The Power of Fantasy

It is not a widely known fact that I battle with depression and anxiety.  On a monthly basis.  It’s something many women face.  For those of us with this tendency, every time we face down PMS we pray God please let it go away after a few days.  There are months when it lasts the whole month.  There are years when it lasts for several months.  Fortunately for me, I have only once seen it pass a year.  I’m sure that if a study were to be done on where a woman is in her cycle when she decides to kill herself, commit homicide, or do something absolutely dreadful and drastic it would find that that time of month is where the magic happens.

On a bout several years ago I spoke to my brother.  He was just out of med school and had already passed the psych rotation (The one where he was diagnosing every member of the family with some random disorder or another.  I got the diagnosis of histrionics.  I told him to piss off).  He said something to me in the wisdom of his youth that I have never forgotten.  When you find yourself depressed you need to step outside of yourself and act as a carer.  Pretend that you are caring for a member of your family or a friend that you love very much and that they are sick.  What would you do?  You would take them for walks.  You would take them to the movies and distract them.  You would cook good food for them and give them good books to read and sit on the beach with them and watch the sunset.  You need to care for yourself as though you are caring for someone you love.

This is a practice that has kept my monthly to a monthly for a few years now – caring for myself as though I am not myself but someone else that depends on me.  And I have found a tool that works.  FANTASY.

For those of us who are avid readers there is a lush forest of material to feast on.  Every form of thought in this life is represented by a written book.  There is poetry, self-help, scientific, chick lit, classic literature, romance, comedy, spiritual, technical – you name it there is a book on it.  But what does a mind that is plagued by pain have the capacity to digest?

My saving grace has been FANTASY.  Sneaking into the worlds created by the minds of others has been a great distraction from my own gnawing aches.  It exercises my weary mind when I cannot sleep, it embraces my imagination with something other than darkness, and when I wake from the foreign world I find myself grateful for the comfort of my apartment, the love of my family and my two animals, and the work to which I dedicate my waking hours.

Narnia and the Lord of the Rings were some of my early entertainers.  These have been made famous by years of followers and have been represented by movie-makers a few times over.  But a series can be so satisfying because as you finish one book you look for the next one to carry you through next month.  I have two obscure recommendations for those new to fantasy but needing to escape.

Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series:

I came across these books in college.  I don’t know what made me pick up this little book with the nondescript cover off the shelf in Waterstones but I have become bound to this series every since.  My mind could not rest after ploughing through the brilliance of ancient lords of the court and so I would simply switch gears and cares into the world of Jackals.  Stephen Hunt introduces you to a world that resembles the home of Oliver Twist in some ways and Star Wars in others.  It is inhabited by human beings, the Fey, Steammen (sentient machines from the frozen mountains of the North), Cassarabians of the deserts to the south with an uncanny science for the development of mutants with the use of Womb Mages, Catosians who are steroid-pumped amazon-like women warriors, Craynarbians who have an exoskeleton much like crustaceans we now eat, and many other “races”.  The travels of Commodore Black (resembling an old version of Jack Sparrow) through the Fire Sea, over the deserts, through the jungles and into the sky cities of this world are easy to relate to and impossible to abandon once you pick up a book.  The first book, The Court of the Air, was an incredible launch into the life of Molly Templar, an orphan with a fantastic fate.  I recommend this book to any woman sufferer, and any person needing an escape.

The Redwall Books of Brian Jacques:

This world is inhabited by the animals of our own world with a noble congregation in a place called Redwall Abbey.  Mice are mighty and Badgers brave as they fight off the hoards of stoats and tricky foxes.  The medieval abbey of Redwall is full of secrets and surprises, headed by an Abbot and championed by a warrior.  The language takes on the accents of the British Isles with such accuracy it will tease the laughter out of the surliest and most unwilling reader.  The suspense is something that will keep you in the books late into sleepless nights.  The lessons and even the language of these books are appropriate for every age.

The Other Side of the Story -Marian Keyes

The book to look for – Photo stolen from Amazon 😉

The Blurb goes something like this:

“Jojo Harvey is a literary agent whose star is on the rise. In love with both her married boss and her burgeoning career, not much distracts her. Until she finds herself representing two women who used to be best friends. One of them, Gemma, has suddenly found herself from a broken home – at the age of thirty-two. Meanwhile, Lily – the woman Gemma has always blamed for stealing her one chance of happiness – is enjoying the overnight success of her debut novel. Set in the world of publishing, ‘The Other Side of the Story’ is about love, loyalty, glass ceilings and survival tactics – and what to do when you get your chance for revenge.”

But the book is something that cannot be summed up in a couple of measly lines.  The Other Side of the Story MADE MY DAY!  MY WEEK!  Perhaps my YEAR!

As far as reading goes, the language was so earthy, so brutally honest and so… so… REAL I couldn’t stop laughing!  The story is of three women caught in a web of bookmaking.  Jojo is the buttoned-up, glamorous career woman who holds the careers of others in her hand.  Hers, in turn, is held in the hands of her lover, the managing partner.  Real things happen to this woman.  Like guilt.  Like the desire to shop when something big happens.  Like talking to her favourite purse.  Self sabotage.  Jealousy.  The desire to destroy a rival, the dilemma of choosing between career and love.  Yet she is powerful.  She grieves for five minutes and flies into action.  She eats without dieting and cannot be small but is still considered by all around to be a total knockout.  She really struck a chord in me.  I GET Jojo.

And then there is Gemma, stuck in her only-child world with her parents going crazy in their late mid-life crisis.  She has the patience of a saint – she doesn’t just slap her Mam – but she’s real too!  And bitter.  Frozen with bitterness.  And who can blame her?  She’s lost her dad to a woman four years her senior.  AND she’s lost the love of her life to her best friend.  I would be homicidal too!  Her fantasies and her raging letters to her far away friend Susan made me laugh out loud.  Men have been awful in her life and so she turns on them.  With a whip.  My favourite line by her is “fantasist heal thyself” and she uses them, each of her homicidal fantasies, to get to where she needs to go inside.  She fantasizes Lily’s downfall and her dad’s unhappiness, her mom’s return to strength and her return to clarity.  I TOTALLY get Gemma.

Then there is Lily.  And like her name suggests, Lily is as yellow as they come.  She’s a coward who cannot face her past but is constantly hounded by it.  She DID get involved with her best friend’s love and she DID have a baby for him, and she DID have the audacity to be happy on the back of her best friend’s hurt.  But she doesn’t have an assertive bone in her body.  And despite all this somehow Marian manages to write her in a way that I can’t hate her!  It must be her messy childhood.  I don’t get Lily at all – no amount of guilt could put me in the quivering mess she finds herself in.  But then again I’ve never stolen someone’s man and created happiness with him.  I guess for a total wimp she’s ok. I know for sure she’s real – there are weak women like her everywhere you look.  But unlike the rest of them Lily has talent.  She can spin a yarn out of the sweet cotton-candy place in her head that I don’t get.  And it sells.  So good on Lily, the one character I had issues with.

This book has the backhanded educational value rolled in there too.  Anton’s persistence in getting Lily’s book out there put a little steel in my neck and a little desire back in my pen.  Jojo’s cut-throat world makes sense to me as a lawyer, but I would never have put it in the comfortable world of books and snuggling with a cup of tea.  The ideas around the purpose of PR and the ethical battles of Lily’s reality really do give some insight into possibilities I hadn’t considered.

It made me miss London.  I could smell the air, see the Selfridges entrance and Irina’s Clinique counter.  I could see St. John’s Wood tube station and got actually quite homesick for my second home.  It was like this book was made for me – London lover, recovering bitter avenging angel, career woman, conflicted romantic, and now pushing 30.  It answered all my calls.

To read The Other Side of the Story truly put some fire into me on my last day of vacation.  Back to work tomorrow and I’m inspired – to write, to work, to live, and to get past the ugly vengeance cloud and into the clear air of new possibilities.

Click link to buy.  Thank me later.

Writing Found a Home

I was late and sat in the back.  My first writing class.  But I was hooked before I even sat down!  Twenty men and women of various ages and backgrounds were in the room where the collection of Art and Manga books call home in our local Books & Books.  They were rapt, listening to the instructor, eloquent as a feather, laying the framework for our six weeks together.

Tingles danced over my arms as I reached into my bag for my diary.  I was engaged, caught up in her reverence and passion for a thing she clearly loves.  She talked on writerly habits, having a writer’s journal, writing daily for at least fifteen minutes, reading like a writer.  She expressed in words several of the things I have learned since sitting down and committing to this blog.  Like the extraordinary gems of material hidden in the ordinariness of our own lives.  Like the way a writer thinks, examining the event of the day or the moving moment and creating words to recreate this picture to someone else.

We were given a class exercise – to write a paragraph each on three childhood memories – and the silence was broken only by the odd chuckle and the dizzy rush of pens.  I smiled down at my book feeling like a little girl again on the first day I realized that I could read.  I had cracked the code!  Found a new world to explore.  Once again I am in that moment.

This class will change my life.

And I won’t be alone.  The excitement in the room was like the 22nd person – hard and defined by bones covered in flesh.  The questions asked and experiences shared came as though from one massive tank of thought.  I learned something that will stay with me forever.  There is a community of writers.  Everywhere.  Watching, observing and loving the moment enough to write it.  Even here in my home town.  People like me who shut down a part of their day to spend with a pen and paper or notepad or laptop to pour themselves out for a moment.  There are people who take the colours of life and recreate them more brilliantly in black and white.  Others are fluent in my language.

This morning I have my blog to commit to and my homework to do.  I am praying for the time to do it all – both mean a lot to me.  And so I am giving fair warning – much of the frilly bits of my life will be cut for a time to make space for this thing that promises to take over, to bring a new chapter of meaning and a whole new purpose.

Onward with the Journey!