Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Toddler has Mad Talent

In yesterday’s post, I listed off a number of responsibilities and difficulties I confronted last week.  In that list, I failed to mention that I have also been busy helping my three-year-old daughter compose and illustrate her own books.  Emily loves to tell stories, so we have been recording them and making them into small books for her friends and family.  She’s quite demanding with my time as I serve as her transcriptionist and illustrator.  Emily’s “published” books include such titles as “Puppy Time with Grandma” and “I Love My Daddy.”  Yesterday, we just finished a book she made for her cousin called “Dolphin Adventures with Emily and Paris.”  I record the contents of that book here: 

The proud author, Emily Jane
Once upon a time, Emily and Paris went to have many adventures today.  They went to see a dolphin at the swimming pool.

Emily and Paris played with the dolphin and swam with the dolphin.  They swam a lot and the dolphin was so big.

Emily and Paris met a baby dolphin and it was so cute.  Paris loves just dolphins, and puppies want to swim in the pool too.

Then the baby dolphin swam away.  A big eagle came by and troubled everybody in the whole water.  Another eagle hopped on the raft and drank from a teapot.  Then a bee buzzed by.

Emily and Paris call the dolphin back and it jumps.  Then a big lion comes by and stops everybody.  The lion says, “Stop! I need some teapots!”  But the lion leaves because that’s what I want.

Now there is just one dolphin and one puppy and the puppy sings, “I love my Mommy!” Paris chases the eagle and says, “Sing! Sing! Give me the teapot!”  So the eagle drops the teapot and goes away.

A whale comes by.  The whale played with Paris some more.  The whale had a magic cylinder and the train went by.  The puppy barked at the train.

Emily and Paris went home in the car.  Emily told Paris, “I had fun, my friend.”  Emily and Paris give each other hugs and hop around and that is the end.

Celebrated artwork "Eagle on Raft with Teapot" by Angela Ryan
I feel fairly certain that Emily will become an accomplished author far before I ever do.  At least I’ll have my kid to take care of me.  She can financially support me, change my diapers, wax my mustache, and refill my wineglass.  If I never succeed myself, I figure I’ll be set anyway given the talent of my offspring.  I would note that the only editorial assistance I gave Emily in creating the above story was to question, “And then what happened?” and comment “Do we really need to write about more teapots?  What’s the deal with teapots, kid?” 

Monday, March 24, 2014


I have a confession to make: I hate twitter.  Yeah, I know it's beneficial for marketing and networking with other writers, but to me it honestly just feels like one more damn obligation.  This is not to say that connecting with others feels like a duty too; I enjoy making connections with other bloggers and like-minded individuals.  However, there are other outlets for that, and facebook is my preferred form of social media.  (So, you know, you should totally follow me there.)
Despite my disdain for twitter, I made myself a very simple goal last week.  I thought it was simple anyway.  However, perhaps one should not make any additional demands upon oneself when she is trying to return to employment after a two week absence due to severe depression, is currently taking a new antipsychotic drug to support the antidepressant that isn’t quite doing the job battling bipolar with the addition of seasonal affective depression, is raising two toddler children, is battling fibromyalgia, is coaching, and is also beginning her freelance writing career with several writing assignments due in the week.  That should have been enough for me, but I decided that last week was the week I finally play along with these weekly hashtags I’m sure most of you are familiar with.
I'm down for the weird stuff, Franco.
Therefore, I made my goal known on twitter and facebook.  I started off my #mancrushmonday with a lovely photo of James Franco from his guest spot on 30 Rock, announcing I wouldn’t mind taking on the Liz Lemon role in the Franco/Kimiko threesome.  I must admit I had to google what Tuesday’s hashtag was.  Let’s be honest, I don’t live in the hippest locale in the world, so I’m not always current on these kinds of things.  At any rate, I managed to follow through with #transformationtuesday, #womancrushwednesday, and #throwbackthursday, although as an English instructor, I cringe when typing these words without spaces and proper capitalization. 
Then Friday came, and it was a long fucking week for me, y’all.  I don’t know what the hell kind of hashtagged (is this a word?) day Friday was supposed to be either.  I would have googled that shit had I the energy to meet my goal.  Alas, I could not even follow through with a week of obnoxious hashtags. 
Therefore, despite whatever Friday’s formerly popular hashtag was, I am now declaring Friday #fuckitfriday, for when you just barely made it through the week, and praise the Lord, but you ain’t got the energy for any other kind of bullshit, so give me a Miller Lite and a bag of Doritos and just let me pass out on the couch. Whatever, I did enough this week, mother fuckers.  That’s #fuckitfriday, my friends.
The Mac Dad will make ya Jump, Jump
And as Monday rolls around again, and I’m still struggling, I petition that Monday no longer be #mancrushmonday and rather become #mehmonday.  #mehmonday is for those days you just want to say, “Hey, I showered.  You better be fucking happy with that.  Don’t expect me to change the world today.  I showed up to work, didn’t I?  So shut your damn trap and just let me survive.  Kids, watch cartoons and don’t whine to Momma today, it’s #mehmonday.”  I know you all can feel me on this one, right?  I don’t have time on Monday to think about whom I might want to fuck, because I wouldn’t have the energy even if James Franco showed up on my door step.  “Hey, Franco,” I’d say, “So, I applaud your effort on As I Lay Dying, but I haven’t shaved my legs (and other unmentionables) in over a week and I’m kind of tired.  You want some Doritos?  You can share my chips, but I ain’t up for fucking nobody tonight.” 
So, twitter, quit making more work for me.  I have enough shit on my plate.  Can’t I just eat Doritos and take naps?  Why must I post pictures of me from 1993 when I was in hip-hop dance class and performing to Kris Kross’ “Jump”?  Hey, I’m pretty damn hot for a fifteen-year-old though, huh, Nabokov?  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Time and Freedom to Learn

Yesterday afternoon, a former student posed a question to all of his friends and family on facebook: What would you learn if you were given the time and freedom to learn it? There were a variety of splendid responses to this question, ranging from foreign language to carpentry.   The responses were enjoyable to read, and created in me a renewed desire to gain more knowledge and skills. 

I, myself, feel I am constantly learning and growing.  I have a strong desire for knowledge, which is one of the primary reasons I am such an avid reader.  Even in fiction, there are universal truths to be learned and much to be discovered of different cultures and perspectives.  While most individuals left one sentence responses to the above question, my response was as follows:

Foremost, I would become a more skilled wine aficionado.  I would like to speak a foreign language fluently.  I would learn to be a better gardener and be more self-sufficient.  I would like to learn to build and craft items – to become more skilled with my hands.  I would also like to learn more about publishing so that I can pursue writing more devotedly.  I would learn more about foreign affairs, mythology, and philosophy. I would like to finish reading all of Anais Nin’s and Virginia Woolf’s diaries.  I would also like to write a thesis that fully analyzes every author mention and text allusion in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  You know, just a few things.  I’m always thirsty for knowledge, and constantly reading and learning.   
After leaving such a lengthy response, this particular status update still made me pause to consider life and the lessons I so hope to gain from it.  First, I wondered what was truly preventing me from gaining the aforementioned skills and talents.  The most basic answer is time.  Another reason is that my list of interests and knowledge sought is so extensive that other areas have taken priority.  One of the other reasons I haven’t learned all I want from books or manuals is that I have been busy simply living and loving.  I would far rather have my arms wrapped around my son and watch him smile than learn mechanics or carpentry, although both are valuable skills.  However, another truth is that there are some skills I wish I could attain without the work.  I don’t really want to learn reupholstery, for example; I just wish I innately knew how to do it so I could cover the ugly, old, inherited side chair my husband insists on keeping in our basement. 

Upon reflection regarding the reasons we hesitate to gain desired knowledge, I then considered all that I would love to learn, or, more honestly sometimes, simply know.  While a complete list would probably be too extensive, I decided to here list 20 things (in addition to those above) I would learn given the time and freedom:

1.       I would learn how to sew, so I can hem up every single pair of jeans that is too long for me rather than still depending on my mother.

2.       I would learn to play piano, so I can pass this skill onto my children
     who have each expressed a deep interest in music.

3.       I would learn to read music; I’m ashamed that I don’t possess
  this skill after four years of senior choir.

4.       I would learn how to drywall, so that I could complete the
  necessary work in our basement.

5.       I would learn how to speak Spanish fluently, as I have honestly
   learned more from watching Dora the Explorer than I ever did in
  my high school foreign language courses.

6.       I would learn to speak Italian, so that I might enjoy the country more fully when I (hopefully) travel there in the future.

7.       I would learn more about the saints.  I want to understand why each is significant.

8.       I would learn more about politics so that I can more soundly support all of my beliefs and opinions.

9.       I would learn more about foreign affairs and world cultures, as such knowledge creates a more well-rounded, empathetic individual.

      10.   I would learn pottery, as I so admire the work of other artists and all they create with their own two hands.

      11.   I would learn sign language so that I might communicate more effectively with those with differing abilities.

     12.   I would learn basic auto mechanics, so that I am more self-sufficient and less dependent on others.

      13.   I would learn more about the publishing industry, so that I feel more comfortable sharing a completed manuscript.

14.   I would learn more about Ernest Hemingway, whose “swagger” fascinates me, thus more enjoying my (hopeful) future travels to Key West and Paris to visit some of Hemingway’s old haunts.

15.   I would learn more of ancient Greece and the early philosophers.

16.   I would learn more about social media and marketing, so that I could better promote my passion.

17.   I would learn about computer programming and html so that I could create my own blog badge, and other such basic skills that yet confound me.

18.   I would learn geography; I honestly can’t even correctly identify
       the fifty states on a blank map, and I only know a handful of state capitols.
19.   I would learn the dates of all my in-law’s birthdays, as my
       husband can’t remember and I have never recorded it, which
       leads to an inevitable argument after he has once again
       forgotten his mother’s birthday and made us both look bad.

20.   I would learn more about birds and flowers, so that I can
       correctly identify each species and plant when my young daughter
       inquires about them with interest.

And, now, I present the same question to you:  What would you learn if you were given the time and freedom to learn it?  Please comment and then go forth and accomplish your learning goals!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Brushstrokes of Blue

I don’t know why they call this the blues.  Blue speaks calmness and serenity to me.  It whispers of the ocean waves, crested with white, rhythmically rocking back and forth and lulling me into a restful slumber in the sun.  It tells of the limitless blue sky that surrounds the world, constantly reminding each and every soul of possibility and promise.  Blue is the voice I hear when I look into my daughter’s beautiful, bright eyes and that voice declares, “I love you and I need you.  You make my heart happy, mother.”  The blues, then, is such an inapt term for what I’m feeling now.

Lindsay Malboeuf Painting
Blue - 7th Wave by Lindsay Malboeuf
There are shades of gray perhaps – each dull and poorly drawn.  Ashen and drab, dreary and leaden – those are the tints and shades that more accurately portray my somber mood.  Calling it a mood, however, is quite inaccurate as well.  Its proper names are mental illness, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective depression, and not those basic blues that most people speak of.  Ah, yes, the blues, a lovely term used to minimize the true effects of depression – the colors and odors no one wants to speak of.

Black is the most prominent color.  Lights out in the bedroom, which I am terrified to leave, hiding under the covers while my mind races irrationally and anxiety hovers all around me in steely shadows.  Black as I close my eyes and the voices of depression wish for them to remain forever closed, to never see again, and for my heart to stop feeling this god-damn persistent pain.  Into the black as the debt piles up with more missed days of work due to illness.  If there’s any blue in this picture, it’s only in that my being feels beaten, black and blue and deeply bruised, by this disease.

Sometimes I rage red.  I’m infuriated with this lying bitch of an illness and my temper squalls like a wicked, thundering storm.   I’m irritated with the stigma that surrounds it, the sideways glances and condemning whispers behind my back.  I hear your words, your words full of ignorance and judgment, your words that make me want to crawl back under the covers and fade into blackness.  Sometimes I even credit your inane words and then I became wrathful toward my own person, believing I am worthless and weak to the depression, as if I had a choice to simply snap out of it.    

If I were a painter, I would add brilliant brush strokes of radiant color to this dark, depressive world.  I would add wisps of that blue, calming and inspiring.  A blue sky overhead as I breathe in the fresh air and feel glad to be alive.  I would enhance my canvas with a glowing, brilliant burst of yellows.  A bright, yellow sun dazzling down upon me, warming my soul and instilling me with hope and promise, making my whole being as glowing and resplendent as the sun shining in the sky.  I would splatter shades of green and purple, capturing the blooming of vines and flowers, the lilacs and the lilies.  I would toil not; I would bloom and grow and feel whole again. 

My palette doesn’t currently contain the colors I desire.  No gentle blues, no soft lavenders, no silky violets.  I don’t want more doors painted black; I long for open doors with the saving sunlight flooding quickly in.   Although I crave color, my entreaty goes unheard for this illness is a violent screamer that hearkens not to my hopes and perceives only the black, the red, the ache, the rage.  To be blessed with color, I needed to be born into this world as a different girl.  However, I won’t fault you if you put on a smock and pull forth a paint brush in an attempt to color my world.  I may always be an incomplete canvas, but sometimes the most beautiful works of art come to fruition from the greatest struggles. 

Writing Prompts

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Unicorns and Rainbows: Things You Shouldn't say to Someone with a Mental Illness

In a terribly misguided attempt to understand my struggle with mental illness, my husband once inquired about my inability to leave the house during especially exasperated episodes of my depression or anxiety.  He explained, “I just don’t understand why you can’t get up.  I don’t know what I can do to help.”  He then posed the following question, “I mean, what if I told you they were giving away free unicorns and rainbows at work, then would you go?”  I despised him at that moment.  Free unicorns and rainbows? I thought to myself. Christ, what kind of ignorant dick did I marry?

The truth, however, is that he’s not a dick at all.  He’s a kind, considerate man who is frustrated with a very complicated invisible illness. No one wants to see someone they love suffer, so those around us often try to offer advice and encouragement.  Despite best intentions, however, there’s some things we’re sick of hearing.  The following phrases are not helpful, and should be avoided when attempting to support someone who suffers from mental illness.  

1.       “Just cheer up! Look on the bright side of life!”

Are you kidding me?  This is about the dumbest shit ever you could say to someone who is suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.  Yet, I have heard this (and similar phrases) too many times to count.  I can’t “just cheer up”; I have a chemical imbalance.  I don’t choose to feel this way.  There’s a difference between being pessimistic and being bipolar.  The problem is not that I see the glass as half-empty; I have a problem with nerve cell communication.

2.       “Things could be worse.”

 Of course things could be worse.  I could be homeless and on the streets, fighting to survive, badly beaten and malnourished, addicted to methamphetamines. However, the consideration of hypothetical negative situations does nothing to improve my current mood.  I’m not ungrateful.  I know I have a wonderful, supportive family and many other blessings, but none of this negates the fact that I’m bipolar.  No one considers telling a cancer patient that things could be worse, so why does it seem an acceptable response to mental illness?

3.       “… but we love you.”

My own spouse has been guilty of this phrase quite often.  He might say something like, “C’mon Angela, you can get out of bed today.  I know you’re depressed, but we love you so much.”   This makes me feel so awful and guilty.  He thinks he is simply expressing affection, but when I hear that “but,” I hear, “I know you’re depressed, but if you loved us enough, you would get out of bed.”  I don’t know how to love my family any more than I do.  They are my everything, and I love them with my whole heart.  My depressive episodes are not linked to their love for me or my love for them.  After explaining this to him, my husband now simply says, “I love you … period.”

4.       “Maybe you should see a therapist.”

To this response, I want to shout, “Why thank you!  Hmmm … do you realize that in my over two decades of living with mental illness I had never before considered that therapy could be beneficial?  Thank you so much, you incredible genius.”  Here’s where that sarcasm font becomes necessary.  I already have a therapist, as most people with mental illness probably do too.  The woman I meet with, though, is a licensed psychotherapist – not a wizard.  Therapy teaches us how to manage our illness; it cannot cure it.  Mental illness is a chronic condition. 

5.       “Just snap out of it already!”

Okay, remember when I said above that “just cheer up” is about the dumbest shit you could say to an individual who suffers from mental illness.  I might have lied; this one is the ultimate ignorant douche-bag response to mental illness.  Again, would you tell the man who suffers from diabetes to “just snap out of it”?  Would you suggest that the blind man just “suck it up” and see already?  I would hope the response to these questions is negative, as the situations most assuredly seem absurd.  Likewise, it’s absurd to expect an individual who suffers from major depressive disorder, or some similar mental illness, to just snap out of it.  That suggestion implies that mental illness is not a legitimate, valid health disorder, and that belief demonstrates brazen ignorance and disregard.    

If even the prospect of unicorns and rainbows can’t “cure” my mental illness, please trust that none of the above comments is going to be the answer I’ve been waiting for either.  Instead of offering up misguided advice and ignorant, tired clich├ęs, I suggest you try education and empathy.  I make these suggestions not only for myself, but on behalf of your sister, your best friend, your co-worker, your coach, your aunt, your uncle.  Too many individuals suffer their mental illness in silence for fear of receiving judgment and responses like those above.  Let’s make an effort to break the silence and truly support one another together.