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First: happy new year to all.

Second: another nod to actress Claire Danes – not so much for her winning an Emmy for lead actress in a drama series for her role as CIA officer Carrie Mathison – but for playing the bipolar character authentically.

I recently caught Danes on the Charlie Rose show. She discussed how she researched the role, including getting background info from Julie Fast. You can find Julie on this website’s homepage, commenting on her experience with the arrival of bipolar disorder.

In Light Fixtures, Aurora is experiencing the onset of the chemical imbalance in her body and the book takes us on the highs (mania) and lows (depression) of her thoughts and actions that summer at her grandparents. But with the help of some unusual friends, she confronts her situation with less confusion and more hope.

More….coming up in future blogs. If you have a question or comment, post it on the “Comments” page.

It’s officially fall and, as promised, a first-post of the season.

My blog starts with the recent Emmy awards. Not because I have my favorite shows – some who won (Breaking Bad) and some who didn’t (Mad Men) – but because of the winner of the lead actress in a drama series. Claire Danes plays a professional woman with bipolar disorder, a mood disorder that, with its mercurial ups and downs, can wring out a person’s life.

In Life Fixtures, teen Aurora knows the see-saw effect of the mental disorder, though it takes her the summer of 1963 at her grandparents farm in the Deep South, to learn what’s going on with her. During the manic period, she thinks and moves at a blinding pace. Life is good; life is full of experiences bathe in the joy of delicious mania. Sleep? There’s no desire for rest, only movement. But, when a crushing, emotional blow comes her way, her moods dip into the darkness and stillness of depression.

It will take much time before things change. But with the guidance of new friends Hematite and Mr. Dragonfly, Aurora slowly finds her way and who she is: a young girl with bipolar disorder…and hope.

I’ll be away from this blog until autumn. I’ll connect with you then. Enjoy your summer days.

For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, here we are in the heart of summer: the sky is a pristine blue and the blues is definitely not what you feel- at least if you’re a bipolar teen. This is the time of year when, even with the heat, or maybe because of the heat, you feel full of energy. But sometimes that high energy is really bipolar mania.

In Light Fixtures, set in the hot and humid summer of the deep South, fourteen-year-old Aurora feels that way. Moving and talking at a high speed, she is full of life, of ideas, and curiosity. But one thing she’s not full of is sleep. A good night’s sleep is not an “every day” routine for her. She has no desire to sleep. It’s during these manic times Aurora often heads to the hay fields at her grandparents’ or the nearby woods. Via those forays she will come to know two special friends who will help guide her to understanding herself, the mood disorder, and the joy of a special friendship that many may consider unreal.

If you haven’t read Light Fixtures, check it out. And enjoy your summertime!

The last time I posted I was headed back to the Deep South, the setting for Light Fixtures, chosen because of its distinctive climate and culture.

After the visit, I’ve since returned to my home in the Pacific Northwest and wish to share with you my latest observations on the site and its connections to the book. Having stayed in the area for over a week, I had the opportunity to walk the countryside that so influenced Aurora, Light Fixtures’ protagonist. But would I be able to visualize, as I did when I wrote the YA novel, the Southern teen climbing the hilly pastures, fishing the ponds with her grandmother, finding Mr. Dragonfly, and finally following the flying acrobat through the woods to Mr. Hematite’s place?

Yes and no. Yes, the walk to one of the ponds proved successful; the catfish-filled water with its now dilapidating pier was serene, and the dragonflies were here and there. Aurie would pass the pond on her foray into the woods; it was at the back pond she first met Mr. Dragonfly. Another success (though some may question that!) was feeling the very warm, humid air on my skin. Aurie was always battling the heat and ensuring sweat, though it didn’t seem to bother the mystical Mr. Hematite and his tiny friend the prehistoric Mr. Dragonfly.

The country church cited in the book had not changed, but there was one big change. No longer can one climb the hilly pasture. Now they are dotted with recently planted pine trees that are already taller than Aurora would have been in the novel. Where Aurora could run as fast as the wind and ascend the rolling grass-soon-to-be-hay fields, that was no longer an option.

Of course, nothing in life stays the same. It’s fortunate that, after fifty years, just a few “disruptions” have occurred where Light Fixtures took place. But even with those, there was still a feeling that Aurora’s grandmother’s land continues to hold the energy of three of the book’s characters and their stories: Aurora, Mr. Dragonfly, and Mr. Hematite. After all, you can never lose the memory for those who have been close to your heart…and still are.

Each year in late spring I return to NW Louisiana and to the countryside community of Chalybeate (Kuh-lee-be-et) Springs, where the setting of my young adult novel Light Fixtures takes place. A fiction writer’s story may be full of imaginative parts, but the setting is often based in an actual place. A critical ingredient to the story, it backgrounds the narrative in reality.

In Light Fixture’s case, it does just that. And upon my recent return from Chalybeate Springs I feel more confident in having chosen that scenery. That’s because I walked the rich countryside full of pastures, ponds, and thick woods where Aurora, the book’s protagonist, spent so much of her time, as she discovered her mystical friends Hematite and Mr. Dragonfly–and more importantly herself.

Walking the steps amid the warm thick-with-humidity Southern air, I could easily detect the smell of the sweetness of wild honeysuckle flowers as it mixed with the pine from the loblolly trees. Only one thing had changed in the pastures Aurora’s grandparents once tended. Now the open fields where the cows once grazed have been planted with fast-growing pine trees. That feeling of openness that Aurora once knew was no longer there.

But back in 1963, the land was cleared and full of light and smells. A perfect setting for Aurora’s summer with her grandparents as she comes to realize and understand via her experiences who she really is.

It’s been two months since I blogged; time to amend that. Speaking of time, it’s that time of year in the Deep South when bright colors and sweet smells rule the days. In other words, spring has arrived.

For Aurora, the protagonist of “Light Fixtures”, the season will always be synonymous with her Grandmother and her beloved flowers. In the novel, once spring rain turns into drier and warmer days, Grandmother would faithfully water her gardens early in the morning, usually waking Aurora who, during her teen bipolar mania stage, had had only a few hours of sleep. (Of course, Aurora thinks that’s all just normal, as she thinks others move, talk, and think as if they were in molasses.)

Grandmother’s special flowers included: peonies (she plants them correctly with the eyes just above the ground level, not like the Yankee way that ended up with the flowers having no blooms); camellias, and azaleas. But her special flower actually graced a tree, the redbud tree that she’d planted at the beginning of the long driveway to the house.

Aurora loved the honeysuckle along the roadside and fences. Honeysuckle had a fragrant smell and a sweet, delicate taste! At night when she walked to the woods to see Mr. Hematite and Mr. Dragonfly, the scent carried her along. It even seemed to calm her down, as if she thought she needed that, but it was nice.

Maybe that’s the thing about spring, it’s not only brilliant in color but also reassuring that not only that all’s beginning again, but also that all’s well. Only Aurora, with the approach of summer, must first learn that lesson.

Nothing is more American than the Super Bowl; it’s probably the one unofficial national holiday that brings us together best. There are people who don’t know anything about the sport, yet come Super Bowl Day, they’re with family and friends indulging in The Super Bowl Party! After all, it’s said that football has surpassed baseball in popularity and is now America’s pastime.

I’m one of those football devotees. Of course I, like you most likely do, have my team, and it, maybe like yours, too, didn’t make it this year to New Orleans to play the big game. But then, my team LIVES in New Orleans (though I do not), so there’s a little bit of joy with that.

But back to the party. A big, vital part of Super Bowl is that it’s watched with delicious food and drink! When the viewing is at my house, the menu is usually based on Southern delights: fried chicken, potato salad, purple hull peas (if I can find them). But there are also all things American: salsa, BBQ ribs, blue corn chips, beer, wine, and sparkling water with lemon. Adding to the event is that folks bring their favorite dishes and drinks, too.

In Light Fixtures, Aurora is a football lover. Living in a small northwest Louisiana town, football IS the name of the game. When she describes the cute, upper classman Johnny, she notes first his position on the high school football team. To her, especially when she experiences mania with the early onset of teen bipolar that summer, she goes on and on about him and football. The bipolar mania refuses to let go its reign until a sudden trigger changes things.

Certainly, there’s no need to be biploar to feel the mania the Super Bowl brings. That’s just letting the good times roll. For most Americans, once the game ends, the mania slowly dissapates. But until the 60 minutes playing time is over, mania not only has its place, it also has no need to be punted!

Now that I’m back, after a long holiday recess, I wanted to share with you a movie that I saw during that time: Silver Linings Playbook. (I confess I try to go solo to a matinee on Friday afternoons; it’s escapism with a capital “e”.) In the movie, the actors and actresses were indeed fine, but what really struck me about the film is that in many ways, in many scenes, it made me think of Light Fixtures.

After all, both the novel and the movie feature protagonists who are dealing with the onset of bipolar disorder.
What their stories also share is that they’re not focused on doom and gloom. Thirty-something Pat (actor Bradley Cooper) in Silver Linings Playbook and teenager Aurora in Light Fixtures begin their stories with full-blown mania. The film handled Pat’s mania authentically, showing, as Aurora’s mania is described in the book: “Everything was moving fast…with very rapid thoughts, words, and action.”

Catching my attention as well was the movie’s solid depiction of how bipolar affects close relationships. Pat’s parents were always on guard around him, not quite sure how to react to him. With the scene where he wakes his parents up in the middle of the night (good portrayal of his not sleeping, a mania byproduct) to ask where something was – then going on and on how he had to have that something to finish a “brilliant” plan he’d come up with – you could see this had not been the first time this had happened and his parents were weary. Yet, those very manic actions will later on draw to him a new, close friend.

Like Pat, a very manic Aurora in Light Fixtures gets only a few hours of sleep at night, often not any, and roams the woods – via guidance from a dragonfly – in search of a new friend whom she believes has special knowledge. And he does.

In conclusion, both the book Light Fixtures and the movie Silver Linings Playbook offer a well-rounded story, as both Aurora and Pat strive to come to terms with themselves and life. I recommend you check them both out. Their stories that remind you that life is full of ups and downs — and that can be a good thing.

Unless something snags my blog attention, this writing effort will finish out my Light Fixtures’ blogs for 2012.

These last two months are holiday-heavy, as two distinct celebrations appear on the calendar: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is centered on gratitude and is often more community-minded, when those without family nearby may be invited to sit down at their friends’ dining tables for the special dinner (we’ll be doing just that, joining friends at their home for supper); Christmas, however, is usually more family and religious oriented.

In a way, these two holidays might even be considered to be bipolar, e.g. Thanksgiving, even with football on the TV (yeah!), is often felt to be more “laid back” and less activity-targeted. The Christmas season, however, is definitely a more hustling and bustling time, complete with holiday Noels, demanding shopping lists and, on the big day, gift unwrapping, kids playing with toys, and family togetherness.

The only snag with comparing Thanksgiving and Christmas is that within both, there can emerge up’s and down’s.
And that leads us to the connection with Light Fixtures’ protagonist Aurora. As a young teen in 1963 who’s discovering the onset of teen bipolar, Aurora is slowly beginning to grasp that her manic depressive moods reflect an imbalance, even as she spends time at her beloved grandparents’ NW Louisiana home and enjoys the family event of making homemade vanilla ice cream.

But maybe that’s the best place to be when one is facing a challenge of ascending and descending moods: (especially as they often surface during the holidays) a place that offers no expected protocol behaviors, just peace, understanding, and hopefully, thankfulness and joy.

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