursula Monkton.

Ursula, as you may have guessed, is not an Ursula at all, in fact, she’s not even human. She’s the worm.

Before I lose you, I promise this book flows way better than I’m making it sound.

Our protagonist knows this is no ordinary babysitter, but she seems to have everyone wrapped around in little finger. His sister loves Ursula, their mother, who took a new job (hence the need for the babysitter) loves Ursula, and their father really, really loves Ursula, and gets caught having some passionate relations with her in his study. Don’t ask me how that works if she’s a worm.

This forces our protagonist to tell Lettie he let go of her hand in the forest. This creates some problems, but nothing the three Hempstocks can’t fix. They have spells and magic and creative thought to get rid of Ursula Monkton.

But Ursula has some magic of her own. She knows how to manipulate, and gets the father to choke and nearly drown his son in the bathtub. Our protagonist runs to Lettie Hempstock’s farm where magic is used to erase that event from reality; when his parents come looking for him, they believe he is just staying the night and brought his toothbrush for him–since he forgot it and all.

The next day, Lettie and our protagonist set off with “dolls’ eyes and heads and hands, [toy] cars with no wheels, and chipped cat’s eye glass marbles” to get rid of Ursula Monkton. We don’t necessarily learn what these toys are for, but it’s implied they are needed for the magic to work. They confront Monkton, who is now unashamed of her form, and highly overconfident; she’s managed to take over our protagonists’ house and turn everyone against him. Monkton levitates throughout their conversation, and she is the canvas monster for sure, but Lettie threatens her with “the varmints.”

They’re “mean, and they’re hard to get rid of. And they’re always hungry.”

Ursula runs.

We learn that Monkton has buried herself within our protagonists’ heart, and his life keeps her alive. She’s using him for energy, I assume, and we get this kind of awkward explanation of: “It is inside him. it is not a tunnel. Not any longer. It does not end. I fastened the path inside him too well when I made it and the last of it is still inside him. No matter. All I need to do to get away from here is to reach into his chest and pul out his beating heart and finish the path and open the door.”

I say awkward because when I read it, I don’t really feel threatened like it’s intended to be. It feels like a little kid explaining what Ursula Monkton wants, instead of Ursula explaining herself. In the midst of all that, there is a flapping, and then a whooshing, and then came The Hunger Birds, quite honestly my favorite characters in this whole book. They are the varmints, The Ones Who Eat (throwback to Hollow Kingdom). They devour the creature that is Ursula Monkton. But then they turn to our protagonist who still carries part of her inside of him.

Lettie creates a boundary, a fairy ring, and makes our protagonist sit in it. Nothing can come in the circle, and he should not leave the circle. She leaves.

The Hunger Birds play all sorts of games with our protagonist, impersonating his sister, his parents, anyone to try and get him out of the circle, but he does not budge because of his loyalty to Lettie and his understanding that he will be ripped apart if he does. In the end, Lettie sacrifices her life to save our protagonist.

There are a lot of good things about this book. The dialogue flows, we get a character we can feel scared for and two characters we get to root for. I only wish it was a little longer. I appreciate the mystery that the Hempstock’s unknown background provides, but the story itself almost feels rushed. I really wanted description and explanation of the world with the orange sky that lived in the back of the Hempstock’s farm, and the little pond that was really an ocean. I wanted to get a sense of these magical people, and that depth just isn’t there.

The book is enjoyable though, and a quick read. It’s something that kept my turning pages fiercely.

Next post we’ll talk about Fear Nothing, a crime novel with a very cliche Antisocial Personality.

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), writing

Hollow Kingdom: Final Review

It’s been a long journey from Dennis and S.T.’s house with Big Jim, to Kraai the crow, Migisi the eagle, The One Who Conquers, The Weavers, and The One Who Keeps. The world Kira Jane Buxton creates, at first glance of the back cover, feels magical, grotesque, intriguing. The characters introduced in the first few chapters: Genghis Cat, Winnie the Poodle, and those throughout, like the Humpback whales and a pack of wolves, are filled with personality and never really heard from again. There are so many unsatisfying things about this book, I’m not sure I can fit them in this one post. But I’ll try.

I’ve said before the plot is ingenious: a crow tells the story of how humankind fell. We learn about Aura, the way creatures of the Earth communicate with one another, and we learn how each of them sees humans, from S.T’s fantastical obsession with the resourcefulness of humans (or MoFo’s) to the murder of crow’s less than tasteful view of humans (or Hollows). It’s obvious that Buxton appreciates, loves, and admires animals. It’s a shame she can’t write.

But first, let’s talk about the GOOD things about Hollow Kingdom.

The Good

There are moments Buxton can actually write. The way she describes action–the crows attacking or getting away from danger–is quite realistic. She has a knack for metaphors. Each chapter is riddled with them (we’ll talk about that later), things like “Looking for signs of twisted limbs, hungry vermillion eyes, and neck bones with no rules,” or “Then it flattened its ears to its head and expelled a roar, a roar that tore through the bones of the building . . .” They are great for creating feeling and some are powerful imagery. 

She’s also created a character. I wouldn’t consider S.T likable, but I wouldn’t consider him generic either. He has his own personality, and that personality just happens to harbor extremely cheesy catch phrases and a disturbing sense of loyalty to humanity. He is quite dedicated to first curing humanity and then to keeping Dennis alive and then to carrying out his life as a crow. His big character arc is finally realizing that he is indeed a crow with MoFo mannerisms, not a Mofo in a crow body. What should be a big turning point for S.T. is kind of washed away behind the reason humanity fell. 

Unlike some commenters on Goodreads, I actually enjoyed the toast to nature. The trees, the animals, everything connected and communicating on their own wavelengths (Aura) sounds divine and certainly out of the range of abilities for humans; we’re quite incapable of communicating well, if 2020 has shown us anything. I think where Buxton falls short is the presentation of Aura. 

Which brings us to:

The Bad

Let’s start with how overwritten this book is. The metaphors. They’re great every once in a while, but when every page is riddled with at least ten or fifteen “pendulous trucks” and elephants that “smelled like churned soil and freedom” and an “ancient song of sorrow that the evergreens shook from their leaves” and “calling on the ocean with our breath,” it gets a little tedious. While those are all great descriptions, don’t get me wrong, imagine 304 pages of that, consistently, partnered with lines like “crumble-cheese turd burger” or “yard demolishing fuck trolls” or “pubic badger” or “you could have heard a dust mite queef in there” or “fuck off, you douche flute” or “butt-splosion of information” or “cheese cups, ass clubs” or “scrotum-sanitizing mouth” or any of the other cheesy lines that permeate this book. It reminds me of first-time writer workshop attendees who know that adjectives and metaphors and similes can often carry semi-good writing, so their pieces becomes soggy with figurative language. 

Let’s talk about nictitating membranes, too. I’m fully aware that they are the part of birds that kind of slick across the eyeball in a blinking fashion. I’m also fully aware that Buxton personified a crow who doesn’t really see himself as a crow, so why would he regard his blinking as nictitating membranes licking his eyes or “make [his] nictitating membranes shut out the world momentarily?” Why can’t he just blink? 

We’re also introduced to side characters like Genghis cat, Winnie the Poodle, A fairy Pitta, a polar bear, a spruce tree, an armadillo, a highland cow, a camel, an elephant, a humpback whale and a pack of wolves. We get a conclusion, sort of, on Genghis cat and Winnie the Poodle and the polar bear who is the last bear on the ice. In the beginning of the book it was whimsical, and I looked forward to hearing the view of the world through just a few side characters continuously, but that never happened and they sort of came out of nowhere throughout the book, breaking up the flow of the story. We get short bursts of personalities, but it doesn’t really add much to the plot, other than Genghis cat joining up with the Orangutan(aka The One Who Opens Doors). Winnie the Poodle dying only symbolizes there’s no humans left to help the domestic animals, and we already knew that. 

What happened to the humans, after all? Well, we get some insight on that from Ghubari. He says, and prepare yourself, “it was a virus.” Not like AIDS or Ebola, but “mans creation” from “the internet.” He continues with, “. . . it started with the addiction. Technology was an intangible seductress, a siren calling for ships to meet her jagged rocks. It was a virus that spread through the systems, through the network, chips, watches, phones, tablets. Through eyes, skin, and synapses.” 

So something within the technology seeped into the skin and changed everyone into Cassowaries and giant spiders. 

I’m not kidding. 

Buxton doesn’t refer to The Hideous Ones as Cassowaries, but they’re described as humans who now scream in “the language of a raptor.” They have “hideous skin and jet black holes where there must have been eyes” with “colossal legs propelling them to great heights, and they snapped and shrieked with breaks the color of death.” The weavers have mandibles and eight legs and some weird stuff is going on with them, they silk up other humans and animals and suck them dry, so I’m not sure what kind of computer virus can turn you into a spider, but that’s what we get, folks. The Weavers and The Hideous Ones are the result, according to Ghubari, of humans evolving, their “last-ditch effort at survival.”

To sum it up, S.T says, “addiction to an electronic world caused the downfall of the Mofos. They’d forgotten to connect with each other, to connect with the creatures who missed them and to Nature as She called for them to come home.” 

Preachy, but we get it. 

The Ugly

There’s nothing really ugly about this book, but because I started with “The Good” and “The Bad” it felt wrong not to put “The Ugly.”

Conclusion

I don’t believe any of the reviews on the front of this book. It wasn’t “hilarious” or “exuberant” or “movingly written.” It was “eh.” 

I’ll be reading the sequel simply to bring you guys more Kira Jane Buxton. At the end of Hollow Kingdom, S.T is lead to a human baby in a house, abandoned obviously, and untouched by the technology-spider-cassowary virus. We obviously have to find out together whether there are other babies around the world, whether the human race survives, or whether the animals reclaim the world. I don’t really care which it is, I just have to know one or the other. 

My next full review will be on The Morality Play. I’m almost finished with it. 

What are you all reading this month?

Until Next Time

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain or on twitter @thephilopsychotic. 

Posted in Book Reviews (updating)

Moral Facts and Your Opinion

Good morning, afternoon, and night to the world. Today we’re talking about why our children don’t think there are moral facts.

What’s your first impression of that sentence? Besides my obvious P.C inclusivity for the entirety of the world (brownie points?), what do you think of the term “moral facts?” This would ultimately require you to believe that there are absolutes: a fact is, after all, absolutely true. So then, is it absolutely true that murder is wrong? Is right and wrong all there is to morality? There are questions you must ponder. Does this make it subjective? We could go through this all morning, afternoon, and night.

But first, let’s start with the essay I read entitled “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts” by Justin P. McBrayer, written back in 2015.

McBayer starts with the definitions of facts and opinions provided by his son’s second grade classroom, which can be easily googled:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

At first glance, this feels, sounds, and looks right. McBayer gives reasons why it’s dead wrong.

Firstly, he says that truth and proof have very different features. For example, it can be true that I am feeling sad, but you can’t prove that; you can’t see inside of my head, and I’m excellent at hiding my feelings. McBayer also says that many things which have been “proved” have turned out false. This is the limitation of our physical experience. He also states that if proof is “required for facts, then facts become person-relative.” This means that if I can prove E=MC^2 as a physicist, and you cannot, that equation becomes fact for me but not for you, a non-physicist.

What’s worse, McBayer says, is that “students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions.” Remember those quizzes back in school, usually life science or something, where they made you sort phrases into facts or opinions? I remember them. I remember getting half of them wrong consistently. Do you?

McBayer asked his son a very simple question to show how mixed up this sort of black and white thinking is: he said, “I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that fact or opinion?” His son said it’s a fact. McBayer replies, “but I believe it, and you said what someone believes is an opinion.” His son says but it’s true, and McBayer replies, “so it’s both a fact and an opinion?”

So, some things that were classified as an opinion in his son’s homework were:

“Copying homework assignments is wrong.”

“All men are created equal.”

“It is wrong for people under the age of 21 to drink alcohol.”

Value claims, the worksheet says, are not facts. McBayer claims this means that public schools teach students there are no moral facts, by way of understanding all value and moral claims call into opinion category. The problem is, in the real world, it’s required of us to “acknowledge the existence of moral facts,” otherwise we could murder and justify not being outraged.

The issue here isn’t what’s being taught really, in my OPINION, but the inconsistencies: either we acknowledge morals or we don’t. Either we teach them or we don’t. Lending mixed signals is what confuses children, and once they get old enough to truly critically think about philosophy, we’ll introduce the big topics.

What do you all think? Are there moral facts? Are there universal truths? What have you learned?

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on instagram @alilivesagain and on twitter @thephilopsychotic.

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), Uncategorized

Book Review from The Psych Ward

The following blog post was written on paper with an ink tube of a pen from within a psychiatric hospital.

Knowing I’d be here for at least a week, I decided I’d bring a book. The book I decided to bring was Hollow Kingdom. Do I regret it? Not entirely. I figured without a cell phone or laptop or any real, meaningful connection to the outside world besides a wistful gaze out a barred window, I could finally immerse myself in the world Kira Jane Buxton wished to create.

I still couldn’t do that of course because the world Kira Jane Buxton wished to create didn’t come out in a way that interests me, as least as far as syntax goes. Her lengthy descriptions and seemingly extraneous scenes only slow the progress of the book.

If I read nictitating membrane one more time, I’m going to explode. I know that’s what birds have, but Christ, the phrase itself feels overused.

If you’re wondering, S.T. (affectionately named “Shit Turd”) and Dennis the dog have somehow managed to do a lot a little all at once. They rescued a domestic dog named Cinnamon from a house by attracting some sick MoFos (humans) with an iPhone, throwing it through the window and breaking the glass for Cinnamon to escape. What we learn is that the sick MoFos are desperate for power and we learn this while S.T. rides Ghubari, an eagle. We get a contrived lecture on the greediness of humans and the beauty that resides in transitions and new beginnings.

I physically yawned, but to each his own.

We get some more repetitive type language. For example, “Dark water near the rock pool started to stir–the sea stars were screaming at this point–and an arm, long and rust-red, lifted from its depths and into the air. The elongated arm suctioned itself to a rock and was followed by several more lissome limbs, which danced together to life an enormous bulbous head from the depths.”

I would have rewritten something like: “Sea stars screamed as dark water near the rock pool stirred. A long, rust-red arm pierced the air and suctioned itself to a rock. Several more limbs followed, dragging with them a shiny, bulbous head.”

Simple, but effective. If you want to add some descriptors in there, go ahead, just keep it short, sweet, and to the point.

It’s not all bad. I did laugh when she wrote, “I’m not sure why everyone hates opossums so much; they may look like someone shaved the buttocks of a poodle and taught it to talk through its asshole, but they are generally pretty likable creatures.”

I just didn’t know how to react other than laugh.

And “Seattle spring has more moods than Tiffany S. from Tinder.”

But we continue with the cheesy phrases like “yard demolishing fuck trolls” and “pubic badger” and “crumble-cheese turd burgers.”

That’s just not funny to me. It’s trying too hard is what it is.

So Dennis and S.T. have joined a murder of crows who are helping S.T. accept his truth as a crow and getting help from him to break windows. They plan to start breaking out domestics (pets) when they find 6th crows slaughtered and picked clean to the bone. We learn the sick MoFos have started evolving (for survival reasons) into these gigantic birds that are described like Cassowaries but are likened to raptors. At this point, I don’t know what the hell is going on. All I know is I am 263 pages deep into this book and I’m looking forward to the end because then it will be over.

So far, I’d rate this book a solid 2/5. What saves Buxton is her occasional insertion of beautiful writing. Sometimes her descriptions are flawless. Sometimes her dialogue flows. But for the most part, it’s painfully amateur, or at the very least, painfully cheesy. Will I be reading the sequel?

Of course.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain or twitter @thephilopsychotic.

Posted in Book Reviews (updating), Uncategorized, writing

Murderous Writing

I don’t know what kind of writer you are, but I am a writer who enjoys mystery, crime, drama, and just a touch of magic. I like stories that are literary in nature, contain weaving motifs and conflicted characters. I want to search for the meaning and if there is no meaning intended I want the creative ability to create a meaning that is meaningful to me. That’s all I ask.

I’m about 3/4 of the way through a book of short stories called Santa Cruz Noir, noir meaning stories full of crime and moral ambiguity. I’m all for it.

Considering I live in Santa Cruz and it was at one point considered the murder capital of the world, I dove right in.

And still the stories shocked me.

The very first story, entitled Buck Low is about a seemingly comfortable and developed serial killer (I inferred that) who has killed a woman, killed her friend looking for her, and took off up into the Bay. He gave me serial killer vibes because of his nonchalance and easy of killing and travel, as if he’s done that before. It felt like the author intentionally created that vibe.

There are odd stories too, like Mischa and the Seal, about a woman marine biologist graduate student. Seals are her muse, they speak to her (quite literally) and she enjoys staying in hotels, particularly a hotel which overlooks the beach. She meets a fellow ocean lover, James, and while they date, a particular seal she communicates with warns her there’s something strange about James and she needs to “dig into it.”

Longer short story short, James is a seal and otter serial killer.

Mischa kills James with his own arrow contraction that he kills the animals with.

She takes a shower, I think, and then seemingly kills herself by also disappearing into the ocean.

I say these stories shocked me because it’s not often I get to read good published crime stories or novels. A lot of them feel contrived to me, although there’s one story I’m hoping is good that I’d like to read about a serial killer who broke out of prison and is searching for his daughter. Unfortunately, I forgot the name. I used to work at a library and saw tons of books I wanted to read. If anyone knows the book I’m talking about, please put it in the comments below.

If you have any crime book recommendations that aren’t detective mysteries, please put those in the comments below too.

I feel like there’s a community of crime writers that are often rejected from the mainstream publishing scene considering murder and darkness scares people. I personally love writing and reading stories that push the boundaries of what we think is acceptable.

I just wrote a story entitled To Jane. My protagonist murdered another woman because she accused my protagonist of stealing some cheap costume jewelry. I sent it off to a couple small magazines, but I’m anticipating rejection; good writers always anticipate rejection. It makes getting published more surprising and fun.

It’s also a grave mistake to pair mental illness and crime together. The two are not synonymous, in fact they’re very opposite of each other. I aim give evidence to that point with my book.

My main work in progress is centered on crime as well; besides the stalking, there is murder, and I’ve learned that murder is acceptable as long as the actual murder isn’t described; people just need the idea of it to conjure their own sick visions. People also like a little mystery.

What is your favorite genre? What do you write? What do you read? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time.

Don’t forget to hit that follow button, and join me on Instagram @alilivesagain or Twitter @thephilopsychotic.