Griffin’s Heart: Working Through Loss

               It’s been ten years since actress Reagan Pasternak’s beloved cat, Griffin, died and since then, though life has been very busy with her career, marrying, and becoming a mother, she has missed the pet she calls a “soul mate.”

               To help with her grieving, Pasternak who starred in Netflix/HULU/HBO’s “Being Erica”, HBO’s “Sharp Objects”, Syfy’s “Wynonna Earp,”  and BET’s “Ms. Pat,” began journaling her feelings, incorporating not only the pain she was feeling but also tools and techniques for processing her grief. It took a decade but now Pasternak’s book, “Griffin’s Heart: Mourning Your Pet With No Apologies” (Creatures Align Press $27.99) is available through Amazon.

               Pasternak, in a phone call from her home in California, describes the book as an interactive memoir, keepsake,  and healing journal that she hopes will provide guidance for others who have lost a pet.

               “I feel that animals get so forgotten after giving us so much love,” she says. “I wanted to honor them.”

               Pasternak doesn’t consider herself a writer but says she felt compelled to write about all that she has learned while going through her own stages of grief. That includes reading about the brain and how it processes emotions and information, exploring different ways to heal such as music therapy, and taking up meditation to help with anxiety. Doing so helped with the loss of her other pets as well including another dog who just recently passed away.

               “Everything began accumulating in my psyche, and one morning my husband said that I needed to finish the book,” she says. “I had started it, put it aside, had a baby, was acting—so I was busy. Every morning when I started writing the book, I’d ask myself to whom am I writing. I wanted readers to have something, so they knew they weren’t alone and to know they could get through. Then it just all came together in a cosmic way. I met an editor who thought it was a great idea and we started working together.”

               The book contains exercises, chances to journal, and is a repository for readers to enter their own memories, melding their losses into what Pasternak sees as a keepsake.

               Since the book was published, Pasternak has been receiving notes from readers who share their own stories of losing a pet.

               “My husband and I read them and cry,” she says. “It’s so touching that these strangers are reaching out. I keep getting photos from people showing how they have placed the book next to the urn containing their pet’s ashes.”

This outreach has inspired Pasternak to stay focused on the book and the stories people share.   “I just believe I’m helping change the culture of grief,” she says.

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Bad Moon Rising: A Heidi Kick Mystery

         Bad Axe County has seen some bad days, but this may be the worse as Heidi Kick, former beauty queen and now sheriff learns that the medical examiners have determined that the homeless man recent found dead, had been buried alive.

         Even for Kick, who is pretty tough having survived the murder of her parents years earlier and the savage world of beauty competitions, this case is exceptionally hard. Being buried alive has always been one of her worst fears.

         So begins “Bad Moon Rising” In John Galligan’s third book in his Bad Axe County. Set in rural Wisconsin, Kick is grappling with her own fears and unresolved issues as more and more bodies are discovered. That’s not all that’s facing Kick. Married to a former standout local baseball player, she’s the mother of three young children and is up for re-election. Some people think she should be home with her children and start spreading lies about here.

         Galligan, who teaches writing at  Madison College in Wisconsin,  is also the author of the Fly Fishing Mystery series. Describing  Wisconsin as his favorite place to be, he also knows the culture of some of its more rural towns. Bad Axe County is fictional carved out by Gallaher between two real counties.  He doesn’t shy away from writing about some of the prevalent issues facing rural areas and how they impact his characters.

         “The region’s beauty and its challenges fascinate me,” he says. “There are hundreds of miles of spring creeks where wild trout still thrive. At the same time factory farms and sand-fracking outfits are moving in, and climate change is having a devastating impact.” There’s also meth to contend with and those who are so set in their ways they can’t accept a woman as a sheriff. In his books, he uses real situations to show what Kick is dealing with.

         Galligan also sees the closeness of such communities as well.

         “Neighbors look out for each other,” he says.  “You can find a pancake breakfast or a brat fry on any day of the week. People both leave and stay with equal degrees of passion.”

         This realistic look at the fictional Bad Axe County shows us why Kick remains despite everything.

         Country girls, says Galligan, can hunt, fish, shoot, get great grades in school, and be good at just about everything. That’s the kind of heroine he’s given us in this series.

The Photographer

Seduced by the lifestyle of the family she’s photographing, celebrity photographer Delta Dawn immediately sets about immersing herself into their life, volunteering to babysit. She soon has access to the house—drinking their wine, bathing in their tub, becoming good friends with Amelia and sending out seductive vibes to Fritz.

If Delta Dawn, an elite New York society photographer, doesn’t see beauty she creates it as well as her own version of reality. A whiz with photo editing tools, she can create the scenes she wants to convey.  A scowling child. No problem, she can turn that into an adoring smile. A cold and aloof family. There are ways to manipulate the bodies in the pictures she takes to bring them closer together, soften their stiffness, and turn them into a lovely and loving family to be envied.

Mary Dixie Carter by Beowulf Sheehan

          But that envy overtakes Dawn in The Photographer, Mary Dixie Carter’s mystery-thriller when she is hired to do a photo shoot of successful architects Amelia and Fritz Straub and their 11-year-old daughter, Natalie. A catty observer, Dawn quickly sums up situations—and others—quickly. Amelia, she  quickly notes when they first meet, despite being striking with a magnetic personality isn’t  as pretty as she is.  Her breasts aren’t as large, nor is her waist as small, and she’s at least ten years older. Dawn immediately prices Amelia’s Montcler coat as costing more than $2000. Then there’s Amelia’s handsome husband with his amazing green eyes. And let’s not forget their wonderful house.

          Seduced by what she sees, Dawn immediately sets about immersing herself into their life, volunteering to babysit. She soon has access to the house—drinking their wine, bathing in their tub, becoming good friends with Amelia and sending out seductive vibes to Fritz.

          “Several years back, I hired a photographer to take pictures of my two children,” Carter wrote in answer to questions I emailed to her. “The pictures came back, and they were beautiful, but my children’s eyes in the photos were cobalt blue, not their actual color. ‘I want my children’s eyes to be their real color,’ I said. She responded: ‘There is no real color.’ That sentence stuck with me. I started to think about the psychology behind that idea: There’s no real color, there’s no real anything. Delta Dawn doesn’t feel restricted to the reality of the situation. She alters an image to make it what she needs it to be.”

          This is the first book for Carter, who graduated from Harvard with honors and previously worked as an actress.  Though she says she’s not a good photographer, she took classes in both photography and photo editing while writing the book.

          “I learned enough so that I understand some of the basic concepts,” she says. “I did a good deal of research on photo editing and the various ways in which one can alter pictures of people.”

          When it came to her characters, Carter let them evolve as she wrote including Dawn.

          “I didn’t want her to edit herself,” she says. I wanted her to go as far as possible.”

The Panic Button Book: Press Now!

Tammi Kirkness

         We’ve all been there. A deadline looming and your computer decides to go rogue. You call about a wrong charge on an account, our rooted around the world and back, repeating your story to four or five different people and then after waiting on hold for an hour are cut off. You run into a high school frenemy and find out s/he just signed a multi-million deal to a book about those high school days and how mean everyone was—giving you a knowing look.

         And that’s just the small stuff. But Tammi Kirkness has you covered when you’re hit with high stress situations. An Australian based life coach and wellness consultant as well as an international speaker, specializes in working with people who grapple with high functioning anxiety. That typically refers to those who seem to function well but are often overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, are sure something bad is going to happen, compare themselves negatively to others, and tend to be workaholics and perfectionists. 

To overcome anxieties, Kirkness incorporates well-researched and proven psychological treatments and Eastern techniques of reducing anxious states such as meditation and breathing from our core, sharing her insights in her extremely easy to use book, “The Panic Button Book: Relieve Stress and Anxiety Whenever They Strike” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2020; $15.99).

         Kirkness has many characteristics of someone with high-functioning anxiety.

         “A big part of my journey was working way too hard, being a perfectionist and putting way too much pressure on myself,” she says.

         Not only wasn’t it good in the short time nor could she keep it up for a long time.

         “There are things that we can do to help calm down our nervous system and still create success with sustainability,” says Kirkness. “I think taking time to pause and do some soul searching is generally the first step.”

         Other components include learning to take deep breaths which are calming and relaxing. Journaling—putting your thoughts down on paper—and meditating (there are free online apps for that) also make a difference. But what I found most useful about the book were the Decision Trees Kirkness developed.

         Dividing the book into sections, she covers Living and Working, Socializing, Relationships, and Parenting. Each has related scenarios such as “Do you have a difficult conversation coming up,” “Do you feel your partner is taking more than giving?” and “Are you not reaching your own expectations?” Then on the opposite page are the techniques you can take to help.

         As an example, one decision tree starts with the question “Are you trying to make something perfect?” Her two-step activity to counteract the need for get something done is to remind yourself that done is better than perfect. The second is to establish a clear timeline on finishing such as I’m giving this another 40 minutes and then I’m sending it in.

         Not all are simple two-steps like the above, but all are designed to provide relief from the immediate anxiety of situations and produce feelings of being more in charge of your emotions.

Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

“I believe we’ve forgotten how to do things just because, not without any larger purpose like becoming healthier. We run or walk because we want to reach a certain number of steps and not because it feels good. The same way, we can do nothing because it feels nice and not because it will offer us certain benefits–even if it might.”

       “This isn’t getting the work of the world done,” my mother would announce to no one in particular whenever she had sat for more than a few minutes.  Whatever the work of the world was—and I never quite figured it out– since my mom had a full-time job, grew roses, looked after my grandmother who lived next door, took Judo classes, cooked Julia Child-style dinners, and co-led my Girl Scout Troop, it certainly meant she couldn’t sit around

       If only mom had met Olga Mecking, author of Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2021; $11.58 Amazon price).

       Niksen isn’t about getting the work of the world done. Indeed, it’s not about any work at all. Instead, niksen is doing nothing, according to Mecking. And no that doesn’t mean vegging out on the couch watching the entire last season of “Homecoming” or reading posts on Facebook.

“It is doing nothing without a purpose,” she says. “I believe we’ve forgotten how to do things just because, not without any larger purpose like becoming healthier. We run or walk because we want to reach a certain number of steps and not because it feels good. The same way, we can do nothing because it feels nice and not because it will offer us certain benefits–even if it might.”

Mecking, the mother of three children, who lives in the Netherlands and works as a translator and freelance writer, says doing nothing comes naturally to her.

“As a child, I loved sitting around in my father’s favorite armchair and just daydreaming,” says Mecking. whose article on niksen in the New York Times garnered 150,000 shares in just a few days after it was published indicating an embrace of the concept.  “But since I became a mom, it became really hard to do nothing. But I also realized that I niks around quite a lot even if these are in-between moments like when I’m waiting for my kids to come home or taking the tram on the way to run some errands. So maybe I don’t have many long stretches of time. but I do have many short moments – enough to do nothing.”

Not me. I often find myself repeating my mother’s phrase.  Though I continue to wonder what the work of the word really entails, I know that it won’t get done if I’m sitting. I ask Mecking, if I’ll ever be able to shed my past and be able to niks?

   “It can be very hard, and I think especially for women, it can be even harder,” says Mecking about the struggle to just do nothing. “Simply because we do more work that’s unpaid and unsatisfying. Men protect their own free time and women protect men’s free time and kids’ free time, but no one protects the free time of women.”

   But there’s hope.

   “I think it would help us to re-frame doing nothing and to think of it as something valuable,” she says. “For example, if you can tell yourself that if you do nothing now then you can do better work later on, that’s already a big step. If we can learn to value niksen and downtime and taking time off the same way as we value work that would be great.  We can try reframing doing nothing and describe it as something that we need, like food or water. Think about it. Our bodies can’t work all day long without a break, no? The same way, our brains can’t either. It is impossible to expect people to be working with their brains all day long, be it at work or at home.”

       But whether you can niks or not niks, it’s okay says Mecking.

   “Sometimes it just doesn’t work,” she says. “Maybe it won’t work for you. It doesn’t mean that you’re a loser. You have to find a way to relax that works for you, and if that’s doing nothing then awesome, but if that’s going for a run that is great too! But if you want to try niksen, start slow, and take a look at how you spend your time. You might find that you do more nothing that you realize.”

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