Tea & Chemo by Jackie Buxton

You don’t have to have a cancer diagnosis to enjoy this book!

My father and good friend recently survived cancer and I found Jackie’s portrayal of the experience of debilitating disease to be most uplifting and heart-warming. I suffer from an immune disorder that often makes life very unpleasant.  I was personally inspired by Jackie’s account of how she fought for life and tried to embrace the brighter side of suffering, which is something I need to learn to do!  Jackie’s upbeat statement: “Why NOT me?” really made me consider the difficulty my friends and family have undergone during their cancer treatments and follow-up therapies to keep disease at bay. Jackie doesn’t whitewash how incredibly scared she was, at times. As the mother of two daughters she had to find a way of coming to grips with the possibility of not seeing her daughters grow up.  Thankfully, Jackie is currently cancer free, but as she points out, this doesn’t mean she, or anyone else is out of the “danger zone.”

I thoroughly recommend this book to everyone: those with no experience with cancer, but whom need a little inspiration, those with family members suffering from cancer, or people like me, who have a lifelong non-curable immune disorder that makes life unpleasant a lot.  The best part about Tea & Chemo is that a huge portion of the proceeds from book sales are donated to cancer research.

I was really uplifted by Jackie’s book and look forward to reading Glass Houses, now available in both hard-copy and online here.

Stunning debut: Paris Mon Amour


A wonder and a delight, Isabel Costello’s debut, Paris Mon Amour has all the ingredients of an engaging novel that will definitely be hard to put down. Alexandra, the main character, is at a critical point in her life when she says, “I ask myself if, on average, other people are happier than me.” Waylaid between a past disaster and the present state of her marriage, Alexandra is a character I can relate to and empathise with, despite huge cultural differences. Each of the characters are so beautifully drawn that I was a part of Alexandra’s struggle for love and personal acceptance. Costello does an incredible job of balancing humour, passion, and evoking the atmosphere of one of the world’s most beloved cities. This is a novel I enjoyed living inside. Paris Mon Amour caused me to question many of the assumptions I hold dear about the nature of romantic love and what it means to find your identity when you are caught between cultures.

Available here starting June 13, 2016.

One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan
This is one of the most requested novels for my students to borrow. I had to finally tell them they had to buy their own copy before they ruined mine!
Crossan perfectly portrays two girls who wish to live as normally as they can in a completely abnormal situation. This book is really well suited for teens ages 12+ who can relate to trying to understand their changing bodies, while still maintaining a sense of control over their identity.
For Grace and Tippi, the whole experience of becoming a teenager is complicated by their fused bodies and inability to live separately. Though both would love to have their own lives, they are aware that the dangers of separation could extinguish both their lives. I highly recommend this incredibly well written novel for both teens and adults.
NB: For those living in the EU, I find that bookdepository.com has far more competitive rates on shipping than amazon.co.uk, for those without a military postal box.  I tend to price compare when reading UK titles between amazon and Book Depository and have been quite pleased with Book Depository’s customer service.

Entwine With Nature by K Williams

(This essay was written by a twelve-year old young lady living in Weiden, Germany.  K enjoys acting, baking sweets, and singing.  K is one of our latest Young Voices being featured here on Murasaki Press.)

We, as humans, have our lives based upon nature. Not realizing this has led us to a broken environment. All of our resources can be traced back to the natural world. Millions of sea animals are killed every day because of us.

It may seem terrifying that we are ruining our earth but some people do not seem to care. Our terrain is the staple that holds all cultures together. If you look at all the cultures of the world you get a sense of how they treat it. Some people care about our world more than others.

Walking in the woods or swimming in the ocean, surprisingly, can be a remedy or method of relaxation. If you think about a spot that you would love to be in right now, I am guessing that you probably picked someplace that has to do with the outdoors.

Imagine walking on a cement path, cars honk and steam billows into the air causing a smoky odor that pricks your nose. You then walk into a clothing shop as an ancient shopkeeper walks over to you smiling in fashionable ensemble. You feel strange getting the same outfit as the old lady, but it looks good.  Next, you walk out of the small store to a fancy hotel filled with fragile glass figurines scattered over everything. This is where you will stay.

Seems stressful, right? We plowed down wildlife to build the above scenario. Now for a less nerve wracking scene: you feel and hear crunching snow and pine needles as you  walk through a white forest wonderland. You feel peace, spirituality and God’s love for you. After minutes of magical silence the sky brings down white snow so you decide to step in your small cottage made of bricks. You open a simple wood door and are greeted by a warm, soft bed and a cheerfully popping fire.

Nature, like in the scene above, can bring peace and joy. If we destroy nature we are destroying a vital part of all of our lives and us. We and nature are one and the same. We are a part of it and are destroying an important part of us along with our natural world.

Important Questions

In a recent conversation with a fellow writer, he highlighted the importance of reading in my life and how my love (and often voracious omnivore reading habits) of the written word isn’t overtly stated in a memoir I’m writing about growing up Mormon in Japan.

A lot of people, when they hear the premise of my memoir, ask, “So are you still Mormon?”  I always answer “yes” because it’s true, I am.  However, it surprises me how narrowly my faith is defined.  Culturally, I don’t fit well into the “typical LDS” stereotype.  Sadly, LDS/Mormon stereotypes exist because not enough people are aware of the diversity in what is considered a “new American” church.

My father raised me to believe in faith as something deeply personal, a matter which often cannot be properly conveyed in words.  As I write this memoir, I struggle with putting my beliefs into words.

I question where I belong in what is rapidly becoming a global church with a very strong emphasis on family.  When I watch General Conference we no longer have speakers for whom English is their primarily language.  I like this diversity of nations and languages.  It makes me feel more comfortable about my own very multi-cultural upbringing as I’ve lived over half of my life outside of the country I was born in.

For a lot of people their culture of origin doesn’t matter.  One of my favourite friends in the whole world made a startling revelation to me as we walked across the London Bridge.  “My cultural identity doesn’t matter to me, because my identity is truly in Christ.  Nothing else matters.”  I nodded my head and thought, “Yeah that’s my new mantra.”

However, it only worked for so long.  Identity is this sticky thing, and when you’re writing about it in  sociocultural religious context s it makes it ever more interesting.  Writing about your life and debating what defined you growing up and what defines you now isn’t a fluid process.  Identity isn’t a fixed point.  You can’t foreclose on a particular label and make it applicable.  Humans don’t work that way.

It is difficult to envision a certain label being applied to me when I say, “I’m still Mormon.”  Generally people are surprised because they expect something different and although I am flattered that maybe I’m being an iconoclast I also want to be accepted within a variety of contexts and not feel like an outsider because I happen to be religious.

What is even more puzzling is how often people of faith have difficulty with questions.  Like “label affixers,” I find within Mormon culture a need to have solid, practical answers that quash all doubt.  For a long time I have struggled with doubts about a variety of things in my life, like any human being.  But, somehow having questions about matters of faith or philosophy I felt guilty about.

A member of my congregation said it best when she was talking about a controversial issue surrounding women holding the priesthood, “I like to be able to talk about issues without having to make up my mind about anything.” When she said that I was a little scared, thinking that the thought police might catch us. (Not really, but it is enjoyable to be rather dramatic about my fears).

When a former professor sent me a link to this radio broadcast I found a wonderful answer through Melissa Leilani Larson’s interview.  Instead of having LDS members portrayed as very stock characters, I was relieved by Larsons questions about the future of our faith and what would happen in a fictional future if a certain solution was provided for single females in the church.

I like investigating beliefs that I hold dear. By having a conversation bonds can be formed between people instead of barriers due to a lack of sameness.  I would like to believe that people of all faiths and beliefs can have conversations from a variety of vantage points.

The most important questions I have been asked are from fellow writers who accept each other, as we are, as we believe.  Writers are some of the most generous and giving people I know on earth.  And I believe that as I keep asking questions, answers may or may not come, but perhaps the important part is the seeking and not the arrival at a set answer in time.

Game Face

Imagine a whole set of stone steps rising up to bite you in various places of your body as you slide down.  The whole time you keep thinking, while your jaw rattles, “This has to stop at some time!”

A week and a half ago I fell down a whole flight (15 steps) of stairs.  The results: injured right arm/hip/shoulder and my right foot feeling like I broke it in half.  The xrays say otherwise.

Needless to say, this avid walker and hiker is noticing all my favourite things: writing, sewing, walking, occasionally running or jumping through the occasional empty hallways of my school are at a standstill.

The simplest thing, like getting out of the bath, poses serious logistical hurdles.  My cats have not yet been trained to drag my laundry across the flat to my laundry room.  Damn them.  Or shame on me for not betting training them to do better tricks.

A new world of disability has opened up to me.  I already have endometriosis, which has posed significant challenges to my life in the last two years.  I won’t belabour the point there.  Needless to say, pain is my middle name.  I try to hum, sing, take motrin and keep sunny.

But this new injury has made me rethink mobility issues and people who suffer from them, and some who have their entire life.  When things in your body go wrong (like being unable to walk for more than a few steps without feeling like your right leg is on fire) your body is even more disappointed because its remembers how it used to be.  It likes to say awful things to you, like “ha ha, you loser, look what you can’t do now.”

Or, “Idiot, and you thought the endometriosis pain was bad, sucker this is worse!”

“Now you more easily resemble the hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Lovely, lovely, insidiously awful things to be thinking when you’re trying to navigate the parking lot of Edeka without having every Bavarian BMW not run you over in impatience.  I never realised how much able-bodied people hate the disabled.

I’ve been joslted in line, people trying to get me to move faster, individuals trying to stop me on a borrowed scooter, thinking it was a toy instead of a mobility tool.  I’ve had groans, huffs, people constantly ask me “What happened?” whilst I struggle to just walk, for Heaven’s sake.  I’ve picked a few savory comments that have come up, because they are both funny and insightful to human behavior toward the disabled:

“Oh, can I help you?  Oh wait, I’m in a hurry, but do you need help?” Said person rushes off after they see angry look on my face.

“Love your new gimpy walk.”

“You’re just trudging along there aren’t you?  Why’d you bring your purse to school if you knew you couldn’t walk?”

“Love the new shoe, very very trendy.” (I have an orthopaedic astronaut boot that feels like it weighs twenty pounds).

“I think you could definitely go faster, if you tried harder.”

“Do you really need a wheelchair today? I mean we have three here and we need all of them in case of an emergency with a student.”

“I put a twenty pound bag of rice in your car, on the passenger side seat.  I realised you probably won’t be able to get it out, but I didn’t think of that until you were gone.”

“How do you drive, with your left foot?”

The shame of having to listen to such questions is enough for me to feel like blowing up several times a day.  These are the only juicy tidbits I can remember.

However, the upside to all of this is that I’ve realised there is a certain humility that comes with having to rely on strangers, friends, coworkers and neighbors to help me out.  I simply cannot do what I could two weeks ago. The fortunate reality for me is that I will probably gain full mobility.  There are many who never will.

How do they cope with persistent impatience, people who are able-bodied parking in their handicapped spots, people staring at them when they park in a handicapped spot and re-adjust the straps on their orthopaedic devices?  What do they tell people when they stare, cast wayward glances, or tut in pity?  I can’t help believing that many who have mobility issues must fight daily to not blow up at people in general.

On a sleepless night (sadly induced by pain medicatins that are suppose to take pain away but instead sent my thoughts racing in a million directions) I decided to try and focus by finishing Matt Haig’s Reasons for Living. In it he details all the things people say about physical conditions, but cannot give the same allowances for psychological impairments.

Having worked with individuals suffering from a wide variety of psychiatric illnesses and having had a nervous breakdown myself, I cannot emphasize enough the compassion needed in our world.  I am thankful I have a good community of friends and wonderful students to help me navigate the ropes of this new impairment.

There are so many without a support group, or for whom their support group has failed them, or they are beyond reaching.  I feel this pressure to keep on my “game face” and I’m sure others do, when life just isn’t fully going our way.  Obstacles seem to abound, and there is little comfort. Thus, I’ve decided to dispense with the game face in my own personal call for greater transparence and love for my fellow men.

My favourite quotes of this week came from the mouths of thirteen year olds & good friends:

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.  I want to beat those mean people with a cane who keep asking you stupid questions.”

“Here’s some vanilla gelato, I think it will make you feel better.”

“Make a list of what you need from the store, I’ll go get it and put it in your car for you.”

“You need wide legged pants, here are two pairs I know will fit your long legs.” (I’m handed two perfectly pressed trousers, appropriate for work and very comfortable.)

“I’ll run you to do your errands, just let me know what time and I’ll be there.”

“I love you, you just call me and I’ll help you out.”

“I like your pigtails.  They look cute.”

“Here’s a book you liked, I ordered it for you from Amazon.”

“Kennen Ich helfen sie?” (Can I help you?)

It’s amazing that these kind words, some entirely unrelated to what’s going on externally and internally kept me from the depths of despair.

The greatest light in the tunnel (as Matt Haig says, there is one, you might just have to wait for it) comes from those keeping it going as they pass the flame onto those who need it.

Bless all those who care.  May we all try to contribute to such compassion and concern.  Thank you to you all.