Free and Featherbrained

"Making a name for myself"… whatever that means.

“How All This Started” by Pete Fromm

PLOT

            The novel, How All This Started, is told in the first-person point of view from the protagonist’s, Austin Scheer’s, perspective. One of the main characters in the novel, Abilene, acts as both one of the protagonists and as the main antagonist in the novel. The plot of How All This Started is complex because the events that happen in the novel aren’t sequential and the events seem random and not concrete.
Austin Scheer is the baseball-loving, obedient brother to his bipolar sister, Abilene. At first the family thought Abilene was going through a rebellious stage, but after coming back from a random, two-week disappearance, Abilene is hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The family suffers because of Abilene’s disorder; Abilene can’t control her mood swings, she becomes violent and eccentric, and she frequently runs away from home. Austin tries to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous pitcher while she’s gone. Abilene eventually comes back to her family to help coach Austin because she was once a pitching prodigy (she couldn’t become professional because of sexism, however). Austin’s parents try to convince him that Abilene needs help, and eventually they all try to intercede. Even after trying to help, the Scheer family witness as Abilene ends up getting pregnant, having an abortion, and getting her tubes tied, and she tries to commit suicide. After seriously considering her options, Abilene decides to succumb to her family’s wishes and goes into rehab. The novel ends with Abilene and Austin going their separate ways in life; Abilene to college for education and getting clean, and Austin to college for baseball and starting his career.

POINT OF VIEW/PERSPECTIVE

            The novel is told in first-person in the protagonist’s (Austin Scheer) perspective. Austin tells the events that happen in the story pretty bluntly, but expands on how he feels or how he thinks other people feels by talking about his thoughts. For example, on page 50, Austin describes his ball game with him and his dad:

“’What we play is real!’ I hissed, whipping out a snapping curve, suddenly wanting to hurt him, at least shock him. The old ball broke hard, too fast for Dad, who didn’t block it with his body either. But dad just gave me a look, one I could see him force his smile through. ‘Always more of a hitter than a fielder,’ he said, then turned and went after the ball. I watched him trot off into the desert, then spun around and went inside.” (p. 50)
The author tends to not elaborate on actions in the novel, and instead offers commentary on how the main character perceives the things that are going on around him. In the example shown above, the author tells about what Austin and his dad are doing and then provides the description of how powerful Austin throws the ball by adding the thought, “suddenly wanting to hurt him, at least shock him”. The description shows with how much force Austin threw the ball, so it can be assumed that the ball he threw was a powerful fastball.

            Austin’s first-person perspective used in the novel is an effective way to tell the story because it provides a sort of “bystander” perspective. Since the story is mostly about Austin and his family dealing with Abilene’s bipolar disorder, the thoughts that are shown through Austin are thoughts of a person who is watching someone else do an action, rather than doing it themselves. Austin’s commentary is usually about how he feels about Abilene or what he thinks Abilene is thinking. This is portrayed on page 197, after Abilene smashes her father’s nose during a seemingly ‘wild pitch’:

“I pinched my mitt tight to my side. ‘No,’ I whispered. I walked straight across the drive, picking the baseball from the rock where Dad had left it lying. It had one deep, new scuff on it, from digging into the rock before hitting him. The smash into his nose had been too quick to leave any blood. ‘Come on Austin,’ Abilene sighed, calling me back. ‘We better go check on Dad. Mom’s probably already called out the Guard-‘Help us! Help us! She’s gone crazy! She’s trying to kill us all with a baseball!’’ Abilene cried in a trembling falsetto I’d never heard from her before, a perfect imitation of Mom at her scared worst.’

            In the above example, Austin gives a description about everything that happened. He is conflicted or agitated by the way he “pinched [his] mitt tight to [his] side” and he is worried or surprised at the “trembling falsetto [he’d] never heard from her before” that Abilene imitates of their mom.

          The “bystander” perspective also implies that the character in which the story is being told (Austin) is a person who tends to not speak up much because he likes to watch what is going around him. He admits on page 9 that he has started off high school under the rocks because Abilene told him to:

“…Abilene had redshirted me last year…appearing out of nowhere, she always said, we’d take the world by storm…I’d slunk through school without hardly saying a word, without making a friend, just going through my classes, not even playing a game of catch.”

            The above example is evidence that Austin’s personality is that of a shy, standing-in-the-corner bystander.

PROTAGONIST

            I believe that there are two protagonists in the novel. The first and main protagonist in the novel (from whose viewpoint is in which the story is told) is Austin Scheer. He is portrayed as the dutifully obedient younger brother to his sister, Abilene. He is also seen as a fantastic, dedicated pitcher (whose talent was introduced and established by none other than his sister, Abilene). For the most part, Austin’s personality is that of confused service dog. He is the obedient, loving, pushover and a follower of everything his sister wants him to do. He is also conflicted, confused, and misunderstanding of his sister because he doesn’t know at first how to react to the news that his beloved sister is bipolar and messed up in the head. Austin’s personality is prevalently shown through his thoughts and what he says in the novel. The example used before about Abilene redhshirting Austin and making him not be friends with anyone (on page 9) clearly shows how obedient he is to his sister. On pages 125-126, Austin shows how confused and conflicted he is when it comes to his sister’s condition:

“’Ab’lene told me all about your diagnosis,’ [I said]. ‘It’s a disease, Austin. Like diabetes…It’s not something Abilene chose. It’s not something any of you caused. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s a disease,’ [she said]. ‘There’s nothing wrong with Ab’lene,’ [I said].”

The above example shows how Austin is in denial about Abilene’s disease. He refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with Abilene because he cares so much about her. He knows that Abilene is clearly not like anybody else he knows, but since she has had such a big effect on his life, he can’t seem to be convinced about the fact that there is something wrong with Abilene.

            I think that Abilene is the other protagonist in the novel because so much of the story is about her and how her family deals with her illness. Abilene is an attractive, intelligent, rebellious, emotional 21-year-old. She is also bipolar and therefore she is also eccentric, demanding, irresponsible, powerful, misunderstood, internally conflicted, and is even sometimes violent. Abilene’s personality is showed in third-person from Austin’s perspective.  Her intelligence and some of her irresponsibleness is shown on page 8:

“…she wrapped up school in a blaze of credits, graduating a year eary, talking of nothing but getting out of here. But then she was back again after only three months of junior college.”

            Another example of her irresponsible nature is on pages 54-56 when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant:

“’What mom? What am I going to do? This wasn’t supposed to happen to me,’ [she said]…’For God’s sake,’ Abilene blurted, almost a laugh. ‘Half the time I didn’t know where I was, let alone who I was with. Anybody who could keep up with me. That was my daunting criterion. There wasn’t anybody who could do it for long, but I could always find somebody fresh for extra innings.’”

            An example of Abilene’s violent, powerful, demanding nature is shown on page 108 when she explodes into fury during Austin’s first high school game in baseball:

“’You needled-dicked cocksucker!’ she shouted. ‘You weren’t fit to hand me a baseball, let alone take one away from him!’…’Touch him and I’ll kill you!’ Abilene screamed, the men behind her moving in…I heard one say, ‘It’s only a game’ before Abilene whirled around, swinging punches.’”

SETTING

            The story takes place primarily in Pecos, Texas. The time/date in which the novel takes place in isn’t mentioned in the novel. The author of the novel mentioned in an interview that he chose to have the setting in a more isolated part of Texas because he wanted to focus solely on the characters in the novel and their internal struggles and not on the interactions of the Scheer family with other characters in the novel. Pecos, Texas is a town that has a desert climate and his home to ‘northers’ or cold, windy (not common, but) rainy storms. Northers are significant in the novel because one of Austin and Abilene’s favorite activities to do together is feel the cold and the wind from a norther and the presence of northers tie the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel. A lot of the events that happen in the novel occur in the Scheers’ house, Pecos High, and the Rattlesnake Bomber Base, which are all located in Pecos. Another place where some events take place is Midland, Texas, where Abilene and her mother travel to in order to receive therapy and her lithium pills.
The Scheers’ house is where the Scheers live. A lot of events happen in the Scheer house, such as the multitude of ball games that Austin and his father have during Abilene’s absence, and the event where Abilene goes into lithium, bipolar lockdown (before going away to live by herself).
Pecos High is where Abilene used to attend high school and where Austin goes to school presently. Abilene excelled in school at Pecos High, and tried out for the boys’ baseball team. She made the team because she was one of the best pitchers Coach Thurston ever saw, but she never played a game and the other players shunned her because she was a girl. Austin tries out for the baseball team in Pecos High, and he makes the cut and is allowed to pitch in the very first game of the season. He quits after his first game (because Abilene told him to) but eventually re-joins the team later on.

            Rattlesnake Bomber Base is where Austin and Abilene go to practice their skills in baseball. They play baseball with a few wooden planks as plates, a B-29 tire as a bat, and a box of used baseballs. When Abilene leaves, Austin continues to practice his baseball at the Rattlesnake Bomber Base.

THEME

            Theme: Families can pull together and conquer even through very tough times.

            Pete Fromm wrote about this theme by telling the story of a discombobulated family and how they struggle for a better life. Abilene’s illness greatly affects the family because she often goes out on her own with suicidal or manic thoughts and she constantly needs to be watched for her own good. There isn’t really a specific example of the theme, but there is a “bigger-pictured” version of the theme in the novel that is over the span of about 100 pages:

“‘…But Abilene, it’s for your own good. We’re so worried about you.’ [Mom said]. Abilene laughed like crazy at that. Then there was a loud slap, Abilene bringing her ands down hard and flat on the table. ‘No, it is not for my own good.’ Mom sucked in a startled breath…” (219-220).

“‘Abby,’ Mom started, and I heard a whack. Though I’d never heard it before, I knew right away it was the sound of a hand against face…there was more shouting then, not words, just shouts, and in a second Dad staggered out of the bedroom with Abilene pinched in his giant arms…” (225).

            “‘What?’ I shouted. But Dad just kept staring right through me…‘Whole different game, isn’t it?’ he snapped…‘You ever pull another stunt like that with your mother, there won’t be mitts and balls.’ He shook me once, hard. ‘Do you understand?’…I said, ‘She is so fucked-up Dad.’ Dad whirled, leaping down the steps. I staggered backward into the dark. ‘Abilene! Abilene! Not Mom!’ Dad stopped. He couldn’t see me behind all the headlights. ‘She’s sick. Abilene is not fucked-up. She’s sick.’ (240-241)

            “’She’s not missing anymore.’ Dad reached out, snagging my hand, pulling back, but not like before, gentle this time, letting me stay out at arm’s length, keeping my hand in his, but not just to capture me…’You’ve got to be easy with her. As hard as this is on us, it’s worse for her…Just don’t push her. Let her find her own way back.” (245).

            “‘There are things I want to forget, Austin. But, believe me, you are not one of them. And I’m not pulling a Dad on you, either. I’m not going to lock up everything that came before now. I’m not making that mistake. There is no way my How All This Started is going to by my lithium prescription.’ I brushed my fingers across my shirt, my tattoo. “What am I going to do with mine now?’ Abilene flashed a smile. She slapped her hand against my chest. ‘Live up to it.’” (304)

            So in the above examples, the family clearly goes through a lot of emotional turmoil with each other, but eventually learn to grow and develop out of their problems. A universal theme that probably relates to the theme shown in the novel is the theme that, “Love conquers all”. This universal theme is shown through Abilene and Austin’s loyal and pure relationship with each other and the way the family even though they have every reason to stay stressed and separated, come together and create something bigger for themselves.

TITLE

            The title to “How All This Started” is actually explained in the novel:
“How All This Started was Dad’s favorite story – about our names, Abilene’s and mine. Not where we were born, but where we were conceived. ‘How all this started!’ he’d always say, waving his arms around like he had a kingdom to show off. He’d tell the story at the slightest excyse, to anybody who asked, and some who didn’t. ‘We were newlyweds, you know, and we were only in Abilene for the night!’”

            The story of  How All This Started in the novel is like a cynical joke that kind of bothers Abilene and Austin, as shown:

            “’…And have to listen to a whole new installment of How All This Started? ‘And then there was the night outside Pecos! We were old, you know, and we’re not sure how it happened but…Have a little kid running around named Pecos?’ I tried. ‘Yeah I suppose,’ Abilene said. ‘But this would’ve been more like How All This Stopped.’” (58)

            “’…Mom and Dad could have done it in Lubbock. That would have been worse What id that’s how all this started? Your name would be Lubbock. Lubby. Lubbs. Or what about Amarillo? Balmorhea?’ She cracked the smallest smile I’d ever seen. ‘Wacko’ [she said]. I laughed too loud. ‘Hey Waco,’ I said, saying it right, ‘please come out and play-o.’” (61)

            The story of How All This Started eventually becomes pretty prevalent in Austin and Abilene’s unhappiness, as shown on:

“’…their lives before all this started…It’s pathetic!…Take a look around! How what all started? This is it. The two of them and their happy, little lives shriveled up and vanished for a goddamned patch of empty desert! A lunatic daughter! Me!’” (126-127)

            “’There are things I want to forget, Austin. But, believe me, you are not one of them. And I’m not pulling a Dad on you, either. I’m not going to lock up everything that came before now. I’m not making that mistake. There is no way my How All This Started is going to by my lithium prescription.’” (304).

            I think that the title, “How All This Started”, might also be a spin-off of the common phrase, “How did this happen?” I think that the title is a spin-off on the phrase because if I was one of the main characters in the novel dealing with all of the stuff they have to, I would probably ask, “How did this happen/Why is this happening to me?”

PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION

            “How All This Started” had many good aspects about it, and a lot of bad aspects. Personally, I don’t think that the plot of the novel flowed together that well. The events that occurred in the book are very sporadic, and I think that it was pretty difficult trying to sum up the plot when the plot itself changed every single chapter.

            The descriptions of the characters and the events that happened in the novel weren’t as well-developed as I hoped. The descriptions got the point across, but I feel as if there was too little “emotion” or “personality” when it came to describing people, events, or places in the novel. The sentences that did describe what was going on in the novel were mostly short sentences and didn’t have many adjectives to emphasize what the things look like, so I had a hard time visualizing what I was reading.

            Lastly, some of the themes and the ideal audience that the novel is reaching out to only reaches out to a specific audience. One of the themes of the novel has to do with sports and baseball, and I wasn’t quite familiar with anything that had to with sports or baseball terminology. I think that the audience that the novel would reach the best would be a mostly-male or baseball-loving audience from the ages of 18-35. I don’t think that female audiences who don’t enjoy baseball or sports would enjoy this novel because it has a lot of baseball terminology and events. I think that a 18-35 male who likes baseball will enjoy this novel because 18-35 is around the age where a male would be old enough to be interested enough in novel, but not too old to where the topic and the style of the novel would be too immature for them.

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My Life as an “Oddysey” Essay

My parents told me that when I was little, I was extremely independent and strong-willed. They told me that I had a creative, determined, and straightforward way of thinking. They said that if I there was anything I wanted to do, the only person who could stop me from doing it was myself.

As a kid, I knew who I was and whom I wanted to become, but as I grew up my inward stability started to sway back-and-forth. The older I became, the more I realized that my emotions were getting harder and harder to control. My unstable emotions started to become progressively worse in 8th grade, and by then I knew that there had to be something wrong with me. After a lot of research on mental disorders, I came to the conclusion that I was bipolar. My self-prescribed diagnosis was confirmed by my psychologist and psychiatrist in March 2012, who said that I had Bipolar II, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and intense anxiety.

The struggle to control my emotions and achieve balance in my life is the main journey that I go through every day. My constant mood swings affect nearly everything I do on a daily basis. It’s hard for me to maintain solid grades because my motivation to do things always changes. I can’t have a healthy dating life and my relationships with friends and family are constantly strained because of my lack of emotionally stability. Being bipolar affects me physically as well, because my sleep and eating patterns change according to whether I’m in my depressive phase or manic phase.

The problem with being bipolar is that you don’t quite know how you’re going to feel the next day, and almost every emotion is heightened and intensified. Instead of feeling “normal”, I either feel depressed and stressed and anxious, or charismatic and energetic and bubbly. When I’m in my depressive phase, the old Jazmyne that was determined and hard-working completely goes away, and she’s replaced by someone who’s lazy and unmotivated and surrenders to sadness. When I’m in my manic phase, the old Jazmyne is electrified, and it’s like I need to do a billion things at once in order to feel alive and tell people about everything beautiful and wonderful in life. And I can’t just ignore my intensified emotions, either- it’s always there in the back of my mind, ready to resurface and cause problems in my life. Similar to Odysseus’ struggle with overcoming adversaries to go home, it’s like every place I turn the thing I’m trying to overcome brings more problems.

Like Odysseus’ distractions, there are distractions I have to deal with that constantly prevent me from reaching my destination, which is achieving balance in my life. I think that one of the biggest distractions is my never-ending concern for other people because whenever something happens to someone I care about I become agitated and worried for them. There are so many things that my family members and friends deal with, and I always let their problems add to the stress of my own problems. Multiple family members and friends of mine have mental disorders, as well, and I always trouble myself more than I should about their happiness and well-being. Some of my family members also have physical complications, and so I get worked up about their health and how they are doing all the time. Many of my friends are self-conscious and complain to me a lot about their unhappiness about how they are, which make me feel the need to console and fret over them. Another distraction I have that ties in to my concern for other people is my concern for my family’s finances. I worry as much, if not more, about the financial stability of my family. I make a lot of sacrifices so that I don’t feel like a financial burden to my parents, and I worry a lot about bills and how I can help save my family money.

Odysseus is faced with many temptations throughout his journey, and every now and then it seems easier for him to surrender to the temptations that taunt him. For me, it’s also tempting to give up to my emotions, or to give in to negative ways to cope with how I feel. A lot of times I do submit to whatever phase I am in and I let my unstable emotions take over my life. When I’m in my depressive phase, it’s easy to just not do work and stay unmotivated. I rationalize that being in my manic phase is helpful to me because I get things done and I’m more social in that phase. Many times I’ve been tempted to turn to poisonous groups of friends to relieve or magnify whatever phase I’m in. In both of my phases, I can be extremely impulsive, which is a huge temptation I have to try and counter with rationalization (which doesn’t always work).

The main antagonist I have in my journey to maintain steadiness over my emotions is myself. I am a very stubborn, independent, and defensive person. At first, it took me a while to convince myself that I needed help to deal with my emotions because I am very reluctant to ask people for help. I always do this thing where I bury my feelings deep inside of me and never show it to people because I don’t want them to lose sleep over me. Most of the time I try to deal with my problems on my own and try not to involve anyone else in the problematic side of my life. My stubbornness and pride gets in the way of fixing my problems, much like how Odysseus had ran into problems because of his stubbornness and pride.

Even though there are a lot of things holding me back from achieving my goal of creating balance in my life, I possess a lot of things that help and support me while on this journey. Like Odysseus, I have people who support me and somewhat admirable traits that aid me while I am in a tough position.

I have a lot of qualities that counter my stubborn, independent, and defensive traits. When it comes to the things that I want to accomplish and the goals I have, I am very determined to get them done. Much like how Odysseus always put everything he had into his goals and was determined to get home, I work very hard whenever I really want something. I also have a lot of integrity when it comes to how I am. I am very honest with myself and with the people around me, so usually I am able to recognize when something is wrong with me, the reason for why I feel that way, and why I need to fix whatever problem I am having. Because I have a good amount of integrity about myself, I also know that whenever I’m in distress I know I should ask for help and do therapeutic, healthy things instead of turning to other means of relieving my stress and agitation.

Another thing that helps me along my journey is the people who support me. My doctors and therapists are supportive of me and try to do the best they can with diagnosing and helping me treat my mental disorders. My friends are also extremely supportive and understanding of my struggles, and try to help me in any way they can. A lot of times I use my friends members as a way to vent about my feelings, and they always offer their sympathy and advice and guidance. My family is also very supportive of me. At first they didn’t really want to believe anything was wrong with me, but after being diagnosed and medicated, they try to help me and know how to handle me in my different phases and how to make sure I stay sane and happy.

Even though the journey I have ahead of me is a difficult one to travel, I know that with the support I have from my friends and family and the drive I have to get better will help me through it. There will always be temptations along the way of this journey and distractions that will hold me back from being happy, but I know that eventually I will become prudent and have balance in my life. Similar to Odysseus’ long and painful journey, it may take many years and a lot of trials and tribulations for me to finally reach my destination, but I know that one day I will eventually be in peace with myself, be able to control my emotions and have a balanced life.

Synopsis of Books 9-10, 11, 21-23

Book 9

            Odysseus and his men land on the island of the Lotus-eaters, where the people who live there give them lotus fruit. The lotus fruit makes all of the men forget that they want to go home and cause them to stay on the island for a long time. Odysseus gets him and his men off the island and sail away. They land on the island of the Cyclopes, the son of the sea-god Poseidon. Odysseus and his men wander into the Cyclopes’ cave, where they eat his food and get eaten by the Cyclopes in return. Odysseus and his men escape the Cyclopes’ island by blinding him and then sneaking away under the bellies of the Cyclopes’ herd of sheep. Blinding the Cyclopes makes Poseidon angry, and guarantees Odysseus and his men an even harder journey back home.

Book 10

            Odysseus and his men sail to the island of the wind-god, Aeolus. He helps Odysseus by giving him a bag of winds. Using the western wind, Odysseus and his men arrive close enough to Ithaca to see it, but are then set back even further because of Odysseus’ jealous, greedy shipmates. Odysseus and his men eventually land on another island, the island of Circe, a witch. She lures in some of Odysseus’ men into her palace and turns them into pigs. Odysseus goes to find and rescue them, and with the help of Hermes, is able to avoid Circe’s magic. Circe makes Odysseus stay with her for a year as her lover, but eventually lets them go with advice on how to get home.

Book 11

            Odysseus travels to the River Styx in the underworld to find the blind prophet, Tiresias. With the help of Circe’s advice, Odysseus attracts the dead and finds Tiresias. Tiresias tells Odysseus about his fate and warns him about what he should do to have a smoother ride home.

Book 21

            Odysseus has returned home alone disguised as a beggar. Odysseus reveals his identity to two of his most trusted followers and asks them to help him in return for treating them and being a part of the royal family. Penelope has announced to all her potential suitors that she will marry the man who wins her contest. The rules of the contest are to string Odysseus’ bow and shoot through a line of twelve axes. All of the suitors try to string the bow but fail at doing so. Odysseus steps up to string the bow, and succeeds in stringing it and shooting it through all the axes.

Book 22

            After he wins the competition, his disguise disappears. With the help of his goddess, Athena, Odysseus and he and his son kill every suitor in the kingdom. He then proceeds to kill all the unfaithful women servants he has and take back his kingdom.

Book 23

            Penelope goes to see Odysseus and when she sees him, she faints. When she comes to, she finds Odysseus in front of her again, but doesn’t believe that he is really who he is. She thinks that the gods are playing another trick on her. She tells Odysseus that she needs help moving the bed back to the bedroom, a lie that only Odysseus could know the truth to. Odysseus gets mad and says that it was impossible to move the bed unless it was cut from the tree he grew around it. With the answer that she wanted, Penelope embraces him. Everyone is eventually appeased and lives happily ever after.

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Garage Sale Haul #1

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I love to thrift. A couple of weekends ago, my mom and I decided to spend some quality time together shopping at garage sales. We had a shared budget of $60. Below are some pictures of what I bought with my share of the budget. A lot of the things I got I already put away and/or are in use, so some of the pictures aren’t exactly what they look like in real life.

Vintage brass/jade cufflinks ($5.00)

 

Vintage brown clip-on Italian earrings ($0.50)

 

Vintage red beaded clip-on earrings made in Western Germany ($0.50)

 

Vintage flower locket with unique chain ($1.00)

 

6 piece pocket-sized tool set ($0.50)

 

HMDX portable blue speakers ($1.00)

 

3 new (with sticker) Bath & BodyWorks twilight woods shower gel ($0.25 ea)

 

New (with tags) Hollister winter scarf ($1.00)

 

 

And the best $20 find of the day:

A 7-drawer brown vintage vanity desk (with the mirror).

This will be my new project, as I am going to paint it “antique white” to match my headboard. I’ll post pictures of this when it is finished. Wish me luck (I’ve never attempted to re-do furniture before)!

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