book reviews, true crime

Repost: Kathryn Casey’s She Wanted It All…

Here’s a repost of a review I originally wrote for Epinions.com back in the spring of 2007. Of all of Kathryn Casey’s books, I think this one might be my favorite. Of course, it’s also very triggering, because Celeste Beard Johnson reminds me so much of Bill’s ex wife. Things have happily changed for Bill and me since I wrote this review.

Not long ago, I was watching the true crime show Snapped on the Oxygen network. Snapped is a half hour program that showcases murders committed by women who have “snapped”. It was while I was watching that show that first heard the name Celeste Beard Johnson, a woman who seemed to have everything and threw it away because of her greed. Needless to say, I was intrigued by her case and that’s what prompted me to purchase Kathryn Casey’s 2005 book, She Wanted It All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire. It took me the better part of a week to read this fascinating book. I don’t mind sharing that I had a nightmare the first night I started reading.

She Wanted It All is the complicated story of Celeste Beard Johnson, a sexy, money hungry, mentally ill mother of twin girls who changed husbands like she (hopefully) changed her underwear. Celeste grew up in California, one of four adopted children. Although Celeste’s adoptive mother claimed that her children enjoyed an idyllic life, the children claimed that their parents were weird and unhappy. Nevertheless, Celeste seemed to be a happy, precocious child who was the type of person who could sell ice to Eskimos. She could be so sweet, then suddenly turn psycho.

At age seventeen, Celeste married her first husband, Craig Bratcher. She was very pregnant with twins on her first wedding day. Three months after her wedding day, Celeste gave birth to twin daughters, Jennifer and Kristina Bratcher. Less than a year later, the marriage was on the skids. Celeste didn’t take to motherhood very well and was frequently distracted by other men. Eighteen months after their wedding day, Celeste and Craig got a divorce. Although Celeste was initially granted custody of her babies, she frequently dumped them with other people. At one point, the girls were in foster care. Craig and Celeste reconciled for awhile and Celeste became pregnant again. When she had a third baby girl in November 1986, she gave her up for adoption. That was probably the kindest thing she ever did in her life.

As the years passed, Celeste found herself with a series of different men. In December 1988, she married her second husband, Air Force mechanic Harald Wolf, who was wary of Celeste from the beginning. Like others in Celeste’s life, Harald described her as wonderful at times. Then, her behavior would become erratic and hateful. Harald wanted to get away from her, yet he missed her when they weren’t together. An overseas transfer to Iceland without Celeste turned out to be a lifesaver, but not before Celeste financially ruined him.

In August 1991, twenty-eight year old Celeste married for the third time, this time to Jimmy Martinez. Again, the marriage was not destined to last. Celeste continued living a wild life, leaving her twin daughters home alone. Her third husband had moved to Austin, Texas for a job and their apartment needed to be packed. Celeste ordered her eleven year old girls to finish packing while Celeste went out and partied.

Celeste made up wild stories about her past and even claimed to have suffered from cancer. She accused her father of molesting her. She alienated her daughters from their biological father, prompting them to tell him that they hated him. And when first ex husband Craig Bratcher took Celeste to court in a bid to take custody of their daughters, Celeste painted herself as a victim. It wasn’t long before her third husband, Jimmy Martinez, noticed that his credit was in the toilet. Soon, they were divorced and Celeste was courting husband number four, Steve Beard, an elderly, wealthy, lonely Austin television mogul whose beloved wife had just died. Though Steve was 38 years older than Celeste was, they married in February 1995. Craig Bratcher eventually became so broken that he committed suicide. At Celeste’s insistence, Steven Beard adopted the twin girls.

From the very beginning, Celeste wanted Steven Beard for just one thing– his money. While Steve Beard was looking for a loving companion and partner, Celeste was looking for someone to bankroll her extremely extravagant lifestyle. She would be loving to him in person, but in private she referred to him as an old fat f*ck. At night, she’d spike his food with sleeping pills and his vodka cocktails with Everclear, wait for him to pass out, then go out and party. She spent his money recklessly and lamented to friends that she was just waiting for him to die. At one point, Steve Beard grew tired of Celeste’s antics and suggested divorce, threatening Celeste’s source of cash. Celeste became so despondent over her plight that she threatened suicide. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital, where she would be diagnosed as having both Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders.

The hospital is also where Celeste Beard met her lesbian lover, Tracey Tarlton. Tracey Tarlton fell head over heels for Celeste Beard and believed her when she claimed to be married to a monster. Like so many people before her, Tarlton fell into Celeste Beard’s trap, becoming so entangled that at Celeste’s behest, she ended up shooting Steven Beard while he slept, after the two women tried to poison him by growing botulism. The poor man lingered on the brink of death before he finally succumbed to a massive infection brought on by the gunshot wound and Celeste Beard’s deliberate attempts to cause the infection. She dressed his wounds with dirty bandages and didn’t wash her hands when she touched her husband; she also visited him when she was sick in an attempt to pass her germs to him.

And yes, once Steve was dead, Celeste Beard did eventually marry a fifth time. Husband number five was a young man named Spencer Cole Johnson; they wed right before Celeste went to prison for murdering her fourth husband. Oddly enough, the woman married five times and her last names came full circle (Celeste Johnson Bratcher Wolf Martinez Beard Johnson)

Does this story seem complicated? It is. I’ve just scratched the surface with the summary above. There’s a whole lot more to the story and Kathryn Casey has done a masterful job of keeping the details straight. She includes a photo section that shows several incarnations of Celeste. Like her contemporary, Ann Rule, Casey keeps her writing dignified and classy. There’s a minimum of gore, although the story is very scandalous and almost unbelievable. But unfortunately, I can believe this story. I mentioned at the beginning of this review that this book gave me nightmares. That’s because my husband’s first wife is in many ways a lot like a less money hungry version of Celeste Beard. As I read this book, I was blown away by the uncanny similarities between my husband’s plight and those of Celeste’s ex husbands. I can only hope that I don’t someday read a book about my husband’s ex.

This book hit really close to home for me, mainly because I’ve seen firsthand the lingering damage that can come from having a relationship with someone like Celeste Beard. My husband bears battle scars similar to those of Celeste’s ex husbands. He went through a period of financial ruin and his kids no longer speak to him. But I’d say despite that, my husband is a very lucky man. He still has his health, most of his family, and he’s recovering financially. Best of all, he’s alive and married to me. I am appreciated like I’ve never been appreciated by anyone; in turn, he is also appreciated for the wonderful man he is.

Obviously, as much as this book fascinated me, I will issue a caveat that it may cause nightmares. On the other hand, this book also inspires hope because it offers a glimpse of what it was like for Celeste’s children. My husband once enjoyed a close relationship with his children and now they apparently hate him. Celeste’s kids acted the same way with their bio father, but it later came out that they behaved that way because they were terrified of their mother and knew what she was capable of doing. It gives me hope that maybe someday, my husband’s kids will come around. I just hope no one has to die for that to happen.

For the most part, I think She Wanted It All is a very well-written, compelling book. While it is a true crime account, it’s also a fascinating case study of personality disorders, which may especially appeal to those with an interest in psychology. 

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Ex, family, healthcare, love, marriage, mental health

Adam and Darla’s bizarre love story…

You know that old song by Billy Joel? I know it well. It was a hit when I was a young child. The lyrics are timeless. The melody endures. Many of us would love to have a friend or a loved one who takes us just the way we are.

Billy wrote a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.

But is it always best to love someone just the way they are? Are there times when it’s unwise or unhealthy to take someone just the way they are? Obviously, yes, there are. My husband tried to love his ex wife just the way she was until he realized he couldn’t anymore. His own life was at risk by accepting her “as/is”. So they got divorced and he’s much better off for it. I don’t know if she’s better off. It’s not my business, anyway.

This topic comes up this morning after I read an admittedly bizarre “love story” in The New York Times. Adam Barrows wrote an article entitled “I Wanted to Love Her, Not Save Her”. The tag line read, “The first time we spoke, she was so weak she had collapsed. Why did that not alarm me?” When someone uses the word “alarm” in a tag line, you can be sure high drama is about to ensue. I was hooked.

So I read Adam Barrows’ story about meeting his wife, Darla. They were both working at a chain bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota when Barrows came upon his future wife passed out on the floor. Although they had been co-workers, he had never really spoken to her. He just noticed that she was painfully thin.

As Darla’s vision came back, she explained to Adam that she suffered from anorexia nervosa and hadn’t eaten in several days. He asked her if he could get her something to eat. She said no, and asked him to just sit with her for a minute until her strength returned. Adam sat with her and they developed a friendship. As they got closer and eventually “fell in love”, Darla continued to starve herself. Adam did nothing to get her to change her behavior. He writes:

I didn’t try to help her with that. I’m not sure why. It’s as if I accepted her struggle as a given, as a fact of her. I was struggling myself after a recent heartbreak and was trying to teach myself how to do basic things again: to think for myself, to walk properly, to hold myself upright, to sleep and to breathe.

To see her struggle to force down solid food, to watch as she spread a thin layer of butter on a saltine that she would chew to a paste before it would go down (this was her only meal some days) seemed not natural, of course, but also somehow unremarkable to me. I watched her starve and held her while she did it.

Some people might call that enabling. I called it love.

After months of traveling around the United States together, they ended up getting married. They had a son who turned 18 last year and, at this writing, have been together for 23 years. Adam writes that Darla eventually got somewhat better. She ate more and, over the years, put on some weight. He writes that before the pandemic struck, she was actually considering going on a diet, but didn’t end up doing it. While many people have gained weight during the pandemic, Adam writes that he and Darla don’t go to the grocery store much and that has had a “slimming effect”. I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll take him at his word that he and his wife are doing okay.

At the end of his essay, Barrows concludes:

Our married life has not been without conflicts. I have taken her for granted, put my needs ahead of hers, indulged my weaknesses. But I never have regretted the fact that I did the possibly irresponsible thing back then by not acting alarmed about her anorexia, by not pressuring her to do anything about it, and instead just loving her for who she was. She never wanted heroic intervention from me or from anyone else. She triumphed over her issues with food on her own terms and is happy for me to be sharing our story now.

I found this story kind of fascinating. I went to see what others thought of it. Most people seemed to conclude that Adam Barrows is some kind of an asshole. Here’s a screenshot of the first few comments. They are overwhelmingly negative.

Someone else wrote this rather scathing response:

Wow, less the confession of an enabler and more the confession of a narcissistic a-hole with a fetish for damaged, frail women. It’s so quaint to wax poetic about how deathly cold her hand was the time you found her after she fainted. It’s so sexy to talk about riding in the sleeper car with a starving person in desperate need of mental health intervention. You sound like a right tw*t.

I didn’t get that Adam Barrows is a “narcissistic a-hole” just based on this essay. It’s possible that he is one, but frankly, I kind of doubt it. Most narcissists I’ve known don’t have the ability to be introspective about their own faults. Adam openly admits that his wife had a problem. He also admits that he might have enabled her in her self-destructive habits by not insisting that she seek treatment. Some people would say he’s a bad person for not rushing her to a hospital or a rehab center.

On the other hand, there is some beauty in a person who simply accepts a person as they are. I didn’t read that Adam was encouraging Darla to be an anorexic. I read that he didn’t disapprove of her for who she was. He simply loved her. According to his story, she eventually got better. I don’t know how her improvement came to be. Was it entirely through the “kissing” treatment he writes of, or did she ever seek any kind of help? I don’t know… and I’m not sure if that’s the point of this story. It’s an article in the Modern Love section, which focuses on different kinds of love stories.

There are also people out there who consider eating disorders to be a “lifestyle”. I personally don’t agree with that viewpoint at all. But I’m just one person. As I’ve recently mentioned in other posts, there are a fuckload of eating disorders out there that never get any press. Who am I to say that one person’s eating disorder isn’t another person’s lifestyle. In fact, we don’t even know if Darla was ever diagnosed by a physician as having anorexia nervosa. We can only go by Adam’s description of her and her own declaration that she’s anorexic. When I was much younger, I used to go days without eating. I passed out a few times, too. No one would ever think of me as anorexic, even if I sometimes engaged in those behaviors.

I’m inclined to take this essay at face value. It wasn’t intended to be an in depth look at Darla’s eating disorder. It was a story about how Adam and Darla came to be in a relationship. I don’t think there’s enough information in this story to determine what kind of person Adam is. But that’s not stopping some people from judging him. One person wrote:

This is problematic in a variety of ways. The sentence about how Darla was actually considering a diet before the pandemic is particularly disturbing. This diet is apparently supposed to be proof that she triumphed over her anorexia, but it is not. Recovery is not about achieving a certain predetermined weight, it is about rediscovering comfort and joy in your body and the food that nourishes it. The author does not address this at all. He also minutely describes his wife’s eating patterns and ED rituals. The romanticization of theses behaviors is very triggering and could push ED survivors who read this article towards relapse. His wife’s battle with anorexia is ultimately just used as the backdrop for his coming of age story.

The only description Adam includes of his wife’s eating rituals is in a paragraph about how she would spread a thin layer of butter on a saltine cracker and chew it up until it became paste. He writes that some days, that was her only meal, adding “I watched her starve and held her while she did it.” I agree, that last sentence sounds awful on its surface. But looking a little bit deeper, I think it’s possible to see his perspective. It’s practically impossible to save people from themselves. It all comes down to deciding what you– yourself– can tolerate. It sounds to me like Adam accepts Darla as she is. And just based on his essay, I don’t get the sense that he necessarily encourages her to be anorexic. I think many people are making that assumption because he admits that he never tried to force her into treatment.

An argument could be made that a person who is extremely underweight and malnourished lacks perspective. But, unfortunately, when it comes to mental health care, a lot of Americans are shit out of luck. Mental health care is neither easy to afford nor easy to access, especially right now. Moreover, thanks to our civil rights laws, it’s pretty tough to force someone into treatment for an eating disorder. Even if someone is about to starve to death, our laws emphasize self-determination and the right to refuse care. It appears that Adam and Darla may be living in Canada now, as Adam is reportedly teaching in the English department at Carleton University in Ontario. I can’t comment on Canadian laws regarding the treatment of eating disorders or other mental health issues. He makes it sound like perhaps she no longer needs treatment, anyway. Does she need it, having apparently never received it? I honestly don’t know. All I know is what he’s written, and even that is pretty subjective.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that, in the vast majority of mental health situations that don’t involve some kind of biological issue, treatment works best when a person decides for themselves that they will cooperate. When it comes down to it, a person with an eating disorder needs to decide for themselves that they need help. They have to be motivated to get it. Perhaps if Adam had told Darla that he would be leaving her if she didn’t seek treatment, she might have found the motivation to get help. However, it’s my guess that she might have just as easily become resentful and angry about it. She may have seen him as trying to control and manipulate her. A lot of the angry women commenting on this piece would probably fault Adam for that, too. I think a lot of women blame men for most everything.

I told Bill about this piece and asked him what he thought. I know that if he were in this situation, he would have a really hard time watching. He would want to try to rescue. But he also tried to do that with his ex wife and he failed miserably. Eventually, it became too much for him to tolerate and, when she finally dramatically presented him with a divorce ultimatum, he took her up on it. Divorce was not what she had wanted. She was simply trying to be manipulative in a humiliating way. But he got tired of the bullshit and, ultimately, saved himself from her craziness by getting out of the marriage. He’s reaped the rewards and managed to stay alive, too.

Having recently watched a bunch of episodes of Snapped, and having witnessed my husband’s own dealings with a woman who is, frankly, very disturbed, I understand that this is a really tough situation to be in. Not knowing either of these people personally, I can’t judge if what Adam did was right, or if he’s a good person. A lot of people negatively judged Bill and me when I shared how Bill’s story eerily reminded me of an episode of Snapped I watched years ago. It was about a woman named Jessica McCord who, along with her second husband, murdered her first husband and his second wife over custody of their kids. I remember my blood running cold as I watched that episode. I dared to blog about how Jessica McCord reminded me of Ex. I ended up getting a shitstorm of negative armchair quarterback comments from people who wrongly characterized us as bad people. No… we aren’t bad people. We simply didn’t want to end up dead. And I believe Ex was capable of going that far. She threatened to kill Bill on more than one occasion.

Should Bill have tried to get his daughters away from his ex wife? Personally, I think so. In fact, I often encouraged him to try to do something about that situation, even though it wasn’t my decision to make. But, the fact of the matter is, we didn’t have the money or the time to wage a legal battle. It would have been very difficult to convince a judge to grant custody to Bill, especially since the girls didn’t indicate to us that they were unhappy with their living situation. It would have been great if he could have tried to get more equitable custody, but we live in reality. The reality is, it probably wouldn’t have worked. At this point, I’m simply glad he survived, and I don’t apologize for his decision to save himself. His daughters are grown now, and one of them has apparently forgiven him after confirming that her mother is mentally ill. The other remains estranged, but she’s almost 30 years old. She can reach out if she wants to. She chooses not to. As an adult, she has the right to make that choice for herself. Bill loves her anyway.

That’s kind of what I got from Adam’s piece. He loves his wife the way she is. Is it a good thing that he doesn’t press her to get treatment for her eating disorder? I know what most people would think. For me, it’s not so cut and dried. There’s something to be said for a person who loves someone regardless. And despite some people’s potentially erroneous assumptions that Adam prefers his wife “sick”, I get the impression that he had simply determined that he couldn’t be her savior. Moreover, it wasn’t Adam’s role to try to be Darla’s savior, simply because that’s what society deems is correct. What I got from Adam’s story is that he and Darla love each other and, against the odds, their love has survived… and so has his wife. I wish them well.

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bad TV, mental health

The tasteless dramatization of self-starvation…

This post may be triggering for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Reader discretion advised.

A couple of days ago, I decided I couldn’t stand to watch any more old episodes of Snapped. I actually find Snapped very interesting, but I can barely stand to listen to the former narrator, Sharon Martin, who (to me) has an annoying, over-the-top, salaciousness about her that bugs. I read that Sharon Martin was replaced as the narrator on Snapped. Having looked her up online, I know I’m not the only one who finds her irritating. She must also have her fans, though, because she was the narrator for many years, and there was even a Change.org petition to bring her back.

Because I needed to break away from Snapped, I went on a downloading binge. I ended up buying the box set of Growing Pains, which was a popular show, starting when I was a pre-teen. That show famously starred the late Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, and Jeremy Miller. I’ve just now started the second season and am unexpectedly delighted by how well written and funny the early seasons are. Kirk Cameron was legitimately cute and funny before he became a Christian evangelist nightmare. Jeremy Miller was seriously adorable when he was a little kid. And then there’s Tracey Gold.

I’ve always had kind of a love/hate fascination with Tracey Gold. I think she is a talented actress, although the roles she’s played have often annoyed me. I remember seeing her on shows like Trapper John, MD and any number of movies of the week. She truly has a gift for acting, especially the kind of acting required by shows of the 70s and 80s, which was the height of my childhood. I probably know her best from her time as Carol Seaver, though… and I remember all too well how she was often made fun of on the show for being fat, ugly, and nerdy. Then, when she was in her late teens/early 20s, she developed anorexia nervosa and had to leave Growing Pains for treatment.

In 1994, Tracey Gold even made a TV movie about her real life eating disorder. For the Love of Nancy is one of maybe a dozen or so television movies about the horrors of eating disorders. For all I know, Tracey has recovered from her illness. I haven’t seen her on TV lately, but then I also haven’t been in the United States since 2014.

Yesterday, as I was watching old episodes of Growing Pains, I started thinking about all of the eating disorder themed movies of the week and after school specials. Next thing I knew, I started searching Google and promptly fell down a rabbit hole. My search was prompted by a guest star on Growing Pains by an actress named April Lerman (now known as April Haney). She played an annoying, pretentious girl named Juliet on Growing Pains. In 1987, she also played a girl named Cindy Greco on an after school special called Little Miss Perfect. On that show, she was second banana to Mary Tanner, who played the lead role– a bulimic girl named Debbie Welker.

I remember watching that special and being a bit shocked by it. On that special, Debbie (Mary Tanner) was upset because her mother remarried and forced her to leave her old neighborhood. She finds herself in a new school, where she has to prove herself as a budding musical theater star and high school cheerleader. I distinctly remember the cheerleading coach making comments about how the high school cheerleaders needed to make the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders “jealous” of them.

The hourlong show culminated with a scene showing Debbie stuffing her face with tons of junk food and then throwing up. She ruptures her esophagus and ends up in the hospital, where her mother lectures her about her habits. Cindy Greco (April Lerman) is there doing a horrible Humphrey Bogart impression as Debbie’s mom promises her that they will “lick” (see what they did there?) this problem together.

I went looking to see if I could find that particular cringeworthy special on YouTube. I have seen it there before. Alas, it’s one of the lost episodes that isn’t currently on the popular video platform. I’m sure it will show up again at some point. What I did find, however, was a hilarious article about movies and shows about eating disorders. This snarky piece, written by Claudia Eve Beauchesne, makes the very astute observation about the the media’s portrayal of eating disorders. She writes:

Between 1981 and 2003, at least a dozen cookie-cutter movies and after- school specials about eating disorders were broadcast on North American television. Nearly all of those films had titles combining the words “Dying,” “Perfect” and “Body” (Little Miss Perfect, Perfect Body, Dying to be Perfect, etc.) or including the word “Secret” (Kate’s Secret, The Secret Life of Mary Margaret, A Secret Between Friends, etc.) Save for a few exceptions, they all followed the same recipe:

A white, upper-middle-class teenage girl with mommy issues and a name that ends in a “y” sound (Casey, Debbie, Nancy, Lexi, etc.) secretly begins to “scarf and barf,” or stops eating altogether, in an effort to excel at a performing art or competitive sport, to emulate a popular new friend, or to regain a sense of control after a move or her parents’ divorce. A few dramatic incidents later—often messy binges involving chocolate icing, desperate midnight workouts and/or laxative theft—her friends and family start to tell her that she looks too thin, yet fail to notice that she now also sports ghoulish purple eye shadow and beige lipstick.

Eventually, our heroine faints in public and wakes up in the hospital, her mother asks herself out loud, “What did I do wrong? What did I miss?!” and a doctor gives the worried parents a complete rundown of the possible causes and effects of eating disorders. After a failed attempt to run away from the hospital, our heroine learns that her enabler friend or sassy hospital roommate has died of heart failure or committed suicide. The news sends her on a downward spiral until she hits rock bottom and resolves to get better. Cue the tearful reconciliation with mom.

I sat there chuckling, because Claudia is so right. I’ve seen most of those movies. Some of them are better than others, but they all do follow that basic formula. And they all kind of make it out that the only real eating disorders are anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and they’re only “real” if someone winds up in the hospital on the brink of death. Also, one thing Claudia doesn’t mention, but I’ve noticed, is that they always show the heroines jogging through beautiful neighborhoods, as if they are so healthy and wholesome… but underneath, there’s a bucket of crazy!

The first movie about eating disorders. It’s loosely based on the novel by the same name.

The actors portraying the victims sometimes actually look the parts they play. Jennifer Jason Leigh portrayed Casey Powell in The Best Little Girl in the World, an ABC movie of the week loosely based on the book of the same name, written by famed eating disorder therapist Steven Levenkron. I read that Jennifer Jason Leigh lost about 22 pounds to play Casey. She’s also a legitimately good actress. But they still used an emaciated body double in a doctor’s office scene. You can tell, because Jennifer Jason Leigh had really beautiful, thick, natural hair, and in that scene, it’s obvious the body double is wearing a godawful wig. But the shot only lasts a few seconds.

In For the Love of Nancy, there’s a similarly revealing scene. Tracey Gold, who actually did have anorexia nervosa, comes into a Christmas party looking like death warmed over. In that scene, it really looks like they mostly used her real body, although she was reportedly in recovery when that film was made.

Like The Best Little Girl in the World, For the Love of Nancy starts with a jogging scene…

I’ve seen For the Love of Nancy a bunch of times. This is the first time I’ve actually stopped to look at this scene closely. It’s probably because this movie kind of grates. Even though it has a somewhat decent cast, there’s not a lot of chemistry among the actors. Jill Clayburgh and William Devane are not convincing as a couple and the siblings all look like they came from different gene pools. But now that I look at it this infamous scene in slow motion, I think they used body doubles for this film, too. Tracey Gold probably no longer had the super skinny body that would deliver the requisite shock value to viewers, since she had been in recovery. I’m sure this film was not easy for her to make. It was probably pretty triggering for her.

Nowadays, movies of the week aren’t as common as they used to be. We have so many outlets for entertainment now. All of the streaming services make their own content now– Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu all have their own shows, and there are so many dramatic subjects that can be tackled that shock even more than anorexia nervosa does. Personally, I think these kinds of movies, which entertain in a way akin to that of horror movies, do a disservice to people.

There are a lot of different kinds of eating disorders. They are all soul crushing and devastating in their own ways. But no one wants to see an obese woman with compulsive overeating disorder stuffing her face and not vomiting, even though compulsive overeating is, in fact, a dangerous eating disorder. Ditto to orthorexia, which is an obsession with “clean” or “healthy” eating. Even though it’s unhealthy and destructive, it’s not as dramatic or sexy a subject as is anorexia or even bulimia. Maybe a really gifted screenwriter and director could make a compelling film about the lesser acknowledged eating disorders, but they probably wouldn’t stir as much interest, even though informing the world about those problems would probably be a public service. At most, people with compulsive overeating or binge eating disorders will get spots on a “freak” show aired on The Learning Channel (TLC).

This movie is pretty obscure these days. I’m not sure I could “stomach” it today.

The one film that probably came closest to such an ideal was the 1990 comedy-drama film, Eating, which starred Mary Crosby. And that movie, which I have seen, is not that great. I remember there was another show– it was an actual series that quickly got axed– that was called Starved. It attempted to put a comic spin on eating disorders and, quite predictably, was deemed in poor taste.

Yes, the episodes of Starved are on YouTube. No, I haven’t watched all of them. Maybe I will, though.

I seem to remember Tracey Gold tried to do a series about eating disorders, too. Her show was more of a documentary/talk show format. I think I saw it once or twice before it was canceled. It didn’t have the best time slot.

Tracey’s show– Starving Secrets. Who came up with that name?

One of my favorite movies about eating disorders remains the totally horrifying Karen Carpenter Story. Premiering on CBS on New Year’s Day 1989, this film starred Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter and Mitchell Anderson as Richard Carpenter. Neither actor looked much like the person he or she was portraying, which meant there were really awful wigs used. There was also lip synching aplenty. I read that Cynthia Gibb actually had to wear Karen’s clothes, per Richard Carpenter’s insistence. Later, I read that Richard hated the movie and was sorry he’d had anything to do with making it. It’s a pretty campy movie and I’m not sure it holds up well against the test of time, however I will always love it for the music. I am an unabashed Karen Carpenter fan.

The Karen Carpenter Story…

Cynthia Gibb also portrayed an anorexic on the old TV show, Fame. Her character on that show, Holly Laird, becomes anorexic when her parents divorce. Of course, since it was 80s TV, Holly gets sick and is completely recovered by the end of the show, even after a hospital stay. It’s never mentioned again. Naturally, this is a pretty unrealistic characterization of eating disorders. They don’t magically go away.

Cynthia Gibb plays Holly Laird, anorexic for exactly one episode. This episode totally follows the “cookie cutter” plot line Claudia Eve Beauchesne refers to in her article, right down to a heroine with a name that ends in “y”.

Below are a few screenshots from the dramatic fainting scene… these are supposed to be high school students!

Perhaps the best portrayal of anorexia nervosa I’ve seen yet– and perhaps as much because of accuracy as sheer entertainment value– was that of Emma Rigby’s portrayal of anorexic teen, Hannah Ashworth on the British soap, Hollyoaks. I enjoy British TV anyway, but these scenes are so over the top compelling. And as an American, I find the concept of “sectioning” someone kind of fascinating. Yes, one can be committed in the United States, but Brits make it sound so much more caring when they do it. That kind of warms the cockles of any drama queen’s heart.

You could spend hours watching this shit… Fans of this particular genre have uploaded every scene.

Emma Rigby is also a good actress and the writers seem to have really done their homework about the most dramatic aspects of anorexia nervosa. They even mention the putrid breath one gets when one is in ketoacidosis from eating nothing but protein with no carbs. I was impressed by that. It’s not a very sexy aspect of anorexia and I have never seen it mentioned on any other dramatized program about eating disorders. It looks like Hollyoaks has gone there again more recently with a character named Cleo. I haven’t actually watched Cleo’s story, so I can’t comment too much about it yet…

Oh dear!

I could continue writing about this, but it would take all day. I haven’t even scratched the surface. However, just to bring this back to the original topic that caused me to fall down this rabbit hole, I will mention the dreaded Cameron family again. Remember, I got on this subject because of Tracey Gold, who famously starred with Kirk Cameron on Growing Pains? Well, his real life sister, Candace Cameron Bure, is also an actress. And she also portrayed someone with an eating disorder on the family friendly show, Full House. Her character, D.J., diets compulsively for one episode in which she decides to lose weight for a pool party at Kimmy Gibbler’s house.

You can find clips on YouTube, but I prefer this Funny or Die video… They do a good job summing things up. I like it when Jesse (John Stamos) tries to lay down the law.

Anyway… I figure I’ve prattled on long enough about this subject today. Maybe I should write about politics again, but to be honest, I never enjoyed writing about politics that much. I only felt like doing it when Trump was in charge. My original blog was less about politics, anyway, and I’d kind of like to get back to that content… which is less depressing.

Is watching old episodes of Growing Pains better than watching “murder porn” shows like Snapped? Especially when it leads me to looking up movies and TV shows about eating disorders? I don’t know. I used to be pretty obsessive about dieting when I was young, which is why I know about this genre in the first place. I am less obsessive about this subject now, although it’s not something that ever totally goes away. I know I’m not alone, though, which is why I’m writing about this now.

Time to practice guitar before I completely lose my motivation and watch more bad TV from the 80s.

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celebrities, dogs, funny stories, music, true crime

Shit happens.

I decided to take yesterday off from writing. It was mainly because in the wee hours of Friday morning, I awoke at about 2:00am and had trouble getting back to sleep. I had been having an erotic dream. I don’t have a lot of those anymore, so I was disappointed when I woke up. Weirdly enough, I dreamt I was having sex with Wil Wheaton. I have never even thought about having sex with him, so I’m not sure where that came from. Maybe it’s because I was recently triggered on his page. He’s definitely cute, but we’re both happily married to other people, so I doubt that’s a dream that will ever come to fruition.

Once my eyes cracked open, I got up to go to the bathroom. And then– sorry for the TMI– but I got a case of the shits. After I was finished, I left the bathroom and noticed I smelled it in another room, only it wasn’t of the human variety. Arran, bless his heart, sometimes poops when he sleeps, so I thought maybe that was the issue. But I didn’t see any evidence of that, so I checked on Noyzi, who was in his bed. The smell of poop also faded downstairs, so I could tell he wasn’t the culprit. Noyzi still doesn’t venture upstairs on his own.

Then I went into my office and, though I wasn’t wearing my contacts, I could see a fuzzy, stinky, brown puddle on one of my nice rugs. It’s one that doesn’t get walked on a lot, so it’s still pretty pristine. Arran had gone in there and dropped some diarrhea. Bill got up and cleaned up the mess while I let the dogs out. Noyzi went out and pooped, too… and it was at that point that I realized we all must have eaten something bad. Later on, Bill also had a touch of the shits. My guess is was the chicken from the chicken man, who sells his wares on Thursdays. This has never happened before, so I count it as a “one off”, as the Brits would put it.

In any case, I was kind of tired yesterday and not in the mood to write. I also find that when I take a day or two off, it’s good for my brain. Gives me a chance to refresh. Gives my readers a chance to catch up, if they want to… not that many people do. Right now, it appears I have lots of folks interested in my posts about Jocelyn Zichterman, Scott Drummond, Richard Jahnke, and Erin McCay George. These are all mostly book reviews, which rarely get a lot of attention when I first post them, but later attract readers. That’s one reason why I’ve been reposting stuff from my original blog. The book reviews are fairly “evergreen”– as in they attract views and money, if this blog were monetized, which it’s not. I post the book reviews as a “service” for the interested. Sometimes I read and review books that others are interested in but may not want to buy or can’t borrow.

I spent all day yesterday watching Snapped episodes from 2013. If I were still writing my old blog, I might write about some of the cases I saw on that show. Like, for instance, Nancy Gelber’s case… I found her a fascinating subject. She’s a wannabe author who self-published a novel called Temporary Amnesia, which boasts a very complicated storyline that she claims she dreamt up when she was a teenager. She said that’s where a lot of her ideas come from– her dreams– which are apparently even weirder than mine are.

Nancy’s book is on Amazon.com and it gets terrible reviews. I would probably hate it, and I sure don’t want to spend the amount of money they’re asking for it, especially since Nancy Gelber is a criminal. However, as someone who is interested in psychology, I found her very interesting to listen to. You can tell that beneath her cheerful, chatty demeanor, she’s a hot mess psychologically. Gelber tried to have her ex husband bumped off, but “hired” an undercover cop instead of a real hit man. Then, she claimed that she hadn’t known what she was doing.

This wasn’t what I watched on Snapped… it’s another program about Nancy Mancuso Gelber.

It’s actually interesting to watch this show, as opposed to the Snapped episode. It offers more of her ex husband’s viewpoint.

What a piece of work!

Nancy says she’s going to go to hell… and admits that having her husband offed is a “horrible” thing to do, as she laughs. On this show, she seems a lot more sinister than she appeared to be on Snapped. If you see her on Snapped, she seems a lot more pleasant and normal. How scary for Jody Gelber, her ex husband. I wish I were more of an expert in psychology. She seems like a fascinating subject. I’d love to know what her DSM V diagnosis is. My guess is narcissist, for sure.

Busted! If you listen to her fake reaction to the lie that her husband has died, she sounds like a really bad actress.

This morning, after I watched the YouTube videos about Nancy Gelber, I watched a couple more about Diana Lovejoy, who in 2017, fainted when she was found guilty of murder for hire. I’m not familiar with her case at all. I just found her reaction to the verdict fascinating.

Wow…
Off she goes to the hospital… complete with handcuffs.

I probably should get back into reading more true crime, now that I’m less interested in politics. To be clear, I’ve never been all that interested in politics. I was just horrified by four years of Donald Trump and his delusional political theater of the absurd. Trump is now reportedly refusing to refer to himself as a former president. His new legal team is referring him to as the 45th POTUS, which is technically correct. BUT– their main defense in the upcoming impeachment trial is that Trump is no longer president and therefore can’t be impeached. So which is it? Rachel Maddow has a good chuckle about it in the video clip directly below this paragraph. If you ever wanted a textbook example of grandiose malignant narcissism, Trump is your guy. By the way, as far as I’m concerned, Trump was never MY president. 😉

And finally, I probably could opine about the recent uproar regarding country singer Morgan Wallen, who was caught on video drunk and uttering racist epithets in the middle of the street with his rowdy friends. He’s facing a lot of backlash… more than the idiots who stormed the Capitol last month, actually. Looks like his fans are still buying his music, even though he’s no longer eligible for music awards and his label has suspended him. I remember when the Dixie Chicks pissed off their base by dissing former President George W. Bush at a concert. They were quickly canceled by a lot of their more redneck fans and country radio. Morgan Wallen uses the n-word and many of his fans are still fine with him.

I hadn’t heard of him before this happened. I do remember reading about Morgan Wallen being canceled from a gig on Saturday Night Live because he was caught on video partying with a bunch of people while unmasked. SNL canceled him because his appearance would put a lot of people at risk. And now, they have another reason not to have him play.

I’m not big on cancel culture. I think people should have the ability to redeem themselves. Morgan Wallen, at age 27, is probably too old to be acting like a drunken frat boy, and I did see and hear the video… and there is no excuse for his behavior. I don’t know that it should ruin his career forever, but I do think that if you’re lucky enough to be able to make a living in the arts, you owe it to yourself and everyone else to realize that with that platform comes responsibility. And, sad to say, it shows an ugly side of him. Clearly, he’s comfortable using that kind of language casually, which is too bad. It’s not the word itself that is offensive– it’s the attitude and meaning behind it. And the fact that so many people are protesting about Wallen’s “right” to free speech and missing the fact that with that right comes responsibility. Yes, he has the “right” to say what he wants. BUT that doesn’t excuse him from consequences. Wallen needs to grow up.

Last night, I was listening to old school Chicago and marveling. I can’t name most of the members of that band. I’m sure being in Chicago, which has been around for many decades now, paid off handsomely for a lot of the members. It occurred to me that is a band– along with so many others– like Earth, Wind, & Fire, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and Three Dog Night– comprised of people who are passionate about music rather than just money and fame. It occurred to me how much time, dedication, effort, and TEAMWORK goes into making that tight sound. These are very talented people working together for something awesome, not to be rich and famous. I’d like to hear much more from people like them, as opposed to privileged, clueless, jackasses like Morgan Wallen. Just saying.

Well, that about does it for today. Gotta finish the laundry and practice guitar on this dreary Saturday.

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divorce, Ex, psychology, true crime

Armchair quarterbacks…

When I used to post on Blogger, I would get all kinds of comments from all over the world. Sometimes, people would offer me unsolicited advice, based on what they thought they knew about me. Sometimes they would armchair quarterback when I’d post about situations we were dealing with. Often, the comments were left in a spirit of being helpful, but sometimes they were spiteful and cruel.

I think there must be a lot of people out there in the world who feel a lot better about themselves when they tell off some stranger on a blog or on social media. For most of my years on Blogger, I didn’t moderate comments before they were posted, so sometimes I would get nasty surprises from mean-spirited people who didn’t like something I’d written or disagreed with my opinions.

The first “nasty” comments I ever got were based on a post I wrote about Jessica McCord, a woman who, with the help of her police officer husband, killed her ex husband and his second wife. I had seen an episode of Snapped, a TV show on Oxygen about women who kill, and was horrified by how much Jessica McCord’s behaviors, prior to the murders, reminded me of Bill’s ex wife’s. So I wrote a post about it. That was a bad move.

News piece about Jeff McCord, a former cop who helped his wife, Jessica, murder her ex husband, Alan Bates, and Alan’s wife, Terra, after Alan won custody of his daughters.

My blog entry about Jessica McCord caught on fire several months after I posted it. I got all kinds of bile from people over that post about Jessica McCord and my comparison of our situation to hers… a lot of people wanted to blame Bill for not fighting harder to get his kids away from his ex wife. In retrospect, maybe he should have fought harder for custody… although by the time I saw that episode of Snapped, the girls were already grown women. Both of the girls stopped speaking to Bill in 2004 or so, and back then, we had no money or time for court battles. I saw and wrote about the Snapped episode in early 2012. By then, older daughter was 20 years old, and younger daughter was 18, and it had been over seven years since they had completely quit communicating with their dad.

I wrote my post about Jessica McCord because I was shocked by how much she had behaved like Ex before McCord and her husband resorted to murder. At least, to our knowledge, Ex never tried to murder Bill, although she did once tell him, when she thought he was sleeping, that she should just “slit his throat”. Surprisingly enough, Bill didn’t leave her at that point. He still had hopes he could save the marriage and be there for his kids.

Although a lot of people had negative things to say to me about my Jessica McCord entry, that post also attracted sympathy from someone who was friends with Alan and Terra Bates and understood the dynamics of dealing with an unhinged ex spouse. He was also a man, and he understood that it would have been difficult for Bill to get custody changed, and just taking the kids from her and refusing to bring them back would have landed him in jail. Ex had made it very difficult for Bill to see the kids, anyway. She lived on the other side of the country, was taking about $30,000 a year in child support, and absolutely refused to cooperate with him. We later found out from younger daughter that Ex was terrified that Bill would “steal” them from her. “Steal” was the actual word she used, even though two of the three kids for whom Bill paid child support were also HIS children (older stepson has a dad, but his dad didn’t pay support– Bill paid for him, instead– how’s that for being an irresponsible father who “copped out” of parenthood?). She clearly sees her offspring as extensions of herself instead of people unto themselves.

Upon reading all of the nasty spew in the wake of that post, I ended up writing a follow up– not so much about Jessica McCord, but more for the people who read it and left negative, shaming comments and unsolicited advice for me. One woman who commented on the first post claimed to be an “academic” and pretty much gave us both barrels. I would say that for an “academic”, she was remarkably uneducated about parental alienation syndrome. She also lectured me about not showing appropriate “deference” for her academic achievements. However, she also used a pseudonym and blocked her profile, so there was no way to know if she was who or what she claimed to be. I would say that anyone who leaves a comment like that but doesn’t allow themselves to be vetted is probably brimming full of shit.

I am glad to point out that the follow up post got sympathetic comments rather than the hateful bile the first post attracted. In the follow up post, I explained in more detail what happened and reminded people that having one’s children completely disown and reject them without ever giving them a chance to explain their side is extremely hurtful. At that point, I was still very angry with Bill’s daughters. I thought they were complicit. Since they were adults in 2012, I held them responsible for their actions. I have since changed my mind about them, now that one of the girls has resumed communicating with Bill and we’ve learned more about what was going on from their end.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that people felt the need to “armchair quarterback” our situation. People react with righteous indignation when it comes to certain subjects, and they love to take what they think is the moral highground. When it comes to children, it’s easy for people to become sanctimonious about what other people should be doing, regardless of the individual circumstances they might be in at the time. For an easy example of what I mean, check out any video or picture of a child in a car seat. You can bet there will almost always be at least one comment on how the child is strapped in. It never fails, even if it’s a cute video. Nowadays, I’m seeing less about that subject as everyone is now preaching about wearing face masks. Many people take a “no excuses” attitude about some topics, even when such an attitude is not based in reality and doesn’t take into consideration other perspectives or circumstances. I guess it’s human nature.

On the other hand, it was pretty scary that some people felt that Bill should have been willing to be murdered for his daughters. What the hell good would he have been to them dead? Years later, Bill has finally reconciled with younger daughter, and he’s helped her out financially and emotionally, as she’s tried to make sense of her childhood. If Bill’s story had ended like Alan Bates’s had, his daughters would have lost BOTH parents forever.

My post about Jessica McCord was a source of a lot of angst for me, mainly because so many people left shitty, judgmental comments, mainly based on projection from their individual experiences. Also, a lot of people automatically blame men when a relationship doesn’t work out, and they assumed Bill was a “typical guy” (trust me; he isn’t). It got many thousands of views and, for years, it was one of my most popular posts of all time. It’s now been long surpassed by a post on my little visited music blog, Dungeon of the Past. For some reason, people are fascinated by a post I wrote about Mindi Carpenter, daughter of Richard Carpenter of the Carpenters. That post has generated many comments and, at this writing, has 117,790 hits.

Nowadays, I don’t get a lot of nasty comments. I moved the blog to WordPress, and comment moderation is turned on by default, making people a lot less willing to driveby with nastiness. I also have a smaller readership because a lot of the people who read the old blog were drivebys who read one or two posts and moved on. Now, I have some regular readers, but they’re mainly people who know me and know that Bill isn’t a deadbeat dad. I also don’t have as many posts about controversial topics on this blog, although I add new content pretty frequently. Today’s post, for instance, might ignite a fire.

Hope springs eternal that one day, I’ll write something as explosive as that Jessica McCord post was. In my experience, people tend to get the most upset about true crime posts. Sometimes I even hear from people directly involved in the cases I’ve written about. I can’t blame them for being upset– I suppose that even though I always try to be fair when I write, they still feel judged and/or attacked. I have to remind them that my comments come from what I’ve read or seen in the media, as well as my own deductive reasoning.

I empathize with them, too, because people did the same thing to me when I stupidly compared Jessica McCord to Ex. I couldn’t help myself, though. Jessica McCord really did eerily remind me of Ex. She pulled a lot of the same evasive tactics Ex did before Bill finally quit trying to fight with her. I’m truly grateful that she didn’t slit his throat or get her husband to help murder Bill and me, even if it pisses me off that she got away with what she did. Had it been my choice to make, I think I would have done all I could to take her to court and sue for custody. But I say that as a woman who wasn’t directly victimized and financially ruined by her, as Bill was.

I do sometimes get funny “advice” from spammers. Not long ago, someone left a comment on a post on my travel blog. It read like an actual person posted it. It started with something along the lines of, “Where’s your contact link? I have some ideas for your blog that I want to share with you.” Um… thanks for the attempt at giving me advice, but I don’t remember asking you…

I was a little astounded by that comment. It’s a fucking travel blog. Who says I want or need any help with it? I don’t write any of this for money! It’s mainly for myself and those who might find it interesting reading. If I make a little money from ads, that’s just icing on the cake! Really, I just write because it’s something to do, something I enjoy, is good for processing things, and helps me preserve memories. Not everyone appreciates what I do, though. Good thing the Internet is such a big place and people are free to go somewhere else.

Anyway, if my comments about Jessica McCord have piqued anyone’s interest, here’s a link to the episode of Snapped from which it came. I found it a truly chilling case. I am also going to repost my review of Death Trap, a book about the Jessica McCord case.

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