Monthly Archives: June 2014

Is Your “Anxiety” Real? One Woman’s Experience with Mental Disorder

Several years ago, I visited my doctor with some disturbing symptoms – most notable of which were a recurring rapid heartbeat and chest pains. At my age and physical condition, a heart attack seemed unlikely – but after several days of this I naturally began to worry. Well, let me rephrase that. I actually began to worry the minute the chest pains started, but it took several days for me to get worried enough to go to the trouble of see my doctor.

My doctor agreed, based on my symptoms, that a heart problem was probably not the cause, but he ran tests just to be safe. One clean EKG later, it was clear that something else must be wrong.

“Have you been under any stress?” he inquired.

I laughed. My whole life has been one giant ball of stress.

It was true, though. I had taken on an additional job (on top of my other two) and was working way too much. Besides that, one of my employers was in an extremely precarious financial position, which put a lot of strain on the person who managed the money – namely me. In addition, in the course of our conversation, I revealed that I had had a near-death experience several months before. Well, once my doctor heard that, he was quick to arrive at a diagnosis – anxiety.

It seemed plausible. I was under a lot of stress, and had little time for anything but work which I no longer enjoyed. It was also true that I had been profoundly affected by my near-death experience. Still, it seemed strange. Although I’m certainly what one might call a “worrier,” I had never suffered from anxiety – in the clinical sense – before. Not when my mother developed her mental illness, not when I ran away from home, not even when I was homeless and starving. But perhaps the effects were cumulative, I reasoned. Perhaps all the years of stress had finally caught up to me. I was getting older, after all. Maybe I just wasn’t able to handle things the way I did when I was young.

My doctor prescribed Lorazepam. I normally avoid medications except when absolutely necessary, but after a few weeks, I was so unnerved by these ongoing issues that I agreed to take it. And I did. It was frustrating, though, because it didn’t seem to do much. Yes, the tightness in my chest lessened slightly. Yes, I worried less about the symptoms I did have because my mind went a little hazy when I was on it. But it didn’t solve the problem. It didn’t fix me or return me to normal. I still had that tension, that pounding in my chest and I wondered – would it ever stop?

You can therefore imagine my immense relief when, four months later, my symptoms suddenly vanished as quickly as they had begun. It was over, I thought. Whatever had triggered the anxious response was gone, gone from inside me at last. I could go on with my life.

And I did. I went about my business. More than that. I began thinking about working my way towards a new life – a life that I really wanted.

Several months later, for no apparent reason, my symptoms returned, even worse than before. I’d go to work in the morning, and within a few hours, my heart would be pounding, I’d be sweating profusely, and, of course, totally freaking out that this could have happened to me again. Panicked, I refilled my long-depleted Lorazepam prescription. But again, it had little to no effect on my symptoms.

I was stunned, and more importantly, puzzled. I simply couldn’t understand it. The first time, sure. I could see where the combination of stresses I was under would have caused this kind of reaction. But why would it go away and then come back? Had there been a new triggering event of which I hadn’t been consciously aware?

It was at this point that I decided to start keeping a diary to see if I could discern a pattern as to when my intense feelings of nervousness were at their worst. I never even got that far. Because once I had decided to do that, I realized that my anxiety did indeed have a very definite pattern. It would start in late morning, peak mid-afternoon, and finally start tapering off after that.

This made no sense. Yes, I had a heavy workload, and one of my jobs was incredibly nerve-wracking. But I didn’t see how that anxiety could be tied to a particular job, because my work schedule was different every day. Even on weekends, when I worked from home, I had the same symptoms. What else could possibly be provoking this daily – and seemingly cyclical – response?

My mind turned at once to food, as I knew that blood sugar could affect mood. But since eating in the afternoons makes me exceedingly groggy (falling-asleep-on-my-desk groggy), I have long made a habit of skipping lunch. Therefore it couldn’t be something I ate – could it perhaps be the fact that I wasn’t eating? But if that was the case, then why did my symptoms always go away before dinnertime? If lack of food was the cause, then logically, it seemed as if I should have gotten better only after a meal, not before.

I only had one other habit that I could think of that was tied to particular times of day, and that was coffee. Yes, I did drink a lot of coffee. Mind you, I’d always drunk a lot of coffee. In fact, at this time I was consuming far less than I had at other points in my life – even in spite of having multiple jobs and a correspondingly crazy work schedule. But I drank it very consistently, eight six-ounce cups a day, according to my little coffeepot. I’m a sipper, not a chugger, and it took me from the time I got up around five until noon or one o’clock to finish all that, but I usually did.

It seemed unlikely, I’ll admit. Why would I be able to drink all the coffee I wanted one day without a problem and then feel as if I’m having a heart attack the next? It made no sense. But I was desperate – so desperate that I decided to give it a try, even if it meant messing with my precious morning ritual. I bought some decaffeinated coffee and the next day I made my coffee half-and-half. And that was the end of my anxiety.

How could this be?? Months and months of strain and worry and nervousness that I feared would never go away, and it could all be explained by something as stupid as too much caffeine. But if my coffee-drinking habit was so consistent, then why did my symptoms vanish and then return?

This, it turned out, was the key to the whole problem, and the one that convinced me that I was right. My favorite coffee is actually Costco’s Kirkland Signature Colombian Blend, which is very strong and bold, just the way I like it. However, the Costcos around here are so crowded that I very rarely go to one, so I don’t always have this coffee on hand. Well, when I went back and examined my receipts and mileage logs, it was plain to see what had happened. Around the time my symptoms first started, I had made a Costco run and bought the Kirkland coffee I liked. When that ran out, I drank a different – and presumably weaker – brand from the grocery store for a while. Some months later, I made another Costco run and went back to the Kirkland. And bam! That was when I started having “anxiety” again.

So what is the lesson here? Anxiety is a very real problem for large numbers of people, and undoubtedly for most of them, it does have a psychological cause. But we as a society are perhaps a little too quick to assume that our physical problems result from emotional stimuli. Look at my doctor – what did he see? A high-stress person. A difficult personal history. And unexplained heart palpitations and chest pains. Naturally he jumped to the conclusion of anxiety. But did he ever even ask me if I was taking any stimulants, even the ordinary kind? Did he ask me if I was taking allergy medications, some of which, as I’ve learned since, can also cause heart palpitations? No. He ruled out the obvious potentially serious physical causes and never bothered to dig any deeper than that. Look at you, you poor dear – you must have anxiety. Now hush up and take your medication.

It’s been four years since then, and I have not experienced even a single day of anxiety in that time. Not one. I drink much less coffee now, but I do notice that if I overdo it on the caffeine that the symptoms threaten to return – my chest tightens, my heart rate increases, and I sweat more than usual. But that’s it. It’s not anxiety – it’s physical tension caused by overstimulation of my system. But can you imagine if I had not figured this out? I would have spent the rest of my life choking down worthless chemicals, having god-knows-what long-term effect on my body, and constantly feeling as if my mind’s about to spin out of control. Unlike purely physical ailments, mental illnesses feed off of and reinforce themselves by creating fear and creating worry. It’s not like when you break a leg and you know you just have to wait six to eight weeks for it to heal. You can’t know when or if you will ever recover from an emotional condition. It’s almost enough to give you anxiety.

I suffered for nearly a year – for nothing. From a so-called illness that didn’t even exist. The miracle is that I came out of it more or less emotionally unscarred – and with a healthy skepticism towards the medical profession. I don’t blame doctors. They’re human too, after all, ordinary people trying to do their jobs as efficiently as possible, just like the rest of us. But that’s what makes it so important for patients to be their own advocates. I trusted my doctor because he knows his profession, and I don’t. But he was wrong. And who finally arrived at the right diagnosis? I did. Without any medical training at all. Not because I’m smarter or better educated than he is. No, but because I know my body in a way he never will. I know the intimate details of my life in a way he never will. And ultimately, because I care more about my body and my life than he – or anyone else – ever will.

I decided to put this story out there because it simply horrifies me when I think of how many people there must be who, like me, have been diagnosed with anxiety, but are really suffering from a case of too much Starbucks – or any of the many other readily available modern products that contain stimulants. How will they ever know? Their doctors will probably never even know. And it does make one wonder what effect this misdiagnosed population has on patients with genuine anxiety disorders. Have their treatments been altered or affected because of these other folks who are sadly unaware that there’s nothing actually wrong with them? How does one judge the true efficacy of a medication if it’s also being used on individuals who aren’t really sick?

This, to me, is a very sad situation, one that people should know about. Of course not everyone can be cured of anxiety by reducing or eliminating caffeine – but what a difference to those who can. I’ll be the first to admit that one of my great pleasures in life is the joy of waking up to a freshly brewed cup of coffee. But even that can’t compare to the happiness I felt in discovering that my “anxiety” wasn’t real.

Coffee

Call for Submissions

Break out your humor writing, folks – you know you want to!

Back Hair Advocate

Back Hair Advocate wants your submissions. We’re looking for humor, but what we truly want is great writing.

And one more thing — we’d like Back Hair Advocate to start putting out stories that take more of a nontraditional structure. So think letters, email correspondence, wedding announcements, personals, missed connections, math word problems, whatever really. We’re still going to publish stories with a traditional format, but we’d love to get some diversity in this area.

We can’t wait to see what you come up with, folks.

— Ian Starttoday

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Book Review: Hyperbole by Ryan Parmenter

Some time ago, I decided it might be fun to start doing reviews of contemporary authors’ work. This is actually kind of a stretch for me because 1) I acquire most of my books used for $2/bag at my local library’s twice-annual sale and 2) It’s rare for me to read a book that’s less than ten or twenty years old. However, I see so many free e-book promotions on Twitter nowadays that it seems a shame not to read some more modern works, and in addition, I thought it would be the best way to get a handle on what’s happening in the indie author community.

The only problem is, most of the books I’ve acquired so far – how can I say this politely – stink. It turns out that there are, in fact, some solid reasons why indie authors don’t get the respect that traditionally published ones do, and it’s precisely because so much of the work that’s being released is so poorly done. It’s not just bad writing; I’ve begun books that were so rife with grammatical and spelling errors that they made me want to contact the authors and beg them to let me edit their work just so no one else on the planet would ever have to be exposed to such abominable English. Oftentimes you can see the beginnings of a good story, but the mechanics simply aren’t there to support it. And to me, I don’t care how great the plot is – if it’s torture for me to try to muddle my way through the bad language, I’m not going to force myself to keep reading. And it makes me very sad just how many of these books I’ve had to stop reading.

Hyperbole by Ryan Parmenter is the exception. An exception, and a truly exceptional work. Here is a book that is so professional, on every level, that it is virtually indistinguishable from a traditionally published book. Indeed, any publisher should have been honored to print it.

I don’t know why Parmenter chose to go the indie route instead. Perhaps he suffered the usual indignities heaped upon debut authors seeking publication, or perhaps, like me, he simply tired of all the waiting. What I do know is that Hyperbole has moved on to the second round for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award. And having read the book, I can tell you that this doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Parmenter has dubbed his novel “the most violent comedy since The Bible.” While this description does not do it justice, it does paint a very accurate picture of the author’s satirical and incredibly witty sense of humor, which prevails throughout the book. There are countless passages that are so well-written, so brutally clever, that there were times in which I was jealous, actually envious that he wrote them and I didn’t. And that is perhaps the greatest compliment one author can pay to another.

Don’t get me wrong. Although there are moments that will make you laugh out loud, the book has its dark side, too, and a very dark one it is. Hyperbole takes place in the aftermath of the tragedy of “7/11,” in which Washington D.C. was obliterated, leaving a tremendous vacuum not just in the government, but in the lives of everyday Americans. The results of this catastrophe? A group of characters who might best be described as “slackers,” youngish people who lack drive or purpose and spend a great deal of time getting high. Indeed, whether it was intentional or not, there’s a definite Generation X/Y sensibility about the book. It reminded me quite forcibly of my own youth, in which many of us never bothered to make long-term plans because we figured that with the Cold War and all, the world was going to end before we grew up anyway. Imagine our surprise when the Soviet Union broke up and we suddenly had to find something to do for the next several decades, and you’ll understand how lost the characters in the novel feel in their own meaningless lives.

Yet they do find meaning. In strange, circuitous, unexpected ways, Harland and his friends somehow manage to do something, to contribute something to their vastly altered universe. And although they ultimately fail to accomplish their intended goal, such as it is, in the end what matters is that they make the effort. They find a reason to be, to continue to be. And that, it turns out, is enough.

Some readers might not enjoy Hyperbole. They may not appreciate the often dark sense of humor, or they may be offended by the rampant pot smoking, or they may not even care for the somewhat roundabout path by which the plot and the fate of the characters unfolds. But those readers will be the exception. And even to them I say, give it a try. Whether you like it or not, it’s an important book and it’s worth reading, even if it’s only to see, to feel what many people in this country are feeling. To understand the apathy and hopelessness of our generation, to comprehend how we, too, are struggling to find meaning. And most importantly, to recognize, as Hyperbole does, that the choice of who we want to be, of how we want to live, is ultimately ours. We merely must choose to make it.

It’s not a book for everyone. But everyone should read it.

Website: http://ryanparmenter.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RyanCParmenter
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+RyanparmenterHyp/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HyperboleByRyanParmenter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19505994-hyperbole
Shelfari: http://www.shelfari.com/books/37087766/Hyperbole
LibraryThing: https://www.librarything.com/work/14802611
eBook:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00H1C8SE0/
Paperback:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0991107004/
CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/4447067
Audiobook:
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hyperbole-A-Novel/dp/B00GSLB8AG/
Audible: http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/Hyperbole-A-Novel-Audiobook/B00GS1SZMK/
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/audiobook/hyperbole-a-novel-unabridged/id761230640?uo=4

Hyperbole

Awesome Indies Seeking Short Story Submissions for Anthology

There’s no money involved, but they are offering priority for reviews to authors who don’t currently have a book listed on their website.

http://awesomeindies.net/2014/06/04/request-short-story-submissions-awesome-indies/

Awesome Indies<

My Writing Process: The Roof is the Place to Work!

Greetings, and welcome to the writing process blog hop! I was introduced to this blog hop by Author S. Evan Townsend:

S. Evan Townsend has been called “America’s Unique Speculative Fiction Voice.” After spending four years in the U.S. Army in the Military Intelligence branch, he returned to civilian life and college to earn a B.S. in Forest Resources from the University of Washington. In his spare time he enjoys reading, driving (sometimes on a racetrack), meeting people, and talking with friends. He is in a 12-step program for Starbucks addiction. Evan lives in central Washington State with his wife and has three grown sons. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy, history, politics, cars, and travel. He currently has five published fantasy and science fiction novels.

http://blog.sevantownsend.com

Like the other participants in this blog hop, I’ve answered four assigned questions about my writing and how my writing process works. Please also take a moment to visit authors Jayne Denker, Briane Pagel, and Elise Abram, whose bios and links are at the end of this post. They will be answering the same questions next week.

1. What am I working on?

What am I not working on? ;)

But seriously, I have a variety of projects in the hopper. I’m putting the finishing touches on my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, which is being published in October. I’m 40,000 words into a new romance, a sequel to Just the Three of Us, which I’m hopeful will be just as sweet and funny as the original, and 120,000 words into my mega-monster of a novel Shipwreck Island: How One Woman Spent Twenty Years on an Island with Sixteen Sailors and Lived to Tell the Tale, which, frankly, is probably only about half done.

Although I’m not able to spend as much time on short work as I would like, I’ve also got twenty or so shorter pieces out on submission, and I’m preparing several e-book compilations of short stories and essays in a variety of genres, which I hope to release independently before I go out of town later this summer. In August and September, I’m planning a lengthy road trip across the United States and Canada, during which time I will be beginning my second memoir, The Long Road Home, the idea for which was inspired by this trip.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Easy – it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. My novels have too much sex to be women’s fiction, too much humor to be erotica, and too few alpha males to be romances. But they’re entertaining nonetheless, and I like to think that rather than forcing my work to conform to a specific genre, maybe I can instead gently nudge the accepted conventions in new directions.

Now that I think of it, though, my memoir also suffers from some genre confusion, as segments of it are written as if they’re fiction. There are good reasons why I wrote it that way, as I explain in my book, but I suppose it also doesn’t read like typical nonfiction.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I don’t think about that very much – I just write what comes to me. My novels became novels because they were such big, long ideas, involving in-depth characterization and fairly complex plots. When I have shorter ideas, they become flash fiction or short stories. Of course, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that my longest works revolve around relationships and sex – which seems to be mostly what I’m into right now – but I can easily see that changing as time passes and I become interested in other things.

My memoir actually began quite unintentionally. I had composed a number of short pieces – fiction and essays – depicting certain events in life with my mother, who became violently mentally ill when I was sixteen. At some point it occurred to me that it might be interesting to tie them together somehow – with a frame story, if you will. I’ll admit I was fairly stunned when it came together the way it did – it wasn’t something I had expected to write.

4. How does your writing process work?

It’s constantly in flux. I believe quite firmly that forcing myself to work on something when I’m not in the mood for it is not the pathway to greater productivity. You will never catch me committing to a certain number of words or hours per day, and I will likely never participate in NaNoWriMo or similar events. If I feel like writing, I write; if I feel like editing, I edit; if I feel like working on my latest novel, I do; if I feel like writing a blog post, I do that instead. There are always so many things I’m working on – and so few strict deadlines – that I rarely feel obligated to go against my mood, which I believe is one of the reasons I’ve been able to generate so much work in the past two years. Every so often I have to force myself to forego writing in order to complete “administrative” tasks, and that’s the one time my natural sense of discipline and New England work ethic have to kick in and make me do things even when I don’t want to. But I do enjoy the satisfaction of metaphorically crossing those types of tasks off my list, and I’m always happier afterwards to go back to writing.

In terms of how I write, I’m all over the place. A short piece I will generally compose from beginning to end, with at least half a dozen revisions before I’m happy with it. My books I’ve mostly started in the middle, writing individual scenes when I feel inspired to do them, and simply positioning them in the text in the order I plan for them to appear, so that I can tie them together later. When I get to about a hundred pages, I go back to the beginning and start revising, editing and adding new material as I go along, the end result being that I never really complete a “rough draft.” After I finish another hundred pages or so, I’ll go back and do the same thing, from start to finish, which means that different sections of my manuscript will often be at different stages of polish. Some chapters I will intentionally not complete because I haven’t yet decided exactly how they’re going to go, while others might be virtually in their final form very early on in the process. And then of course when the whole thing has been written from start to finish, I go through it several more times, picking out awkward sentences and those that could be funnier, more clever, or more meaningful or poignant, and re-working them accordingly.

This is where I usually work:

Writing Process I

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Last year I bought this stand-alone greenhouse that’s bolted down to a small deck on the one flat part of the roof. As long as the sun’s out, it stays comfortably warm in there, even in winter. This is wonderful for me because I do prefer to work outdoors, and besides that, it gives me a natural schedule – mornings and evenings are for desk work, afternoons are for writing. There’s a power outlet right by the window where I can plug in my laptop, and that chair is pretty comfortable – although I do end up spending quite a sum on sunscreen! So, if you’re ever flying over the Bay Area and you spot a strange green contraption perched on a rooftop for no apparent reason, give me a wave! You’ll know that I’m hunkered down inside, generating my next – well, whatever it’s going to be! :)

Please take this opportunity to check out these three authors, who will be blogging about their writing processes next week!

Jayne Denker:

Jayne Denker divides her time between working hard to bring the funny in her romantic comedies (By Design; Unscripted; Down on Love, A Marsden Novel #1; and the upcoming Picture This, A Marsden Novel #2, publishing July 17) and raising a young son who’s way too clever for his own good. She lives in a small village in western New York that is in no way, shape, or form related to the small village in her Marsden novels. When she’s not hard at work writing another book, the social media addict can usually be found frittering away startling amounts of time on Facebook (Jayne Denker Author), Twitter (@JDenkerAuthor), and her blog, JayneDenker.com.

Blog: http://JayneDenker.com

Briane Pagel:

Briane Pagel is currently writing this biography for this blog. In fact, he’s typing this sentence right now. Now this one. Now he’s thinking this biography isn’t the most compelling one, and that perhaps he should make some stuff up to jazz it up a bit like say he went skydiving one time, only that’s actually true. He did go skydiving this one time, back in 1994, when he made a list of 25 things to do before he turned 26. He completed the list, too. It included skydiving, and the Polar Bear Jump where he had to go into Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day… great, now he’s starting to ramble. You can read more about him on “Thinking The Lions,” http://www.thinkingthelions.com“, and he publishes “lit, a place for stories,” which is an online literary magazine at http://www.nonsportsman.com.

Elise Abram, B.A. B.Ed., M.Ed:

Teacher of English and Computer Studies by day, wife and mother by night and author whenever she can steal some time, Elise is the proud author of Phase Shift, The Mummy Wore Combat Boots, and Throwaway Child, available on Amazon and KoboBooks. She pens a blog about literature, popular culture and the human condition whenever the muse moves her.

Elise’s fourth book, a young adult paranormal thriller entitled The Revenant will be released in eBook and in print on July 10, 2014 by Black Rose Writing.

Connect with Elise at http://www.eliseabram.com

Two Fathers: A Portrait from My Youth

He is holding up a clean and empty jelly-glass; bright, colorful cartoon characters chasing merrily around its rim, my long-anticipated reward earned with weeks of peanut-butter sandwiches.

He is hiding behind his dense, secretive mustache, handing me a can of cheap warmish beer, laughing loudly at me tentatively tasting it; spitting it vehemently out.

He is clasping my hand and leading me down the street to the local bar; propping me up on a barstool so all his friends can see, can joke with me and about me while I twirl about on the red vinyl, tall and proud to be out with Daddy.

He is standing at the wire fence, watching me playing in the dirt of our yard, asking, “Is your mother home?” Perhaps not realizing that I don’t recognize him anymore; will have to ask Mom later who that man was, the mysterious stranger who visited her that afternoon and called me by name. Perhaps not knowing that all of my memories of him have already been boiled down to these simple four.

And then he is gone.

***

He sits by himself in the green-painted barn, back of their house, listening to the Italian radio station, smoking his pipe and reading a newspaper, its foreign words and syllables impenetrable runes, like his shadowy face in the dark and tobacco-filled haze.

He defies approach, inspires timidity; despises interruption and declines conversation. They shake to address him; quiver in apprehension, dare only when driven by direst need.

“Bubba? Bubba, can I have five dollars?” the youngest son inquires, cowering, backing slowly away even as he speaks.

Harsh mumbling ensues; the status of the request indeterminable to those waiting anxiously outside.

“To go to the movies? Please, Bubba?”

The mumble metamorphoses into a shout; sends the child scurrying away from the barn, out underneath the clutching, hanging vines of the wine-grape trellis, back into the house where his mother waits, her lips pursed, her head shaking sadly.

“Mangia,” she commands kindly, pointing to the table laid with salad and bread and pasta while she fixes a plate for her husband, who will eat, by himself, in the green-painted barn at the back of their house.

***

Originally published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal, April 2013.
© Lori Schafer 2013

“Two Fathers” is one of the pieces featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $2.99 Kindle, $6.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

***

I originally wrote this story in an effort to create an ultra-short of one hundred and fifty words or less for a contest. I don’t recall what prompted it, but somehow I got to thinking of my biological father and the very few memories I have of him, which, interestingly enough, taken all together, came out to about a hundred and fifty words!

The second segment is about the father of the best friend I had from the time I was four or five until I was about twelve. In the hundreds of times I visited my friend’s house – which, except for the year we spent living in Connecticut, was just across the street from ours – I don’t believe I actually saw the man more than a dozen times, and never once in all those years did he speak to me. Of course, most of the time he was busy working to support their five children, and there was no doubt that he loved his family very much. But as a kid I was only cognizant of the fear.

I also wrote a third segment of this piece about my “main” stepfather – that’s the one I had the longest – but I didn’t really care for the way it turned out so I omitted it. I’m still not sure if I should have included it after all. It certainly would have put a different spin on the piece as a whole, because it was a fairly flattering portrayal of a man who, without being anyone’s biological father, was nonetheless the best father I ever had. Except that in the end, when the marriage dissolves, the stepdad moves away and is never heard from again, and my intent was to make the story evocative rather than melancholy. And at bottom, I think it makes for a better “vignette” without coming to such a resounding conclusion, and that’s what Vine Leaves does best.

Father and Daughter