book reviews, mental health

Repost: A review of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story…

This is a repost of a book review I wrote for my original blog on May 13, 2014. It appears here as/is.

I honestly don’t remember why I downloaded Ned Vizzini’s book, It’s Kind of A Funny Story.  It was published in 2010 and has been turned into a movie, but I think it was intended for young adults.  No matter.  I found Vizzini’s book very engaging and entertaining, even though it’s basically about an adolescent male who struggles with depression and suicidal ideation and ends up in a mental ward.

Craig Gilner is fifteen years old and attending Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School.  He’s a high achieving kind with visions of success and prosperity in his very bright looking future.  Getting that success means getting into the right high school, the right college, the right grad school, and marrying the right person.  So Craig works to achieve those lofty goals and soon gets weighed down by depression.  Craig realizes that compared to his classmates, he’s not all that impressive.  He stops eating and sleeping and one night, decides he’s going to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

So he calls a suicide hotline.  At first, he gets routed to a guy who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing.  The operator on the hotline tries to get Craig to do some exercises intended to reduce anxiety, but they end up making him more anxious.  He hangs up and calls another suicide hotline and is advised to get to a hospital.  He goes to the emergency room at a hospital two blocks from where he lives.  He gets admitted to Six North, where he gets help.  There, he meets people with some real problems… and isolated from his high pressure school, Craig is able to isolate the source of his anxiety and depression and change his life.

Author Vizzini has himself spent time in a mental hospital, so he’s able to make his story ring true.  He injects a lot of humor into a story that could be bogged down with too much of a heavy subject.  The end result is a very readable book that many people will relate to easily.  I myself have dealt with depression and anxiety, but I haven’t yet spent time in a mental ward.  I hope I never will experience such a thing…  but I’m glad Vizzini was able to turn his personal experiences into a story that will help and entertain others.

Yes, this book is intended for teens from 9th grade up, but as a 41 year old adult, I also enjoyed it.  That’s really saying something, because nowadays, I’m really more into true stories than novels.  I would recommend It’s Kind of A Funny Story, particularly to young people who feel stressed about the future.  Of course, most people worry about what’s coming next… but this book especially speaks to precocious teens and zany middle-aged people like me.

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law, true crime

My thoughts on Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial…

This morning, Bill and I were talking about Kyle Rittenhouse, who’s been all over the news this week. Rittenhouse sobbed during his testimony about the night of August 25, 2020, when he killed two men and wounded another. Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old at the time, had traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin from his home in Antioch, Illinois. The teenager had gone to Kenosha to help “protect” property and act as a medic as protesters flooded the street, angered that police had shot and wounded a Black man named Jacob Blake.

From what I’ve read, the protest had become violent and chaotic. Protesters burned down several buildings and were destroying police cars. And yet, there was Kyle, driven by his mother over state lines, and carrying an AR-15 rifle, purchased for him by a friend who was over 18. At 17, Kyle Rittenhouse was too young to buy the weapon himself.

According to his testimony, Kyle Rittenhouse was being chased by the protesters he ended up shooting with the AR-15. He says he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and later injured Gaige Grosskreutz. Although Rittenhouse has maintained that his actions were done in self-defense, prosecutors have argued that Rittenhouse “created the peril through his own reckless actions that caused others to fear for their own lives and led directly to the violence.” However, according to the article I linked, “mountains of video and photo evidence appear to show Rosenbaum acting aggressively and chasing Rittenhouse, Huber striking him with a skateboard and Grosskreutz pointing a pistol at him.”

So this wasn’t a case of a person cold-bloodedly walking up to someone and shooting them. This wasn’t a situation in which the victims were completely blameless. No matter what I might think about Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions or the wisdom of his decision to attend the protest with a weapon, the fact is, there’s evidence that he was being attacked by the men he shot. And that really weakens the prosecution’s case, in my view.

When I first heard about this case, I wondered what in the hell made Kyle Rittenhouse think his “services” were needed at a protest in another state? Why did he feel like he needed a weapon, when he was supposedly there to “help” protect property and tend to the injured? What was his mother thinking when she brought her 17 year old son to Kenosha and turned him loose on the streets?

According to an article published by the University of Rochester Medical Center, “the rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.” Kyle, at age 18, still has several years to go before he’s “fully baked”. The article continues:

…recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

I have read that Kyle Rittenhouse has been associating with white supremacists. Even if that’s true, I remember that he’s still a teenager, and is likely highly impressionable and impulsive. That doesn’t make his actions right, nor does it mean that I think he should get off “free and clear”. But I do think it mitigates his case somewhat. There must be a reason why Kyle Rittenhouse has ended up in this situation. There is a backstory that leads up to his decision to try to offer “help”, where clearly it wasn’t in his best interests to do so. Again, he’s still a teenager… and he obviously doesn’t yet have the more solid judgment or reasoning skills that most responsible adults have.

According to the NPR article I linked earlier in this post, a number of legal experts are saying that they think Kyle Rittenhouse will be acquitted of most of the charges. Prosecutors are now trying to get Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder to allow jurors to consider lesser charges. This is because the prosecution’s evidence has been as useful for the defense as it has been for the prosecution.

In fact, Gaige Grosskreutz, who, as the lone survivor, was supposed to be the prosecution’s “star witness”, has made several inconsistent statements. He’s also admitted that he was, himself, carrying a pistol on an expired permit on the evening Rittenhouse shot and wounded him.

Defense attorney, Corey Chirafisi, cross-examined Grosskreutz, and asked “It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him — advanced on him with your gun, now your hands down, pointed at him — that he fired, right?”

And Mr. Grosskreutz responded, “Correct.” as one of the prosecutors put his head in his hands.

Yeah… I wouldn’t say that’s a good look for the prosecution. It doesn’t excuse the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse had no business being involved in the protest, but Grosskreutz doesn’t exactly inspire sympathy when he admits that he had a gun, too, and wasn’t carrying it legally.


Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense, and sobbed so hard that Judge Schroeder called a recess. He testified that he reached for the rifle as “Rosenbaum chased him and reached for his rifle, as Huber struck him with the skateboard and as Grosskreutz advanced on him with the pistol.” Rittenhouse said that he feared for his life. Frankly, based on that description, and especially considering his age, I can’t blame him for being terrified that the three men might kill him.

When Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger cross-examined Rittenhouse, he asked, “You understand that when you point your AR-15 at someone, it may make them feel like you are going to kill them, correct?”

And Rittenhouse responded, “Mr. Rosenbaum was chasing me. I pointed my gun at him, and that did not deter him. He could have ran away instead of trying to take my gun from me, but he kept chasing me. It didn’t stop him,”

My guess, not having been there, but having personally experienced being hopped up on adrenaline, that none of the people involved in this altercation were thinking straight. They were probably all in a state of “fight or flight”, brought on by extreme fear, aggression, and an overload of testosterone and adrenaline.

Given that, I don’t see Kyle Rittenhouse as a cold-blooded murderer who is undeserving of mercy, even if I am personally disgusted by his politics, and I realize that he’s now killed two men. I also don’t believe that most people who commit serious crimes when they are minors should have their lives ruined. While I’m certain Kyle knew that killing is wrong and against the law, he didn’t, and still doesn’t, have the mind of an adult. He proved that his judgment wasn’t very sound when he decided to attend the protest alone, stayed out after curfew during a protest, lied about being an EMT, and carried a weapon that he wasn’t legally permitted to have.

But the case hasn’t gone very well for the prosecution, which is why they’re asking the judge to allow jurors to consider lesser charges. I think the lesser charges are probably reasonable, but based on what I’ve read about the judge, I have a feeling he might not allow it. He seems somewhat sympathetic to Rittenhouse. Edited to add, Bill says the judge is allowing the lesser charges to be considered. Of course, the final verdict is up to the jury.

Hmm… this doesn’t look so good for the prosecution.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case. A verdict is expected next week. Based on what I’ve read, both about the case itself, and the judge involved, I have a feeling Mr. Rittenhouse will not be spending long years in prison, as a lot of people seem to hope he will. While I agree that he was wrong to kill two men and wound another, and he had absolutely NO BUSINESS being at the protest in the first place, I don’t think he should rot in prison. I also hope he wises up about the right wing white supremacist types who have championed his cause. If he continues to hang around with them, there’s a good chance he will end up in trouble again. And the next time, the case against him might be much more compelling.

mental health, musings

We now return you to “the arts”…

I often get reminded of things and go looking for information about subjects most people have long forgotten. That happened to me the other day, while I was killing time cruising the Internet. I went through a phase about twenty years ago during which I became kind of obsessed with learning about the “teen help” industry. In those days, there was a burgeoning industry in which affluent parents with “wayward” children would hire goons to pick up their kids in the middle of the night and haul them off to some school in the middle of nowhere.

Back in the early 00s, there were many of these schools operating in the United States and other countries. One of the biggest players in the “teen help” industry was the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, otherwise known as WWASPS. Robert Lichfield, the man who founded WWASPS, and his younger brother, Narvin, were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons. In 2003, when his company was still going strong, Robert Lichfield was also a big contributor to the Republican Party. Starting in 1977, Lichfield worked in the “teen help” industry, straightening out “troubled teens”. By 2003, WWASPS was raking in many millions of dollars from parents desperate to “save” their teens… or get them out of their hair. And these kids would be sent off to schools in Jamaica, Mexico, the Czech Republic, or somewhere in the United States– South Carolina, Utah, Montana, or Mississippi, among other places. They were kept in deplorable conditions and many of them left the schools with worse problems than they had when they went in.

As it happened, during the same time I was researching WWASPS a lot, Bill and I were getting acquainted. He was a Mormon when we met, having joined the faith with his ex wife. I didn’t know a lot about Mormonism when I met Bill. I had only met a few church members and read one book, a poorly received by the religion but excellently researched book called Secret Ceremonies, by the late Deborah Laake. Active church members were highly discouraged from reading Laake’s book, because Laake was an apostate who was trying to share her truth about being LDS. But even though members were discouraged from reading Secret Ceremonies, they would still dismiss its contents as lies. Bill and I later read it together and he told me that Laake’s account was very accurate. Later, I ran into one of Laake’s friends on RfM (Recovery from Mormonism), Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist and famously ex Mormon Steve Benson, whose grandfather was a “living prophet”. Benson knew Deborah Laake and confirmed that she was an excellent journalist.

I also noticed that Bill’s ex wife was using the church as a toxic parental alienation tool to separate Bill from his daughters. Although all of the Mormons I have known personally have been good people, I couldn’t ignore how the religion was being used to abuse people. I started researching it obsessively. I read RfM every day and read many books, which I documented in a thread on my original blog with links to my reviews on Epinions (sadly now defunct).

A few days ago, I remembered a riveting account of a WWASPS parental “training” event attended by Karen E. Lile and her then husband, Kendall Bean. I write “then husband”, because I have the impression that they are now divorced, since Karen Lile does not appear to be using the name “Bean” anymore. But I think they were still married years ago, when I first found their written account of attending parent training for the WWASPS program, held at a hotel in Livermore, California. The other day, I went looking for their accounts because they popped into my head. Sure enough, I found them. Here’s Karen Lile’s account, and here is Kendall Bean’s account.

In 1997, the Beans sent their daughter, Kyrsten, to Tranquility Bay, a WWASPS program in Jamaica. The Beans, like the Lichfield brothers, who had founded WWASPS, were members of the LDS church. You can read in their very lengthy accounts about what kind of people they claimed to be. Karen Lile is all over the Internet. She frequently mentions her long heritage in the San Francisco area. She appears to have many trappings of success, too. For instance, she mentions graduating with high honors from college, and working with her husband (ex?) in a high end piano buying service. Most recently, she’s listed as a contributor to an outfit called Sail Sports Talk. If you click the link, you can read all about her pedigree. She’s clearly a woman of education and means… or so it appears.

Same thing with Kendall Bean. He is reportedly a well-regarded concert pianist and co-owner of the piano restoration and brokerage.

This was a couple that appeared to have everything they could want. But apparently, they had a troubled daughter and decided to send her to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. It sounded like an idyllic place, with a name that evoked visions of beautiful beaches, sea breezes, and blue skies. The reality was far from that image. According to Google, Tranquility Bay opened in 1997, the same year the Beans’ daughter attended. It was supposedly one of the harsher schools in the WWASPS system. Many “students” would reportedly go there and get sick, due to the lack of hygienic facilities, and they would be subjected to mental, physical, and emotional abuse. But they would not receive any treatment or sympathy. For this, their parents were paying thousands of dollars a month and, in the case of the Beans, relieving the financial burden, in part, by convincing other parents to send their children. From “Breaking the Vow of Secrecy“, the article Karen Lile wrote:

Why she initially stayed in the obviously abusive training…

When I first read these accounts of WWASPS years ago, I was shocked and horrified. I thirsted for more information, and I easily found it. Fifteen or twenty years ago, these types of schools existed all over the place. Not all were affiliated with Mormonism. Some were with the Independent Baptist Church, like Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri, and Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida. Some programs, like Thayer Learning Center (TLC) in Kidder, Missouri, appeared to be offshoots of the WWASP programs. The people who ran TLC were also LDS, but ran the school like a military boot camp. Here’s an account of one former student’s stay there.

And here’s a video about someone who went to Thayer Learning Center. She mentions the book Pure, which I have read and reviewed. Actually, I highly recommend listening to this video if you have any curiosity about how people can be spiritually abused, particularly in the LDS church.

Anyway… this very long build up has led to a discovery I made the other day. As I was reading about the Beans and their experiences with WWASPS training back in the late 1990s, I somehow found their daughter’s Web site. It turns out she’s a writer and musician herself. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to her site, but I did find her blog posts very interesting and illuminating. She’s writing about her experiences going to Tranquility Bay. Like a lot of people who were sent there, she was under the impression that it was a normal school. Jamaica sounded like a great place to be– probably better than home, where she was not getting along with her parents. She had no idea of what awaited her.

I think about reading her parents’ account of the disturbing training they had received. Their daughter had already been at Tranquility Bay, and they were evidently ignorant to what was happening to her there. And they were paying thousands of dollars a month for this… and convincing other parents to sign up their teens, too. I think about the young people who were subjected to that treatment and how it’s affected them today. Judging by her blog, Kyrsten Bean is still very much affected by her time in a WWASPS facility. I wonder what kind of relationship she has with her parents today… these people who, by what I’ve seen on the Internet, are highly accomplished, respectable, and educated people. If you know where to look, you can easily see beneath that facade.

I don’t like Mormonism. That has never been a secret. There was a time not long ago when I could think of very little good with the church, even as I recognized that there are many good people within it. But then Bill’s daughter told him her story of escaping her mother’s clutches and people in the church helped her. Just as the Army gave Bill a place to go once Ex was through with him, the LDS church gave his daughter a place to go once her relationship with her mother had gotten to the point that they could no longer live together. For that, I’m grateful… although I really wish she had come to Bill instead. We would have helped her. But I also understand why she felt she couldn’t.

I think it’s very sad to think about how parents betray their children by sending them to these kinds of facilities. And sadly, even though the WWASPS schools are now closed, these programs are still around under different names. It’s a very lucrative business, straightening out other people’s kids.

As I sit here writing this post, I am reminded that you just never know how you will affect people. I often think my life doesn’t matter much… but then I realize that this family in San Francisco has no idea that I’ve read so much about them and their fascinating story. I’ve read about them for years. And I can see by the people who hit this blog that there are people who are similarly interested in my story, for whatever reason. Like, for instance, one reader continually hits a post I wrote in April about how a guy on a cruise insulted me. I wonder why that post is so interesting to him… does he think it’s funny? Can he relate? Who knows?

Another person often finds me because of posts I wrote about Erin McCay George. I wonder if he’s fascinated by her so much that he needs to reread posts over and over again. But who knows? It’s hard to tell what interests people. I know I had one reader who read simply because she was returning and reporting to our former landlords… and, I suspect, hoped we’d pay for things that she and her family did in the house before we moved in. I like to think most readers are good people and not out to get me, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure. Especially when I see that Kyrsten Bean is now on YouTube– and very easily found. Apparently, she went on to have a relationship with a narcissist, something else with which we can commiserate.

I keep writing because it’s helpful for me. I’m sure that’s why Kyrsten writes, too. I have a hunch that her ex fiance isn’t the only one in her life who is a narcissistic abuser. But, of course, that’s only a hunch. I don’t actually know her… just like people who read this rag, by and large, don’t really know me. I’m just saying the signs are there, and once you’ve had anything to do with a narcissist, you can easily spot them. Unfortunately, narcissists can also spot people who will tolerate their bullshit. That’s why it’s best to express things… write about it and tell people. Don’t keep secrets. Because that is how abusive people continue to abuse. Just look at how long the abusive people running WWASPS were able to hide what they were doing as they financially ruined hundreds of parents and left their children with lingering physical, mental, and emotional problems.


Reposted: I was a teenaged Tina…

Here’s another repost from my original blog. It was written December 13, 2017, and I’m reposting it because I think it’s funny. Enjoy!

Last night, while enjoying copious amounts of wine, chocolate, and pizza with my mother-in-law and Bill, I told them that when I was a kid, people often said I looked like Tina Yothers.  For those who don’t know, Tina Yothers played Jennifer Keaton on the hit sit com Family Ties.  I loved that show, as did many of my friends.  It was the show that really put Michael J. Fox on the map as an actor.  It’s also where he met his wife, Tracy Pollan. 

In the 1980s, Tina Yothers had long blonde hair and bangs.  I never had long hair, but it was definitely blonde.  I also had bangs until I was about twenty-five years old.  They were a bitch to grow out.

This is a picture of Tina Yothers when she was a child.

This is a picture of me when I was twelve.

I probably looked the most like Tina when we were younger.  As she grew older, her hair got bigger. 

Teenaged Tina

Teenaged knotty…

I believe Tina has since colored her hair black.  I have never had black hair.  In fact, nowadays, my hair is pretty blonde/white.  I’ve been letting it go natural because I hate the process of coloring it and feel like it’s a waste of time.  Even if I were inclined to color my hair, I wouldn’t want to go black.  I think it’s a rather harsh look for someone with really fair skin like mine.  Tina seems to wear it well, though.  It probably helps to have professional hairdressers, which I never bother with.

Like me, Tina Yothers is musical.  She’s in a band and, I think, has pretty much given up on the acting gig.  The last I saw of her, she was on Celebrity Fit Club or was it Celebrity Wife Swap?  I don’t remember.  I don’t know what she’s like off camera, but Tina’s personality on Family Ties was somewhat like mine, too.  We were both sardonic wiseacres.  

Tina sings on Family Ties…

I’m not sure what prompted me to post about this today.  I could easily write about police brutality or Alabama’s election results.  But, for some reason, I wanted to write something kind of silly.  This is some pretty silly stuff.      

Incidentally, my very kind mother-in-law thinks I look like Lee Remick now. There’s a reason why I love her and her son now. They are much too kind. 😀