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6527212 July 21, 2010

The Only Way Out is Through: Linda Wisniewski

"As a memoirist, I learned to understand and accept that some people prefer not to look at painful things, but I'm a firm believer that "the only way out is through." 

If you've visited Aberration Nation lately, you've seen BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES splashed everywhere. Boundaries is a novel I wrote during my twenties--my first attempt as a novelist. I worked on it for five years, telling only a handful of people that I was writing a book.

I feared that most people would roll their eyes and snicker ... or ask me what the book was about. I couldn't bear to be grouped together with the millions of people who say they're going to write a book someday. I knew I was born to be a writer and that the time had come to follow my destiny. I was still young, bruised, and bleeding. I couldn't bear to not be taken seriously. (I'm still like this in many ways.)

Boundaries is based on my own story--a life I'd spent 25 years trying to hide. After I thought I'd finished the book, I spent a year looking for a literary agent. After finally signing with an agent, the book was read by quite a few major publishers. The general sentiment was that the book wasn't finished in some way, and that I still needed to grow as a writer. Aside from that, one editor said, "This stuff just doesn't happen to people."

Yes, it does.

Although I had lots of friends, I grew up emotionally isolated. Each child is different; my unique disposition and personality played a role in how my environment affected me. But like many children living in dysfunctional homes, I didn't want my friends to know there was anything different, odd, demonic, or unusual about my family.

Demonic? Yes, things were that weird ...

I spent a tremendous amount of emotional energy trying to block out anything abnormal and focus on the normal. It was a coping mechanism and it was tough!

At 25, I never considered writing a memoir. I wanted to take what had happened to me and make some sense out of it. Even at 25, admitting certain truths about myself and my family was simply too painful. Writing a novel based on the truth was much more palatable. Like Pat Conroy, it seemed to work well for me  ... and still does.

My guest today, author Linda Wisniewski, says that the great solace of being a writer is that we can "make lemonade," i.e., a piece of art from our sorrow. I was squeezing lemon after lemon during the years I spent writing Boundaries. I squeezed until my hands ached.  I started the novel wanting to write about an intense, destructive relationship I had during college. I needed to understand how and why it happened. I was haunted by the experience and writing about it seemed the best way to finally find some peace.

As I wrote the story I realized that the events, or aberrations, that struck me during those years--when I was finally on my own, finally away from all the dysfunction I'd tried to ignore--were inevitable; it was an outpouring of all the suppressed emotion that came before. Although sometimes dark and disturbing, Boundaries, is my overflowing pitcher of sparkling lemonade. In the end, it defines who I am and where I'm still headed today. As Linda put it, the novel demonstrates that sometimes "the only way out is through:"

I share Linda's desire to relay to children, especially girls, that other people don't make us happy.  We must choose for ourselves. It's not easy and that's why sometimes we have to wade, break or crash through a lot of crap to come out on the other side. Whether you're a young girl, a 25-year-old woman writing her first novel, or a 50-year-old man, it takes a lot of courage and tenacity.  

Here on Aberration Nation, WE DO NOT GIVE UP. Hope is our weapon, creativity can be our guide, reality is our kingdom, and love of self is our reward.

People like Linda are our champions.   

What's your story? Are you surprised by where you are today or did you always see it coming?

The blurb on the back of Off Kilter says it well: "Even before she was diagnosed with scoliosis at thirteen, Linda Wisniewski felt off kilter. Born to a cruel father and a long-suffering mother in the insulated Polish Catholic community of upstate New York, she learned martyrdom as a way of life. Off Kilter shows her learning to stretch her Self as well as her spine as she comes to terms with her mentally deteriorating, widowed mother and her culture. Only by accepting her physical deformity, her emotionally unavailable mother, and her Polish American heritage does she finally find balance and a life that fits."

I'm not surprised at where I am today, but the twenty-year-old Linda would be. She liked to write but didn't see it as the key to happiness and fulfillment as the sixty-year-old Linda does.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Currently, I'm writing a novel about a female ancestor who time travels into the present day. I want to explore her reaction to women's lives in the twenty-first century. The "aha!" came in my cousin's kitchen near Amsterdam, New York, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Her niece had composed a family tree that went back to a woman born in 1778. I literally felt excitement all through my body in that moment. I wanted that piece of paper, and I wanted to know that woman. There is very little information on her, so I'm making it up based on research. This summer, I'm going to walk in her footsteps in Poland, and I'm very excited about that.

Expression is my primary motivation. It's why I write even when I'm not sending much out--as I'm doing now while I work on the novel. Being heard and acknowledged is very important to me, as I suspect it is to most writers, but I want my work to be good, well thought out, artful, even innovative and unique. That's where "creation" comes in at a close second.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? 

My creativity has helped me deal with aberrations but a few times got me into trouble. As a highly observant person, I sometimes blurt out things I shouldn't. I tend to be direct to the point of bluntness at times. I have no patience for people making excuses for not doing what they want. This translates into no patience for myself, either. When I want something, I do my best to get it.

During challenging or difficult times in your life, how has art comforted or inspired you?

My journal and reading have always been my refuge. More than art or music, because listening and observing are comforting but also passive activities. For me, healing and solace come from actively creating something new with words, if only a very private personal insight. In recent years, I've come to realize how much nature has been a comfort and inspiration in my life, and I enjoy the nature writing of Kathleen Dean Moore. Right now, I'm enjoying her most recent book of essays, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I've been very fortunate to have the support of a community of writers in two wonderful organizations: the Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org which promotes women's life writing, and the International Women's Writing Guild, www.iwwg.com, whose purpose is the empowerment of women through writing. The friends I've made through these groups has sustained me in times of rejection. Sometimes people don't understand why we write what we do; that was my experience when my memoir came out. A few relatives didn't approve of my sharing the negative aspects of my childhood. They felt it was disrespectful to our deceased elders. As a memoirist, I learned to understand and accept that some people prefer not to look at painful things, but I'm a firm believer that "the only way out is through." And the great solace of being a writer is that we can "make lemonade," i.e., a piece of art from our sorrow.

Can you tell us about the work you do to inspire young women through writing.

This is a new venture for me, through the YWCA of Bucks County, www.ywcabucks.org. I facilitate a journal group for young women of middle school age. My purpose is to get them to think about what is important to them, and to put it into words, to find their voices. They also use stickers, markers, and pictures to illustrate the journals, which are strictly private for now. My hope is to someday inspire them to share their writing publicly at a small open mike or coffee house type reading. And this summer, I'll be working with a wonderful local writer, Carla Merolla Odell, on a summer writing project for girls based on Sandra Cisneros' book, The House on Mango Street, also through the YWCA. I'm very excited to be working with young women, as so far I've taught memoir writing at retirement centers and adult education classes. It's a whole different milieu!

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I do think there is a big difference between the two. Writer Jessamyn West said, "Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely necessary." In my opinion, too much is made of talent, some innate mysterious ability that not everyone possesses. But everyone has the potential to be creative. The great feminist author Mary Daly said that "It is the creative potential itself in human beings that is the image of God." I believe we have a responsibility to nurture that creative potential, whether in art, music, writing, child-raising, office-managing - all of life asks us for creative solutions, for new ways of doing things every day. For me, creativity is active and much more interesting and fun than "mere talent."

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

My motto is "We create our own happiness." I knew this fairly young, but only recently put it into those words. For most of my youth, I felt powerless. Then I thought love would make me happy. Or the right job, house, even reading a book. I watched my mother try and fail to change my dad, believing that other people don't make us happy. And finally, I gave myself permission to choose to be happy by following my own dreams and desires. Nobody else can give us that. I wish we could teach that to every child. Especially girls!

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6527212 December 09, 2009

Talkative Mute: An Aberration Story

... as parents, we need to let our children live as they are.

Sometimes I don't feel like talking to people. I'm usually quite the Chatty Patty at home, so when I suddenly become withdrawn, my husband usually asks me what's wrong. The truth is that many times I'm simply hit with the mood to sink completely into myself and recharge my batteries. I need a certain amount of peace and solitude. I'm an outgoing introvert. If I don't get enough solitude, I start to shut down when I'm around other people, even my family. For this reason, I've always said that my shyness is "situational."

It's weird. One day I'm the life of the party, and the next I'm standing in the corner feeling like I'm in some kind of bizarre bubble. It's literally painful. And I don't always know which it's going to be. I'm a loner at heart, yet I know how to pull out my social skills when needed. But sometimes I just don't feel like it; I can't bring myself to do it. This inconsistency has caused me trouble in the past, and has been frustrating.

Well, this is all peanuts compared to today's topic, Selective Mutism (SM).

I'd never heard of SM until last summer when a student wrote an essay for me on her aberration, which was SM. My guest today, Ivy, came across the student essay while researching SM, and contacted me. Her teenage daughter also has SM. Ivy wanted to share her story as a way to reach out to others who are faced with SM. It's a poorly understood diagnosis that has not only become her daughter's aberration, but also her own.

Your daughter has Selective Mutism (SM). Many people are likely unfamiliar with SM. Can you tell us what it is and how it presents itself?

SM is when a child is suffering from anxiety so extreme they become "unable" to speak in social settings (e.g., school, party, church, ordering off the menu or something we feel is simple as in greeting a new person, etc.). The key word to remember is "unable." Yet when at home around their siblings or parents, you may want to say, "Calm down, stop yelling, be quite!" like anyone else.

I can't tell you how it presents itself in other cases, as I can only speak for my daughter. It may be different with everyone else, but I can share my story and how it happened to present itself to us back in 1999.

My daughter was always so full of light and energy. She was always so talkative at home with me, my husband at the time, her older sister, one of the neighbors kids (her age) and her uncles, aunt, and grandparents on her dad's side. She would not say much and was more quiet around my side of the family, I thought she was "just shy" not seeing them often. The one thing I did notice, but did not really pay attention to, is she was clingy towards me. If she heard people yell, she would cover her ears and start shaking, closing her eyes and bowing her head down crying. she also would tend to point if she wanted something at times.

We felt she was just shy, until 1999, when she started public school. The first day she was full of excitement; she was going to be like her big sister, loving and chatting the entire drive over. I walk her in the class, kiss her and say "see ya later honey, I'm so proud of you." I head out the door and that is when it happened....the start.

I hear screaming as if someone was just hurt. "MOMMY, MOMMY, Mommy." I turn. It was my little girl crying through people to get to me. I ran over. She could barely breath shaking and crying. It brought me to tears. The nurse came over and took us to her office trying to calm the situation, and of course, the scene that was made in the hallway. I ended up taking her home and as we continued to try again. I basically sat in the class every single day inching out a little bit at a time until I finally made it out of the class room (patience is key to dealing with SM).

Still she never spoke. The entire year went like that. My heart would break because she would come home with wet clothes because she could not ask to go to bathroom, I've overheard other kids whisper "Oh, that girl over there, she doesn't talk." If they had a substitute come in and they tried to get her to speak, the class would say, "SHE DOESN'T TALK." The neighbor's daughter was in her class, so toward the middle of the school year, she would whisper to her as a way to answer people. It was her crutch.

The next year, It wasn't as bad to start. She still did not talk. I was brought in because the school wanted to officially evaluate her. I approved the evaluation to take place. They continued to try with her through the school year, and then finally I was asked to come in for a meeting again. That was it. I was "advised" that for the best interest of my daughter, she should be taken out of public school and sent to a school for Autistic children. Then the school explained how they are unable to access her, they don't know if she can read, write, let alone talk. I went into such a mood, I explained how she is fine, she reads better than her older sister did, we can't shut her up at home, etc... They said they had no other choice, basically she has a form of autism.

I cried and cried and cried. Clearly I thought these people are crazy. She is fine. I knew she wasn't fine, but I also knew it wasn't autistic. Come on, I see her at home all the time. A week or
so goes by and I'm watching 20/20. I look up and something catches my eye, so I turn up the volume and listen intently as I began to cry and shake. My older daughter says "Whats wrong mommy?" "Why are you crying?" I said: "That's it, that is your sister! Selective mutism!" A story ran on Selective mutism and the girl was showing every bit of my daughter. I knew it. I decided to take her to a therapist and thankfully because I saw 20/20, I was able to ask for someone familiar with SM. I found one and sure enough, my daughter was diagnosed with SM! Not autism, SM. We had also discovered that her dad suffers from SM as well, but has never been treated and he rejects SM, even to this day. Which explains so very much.

SIDE NOTE: If SM goes untreated, the person can turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to be able to come out and express themselves.

The psychiatrist then prescribed Ritalin in a small dose. She would not take it, therefore I put it in her oatmeal. She knew it tasted weird, but didn't figure it out that I was putting it in her food. It worked, she started coming out of her shell. However, I read info on Ritalin and I was scared about having her take it too long. Besides, her dad nor I had the money at the time or insurance to continue to go to this psychiatrist. So we thought it was over and she was getting better.

BIG MISTAKE! I basically had to try and deal with SM and everything on my own. I had no support as a single mom. It's been a crazy roller coaster.

Having support from your family is extremely important. If you don't have that, there are support groups. Although the SM children are suffering, we are suffering as well because we so want to help and we can't. We get frustrated and just want to SHAKE them to speak.

Throughout the years, here are some difficulties I've had:

1) Giving her shower/baths (she did not like help, was difficult for her to get comfortable). I always had to talk to her and say we are all the same, etc.
2) When buying clothes and asking her to try something on, she would not come out to show me. She would just say no or ok. As a parent we want to make sure it fits appropriately.
3) She never asks for anything. If I said "Do you want this? "She would bow down and say nothing.
4) When she came home from school if we asked her how was her day she would almost cower-like and not respond or say huh.
5) Never participated/raised hand in school.
6) Oh! I almost forgot, compulsive disorder also came with SM! She would measure her socks and shoe laces, if they were not even she would scream in tears until I fixed it and she measured it.
7) Wet herself because she would not ask to go to bathroom.
8) Never look at faces, even when she draws, she does not draw a face.
9) Cower if someone said hello.
10) Can only deal with one friend at a time.
11) Picks nails.
12) Refuses to go to doctors of any kind
13) I never knew when she had her first period. I still never know when she has it. I make sure I have pad/tampons etc.
14) She refuses to be labeled or accept SM.
15) She does not attend parties, social functions. If she does she sits and never says anything or moves.

Out of nowhere:

1)She performed in school talent show solo (I cried in disbelief)
2) Became a cheerleader
3) Played HS football (only girl and was an actual player) (110lbs soaking wet)
4) Loves being around children and animals

How did you initially help your daughter once you understood the issue? Has that changed over time, and how?

I wish I can help my daughter today. I tried the best I could early on as stated above, but now she needs to accept it. She needs therapy. I suggested that she could be of help to kids dealing with SM. Through her creative skills she can impact many. I put the material in her face to just read about it. She ignores it. She basically "shuts down" at any type of confrontation. Whether bad or good, she cannot respond or make a clear decision. What do you want to eat? Silence, look down, whisper "I don't know." It is the same response for any and all confrontational questions. She can not even accept a compliment as it seems confrontational.

I recently decided to start a support group in my area. I do try and speak to the teachers, because many do not seem to read the section of the report explaining she had been diagnosed with SM.

How has her SM impacted the family? As your daughter grew up, did her SM change or shift in any way, or has it remained constant?

We are now a blended family consisting of my husband and five daughters. The strangest thing is the dynamic between us all. I had given my husband the heads up about my daughter and since the very first day, she showed no sign. Of course everyone thought I was crazy. They did not see anything that I described. She instantly bonded with everyone. It was great.

But as our family continued on, although we are all very very close, the signs come out. How did the additions handle it? Proudly I say ... very patiently. They don't push, it is the worst thing to do as they (those with SM) tend to shut down more if you do. One of our daughters is doing her college paper on SM.

My husband, however, has been having the hardest time as of late. When discussing colleges, she shuts down, starts to cry. The dialogue is normally "We are so proud of you, where you want to go? Let's plan it out." "What needs to get done?" She will look away, look down, pick nails and then we ask "What's wrong? Why do you look like your going to cry?" She shuts down and cries.

She also appears to dumb herself down when someone, anyone, asks her a question. Even though she hears the question she says "Huh, what, huh???" It is simply avoidance.

What are the top three signs that a child may have SM?

1) Extreme shyness in any new environment which does not allow them to speak
2) Shows NO emotion
3) "shuts down" and freezes

Life is full of surprises. What has raising a child who has SM taught you about parenting, life, or yourself?

I learned that, as parents, we need to let our children live as they are. We need to let them take their time with their own issues, not to push or expect anything more then they can give. We cannot control everything or continuously do for them. We must let them fall while we are available to be there for them. Some day we won't be there and then what? But most of all, PATIENCE. I, by far, am the least patient person in the world, yet dealing with SM, I continue to learn and work on patience.

The biggest thing is that it is not always about me or me being the salvation for my children and it does not mean they don't love us.

Every person is unique and has so much to offer the world. What do you see in your daughter that is unique and wonderful?

My daughter is a beautiful soul with the biggest heart for others, particularly children and animals. She is extremely talented and creative in writing, film production, and music (self taught in piano, guitar). What others think or say or have does not matter to her. Although she is very beautiful, she has no clue. What she does have is a pure genuine, old soul.

_The light and dark of my daughter today_

At the age of 17, she continues to not show emotion. When she hugs, it seems extremely awkward for her to do and lacks the affection she used to show. She continues to not participate in school. Her activities continue to be in the creative/artistic field (non-confrontational). She still has same three friends from elementary school. She stays home if it's just her and one friend maximum, possibly two friends if they are going to Starbucks, a movie, or the bookstore (all places that are quiet). The only time she is loud and full of life is when she is with her sisters at a tailgate event or if the one sister closest in age is with her. You see a difference in her as if there was a bright light on her.

Most recently, I questioned myself thinking maybe she is better, maybe she doesn't have SM. When we went to see her college of choice (very small college, smaller than her HS), where her sister goes (safety), she was so excited on the ride out. She spoke all about it. When we arrived her sister met us with her two friends. My daughter shut down completely. I never saw that around her sister. She kept her head down, would not take a picture, would not speak, hands in pocket or simply picked on her nails. When I would ask her something, she could not answer or would say "Huh?".

When we all went for pizza, she whispered what she wanted so low that one of the girls repeated for her. My husband and I decided to walk behind the girls to observe their interaction and we saw her walking behind alone with her head down, hands in pocket. One of the girls said, "Come on!" and hugged her back up front with them (she uneasily walks pulling away from the girl, never taking her hands out of her pockets or talking.

In closing, I need to say as days and years go by, I continue to learn and face new obstacles about SM. I recommend that people who think they could be dealing with SM in their families do your research! The Selective Mutism Group has a great website with tons of information.

For more on:

Selective Mutism
Being a Loner
Autism, here and here.

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6527212 July 05, 2009

I'm Stubborn: A Teen Aberration Story

... people view this trait of mine as a bad thing, as a flaw on my part.

Stubbornness can be described as refusal to adapt one's perspective, or being reluctant to cave in to the views of others. It's having a concrete standing on a topic, and not letting anything stop you from thinking that way. And by most, stubbornness is viewed negatively, as an obstacle that prevents us from moving forward with our goals, our relationships, and our lives.

Stubbornness is my aberration.

I am hesitant to admit another person is right and even when the majority of proof shows me that I'm wrong, I argue to defend my point, no matter how hopeless of a cause. When working with others on a task, I push my own ideas forward, dismissing the thoughts of others. And when arguing with accomplices, I don't give up until I win. And thus, people view this trait of mine as a bad thing, as a flaw on my part.

But though my stubbornness appears to be a hindrance to myself and others, it is something that helps me succeed beyond the expectations of all others. My stubbornness helps me earn high grades in my classes, as with my persistence, I never settle for anything less than a perfect score. In group-work, I always push work on people, thus resulting in a better job done overall. And by always questioning views that are different than my own, I learn more about the topic I am inquiring about.

I have grown to level out my stubbornness. I attempt to listen to the opinions of others completely before immediately declaring them as wrong. During group-work, I try to have others assigned to specific tasks, and only focus on my own job. And in general, I listen to people before spontaneously jumping to conclusions and making judgments. While I tone down the negative sides of my aberration, I attempt to enhance the positive. I aim higher in grades and overall goals, always trying to surpass what I previously accomplished. I form a concrete code of values by sticking to my ideals and points. Thus, I have come to balance my aberration.

One specific case of my stubbornness dates back to fourth grade when I felt a certain answer to a math problem my teacher gave was incorrect. I forced my explanation on the teacher, insisting my solution was the correct one. Eventually, the teacher brought over the head of the math department, who confirmed my solution. Though I was right, the stubbornness I used to convey my opinion was uncalled for. I acted in an obnoxious manner, not letting the teacher skip the problem and move on to another. I was so rude that even my classmates were angered with me. The next day, students kept on showing me the golden rule of the classroom: “listen to the teacher”. However, I did develop a reputation of always having to be right. In this way, stubbornness is both something positive and negative in regard to my life. Yet I have come to accept it as a definite part of my life--a part of me that will stick to me no matter what happens, no matter how much time passes, and no matter what type of person I develop into. Stubbornness will always be my aberration.

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6527212 July 01, 2009

I Did Not Cause 9/11: A Teen Aberration Story

... who people are should not be based on where they are from ...

As a kid, I didn’t see the supposed differences in people. Race, religion, and ethnicity never really mattered to me; I don’t even think I realized that they were there. But when I walked into school one day, a week after 9/11, my best friend also happened to enter, as he always did, at the same time as me. Instead of greeting me as he normally did, he told me that we were different, simply because I was Muslim. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t even religious; the only thing that mattered was that I was technically a Muslim, and Muslims had killed all of those innocent civilians and heroic rescue workers at the Twin Towers.

Over the years, I came to realize that my religion seemed more important to other people than to me. I realized that it wasn’t the smartest thing to reveal that I was Muslim. Others tended to be overrun by prejudice. They seemed to feel that the nation’s biggest tragedy was my fault, or that I seemed to cause 9/11. But in truth, every Muslim is not a terrorist. I began to withdraw, and even my parents started to tell me, “You don’t have to tell others what your religion is. If they ask, ask them back. Why does it matter?” For years, I didn’t understand why my religion mattered at all.

Then, one day, I walked down the street and I saw hundreds of people, all walking together. Nobody seemed to care who was what; they just minded their own business and kept on walking. I noticed that people only see what they choose to see. If they want to see a Muslim, then that’s what they’ll see. If they want to see a black, a Hispanic, a white kid, or anything else, then that’s what they will notice.

People still scream “Allah” at me at times, as if because Allah means God to Muslim people, it’s mean-spirited, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. If people ask me what I am, I’ll tell them, “I’m Muslim,” with no regrets and I feel perfectly fine about it. If people want to see me as a possible threat to national security, too bad for them. I know that I’m just like everyone else, and who people are should not be based on where they are from, what they believe in, or any hereditary trait.

People should be judged by their decisions, and the actions they take. I am myself, and will be accepted as myself.

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6527212 June 28, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1983, 17 years old)

... I HAVE TO love myself the most--not be selfish but just have self esteem, and know that I can accomplish so much in my life--and I will...


... I feel like I'm just walking through a dessert and there's no one around for hundreds and hundreds of miles. I just don't understand, and it hurts so much to feel so rejected and so lacking. As if there's something missing that I'll never have. I'm actually afraid for the school year to start. For the last two years, terrible things have happened, and I want so badly to be happy. Why does God allow me to feel this way? I'll never know. I just have to tell myself that all people go through lonely times and that there is nothing wrong with me...


I just feel lonely today. I wonder if other people feel like this as much as I do? I wish I knew. I just have to face reality so I'm trying to figure out what it is.

Lonely does as lonely is,
Lonely gives as lonely is.


My Life is a paradox,
My heart a lonely hunter,
My melancholy smile,
Isn't real at all ...


I feel so bored and lonely. This is ridiculous. I have so many things to be excited about but yet I feel like all there is before me is a blank space that I have to fill in order to get somewhere, or to someone or something. What is it? Maybe I'm just going through a stage. That must be it.


I have my pride and I'm not gonna be put in the same category with a bunch of love sick girls. I realize now that I've been acting just like all the other girls in the world. I've got to be different and I will be ...


I just wish school would start so I can think about something else. I'm going to study hard. Right now I really don't have any close friends. I'm turning into quite a loner. It's what I want in a way but yet it's really not. I'm just going to try to channel my ambitions or passions or whatever towards studying. I've got to start giving myself more credit. I've got to grow up a little. The time has come for me to start seeing myself as an adult and acting like one.


Try as I might to break loose from sorrow,
She walks with me,
Every yesterday and tomorrow,
Trust is gone,
From my heart forever,
Perhaps someday I'll find my place.

'Till then I'll forge on ahead,
Never look back,
Let the dead be dead,
Fate has a surprising future for me,
Someday not only I but the world will see.

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6527212 June 27, 2009

I Lost My Leg: A Teen Aberration Story

It was so strange to look down and have that empty space.

The following Aberration Nation interview of a teenage amputee was conducted by a teen:

Of the many struggles life brings about, I find physical strains to be the biggest nuisance. I have a slight case of juvenile arthritis, and I hardly manage. Ordinary pain fills most days: walking up the stairs, running down the street, participating in gym class. Every day is a hassle on bones and muscles, especially those of the legs. Disease or not, everyone experiences some sort of relief when getting a chance to sit down, when getting the ability to relieve the pain that overtakes our knees, ankles, toes. We all complain, and we have both legs in tact.

Josh isn’t so lucky. After having his right leg amputated, this seventeen year old is faced every day with a challenge most can’t even begin to imagine. I wanted to ask him just how the amputation has affected his life, and what he has learned from it.

How long has it been since the amputation?

It’s been about two years.

What was the cause for your amputation?

Peripheral arterial disease. My arteries hardened so my limbs were injured, and my leg had to be amputated.

What was the hardest part about losing your leg?

The phantom pains were really bad, but I guess just getting used to the idea of my leg not being there was worse. It was so strange to look down and have that empty space.

How did you manage with the emotional pain?

It was really difficult to cope. But I just had to let out the things I built up inside. Talking to my family really helped, and my friends were supportive, so slowly I started to accept my situation.

Have any positives come from this experience?

It’s taught me many things. I learned how to face fear, since I know what it’s like to be scared for my life. I also learned to be optimistic, to find the bright side. I could have lost more than a leg.

I’ve learned to be thankful for the leg and arms I still have.

Have you emotionally recovered fully? Is there another step to the rehabilitation?

I think I’m pretty close to getting over it. I’m hoping to get a prosthetic leg, though. It would be amazing to walk again.

Any advice to fellow amputees?

Just not to dwell on the negative in the past. That’s a waste of time. It’s better to move on and look towards the future. That’s where you can actually change something, because the past is done with.


This brief but powerful interview is a fantastic avenue for also considering the unseen missing pieces some of us recognize, yet fail to understand, at an early age.

If you've been following the Pieces of Penelope posts, consider that up through age 17 (tomorrow's post), I lacked the insight to connect my loss and loneliness with family dynamics. I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I was too close and too young, brainwashed, in a way, by the dysfunction. Instead, I looked to my social environment for reasons and answers, and in the end always blamed myself.

Just as Josh can never grow back a missing leg, I suspect Lisa and I will never fully replace or replenish the lack of love and acceptance we felt as children. But we can all find positive avenues that enable us to live productive, happy lives. After all, life isn't about what you've lost, it's about what you find.

The book trailer for my novel Aberrations asks, Are you missing pieces of yourself? This seems like a good time to share it again. If you haven't seen it yet, I hope you'll take a look.

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6527212 June 26, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1982, 16 years old)

... All I know is that if I just had one kiss from that guy, that's all I would need to sustain me for at least another six months ....


Love that hurts,
Love that takes,
Love that loves
For loves own sake ...


... Yesterday I had the most traumatic experience of my life. I cannot explain it but all I know is that it was hard and it hurt, and I will remember it until the day I die ...


... It seems like the good things that are supposed to be in life just don't notice me ...


... I'm tired of hurting. I know there is some hurt I can't avoid but as I look back at my past, I know there was so much I could have avoided. I bring so much upon myself ...


... I hope I'm growing up so bad ...


... I think I tend to idolize people too much ... even the people I don't like. I've been trying to see myself in the way that I see everyone else. Maybe that's the root of my problem. I've excluded myself from my overall image of the world, and maybe that has made me feel like I'm never good enough ...


... I think I just realized why I don't trust people. All this time, instead of trying to see myself the way I see everyone else, I've been trying to see everyone the way I see myself -- which doesn't work because it's giving me a depressed outlook on life and people. I have people idolized and the next, I have them hitting the floor. I don't want to trust anyone for fear that I'll be the fool and just prove over and over that I don't belong in the good world -- but only in the bad. This doesn't even give me a chance to be in the good world because trying to drag people into the bad world turns them off and away, which leaves me totally confused and worse off.


When sorrow speaks it calls my name,
When love laughs it laughs at me ...


Tonight I have been thinking ...

I have committed many a sin in my life. Greater than any man can know. In my heart, I will never know the reasons or will I feel forgiven ... What counts is how you play the game, live the life. I will be happy for my friends when they are happy. I will weep for them when they are sad. Never will I judge a person for I know my sins are many. I will be happy with life, for who I am, for what I feel, and will not waste joy by living in the past. I will treat each man the same for fate will bring love when love is right. I will not worry about useless things. I will not be saddened by things unsaid but will rejoice in words I hear. Life will be fine. The happy moments will outlive the sad. I will sin a great many times to come but yet I will be content for I know life would be but an empty shell if I had not sorrows to contrast with my joy. Forever, I will live each day in Springtime and when pain knocks at my heart, I will endure and love just the same. "Never stop risking" will be the words in my heart. I will remember to risk and to feel sadness is better than to not risk and not "feel." This way, at least I will know I'm alive.


A rainstorm rages in paradise,
Her nature split,
Struggling against the tide,
Trapped inside,
She hides ...


So many times I've missed the point,
I've stayed too long, and left too soon,
You'd think by now
I'd learn to play
the game.

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6527212 June 24, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 1)

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During fits of teenage rage or deep despair, I'm guessing a large percentage of you considered running away from home at least once. My guest today not only had the idea, but at 17, she also methodically planned her escape, and made a run for it--crossing state lines and childhood borders.

Lisa Morguess ran away, and never looked back.

Through determination, hard work, and a pinch of luck, she survived. She grew up. Today Lisa is an insightful mom of six, a loving wife, super blogger, and advocate. On her various blogs, she describes herself and her life this way:

I'm a 41-year-old, married to my best friend, stay-home mother of 6 children: Kevin (12), Joey (6), twins, Annabelle and Daisy (4), Lilah(2), and Finnian, born in July 2008 and diagnosed with Down syndrome. Oh, and my husband is currently battling cancer. I'm just trying to hold it all together.

This is her story.

Lisa shares her experience in three parts. Part 2 will be posted on June 29th, and Part 3 will go up on July 3rd.

You were a teen runaway. Can you tell us what prompted you to take such serious action?

I grew up in, as what has almost become a cliché, a very dysfunctional family. There was a lot of emotional and physical abuse from the time I was very young - in fact, even before I was born, as my understanding is that my father abused my mother while she was pregnant with me, and they both, in turn, abused both of my brothers and me from the time we were very small. I grew up knowing that my mother had never wanted to have me, as I was born a mere 10 ½ months after my older brother, and she told me flat out as I was growing up that she hadn’t wanted to have me, and that she didn’t actually feel like she loved me until I was about 2 years old. That was apparently an epiphany that came to her as she was about to place her hands around my throat to choke me because I cried a lot as a baby and toddler. So I grew up with that kind of start in life, and it continued all through my childhood.

My mother was generally an emotional wreck and she leaned inappropriately on me from the time I was very young, so I became her emotional caretaker. It was a lot of responsibility for a child to have. She also expected me to change roles at her will from her emotional sounding board back to a child whom she could bully. As an adult, I can see now that I suffered a lot of depression as a child, and by the time I was an older teenager, it just all got to be too much to handle. Although I was never actually suicidal, I thought about death a lot, and spent a lot of time wishing I were dead.

When I was 15, there was an incident at home during which both she and my stepfather were beating me up, and it was bad enough that my younger brother ran to a neighbor’s house and called the police. The police came , and it was basically my parents’ word against mine and my brother’s. I don’t know that my parents were cited or anything - I’m guessing not since I was not removed from the home. I did, however, of my own accord, move in with an aunt shortly after that for several months. That situation wasn’t much better, for different reasons. I ended up going back home eventually, and things only got worse. I had a boyfriend by then, and there came a point when my mother tried to force us to get married (I was 16 at the time, and no, I was not pregnant; there was no reason for us to get married, this was just another power play by my mother). We called her bluff and told her we would get married, and then she forbade us from seeing each other and threatened to have him arrested.

It was all very crazy, and I just reached a point that I couldn’t live with my mother (or my step-father) anymore. I felt like I was really already an adult anyway; although my parents provided food and clothing and shelter for me, they certainly were not meeting any of my other needs, and emotionally I felt like I had already been on my own for years. So it didn’t feel like that big a stretch to decide to run away and make my own life. I had tried living with my aunt and that hadn’t worked out, and my father and his wife didn’t want me, so I didn’t have a lot of places to go. I could either stay where I was and continue spiraling down further and further into despair and hopelessness, or I could try to make my own way in the world. Shortly after I turned 17, I left home again, this time with my boyfriend, and we left the state, and none of my family or friends knew where I was for a year.

I'm guessing your family situation played a role in your decision to run away. If so, what was the family dynamic?

My mother and father divorced when I was 5, and it was an on-again, off-again relationship for many years after that. I had an older brother and a younger brother. When I was 14, my mother remarried, a man she had known for three months. Their relationship was horribly dysfunctional and abusive as well, and he was never any kind of father figure, he was really just one more person to abuse the kids.

Did your family search for you? Are you in touch with them now?

When I left home, I left a letter for my mother telling her not to look for me, and that if she found me and brought me back, I’d just leave again. My understanding is that she stormed the house of the parents of my boyfriend, demanding to know where I was (his father actually did know where we had gone, but he never let on to her), and she filed a Missing Person Report with the local police, and that was it. To my knowledge, no other effort was made to find me. I did call my mother periodically from payphones to let her know I was okay, but she would just scream at me on the phone.

I am not in touch with my family now, no. When I reached adulthood, my father and I were somehow able to mend fences and became very close, but he died very suddenly a little over 10 years ago. After I turned 18, my boyfriend and I moved back to California and eventually got married. I had an on-again, off-again relationship with my mother for several years, but it was never an emotionally healthy relationship. She was never able to see me and treat me as an adult, and she continued to bully me for years.

I finally reached a breaking point with her when I filed for divorce from my first husband. I applied for a restraining order against him because he was an alcoholic and a drug addict (and he ended up dying from a drug overdose shortly after I filed for divorce) and very abusive, and I feared for my own safety as well as that of our two-year old son. At the court hearing for the restraining order, my mother showed up with my estranged husband and tried to tell the court what a horrible mother and wife I was (and the truth is, my mother had had virtually no contact with me or my family for a number of years already at that point, so she had no idea what kind of wife or mother I was - this was clearly just another opportunity for her to try to hurt me). Of course, she was not even a party to the hearing, so the judge was not interested in anything she had to say, but that was the last straw for me. What kind of mother does something like that? That was almost 10 years ago, and I have had no contact with her since then.

As far as my siblings, I lost touch with my older brother about 15 years ago. He has/had a lot of problems: never able to hold a job, in and out of jail, drug addiction, etc. Last I heard, he had moved to Idaho. He and I were never close. My younger brother and I, on the other hand, were very close growing up, but I think he never forgave me for running away. When I came back to California, we re-established a semblance of a relationship for a while, but it was never the same - maybe just because we were both a little older. There was a lot of conflict between him and his wife, and me and my first husband, so after a while things just became too strained for us to really have much of a relationship. Then when my husband died, my brother and his wife, in all their new found Christian zeal, decided that I had driven him to his death with my evil ways, and that I was going to burn in hell. Needless to say, I don’t have a relationship with them.

Where did you go and how did you take care of yourself? What did you do for income? Did you finish school?

When my boyfriend and I left, we went to Utah, of all places. None of it was impulsive; the entire endeavor was carefully planned out over the course of 2 or 3 months. I was in high school, but working part-time at a pizza joint, and he was graduated from high school already and working full-time for an exterminating company. We both saved up our money until we had around $2,000. He wanted to go to Utah for the skiing, which is funny because we ended up being so poor when we lived there that I think he skied once while we were there.

We agreed on a date we would leave, and on that morning, I feigned illness so I could stay home from school. After my brothers had both gone to school and my mother and step-father to work, my boyfriend came over with a small U-Haul trailer attached to his car, and we packed up as much of my things as we could, and then we went and packed up all of his things from the apartment he was sharing with his brother at the time. He drove the car with the U-Haul trailer, and I took a Trailways bus until we crossed over the Utah border - that’s how carefully we had planned it out: we knew that because I was a minor at 17 years old, and he a legal adult at 19 years old, it would be a federal offense for him to take me over state lines, so I took the bus.

When we arrived in Utah, we lived in the car at a KOA campground for several days. We scoured the newspaper every day looking for an apartment to rent. This was in October, and it was already beginning to snow, so we were a little desperate. We found an affordable apartment listed in the paper and called the number and the manager said he was leaving town, but if we could find a way in, the apartment was ours. It turned out to be an old house that had been subdivided into three apartments. We broke in through a window, and the apartment was ours.

My boyfriend got a job very quickly in a sales position. I lied about my age and got a job first working as a cashier in a little Greek diner, and then later at a microfilming company. I was always afraid of being found out - after all, I provided my social security number on the W-2 forms I filled out to be employed, and I lived in constant fear that somehow through that they were going to discover that I was actually an underage runaway. But it never happened.

When I left home, I was about a month into my senior year of high school, so that meant that to leave, I dropped out of school. I had always been a bright, hardworking student, so it was certainly a shame to throw that away. However, at the time, it just seemed like a price I would willingly pay for my freedom. After I returned to California, I eventually earned all of my missing high school credits and got my diploma.

Was there a turning point in all this? Did anyone in particular help you?

As I said, I left with my boyfriend. We had a plan, and we had saved up some money, so I think in many respects my story was different from many teen runaway stories. I never lived on the streets or had to eat out of garbage bins or sell myself into prostitution. Alt hough we were very broke at times - I remember having to scrounge for change between the sofa cushions to come up with enough to buy a loaf of bread and some bologna - we both had jobs almost the entire time we lived there, we had a roof over our heads, and clothes to wear. I don’t think I would have attempted to run away on my own. I was well aware of the stories of teen runaways and how they could end up. Having somebody to go with made the whole thing seem a lot more doable and less frightening.

Looking back, do you believe there were better options? What advice do you have for teens teetering on the edge you found yourself on?

I don’t have any regrets about what I did, although I am well aware that my story turned out a lot better than other teen runaway stories. At the time, I really didn’t feel like I had any “better” options. I had tried to live with my aunt, and that was not a positive experience . My father and his wife didn’t want me. The situation at home with my mother and stepfather was unbearable. My high school guidance counselor knew what was going on, at least to some degree, but never reported anything to the authorities or tried to reach out to me in any meaningful way. So I really felt very alone and hopeless, and then this guy, my boyfriend, comes along and wants to save me and suddenly I saw a way out, so I took it. Even now, almost 25 years later, the only alternative I see to my running away was to have stayed in an intolerable living situation with my mother and step-father.

I guess the best advice I have for any teenager teetering on such an edge would be to get help. Find a trusted adult - through church, through school, a neighbor, somebody - who will listen and, if not help you, then at least give you some direction as to where to find appropriate help.

What did you learn from your experience as a teen runaway, and how were you able to use those lessons as you came into adulthood?

I’m not sure that I learned any great life lessons in my experience as a runaway. I think sometimes, experiences are just that - experiences. I survived. It was a chapter in my life. I think if anything, it confirmed the underlying feeling that I grew up with, and that has to do with a sense of self-reliance and not believing that I could really ever count on anybody except myself.

Many teen runaways do not survive either physically or emotionally. How were you able to do so? Life is a long road. Did it get worse before it got better?

As I said, we found an apartment when we arrived in Utah, and furnished it using the money we had saved with thrift store furniture and necessities. We both found jobs, but even so, it was a very hand-to-mouth existence. We were usually very, very broke. His car broke down shortly after we arrived in Utah, and we couldn’t afford to have it fixed for more than a year, so we walked and took the bus everywhere. We ate a lot of Top Ramen and bologna sandwiches. We often couldn’t even afford the laundromat and washed our clothes by hand in the bathtub (I still remember the blisters on my hands from wringing clothes out).

I will say, also, that ours was an extremely rocky relationship from the start. He was abusive to me very early on, but there I was, an underage runaway, hundreds of miles from any friends or family. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and besides, I had grown up watching my dad abuse my mother, and being abused by both of my parents and my mother’s boyfriend and new husband, so abuse was familiar to me, almost normal in a sick sort of way.

What top three things would you say to parents who are dealing with flight risk kids?

Listen to your kids. Take them seriously. Take responsibility as a parent and realize that as long as your child is a child (and even a teenager is a child) you are responsible for his/her emotional and physical well-being. If your family is out of control, get help. There is help out there.

Do you think the average adult takes teen emotions and issues seriously enough?

In my personal experience, no. However, I realize that I only see things through the very small and jaded window that looks out onto my own past. I don’t know what the statistics are, but obviously not every teen ends up so profoundly unhappy and desperate, so clearly there are good parents out there who are taking care of their kids, listening to them, and taking them seriously.

Of my six children, my oldest is on the cusp of teenhood at twelve years old. I see already that he is changing, and that parenting a teen will not be an easy task. I hope that I always remember my own past and that it will be a reminder to me to make sure my kids feel loved, valued, and taken seriously as they make their way to adulthood.

Come back on June 29th for Runaway Lisa (Part 2).

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6527212 June 24, 2009

Pieces of Penelope (1981, 15 years old)

... Lately I feel pulled between my true values and the tempting human feelings I often have. But through this, I'm learning more about myself. I feel that I'm finally getting to know just who I am ...


... I feel like crying out and saying, "God, I want what they have." It's a hunger so deep that I just want someone I can cry to and explain the feelings I have of wanting this special something they have. Yet I know in my heart I'm so unworthy. I don't deserve anything, but I want it all so much.


... I'm beginning to see people as so human, with such precise feelings ...


... I've discovered what my life needs is humility. This is the hardest thing for me to achieve. Is it something you achieve, or is in, in fact, something you find? There is a certain kind of humility and I feel that when I find this, I'll be free from this human bondage that prevents me from expressing myself. Sometimes I need to express myself so much and then I think, What do I need to express? I think it is my fear ...


... I need to not go out with anyone so I can devote myself to cleaning up my act ... I always say that you go through stages during your life. Each stage you experience and learn from but to be a growing person, you've got to know how to tell when it's time to discover what you've learned from it, grow, and move away. If you hang on to things that must pass, then you're damaging yourself and possibly others ...


I'm basing my new life on the most important things: unselfishness, loving others, not judging, and most of all, forgiving ...

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6527212 June 17, 2009

YA Author Melissa Walker Invites You ...

Popular teen magazine editor and Young Adult author Melissa Walker invites you to join me for a special teen event on Aberration Nation:

I've been a teen magazine editor for years, and I write Young Adult novels as well. Here's why: I love teenagers. It may sound strange, but I don't think I ever left my 17-year-old state of being. Sure, I know more, maybe I'm a little wiser, a little more mature ... but at my core, I'm still that girl who swooned over a new song and cried her eyes out when she left her best friends for college.

The high highs and low lows of that stage of life are the stuff of fairy tales, of epic adventures, and, of course, of novels. The teen audience is honest and open, raw and real--they'll tell you if they lovelovelovelovelovelove!!!!! something, or if it just plain sucks. And they care about whether it's good or bad. They care about the story you're sharing. They're engaged in a way adult readers often aren't.

And so I'm excited to read the Aberration Nation Teen stories ... because at that age, which is full of aberrations, every moment is alive and singing with possibility and passion.

Thanks for having me here, Penelope.

Here's how it will go down beginning on Sunday, June 21st. Every other day for approximately two weeks, the following posts will go up:

1) Why Teens: Penelope's Explanation

2) Selective Mutism: A Teen Aberration Story

3) Runaway Lisa (Part 1): An Aberration Story

4) I Lost My Leg: A Teen Aberration Story

5) Runaway Lisa (Part 2): An Aberration Story

6) I Did Not Cause 9/11: A Teen Aberration Story

7) Runaway Lisa (Part 3): An Aberration Story

8) I'm Stubborn: A Teen Aberration Story

9) Final Thoughts

As always, each post will include a few introductory thoughts from yours truly. Also expect a glimpse of the poetry I wrote as a teen throughout the event. (And if I'm brave enough, I may toss in some of my journal entries.)

Don't forget to join Melissa and I for a thought provoking journey into the differences and similarities of how we experience, view, and express our aberrations as teens and as adults.

See you on Sunday!

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