Feeling a Bit Disturbed

 

 

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Last Friday I saw the band Disturbed play at a venue near me, and I won’t soon forget the experience. The concert was powerful, and it was emotional. I’ve never been to a rock concert where so many people cried, or were trying not to cry.

Disturbed is a heavy metal/nu metal band, and they’ve written songs that center around suicide. One of the videos to these songs depicts a woman who hangs herself. The video is graphic and it comes with a PSA from the lead singer, David Draiman, pleading with people who are thinking about taking their own lives to seek help and to know there is another way. The National Suicide Helpline is displayed in the video, just as it was displayed on the big screen during the concert.

Draiman spoke very eloquently and deeply to the audience. This is a man, and band, who create a deep connection with their fans. They refer to the crowd as their family, their blood.

In the middle of the set, the band moved from the main stage to a smaller stage in the center of the floor to be more intimate with the crowd. Draiman called for the house lights to come up and he asked for anyone who has dealt with substance addiction or depression, or knows someone who has, to raise their hands. With the lights on, I could see clearly throughout the venue, and more people than not had their hands raised.  Draiman then asked for everyone to look around and see that they aren’t alone. 

Powerful moment right there.

This is when the band sang their inspiring songs about defeating one’s thoughts of suicide. The house lights stayed on, making the moment all the more sober. A mother and son sitting beside me embraced while they cried. Tears gushed from the woman’s eyes and down her face. Through cries they battled through the songs. A man beside the woman caressed her shoulders.

A few minutes later, she passed by me. I was sure the moment was too much for her. She needed a break. When she came back, I thought of giving her a quick hug, but I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me, and maybe that would have been unwanted by her.

While the songs played I looked around me. The woman and son weren’t the only ones crying. There were many tearful eyes about me. So many strong-looking men stood with their arms crossed over their chest and stoic expressions on their faces and tears in their eyes. It was all so much I almost cried myself but held it back. The pain being suffered around me was palpable.

Before the show, at the meet and greet, a fan had given the band a letter. The lead singer called this fan to the stage and asked for his permission to read the letter aloud. The shocked young man stepped onto the stage and nodded to Draiman his consent. The letter explain that this man had attempted four times to take his own life and was going to do it again until he heard the song “The Light” by Disturbed. The man stayed on stage as the band played the song marking one of the most powerful and emotional moments I’ve ever witnessed at a concert.

Disturbed, like other rock bands I’ve recently seen play, were very inclusive in their message. Draiman preached tolerance of all people, of all races and religions, and he even included gays and transsexuals, which I appreciated very much. Everyone around me cheered this message. I didn’t hear any jeers or sneers.

The band ended the show with the lead singer telling everyone to take care of themselves and to take care of each other.

I went to bed that night feeling so empowered and appreciating my life.  If you ever get the chance to see this band play live, please do. It’s an experience like no other.

 

Below is a clip of the man Draiman called onto stage.

 

While the band played “A Reason to Fight” the mother and son beside me cried together.

 

A strong message of suicide preceded the song “Watch You Burn.”

 

 

*I don’t own the top picture of Disturbed.

A Penny on the Tracks

Last November, I published my book, A Penny on the Tracks. It is a YA book based loosely on my childhood friendship with my best friend. I wrote this story in college. At the time, it was written as a short story and was titled The Hideout. The finished product hardly resembles anything of the original.

In fact, the college version of A Penny on the Tracks was so bad that when I reread it nearly fifteen years ago, my first instinct was to throw it away, but the writer in me remembered the agonizing hours I put into the piece, so I stuffed it in an overfilled drawer of mostly unfinished old works and left it there.

About three years ago, for whatever reason, I searched that overfilled drawer for that story and this time when I reread the piece I didn’t want to toss it into a fire. This time I saw potential. Although I ended up rewriting almost the entire thing, the core of the story has stayed the same — two friends sharing their childhood together while dealing with personal tragedy.

The importance of friendship is prevalent in this story, and I’m proud of the way A Penny on the Tracks has turned out. I’m proud that I not only finished the story, but a publisher liked it enough to contract it. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with the story I am currently writing tentatively called Annabel. 

This is another awfully-written college short story and was titled The Attic. This piece was also stuffed in that same overfilled drawer and for some reason I also fished this story out and decided to salvage it with a rewrite. I’m over two hundred pages in and am still unsure about an ending, but I have some ideas. With A Penny I always knew how the story was going to end, and of course knowing the direction you’re writing to makes writing a story so much easier, but I do have a knack of making life harder for myself. Why should writing be any different?

The story of A Penny on the Tracks deals with friendship, coming out, and tragedy.  A girl names Lyssa and her best friend Abbey discover a hideout near the train tracks and spend the summer before sixth grade hanging out and finding freedom from issues at home. Their childhood innocence shatters when the hideout becomes the scene of a tragic death.

Here is an excerpt from A Penny on the Tracks:

I JERKED FROM my sleep while the phone was still buzzing its first high-piercing ring. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It read 4:17 a.m. I knew something was wrong.

The second ring was abruptly broken up, and my mother’s muffled voice carried into my room. I was already sitting upright in my bed when my bedroom door squeaked open, and my mother’s slight figure appeared as a shadow near my door.

“Lyssa? You up?” she asked.

“What’s wrong?” My voice was no louder than a whisper.

My mother made her way into the dark room. I couldn’t make out the expression on her face, but her movement was stiff and hesitant. 

She turned on the lamp and sat down beside me. Her face was pale and she let out short, shallow breaths. It seemed difficult for her to look me in the eyes.

“What is it?” I asked. “What’s happened?”

My mother looked at me with pain in her eyes. “Lyssa . . .” She smoothed her hand gently across my arm. “Abbey’s dead.”

I took in her words without an ounce of denial. The reality of what my mother had told me was instant.

My best friend was dead.

 

 

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A Penny on the Tracks

 

 

 

 

Getting the Title Right

My new publisher and I are in the beginning stages of creating a cover for my new book, A Penny on the Tracks. The expected release date is October of this year. A Penny breaks away from the romance-themed kind of story my first two books were categorized. A Penny on the Tracks is a Young Adult book  that revolves around the friendship of two eleven-year-old girls and into their teenage years.

A Penny started out as a short story I had written in a Creative Writing course in college almost nineteen years ago.  The story then was called The Hideout, and until about the halfway point of revising this short story into a 75,000 word novel, that title remained. I was writing a scene of one of the young girls, Lyssa, placing pennies on a set of railway tracks they hang out at all the time, and the title just popped out at me.

It was so obvious I’m not sure why I had ever considered another title because placing pennies on the tracks becomes a symbolic part of the story. I am sure I had originally selected The Hideout as the title of my then short story because the place where the tracks lay is a spot Lyssa and Abbey spend a lot of time at and refer to it as their “Hideout” because aside from a high school boy they befriend there, they’ve never seen anyone else at their secret place.

So this space does feel like their very own hideout, but the scene is so much more than that. Those grounds will be the place two characters of the book will choose to end their lives. I’ve only felt this good about the choice of my book title once before; when I felt the title really matched the story.

I’m not sure how much other authors struggle with titles, but I usually have a hard time deciding on one. So I am delighted when a title pops out at me, especially  while in the middle of writing a scene.

Although my publisher and I have yet to go through the editing process, here is an (unedited) excerpt from my upcoming book, A Penny on Tracks:

I balanced the weight of my body on my back foot and dug the heel of my high-top sneakers deep into the thick gravel. I wound my arm like a major league pitcher, and with all my strength, I launched a rock, almost the size of my head, at a passing train. The rock landed against the moving steel, and the cargo it carried, with a loud thud.

“Damn it!” I slapped my hand against my thigh. “I wanted to smash the glass.”

I quickly turned to search the brush for a rock as good as the one I’d just wasted a terrible throw on and noticed Abbey was still holding her own rocks tightly in her hands.

 “How come you didn’t throw yours yet? Throw em’ before the train’s gone.” I moved to continue my hunt, but then looked back at her and added, “And aim for the windshield!”

“I can’t,” Abbey said.

“Then aim for whatever you want.”

“No, I mean I can’t throw it.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No I can’t,” she insisted.

“Just do it!” I yelled.

“But I don’t want to!”

I peeked down the tracks, checking if the train was near the end. It wasn’t. We still had time, but not much. “Hurry up and throw it!”

I watched Abbey hesitate while gripping two medium-sized rocks in each hand. She moved a couple steps closer to the passing train, and chucked the rocks, one at time, at the cars mounted onto the train.

I cheered loudly after one of the rocks hit its target with a loud crash. “Did you hear that?” I yelled.

I looked down the track again, but this time, I could see the caboose. The train was coming to an end. “Come on! Let’s hide in the woods so no one sees us.”

We squatted near the edge of the grass, just inside the woods, behind a thick tree trunk.

“That was a bad idea,” Abbey said. “We shouldn’t have done that.”

I laughed and told her to shut up. “It was fun.”

Once the train passed, we popped out of the woods and watched as it disappeared down the tracks.

“How come you always make us hide at the end?” Abbey asked me.

“In case someone’s in the caboose and…”

“Unloads a salt gun on your asses,” a voice behind us finished.

I turned around and saw Derek standing near the brush, a cigarette dangling loosely from his lips. His faded blue jeans were torn at the knees and a black Led Zeppelin T-shirt, underneath a worn jean jacket, tugged against his lean waist.

“Don’t even get her started,” I warned him. “No one’s gonna unload a salt gun on our asses. They don’t even have a salt gun.”

“Then why do we run?” Abbey asked.

“Like I was saying before I was interrupted,” I paused and gave Derek a hard look. “In case someone’s in the caboose and gets a good look at us.”

“A good enough look to shoot your asses full of salt, you mean.” Derek smirked at me.

“See!” Abbey threw her arms in the air. “It’s true! That guy really does have a salt gun, doesn’t he, Derek?”

Derek pushed a strand of his long tangled brown hair away from his eyes and sat atop a large rock. He leaned his elbows against his knees, his skinny body crouching forward. “It’s what I heard,” he said. “But keep it up and soon you’ll know for yourself.”

“Shut your trap, Derek.” I pointed my finger at him.

Abbey shook her head. “I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Don’t listen to him. Does he look like he knows anything?” I argued.

“Then don’t listen to me.” Derek took a long drag off his cigarette and let out a deep exhale of smoke. Off to the side, near his feet, a dirty black and white bandanna lay in a twisted mess across the gravel. I recognized it as one that Derek used to wear. The old bandana must have slipped from his back pocket one day and he never bothered to pick it up. “Get hit with rock salt,” he continued, “and feel the burn when that shit tears into your flesh.”

“Shut up!” I rushed at him, but he dodged my efforts to grab him.

“That’s it,” Abbey said, determined. “We are definitely not doing this again.”

I watched Derek flick his cigarette in the direction of the tracks.

“Are you happy now, Asshole?” I asked him.

“Nice little girls aren’t supposed to talk like that, or throw rocks at trains,” he said.

 I sat down on one of the rails of the track. “I’m not nice.”

“No, you aren’t.” Derek laughed.

“And I’m not little,” Abbey said, even though she was.

 

Thanks for reading.  Please check out my books, Her Name and Loving Again, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

 

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Alicia+joseph

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Who Defines What a Hero Is?

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This emotional picture recently popped up on my Facebook Newsfeed with the caption, “If Bruce Jenner wants to be a woman, so be it. His body – he can do what he wants to it. But please – stop calling it heroic, courageous & brave because it isn’t. This is heroic, courageous & brave………”

The above statement screams ignorance. Yes, the picture above is very heroic, courageous, and brave, but who gets to decide what’s heroic, courageous, and brave, and what isn’t? To people not dealing with gender issues or feeling they were born in the wrong body, Caitlyn Jenner may seem to only be playing “dress-up.” But for those struggling with this issue, and hating the bodies they live in, and fearing they will spend their ENTIRE lives never able to express on the outside, the person they know they are on the inside, Caitlyn Jenner is a hero because she’s shown them they no longer have to hide in shame, or kill themselves because they don’t know what else to do.

According to a recent article in the Chicago Sun-times, 41% of transgender individuals have tried to kill themselves at one point in their life. 41 percent! To put that number in perspective, according to a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, 4.6% of the general public have attempted suicide in their life. One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to notice the significant difference in those numbers.

The two transgender individuals who were interviewed in the Sun-Times article had both attempted to end their life, and did so because they were constantly “harassed, bullied, victimized, discriminated against, or rejected by family and friends….” A suicide attempt came at the age of 13 for one of the individuals, and as a freshman in high school for the other.

They were kids. Children. Minors. At an age when most young people are excited about their future, dreaming of being a famous baseball player, or imagining themselves as the next Taylor Swift, there are kids who have already bore so much pain that they give up on life. Feeling hopeless enough by the time they hit their teen years that ending their life seems like the better option.

According to doctors and mental health experts,suicide prevention for anyone begins with acceptance and kindness, especially by one’s parents.

Love One Another. Be Tolerant. Show Compassion.

If the solution to saving lives seems so simple, then why are so many people still suffering? Simple answer? Because not everyone loves one another. Even some of the most holier than thou people don’t truly “Love Thy Neighbor.” Nor does everyone practice tolerance or show compassion. It’s much easier to ridicule the lives we don’t understand.

The caption above is a perfect example of how we judge others and put each other down.

Caitlyn Jenner may not be YOUR kind of a hero, but she’s the perfect hero to someone out there.

*The quotes came from an article in the Chicago Sun-Times. The article was used as a reference for this blog.

The picture came from Facebook. I do not own it. If it violates and copyright law I will remove it.

Note: After their failed suicide attempts, the individuals in the article received good care, despite some discrimination in healthcare. Not all medical professional are properly trained in dealing with transgender health issues. This is just another obstacle transgender people have to endure.

There’s Help Out There

I was watching a movie with friends. The movie we were watching revolved around a highly-oppressed minority group of people living amidst a society filled with extreme violence and chaos. A scene unfolded as a visibly desperate man – who had fought every adversary he met as bravely as he could, whose mind had endured as much emotional suffering as it could possibly bear, and a man whose body had experienced pain it could no longer withstand – walked down a gravel street carrying a canister of gasoline. He stopped suddenly, poured the gasoline over his body and set himself on fire.

A young woman sitting beside me asked, “Why’d he kill himself?”

“Because he’s a coward and that’s what cowards do,” her boyfriend, sitting on the other side of her, replied.

This exchange took place more than a year ago, but I haven’t forgotten it, and probably never will. The tone that young man uttered his incredibly insensitive words lacked any hint of empathy or compassion. He made the ignorant statement unaware of the plight of those around him. He wasn’t close enough friends with every single person in that room to know their struggles, their downfalls, or to witness the quandary of their weakest moment.

He exemplified none of the human values (compassion, kindness, tolerance ) necessary to be a decent loving human being. I remember being angry when that young man said what he had said, but I didn’t say anything because I believe those who boast loudly and talk boldly, do so to hide their own weaknesses. I swallowed my dissent that night, and instead of challenging his words, I looked at the young man with sympathetic pity in my heart because maybe he was struggling a battle so deep and profound that he needed to appear stronger than he felt.

Maybe the young and confident man was putting on an act.

Or, maybe he was just an insensitive jerk.

But that night I chose to give the young man the benefit of the doubt, and I hope he made no one in that room feel like a coward if they were struggling to overcome their own weighted hopelessness.

According to Veterans Today, the annual suicide rate for veterans is 29.5 per 100,000 veterans. This suicide rate is 50% higher compared to people who never served in the military. If this young man knew of this statistic, I wonder if he would still have boldly stated that people who kill themselves were cowards.

I don’t know, but I do know that men and women who serve our country and protect our freedom are not cowards – no matter how their life ends, and the same applies to everyone else who loses their life to suicide.

Be tolerant. Be compassionate. Life is uncertain. Life is unpredictable. Life is uncontrollable.

There’s help for those who need it. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

Note: I do not own this picture. If it infringes on any copyright I will take it down.