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Thursday, July 26, 2012

When a Psychologist Writes a Novel...

As a psychologist, I have counseled men and women struggling with extramarital attractions and understand the emotional conflicts those endure who deeply value fidelity but still feel the pull of falling in love with another, even when one party or the other appears to be happily married. These experiences led me to write my first novel, The Eighth Wonder. 

The writing of the book took place while I was recovering from retina detachment surgery. I was housebound for 4 to 5 months. During this time, I was able to use my computer in large print.  Like my main character, Nicole Benson, I had always wanted to write a novel. I finally had the time to do it. It started out semi-autobiographical about my own move to Bradford after getting my Ph.D., but then turned into a love story about two people struggling with grief and loss. While writing the novel, as I mentioned, I was housebound. I needed a place for the characters to meet. I was not familiar with the region. I looked up landmarks – and that is when I discovered The Kinzua Bridge. I had not heard of it nor had I seen it before (or during) writing the novel. The title for the book came to me in a flash that day I wrote the entire story of the bridge and its description based upon web sites I found on it. The first place that I went to after being released from medical rest was to see the bridge in person.

The novel begins as on how I first moved to Bradford to be near my father who lived in Buffalo, New York, and he was dying from pancreatic cancer. Nicole’s personality and the general story of her mother leaving her and being career-driven woman who does not have children is exactly my personal story. Also, like Nicole, I had been emotionally distant from my sister, who was married with children quite young (and also not college-educated like Nicole’s sister). Also, my father’s death is described exactly how it happened that night.

Like The Bridges of Madison County, the “bones” of a story portray the complexities of falling in love when one has been married for a long-period of time. It isn’t always easy to stay married and difficult choices must often be made to keep a marriage together. Sometimes, it means even leaving someone that you love in order to keep a family together. The novel also questions the role of commitment-phobic women who fear abandonment, a trend seen more visibly in women today. Like women portrayed in the Sex in the City series, how do they resolve their feelings of wanting to settle down and be taken care of by a man, yet place a protective emotional wall to keep men at a distance.

Instead of an Iowa farm wife (as in BRIDGES), The Eighth Wonder tells Nicole’s story, who graduates from NYU with her Ph.D. in Political Science. Nicole has sacrificed marriage and children for her career with ambitions of teaching at an Ivy-League school when her life is thrust into chaos. She learns her father has terminal cancer.  She leaves New York City to live in rural Bradford, Pa to take a temporary teaching job to be closer to him in nearby Buffalo.

Instead of a rambling photographer, we meet Tom Ryan, a very stable and settled community-minded Bradford native who manages a large nursing home and is very content with his life. The story deals with grief as Tom is an empty-nester with Rose, his wife of 23 years, but they suffered a terrible loss when their young daughter died from leukemia. After her death, they suffered the long process of bereavement. As parents, their emotions turned from despair into numbness. In Tom and Rose’s case, their feelings became overwhelming and pulled them apart.

After months of being friends, Tom discovers in his heart that he is in love with Nicole and the consequences of those feelings in relation to Rose. He feels the confusion and the fear of being in love with someone else. Nicole’s realization that she is in love with Tom is just as dramatic, due to her fears of abandonment and intimacy, plus, he is married. What is she doing? She can’t possibly be in love with someone who isn’t hers to have. This weighs on them both, even once they talk, they are not clear about what direction to take but know that this relationship is doomed from the beginning.  

When they finally get together it is emotional – they know they should not be intimate, they know they don’t have a future, they haven’t thought about the consequences, yet they can’t seem to stop their feelings. As they try to stay apart, Nicole pines for Tom, then, when her father dies, his inevitable death due to cancer, the first person she calls is Tom.

Without giving away the entire ending, Tom and Nicole face the most painful decision of their lives. For Tom, it is to stay in a comfortable, yet emotionally scarred marriage, or to leave and be with Nicole to start a new life. For Nicole, the choice is to whether to pursue her career goals at a new college or to stay in Bradford to live with Tom (if he was hers to have).

I enjoyed writing The Eighth Wonder. As my first novel, it is so amazing to see my name in print. I have had many people tell me that they couldn’t put the book down. Not just friends, either, but people who have written to me after reading the novel and told me how moved they were by the story. I am so touched to have written such a story. I know I cried writing it. Even when I reread it, I think the characters draw readers in to make the reader laugh, think, and cry. I hope you enjoy reading The Eighth Wonder as I did writing it!  

Kimberly Young

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Studies find Internet Addiction Disorder exists!

It’s official, at least according to researchers at Norway’s University of Bergen: Facebook is addictive.
This may not come as a terrific surprise when you stop to think that the site claims some 500 million users on a daily basis.

But what is surprising is the researchers’ conclusion that Facebook addiction produces symptoms similar to those observed in substance and alcohol addiction. Some studies have found that heavy internet use has actually led to a “rewiring” of the brain with striking similarity to drug and alcohol addicts.
About a year and a half ago more than 400 students were handed a list of six questions relating to Facebook use, with the answers ranging from “very rarely” to “very often.” Responses of “often” or “very often” qualified the respondents as Facebook addicts.
In another study reported by Forbes magazine, 85 percent of 1,000 participants acknowledged using Facebook as part of their daily routine. A third of them said that Facebook let them stay on top of things; two-thirds admitted using it just to kill time. Twenty-five percent said they felt ill at ease if they couldn’t log in regularly. Think about that one.
In still another survey reported by Forbes, about half of 600 respondents said that looking at friends’ pictures on Facebook led them to comparisons and wishing for similar body styles or weights, affecting their self-esteem.
Dr. Harry Brandt, director of the latter study, was quoted in Forbes as saying, “In this age of modern technology and constant access to smartphones and the internet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to remove themselves from images and other triggers that promote negative body image, low self-esteem and ultimately contribute to eating disorders” such as anorexia, bulimia and intense dieting.
Facebook isn’t alone in this phenomenon. Other elements include texting, tweeting, emailing and all the rest.
Internet Addiction Disorder is headed for further study in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, making it a candidate for a “real” disorder.
Newsweek has pulled together a string of disturbing statistics.
The average teen processes 3,700 texts a month, double the 2007 volume.
The average person sends or receives about 400 texts a month, up from 100 in 2007.
One-third of smartphone users go online before getting out of bed.
In a survey of 750 people, most (excluding the 50-plus age bracket) said they check text messages, email or social network at least every 15 minutes.
An early addiction red flag? Spending more than 38 hours a week online.
(The irony of the Newsweek feature is that it offers – via an internet link – help in shielding your kids from tech overload).
The University of Bergen Facebook quiz (choose your answers from “very rarely,” “rarely,” “sometimes,” “often” or “very often”):
• You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or plan to use Facebook.
• You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
• You use Facebook in order to forget about personal problems.
• You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.
• You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
• You use Facebook so much that it has a negative impact on your job/studies.
More than four “often” or “very often” responses constitute addiction, the researchers decreed.
How did you do?