Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dropping Stones by Paul Cwalina

Last week my blog was about a story that embraced the best of us.  This week it is about a story that is about the worst of us.  Therefore, it must be about politicians.  The story is told in the first person and you never actually learn the main characters name and in some ways that is part of the genius of the story.  You feel as though you are listening to someone tell about the most personal details of their life and all the while you wish there was some way to warn him about the choices he is making. 

The ambition starts in a noble enough place. A corrupt police force that didn’t want to answer questions put to them by the city council. One of the council members decides he needs to run for the mayor’s office and he wins by a landslide. That was his first “taste“ of power and it isn’t long before he is hooked.

It is a story that we have seen played out in the political world over and over again. As the mayor continues to behave more and more erratically he starts to alienate almost everyone who ever cared about him. Most of the people around him won’t confront him because like him, they believe he is untouchable until everyone realizes he isn’t.

Many politicians have found themselves at this point in their life.  Standing at a podium saying that they “need to spend more time with their family,” or they say “I am going to do what I have to make sure I’m okay” (code for rehab) and some have point blank admitted they have a problem when the truth can no longer be hidden.

But what happens after the podium speech? That is what Dropping Stones is about. A story of redemption and a story that will ultimately bring hope when a person of great power realizes that the power of office is fleeting and all one really has is the power over one’s own choices. The book’s ending left me wanting to know more about the character and so I reached out to Paul Cwalina to ask him and I was glad to find out that a follow up story was in the works.

I asked Paul if he knew of a situation similar to the main characters, one bad decision after another.

PC “It certainly can happen and I wouldn’t be surprised if something like that has happened. The underlying themes of the story are forgiveness (or lack thereof) and redemption. The mayor’s poor choices are a result of his inability to forgive and his self-absorption. Had he simply accepted the loss of Sarah and forgiven her, he could have had a woman who truly loved him.”

I asked Paul if he would ever consider going into political life

PC “Never say never, certainly no plans.”

The good part of that response is that if Paul ever did go into political life, he would go in with his eyes wide open. 

I know that as I finished this story I found myself wishing that everyone who had taken office at the beginning of the year had made their first priority to read Dropping Stones.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blue Hydrangeas by Marianne Sciucco           

There are no other diseases that steal the essence of who someone truly is the way Alzheimer’s does and this point is made beautifully, tragically and poignantly in Blue Hydrangeas. 

Marianne Sciucco blog says that she is “Not a nurse who writes. But a writer who happens to nurse.” I have medical friends and a family member who is a paramedic. Although I believe that anyone who enters into the field of healing and caring for others, does so because they have incredibly big hearts, but few are able to write as compassionately but accurately as Marianne has in this story.

Blue Hydrangeas is delicately and intricately woven, going between Jack and Sara’s life from the time of diagnosis to the present day nine years later.  When Sara, on the verge of going into a care facility, has a good day it prompts Jack and Sara to ‘run away’ as they enjoy shared memories that Jack had thought were lost permanently. They leave behind an angry and frustrated son. A man who has his own family and career and is struggling with his parents choices, a man who has to come to his own place of acceptance.
As many of you will already know, Alzheimer’s does not have happy endings.  But there can be good endings and this beautifully written story allows us to see that without ever being trite or diminishing the insidious cruelty of this disease. 

After reading this book I did a little research and what I found alarmed me. The following is a quote from Rep Ed Markey whose mother died from Alzheimer’s.

“The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends $3 billion a year on research of AIDS, which affects around 1 million people in the U.S. Nearly 5.5 million Americans are believed to have Alzheimer’s, yet it receives just under $500 million a year. The government funds more nutrition research than it does Alzheimer’s research.”

Here are the excerpts from my chat with the author.

Are you a caregiver to elderly parents? No. My father passed away from cardiac arrest at the age of 45. My mom, now 87, is strong and healthy, plays Bingo almost daily, attends mass every day, and loves to read. I have three aunts who succumbed to Alzheimer's and watching their decline was heartbreaking and scary.

How long did it take you to write this book? It took 18 months to write Blue Hydrangeas. I finished in 2004, tried to interest an agent, failed, put the book to rest, tinkered with it over the years, and then self-published in 2013.

How much if any research did you do? i.e. visits to nursing homes etc. Most of my research was done hands-on during my work with Alzheimer's' patients and their families in the hospital and nursing homes. I also did library research, and read journals, self-help guides, how-to books, memoirs, and novels on the subject. I watched movies (Iris is a favorite.) Although I had a good grasp of the disease, I fact-checked everything, especially after ten years had passed between writing and publishing and many things had changed in the science and care of those with Alzheimer's.

Do you agree that we should be tested for mental health if the tests exists? I currently work in college health where mental health is a priority. The status of mental health services in this country is inadequate to meet the needs of the population. Early detection and diagnosis are important so treatment plans and life planning can be set in motion to assist in providing a productive, stable lifestyle. So yes, I do think that if a test for Alzheimer's or other mental illness is available people at risk of these diseases should investigate if it would be suitable for them and insurance companies should cover the costs.

Do pick up a copy of this book – you may well cry – but you will not regret reading it.