Category Archives: therapy

#nanoprep: Beware the Early Burnout!


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2018

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This is for all you Planners out there. The ones with the notebooks and the index cards and the color-coded little arrow Post-It notes. You know who you are. You can’t wait to plow through all those research books and make a gazillion notes. You love to chase down the other books on the bibliographies, hunting for the exact name of that one piece of clothing, or why on earth those people would be willing to eat that substance under those circumstances.

I share your addictions and I feel your pain.

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I think of myself as a plantser because in October I’m in Planner Mode. Research, outlines, scene cards, character sketches, maps, coinage, ad infinitum. When I was little, everybody stressed the importance of learning how to color inside the lines. So when I start a new novel project, I have what amounts to a compulsion to create those “lines,” the clearly marked spaces that I will fill in with backstory and location data and a list of crazy potential plot twists.

Then, come November itself, I go nuts, writing all out like a true Pantser. Each day I throw myself at that word quota and write like hell, living in fear of midnight. If everything goes well, all that material I absorbed during October will mingle and blend in the depths of my imagination. The words will come gushing out into the pen or the keyboard, and the story will take shape!

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What if all does NOT go well? What if all that research and all those notes and all the brainstorming uses up all the energy you had for doing the actual writing?

This is a very real danger. I’ve heard some writing teachers warn against talking too much about new ideas. All that wonderful pressure to get the story written can dissipate if you spend too much time talking and not enough writing.

The other danger is spending so much time and energy on your idea that when it comes time for the actual writing, you’re already bored. Over it. Burned out. That’s not a fun place to be when you’ve got 30 days and 50,000 words waiting on the horizon.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo is very important for all the obvious reasons. You need to have some idea of who you’re writing about, where the story happens, and what the stakes are. My advice is to do enough prepping so you can see the signposts but not every pothole along the way. Give your imagination enough room to consider the many different combinations of the ideas you’re mulling over.

Remember three essential guidelines:

  1. Write everything down. EVERYTHING. A piece of dialog. One character’s opinion. What kind of horse the bad guy’s sidekick dreams of owning.
  2. One day’s writing is not set in stone. You don’t like the way that scene came out? Do it again from another character’s point of view. You’re so frustrated you just want to burn down the whole super spy skyscraper? Do it! Let’s see how those fancypants S.H.I.E.L.D.–wannabes handle that scenario!
  3. Keep everything. Sure, you’ll make choices. That’s good. Just keep all the other stuff. You never know what might come in handy around Day 15 or Day 26. And who knows? All those bits and pieces might help you figure out the sequel!

 
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How To Prep for NaNoWriMo!


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2018

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Yes indeed, November is on the horizon. Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, it’s time to give at least some thought to how you’ll spend the 30 days of raw, unbridled, all out creativity that is NaNoWriMo!

This year my adventure takes on a new level of involvement. I am now one of two Municipal Leaders for Santa Cruz County. I’ve already been at work discussing write-in dates with the local librarians and making reservations at the restaurant where we traditionally hold our TGIO Party. And yes, there is also the Night of Writing Dangerously, NaNoWriMo‘s fantastic fundraiser!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three times now, and I have won every year. I admit I am a planner, but only up to a point. When it comes to making the daily word count, there’s a certain amount of leaping off the high dive and just going for it. You get some amazing stuff appearing on the page when you just go all out, especially during word sprints. Those are great fun, especially when you’re sprinting as part of a NaNo group.

These are a few ways to get a good grip on what you want to write about. They are handy to fall back on even if you start off strong then find yourself losing inspiration partway through.

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SCENE CARDS

First, write down every scene idea you have. Remember, when you change location, time, or point of view, you start a new scene. Even if you have just fragments of ideas about one incident here and one incident there, write them down. 

Second, get yourself some index cards. I prefer 4×6 so I have plenty of room to make notes. These are the important items to  list for each scene. Opinions about these items differ, so your mileage may vary. If you want to get fancy, you can even color code the cards by character, location, Part One, whatever works for you.

A basic scene card includes these elements:

POV.  Antagonist. Goal. Obstacle. Disaster. Decision.

If I seem like a Luddite because I’m talking about paper and pencil vs. Scrivener, well shucks. I work better when I can handle what I’m working with. I can make a story map with my scene cards, take a photo of it, then move scenes around as I please. This works for me. We all have our unique process.

 

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM/UNBEARABLE DISASTER

Brainstorming is your friend. Your main character wants something, right? How many completely outrageous ways can you think up for making that happen? For guaranteeing your main character total victory? No holds barred. Go as far and as crazy as you can.

Next, think up all the nasty, gruesome, heartbreaking, evil, and totally unfair ways you can stop your main character from ever getting near that goal. Again, push as far and as hard as you can. Never mind logic or reason. Blow the roof off the place! Wreck the joint! Just make sure your hero or heroine cannot possibly succeed.

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THE 20 QUESTIONS APPROACH

Think up 20 questions that will tell you facts about your character that nobody knows. Maybe not even that very character! I’m not talking about the usual getting to know you stuff. Why does the taste of chocolate make your character sick? Do they prefer snakes or spiders? What happened to their favorite childhood toy?

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GO BIG, GO BAD, GO BALLISTIC!

Come at your story from a different angle. How far is your main character willing to go to achieve that goal? Never mind what a sane, law-abiding, reasonable person would do. I’m talking all-out, eleventh hour, John Woo stuff. 

But wait, you say. You’re not looking to write the latest Jason Bourne-type blockbuster. You don’t want your hero to rank up there with the cast of The Expendables. You’re writing a nice, mellow, introspective literary story.

More power to you. Bear with me for a minute while I explain why the methods I’m suggesting will work just as well for literary fiction as they will for a story that fits into the world of genre protocols.

In one of my many efforts to combat my clinical depression, I participated in a day program. My favorite therapist would begin his “class” by explaining that the work we did with him would only be effective if we committed to it 125%. Why? Because 100% wasn’t good enough. We had to reach beyond our present ability. We had to work harder, to stretch farther, to make a greater effort. Only then would we grow. Only then would we really change.

Think beyond the obvious possibilities. Go wild. Push harder and farther. Abandon the limitations of linear thinking. You will transcend the predictable and open up new options for what happens when your main character finds themselves at the crux of unbearable pressure.

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PROWLING AROUND PINTEREST

When my brain gets jammed, I like to wander around Pinterest. It’s a largely visual site, which is what appeals to me. The writing articles might hand you the solution to your dilemma. The costume resources are wonderful. The creepy stuff is fun to explore. If your mind needs a rest, go look at something soothing like birthday cakes. Halloween is coming. Pinterest is a gold mine of decorating ideas. Sometimes we need to take a break. Pinterest is a lot of fun.

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nanowrimo.org

 

 

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Filed under charity, creativity, Depression, editing, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, Halloween, historical fiction, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, therapy, Uncategorized, Writing

How to Get Everything Done At Once


by Lillian Csernica on July 26, 2018

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People ask me how I manage to keep writing and selling fiction given everything I have going on at home with my two special needs sons. Some days I don’t get any writing done. That’s not a happy feeling. I have to make sure I get it done. That means on some days I shove everything else to the side, grab the laptop or the notebook, and just WRITE. God help anybody who interrupts me.

What is the secret of my success?

I make To Do lists. I mean one for each separate areas of my life. Here are the categories I work with every day:

Son #1 — He’s the medically fragile one who takes more or less eleven different medications each day, along with nebulizer treatments and other health-related activities.

Son #2 — School’s out for him, so he’s in need of something fun to do each day. Given that he has ASD, he’d spend every waking moment playing with something electronic. It’s important to get him out of the house. He often rides along with me when I go to appointments or run errands.

Writing — This gets done in my favorite coffeehouse, during downtime in waiting rooms, and here at home late at night. You will learn to write when you can, wherever you can. It’s the only way to get it done.

Phone calls — Doctors, medical equipment suppliers, the pharmacy, and anybody else with whom I do not communicate by email.

Appointments — We have lots of these. I have two weekly appointments. Regular check-ups for the boys come around every six to twelve months, which doesn’t seem like a lot until they show up right in the middle of a packed week. My writer’s group meets once a month. I have conventions coming up. I must also keep in mind when my husband plans trips and when other people in the household will be away. Big impact on the caregiver schedule.

Errands — The usual. Groceries, picking up meds, whatever prep I have to do for conventions in terms of PR materials, taking Son #2 on his outings, etc.

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Once the To Do lists are made, I begin to prioritize.

What absolutely has to get done today?

Let’s take tomorrow as an example. I have to be up at 6 a.m. with Son #1 for his morning routine. The RN is coming to relieve me in time for me to rush off to my first appointment of the day. When that’s done I’ll have about thirty minutes before I need to drive to the second appointment of the day. Then I have to rush back home and fill in as caregiver until the regularly scheduled person comes on duty. That will give me five hours of time with Son #1 during which he gets two separate doses of medication and one breathing treatment.

During those five hours I might be able to write, depending on how my son is doing. He’s been having more frequent seizures this week, so my attention span has to be focused mainly on him. I might be able to get some reading in, since I can glance up as him at I turn pages, which I do at a pretty quick pace.

Once the aide comes on duty, I have more freedom, but this is the nonmedical aide so I have to draw all the doses of medication Son #1 gets between 5:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. I will probably sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop and catch up on email, or I’ll do the writing that still needs to be done. Lately I’m writing by hand in spiral notebooks because I seem to write more quickly and in a better creative trance.

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And, last but not least, I have to spend some quality time with my cats. Around 10 p.m. two of them get the rips and demand a game of chase-the-ribbon or catch-the-mousie. Then one of them claims my lap while the other sits on the back of the couch right behind my head.

Figure out your categories. Pick the one most important item in each. Those items go on a new list. Can you make them work out together on the same day? If not, keep going up and down the lists until you can get at least one thing on each list done in the course of one day.

It’s all progress. It all counts. The tasks do not have to be the same size or of the same importance. What matters is getting them done. If this method gets to be too much, scale back your efforts. Consider only the three most important categories. Delegate more tasks. Say no more often. Protect your time.

Most of all, make sure you WRITE. Ten minutes, thirty minutes, two hours, whatever you can manage. Just do it, and do it every single day.

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5 Ways I Make Depression Help Me


by Lillian Csernica on June 12, 2018

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I am currently suffering a depressive episode. All the problems in my life are magnified. I can’t sleep. When I do, I have nightmares. I have no energy, but life goes on as usual with all the typical daily chaos. Same stress, different day. I just can’t deal with it.

On the subject of tackling some dull, boring, and otherwise loathsome task, some years ago a therapist suggested that I attempt to do said task on a day when I was already swamped with all the bad juju of depression. As she put it, “Why ruin a good day?” That’s a very good point.

With that in mind, I decided that when depression shows up to ruin my day, I’m going to punish depression by using that day to catch up on every task I really hate to do.

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Housework

Changing the bedding — Doing this makes my lower back ache, my sprained knee hurt, and can often result in pulled muscles and the occasional pinched nerve.

Doing the laundry — A necessary evil, one that requires me to haul baskets of dirty and then clean laundry up and down my stairway. Then comes the tedious chore of folding it all and putting it all away.

Scrubbing floors — Bad for my knees, bad for my back, and really bad for my temper.

Clutter busting — I’m not good at throwing things away. Trash, sure. Actual garbage, no problem. When it comes to anything with a sentimental attachment, that gets harder. I’m told that a key piece of the problem with hoarding is that it’s grounded in loss. I’ve had some drastic losses in my life. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m not good at purging my possessions.

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Writing

Just slam it out. Set the timer, keep the pen moving. This is my No Mercy approach to bypassing the Internal Editor. There are days when depression adds a whole other layer of torment to the usual insecurities of writing. Imagine Imposter Syndrome on steroids.

Get messy. Get wild. Tear it all up and start over. This is more fun. The Frat Party/Rock Star/Road Trip method. Trash that metaphorical hotel room. Write all the forbidden thoughts. Screw structure and pace. Let’s write so hard we blow out some windows!

Go Hide Somewhere So I Don’t Happen to Somebody

Coffeehouse — My local Peet’s has become my current Happy Place. I’m in there two or three times a week. The baristas know me. The regulars know me. I’ve met some fascinating people there. I’m out in public, so the pressures and triggers here at home can’t get to me.

Library — Guaranteed peace and quiet, as long as I’m there before school lets out. I love the smell of books. I love the comfort of knowing all those books were written by people who have dealt with the same struggles I’m experiencing.

My room — Aside from the clutter problem (see above), my room is the place where I can go, shut the door, lock the door, and hide. I have a hook on the outside of my door on which I hang signs alerting the rest of the household to my state of mind. Sleeping. Working. Not Now.

OK. Maybe it’s not hiding so much as taking refuge when I just can’t fake being cheerful anymore.

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If the depression is still gaining the upper hand and I’m good for absolutely nothing productive, then I give it up and resort to palliative care:

Watch Action Movies With Lots of Explosions

Deadpool 1 and 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2

True Lies

The Replacement Killers

XXX (The Vin Diesel movie)

 

If you also experience depression, be it that passing sorrow people call “the blues” or full blown Major Depressive Disorder, then I offer you a high five in solidarity. The Big Black Dog is a voracious monster and wants to eat us alive. We can’t let that happen. Talk to somebody. If you write in a notebook, that somebody can be totally imaginary. Use your words. The more you can get out of your own head, escape those quicksand thoughts, the more you can put the Big Black Dog on a leash.

You are not alone. I’m here. I hear you. I see you. We have to stick together on this.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #27


by Lillian Csernica on May 27, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Past inspirations and experiences will be helpful in your job.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW

Ellen sat at one round marble table. It was just big enough to hold her laptop and a cup of overpriced coffee. As she surveyed the earnest faces clustered around the grouping of three little tables, she wondered if she should have ordered a double espresso. Three women in the fifty-plus range. Two men, one a retired welder and the other a skinny, twitchy fellow in his thirties. She knew better than to make assumptions, but these people looked about as exciting as the smell of boiling brussel sprouts.

The mission in St. Petersberg had been way too exciting. Two assets dead, a safe house blown up, and bad blood with the other agencies involved. Ellen came out of it with a concussion, internal bruising, and eight weeks’ mandatory leave while the investigation tried to sort out who screwed who when. Her agency’s psych team recommended she take up some quiet hobby.

Birdwatching had felt too much like surveillance work. On the plus side, Ellen had called in three drug deals, two stolen cars, and the beginnings of a home invasion.

One quilting class convinced her that she’d become a chess master before she got the hang of all the patterns and pieces.

Knitting was right out. As Ellen’s supervisor had put it, “Anybody who puts a pair of needles that long into Ellen’s hands better bring a big stack of body bags.”

So here she was, at a local writing group.

Felicia, the group’s “facilitator,” tapped her spoon against her coffee cup. She beamed a perfect PTA Mom smile. “I’d like to welcome you all to the first meeting of this session. Why don’t we start by introducing ourselves. Tell us your name and you preferred genre.”

Ellen let the names wash past her in the general noise of the coffeehouse. The ’60s rock on the PA system combined with the bean grinder to trigger the beginnings of a headache. A fine excuse for more caffeine. Her turn came.

“Ellen. Nonfiction.”

“Any particular kind?” Felicia asked.

For a moment Ellen was tempted to say forensic archaeology. At the agency she’d developed a reputation for being able to guess time of death to within half an hour on a fresh body, and to within a week on anyone they had to recover.

“Oh, you know. Household hints, Martha Stewart stuff.”

She’d looked up various women writers, hoping to work up some kind of profile she could match. Back of the book photos qualified as glamor shots among the literary intelligentsia. Ellen had found the genre writers more to her liking, especially the fantasy and mystery people. With them in mind she wore jeans, a T shirt with a Dashiell Hammet classic cover, and a gray cardigan.

“Let’s get started,” Felicia said. “Fifteen minutes for our first writing prompt.” She tapped a few keys on her laptop. “Here we are. ‘Journeys end in lovers’ meeting.'”

Everyone grabbed their pens or bent to their keyboards. Ellen stared at the blank page. Her journeys ended in meetings, all right, but not with lovers. There was no love lost between her and the people the agency sent her to “meet.”

“Ellen,” Felicia murmured. “Remember, keep the pen moving.”

The man lay there on the sidewalk, surrounded by pieces of the shattered window glass. It was almost pretty, the way the streetlights’ sodium glare reflected off all the shiny bits, giving the man a halo in death he’d surely never earned in life. Did he have a wife somewhere? Would she miss him? Time would pass. Sooner or later she’d realize he was never coming home. Would she cry? Would she miss him? Or would she heave a secret sigh of relief? So many problems solved, so many arguments that now would never happen. There were loose ends. There were always loose ends. That’s why God invented scissors. A few discreet snips here and there and everything would be nice and tidy. She’d always been an independent woman. Now she could enjoy a more complete freedom.

Ellen smiled. Maybe this writing thing would work out after all.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #23


by Lillian Csernica on May 23, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

A single conversation with a wise man is worth ten years of study.

 

Here are the Top Five Pieces of Advice I’ve received thus far:

“Keep the pen moving.” Andy Couturier, top notch writing teacher.

“Remember, it’s not about you.” My mental health pros explaining what motivates other people’s hurtful behaviors, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Oy!

“Why is this happening NOW?” Darrell Schweitzer on the problem that starts a story.

“To combat depression, count your blessings every night by keeping a daily list in a journal, notebook, etc.” I can’t remember which of my therapists first suggested this idea. It’s advice I pass along frequently when I meet someone else struggling with depression.

“If your pain is getting in the way of your writing, maybe you need to make room in your writing for your pain.” The LCSW who was my therapist for the longest stretch, which included the worst disasters of my benighted life.

Yes, I have Major Depressive Disorder. Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a crayon. And yes, I’ve spent most of my life in cognitive behavioral therapy, starting at age 11 when my parents divorced and starting again in a big way when I was 28. I’m now 52, and frankly, there’s no end in sight.

So I follow Stephen King’s advice. “Read, read, read. Write, write, write.” Because, really, stories are what make life worth living.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #17


by Lillian Csernica on May 17th, 2018

 

Today’s fortune says:

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.

dis·cord
ˈdiskôrd/
noun
noun: discord
  1. 1.
    disagreement between people.
    “a prosperous family who showed no signs of discord

    • lack of agreement or harmony between things.
      “the discord between indigenous and Western cultures”
  2. 2.
    Music
    lack of harmony between notes sounding together.
    “the music faded in discord”
    synonyms: dissonance, discordance, disharmony, cacophony

    “the music faded in discord”
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Here we have a bunch of people singing the same note in terms of the political ideology they espouse.  Is this harmonious? No. It is not.

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We need all the notes, all the chords, all the melodies to come together in the great orchestral voice of life. May a joyful noise until the Lord! Sing out with all your heart! Go tell it on the mountain! Punk rock, bagpipes, ocarinas and kazoos. Let’s do it!

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A Brief Family Crisis


by Lillian Csernica on May 5, 2018

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My apologies for the sudden interruption of the Great Fortune Cookie Challenge.

On Wednesday my older son had a medical crisis that put him in the hospital. That’s where I’ve been, from Wednesday night until late last night. Michael has a very complicated medical history. It’s essential for me or my husband to be with him all the time so the inevitable questions that arise can be answered.

Michael can’t hold a normal conversation in terms of verbal give and take, so we must speak for him. I provide the nurses with a guide to interpreting Michael’s gestures and vocalizations, but it really does take someone who knows him well to understand and interpret his replies.

Michael had surgery. He’s on the mend. We hope to bring him home in a day or two.

Thank you for your patience. I will get the Challenge up and running again and the fun will proceed!

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#atozchallenge: Q is for Quack


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2018

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The Quack Doctor by Charles Green

 

Dr. Harrington has begun to realize that by bringing Western medicine to the Far East, he also has an opportunity to learn how the Far East has been keeping people alive and healthy for several thousand years.

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he.wikipedia.org

At this time in Victorian England, some impressive strides were being made regarding the causes of cholera epidemics and tuberculosis. However, general medical care had yet to fully embrace Pasteur’s discoveries regarding germs and the spread of disease. The wealthy could afford what passed for good health care. The poor, living in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation, had little if any recourse to serious medical care.

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Enter the quack, who promised this or that powder, pill, or colored syrup would bring the miracle cure everyone needed.

From The Online Etymology Dictionary:

quack (n.1)

“medical charlatan,” 1630s, short for quacksalver (1570s), from obsolete Dutch quacksalver (modern kwakzalver), literally “hawker of salve,” from Middle Dutch quacken “to brag, boast,” literally “to croak” (see quack (v.)) + salf “salve,” salven “to rub with ointment” (see salve (v.)). As an adjective from 1650s. The oldest attested form of the word in this sense in English is as a verb, “to play the quack” (1620s). The Dutch word also is the source of German Quacksalber, Danish kvaksalver, Swedish kvacksalvare.
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Anatomical head. Edo period. Wax. 19thc-artworldwide.org

Were there quacks in Kyoto? Probably. The world was changing very quickly. Japanese people were eager to try the wonders from the West. Some of those wonders could be truly mind-boggling in their defiance of all reason and sense.

If you’d like to know more about medical quackery in this time period, I recommend The Quack Doctor, a site created by Caroline Rance. There you will find much that will both shock and amuse you.

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March Like You Mean It


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2018

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This coming Saturday, January 20th, all over the world women and their allies will march together to support each other and to protest all the wrong things happening in our world right now.

This is my first march, so I asked people with experience what I should keep in mind, what to wear and what to bring.

I’m here in Northern California, with its weather and its laws. Some of the suggestions given to me may not apply where you are. Still, I do want to share this information, especially with those people who are also about to experience their first march. Here is a compilation of the advice I’ve received:

Precautions:

  • Find someone willing to post bail. In my case, this would be my husband.
  • Write the phone number of said person on my arm in permanent ink, just in case my phone is confiscated or something else happens to it.
  • Stay with your group. If there are anti-protest people present, they may try to provoke confrontations. Do not let them corner you, cut you off, or get you alone.
  • Be ready to take videos.
  • Maintain situational awareness. That means know who is around you, where you’re at, and keep alert for signs of trouble.
  • Schedule check-in times.
  • Have a panic word ready so your support people know you can’t get to your car and you need to be picked up.

What to wear:

  • Most comfortable shoes
  • Layered clothing
  • A hat for shade and/or warmth
  • Sunscreen

Supplies:

  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Mini First Aid kit
  • A spare pair of glasses (if you wear them)
  • Face wipes
  • Electrolyte drink, powder, or tablets
  • Vitamin C and/or Zinc to combat potential airborne illnesses

Optional, but encouraged:

A sign. Our local law permits cardboard or posterboard weight signs mounted on a “stake” made from the cardboad tubing inside paper towels or rolls of gift wrap.

Need some inspiration? Check out these signs from last year.

 

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