Anxious landlubbers unite


Some people call it stomach flu; I prefer to call it a reverse cleanse.  And about this I will say no more because, well, I don’t want to drive you away.  My last word on this is that it was one of the reasons I haven’t blogged in a few weeks.  The others were: The Son, a Celtic looking fellow – being in his high school production of The Arabian Nights.  And, let me tell you, even if the kids sing like Aretha, speak like Meryl or is as charismatic as Brad, they’re still in high school, and therefore, earnest and disheveled like a bag of dirty puppies.  Except the girls had on some really awesome eyeliner.  And really, it was a very good production.  My other excuses: visitors, some minor family arguments involving the slamming down of handsets, poor attitude, and mostly, not a lot of riveting things to say.

I did finish a few books, though!  Monkey Mind, a Memoir of Anxiety, by Daniel Smith, is excruciating to read, as it conveys in grimy detail the roller-coaster nature of severe anxiety and its many, many manifestations.  What saves it, though, is the writer himself, who is so raw and willing to reveal all his neuroses you cheer him on and hope like hell you never go down that path.  He is also wildly funny and a good detail man: one example is how he describes what he thinks may have contributed significantly to his hamster-wheel brain: playing in his mother’s room, above her home office (she’s a therapist), hanging upside down over one side of the bed, rooting around underneath it for a lost toy, he hears an anxious patient confessing fears…through the heater vent.  As a kid who spent a lot of time alone, messing around my siblings’ rooms, my mom’s room, hiding during their hushed conversations, this spoke to me.  Plus: we have buckets of anxiety in our family.

As good as the book is, it’s also an exhausting one.  You can’t help but feel moved and hopeful as the author battles for a normal life, but his day is mighty long and that’s not to be taken lightly.

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan, has a great line toward the end of the book.  “After all, I have already taken the measure of my own insignificance, and I survived.”   The woman who claims this is Grace, stranded after a shipwreck in a lifeboat while crossing the Atlantic prior in 1914.  Very young, ambitious and decidedly not sweet, she is eventually tried in America as a co-conspirator to murder.  The book is her account of those events, and the unraveling of humanity in an overcrowded boat.  Rogan gives us some grim images and her knowledge of sailing and the sea is a huge help, although I tend to skim all the discussion of sails and hard tack and focus on whose hands are clutched around whose throat.   Full confession:  Mr. Halfstory, Ramona and I once went whale-watching in my desperate attempt to break out of a post-foot surgery funk.  Of course, when whale watching you do have to go where the whales live, but, truly, I skimmed the open ocean part of that equation, too.  So there we were, Ramona bouncing around the deck of the Sea Wolf (“Sea Beagle,” Mr. Halfstory muttered bitterly while throwing up over the rail or the rigging or whatever the heck it was), while I tried to keep water out of my cast and muttering “I will never see my other two children again,” and hoping that we did not see any enormous, boat-crushing leviathans.

Well, anyway, it gets fairly ugly in the lifeboat, and while the daily drudge of looking over the horizon for the ship that will never come gets tiring, well, that’s authentic, and Rogan keeps a swift pace.  Survival stories are only as good as the characters they plunk into an unforgiving landscape. This is worthy of a slot in the backpack…or an anorak pocket…or whatever it is sailors carry their stuff in.  I don’t know because I will likely never go on a boat again.