Tag Archive | Survival

Inspiration: What I loved and learned in Austin, Texas, at SXSW

Actor, inspirationalist Jeffrey Tambor adding a little human-to-human interactive to the mostly computer-interactive festivities at SXSW in Austin. For examples of his inspiration, see below.

Over the weekend, after a bumpy, scary plane ride in stormy weather, I found myself in Austin, amidst a gathering of about 80,000 geeks, hipsters, techno-geeks, networkers, web designers, bloggers, entrepreneurs, advertising types, actors, writers, directors, film and music enthusiasts and others who came for an incredible event called South By Southwest, techno-affectionately dubbed SXSW Interactive.  It originally started as a film and music festival, but the computer/interactive/startup folk (mostly young people who live, breathe, sleep, and worship at the ALTAR OF TECHNOLOGY), may have in the last few years actually overtaken the film and music folk. I went to support my entreprenadorable husband, Bob Dorf, who with his co-author and partner, Steve Blank, have just released their amazing, erudite new book, a step by step guide to starting new businesses called, THE STARTUP OWNERS MANUAL, which was making its debut there.  They hardly needed my support.  Literally thousands came to hear Steve speak, and to buy the book and get both of their autographs.

Yes, I was a hanger on, an extra, an overwhelmed but fascinated older-person, a wife.  And yes, given my own sensibilities as a writer, therapist, middle aged woman, seeker-of-calm-and-clarity, and only (so far) half-assed dabbler in the techno-arts, my take on the thing and my focus–not to mention my ability to cope with or even understand some of it–is no doubt quirky.  And yes, I do wish all that young brain power could be harnessed toward enterprises that will feed the hungry instead of enterprises like making websites for brides-to-be. Nevertheless, I had a blast soaking it all in, and I mean the soaking part literally since it was freezing and raining all weekend until the sun finally came out on Sunday and the festival started to take on the feel of a real party, a college campus on steroids.

I had a blast because of Austin itself, in which I didn’t see even one ten-gallon-hat, which seemed to me to have literally nothing to do with my vision of the state of which it is the capital, and which aggressively lives up to its motto, Keep Austin Weird, even I suspect when the hoards of youthful techies aren’t in town.

I had a blast because the whole event was part circus and part business meeting, and any time you can use circus and business meeting in the same sentence that’s okay with me.

Fran and Alison at the Museum of the Weird in Austin

I had a blast because I got to hang out all weekend with my friend Alison, Steve’s wife; and of course with my brilliant husband and his brilliant co-author, Steve Blank; and in the beautiful but reputedly haunted Driskill Hotel with a guy named Oren Jacob, filmmaker and “technologist,” who did a lot of the work on the wonderful Pixar film, “Toy Story,” (among others) and is working on a start-up (www.toytalk.com)that I suspect will revolutionize interactive toys for kids; and in a seriously weird Austin restaurant at a table with a guy who funds documentary films about important, profound subjects at the National Endowment for the Humanities; and with a crazy Jordanian cabdriver who kept swerving the cab as he pointed out the window at various freak shots, and shouting, “LOOK AT THAT! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?”

I had a blast because so many of the young women there were dressed in clothes you’d have to call Hipster-Mismatch-Strange. (As opposed to Tory Burch and Kate Spade, where I live.)  What do I mean by that?   Okay, so picture a skinny twenty-five year old, maybe with dreadlocks, wearing boots, striped leggings, a polka dotted skirt, a paisley shirt, maybe a fur vest.  Now picture another skinny twenty year old with pink hair, a pierced nose and tattoos, wearing red sneakers, green pants, and a sleeveless orange and blue striped dress over the pants. Now multiply that by hoards of girls, each one making her own little Hipster Mismatch Strange Statement and you’ve got it. (Okay, so let’s not even talk about the attire at Woodstock.)

I had a blast because I loved the session by Danah Boyd about the culture of fear in this interactive age, about bullying and fear-mongering by governments, and about the positive vs. negative consequences of our increased ability to connect.  Even though she offered no real conclusions I was happy to see that serious people in the generation that grew up in this teched-up culture are looking at this very scary, upsetting phenom.

I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the techno-geek session I attended called “The Secret Lives of Links,” although the guy who presented was quite lively and had great slides. I guess I went because it sounded sexy.

I loved the talk by Rainn Wilson, he of “The Office” fame, who also did a very weird turn as the funereal love interest of the mother, Ruth, in my favorite television show of all time, “Six Feet Under.”  Rainn was talking primarily about his hot and wonderful website, www.soulpancake.com, in which random people post soul-stirring, important questions, such as: “You have five minutes to address the delegates at the General Assembly in the UN.  What do you say?” and “Will technology be used to save or destroy us?” and “Does religion need to be destroyed for spirituality to flourish?” …. And then random others offer answers.  As an example of the power of the internet to stir creativity and self-expression, Rainn’s website is a wow.  I’m thinking on my question right now.

Most of all, I was deeply moved by the combination seminar-theater-stand-up-disguised-as-an-acting-workshop given by the well known character actor, Jeffrey Tambor, (www.http://www.jeffreytambor.net/) who dispensed laughter and wisdom by the bucketful, mostly while “directing” a scene between two young people (possibly actors) who seemed to have been chosen just because they showed up, whose lines were basically:

He: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

She: “Yes, yes yes, don’t tell me no, you motherfucker.”

The wonderful Jeffrey brilliantly coaxed the two to do it as themselves, as bad asses, by yelling, in French accents, as femme fatales, by putting in three “naughties,” as comedy, as tragedy, and with a gun.   He even got them to sing it.

Among the many memorable bits of advice Mr. Tambor dispensed and I wrote down (since my memory isn’t too great) were:

“We’re here to be the enemy of the status quo.”  (This brings me back to my hippie roots, of course. I miss that.)

“The problem is that most of us want to be good.” (This reminds me of my favorite quote in life, from Huxley’s classic dystopian techno-vision, Brave New World, so much of which seems now so prescient: “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

Enjoy everything, adore everything.” (Well, we can try, on the theory that everything, even that which is awful, can be looked at a learning experience.)

“If someone goes after your confidence, call them out.” (Not sure this applies to the average person, who could easily be fired for it, but I like it anyway.)

“Confidence is the game in life and art” (I wanted to ask him if that applies to writing too, but I didn’t have the guts.)

“Do what you want. Don’t be scared that people are going to be mad at you.” 

“I get up in the morning with the vultures at my head, and I always make my bed before I do anything else.” (By which he meant he chases away the vultures who attack his confidence.  Hmm. I’m glad to hear that even a highly successful actor with a long and distinguished career has those circling vultures too.  It’s a little more difficult for me to rid myself of them, but at least I strive to be a bed-making vulture-chaser.)

Being a person whose confidence wavers moment by moment, and one who has sometimes worried that people are going to be mad at her, I was not only moved, I fell in love with the fabulous Jeffrey.

Survival Tip of the Day

Basic psychology I learned with some rats:  Behavior that is reinforced will increase.

IE: Behavior  +  Reinforcement = More of the Same

IE: 1 + 1 = 2

  • If you allow someone to take advantage of you, to continually violate reasonable boundaries, that behavior will only continue and probably increase.
  • If you enable bad behavior, that behavior will only continue or increase.
  • If you continually rescue someone, that person will continually behave in ways that require you to rescue her (or him).
  • Take a stand. Stick to boundaries.  Refuse to rescue or appease.

Surviving a difficult daughter-in-law: Am I an advice columnist? Sure.

A BRUISED MUSE reader wants an answer to her dilemma.  “Doris” writes:

Dear Fran,
I read your article on how to help the bereaved in Bottomline Secrets email and found it really helpful.

My situation is a little different, but I’m sure someone else has been through it and you may know how to help me.

About 2 1/2 yrs ago I met a wonderful widower. We fell in love and married 11 mos ago. We are both in our 60’s and each have 2 grown children. All the adult children seemed very happy for us except his daughter. She is still very much grieving her mother’s death of nearly 6 yrs ago. She would not come to our home at all. She finally agreed to let her husband bring the kids over a few times last fall.  After the wedding last summer she was still pretty “cool” but has gradually “warmed” to me over the winter. What really hurt me was a long letter she wrote to me just before the wedding last summer, where she went on and on about how she felt that I was taking over her mother’s house and taking her father away from her. (We have since sold the house and moved to another state). Anyway, it has gotten a little better over the last 6 mos, but I notice there is still a tension between us. I tried not to take her words and feelings personally, realizing that she is still grieving. Her father felt protective of her (even though she is 36, married and has 6 kids of her own) but I have to tell you it nearly caused me to call off the wedding and definitely took some of the joy from it.

She still visits the gravesite regularly, which seems strange to me as that is not my custom. I have never visited the grave of a relative.

So if you have any advice for the 2nd wife I would love to have it.

Thanks,

“Doris”

* * * * *

BRUISED MUSE replies:

Dear “Doris:”

Thanks so much for writing.  I’m very happy you’ve found true love at this point in your life. How wonderful, adorable, stimulating, reassuring, life-affirming, and even (I hope) sensual.

After my mother died, my father, believe it or not, took up with the woman who had been my mother’s hospice nurse.  My father was 78, Mary wasn’t even 60. It was a little weird to see my father affectionate with a woman who was not my mother, especially since he’d never been affectionate with my mother, but, well…all I could say was “Good for Dad.”  Mary was just a lovely person; she was, after all, a hospice nurse.

It sounds to me as if your new daughter-in-law may be suffering from complicated grief. CG is “an intense and long-lasting form of grief that can take over a person’s life. It’s natural to experience acute grief after someone close dies, but grief usually recedes into the background, and over time, healing diminishes the pain of loss.  People suffering complicated grief often say that they feel “stuck.”  “Complicated” refers to factors that interfere with the natural healing process, often related to characteristics of the bereaved person, to the nature of the relationship with the deceased person, the circumstances of the death, or to things that occurred after the death.” (I took this definition from www.complicatedgrief.org, the website of Dr. Katherine Shear’s program for CG at Columbia University in New York City.) CG can include intrusive thoughts about death; uncontrollable bouts of sadness, guilt and other negative emotions; and a preoccupation with, or avoidance of, anything associated with the loss. Complicated grief has been linked to higher incidences of drinking, cancer and suicide attempts, and it can be quite distressing not only for those who are experiencing it, but for those who are witness to it.  The fact is, complicated grief can destroy two lives at once, and it can get really, really ugly, especially when there’s anger and guilt.

I have the sense you don’t live near New York, where Dr. Shear’s program is located, but if you want to help your daughter-in-law and possibly change the situation, I highly recommend that you take the following two steps:

1) Research psychotherapists, bereavement counselors, thanatologists, psychologists, and/or social workers in her area, and find one who is trained or knowledgeable in the treatment of complicated grief. Many people, sometimes even therapists, are very uncomfortable with grief, and regular talk therapy isn’t always helpful. Research has shown that the most helpful treatment involves, among other things: role playing; narrative therapy; tape recording the bereaved person as she recounts the details of the death and the loss and then replaying it; and journaling.

2) Ask your husband to suggest that she see that therapist. Or perhaps the other sibling, if he or she has been more accepting, could be enlisted in suggesting this.

Beyond taking those two steps, there simply isn’t much you can do, except to understand your husband’s ambivalence, and try to approach your difficult daughter-in-law with as much warmth, empathy, and kindness as you can. I realize that this could be very difficult.  Perhaps you could write her a letter, in which you honor her mother and reassure her that you aren’t trying to “take over.”

Your instinct not to take what she says personally is probably right, but at the risk of offending you, I would also ask you to consider your own role here.  You may be completely innocent, but here’s Survival Tip #1, from February, 2011.  It’s one of my favorite quotes from the brilliant psychiatrist (and novelist) Irvin Yalom, from one of his shorter works, The Gift of Therapy.  He says:

“Once an individual recognizes their role in creating their own life predicament, they realize that they, and only they, have the power to change the situation.”

The Bruised Muse has found, in her life and in her psychotherapy office, that life gets a whole lot easier when an individual finally recognizes that she (or he) ONLY has the power to change how she behaves in the world, and how she responds to others’ behavior toward her.  She does NOT have the power to change the others’ behavior.  And so, with that in mind, I’d suggest you ask yourself seriously if you have offended this woman in some way. (I mean other than by your existence.)

On the other hand, I’d ask: How far does she go in offending you?  Does she call you names?  Just ignore you?  Accuse you of things you haven’t done?

Try to separate what you wish for the relationship with her and her children, from what’s happening, from what’s possible.  And do set boundaries.  If her behavior is truly abusive–ie, for example, if she calls you names–explain (using “I feel” statements) that this hurts your feelings and you simply won’t tolerate it.

On the other hand, this could have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with you.  Remember what I said above about the factors related to complicated grief.  One factor is the nature of the relationship with the deceased.  Was her relationship with her mother particularly difficult, strained, or ambivalent?  I certainly don’t suggest you take this up with her, but just knowing the truth of things (the actual truth, not the idealized truth) can help.  Knowledge is not only power, it can be comfort too.

As for visiting grave sites, some people find comfort in this. Regular visiting of a mother’s grave after six years MAY be a sign of complicated grief. After 17 years, I’m still OCCASIONALLY drawn to my son’s grave, but I usually stand there for a few minutes, place some small stones on the brass marker, wince at the hollow sound of stone on brass, and leave. I simply do not find my baby there.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes.
Fran Dorf (THE BRUISED MUSE)

Writing for Survival: Fran on She Writes.com

I wrote the following piece on writing and my new book for a great writerly website called, shewrites.  As usual I’m out there with honesty.


I’ve just completed a memoir in essays I’m calling “How I Lost My Bellybutton and Other Naked Survival Stories,” in which I try to make sense of the ridiculous amount of “tsuris” I’ve had in my fifty-seven years. As I begin sending it out into a publishing world that’s become quite weird, I’m feeling surprisingly Buddhist. Of course I want to entertain, illuminate, and move others with published work, but finding and telling my own story in my authentic voice, sometimes using my (recovered) sense of humor, has helped me accept that I actually write to survive. Writing is my solace, therapy, coping tool, refuge, calming mechanism, path to healing, and way to make sense of life.

So what have I survived? Well, who’s counting, but just for starters we’re talking a husband’s brain tumor (1 time), the same husband’s cancer (2 times), my own miscarriages (3 times), breast cancer and a mastectomy whose aftermath nearly killed me (1 time, so far), a brother who thinks he’s the Angel of Philadelphia from the Bible (He’s not unlovable, but 1 deluded brother is plenty), and familial mental illness that I realize now pervaded every corner of our house in the Philadelphia suburbs, however in denial my father was. (3 mad aunts, 2 depressed parents).

None of it comes even close to the 1994 death of my three-year-old son, Michael. Surviving that is, I believe, one of the two greatest accomplishments of my life.

My relationship with writing has been explosive and fickle, beginning when I wrote to cope as a teenager, secretly. Like a junkie who keeps going into rehab, only to relapse every time, I’ve stopped when I lost focus on process, suffered rejection, envied another writer’s talent or success, had to abandon a project that didn’t work out, didn’t realize that everything you do, even that which fails or hurts, can teach.
I’ve even condemned and ridiculed my Muse without mercy, beaten the poor thing over the head until she shuts down, rebels, abandons me, or even hits back. Here’s a Survival Tip She-writers might find useful:

Survival Tip #1: Do not beat your muse. She’s sensitive, and doesn’t respond well to bullying. Who does?

Even during my most successful period, when I had multiple book deals, foreign translations, a German best seller, film options, nice sales, great reviews, I kept beating my Muse for not being better. I kept trying to quit.

And then came December 7th, 1993, my version of Pearl Harbor Day, the day my son had a seizure. My husband and I rushed him to a Hospital, but we arrived with our baggage in Hell.

At the time of my son’s death I had a two-book contract that I tried to fulfill by frantically finishing the second book in a few weeks. What a sight I must have been, pounding on the computer, a wild-eyed zombie—in a bathrobe, since I hardly ever got dressed. The editor rejected that violent mess of a book, and I lost my deal.

Was I thinking I could plow through such a loss, or maybe put off grief until later? This kind of grief makes you insane. And in my insanity, I stopped writing again, just when I needed it most.

I spent the next three years walking around wearing only my bathrobe and my grief, only vaguely aware of my daughter and husband, like floaters in my field of vision. People suggested I write a journal, but I became enraged at anyone who presumed to tell me how to cope. One desperate day three years later, I scrawled the words “Help me” over and over in a notebook until they dissolved into unrecognizable strokes. Eventually I turned that journal into my unconventional third novel, “Saving Elijah.” Writing that book saved my life. Even so, when my next novel didn’t sell to a publisher, I gave up writing again.  Here’s another tip:

Survival Tip #2: Rejection and failure come with the territory. Art is subjective and interactive. 

I went back to school for social work, and now have a clinical practice I love. I also facilitate “write to heal” workshops. And writing eventually lured me back, first poetry to cope with the trauma of sitting with other people’s trauma, and then after surviving the breast cancer (barely), I started the bellybutton essay, to which I added Other Naked Survival Stories, including several about my son, what Hell is like, how I escaped it. The book is part memoir, part self help, with 70 or so Survival Tips based on all I’ve learned about psychology, resilience, and coping with emotional pain. Writing the tips—the real ones and even the bits of schtick I threw in for fun—was instructive for me, and I hope will be for readers, too. Here are a few tips more for writers that aren’t in the book:

Survival Tip #3: Banish all self-censorship, whether you’re “writing-for-healing,” or writing a first draft.

Survival Tip #4: Draw blood. This is the (oddly) healing part. Corollary: It helps to examine and unpack your psychological baggage when you’re forced to deal with trauma in your life, and/or when working with it in your writing.

Survival Tip #5: Learn craft. Learn more. Craft (and even art) comes with practice and study, and with a willingness to write and rewrite, examine and reexamine the material (along with your mind and heart) to shape it so it resonates emotionally with other readers. Corollary for Older Writers: Do not be dismayed that on the Internet, your writing is called “content.” Fuss with it anyway. Writers fuss because they care about each word.

Survival Tip #6: Learn to distinguish between criticism or honest reaction, and snark. Criticism can help you in your work. Snark is about the person giving it. Corollary: Don’t become overly fond of your words, but learn to stand your ground on the words that work.

Survival Tip #7: Tell the truth. Or your truth, anyway. But don’t expect to be thanked. Corollary: To tell your truth, find your authentic voice.

Survival Tip #8: Count your blessings. One blessing is that you have the gift of writing to see you through this life.

Semi-reformed cynic that I am, I feel blessed to have been able to use my writing to see myself as a survivor, rather than as victim of emotional (not to mention physical) suffering. I’ll be thrilled if readers find my new book moving, wise, funny, and (God forbid) inspirational, but whatever happens out there in the big bad publishing world, I know that I can no sooner give up writing than give up my nose. I’m definitely keeping my nose, since I no longer have a bellybutton. As for how, exactly, I lost my bellybutton, that, Sister Survivors, is a long story, which I hope you’ll read about in the memoir.

Writing Prompt: Here’s an idea I explored in my novel, “Saving Elijah.” I recommend it for anyone who’s suffered trauma, loss, illness, or emotional pain. (That would be just about everyone!) With all the creativity and imagination in She-Writes-Land, I trust we’ll see some interesting results. Post and tag your efforts so we can all enjoy them.
Imagine a scene in which you (or a character) meet God, or God’s emissary. Place the scene in any era: the 1950’s or 1500’s, the future, now. Any locale: France, Detroit, your kitchen, the New York Stock Exchange, a dusty road. Dress God in any guise: someone meaningful from your (or the character’s) past, a dead father, a purple angel or demon, a crooked old man. Now write the scene, with dialogue. You might (but don’t have to) start with your character imploring to God, “Why me?”
Why me, indeed.

Warsaw: Quityerbitchin.

So I’ve heard that in the Warsaw Ghetto, where corpses littered the streets, residents would write on any scrap of paper they could find–poems, stories, diary entries, bits of prose, snippets of information– roll up these messages and shove them into small crevices in the wall around their prison. They surely did this hoping their words would survive even if they didn’t. They did this knowing little about the world outside those walls, and perhaps even knowing that their written cries of anguish could well end up as more fodder for the laughter of madmen. One such message may have told the story of a notorious, purple-winged angel who was always bitching and complaining about one thing or another.  God said, Quityerbitchin and do something. The angel decided that the only appropriate thing to do would be to cut off his purple wings and cut out his sharp tongue.  Now mute and flightless, the angel began to weep copious tears that turned into scraps of paper on which people wrote messages of hope that would survive and be read forever.

Guest Survival Story: An Adoptee Searches for her Mother

Hello Bruised Muse Readers,

A friend, Terri Vanech, sent me this piece, which, I think, fits nicely with my blog theme, and the theme of my upcoming memoir about surviving this crazy life.  The truth is, everyone has survived something.  The Bruised Muse invites readers to share their stories, survival tips, survival inspiration. Just make a comment or email me at frandorf@aol.com.  Thanks all.  We learn from each other. And don’t forget, you can get SURVIVAL in your email. It’s free. No snark.  No spam.  Sign up just to the right of this post.  Here’s Terri’s story:

Allow me to introduce myself.

I know; some of you are thinking, “Don’t I already know you?” Funny thing is, until recently, I thought I knew all there was to know about myself.

But in the mail today came a document I’ve coveted more than any college acceptance letter. It is my adoption information from Westchester (N.Y.) Family Services. A social worker there has transcribed the events leading up to my birth in a 4½-page document culled from WFS files. The report contains no identifying information about my birth parents, but offers some new pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is my life.

Make no mistake: I’m not bitter or angry about the circumstances of my birth. My parents — by this I mean the couple who adopted me — are terrific, loving and generous people. I’m fortunate they chose me and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Still, there are plenty of things about me I don’t know, and as I’ve aged and watched my daughter blossom into a beautiful young woman, those simple curiosities have grown, too. Two summers ago, I finally decided to request the information sealed away all these years.

I once worried that searching would hurt my parents’ feelings, but I needn’t have feared. They have been amazingly supportive, offering me yet another in a long line of gifts I can never repay.

My request in July 2008 for non-identifying information from my birth certificate turned up precious little information, so I followed up with WFS. And waited.

The WFS report confirms what my family always suspected — I am the daughter of unwed teenagers — and offers some new information: My birth mother was blonde, blue-eyed and considered pretty. She had an upturned nose and engaging smile. She intended to go to college and work in the data processing field.

My ancestry is English and German.

My birth father left high school to become a machinist apprentice.

I was born breech — both feet first — and have been baptized twice.

Workers at the maternity home reported that my birth mother took excellent care of me during the six days I stayed there with her; the WFS reports are clear that she never wavered in her commitment to put me up for adoption.

It is a lot of information to digest, and I have found myself repeatedly rereading the report in an effort to understand and find more clues to who I am.

My remaining questions vary from the seemingly frivolous to much headier stuff: Which one of them is responsible for my dry sense of humor? Are the snow-white strands of hair taking over my head similar to hers? Do I have siblings? What would my birth parents think of their biological granddaughter? Does my birth father think about me? Would they be proud of the person I’ve become?

Did she love me?

After first reading the report, I had a bit of an identity crisis, but I made peace with that quickly. Regardless of the answers to my many queries, the report doesn’t change who I am; it simply helps put some things in perspective. Most of all, it’s amazing to know even this much about myself after all these years.

Now, with the blessings of my parents and my husband, I’m starting the next leg of this journey of self-discovery. I don’t know where it will lead, but I welcome the trip.

Terri S. Vanech, an Old Greenwich resident, is the former features editor of The Advocate.  This piece originally appeared in the Advocate.

Surviving the Memoir: A Writer Reacts to Amy Chua

I’m writing this post as a kind of self-courage builder. Let’s call it survival inspiration for myself.

I haven’t yet read Amy Chua’s controversial memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but I’ve just completed my own memoir, and as I begin to send it out into world to be read and judged by agents, publishers and eventually (I’m hopeful) readers, Amy Chua gives me pause.

I’ve been a writer all my life. When I was a teenager, writing was my lifesaver, the way I secretly kept myself sane. Although my three published full-length books are fiction, I surrendered to non-fiction in 2008, after surviving the latest in a long line of personal calamities, breast cancer (diagnosed just six weeks before my daughter’s wedding) and a surgical infection after a mastectomy that nearly killed me.  My book is (well, partly) an attempt to make sense of the ridiculous amount of “tsuris” in my life, including for starters three miscarriages, serious family mental illness, and the worst of the worst, the 1994 death of my son, Michael.  

And here’s Amy Chua, who seems to be everywhere these days. I even caught her the other night on Colbert, who joked to his audience, “Get back to that Mendelssohn concerto before she drowns your bunny!” I admit I laughed, even though as a psychotherapist and mother, I do find some of what I’ve heard about her “Chinese” child rearing practice appalling and even abusive, even IF the Chinese are poised to overtake us.

As a writer, however, I find it painful to watch Chua deal with the craze of Chua-abuse sweeping the nation, even hate mail and actual threats, these being an unfortunate part of the American landscape these days. She’s been called everything from a monster to a wimp, the latter by none other than David Brooks, the conservative Times columnist, who claims, “Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls.”

Some might look at the public reaction to Chua’s book as karma. The cynic or PR person might quote Barnum to the effect that ALL publicity, even really BAD publicity, is good for sales. Yet no matter how well Chua is selling, it still gets me in my writer’s heart to keep hearing her have to defend herself: “It isn’t a ‘how-to’ book, it’s a memoir. “

Many people, usually those who shout the loudest and get the most attention, simply lack the capability to understand nuance, the kind of emotional arc you find in most memoirs, such as the arc Ms. Chua points to in her own defense in eventually pulling back from her practices.

Mr. Brooks says he “hopes Ms. Chua’s daughters grow up to write their own books, and maybe learn the skills to better anticipate how theirs will be received.” Nonsense.  You never really know how people will react to a piece of writing.

In the case of my own memoir, these are some of my worries:  Some might be appalled at how candid I am. Certain relatives might call me a lying big mouth. Other people might object to my attempt to write a book that’s often funny and ALSO takes up the death of my son. Some might complain that exposing my brother’s mental illness is wrong, even though I attempt to disguise him by changing his name. Some might object to certain medical decisions we made for our son, even though one of the points of the book is to expose the arrogance of certain public officials who would presume to intervene in the horrendous PRIVATE medical decisions that people make everyday in this country, real decisions made by real people like my husband and me. (For the moment, research Terry Shiavo for further details.)

Writing is always an act of faith; the writer who doesn’t know that is doomed to suffering. The writer who thinks she’ll be congratulated for telling the truth is also doomed to suffering. I’m trying to keep in mind a great quote from David Sedaris: “Writing gives you the illusion of control, but then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff to it.”

I write, first and foremost, to make sense of the world (as Huxley says, to make order out of this disordered life), and so whatever happens with my memoir of survival stories, the project will have been worth doing.  As a writer, whatever the risks, you write because you simply have no choice. And this writer, in her faith, remains hopeful that most readers will find my book funny, moving and (God forbid) inspirational.

In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you the name of my book. My ex-PR man husband says I should hold off on that one. I always listen to my husband.