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Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster HunterDestination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter by Josh Gates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this book up for two reasons: I am a fan of the show Destination Truth and it is this month’s selection for a reading group to which I belong. I anticipated it being nothing more than a regurgitation of the episodes I’ve seen on TV, but that assumption was way off mark.

Anyone who has ever experienced even a fleeting moment of wanderlust should read this book. Gates takes the reader along on some amazing journeys, but he also provides some important lessons about the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler and reminds us that no matter how far we wander, there’s no place like home.

Gates’ writing style is conversational, well-informed, intelligent, and witty. He doesn’t shy away from poking fun at his own insecurities, nor does he gloss over the seedier side of world travel. Still, he manages to relate the awe and amazement one experiences on seeing the wonders of the world – both great and small. His personal interactions with both ordinary and important citizens of the world are illuminating, entertaining, and often thrilling.

Buy the book. You won’t regret reading it.

View all my reviews

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Zero Time is, without a doubt, the finest piece of Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing I have read in a very long time. T.W. Fendley’s book is extremely well researched and tickles the reader’s imagination with an intriguing tale of a civilization and a universe on the brink of disaster.

Omeyocan is a planet in the Pleiades, the inhabitants of which are at risk of extinction. A genetic mutation in the Y chromosome over several generations has spawned a generic crisis. More than two dozen species have been affected, including the human population. Due to the prevalent use of fertility drugs, most pregnancies result in the birth of four offspring.

In each generation, more girls grew up as identical sisters. Simultaneously, fewer males were being conceived so more boys grew up with cloned brothers. Other species were already extinct because of these genetic mutations and the resulting imbalance of the male to female ratio. Drastic measures were required to prevent the human race from following suit. A research team dedicated to reversing the effects of the sex-chromosome drive was assembled and a courageous group set out to save their civilization from extinction.

Zero Time takes the reader on an epic journey through time and space. From the Pleiades to Meso-America and back, from the future to present time to centuries long past, the journey is compelling and wrought with danger. If the travelers from Omeyocan are to be successful, their mission must be completed by Zero Hour – December 21, 2012. The fate of the entire universe depends on it.

A few minutes ago I became aware of a Mental Health Awareness blog party. Inspired by http://blogs.psychcentral.com/humor/2012/05/im-blogging-for-mental-health-may-16th-2012/ I decided to focus on the same three points, but from a different perspective.

I’m going to give you my take on helping people recognize the importance of good mental health; overcoming the stigma; and seeking help.

Let’s face it, we all have times when our lives feel less than perfect. When it’s just a rough day here and there, we muddle through and eventually the pendulum swings the other way until life is good again. Speaking from personal experience, I know our emotional reactions to the bad times don’t always retreat without a fight. It’s up to us to recognize that and find a way to do something about it.

We’ve all heard, “Life is too short.” I have a different perspective: Life is too long to be miserable while you’re living it.

About that stigma thing? Boy, do I get that, too! Been there, done that and the last thing I wanted to do was wear the stupid T-shirt. Sometimes it seems there are way too many people in the world who only feel satisfied when they are pointing out the flaws in others. Being on the receiving end of their nastiness can deal a KO punch to a person’s self-esteem. Don’t listen to the cruelty. That’s indicative of their problem, not yours.

Sometimes when we’re mentally or emotionally distressed, the burden of stigma causes us to try to fake normalcy. We pretend everything is great even when we know we’re struggling within. We want to avoid being labeled and ridiculed. Again, speaking from personal experience, that is a monumental mistake. Hiding the scars does not negate the reality of the wounds.

Since I’m not a mental health professional, the thoughts I express here are based entirely on my life experiences. In the early years of my recovery from a ruptured cerebral aneurysm, I dealt with a wide range of emotional, mental, psychological health issues. I can speak with authority from the patient’s perspective.

First and foremost: GET HELP DEALING WITH YOUR ISSUES. There’s no more shame in seeing a medical professional for mental health issues than there is in going to an orthopedic surgeon to get broken bones reassembled. If you don’t know where to start, make an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she may be able to help – or at least refer you to a resource that can.

Even if you can’t afford a doctor and don’t have access to free or low-cost mental health clinics, you need to reach out to others instead of internalizing your feelings and trying to hide the fact that something doesn’t feel right. You might start by writing a long letter to yourself to pour out all that you’re feeling. Sometimes that helps clarify your emotions and put things into perspective. When you’ve done that, confide in family members and friends. Let them know you’re not feeling like your usual self so they can be supportive and help you find avenues for getting professional help before the problems become overwhelming.

Of course, you may be one of the lucky folks who never has to wrestle with a demon. If you feel wonderful all the time, then bravo! Just understand that the person standing next to you at any given moment may not be having such a great time of it. Be concerned instead of judgmental when somebody close to you is feeling rocky.

Above all, realize that if you’re having emotional, mental or psychological health issues you are not alone. You have me.

(Note: The author provided me a gift copy of this book and requested a critical review)

Early in RSVP: Invitation to an Alchuklesh Massacre, author Jay Squires captured me with words that brought his work to life. Here’s an example:

“It would have meant traveling with the itinerant medicine man and his gorgeous teenage daughter (who, the first time I saw her, wore a bronze tan over her sleek body, a short buckskin skirt and whose jet black hair sported two braids with an actual feather, for God’s sake, tethered to each.) She smelled faintly of nutmeg and romance.”

Or this one, which made me feel like I was standing next to protagonist, Noah Winter, observing exactly what he was:

“A draft entered the open door behind him and wafted the blended fragrances of old leather, mahogany and the roses that Colleen had brought by. Ordinarily he would have breathed in the fragrance with wide nostrils; but today it served only to lift a corner of his memory.”

Noah Winter, it turns out, is a former police detective who resigned his commission after finding himself unable to come to grips with the untimely and tragic drowning of his son followed by his heartbroken wife’s suicide. Burdened by his grief and haunted by the thought that he should have prevented both deaths, he left the law enforcement profession and became an entrepreneur. In the years that followed, he accumulated property and wealth with uncanny ease. Seven years after burying his son and his wife just two weeks apart, Noah is not entirely comfortable with the notoriety and influence his new life garners.

A frantic phone call from a terrified friend awakens Noah’s sense of duty – his obligation to protect and serve – and he sets out on a quest to find and rescue the endangered teenager who has mysteriously disappeared amidst threatening phone calls and accusations that he killed a gang member whose cohorts were set on revenge. Author Squires skillfully straps his readers into the passenger seat of Winter’s expensive sports car for the twisting, turning ride as they try to piece together the puzzle right along with the wealthy former cop.

As a critical reader, I must mention that I noticed some sections that could have used a bit more editorial polish. Not that the writing was terrible; just that some important scenes seemed to fall below the standard that Squires set for himself early on. Having worked in a law enforcement environment for close to two decades, I found a few details to be inconsistent. However, I don’t believe they were significant enough to detract from most readers’ enjoyment of the book.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy mysteries and those who are interested in the clash between ancient Native American beliefs and modern American culture.

The ringing telephone jarred Collette Pearson from a dreamless sleep. The tall, gaunt, forty-something woman bolted upright and grabbed the receiver. She cleared her throat and mumbled a sleepy, “Hello.”

The voice on the other end of the line was sketchy and distant, whispering a nearly inaudible, “This is your blast from the past.” There was a click and the line went dead.

“How corny and clichéd,” she marveled. “Some people just need to get a life.”

Still, something about that voice and those words sent a cold jolt up her spine and caused her chest to tighten. Collette squinted at the digital clock on the nightstand until the numbers came into focus. “It’s 3:33 a.m.,” she noted out loud. “Who makes a prank call at this hour?

Although she tried to shrug it off as some idiot’s bad idea of a joke, the call concerned her. The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Usually an ardently independent and relentlessly audacious woman, Collette found it abnormal for her mind to conjure these troubling images of some faceless demented stalker. She felt very unsettled.

Since going back to sleep before the sounding of her four o’clock alarm wasn’t going to prove feasible she slipped into her robe and slippers before shuffling to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Feeling her way through the dark hallway, she cinched her house coat tightly and hugged herself against a sudden chill. “This hall is like ice,” she thought. “I hate everything about winter.”

Once her favorite dark roast Sumatra blend was ground and brewing, Collette sat at her scarred oak table and pushed the power button on her laptop. She sat there hollow-eyed, gazing blankly at the flickering screen as the computer came to life. A shiver shook her shoulders and she rubbed her hands on her upper arms, hoping to generate warmth. “Damn! Is the pilot light out on the furnace or something? It’s freezing in here,” Collette thought.

A few clicks on the keyboard popped up a list of unread emails. She grabbed her glasses and perched them on her nose, squinting a little as she opened the first message. “Junk,” she announced to nobody. “Delete.”

Tagging about a dozen emails, she continued trashing the spam. When she stood to pour herself a warming mug of coffee, she couldn’t quite shake a sense of frigid foreboding. If her morning java didn’t clear her head and thaw her frozen bones, what would?

When she returned to the table, a message flagged as urgent caught her eye. The sender’s name, Marie_M, didn’t ring a bell, but the subject block grabbed her attention: Jesse Mason. Now that was a name she recognized!

Jesse had been her lover when they were in college. They probably would have married eventually had it not been for two things: his propensity for drinking and drugging his way through life and her decision to move to another state so she wouldn’t have to watch him self-destruct. Jesse had been a brilliant guy, probably a genius. He had never really understood how to channel his intellect and, as a result, his intensity had consumed him.  It had broken her heart to say goodbye to her one true soul mate, but she had known then as well as she knew now that leaving him was less painful than watching him slowly disintegrate.

Collette smiled, remembering fondly how she had teased her lover, telling him that he should have been named Messy Jason instead of Jesse Mason.  As is sometimes the case with brilliant people, Jesse’s mind raced a million miles in a nanosecond and seldom paused for minutia like getting a haircut or belting his faded, dingy jeans. “Jesse was a mess in more ways than one,” she recalled with a tinge of melancholy. “I wonder what he’s up to now.”

She took another swig of coffee, savoring its rich aroma. Inhaling deeply and bracing herself as if expecting a monster to leap from the screen, she clicked on the message to open it. She scanned the words: Stop trying to contact Jesse.

Collette nearly choked on her coffee. “What? Trying to contact Jesse?  I haven’t even thought about that man for at least twenty years!” she exclaimed.

Her mind raced, searching for some logical explanation for this strange message. Snapping her fingers, she declared, “I bet this is some kind of phishing scam or something. They want me to reply so they can steal my password and spam all my contacts. That’s a big DELETE.”

Having drained her coffee and finished reading her emails, Collette headed toward the bathroom situated between the two small bedrooms in the rear of her tiny bungalow so she could shower and dress for the day. Pausing in the hall she bumped up the thermostat a few degrees.  Listening for the burner to ignite and the fan to kick on, she worried, “God, I hope the furnace isn’t busted.”

After a hot shower, Collette towelled off and dressed in layers. Lingering in the steamy bathroom, she ran a comb through her short, salt-and-pepper hair without even glancing at the mirror. Considering the sauna-like conditions, the room wasn’t particularly warm, yet she dreaded opening the door. An icy blast greeted her when she stepped into the bedroom. “Jesus! It’s colder than a steel slab in here!”  The air was so cold that Collette imagined she saw her breath. Shaking her head in disbelief she told herself, “It can’t be that freezing in this house.”

Hurrying into the kitchen, she poured a fresh cup of coffee before returning her attention to the computer where she saw a new message had arrived with that same subject line: Jesse Mason. “Techno-jerk!” Collette blurted in disgust. “Leave me alone.”

Closing the laptop, she slid it into a black messenger bag, bundled up in her heaviest coat and set off on what she expected to be a routine commute to what she assumed would be another regular day. Instead, weird visions of Jessie kept incomprehensively flashing through her consciousness; sometimes wavy and out of focus, other times as sharp and clear as if he were standing right before her. This version of Jesse was older than she remembered him. His curly black mess of unruly hair was now graying, parted and slicked down. He looked rather conservative and business-like. “Why is my mind aging him?”  She scolded herself for wondering how things might have worked out had she not turned her back on him when he was struggling with his addictions. Was this apparition haunting her the man Jesse had become? Or was it the man she somehow hoped he might be?

Going home later, she cranked up the car’s heater and tried to thaw herself while she grappled with her feelings and attempted to make sense of the high strangeness that seemed to have invaded her normally peaceful existence. Arguing that the day had been relatively uneventful aside from the twenty or so ‘Jesse Mason’ emails she had received and deleted without opening, she tried to put things into perspective. She might have convinced herself had her mind not insisted on replaying an eerie voice mail she had retrieved early in the day – a quasi-familiar male voice that echoed in her head, “I need to see you.”

As if dealing with the ever-growing knot of anxiety in her stomach wasn’t stressful enough, she had been annoyed all day by intermittent frigid blasts that originated from nowhere and left her bone-weary. ‘I must be coming down with the flu,’ Collette worried.

Arriving home, Collette hung her coat and put her other belongings on the kitchen table. At least supper would be simple. There was a big bowl of leftover chicken noodle soup in the fridge from the batch she made Sunday. Grabbing it, she loosened the lid and popped it into the microwave, setting the timer for five minutes. Retreating to the bedroom, she changed into sweatpants and a green thermal Henley. Still aching from the bone-chilling cold, she zipped on a thick hoodie and put on heavy socks, topped by a pair of obnoxiously hot pink leg warmers. Her robe and slippers completed the frumpy ensemble.

Collette made her way back to the kitchen, absently grabbing a knife from the drawer before starting her routine of sorting through the day’s mail; pitching junk into the recycling bin and slicing open the envelopes containing bills. Distracted, Collette nearly jumped out of her skin when the microwave timer sounded. Laughing nervously and shaking off her startled reaction, she retrieved the steaming soup and sat at the table to finish the mail. Not hungry, she threw away far more than she consumed. More out of habit than anything else, Collette rinsed her dishes and stowed them in the dishwasher.

Filling the tea kettle with water, she turned on the gas burner and struck a kitchen match to ignite a flame.  She stared mindlessly, considering the irony in fact that the flickering fire burned an icy blue. Growing gradually from a distant whisper, a whistle interrupted her reverie. “Maybe some hot Earl Grey will chase away the chills.”  Pausing to stir half a spoon of sugar into the hot water she poured over the waiting tea bag, Collette seemed oddly separated from herself. She was not simply lost in her thoughts; she felt hopelessly abandoned there. Not since the horrific months that followed her break up with Jesse had she felt this detached and pensive.

Sitting at the table, she powered on the laptop and navigated to the inbox. First email on the list was another new ‘Jesse Mason’ message. Wavering for an instant between trepidation and curiosity, she clicked it open and read: Don’t even think about Jesse. I am his wife and you need to stop pursuing him and leave us alone.

Collette slammed the laptop closed. Her shaking hands fumbled with the cord as she plugged the computer in to charge. A stabbing flash of realization struck her: Jesse had been the early morning prank caller and it was he who left that creepy voicemail message. Enraged and muttering curse words, she grabbed for her computer and went back to the messages. Infuriated by Jesse’s audacity and insulted by his wife’s accusations, Collette was determined to remove herself from this little marital imbroglio.

She typed a reply to the latest email: I did not contact Jesse. He called me in the middle of the night and hung up. He left me a voice mail saying he needs to see me. I have not been chasing him. If anything, it’s the other way around. You are harassing me with these emails and I want it to stop immediately.  I don’t want any further contact from either of you. A quick click on SEND and her words shot off into cyberspace. Her computer asked if she wanted to add Marie_M to her contacts. “Um, no. I think not.” Collette replied sarcastically, as though the machine could hear her response.

The last thing she needed in her life was Jesse’s drama. “What kind of psycho did he marry?” she wondered to herself. “No doubt somebody as messed up as he is.”

She closed the laptop, doused the light and headed to bed intending to read Leopoldo Gout’s novel Ghost Radio until she could fall asleep. Crawling between the flannel sheets, she pulled the heavy comforter up to her chin. After less than a page her eyes grew heavy and she was about to doze off when she was startled by a throaty moan emanating from the hallway. The sound chilled her anew. She swallowed hard, trying to force her heart out of her throat and back into her chest where it belonged. “I bet that’s the wind whipping across the furnace flue,” echoed unconvincingly through her mind. “This is crazy. I need to get a grip.”

Switching off the light, she closed her eyes against her fear and pretended to fall asleep.

* * * * * *

There was no point waiting for the alarm to sound. By 2:00 a.m. Collette could no longer bear faking slumber, so she arose to make some coffee. As she was filling the carafe, she caught her reflection in the dark glass of the window above the sink and the image shocked her. Her face was cadaverous, her skin colorless, and her expression blank and lifeless. Dark circles obscured her green eyes. The countenance staring back at her looked old, tired, drawn and haggard. Clearly the strain of recent events had taken their toll on her health. “I look like death warmed over.”

She ran her hands through her hair, smoothing away the sleep tangles, and then lifted her chin to briefly consider her eerie likeness in the glass pane before diverting her eyes from the distorted, nightmarish reflection. She cajoled herself, “Time to stop daydreaming and get on with my normal routine.”

Unplugging the laptop and stowing the cables in her bag before pressing the power button, Collette then turned to pour a mug of coffee while the computer was waking up. The furnace flue made that weird noise again, but this time it sounded considerably closer to her – feeling almost like a breath against her ear. ‘That was just incredibly freaky!’

If it wasn’t some trick of the wind, then she did not want to imagine what it might be. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled. Turning her attention to her email, she was not surprised to see a new ‘Jesse Mason’ message: This is Jesse. My wife is freaking out. Don’t reply to the emails. I’ll find another way to contact you.

“The hell you will!” she said a little too loudly to be talking to an empty house. She blocked the email address then grabbed her phone and searched her Caller ID for an entry from the previous morning. Jotting down the number and slipping the note in her wallet, she was armed to contact the phone company and block incoming calls from Jesse and his lunatic wife. Although she had lived alone most of her adult life, her little house now felt ominous instead of comfortable. Afraid to be by herself, Collette dressed quickly, deciding she would rather leave early than remain terrified in the arctic-cold bungalow.

* * * * * *

Although she arrived well before dawn, Collette lingered at her work late into the evening. There had been no more ‘Jesse Mason’ emails or cryptic voice messages, yet fleeting, shadowy images of the man continued to be-devil her. Sometimes appearing as her youthful lover, next morphing into some weird age-progressed rendering thereof, Jesse’s semblance repeatedly manifested and dissolved, leaving Collette to wonder if she had lost all touch with reality.

Grasping for some fragment of normalcy, Collette stopped at a gourmet bakery on her way home. She thought buying something chocolate and decadent would sooth her soul and might take her mind off of the taunting apparitions of Jesse. “Nothing better than a hazelnut torte dripping with chocolate ganache to chase away the ghosts of old boyfriends,” she observed silently.

While her indulgence was being boxed up, Collette caught motion in her peripheral vision. Quickly glancing up, she saw a tall, handsome man with wild, curly black hair approaching. There was something oddly familiar about the way he walked – leaning forward a bit and bouncing on the balls of his feet. He had a too-wide, toothy smile and steely indigo eyes that hovered well above dimples that were as deep as the Grand Canyon. It took an instant for her to realize he bore a disturbingly uncanny resemblance to the Jesse she had loved two decades ago. He even carried himself with that strutting rock star gait! She briefly considered asking him if he was a relative; a son, maybe? “No, don’t embarrass yourself like that. You just have a raging case of Jesse-on-the-brain,” she lectured internally.

Still, there was an inexplicable energy in the air. She wasn’t sure if it was chemical or electrical, but it made goose bumps rise on her arms as the young man continued toward her. His gaze was fixed on her and Collette stared back in detached amazement as he passed right through her and vanished. Terrified and trembling, Collette somehow managed to transport herself to her home, although she later had no recollection of doing so.

Entering the bungalow, she barely noticed the frigid blast assaulting her. Everything was surreal. The phone was ringing and she mindlessly answered it, fully expecting to hear some distant, spectral version of Jesse’s voice. Instead, she found herself straining to make out the broken words of Kathy Barnes, her best friend and sorority sister. The tone was urgent, distressing and eerily dreamlike, “Collette, Jesse Mason passed away. I saw it in this morning’s paper. I know you two are ancient history, but…” The voice trailed off, dissolving into static. Momentarily the nebulous utterance continued, now barely a whisper, “…you should know. Honey, you can finally let him go. Okay?”

Dropping the phone, Collette collapsed to the floor in hysterical sobs. The events of the last two days combined with her grief over the news of Jesse’s death propelled her into an emotional meltdown. It seemed as though eternity passed before she was able to drag herself to the kitchen and fire up her laptop. Why did she feel compelled to find that obituary and read it? Did it say when or how he died? There were now more questions than answers and nothing would make sense to her until she had some confirmation that he was actually gone.

Feverishly clicking keys to pull up the newspaper’s website, Collette felt vaporous and ethereal. She could feel her energy dimming like the beam of a flashlight with dying batteries, as though any second she would be plunged into darkness. “Where in the hell are the death notices?” she fretted.

A scan of the obituary page revealed nothing. “It has to be here. Karen wouldn’t lie to me about this.”

Quickly typing Jesse’s name and the word “death” in the search box, she hit ENTER and waited. Nervously tapping her fingers on the table, she fidgeted until one match finally returned – an article, not an obituary. She apprehensively clicked the link and began absorbing the words in horror and disbelief.

Jesse Mason, founder and CEO of Bio-Botics, was found dead in his Manhattan penthouse yesterday. Best known as the inventor of artificial intelligence technology that interprets brain waves and nerve impulses and transfers them to robotics, he was credited with developing the first fully integrated robotics-assisted prosthetic limbs. Originally from St. Louis, Mason is survived by his wife, Marie (Gillespie) Mason. He was 48 years old.

Police declined to comment on speculation that Mason’s death may have been due to an intentional drug overdose. They did, however, confirm that prescription medications were seized from the apartment. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a close friend and business associate reported he recently urged Mason to seek psychiatric care, stating Mason believed the ghost of his college sweetheart was haunting him. The woman perished last winter when her car slid off a snow-packed road and plunged into the icy waters of Lake Erie. She left no survivors.

# # #

Stepping through the wood-framed screen door into the Clarksville Public Library, I felt  as though a time machine had dropped me off in the parlor of some long-dead literary great.  Aside from a window air conditioner that was installed during the Great Flood of 1993 to help protect the collection from evaporating flood water and the mold it fostered, the place looks much like it did when it first opened 101 years ago. There is no computer. No telephone. No photocopier. The electric lights were installed in 1923, but they don’t see a lot of use.

A rocking chair beside the fireplace creaked into motion as if inhabited by the specter of the original town librarian reading aloud to a flock of children gathered at her skirt-tails. Closing my eyes and inhaling the rich, musty aroma that is a cross between the intoxicating scent of leather-bound books and the mildew inherent to old buildings positioned in such proximity to the river, I was transported back to a time when books were truly revered. I could almost hear the local musicians playing “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” and the murmur of townspeople gathered for a picnic on the lawn that Independence Day in 1910 to celebrate the library’s opening.

The centerpiece of this one-room treasure chest is a grand piano that was brought in by the Clarksville Musical Club sometime between late 1911 and early 1912, after the organization was granted permission to meet there. The library was the community center for this unique village with its long, rich tradition of  supporting the arts that far surpasses what one might expect of a town on the banks of the Mississippi River in a rural area in America’s heartland. For a century, Boy Scouts, reading circles, garden clubs and many other groups have gathered here. The spirits of cultured women are tangible in this hallowed place where they once assembled to prepare for Chautauqua, the cultural movement that Teddy Roosevelt called “The most American thing in America.”

Depending on donations and membership dues for its support, the library’s plea to the county commission for public funding in 1940 was denied with an explanation that it was an election year and no money was available. Lack of public assistance did not and will never deter this literary version of “The Little Engine That Could.”  A kid under the age of 12 can join for $1 a year, and an individual adult for double that, but it sets a family back a whopping $5 annually to belong. Mind you, there will be a fine of two cents for every day a title is kept past its due date! There have been frequent fundraisers throughout the years, and this tight-knit arts-loving community always comes through. Back in the 1920s the Clarksville Opera House donated the proceeds from a performance of “On A Slow Train Thru Mizzery” to help the library purchase an encyclopedia. As recently as July 2010, the library hosted a fish fry and open house to commemorate it 100th birthday in much the same manner the historic landmark’s grand opening was celebrated.

The Clarksville Public Library is home to approximately 4,000 volumes ranging from “The Origin of Species” through “The Help” and one can still find there a copy of  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that has not been edited for 21st century political correctness and actually contains all of Mark Twain’s original words. That rich aroma of leather-bound books noted above is not the result of some sensory hallucination. This may very well be the last place on earth where a library member can check out such treasured volumes. Until technology is capable of recreating that comforting fragrance that can only be produced by thick Vellum paper in leather bindings, no e-book will be capable of recreating this kind of reading experience.

Staffed entirely by volunteers, the hours of operations are limited to Thursdays from late afternoon until early evening. Those are the precious hours during which a visitor can be transported to a magical kingdom where the standard of currency is the love of the a great book. It is a hallowed place where the soul of any avid reader would joyfully remain long after leaving the corporeal body. What a gift it would be to sit in that creaky rocker with comforting embers glowing red in the fireplace and turn the sacred pages of a leather-bound classic for eternity!

Clearly, this temple to literacy has seen good times and bad. Raging flood waters from the Big Muddy could not destroy it and neither would it fall to the abject poverty of The Great Depression. It certainly will not surrender to the rapid-fire advances of The Digital Age. This library has stood sound while young readers of several generations left for multiple wars – and provided a quiet sanctuary to those who awaited their return. It isn’t about to fold before technology that can be defeated by simply denying it a power source. Barring Armageddon, this monument to books is eternal for a single, uncomplicated reason: The people of  Clarksville are endlessly, hopelessly, passionately, head-over-heels in love with the printed word.

 This writer is, too.

# # #

Today I exchanged messages with a woman who had an aneurysm rupture in her brain just three months ago. She was concerned because she feels like she’s on an emotional roller coaster since her bleed. She feels like matters are getting worse instead of better as time goes by.

Hers is a story with which I am all too familiar. My bleed was almost 14 years ago, but I remember all too vividly what that felt like. I remember going through a period where I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to put on a happy face regardless of what I was dealing with at the time. After all, I was alive and hadn’t suffered any serious long-term consequences, so how could I be anything less than elated?

The reality is that even survivors have a bad day now and then. We may even have a few more of them than the average person. We have to deal with the everyday aggravations everybody faces and sometimes we have to manage that when our brains refuse to retrieve information we need to finish a task or insist on putting the wrong word in our mouths. And ever-present are reminders that we should be  happy because we are lucky to be alive. Sometimes it can be hard to feel lucky.

My advice to my new friend was to give it time and to continue communicating with other survivors who understand what she is experiencing.  I also suggested that she talk to her doctor about the emotional rollercoaster she has been riding and assured her that it is okay to let other people know that life isn’t perfect. It’s trippy what blood can do to brain chemistry. Add to that the trauma of the experience and the post-operative medications and it should be no surprise that our emotions get all out of whack.

Still, we just want to be normal again. Is that so much to ask?

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