Book Review: Rambler: A family pushes through the fog of mental illness



Title: Rambler: A family pushes through the fog of mental illness

Author: Linda K. Schmitmeyer

Published: September 25, 2018

Pages: 374

Genre: Memoir/Nonfiction

Synopsis: When Steve, a successful young engineer, suddenly quits his job after a fight with his boss and begins exhibiting troubling signs of mental illness, a family’s seemingly idyllic middle-class life is thrown into chaos. Rambler takes the reader on an incredible 10-year quest of a family to stick together through the worst of his troubles and find answers from a medical community whose understanding of mental illness was lagging in the 1990s.



Final Thoughts:

In the realm of memoirs and nonfiction books based on medical issues, sometimes there are Important books, and there are Good Reads, and they do not always overlap. Many readers know the experience of trying to plod through an book just because they feel they should. The end result may be gratifying, but the doing is not. Or the act of reading a book whose narrative breezes along, but in the end, nothing of value remains.

This book is one of the fortunate few that exist in both spheres. Linda’s long career as a journalist and writing instructor is apparent, as events are presented in an engaging and easy-to-understand style. Despite the seriousness of a family struggling with the weight of bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, Linda is self-aware enough to find a dark humor in her life, through things like her husband’s idiosyncratic obsession with Rambler automobiles, and an odd sequence of events that led to the cover photo of Steve standing triumphantly atop a Rambler half-sunk in the middle of a pond.

These are counterbalanced by heart-rending details of events occurring while Steve was having an episode and the family’s ensuing struggle to cope with all of the chaos that entailed, emotionally, socially, medically, and financially. Steve’s personal battle would reach an apex when, after losing his engineering job, he was arrested and placed in a psychiatric hold during an engineering conference in Detroit, Michigan. Unfortunately, it would still be several years before the medical community caught up with Steve’s issues and figured out both an appropriate diagnosis and a mixture of medications that could quiet his mind. These years were a trying time for a family who had effectively lost their primary source of income, and for whom medical answers were not readily forthcoming.

Although the family very humanly experienced wistful despair and even anger at their situation, through all of the struggles is an undercurrent of love. Childrens’ love for their father. A wife’s love for her husband. A father’s love for his family. Each are strained to their limit in turn and for different reasons, but their resiliency and dedication to holding together as a unit is truly uplifting.

Rambler is a worthy companion to recent popular nonfiction books regarding mental illness, like Brain on Fire, by Susannah Calahan (encephalitis); and fictional entries like Still Alice, by Lisa Genova (Alzheimer’s). Especially given that this books offers something that many others do not: the first-person perspective of a family member.

The book is now available on Amazon, here.

On a final, personal note, I know the Schmitmeyer family, although not especially well. Linda and Steve were a part of a “card club” including my parents when I was growing up, and their children were a frequent part of the cast of characters at a pool belonging to a mutual neighborhood friend in the summers. Although much of the events of this book took place before I was in high school and thus my understanding of both mental illnesses and the family lives of others was extremely limited, I was very surprised upon reading at how much of the Schmitmeyer’s struggle was kept quiet within the neighborhood community. I knew Steve to be a charismatic and fun-loving person, who had a 1000-megawatt smile and an eager laugh. The family’s reasons for their reticence to share are eminently understandable: the stigmas surrounding mental illness are still very real, and even today’s relative state of enlightenment is a far cry from society’s general views in the late 90s. But, I think this is an important lesson; not that we should pry into the lives of others where it is not wanted, but that we should be aware that we may not know what our friends are going through at a particular time, and to do what we can to offer a hand or even an ear when we sense a need, because the issues may run far deeper than we realize.



Thanks for reading.

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Movie Review: Inside Out

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Inside Out

Director: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen

Release Date: June 19, 2015

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 95 minutes

Starring:

  • Amy Poehler
  • Phyllis Smith
  • Bill Hader
  • Lewis Black
  • Mindy Kaling
  • Richard Kind

Kid Friendly Rating: A few moments may be scary for some children, but mostly the movie is firmly in imagination-land. There are some sad scenes, but that’s sort of the point. Recommended 6+. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Reilly is an eleven-year-old girl whose life is upturned when her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco for a new job opportunity. While she tries to make the best of the situation, the stressful situation combined with her developing emotional maturity quickly sour on Reilly, and she is left feeling lost and out of place.

Inside Reilly’s mind, Joy is the leader of Reilly’s five key emotions, also including Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Together, Reilly’s emotions work in “headquarters” to guide Reilly through her day-to-day life. In the midst of the tumultuous changes in Reilly’s life, Joy and Sadness suddenly find themselves sucked out of headquarters and lost in the vast stacks of Reilly’s memory banks. Together, they work to find their way back to headquarters to help Fear, Anger, and Disgust, who are floundering with Reilly in their absence.

Pictures:

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Memorable Quotes:

  • Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now YOU!
  • All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.
  • Your dad’s under a lot of pressure, but if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help. We can do that for him. Right?
  • Things couldn’t be better. After all, Riley’s twelve now. What could happen?

Fun Fact:

According to director Pete Docter, each emotion is based on a shape: Joy is based on a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Anger is a fire brick, Fear is a raw nerve, and Disgust is broccoli.

Final Thoughts:

This movie has quickly become one of my 2.5-year-old daughter’s favorites, probably due mostly to the beautiful artwork, physical comedy, and superb voice acting by the lead characters. However, the thoughtfully written and layered innuendo which has become something of a trademark of Pixar movies ensures that there is something here to enjoy for every age group. Older audience members may find the movie somewhat more emotional than the kiddos, because there is a lot of wistful nostalgia regarding the process of growing up and maturing emotionally. There are a few laugh-out-loud situations that I don’t want to spoil, but suffice to say the actors were well-cast for their comedic roles.

If there is one real drawback to the movie, it is that there is not a ton of educational value. The various areas of the brain are cleverly plotted, but don’t offer a lot of insight on brain functions or psychology, but, perhaps this is really not the appropriate venue for those topics. On the other hand, there is one central lesson; the idea that as we get older, our emotions become less clear, and opinions about what once was simply good-or-bad, true-or-false, tasty-or-gross, may end up somewhere in the middle. And this lesson may hit home stronger with growing children than some denser educational content, anyway.

Ancient history: Stage Script: Thanks a Lot

George, roughly 45 and stocky, sits sleepily on a living room couch. He’s watching TV while his very young nephew plays on a rug in front of him. Cheers erupt from the television as someone apparently scores a touchdown. George rolls his eyes in disgust. 

George: Ugh! Are you kidding me? That was a catch like I’m a rhinoceros.

(looks around for some distraction and sniffs the air) I wonder if the turkey’s almost ready. I’m about sick of watching this game. And I am starving. If there’s one good thing about the whole family being here, it’s that I don’t have to cook anything. I can’t wait for mom’s stuffing.

(laughing from off the stage)Meh. Sounds like the guys are back from the annual pickup “Turkey Bowl.” I’m sure they’re all going to have stories to tell about full field touchdown returns and one-handed grabs. Like any of us care.

This whole day is more trouble than it’s worth. We make awkward conversation with people we don’t like. We repeat the same god damn short story about the last year to everyone that asks. We listen as if we’re interested. And the worst part: before anyone is allowed to touch any food, we go around the table saying what “we’re thankful for.”

“I’m thankful for a miserable life.” Ha-Ha.

(George glances at his nephew, who has a delighted look on his face as he “revs” a truck on the carpet. He sighs.) He looks so happy. If he only knew what life had in store for him. Decades of heartache. Bad investments. Failed marriages. Expanding waistlines. Yet, he’s so happy in his ignorance. Why can’t we all be that way?

(the nephew holds up the truck to his uncle. George manages a smile) Vroom. Heh. Is this your daddy’s truck? (smiling genuinely now at his nephew’s turn to shyness. He hands it back) I used to play. This isn’t me. Its just, so much has happened. I used to be happy, and now I’m bitter at everything. Look at me. I’m sitting alone in here while everyone else is having fun and enjoying company.

 

It’s not really fair, that I’m here like this. They probably don’t understand. I know they don’t. None of them know what its like to cry your their brother’s shoulder when the stock market leaves you broke at 35. None of them had to move in with their sister for a month after a marriage that ended so badly they couldn’t take care of themselves anymore. None of them had parents give them an intervention when the drink took hold of their lives. None of them.

A wheel falls off of the truck the young nephew has been playing with. He immediately begins crying and holds it up to his Uncle George. George, visibly concerned, takes the truck and wheel in his hands and tinkers a bit.

Here, here. Timmy, it’s alright, see? Good as new. You don’t need to cry; I’m here to help you.

(George pauses as he mulls something over in his head) I’m here to help him. And my family has always been there to help me… I guess I’m really lucky. I’ve had someone there looking after me, caring about me the whole time. I’ve had people there. Even now, they still invite this old curmudgeon when the holidays come around. How can they do that? How is that possible? I must be the luckiest man in the world to have a family that cares this much.

From the TV: “and that’s it folks, Dallas 27, Detroit 17. From everybody here at NBC, have a Happy Thanksgiving!”

George stands up and stretches out. He looks down at his nephew and smiles as he picks him up.

Hey Timmy, let’s go find your mommy and daddy. Its dinnertime, and I think I finally know what I’m thankful for.

Ancient history: Movie Review: The Princess Bride

Movie Review: The Princess Bride

            The Princess Bride is the hilarious tale of true love. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright star in the 1984 film, with acclaimed director Rob Reiner at the helm.

The film is the big-screen rendition of William Goldman’s 1970 book, The Princess Bride. The story centers around Wesley (Elwes) and Buttercup (Wright), two young lovers who are separated by poverty. Five years after their separation, Buttercup agrees to marry the prince of her land, with the assumption that Wesley–who never returned–is dead. Soon Wesley returns and immediately begins his attempts to retrieve Buttercup from the evil prince.

A spectacular cast highlights this very funny comedy. In one of his first roles, Fred Savage (Wonder Years) plays a sick young boy who is read the love story by his grandfather. Andre Rousimoff(also known as Andre the Giant), plays Fezzik, a big-hearted giant. Billy Crystal plays a hermit magician named Miracle Max. Mandy Patinkin (from Dick Tracy) plays Inigo Montoya, a drunkard master swordsman. Christopher Guest turns in a great performance as the villainous prince.

The soundtrack adds to the film with a well-written score. Singer/songwriter Mark Knopfler, of the band Dire Straits, created the music for the film. He also wrote a romantic song for the movie, called “Storybook Love.” The music does well to portray the story’s themes of love and violence. It is soft and romantic during touching parts, but loud and shrieking when fighting occurs.

Movie Review: Spirited Away

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

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Title: Spirited Away

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Release Date: July 7, 2001

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Adventure

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 125 minutes

Starring:

● Daveigh Chase

● Suzanne Pleshette

● Jason Marsden

Kid Friendly Rating: 9+. The movie features several spooky monsters and storylines, and some characters smoke and drink ambiguous substances. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 5/5

Synopsis: Ten-year-old Chihiro and her family are on their way to a new home and a new life, when Chihiro’s father spots a potential shortcut through a wooded lane. The family arrives at a mysterious dark tunnel in the road, and Chihiro’s parents decide to take a walk to see what lies at the other end. They discover what looks like an abandoned theme park in the middle of a grassy meadow. When Chihiro’s parents smell fresh food, the hunger from a long car ride sets in and gets the best of them, and they go off in search of the source, against Chihiro’s protestations.

Chihiro is unable to persuade her parents to leave, and when sun sets, she finds herself trapped in a resort populated by spirits who come from near and far to seek refuge. Chihiro meets a boy named Haku, who offers to help Chihiro find safety in the resort. Chihiro soon sets off on a quest to meet the leader of the resort and find freedom both for herself and her parents.

Pictures:

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Memorable Quotes:

Aogaeru: Welcome the rich man, he’s hard for you to miss. His butt keeps getting bigger, so there’s plenty there to kiss!

Zeniba: We’re identical twins and exact opposites.

Final Thoughts:

What a strange and wonderful movie! This movie has been on my must-see list for so long. It’s been around since 2001, so perhaps many people are already familiar with it, but it seems almost like Disney is content to just let it sit on the shelf for English-speaking audiences to discover on their own. With a two-year-old running around and my Netflix queue looking slim, I figured it was finally time to give it a chance.

The story shares quite a bit with Louis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is full of all manner of silly and sometimes scary creatures, humorous moments, and sticky situations for the young protagonist. Chihiro starts out as a very restless and scared little girl, but you can see and feel her maturing and growing in confidence through each of her escapades.

My wife and I were both excited to find a great new movie to watch, but best of all, our daughter watched with rapt attention for a good hour! Granted, she was also tired, but this never happens!

Bottom line, this is the best kind of kid friendly movie: one the kids love, and the adults will like, too.

Movie Review: The Book of Life

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: The Book of Life

Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Release Date: October 17, 2014

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Adventure, Comedy

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 95 minutes

Starring:

● Diego Luna

● Zoe Saldana

● Channing Tatum

Kid Friendly Rating: A good Disney analog is the animated Hercules (1997). The film delves significantly into death and the underworld, but it is presented in a firmly fantastical manner. Light romance does not venture beyond courtship and tasteful kissing. Some dark monsters and violence may be scary for young children. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 3.5/5

Synopsis: The story begins with a children’s museum tour. At the museum, the tour guide tells the children a story from The Book of Life, a book that allegedly contains all stories that have ever been told. This story focuses on the mythical town of San Angel in Mexico. San Angel is celebrating The Day of the Dead, a day on which those who have been lost are fondly remembered. Observing the festival are La Muerte, kind ruler of The Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, cynical ruler of The Land of the Forgotten. La Muerte and Xibalba observe two young boys, Malolo and Joaquin, striving for the attention of their young female friend, Maria. La Muerte and Xibalba decide to set a wager, each betting that one of the boys will marry Maria. If Malolo succeeds, Xibalba with cease meddling in the affairs of humans. If Joaquin succeeds, La Muerte will exchange rulership of the realms with Xibalba. The movie skips forward several years, when the three children reunite as young adults struggling under the weight of their parents’ expectations. After Malolo and Joaquin resume their good-natured rivalry for Maria’s affection, Xibalba’s continued meddling sets matters on a crash course.

Pictures:

0500_0100_0144_beauty5K_v001 Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman), who rules The Land of the Forgotten, makes a fateful bet with his estranged wife La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo), who oversees The Land of the Remembered.

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Memorable Quotes:

La Muerte: The world keeps spinning, and the tales keep turning, and people come and people go, but they’re never forgotten. And the one truth we know, it held true one more time… That love, true love, the really, really good kind of love never dies.

Joaquin: Those are some big shadows we live under, hey buddy?

Fun Fact:

Ron Perlman, who voices Xibalba, is a veteran of several of producer Guillermo del Toro’s films, including Hellboy, Pacific Rim, and Cronos

Final Thoughts:

I’ve been intrigued by this movie since I first saw Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to it, and I don’t feel let down. This movie is a fun change from your typical animated fare. The animation style is unusual, but arresting. The immersion in Mexican culture also feels fresh, although perhaps not surprising given del Toro’s and Gutierrez’s roots as Mexican nationals. Parents will find that the movie touches upon several positive themes, including honesty, what it means to be courageous, and being true to oneself. The movie also does not shy away from more complicated topics, like family dynamics and the sometimes gray areas between good and evil. A bit of slapstick humor and dry wit helps lighten some of the dramatic and ominous overtones. The plot is a bit complicated, particularly in the beginning, so it may be better suited for adults (or children with patient parents), but as the story goes along it becomes easier to follow.  The adults in the room may also enjoy some Mexican-influenced versions of pop favorites like Radiohead’s “Creep” or Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” I think it’s a great change of pace for a family movie night.