Mental Health, Books, and Sons of Anarchy…oh my

The past few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster for me.  I’ve definitely fallen into the two steps forward, two steps back routine.  As frustrating as that has been I try to look at the silver lining and realize that being at a net zero is better than being in the negative.  Also, even if I do regress I’ve had the experience to feel what those two steps forward felt like, even if for a short while.  My OCD has been improving since I’ve returned from the mountains, but my overall anxiety has increased to fill the void.

I had been taking guitar lessons to help as a form of music therapy, as well as the fact that I love music and have always wanted to learn to play the guitar.  Unfortunately, the guitar is the most anti-ergonomic thing I’ve ever had in my hands.  This wonderful instrument that has given so much to the world is a torture device to the beginner.  However, I knew going in that practice, practice, practice would be the key to removing the awkwardness and developing the natural feel of the instrument.  Well…at the end of last week, while I was practicing, I had a panic attack.  Practice wasn’t going well as I kept making errors and then BAM!  I just folded, shaking and heart racing, chest tightening, and my breath disappeared.  And this my friends is how anxiety leads to depression…while performing “therapy” I have a panic attack.  That is depressing!  I know, I know, “Woe is me”, but hey, it doesn’t make it any less sucky.  The good news is that I haven’t given up on guitar, not at all, but I’ve stopped with instructor led lessons and am now using video tutorials, apps, etc.  I believe that the accountability of having a real-life human as an instructor led me down the rabbit hole of fear that I would disappoint them.  Now, was all of this emotion driven, irrational, and not based on reality?  Absolutely!  Did this logically make sense in my mind?  Nope!  Welcome to anxiety…the land where logic is asked to wait outside while emotion runs free.

While the guitar experience hasn’t turned out as planned, I have been able to enjoy a few books and finish up my latest TV watching binge.  I had never read a David Baldacci book before but came across one that had this very intriguing story line about a detective who had suffered a brain injury and was unable to forget anything.  This book appropriately titled “Memory Man” was an easy read but had enough twists and turns to make it hard to put down.  I found out about the book from seeing its sequel that had just came out, titled “The Last Mile” which is where I first learned of the character referenced above, Amos Decker.  So, I picked up the paperback of “Memory Man” and downloaded “The Last Mile” the day after finishing the first book.  The stories are well done and I truly enjoyed the Amos Decker character.

I also read a nonfiction book, “Jesus Before The Gospels“, from one of my favorite authors Bart D. Ehrman.  Since Ehrman is a New Testament scholar, his books are fascinating because he looks at Christianity through a historical-critical perspective which provides context and intellectualism which is absent in many of the books written about this topic.  This book in particular investigates the question of how the story of Jesus was shaped and, most importantly, remembered in a mostly non-literate society and how those forces impacted what we are presented with today.  This is one of those books that doesn’t require you to be a believer or not, there is no doubt of Christianity’s role in the world, especially here in western society.  Understanding the what, why, and how we have ended up with our current stories makes for an interesting read.  Also, as stated above, Ehrman is one of my favorite authors and I highly recommend his other books as well.

I also finished the seventh, and final, season of “Sons Of Anarchy“.  I’ll have to admit, this was the third time I tried to watch this series with the first two times not making it past the first couple of episodes.  At first it seemed very cheesy to me, but after a friend guaranteed me that if I watched a few more episodes I’d be hooked, I kept on.  They were exactly right, after I made it through a couple more episodes I was sucked into the world of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club and all the action, drama, and suspense that went along with it.  I’m very glad I listened to my friend because it was well worth the ride (no pun intended).  The show does a great job at developing the core characters and continues to find ways to make you want to punch your TV and/or have your heartstrings pulled as the story progresses.  Quite often I was amazed at how angry, sad, and happy I could be…all in one episode.  While I think the show probably would have been better served by not dragging certain pieces out for a 7th season, it is still a tremendous show that I highly recommend.  Just remember, don’t give up if you’re not hooked after the first couple of episodes…give it a couple more and I think you’ll be glad you did.

One last note, you may have noticed that there is a new page on the blog, “Music“.  Though I’m still learning to play the guitar, I have been creating music electronically for a while now.  I’ve added this page to provide an avenue for me to post those songs.  You can listen to them directly from the page and I will continue adding songs as I create them.

As always, I’d love to hear your comments/feedback.  Also, I’m always looking for ideas regarding TV shows to check out as well as books that you have found to be interesting.  Your suggestions are always welcomed!

BookBub – A great place for those who love books

Have you heard of BookBub yet?  If not, you’ve got to sign up for this free service that is absolutely wonderful for those who love books.  If you’re looking to find new authors, series, or deals on existing books then BookBub is a gem!  In a nutshell, it’s a service that compiles your favorite genres and alerts you to books that are located at the major book distributors (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple iBooks) and have become discounted or free.  You’d be surprised how many books show up as free or discounted to just a couple of dollars.  Also, it’s a great way to find out about new authors or lesser known, existing authors who have these wonderful books that you never knew existed. Check out their quick video below and see how the service works.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Enjoy!

Movie Review: “Dark Places”

Dark Places” is the movie adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name and stars Charlize Theron. You may remember Flynn as the author of “Gone Girl”, which was also made into a movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance).

In “Dark Places”, Theron plays the current day, adult version of the main character Libby Day, whose family was murdered in a small Kansas town when she was eight years old. The tragic event became national news and was highly publicized because of the nature of the crime and the fact that Libby’s older brother Ben was found guilty of committing the murders, largely based on the coaxed testimony of eight-year-old Libby who stated she saw Ben commit the crimes.

Years later, with Libby hard up for cash, she accepts an invitation from Lyle Wirth to attend a meeting of The Kill Club, a group of individuals obsessed with true crime stories. Lyle, an active member of the group fixated with the murders involving Libby’s family, pays Libby to come and talk to the group and answer questions. Needless to say, the members of the group are not convinced that Libby’s older brother Ben is the killer and are eager to talk to Libby to help fill in, what they believe are, holes in the case. Libby though is not buying the conspiracies thrown at her and sticks to her original story that Ben committed the murders. However, Libby is still broke and Lyle is willing to pay her even more to reach out to long-lost family members. Libby takes the money and the story takes off.

I enjoyed the movie and was glad to see the movie do its best to stay true to the book. The problem though with “Dark Places” the Movie had little to do with the Movie itself.

  1. The book was SO good. The detail and arrangement of the book, with its flashbacks intertwining so well with current events, made it impossible for a movie to represent. After the first twenty minutes of the movie it was already on the downhill slope of the story. The movie never had a chance to build up because it was two hours long…it needed about 15 hours.
  2. “Gone Girl”. “Gone Girl” was such a good movie that the expectations were absolutely unattainable with this movie. The twists and turns hit you when you weren’t expecting them so you were primed and ready when watching “Dark Places”.
  3. Libby Day was played by Charlize Theron. Now don’t get me wrong, Charlize Theron is a great actress and has the physique and beauty of a model. However, Libby Day was a short, strange, odd, small, troubled woman. Charlize did the best she could but it was never believable if you had read the book. Libby Day is an amazing character and Charlize Theron is an amazing actress, but those two things are not always synonymous.

Overall, it was a good movie but it was hard not feeling somewhat let down. If you’re thinking of watching this movie, and it is worth watching, read the book first. One, the book is just an awesome story and well written; one of my favorites. Two, I think you’d have a hard time following the movie if you didn’t have the base of the story already in your mind. At least make sure that if you haven’t read the book you watch the movie with someone who has.

Book Review: “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” by Bill Nye

Many of you may remember watching Mr. Wizard while growing up. The cheerful grandpa figure spent years showing us how learning about science could be fun, using clever experiments and demonstrations that could keep a child mesmerized for a half-hour (the length of his typical television program). As Mr. Wizard retired from the business we were introduced to a new, bow-tied individual who had an unsurpassed interest in science and shared the same ability to present the wonders of this fabulous subject to children of all ages. His name was Bill Nye and, if you will forgive the pun, represented the evolution of science programming for children. Bill Nye the Science Guy aired from 1993-1998 and solidified Nye as a scientist who could take complex ideas and break them down so that they could be understood by laymen of all ages. It was this ability, attached with a contagiously enthusiastic personality, which ultimately launched Nye into the general public at large.

This book stems from his foray into the masses and his near evangelistic tone regarding the dangers of climate change and other scientific causes that often receive little attention. While leading his crusade for the need to improve scientific literacy, especially among young people, he found that some schools were teaching creationism as science, which it is undoubtedly not.   The fear that the most basic concept of our natural sciences, evolution, was not being taught, or taught in tandem with non-scientific dogma, made Nye very concerned about the state of science education as a whole. He decided to take this issue head on and eventually found himself at the Creation Museum for a heavily publicized debate with its curator, Ken Ham. While Ham and his followers built the event as science versus religion, which was never the point, Nye was there to speak to scientific fact, while Ham relied on religious dogma. Since Ham has a literalist view of The Holy Bible this was ultimately his one and only source to disprove evolution. Ham unfortunately brought a knife to a gun fight, or more accurately, he brought an ancient relic of stories that were never meant to be used as literal fact to a debate regarding how the world actually works. Nye spent the night explaining why the literal interpretations of many of the stories in The Bible were not scientifically possible (a six-thousand year old earth, an ark carrying two of every species during a worldwide flood, etc.) and providing evidence for why the science of evolution delivers a more accurate picture of earth’s creations.

The book chronicles pieces of the debate but its overarching theme revolves around the dangers of teaching dogma and/or non-scientific research in a science setting. Nye doesn’t spend his time bashing religion or belittling people of faith, he simply provides large quantities of information on why evolution is the genesis (yes, another pun) for much of our scientific thought. Ultimately, the same science that has provided all of the wonderful innovations that are allowing you to view this post, at this moment, is the same science that brings us evolution. People of faith and non-believers alike can both accept scientific theories like evolution, gravity, and relativity. Bill Nye is not asking you to leave your faith, he is simply asking you to believe in science.

Book Review: “A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety” by Jimmy Carter

I recently finished Jimmy Carter’s newest book, “A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety”. The book ranges in time from his days as a boy growing up in rural Georgia to his current work with The Carter Center in Atlanta. Though Carter has written many books in his lifetime, most of them have revolved around a specific topic. This book however is more of a journey into the life of our thirty-ninth president, with Carter as our tour guide; highlighting experiences along the way while providing further detail to those stories of particular interest to the author. I particularly liked the format because it gave me the opportunity to take a glimpse into the many phases of his life and not be so focused on any particular topic or time period.

We all know Carter was President of the United States and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but the sheer volume of diverse experiences this man has had is mind-boggling. As an admirer of the former president I have spent time learning about Jimmy Carter The President as well as Jimmy Carter the man, but this book blew the doors off for me. In one chapter he talks about building furniture for his family’s home and in the next about nuclear powered submarines. I learned a tremendous amount about Carter, and his wife Rosalynn, that I never knew before. It is for this reason that I believe those who have read his books in the past, as well as those who know little of the man, will enjoy this book and gain a better understanding of Jimmy Carter.

One parting note on President Carter:

Jimmy Carter, the man, is second to none. Jimmy Carter the president has been dismissed and underrated for quite some time. This is understandable to some extent because of his membership in the unflattering fraternity of defeated incumbent presidents. He was also defeated by an average actor who has grown into a mythical figure built on lies, manipulation, and his party’s current desperation to construct a “savior”. It’s a shame, but I think Steve Kornacki from MSNBC put it best recently while talking about President Carter:

“Jimmy Carter is 90 years old now and we learned this week that he’s sick. But he’s still here and as long as he is, maybe now we can put aside all those decades of caricaturing and salute the goodness and decency that’s always been right there in front of us. Whatever you think of his politics, of his presidency, of any provocative pronouncement he’s made, Jimmy Carter is an honest man who loves his country and his family, who speaks his mind, who believes in peace and lives the biblical edict to serve the least among us. There have been better presidents and there have been worse. But we’d be a better nation if all of them were as decent people as Jimmy Carter”.

Book Review: “How Music Got Free” – Stephen Witt

I’ve recently finished reading “How Music Got Free” by Stephen Witt. It’s a tale that starts with the creation of the mp3 and ends with the forever-changed music industry. It’s also one of the most interesting, informative, and enjoyable stories I’ve read in quite some time. While this is a nonfiction book, Witt does an amazing job telling the intertwining story akin to a well-written drama.   From high-level music executives to up and coming producers to the average citizen discovering the new world of the Internet, this book has it all.

I’ve been recommending this book left and right with the consistent message that this book has as much to do with the cultural happenings during the turn of the century, as it is a book on music piracy. Most of us know about the story of Napster but there is SO much more to the rise of digital music than the anecdotal tale of a lone techie who created a piece of software allowing people to share music. In reality, the rise of Napster is just a piece of a much larger puzzle, which Witt brilliantly weaves together.

I learned so much from this book at the same time that I was being entertained with the story. A story, by the way, which many of us already know the ending to before we even crack the book open. That’s the magic of what Witt has done with his debut book.

“How Music Got Free” – Stephen Witt

Book Review: “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind”

I have just finished reading “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind” by Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola. The book is an overview of the qualitative research the authors performed of those in the ministry who have reached a point where they no longer believe in the message they preach. The beauty of the book is how it takes a look at these individuals as human beings and the logistical challenges associated with continuing to work for something that you no longer believe in. In any other line of work this would not be strange, and in many cases commended, but not so much within the clergy profession.

The book does a good job of casting a wide net to include individuals from many different denominations and beliefs, ranging from liberal to literalists. It details their internal struggles of falling out of a belief system that many have committed their life too. As well, it highlights the challenges and consequences that arise if these congregational leaders decide to look for a new line of work. Most of these individuals have gone to seminary or schools of divinity, and now find themselves with the same types of worries that non-clergy members have when considering a career change (income, health care, retirement).

While the authors, from the very beginning of the book, express the challenges associated with “qualitative” research and that any extrapolation of their findings should be used with care, it does provide us with insight that these individuals do exist, and possibly on a larger scale than most would imagine. If you have an open mind, both believers and non-believers can enjoy the stories in this book and the observations provided by its authors.