Interview with Indra Sena author of Closet Full of Coke

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I’m not sure if I have ever written a formal review of Closet Full of Coke for this site.  I have mentioned it here and here.  And here is my full Amazon review:

I read this book in one night. I was captivated by the story and strength and resilience of this young woman who, in middle school, began selling drugs to better her life. As I was a toddler when the narrative began, I personally cannot remember this time in American history. This book shed light on the Reagan years, and the advent of cocaine in America.

Portions of the book made me cry. The narrative is so heart-wrenching, you want to reach through the pages and hold this young girl, you want to step in for her absent parents. You keep turning the pages because you want to see how it all turns out.

What I really found lacking was more information on how the author is doing today. There was brief information at the end, but I would have found more information about her life in the intervening 25 years from her teenage years to publication equally as fascinating.

Another book perhaps?

After that review, the author tracked me down to thank me.  And we’ve  been exchanging email on occasion ever since.

I’ve been fascinated with her writing process.  What it takes to write about something so personal, so deep and emotional.  And to put it all out there.  You can tell by some of the idiotic reviews on Amazon (and especially Goodreads) that some of the people reviewing did not read the same book that I did.  Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but instead of critiquing the book for its literary merit, they ended up critiquing the author for her personal choices she made as a teenager 30 years ago.  I recently asked Ms. Sena if she would do an interview about this subject, and she graciously acquiesced.

1)  Where did you get the idea for your memoir?  Was it something you always wanted to do after the events took place?  Or did you have a dream or a stroke of divine inspiration?
I planned to write my memoir for nearly twenty years. I was twenty years old and reflecting back on all the events of my teen years and I realized that the story had all the components of fiction. It was kind of startling to see life so perfectly imitating art. I started telling people then that one day I would write this book. 
When I finally sat down to write it twenty years later it became clear that I needed the perspective of lots of time and distance from the events to write something like this.
2) How did you decide which years to focus on?
I knew exactly where the book would end but I wasn’t quite sure how early I should start it. My first draft had an additional five chapters in the beginning that described my life when I was 13 and 14 years old. But my editor and I ended up agreeing that the clearest beginning was the day I met Armando. So my original chapter 6 became chapter 1.
 3)  How did you remember events and timelines?  Did you have journals from those time periods of your life? Court records?  Did you interview family members?
I have an overactive memory. It can be frustrating sometimes but in general it’s very helpful. I memorize everything in chronological order in my life. I can tell you what house I lived in by what age I was. I also memorize conversations, especially significant ones. Sometimes I watch a movie I haven’t seen in many years and I find I have memorized the majority of the dialogue. I memorize things that are significant to me, and I can often remember where I was, how old I was, and what I was wearing.
I do have court records. I never looked at them but I gave them to the lawyers who vetted my book and they were able to view the actual charges from the court. There really are no family members to interview except for Joan who doesn’t really remember anything.
Although I don’t keep journals I am an avid poetry writer. I’ve written thousands of poems and I did take the notebooks from those years and reread all the poems I had written. They are confessional but they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already remember but they helped with my voice since I don’t always memorize my side of the conversation precisely.
4) Did you write chronologically, or as memories came to you?  Did you have a timeline?  Lists of events you wanted to cover?  Is there some fantastic, unabridged version of “Closet” out there? If so, can I get a copy?
I’m sorry there is no real unabridged version. I started by creating an outline and a timeline and a character sheet. Then I went through in the outline and I made a list of scenes that would take place in each chapter. I wrote chronologically but sometimes I would remember something that was going to happen a few chapters ahead and I would jump forward and place that writing into the appropriate spot.
 5) Have any of the people featured in the book read it?  If so, what were their reaction to their portrayal?
None of the surviving members of my family have read it to my knowledge. 
** I do want to note that Ms. Sena did add an “aftermath” portion to her website adding what she knew about the characters featured in her book as of today.  If you have read it and are curious, you can find it here.**
 6) Have your current friends read it who didn’t know about your past?  Was it difficult for them?  
Many of my friends had a hard time with the book. Many people were surprised that they’ve known me decades and they didn’t know the contents of the book although they knew the generalities. There were few people who felt like they couldn’t finish it because it was too disturbing. But part of that is the fact that my current friends are not the type of people that enjoy horror or scary stories like mine.
7) Was it difficult for you writing certain scenes?
I knew every scene I was going to write in advance and I really had no problem with any except the entire chapter about my sister. I saved that until last. I dreaded writing it because I really didn’t want to remember the details.
 8)  Your memoir is excellent at inserting the reader directly into a scene.  I was born in 1982, but I swear I could hear the music, feel the lace gloves.  Personally, I can barely remember what song was popular, what I wore, the atmosphere of a given day in 1998 (when I was 16), did you have to do research, or did it come from your memory?
 All the music and the outfits came from memory. I was able to grab a small photo album I have with a couple dozen pictures that reminded me of some of my more favorite outfits and I was able to write them into the book. I do seem to be wearing lace gloves in practically every photo! The music I remembered perfectly but I also have memorized thousands of songs. I could hear the music playing in my head. Still, I went to YouTube and watched the videos I spoke about from MTV, I reread the lyrics and listened to all the songs that I mentioned mostly just to bring back memories. 
9) This is a very emotional, personal, heart-wrenching story.  How difficult was it for you to put that much of your soul out there for the perusal of humanity?
 I followed the advice of my idol Erica Jong. She says she writes every book telling herself she will not publish it. I did a similar thing where I told myself I would cut out anything I couldn’t handle, or that made me uncomfortable.  She also said that whatever you don’t want anyone to know, that’s what you write about, so I did.
I cannot explain what gave me the courage to then publish it.  I have read the book myself hundreds of times since then and I cringe during some of the passages not believing I had the nerve to leave it in. But eventually I just accepted that what makes the book good is revealing all those secrets.
10) In some of the more traumatic passages, especially with the issue of sexual assault, your voice becomes more distant, more matter of fact.  That is very in line with how trauma survivors view the events they endured, as if it weren’t happening to them, but to someone else.  This lends incredible authenticity to your memoir.  Was this on purpose or was this how it just came out?
That was not on purpose and I am not aware of  as being different from the rest of the book. The book lacks exposition leaves a lot of room for readers to think and feel on their own. It gives the intimate details of the events but it doesn’t go much beyond that.
11)  Now that it has been out there for awhile, are you glad that you published?  Would you change anything about the process?
 Yes I’m very glad I published it and I don’t think I would change anything that I’ve done so far. I’m very happy I self-published and retained editorial control over my work.
One day I would like to publish a memoir of my experiences.  If you are interested in reading about some of that drama, email me and I may provide you with a link to my page that has content pertaining to my book idea.
Memoir fascinates me.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to put your soul on paper for the world to see.  Closet Full of Coke is a tremendous study is strength, in resiliency.  An excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good read.

Book Review: Heal This Way Written by Little Monsters Photographed by Tracey B. Wilson

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My daughter loves Lady Gaga.  Well, any pop music in general.  She has no clue about politics, of what Lady Gaga’s lyrics mean, of what Lady Gaga wears.  She just likes the music.  The beats, the sounds.

I, on the other hand, am fascinated with Lady Gaga.  I am vaguely aware of this “social movement” surrounding her, but other than hearing “Poker Face” nonstop on the pop station in 2009, I really don’t know much about her.  I am not a “Little Monster”.

When I was approached to review this book, I saw it as a chance to review something I haven’t before.  A photography book.  About something I know nothing about.

This book was put together when thousands of Little Monsters were together for a series of Lady Gaga concerts that were abruptly cancelled due to an injury the Mother Monster suffered.  Her fans were photographed and wrote heart-wrenching get well letters to Lady Gaga that were turned into this book.

Here is the synopsis from amazon.com:

Lady Gaga’s biggest fans share their raw emotions about coming out, bullying, thoughts of suicide, and the need for acceptance, in this inspirational new book. Quotes and letters are accompanied by stunning Little Monster portraits that invite you into the soul. This beautiful, thought provoking and often humorous book is geared to LGBTQ youth, teens yearning to fit in, and fans of pop culture. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters will inspire you to change the world. 

 
This book is rated PG-13 for raw emotional content and liberal use of f-bombs. 
 
Experience love and acceptance. Experience Heal This Way.  
 
A portion of all profits have been pledged to charities that promote equality and positive social change.  #SpreadLove
This is a beautiful book.  Absolutely stunning.  The layout is spectacular and eclectic.  I love the variety of photos used and the variety of subjects.  Little Monsters are so creative in expressing themselves and it shows.  I was highly impressed at their outfits, their hair and makeup.

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Beautiful

I loved how the photographer was able to coax this part of the models out into the open.  And photograph them.  And obtain their consent for publication. You can really tell that they were comfortable posing in a way they felt was truly representative of who they are a person.  They were having fun.  they were free to be who they are.  That is a tremendous talent.

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But apparently not everyone felt comfortable after the shoot.  This page made my heart hurt:

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I know nothing of art books, nothing of graphic artistry,  but as a complete novice, I really liked the lay out of the book.  I liked how the pictures were set up next to each other, the ratio of full page shots to quarter page shots etc.  I like which fonts were used, when the letters were typeset versus handwritten, etc.  Here is an example:

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I thought that was really cool.  The colors used were vibrant and appropriate.  Not garish or tacky.  The book didn’t scream at you.  It was apt.

What was most moving of all was the letters.  The personal missives to Lady Gaga from the Little Monsters themselves detailing what she meant to them.  Now, I’m one of those that tends to roll their eyes when someone talks about a celebrity in such personal terms.  But after actually Googling Lady Gaga and reading about the work she has done on behalf of the LGBTQ community, I truly understand how she has made such an impact.

This page in particular was touching:

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“You taught me how to be brave and that I should not really give a shit to what others think.”

That is so hard to do.  We are so conditioned to contain things, to hide things, to conform to what society perceives as “normal”.  To not rock the boat.

Even in my limited time on this planet, it is refreshing to see some of these sentiments changing.  To see that people are becoming more accepting.  To see a book like this being published.  To see that people aren’t scared to dress the way they want, to be photographed in this manner, telling their stories.  I can tell you that when I was in high school, so long ago (I graduated in 2000), people were still terrified of coming out.

This book is important.  Thank you to the brave Little Monsters who shared their stories and themselves and to Tracey B. Wilson for photographing them and putting the book together.  And for generously sharing the book with me.

Book Review: Inner Course by Rebecca Joy

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I was a bit hesitant on this book because of the nature of the stated cult that the author grew up in, but I went on another one of my tangents in my reading, this one being a “spiritual/meditation” type one, so I jumped right into this book.

There are no graphic descriptions of sexual abuse, and it really didn’t trigger me.

That being said, I did have to look up “The Family” after the first chapter they were mentioned just because I couldn’t believe that something this vile was still allowed to exist.  I’m all for religious freedom, but “religions” like these really give atheists ammunition for the banning of all religions.  As much curiosity as I had about their way of life, I am truly grateful that Ms. Joy didn’t focus her memoir on her life in the cult.  I feel serious rage on her behalf.

Here is the synopsis:

Rebecca Joy, a sensitive, emotional female was raised from birth in the sex cult called, “The Family” (aka The Children of God), leaving after 25 years. Now, hopeless and longing for love she searches for acceptance in this scary, new world––but to her “love stinks.” She never understood love, as in the cult her flesh was the only thing to offer in life, as she was a sex object to men. In her search for love outside the cult she experiences intense pain. She realizes she can no longer live life this way. The decision was made to either swallow a daily pill to subdue her roller coaster emotional ride, or open to the unknown to find who she really was and why she suffered. With desperation and a curious mind, she delves into the world of hypnosis, finding clues from hidden, ancient mysteries on how to heal her heart and mind. Her story is one of inspiration to all people who have experienced hopelessness, rejection, and failure in life only to rise again.

This book has the distinction of being the MOST HIGHLIGHTED by me, ever.  No fewer than 23 passages were highlighted.  And I’m usually not one that marks up a book, even if it is electronically.

The focus of this memoir is Ms. Joy’s all encompassing appears to be a quest for love.  Her struggles with relationships after she leaves “The Family” at age 25.  Like other survivors of sex abuse, regardless of their origin, she has difficulty with self-worth, boundaries, and expectations.  Time and time again in this work she captures these issues with a few phrases:

If I had boundaries, they were blurry.  A man that I did not know wanted to stay at my house.  One one hand, I was thrilled with the idea of love, romance, and excitement, but on the other palm, I felt uncomfortable with a stranger in my nest.

I am afraid to offend the offender.  What if he leaves me because I don’t give him what he wants?

My self-esteem was non-existent, deeply believing:  I am nothing, I am worthless, no one could truly love me, my body is all I am good for.  My needs were intense; my heart crushed.  I was vulnerable and heavily guarded.

The parts regarding the cult absolutely ripped my heart out.  With regards to religion, I have no allegiance.  I’m more “spiritual”.  I guess I’m starting on my journey much like Ms. Joy in this book.  But I never really grew up in a church.  I went to Catholic school, but my parents weren’t particularly strict about it.  I have always been free to make my own determination.  So these passages that feature her young teenage years in “The Family” hit me really hard.  I have no frame for it, and it was very emotional for me:

“I wonder what live would be if I were not born in The Family”, I questioned–but now ashamed of questioning my question. “I know–I know, I shouldn’t think this way!  The Lord is going to be angry with me.  I’m supposed to be a missionary and tell the world about Jesus”, as I try to change my thoughts, “But how much I wish I could have a like like other girls in the US, away from all this boring life–work, witness, make money, childcare, housekeeping and whatever the adults tell us to do and how to be.”

I remember the many years in The Family, men would approach me for sex.  David Berg taught his followers that women’s job were to please men.  Women were to take care of men’s needs.  It was well ingrained into the doctrine.  I followed as I was instructed, believing that if I were to do what we were told, that we would be happy, loved and fulfilled, but it didn’t work out that way.  I became confused and hurt.  I would cry when a man would use me and leave me, wishing that maybe one day I would be loved.  I longed for closeness and depth.  They would prey on my weakness.

As much as the passages of the doctrine of the cult haunted me, and Googling the actual cult itself, Ms. Joy’s personal growth and steps to finding her inner peace soothed me.  I have always had an interest in  hypnosis, and I infrequently meditate myself, but have never formally looked into it.  That may change.

The ending is perfect.  I think I would have felt cheated if it ended any other way.

Again, with most memoirs I read, and one of my favorite memoir writers can attest to this, I wanted to know more.  Mainly about her son and if she was able to keep him out of The Family, as I am assuming that he father was a member.  More of a mother type curiosity than anything else.

I still can’t believe that these types of cults are allowed to operate, but my husband pointed out, its “religious freedom”.  Which brings me to my final quote from this amazing book:

A religion is an organization in which the individual goes outside of oneself to find meaning.  Spirituality and/or mysticism encourage individuals to go within themselves to find meaning.  Religion requires structured, organized beliefs for people to follow along.  Spirituality and/or mysticism can break that belief system in order to find a greater freedom.

I love books that make me think.  This book did more than that.

Very well written, even with the back and forth between her journey into spirituality and her time in the cult.  Very deep and emotional.  Overall and excellent read.  Highly recommended.

Book Review: Pot, Inc. by Greg Campbell

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This is one of my library finds.  I have to add a little bit of a disclaimer here.  I have been a nurse for 10 years.  The last four spent as a hospice nurse.  I am well aware of the benefits of cannabis, especially to patients that are struggling with pain, the side effects of chemo, or the myriad of symptoms that occur at the end of life.

So I’m not one that needs to be convinced.  What made me go out and pick up a book was this horrifically misinformed opinion posted on FB by a friend from high school:

Where the hell is this country headed??? Comparing pot to booze, seeing it as the same. What ever happened to the ‘Just say No’ campaign, why do people accept defeat so easily? Why don’t we just legalize the rest of the shit too.

Yeah.  That made my blood boil.  So instead of providing dubious information  like her husband did to support her views:

I my self have treated people who got to “high” on weed when I was working on the ambulance. Weed is just a mind altering drug that is not good in any way it affects you brain damages your lungs esphougaus and the rest of your respiratory system.

My response was to looked the shit up myself.  And the result was reading this book.  In two days.

This book isn’t written by a stoner.  The author is a journalist.  He has written books about the diamond trade.  He just happened to live at the epicenter of the “green rush” at the end of 2009 aka Colorado.  And this book was written BEFORE full legalization.  So it made sense to start here.

The author is hilarious.  He uses his own personal experiences with pot (and he is one of those who gets the full blown paranoia) to illustrate his points.  After experimenting in his early 20s, he decided it wasn’t for him.  Which adds more credibility to his stance.  His description of how he was helped by cannabis during a severe injury is enough to convince people that cannabis needs to be available in every ER. Vaporized of course to prevent damage to the lungs and “esphougaus”.

The book explains a bit of the history of the outlawing of cannabis.  He carefully explains the few government studies that were initiated in the 60s and 70s and were quashed by none other than Richard Nixon.  He highlights current cannabis legislation that can lead to hefty jail time for non-violent offenders.  Some who weren’t even selling it, just using it to ease their pain from disease have spent hard jail time because of their “crime”.

He explains what those of us in medicine have known for years.  It is hard to quantify pain.  As a trained medical professional, I know what to look for i.e. elevated vital signs, guarding, fist clenching, grimacing.  But some with chronic pain (including myself) are so used to daily pain that there are hardly any outward indications that we are suffering unless it is REALLY bad.

I remember my first job as a nurse.  I worked in pediatrics at a very well-known children’s hospital.  I took care of tons of kids with sickle cell anemia.  That is where your blood cells aren’t formed correctly and they morph into a “sickle” shape.  Not only do they inadequately distribute oxygen, they clog up the small capillaries (the tiny blood vessels) and cause IMMENSE pain.  At young ages, these kids are on hard narcotics.  And yet, they are so used to it, when you ask them to rate their pain (or point to the frowny face) they will tell you they are having extreme pain, even while calmly playing video games.  Are these kids lying?  Are they attempting to score more drugs to get “high”? Do they even know what “high” means?  Probably not.  They probably just want relief from the pain wracking their little bodies.

My point is that pain is a nebulous entity.  I was trained to believe that “pain is whatever the patient says it is”.  But one of the big problems that people have with “medicinal marijuana” is that they can’t PROVE they are in pain.

Back to the book.  Mr. Campbell decides to do an experiment for his writing.  He decides to get a medicinal marijuana card and grow it himself so he can better understand the controversy.

I do agree that the way he obtained his card was kind of shady.  But in the fall of 2009 in Colorado, it was completely legal.

I was fascinated by his growing experience.  I honestly had no idea that so much went into cultivating a plant.  I have managed to kill every plant given to me, and I can’t imagine all of the prep, the money, the time and effort that goes in to creating high quality marijuana.

Throughout the entire book, the author makes it clear that what he was doing could land him in jail. Even if it was legal from the point of view of the state.  He references the “Ogden memo” of 2009 that led to the green rush.  It basically stated that from the federal side, they would not make a priority to bust medical marijuana users.  It wasn’t a blanket defense to sell marijuana, but it  gave some hints as to the intentions of the Obama administration.

I also appreciated how the author investigated the various pro-marijuana (and anti-marijuana) groups in the country.  Very helpful knowledge.  These guys aren’t degenerates, although some have records.  Many are lawyers, businessmen, other “respectable members of society” who admit to using marijuana on a regular basis.  Obviously they aren’t drooling in the corner from the insanity caused by reefer.

Overall, a fascinating read.  Like I said, my mind was already made up as to the benefits of cannabis.  But this book helped me gain knowledge and different perspective.

I also want to end with a final note.  I once had a patient, 27 years old, mom to two kids.  She had a very rare form of bone cancer.  Because she was poor and didn’t have insurance, her cancer was diagnosed way too late.  She did one round of chemo, which nearly killed her, and was told there was nothing they could do.  Her massive tumor was located in her hip bone and spread to her liver and other internal organs.

When I got her as a patient, she wasn’t ready to give up yet.  She still would go to the free cancer clinic three hours away to try and find a cure.  I had many conversations with her oncologist about how best to help her.

She had horrific pain.  I mean, searing, knife going through your bones, pain.  It was agony watching her.  We tried our best to control her pain.  She had a “pain pump” and I was frequently called out to adjust her pump so she wasn’t writhing in pain on her bed.  But the pain was just part of it.

What a lot of people don’t realize about chemo is that is forever changes your body.  Even people that “beat” cancer are left with horrific side effects as a result of the poison pummeling their bodies.  Many are left with intractable nausea that still occurs months (even years) after their last round.  Some are left with neuropathy, that is pain along the nerves.  One of my good friends, a breast cancer survivor, has permanent swelling in her legs as a result of the chemo.  And most every patient, friend, acquaintance I have come across that has taken chemo has ended up with “chemo brain”.  Think of it as a combo of forgetfulness and ADD.

My patient was no different.  Despite the fact that she had stopped chemo months before, she was still experiencing nausea.  She would take one bite of food, one sip of water and it would come up.  She didn’t want to go on a feeding tube, but she actually entertained the idea.  The meds that we provided for nausea were ineffective or put her in such a fog that she couldn’t spend time with her children.  Her brother pulled me aside one day and asked about marijuana.

As a nurse, I couldn’t say “yes, go up the street and score some illegal street drugs for your sister”.  But I told him the benefits and the risks.  I also obtained for her a prescription for Marinol, the synthetic THC pill.  I was warned by the doc that it probably would cause more harm than good because of the side effects, and that she would have to actually swallow the pill and keep it down for it to work, but the family elected to do this first rather than do something illegal.

And predictably, she suffered horrible side effects.  She hallucinated, she couldn’t sleep.  And that was the times that she could actually keep the med down.

So the family elected to go in another direction.  I don’t know for a fact that they obtained marijuana for her, because my own grandfather died soon after my last visit and she died before I was able to return to work.

I have seen the benefits of this natural plant on people who are greatly suffering.  This book didn’t need to convince me of that.  But what it did do was open my eyes to legalization, the current archaic laws of this nation, and the actual data involved.

I am a much improved advocate for marijuana after reading this book.

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