On Change

Here we are….on the last day of the year. When I was younger, that felt magical. When I hit high school, it just meant the end of the longest break from school for the year. In college I became all about the resolutions.

This year is different. I know I keep going back to it, but the two years since my grandparents and uncle passed have been under more scrutiny than any other time period in my life. Maybe that’s because it coincided with my 30th birthday. Maybe it’s because my family dynamic changed suddenly. All I know is that this December 31st is vastly different than any other December 31st that I can remember.

This year was a jumble of medical issues (broken finger, infected finger, having strep twice, more fighting with anxiety and depression), and a roller coaster at work. Opening the outpatient clinics, the big Children’s Hospital move, and then winding up unemployed.

What I do know for sure is that change will happen. Independent of anything I do, change in inevitable. Knowing that makes the whole idea of resolutions silly. We are never the same people at the end of the year that we were in the beginning.

This coming year I want to focus on accepting change more readily. Last night I read Rage Planet, which is the first graphic novel featuring Jessica Cruz. This serves as the intro to the two new Lanterns, and is amazing beyond explanation for someone suffering from anxiety. Jessica’s partner, Simon Baz, is unimpressed with Jessica because of her struggles. However, through the course of the book, they come to trust each other and to see that even though flawed, there are reasons why each was chosen to be a Lantern.

I absolutely love the character of Jessica Cruz. She’s more than just a superhero. I can relate to her as a human being.

I know the Green Lantern interjection feels like I’ve fallen off course in this post – I haven’t. I promise. You see, rather than trying to change, I want to be better at handling change. I want to be able to go with the flow and not be so rocked by change. I want to believe in myself. I have Family and friends, and I know who I can count on to help. But I think it’s time I learn to believe in myself.

Change will come, whether we want it to or not. The only thing we have control over is how we handle it. This coming year, I am focusing on handling it with grace, optimism, and no small amount of self-forgiveness. I know this won’t be easy or immediate, but it feels like a goal worth working towards.

Have a safe and happy New Year, and don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve got this!

HEEEEERE’S HOLLY!

I promise you, Charnel House Reviews is nowhere near dead! Despite an absence of several months, I have returned to bring you honest reviews on everything HORROR. For those of you wondering where I’ve been – it’s all been work related.

For over a year I’ve been a temp with a local healthcare company. Myself and several other temps have been working to move a local children’s hospital. It went in stages – first were the outpatient clinic moves. We moved them to two floors of a building in what’s called the “medical corridor”. Basically my company is creating a centralized area with special hospitals and clinics so it’s like one-stop shopping. I work with the hardware installation team, setting up computers and the peripherals (printers, scanners, etc.)

The clinic moves were smooth and quick, compared to the hospital! The deadline for the hospital was November 10, 2017. Up until that date I worked 6 days a week, often more than 10 hours a day. As crazy as it sounds, other support departments like Environmental Services, Plant Operations, and Clinical Engineering worked as much (if not more) than my team! Electrical wires don’t install themselves, in the same way that patient rooms aren’t sterilized until a team goes through and cleans them.

All in all it was grueling, exhausting, and sometimes unnoticed work. (People don’t always realize how much support services do – I know I certainly knew only a drop in the bucket of what the other services did until working with them.) Along the way I met some really amazing people, and we pulled it off in ways we hadn’t even expected, given the obstacles we encountered along the way.

In many ways I’m still recuperating from the exhaustion. But knowing we did it for the kids makes all the difference!

The hospital is up and running, we’ve passed our critical support period, and things are settling in nicely. I’m getting back to my hobbies and trying to get ready for Christmas. The 29th is going to be my last day with the company, unless I am hired on permanently. I am one of 6 applicants, and bossman says he’ll let us know next week. Fingers crossed!

Walking With the Dead

All my life I’ve been interested in the idea of death and its associated imagery. I was absolutely in my glory when I came across Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of lost loved ones. Full of skull imagery and bright colors, it felt tailor-made for me. Not to mention, the focus is on remembrance and it does a great deal to take the fear out of death and the uncertainty of the afterlife.

Two years ago, we had a string of deaths in my family during the months of July to December. Within months we lost both my paternal grandparents and my uncle. His wake was held on my birthday. I would love to say that more than anything the imagery of Día de los Muertos gave me comfort. What it actually did was give me a way to express my grief. A starting point for speaking with those who are uncomfortable with the idea of death. Additionally, it allowed me to grieve for as long as I wanted, without public judgement. You see, my crafting room has been sugar skull themed ever since I set it up. (Likewise, when I was a teacher, my room was adorned with several sugar skulls.)

My brother first introduced me to Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and I found it an amusing and enlightening way of looking at the death industry. (Take a look at my review here.) When I found out that she had another book coming out, I was absolutely going bonkers until it was released! From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death is, as well as being a gorgeous volume with captivating illustrations, a splash of cold water in the face of American death perception. Until reading this book, I had never really thought about what other countries and cultures did with their dead. Literally!

Each segment of From Here to Eternity focuses on a different region, and details her observation of and participation in the death rituals. Insight into the sometimes-baffling rituals comes from Caitlin speaking directly with the people involved. They are surprisingly open about the origins of their rituals and the way they feel about their dead. Caitlin is respectful at every turn, and in her the practitioners seem to find a kindred spirit.

Locales vary from India and Japan to Mexico and Bolivia. The rituals themselves are also varied. Some involve returning the body and the spirit to nature, while other involve keeping the memory of the deceased front and center by visiting the body yearly.

My favorite practice are the ñatitas. In Bolivia, people have dreams where skulls call to them. They retrieve the skulls which are placed in honor in the house, and become an intermediary between the living and the dead. People come and visit the ñatitas to ask favors that they may not feel comfortable asking of the saints. They can ask for protection, financial aid, or help within the home. As Caitlin points out, this is also an important function to this practice. Oftentimes, women are the ones housing, caring for, and petitioning the ñatitas. These women often feel removed from the predominantly Catholic region. The ñatitas give them a measure of control over their faith and a recourse for help when the Church may not intervene.

More than anything, reading Caitlin’s books has made me really start thinking about how Americans, myself included, react to death. I have seen firsthand the aversion to grief, the way that people don’t know how to comfort someone grieving. The way there seems to be an unspoken moratorium on how long someone is allowed to grieve, or how closely related to the person they have to be for grief to be acceptable. Reading about the practices of these cultures has also confirmed Caitlin’s point that our culture doesn’t really have many safe spaces to work through grief.

When my grandparents and uncle died, I cried almost nonstop at the funeral home during the wake and the funeral. It was horrible. Antiseptic. Generic. Heartless and soulless. After my uncle’s wake we congregated in my grandparent’s home, which was in the same city and empty because they had passed a little earlier. The house was riotous with laughter and stories, and the smell of Lebanese food. We passed around pictures and shared memories, sitting on furniture we recognized. In our own space. Our own bubble of shared grief. It’s true there were tears, but there was no condescension, no platitudes. I feel robbed knowing that there was an option to have their bodies upstairs in their own beds. Where we could care for them and say our goodbyes on our own. And hold our wake beyond the hours designated by the funeral home. My uncle’s wake went over the allotted two hours. It wound up being closer to three, and it was evident that the funeral staff was more than ready for us to leave. I was ready too, because the photographs and mementos of our family history felt out of place in that awful peach-colored room with the borderline 80s furniture. I agree with Caitlin. It’s time to take a closer look at how we deal with death, and time to have an honest conversation.

I can’t recommend Smoke Gets in Your Eyes or From Here to Eternity highly enough. Whether death scares you or not, and regardless of your religion or lack thereof, these books are thought-provoking. Even if the reader doesn’t necessarily change their view of death and the death industry, they’re certainly conversation starters.

Dragging My Niece to H-E-L-L and Back!

For two years now Dipper has been trying to get me to play The Secret World. I tried it and loved the concept – it’s like playing a horror film or book. Everything is true – the Boogeyman haunts an amusement park with a dark past, Cthulhu knows your helicopter out of the sky, and the world is controlled by a series of secret societies. (Not to mention the other really creepy mythology of the game, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone – until another post, that is.)

I recently started playing in earnest with the release of Secret World Legends, which is a re-vamp of the game. Most of the original missions and storyline are still present, but Funcom tweaked the game. Combat is more streamlined, as is the tutorial process. Having experienced the old game to a degree, I feel able to say with confidence that the new iteration is much more fun for the new gamer. My brother, who has played it since it was in beta, is very much in love with the game. He hasn’t (to my knowledge) come across anything in the new game that he’s displeased with.

In any event, Phoebe watched Dipper play, and wanted to give it a whirl. She hopped on an alternate character that he had created and took off! She loves playing in the Maine-esque Kingsmouth town, which is populated by a haunted ship called the Lady Margaret, zombies, and other weird creatures. As Phoebe progressed through the game she wanted to start running dungeons. My main character is at the maximum level (50) and is able to take her through the first dungeon. In the first dungeon, you and your team are tasked to explore the wreck of the ship The Polaris (which is what gives the dungeon it’s name). As you fight through a series of bosses, you come to realize that the ship was besieged with horrible creatures and…..well, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say Phoebe runs that dungeon on a daily basis and still isn’t tired of it yet.

Once she reached the level to do the first of the three H-E-L-L dungeons, she asked to be taken through. We joined up as a private team and entered. I’m a close-range fist weapon fighter (think Wolverine with cotton candy colored hair and teacher clothes) and Phoebe rocks a shotgun – hammer mix. When I say she rocks out, I really mean it. Those readers acquainted with any kind of raid or dungeon run know that sometimes when you’re taking a lower level character around, you’re stuck doing EVERYTHING. Not the case with Phoebe. She’s literally right in the middle of the fray, shooting and smashing her way to glory. (Though her motivation might come as a surprise. You can use in-game tokens to purchase digital pets for your character. As of right now, Dipper’s alt character has almost every pet you can purchase from a vendor, and Phoebe’s character on her own account is quickly gaining in the contest.)

One of the best things about playing video games with Phoebe is listening to her reaction to the content. Secret World Legends is definitely for mature players, though thankfully she skips through most of the cut scenes. In her eagerness to wipe out as many digital enemies as possible, I’m never sure how much of the story line she picks up while playing. However, she is a fast learner in terms of the raid mechanics. The first time I took her through I died while fighting Recursia. Recursia is a big-breasted dominatrix-style succubus who does not die easily. While fighting her, minions are released from a circle around her. If they get to her, she gets stronger. Well, I tasked Phoebe to keep the minions down since they don’t really fight back, they just move inexorably towards their destination. I was more worried about Phoebe than I was my own situation, and I got careless. I died – which in this game means the other players either have to kill the boss they’re battling, or die too. I was freaking out because I was sure she was toast. Much to my surprise, she jumped in with rabid vigor and destroyed Recursia with two swings of her hammer. I didn’t realize I’d died with so little of a window to go. I congratulated her, and she basically told me that she was pissed Recursia had killed me. Phoebe never fails to warm my heart.

She’s also eagle-eyed. There are little tidbits you can collect in all the zones called lore. Lore are little pieces of the mythology and story of the game and it’s inhabitants. Usually I’m pretty good at picking up lore, especially when running a dungeon with Dipper. Even so, Phoebe is extremely thorough and we were able to get two lore I didn’t have before. I have to check later, but I’m reasonably certain that I now have all the lore for the first H-E-L-L dungeon.

If you’re wondering why H-E-L-L is written letter by letter, that’s all Phoebe. For the longest time she wouldn’t say it because she thought it was swearing. Ever the teacher I tried to explain to her that it depended on the use.

Me: “Phoebe, ‘hell’ isn’t a bad word.”

Phoebe: “Yes it is. You just want to hear me say it.” (Her refusal to swear is endearing, and we are all patiently waiting for the innocence to fade and her vocabulary to become more colorful.)

Me:“Well, yes and no. It all depends on how you mean it.”

Phoebe: “Mhm….”

Me: “No, really. If you’re telling someone to go to Hell, it’s totally cursing. If you’re talking about a Hell dungeon, well, Hell is a place on the game map. It’s also a place some people believe in. In which case it’s a proper noun.”

Phoebe: “Mhm….”

There will be no taking Phoebe for a fool. I meant every word of what I told her, but she’s wise beyond her ten years and she had to take some time to think on it. We’ve progressed to the point where she’ll ask to go to the hell dungeon, but it’s more of a whisper. She’s still not totally comfortable saying it.

If you’re wanting to join in the fun, you can download Secret World Legends for free here or through the game client Steam. My previous post  about the game The Park is also a game in this series. There are some in-game purchases, and if you want you can become a monthly Patron, which allows you to teleport around the map at no cost, as well as other benefits.

If you want to find me in-game, send me a message and I’ll tell you who I am. Just don’t expect Phoebe to want to play – she’s web-smart! I’ll never forget the day a random person tried to group with her. Dipper and I were talking and we heard her yell, “Ew! NO. Why would he do that?!” Dipper and I were freaking out wondering what was going on, and when we realized that she didn’t want to group with another player we almost died laughing. The sheer indignation that someone random would actually think she’d accept their invite….it was nearly Victorian in her disdain! I would have given almost anything to have been there in person and not listening over a phone! On a serious note, thank goodness she’s smart about online interactions. While it’s true there are plenty of good people online, I don’t trust everyone’s intentions. (She may not be my niece by blood, but she is by heart and soul, and I’m very protective of her.)

Stay tuned for more news from Secret World and the H-E-L-L dungeons! I’ll be periodically posting our adventures. Especially considering Panda and I now have enough computers at our house for Phoebe to experience her first LAN party!

 

A sequel I couldn’t put down!

In fall 2016 Suzanne Robb released Dead by Midnight, a clever supernatural mystery set in a town where supernatural beings live with otherwise normal citizens. Robb uses humorous snips from reporter Lucy Lane’s articles at the beginning her chapters to introduce readers to the various locations and people in the town. These are very tongue-in-cheek, and absolutely well written. (They are part of what helped to make Lucy one of my personal favorites.)

If you haven’t read Dead by Midnight, I urge you to stop reading this post. You’re going to spoil a great mystery with fantastic characters. Go and purchase the book (available on Kindle and traditional paperback) and start there. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

 

 

Since you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you’ve read book 1, and are now ready for the sequel.

I really envy you!

Reading a book for the first time is a special experience. Even more so when it deals with a really strange murder mystery. In Apocalypse by Midnight, Chief Elliot Jorgensen, Lucy, Zach, and Buddy are trying their best to get back to a normal life after catching the serial killer in book 1. Zach and Lucy are dating, Sheriff Elliott is drinking heavily and trying to avoid any meetings with the mysterious mayor, and Buddy is enjoying life as an undercover house pet.

Bodies start showing up in strange places around town, and it has the mayor worried. These aren’t just any citizens, they’ve all got ties to the elusive and reclusive Private Acres. Elliot and Zach have to find a way to solve the crime without letting tenacious Lucy get too close. Despite her best efforts, Lucy still isn’t in the inner circle of people who know about Fantasy Land, and those who stumble onto the knowledge have a way of meeting a mysterious end. Unfortunately, neither Elliott nor Zach are any good at lying, and Lucy finds her way into the case despite their best efforts.

As if this weren’t enough chaos, Zach’s friend Riley comes back from a trip as an unconventional vampire. He can’t stand rain or molasses, and even though he’s dating the woman of his dreams, he has certain…physical setbacks. Lucky for him Gretel doesn’t seem to mind. What she does mind is Lucy – whose curiosity is mistaken for an interest in hurting Riley. Zach and Riley are trying to get their friendship back on track, but that’s hard to do when Zach realizes goofy Riley may just be the killer.

Gretel’s brother, Hans, works security for Private Acres, but he’s not overly fond of nosy girlfriends, half-assed vampires, or witches. In fact, the only things he seems to care for are his sister, and anything sugary.

As the mystery of the bodies is unraveled, Zach, Elliot, and Lucy find themselves in a race against the clock. This isn’t any regular serial killer mystery – it’s only the beginning of a plot that will cause the apocalypse. As if that weren’t hair-raising enough, just when the group needs each other the most they begin to splinter off into factions, driven by an unnatural paranoia.

I was on the edge of my seat while reading Apocalypse by Midnight, wondering if the group would get it together in time to solve the mystery, or if the apocalypse was all but unavoidable. Not to mention – just what kind of monster leaves such a strange crime scene?! I thought I knew the habits of every kind of monster out there, but Robb has one again created a delightful surprise for the reader.

If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I was into mysteries, I would have told you no. That’s no longer the case. The By Midnight series is, in large part, what has changed my views. I’ve started branching out into other mystery books, even when there is no supernatural element. I can think of no greater compliment for an author than that reading their books has opened up new avenues for the reader. Getting me to turn from supernatural and horror stories is no small feat, but Suzanne Robb has accomplished just that. The mystery elements and plot twists in her story were so satisfying that I didn’t want the story to end, and I am pleased that she is keeping the series open to more titles in the future. (On a side note, if, like me, you can’t get enough of wily Lucy Lane after reading the series, you can follow her adventures in between books at All Things Strange and Unusual.)

 

 

Saccharine Insanity!

I’ve re-written the introduction to this post more than four times. I’m not even sure how to proceed now. You see, I’m not used to dealing with Artificial Intelligence, and to be quite honest, I’m somewhat of an alarmist about it. But more on that later.

Let’s start with Artificial Intelligence – what is it exactly? Google defines it as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages”. Which doesn’t sound so bad, and most of the links that come up with the definition have to do with the business benefits of AI.

IndieWire.com put together a great list of the 10 Essential Movies About Artificial Intelligence, which you can read here. They span the cute and fuzzy (a re-telling of Pinocchio’s desire to become a real boy) to the absolutely terrifying (machines taking over and exterminating humanity, or simply using us as batteries. ::shudder::).

The first encounter with AI that I can remember is the Terminator. 1984’s movie Terminator is a scary and cool concept, until you stop to think about the fact that in some ways science is progressing faster than we can process what we’ve discovered. The scene that sticks with me is a barren wasteland of skulls, suddenly being crushed by the machines as they come to kill the last rebellious humans. The idea of a murderous robot masquerading in human skin and coming to kill someone was mind-blowing at the time. Not going to lie – it still is. (In case you’re somehow not familiar with this sci-fi classic, basically humans create an Artificial Intelligence called Skynet. Instead of serving humanity, Skynet decides to annihilate humanity, and begins creating other sentient machines. Terminators are the machines that look like humans, and their sole purpose is to rid the world of humanity. There is a resistance movement, and when the machines are about to lose, they send a Terminator back in time to kill John Connor’s mom. No mother means no son, means no future revolutionary leader. Problem solved, right? Thankfully, not so fast. Kyle sends back a protector for his younger self, and the race to save Sarah Connor – and humanity – is on!)

On the other side of the spectrum, and still in my childhood is Short Circuit. Two years after the first Terminator movie debuted, this movie hit theaters. In this thought-provoking comedy, Number 5 is a military robot that gets electrocuted and suddenly becomes self-aware. Along with self-awareness comes an appreciation for life, and a sense of childlike wonder. Realizing that he’s not with other sentient machines, he escapes, and sets off to figure out his place in the world. Along the way he meets a woman named Stephanie (played by Ally Sheedy), who believes he’s actually an alien. She introduces him to American culture, and helps cement his wish to stay free. The military, however, has other plans. What I didn’t realize at the time is the commentary of the movie on the ethics of AI. Is an artificially intelligent being really it’s own entity? Does it belong to the creator? At what point do we consider something “sentient”?

If you’re wondering just where in the hell I’m going with all of this, well, last week I had my first cognizant brush with AI. I was perusing Facebook and some of my friends were posting inspirational quotes from InspiroBot. InspiroBot is a website that uses AI to generate inspirational quotes. I can’t vouch for the extent to which it’s formulaic or AI, but that’s what it’s calling itself. I was curious, and so I went to InspiroBot.me and gave the random quote generating a try. The screen snippet at the left is the splash page. It attempts to be friendly, but I thought of Terminator more than anything else. In between generating quotes, InspiroBot displays messages that, I think (read: I HOPE) are meant to be funny. They were creepy, more than anything.

“Cut contact with family and friends.”

“Earth is not an alien battlefield.”

“Skynet would never happen in real life.”

Oh shit! Right?! There were more phrases, but those were the ones I took screenshots of because they were the creepiest. It’s probably just coincidence, but I was telling someone about how Skynet-y this site felt, and it displayed the Skynet message. If I said I nearly shit myself it would be an understatement. I actually hopped off the site for a bit.

At first, running through the different memes InspiroBot came up with was pretty funny. For this post, I hopped on over to the site and generated a few quotes.

They ranged from the amusingly truthful to the outright threatening. I think part of what’s so scary about these memes is when they  make sense on a deeper level. Also….who the hell gave it the vocabulary it’s using?! InspiroBot seems to favor “psychopaths”, and you may find as I did, that ruminations on psychopaths come up often.

As much fun as it is to play around with InspiroBot, I keep thinking about AI and what kind of future we are moving ourselves towards. At the risk of sounding like a fossil, I keep going back to Ian Malcom’s warning in Jurassic Park.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I don’t doubt that AI will be useful in many professions, and improve people’s lives. But before we create intelligence and sentience, I think we should work on our own humanity.

 

P.S. Shit you not – those three memes are all from InspiroBot. Seriously!

 

 

Voyeurs Wanted!

I have always had a bit of a thing for the macabre, whether it’s creepy old buildings, abandoned cemeteries, or dusty old antique shops. I’m also interested in the history of mental heath care, which at times has more closely resembled torture than treatment.

When Dipper sent me a link to The Order of the Good Death, I was intrigued. Through The Order, Caitlin works to bring a better understand of death to people. She is a proponent of making death a more natural part of our culture again, instead of it being cold and distant. Caitlin believes that if the family has more involvement in the funerary process, it helps the grieving process, and allows us to take an honest look at death and dying. Unfortunately it’s an experience none of us are going to avoid.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is an account of Caitlin’s first experience with death and the way it shaped the woman she would become. She writes about how she became part of the funeral business. When she first starts out, her ideas of a more commercialized, and almost candy-coated funeral home are well-intentioned, but not necessarily practical. As she gains more experience in the field and insight into the ways in which we mourn, she eventually comes to believe the direct opposite. Caitlin becomes an advocate of family involvement, believing that it’s healthier to confront death as a natural part of life. Having experienced three funerals close together a year ago, I can completely understand where she’s coming from. Spending time taking care of the body and preparing it for burial or cremation is a very intimate process.

She also explores different death rituals from other cultures and time periods. Rituals like mummification weren’t just done for the hell of it, but had meaning for the people involved and the community as a whole. Caitlin points out that over the last few decades we as a culture have developed a deep phobia of death, and have driven to make it almost impersonal. She also advocates exploring more than just the standard burial or cremation. There are now other options such as turning your cremated body into the container for a tree seed, or the pros and cons of donating your body to science. She also points out on numerous occasions about the damage done when we turn our backs on the natural process of dying.

While all of this may sound purely clinical, it’s a frank and intimate discussion about death, written by a witty and insightful narrator who has personal experience in the field. She also livens up her narrative by interjecting stories from her own career, be they humorous or sad. It’s well worth looking into both her book and her website.

On her website, under Death Positive, you will find a pledge you can sign if you wish to become part of the Order. It’s not a gimmick or a plea for funding. It’s an 8 point summation of the ideas of Death Positive, and The Order of the Good Death in general. If you’re wondering, yes, I signed the pledge. I agree with Caitlin – death is not something that should be hidden behind closed doors or pushed out of the cultural consciousness. It’s part of the natural balance – we are born, we grow and live and experience, and then we die. Asking questions about death should be encouraged, and we should work as a society to dispel the disinformation surrounding death and it’s processes.

I can’t praise Smoke Gets in Your Eyes enough. Caitlin is a solid writer who, pardon the bad pun, is attempting to breathe new life into our perception of death and dying. She is by no means disrespectful, and clearly has spent time researching her subject to the point of mastery. I am looking forward to her new book, From Here to Eternity, which will be released on October 3, 2017. If you’re interested in hearing her speak, check out the website. There are speaking engagements on the West Coast (which I would give my right thumb to attend!)

I finally found it!

Back when I was in high school, one of my English teachers kept a small bookshelf with different books for us to read if we had nothing to occupy ourselves with. One day I started a book that I didn’t get to finish, but wished I had. I’ve been searching for this particular book off and on for years, but it’s hard to find a book when all you can remember is that the cover was white, and some guy on a plane literally exploded with Ebola. Not exactly the best description to go by!

Surprisingly enough, Dipper recognized the book by my description. He told me I was looking for The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. He also forewarned me that it wasn’t the greatest piece of literature he’d ever read, but if I was that interested that it had stayed with me, I might as well read it.

A couple weeks ago my job took me to a local hospital that isn’t within the usual system I work. One of the unspoken bonuses of working in hospital systems is that most of the gift shops offer a cart of used books for sale. I love used books! On this particular day I was lucky. I found In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, MD, which is about addiction. It’s a relatively thick book and sounds really interesting. I have some small experience with addiction, as my aunt was a very dedicated alcoholic.

The other book was The Hot Zone. At long last, I had found it! Granted, it was a severely beaten copy, but for 50 cents and charity at a hospital, you simply can’t go wrong! I purchased both books, and since it was a Friday, I was able to finish my current read at home and begin The Hot Zone.

The Hot Zone started off pretty confusing, because there was much talk of Marburg as well as Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan. Until reading this book, I don’t believe I was ever fully aware that there were enough strains of Ebola for one to be considered worse than the other. I also had no idea where Marburg fit into the equation. As it turns out, they’re all filoviruses. Filoviruses look stringy under a microscope, and cause hemorrhaging in people and primates. They’re also called “the three sisters” because of how they are related in terms of structure and effect on a living body.

The first part of the book went into the differences in the filoviruses, as well as some information on how they were discovered. I found that extremely interesting, but since I wasn’t expecting it to cover the different viruses, I was lost a few times and had to backtrack. In retrospect, I’m really glad Preston covered the viruses in the beginning, because I also got used to terminology that he would use later. For instance, I had no idea that when sick with a hemorrhagic disease, a body is considered to “crash out” when it is so completely consumed by the virus that it basically collapses, turns to mush, and spreads the virus. Preston also does a really good job of explaining the different levels of clearance when working with viruses. Level 4 is the killer stuff – Ebola, Marburg, Lassa. In other words, the nasty shit.

After this run-through and backstory, The Hot Zone shifts it’s focus to Ebola Reston. This strain was discovered in Reston, Virginia in a building that housed monkeys used in research. I don’t want to ruin the whole book for any potential readers, but I will say this. Once the story hones in on Ebola Reston, it’s easy to see parallels between the story and the 1995 movie Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, Renee Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr, Kevin Spacey, and Donald Sutherland. (While I’m at it – it’s a super cheeseball movie but one of my favorites. I highly recommend that you watch it!)

There are some parts of The Hot Zone that are really confusing, and I would have preferred if Preston followed a chronological timeline for the viruses in the beginning, rather than skipping around. As someone not terribly familiar with these viruses, it made understanding their origins difficult. However, once Preston switched to Ebola Reston, I found the book much better written and easier to follow. The pace also picked up, making it a page-turner. I appreciate the fact that Preston conducted several interviews with the people involved in the outbreak of Reston, as well as the other filoviruses, because it gave the book an edge. Instead of guessing how people felt or what their motivations were, he had knowledge from the interviews.

Overall I liked The Hot Zone, and it’s spurred me into a serious kick. I have purchased several other books on Ebola, HIV, and other diseases. I am also on a binge for virus-themed movies. Be forewarned – there will be a bit of a sidetrack into the viral for the next few posts!

 

Shame and Forgiveness

Recently the majority of my posts have been geared towards The Mental Health Corner more than they have the horror side of my life. One of the reasons for this is that I find it extremely cathartic to work out my feelings in a blog post. The main reason is that I hope that these posts will help someone who reads them. I think anxiety, depression, and many other mental illnesses are still the realm of myth for many people. They may throw the words around without an understanding of the meaning, or may know someone with a diagnosis, but may not see them in the jaws of their illness.

Last night was rough. Rougher than I’ve known in quite some time. Overall the day wasn’t bad. I went to work (day #34 in a row!) and even made it to see my niece play soccer. I sat field-side with my brother, and we had a great time talking while she played. (If you’re wondering, she rocked it in goal again.) I snagged a few pics with my niece, and she asked how many games I was planning on going to. Dipper answered for me because I was flabbergasted. It never crossed my mind to go to any less than every game I could. After the game, I stopped at a local nursery and purchased a gorgeous morning glory plant and a new watering can. When I got home, I walked Zelda and curled up with Midnight Blue.

It should have been a great day, but all day long I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was worthless. That I didn’t impact anyone around me. The feeling wouldn’t let me be, and around 9pm I lost control. I cried steadily for a few hours. I wound up sending messages to Dipper. At first the messages were affirming. Then the cycle hardcore kicked into gear. I started feeling like I couldn’t express what I meant in a meaningful way, then I was worried I was blathering on. It wound up with me calling Dipper a few times, and him waking up and messaging me. I needed tethering badly, and he assured me that I’m still sister to him, aunt to Phoebe, and wife to Tkout. That the good outweighs the bad. That it’s always worth it. I can’t express how much I needed that. How much I needed to know I mattered. I’d been asking Tkout all day if I was still his wife. If he regrets marrying me. If the hard days give him second thoughts.

The shame usually accompanies a 911 routine with Dipper, but I think last night I was far too exhausted for that. I fell asleep with my eyes burning from the tears and the inner voice telling me if I didn’t get my shit together – and soon – I was going to go well and truly mad.

This morning was tough. I’m writing this from work – Day 35 – and I am so glad it’s the last day of the week. I almost didn’t make it in. I slept poorly and just feel like hiding. I’ve talked to Tkout and Dipper this morning, and they are both going about things like last night never even happened. Tkout told me that’s because these things happen and they both know it.

Today I’m working on the forgiveness aspect of self-care. While I consider myself to be adept at forgiving others, I’m still working on forgiving myself. I’m trying to focus on the fact that these things happen. That I have been worse and haven’t scared anyone off yet. That Tkout, Dipper, and Phoebe have been there through thick and thin. That Tkout and Dipper tell me it’s Ride or Die.

Despite what feels like a colossal setback, I know I am making progress. The anxiety is lying and saying that I’m not getting better. But I know that’s not true. You see, I used to have these 911 attacks multiple times in one day. Let me repeat that. I was having a 5 alarm fire anxiety attack more than once a day. It sucks badly that I broke my streak of not having those kinds of attacks, but I’m thankful it was the first of it’s kind in a long while.

Another part of forgiveness that I’m trying to master is knowing that everyone else moved on. Dipper and Tkout have treated me the same as they have every morning. I’m the only one who seems to still be stuck in the past and worrying over yesterday.