“Brain on Fire”

I did something I’ve been putting off doing–I finally bought “Brain on Fire” by Amy Cahalan and read it.  I had heard a great deal about it and had read the AMazon entry about it, so I knew it would be a “competing” title in the marketplace to anything I wrote, so I was interested.

What I read didn’t really distinguish it from other books of the same type I have read except that it was all reconstructed after the fact-she has no memory of the psychosis and had to interview doctors, nurses, her parents, her friends, etc. to  get material for the book.  So it was masterful in that sense that it reads like first-person memories when it may as well be a third-person interview situation.  But I did impress on me that I need to interview people more than I have been doing for whatever I turn out to do.  I just don’t know how to go about it.



Anxiety Again

I’m going back to my therapist early because I got all lined up to do some creative writing yesterday and got hit with another bout of major anxiety.  What if it’s no good?  What if no one likes it?  Am I wasting my time?  Why do I think I can write this story?  Etc. Etc. On and on.

I thought I had writer’s block beaten.  I’m writing here every day, I’m writing for my classes and making all A’s on everything I turn in, I’m actually publishing things, and I sat down and completely freaked out. I had to take a Xanax to calm back down.  I wound up in bed watching the minutes tick by all afternoon while the youngest one cleaned her room.

It wasn’t generalized anxiety like last time.,  It was very specific with a specific locus in my writing.   So I’m gong to talk to her and see if I can’t find a way to wire around it.

Wish me luck.


Alexandra Stoddard

So today I got to interview Ms. Stoddard about my article I’m going to submit to Creative Nonfiction!  She was so gracious.  She called me around nine this morning and just gave me generous time to finish my questions and write everything down.  She even gave me her personal number incase I needed to call her again for other information.  So I  have had an uplifting morning already!  If you are not familiar with her design and  art-of-living philosophy, go to her site and brows her books.  Her seminal work is “Living a Beautiful Life” and is a good introduction to her work.

Now on e my friend gives her clinician’s opinion, I’ll b ready to write.  I’ll get it in well before the deadline and  see what happens.   I really feel good about doing this article.  I think it’s going to come together well and have a chance to be accepted.

I remember my friend Deidre lending me the book “Living a Beautiful LIfe” when I was in college and then finding it in a bookstore much later once I married and buying it.  I now own almost all her books that are still in print and love to get them out and read them for inspiration.


Wanting to Work

I checked out a local jobs site for the fun of it, and saw where one of my old freelance clients is hiring a full-time writer for the suburban beat.  It’s so tempting to think about applying.  I’m tired of not working already even though I’ve only been out of work two months.  But I just don’t know if I can handle full-time work or not.  That’s not true actually. I know I can’t.  When I tried teaching three classes last fall, I failed miserably and felt miserable the whole time. ANd soon we’ll be busy with school stuff again and I will feel better.

I just wish bipolar disorder had never happened to me.  I think about how well I was doing in my career before it did and I wonder what I could be accomplishing today almost ten years later. Occasionally I just want to kick myself for letting it all go and not trying harder to keep working.  But I don’t know what else I could have done.  I was trying to pivot to writing creatively full-time, but I just didn’t really have any success.  Hopefully this MFA program can bring that to fruition.  I need to get over my writer’s back for that to happen, though.  We’ll see what happens once classes start.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!!

Work and Disability

I took the evaluations to heart and spent the summer reorganizing the syllabus and making different selections of material to read that was much more accessible and understandable.  I spent another semester teaching one course of Comp II and felt that it went much better than the first—the students didn’t seem to struggle nearly as much as my earlier ones had.  I was well on my way to enjoying myself in the classroom again.

Not too surprisingly, I was able to keep my benefits while teaching because the pay was woefully inadequate.  They were paying the same amount per class as they had been paying eighteen years before when I first applied to teach there when I moved to Brandon.  A few semesters later, the pay was raised, but I could still teach up to three classes a semester and stay under the earnings threshold for continuing my benefits. I pay taxes and Social Security on my earnings—I am not paid in cash or under the table so I am staying within the law working on a part-time basis.

That is an important consideration for people who wish to return to work while on Social Security benefits.  Important aspects to remember are the earnings threshold, the fact that you can continue to draw benefits for a three-year trial work period, and the fact that your Medicare benefits can extend even longer even if your Social Security benefits have to stop.

Supplemental Security Income has much different rules, ruling out almost any work while drawing benefits.  Check with the local Social Security office to see what those rules are currently, since the earnings threshold changes just about every year.

I’m now teaching two classes a year of Introduction to Creative Writing for a homeschooling co-op in my area as well.  Keeping the work low-stress has been the key to my being able to hold down the job.  Only working two or three days a week has been a good schedule for me thus far.  If I can keep out of the hospital, I may entertain the thought of going full-time with the college in the future.  I’ll have to pray long and hard about that—seeing how the benefits and pay would stack up against whatever extra stress I would go through teaching more classes and taking on other administrative tasks that go with full-time professoring.  Or I may find some other work altogether.  I just know I need to seek God’s counsel and find out what he has in store for me next!

The First Semester

I met that first class in January 2011 with a little fear.  I had planned it so they would spend most of the time writing in class, an exercise called diagnostic writing where I could assess their strengths and weaknesses and address them as a class.  I went over the syllabus, had them all introduce themselves, and then set them to writing for the rest of the hour and fifteen minutes we had left.

They were an interesting bunch. I had a few older non-traditional students, but most were freshmen one semester removed from high school.  Some were very competent writers, and others were a little below average.  I had some veterans of Gulf War II. I had a mix of races as well, some white, some African-American, and some Hispanics also.

As far as my teaching went that semester, let’s just say we were all learning together.  I had to reacquaint myself with the routine and the classroom management while dealing with a different type of student than I had taught at Mississippi State.  This school had students who did not have high enough college entrance scores to go to a four-year college, and they were much less versed in the literary tradition than the students I remembered.  I had to go over concepts in more detail in class so they could understand them.  By the time I got their first papers analyzing fiction and saw how they were struggling, it was over a third of the way through the semester.  I tried to catch them up, but my style of teaching kept some information just out of their reach.

I remember teaching one extremely funny play that depended on the students having at least a passing knowledge of Franz Kafka, John Milton, Jonathan Swift, William Shakespeare, and the infinite monkey theorem to get all the jokes.  A fellow named Chris just looked at me and said, “All I know is they’re talking about a bunch of books that I haven’t read,” while I was trying to explain the play.  That was humbling for me—I couldn’t assume they were getting the material if they didn’t ask questions since at times they were too confused to know what questions to ask.  Somehow we all stumbled through the semester without anyone failing the course due to my inadequacies.

The Interview

I went in to talk to her about a week later.  She explained that classes had started, but enrollment was up enough that they knew they would need teachers the next semester as well.  We talked about my experience at State and how I could handle the classes, what my class policies would be, what the college would require me to do, and all other matters related to classroom management.  It wasn’t so much a job interview as it was an orientation session for what I would be doing.

Partway through the interview, I took a deep breath and explained that I’d like to start out teaching only one class because I had bipolar disorder and did not know how much work I could handle.  I told her I was experimenting to see if I could work at all.  She took the information in stride and said that she would be glad to work with me to see how much I liked the work and how much I could handle. I was shocked at how easily that went over, too.

I spent the fall semester planning my syllabus and course policies. I read the book and selected the readings I wanted to teach on.  I would be teaching Composition II, which included literary analysis and research papers. I studied my old Composition II materials from when I was at State and developed my strategies and methodologies for teaching.  I pulled out old handouts and even old final exams, which I planned to use again after modifying them somewhat.  I got as prepared as I knew how, even investing in new clothes to wear to class since I had been out of the public workforce for so long.