Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back from Esalen Institute (Big Sur, CA)

After almost a seven-hour drive, I arrived home Friday evening after a wonderful five days of writing poems, chatting with old friends, hearing some brilliant poems by very talented poets, soaking in the hot sulfur baths, walking Highway 1 north to the South Coast Center, and eating healthy Esalen garden food. Unfortunately the long drive home in sometimes very heavy traffic almost erased all that Esalen wonderfulness.

I did take a few photos so I'll have reminders. This time, rather than take the usual Big Sur ocean and cliff scenes, I gravitated to the many succulent garden areas on the property - some in pots and some in the ground. These gardens were new to me. Like the rest of us water-challenged gardeners, now Esalen is also doing its part to conserve. 

Of course I couldn't resist the little white Buddha or the tree masks I passed everyday on my way back and forth to my workshop room.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My guest today is Chynna Laird

Meet Chynna Laird

Chynna was so gracious to host me during my WOW - Women on Writing blog tour last month, and as a result we realized we are both working toward the same goal - erasing the stigma of mental illness by communicating and educating people about what mental illness is and how it affects individuals stricken by it and their families. I'm so pleased to have met Chynna. I feel as if we are soul mates - certainly we are both survivors.

Chynna' mother had a severe mental disorder, resulting in a very difficult and abusive childhood, but in the end Chynna survived. Hers is truly a survival story. I am so pleased she has agreed to tell a bit of it here on my blog, Choices.

Defining Ourselves
by Chynna Laird

Earlier this month, I had the phenomenal opportunity to meet with the Director of a local charity that helps children who have been abused and/or victimized. I was so excited about this meeting because the Director and I have been in contact for years after I’d interviewed her for an article about the incredible work she and her team has done. Our initial conversation back then is actually what inspired me to finish my memoir, White Elephants. And our recent meeting was the first time we’d met face-to-face.

Being able to finally meet her, and getting to tour the Center, was both an emotional as well as uplifting experience for me. As a survivor of child abuse knowing there are places like this now for these kids is incredibly meaningful. The most profound part of our visit was when she said, “These children go through some of the most horrific things and it’s our job to make them feel safe again. Here, we merely give them the tools, resources and strength to go from this point on so they can define themselves—not by what’s happened to them but by who they are and what they can do.” I took her pearls of wisdom with me when our meeting ended and spent the next couple of weeks absorbing the whole experience.

You see, White Elephants is my survival story. It sets out my life being raised by a mother who lived with severe mental health issues who never got properly assessed, diagnosed or treated for those issues. Instead, she chose maladaptive ways of coping with her symptoms resulting in my brother and I living every day in fear, chaos and confusion. Not understanding what was happening, we held on as tightly as we could during the manic cycles then plummeted with her through the depression cycles, dealing as best we could with the explosions that boomed along the way. And not one person stepped in to help us—not even when they knew what was going on. But you know what? I never let myself be a statistic.

Was I angry at those people for not stepping in? Yes. Was I bitter? Yes, for awhile. But instead of giving in to those negative emotions, I used them as fuel to keep going, becoming the opposite of the stereotypes society holds of abuse survivors: No, we don’t all grow up being abusers ourselves; No, we don’t all become substance abusers and wallow in self-pity; and, most importantly, we don’t allow the shame of what happened to us to take over, defining who we’ll become. I was, and am, a survivor. To me that has always meant that, like other survivors, I went through tremendous trauma but found a more positive path to keep moving forward on. We don’t make it through these experiences unscathed because there will be scars to remind us. Survivors, though, use those scars as a source of strength to show society, “We will be okay with the love and support of others.”

And that’s why the visit at the charity was such an amazing experience for both the Director and for me. I guess you could say that White Elephants shows others what happens when support for these children is lacking while the Center’s mandate shows what can happen when it’s in place. In the end, we both have the same underlying message: We cannot allow traumatic experiences, or other people, to define who we are. We need to take those experiences and find a way to make them a source of strength so we can define ourselves.

I sure wish the Center had been there for my brother and I so many years ago. But we’ve found each other now. Hopefully together we can help teach others the importance of defining ourselves.

Chynna's survival story, White Elephants

Chynna describes herself as a mom to four bubs, a writer/author and a psychology major. She is passionate about helping children and families with special needs, especially those living with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and bipolar disorder. Inspired by her own daughter, Jaimie, and her son Xander who live with SPD and ASD (and her mother and grandmother who lived with bipolar disorder), she does what she can to raise awareness for them and children like them around the world.

Chynna T. Laird
Author of award-winning book, "I'm Not Weird, I Have SPD"
Author of multi award-winning book, "Not Just Spirited: One Mom's Sensational Journey With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)"
Author of "White Elephants"
Author of 'Blackbird Flies" (Now available on all online eBookstores)
Author of 'The Gift' (coming soon!)
SPD Contributor with Our Journey Thru Autism
Contributing Writer for the SPD Foundation Blog
Contributing Writer for
Contributing Writer for Parenting Special Needs Magazine
Contributing Writer for Amaze Magazine

Friday, July 22, 2011

Esalen (Big Sur, California) here I come!

I’m looking forward to going to Esalen at Big Sur, California on Sunday. I’ll be there for five days to attend a poetry workshop led by Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, and Joseph Millar. I’ve taken this workshop several times before so I know what to expect – lots of poetry writing, sharing what we write late each day, and always very gentle, encouraging feedback. I’ll also know several of the people there. Like me, they are Esalen and poetry junkies.

Although I usually like to go to Esalen at least once a year, this will be my first time in almost two years. Perhaps the work of my book got in the way last year – definitely a poor excuse. Because my mantra is always: “Take care of myself,” I never should have let myself skip a year. But I’ll make up for it very soon.

Usually I go to Esalen without my husband, Bob. The last time he went was to celebrate my sixtieth birthday there. Here’s the piece I wrote about that time over a decade ago.

Turning Sixty

As sixtieth birthdays go it wasn't too bad. But how would I know any difference? This was the first and last time I'll ever turn sixty. Bob kept toasting me with a "here's to another sixty years." Ha! Now, that's a laugh. I know I feel pretty good, but another sixty is stretching it a bit, don't you think?

I decided to spend my birthday at the place I love the most - Esalen Institute on the Big Sur coast. I turned down a party. I just couldn't get behind the idea of a celebration this year. My sister insisted, Bob insisted, Sherry insisted, Carole insisted, but I resisted and prevailed. No way. I didn't want any part of it. A sixtieth birthday may be a time to celebrate, but with my son, Paul, dead less than a year, I just couldn't do it. Believe me, Paul wouldn't have cared, but, I did. I just didn’t feel right having a party this year. Anyway, why should I worry about what they all wanted. I’m the one who turned sixty.

I knew I made the right decision as we drove North on Friday. As soon as we got past Santa Barbara I started to relax, sink deep into my seat, take some long deep breaths and watch the beauty of the world go by. The verdant hills looked like they had been painted with sweeping brush strokes of mustard yellow, the rows of newly planted grape vines stood tall and proud, and the clear sky except for a few Georgia O'Keefe clouds beckoned us up the Coast.  It looked like just plain heaven to me. And I figured that if it were this good on the road, what would come next would be even better.

It wasn't easy getting Bob to agree to go. Esalen, created in the 1960s where people gather to expand their minds, relax their souls, and work on their bodies; eat fresh, healthy food, and soak in the hot springs baths while watching the waves of the Pacific, is my place. I've gone there many times without him, and he is very happy to have it that way. But, this time he really had no choice. Of course, I offered bribes. He got to choose the workshop, he got to ogle all the naked women in the hot baths and he got to spend as much time with marvelous me as he wanted all weekend long. There would be no interruptions - no telephone, no email, no exercise classes, no work. What the hey? He took the bribes, and in his inimitable way, he came along and participated fully and willingly.

Out of the four workshops offered this particular weekend, we decided to take the massage intensive. What a concept! We signed up to spend about nine hours taking turns rubbing each other’s bodies. How bad could that be? At one point I was laying on the table that stood right in front of a huge dome-shaped picture window, the sun was streaming in, a cool breeze was washing over me, the ocean was roaring below, and I was being massaged by not one man, but two. The instructor had decided to come by and give Bob a lesson in using a slow hand and an easy touch. Oh, and don’t get any ideas. They each were doing a leg. Even so, if I could have my way, that moment would still be going on.

The truth is, there’s not a lot at Esalen to complain about. Sure, the digs are a little primitive, sure, there is no room service, sure, all calls have to be made on a pay phone, sure, meals are served buffet style and before shoving our dirty dishes into the kitchen area we have to scrape any leftovers into the compost pot. That’s about it. There is so much more to like. The breathing sounds of the ocean as it laps against the rocks below are hypnotic, the pungent smells of fresh herbs and pine tickle the senses, the fertile ground that produces grapefruit size roses along side rows of emerald green vegetables boggles the mind, and, the hot baths soothe not only the body, they heal the soul. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been. It’s where I can go to be completely relaxed and at peace. I made the perfect decision. I wouldn’t have wanted to turn sixty any place else.

For more imformation about Esalen Institute go to:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's not always about the sand and water

A walk along the beach isn't always about great views of the ocean, sand, and sky. As I walk on the Strand that runs north and south at the edge of the sand at my beach, ocean-front homes are to the east and wonderful little garden plots are on the west. A lot of these plots have only succulents to accommodate our need to conserve water, but a few of the little gardens grow some of the most beautiful roses in town. Take a look.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Published Twitter-length poems

I was so busy during the month of June with the WOW blog tour, I didn’t get a chance to post my two Twitter length poems that "unFold" magazine published. Here they are:

Riding the Waves  [June 13, 2011]
Hummingbirds are skinny-dipping
in my garden pool,
bouncing off the fountain,
surfing the surrounding leaves.
Since He Left His Toothbrush  [June 15, 2011]
He recited Byron’s words
yet we’ll go no more a roving
by the light of the moon
as a final fare thee well,
but she knew he’d be back.

To read more of these fun and challenging 140-character or less poems go to:

And I’m happy to say, "unFold" will publish one more of my new short poems in the Fall.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Learning to compartmentalize

Someone on Twitter recently asked me what the hardest thing I had to do while writing my memoir. And I responded – keeping the tears from smearing the words on the page. Then, I had to concentrate on the writing and now on the marketing, leaving any emotions I have about Paul’s death outside the scope of my work. So, I have become a master of compartmentalization.

Now besides being a mother whose son died by suicide, I’m a survivor. I’m a strong woman. I’m an advocate for erasing the stigma of mental illness, of putting a face on suicide, of telling my story so others can know it’s possible to heal after the death of a child. 

Next Tuesday I have another radio interview where I’ll be asked to discuss Paul’s and my story – how can I get through that on the radio? The other parts of the interview won’t be as hard. But going through what we went through especially during his years with bipolar disorder will be gut wrenching. I hope I won't fall apart. And next Saturday I’ll be reading from and signing my books almost all day at Barnes and Noble in Long Beach. I’ll be on my feet and wearing a big smiley face most of the day. How do I do that?

The answer is being able to compartmentalize, and that may be no different from my thoughts about playacting one year after Paul died:

One Year

It’s a year, they say,
time to stop mourning for your dead son,
get on with your life.
Okay, I will, I reply.
Look – I work, I work out, I write, I travel,
I read, I go to movies, I make love, I eat out,
I enjoy the company of friends.
And – I nurture myself with new hairdos,
makeup, massages, and manicures.

After all, Paul took his own life a year ago
He didn’t take mine
At least not completely.

What they don’t know is
my life now is just playacting
meant to fool others as well as myself
into believing that I can move on
and begin to live my life again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WOW blog tour stop No. 15

My host at The Cottage Bookshelf had computer problems last month so she had to delay posting my WOW guest blog piece until today. But I got a bonus! Kimberly Scott, the blog owner, posted a wonderful review of my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, yesterday.

Click here to read the review:

Today's post provides a list of support services for people dealing with mental illness and its sometimes aftermath - suicide.

And if you would like to know more about those subjects, please see my blog posts here last December, 2010. I profiled a different support service organization almost every day that month in memory of Paul's December 31st birthday. The internet, of course, will have many more organizations listed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's never too late for second chances

I’ve known my friend Pat since the first day our younger son, Ben, walked into his Kindergarten class. Pat was there to drop off her oldest son, Andy, while wheeling her daughter in a stroller. She was young and trim in her white tennis outfit. 

Though Ben probably had the oldest mother of all his classmates, it didn't matter. Pat and I became close dear friends as did Ben and Andy. We lived around the corner, we had dinner at each other’s houses, we celebrated birthdays and special occasions together, and we spent weekends up at her family’s house and/or condo in Bishop and Mammoth Lakes.

Though I played tennis too in those days, I never played at Pat’s level. But our boys took tennis lessons and played in tournaments together – with Pat and me on the sidelines.

Ben and Andy - tournament winners

Pat and Madeline at the tournament

Unfortunately, things weren’t always happy in the house around the corner, and after Pat’s third child married, she decided to end her marriage. And much to my chagrin she moved to Reno to live near her now married daughter. In the intervening years we mostly kept in touch by email.

Just last December Pat told me she was remarrying and then sent out a photo of her and her husband at Christmas time. I had never seen a happier looking Pat in all the years I’d known her. That is until this past Saturday. Bob and I took a less than twenty-four hour trip to Reno to attend a casual party celebrating her marriage at their home. After so many years of unhappiness, this woman now exudes joy. Besides having a wonderful new husband she has six granddaughters.

And she recently took a trip of a lifetime – a thirteen thousand foot jump from an airplane over Lodi, California.

Pat skydiving

Kudos to you Pat. There are second chances for those of us who aren’t willing to give up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Radio interview report

My first radio interview, on Smart Women Talk Radio, started at eight in the morning Pacific time last Tuesday, July 5. I called in and talked to the producer, and then the co-hosts, Katana Abbott and Vicky Trabosh came on for a little off-the-air chat. They explained they would talk amongst themselves for the first few minutes of the show, introduce me, and then we'd do the interview - like having a conversation, they said. Five minutes before the hour was up, they'd say goodbye to me and finish the show.

So in all, I'd say I was on the air about forty-two minutes. 

They had asked for questions in advance, so I was very prepared with my answers to the ten I provided. In fact I had my notes up at the ready on my computer screen. However, the interview turned out to be pretty much off the cuff. And like the interview I had for the article in my local Beach Reporter newspaper, that was just fine with me since I know my material cold. I listened to the recording this morning. and it is clear that I answered all the questions without any hesitation though I could let go of using “um” so many times.

But, you can listen for yourselves, and let me know if you agree with one of my friends who says I came across: weighty and serious with a loving tone.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thoughts about Casey Anthony

Casey Anthony

I didn’t follow the trial. I hardly knew any details until the verdicts came in yesterday, so I can’t and won’t comment about whether I think she is innocent or guilty. Who am I to have an opinion about that? Besides that's been decided already.

What I do know is that Casey Anthony ended up with a dead child. I know what that feels like because I also had a child who died. It is a parent’s worst nightmare. What I’ve seen in the news since the verdict is not one bit of sympathy for Casey Anthony because of that.

I find that curious and cruel. This woman has lost everything and probably herself as well. This woman hasn’t even had a chance to grieve for this child. Isn’t it about time we let her alone to do that?

The media must stop trying cases outside the courtroom and get a little compassion. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

My first radio interview - tomorrow July 5!

I'll be on: 

Smart Women Talk™ Radio Upcoming Guest
Heard online around the World and in Seattle on 106.9 HD Channel 3

Tomorrow morning - July 5th, 2011

My hosts: Katana Abbott (left) and Vicky Trabosh (right)

A little background. I met Vicky Trabosh, one of the hosts of Smart Women Talk, when I went to Portland over my birthday weekend. My sister Sheila took me to a luncheon and fashion show at their University Club and immediately upon entering she introduced me to Vicky. And as soon as Vicky heard about my book and its subject matter she asked me to be on her show. I of course said yes immediately.
      I sent out a list of questions with information about my book, including my bio and photo a couple of weeks ago. This week the folks producing the show got back with all the information and a page on their website devoted to me and their interview with me.
      Today I’ve been busily sending out emails, posting information about the interview on Facebook, and I created a Facebook event. I had to hand click every box on my list of over 850 Facebook friends. What is it with Facebook that it doesn’t have a Select All feature? All that clicking definitely makes my arm sore.

      Tomorrow I plan to post links again on my Facebook friend and author pages and the other pages I’m connected to: Putting a Face on Suicide, Loss of An Adult or Young Adult Child, Suicide Loss, Grieving Mothers, Poetry Pact, Poets, Writer, etc., and the Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society. I’ll do that before the show starts at eight in the morning Pacific Time.
      I’ve also put up some documents on my computer screen: answers to the questions, my bio, and I have at the ready a short excerpt and a poem to read – just in case they ask. I really have no idea what to expect except that I know the show will last an hour. It’s definitely exciting. 
      Like Ben and I used to say before his tennis matches: he was excited, not nervous. That’s exactly how I feel right now.

Friday, July 1, 2011

WOW blog tour stop No. 14

A perfect segue to my blog post on marketing yesterday…

Today Women’s Memoirs has posted my answers to their questions about:

 Marketing and Promotion on the Internet.

They say,As many of you well know, at Women’s Memoirs we are as interested in the marketing efforts that go into the promotion of a new memoir as we are in the actual writing. After all, in most cases, writing the book is only half the job. We need to get our work into the hands of readers. We need a platform to which we can draw potential readers and a variety of tactics for making our presence known.”

And they are so right. I’m finding the marketing of the book as much work or even more work than the writing.

I am so grateful to Kendra Bonnet and Matilda Butler for inviting to post on their wonderful Women’s Memoir site today about my book marketing experience so far and on June 22 when I answered questions about how writing a memoir helped me heal after my son Paul’s suicide in 1999. 

Kendra and Matilda have been most generous and caring with my story. Thank you so much to you both!

And another big thank you to Robyn Chausse and Jodi Webb at WOW Women on Writing for arranging my amazing blog tour.