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jolene siana

Weekly Wrap: Hopeful.

by Susan Henderson on April 27, 2007

I’ve been juggling a little more than I’m used to lately. Both my boys are in play rehearsal right now (for different plays), and I’ve been trying to get ahead with reading and interviewing for LitPark. I want my plate to be clear when my novel edits come back from St. Martin’s. Which reminds me…. there are two people I enjoy working with so much: Regina Scarpa, my editor at St. Martin’s, and the remarkable Tommy Kane, who’s doing my book cover. I couldn’t feel luckier, and you will never hear me complain of being too busy. I like movement.

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This week we talked about hope and hopelessness. It’s easy to fall into the latter when you’re a writer. Creating that story and getting it right is hard enough, but sending it out is the real whammy. Rejection can make you question your talent and your value. Sometimes you wait and don’t even get a rejection.

This past week gave me reminder after reminder of what makes me feel hopeful, and what I hang on to when times are tough: it’s the little things. I’m going to give some anecdotes from my week, and maybe you’ll see what I mean…..

MONDAY
I volunteered at the annual fundraiser gala organized by Nile Rodgers’ We Are Family Foundation. The foundation was created in response to 9-11 to encourage dialogue and respect between different cultures, and some of the folks I recognized at the gala included Dionne Warwick, Tommy Hilfiger, Tony Bennett, one of the Van Zandts, one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters, Paul Simon, Katie Couric, Montel Williams, and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. I understand how people responded to 9-11 with bitterness and a desire for revenge. But every time someone responds to hate with love, it gives me hope.

TUESDAY
As many of you know, it’s almost impossible to get me to sit down and watch TV. I have nothing against TV; it just doesn’t suit me, for some reason. I watched the entire O.J. Simpson trial when I was on bedrest with Bach-Boy, and ever since, I’ve hardly watched a complete show.

But this little anecdote is about watching TV because Bach-Boy pleaded with me recently to let him watch American Idol. He said all the kids and teachers talk about it at school, and he wants to be a part of the conversation. This required an extension of his bedtime, and also required me to watch the show with him because he wanted this to be family time. So we do that now, when we remember, and I try not to fidget or leave the room before the show is over. And if you’ve been watching, you know there’s this American Idol Gives Back thing going on, where you can call in to vote for your favorite singer, but your money goes to save kids from malaria and AIDS and poverty – and Bach-Boy wants to save those kids so bad. So Tuesday he talked me into calling in a vote, and I asked him which singer’s number I should call because I knew he was torn between Melinda and Jordin. And he said, “I want to vote once for every singer because then we’re not hurting anyone’s feelings and we’re saving more kids.”

Lindsay with a very shy Grant Bailie.

WEDNESDAY
This week, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, David Halberstam, died, and my most adorable friend, Lindsay, who plays with my hair when I talk (and I love that about her), told me a story about when she met him. I asked her if I could share the story here, and she said, Yep:

i met him once. it was at this weird thing i attended right after high school graduation where all these famous people were honored and high school seniors from around the country came to listen to them talk. we talked for a while and he told me that he had won every award his profession gave out, and that not one of them was worth anything. he told me never to do anything in order to win a trophy, and i would be okay. later in the conference i asked the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff what he thought about that einstein quote about how you can’t simultaneously prepare for war and encourage peace. he found me after and patted me on the shoulder and told me to keep quoting einstein. i remember we laughed about something, and i thought he was so warm and so funny, and how odd that he cared to spend twenty minutes talking to me when tom selleck was at the next table.

i thought he was a pretty magic guy. i knew he’d die and i’d end up telling someone this story, but i didn’t think it would be so soon, or in a car crash. i only have a picture he *took* of me, posing with dr. nancy wexler, this scientist who did most of the work leading up to the isolation of the gene for Huntington’s disease. i just got it out to look at it. i wish i’d asked her to take one of us.

It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but I need reminding now and then: It’s your heart that counts. If you measure success by how you treat people, you can have success whenever you want it.

THURSDAY
Each morning, I like to see what Tommy Kane’s put up on his blog. I like how he can say a lot with just a few lines and words. There’s something pretty wonderful in sharing spontaneous, unpolished thoughts – maybe because honesty and personality tend to show themselves the most in first drafts.

TODAY
Green-Hand‘s staying home from school, exhausted from last night’s dress rehearsal. That means a whole day full of the little, important stuff: reading together under a blanket, watering the garden, walking to the bakery, and sharing something with the dogs when we get back.

If any of you could use some hope today, maybe you could focus on the little things. Open the window, pet your dog, buy yourself a bouquet of flowers, give something to the charity of your choice, put on music that makes you weep so much you feel like you have company, and then put on music so silly and happy, you can’t help but feel a shift.

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Thank you to everyone who answered the Question of the Week: PD Smith, Anneliese, David Niall Wilson, Clare Grant, A.S. King, Nathalie, Aurelio, *Joe*, Betsy, Richard Cooper, David Thorpe, Kimberly, Antoine Wilson, Tish Cohen, Carolyn Burns Bass, Jonathan Evison, Julie Ann Shapiro, Shelley Marlow, Mark Bastable, Terry Bain, Robin Slick, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Simon Haynes, lance reynald, Ric Marion, Lori Oliva, Gail Siegel, amy, Jim Hanas, and Jason Boog.

And thank you to Jolene Siana for her story and for kicking off such a great discussion! See you Monday with a new Question of the Week.

Oh, and P.S. – Amy Wilentz has a new web page and blog in case you want to visit or link her. Thanks!

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Jolene Siana

by Susan Henderson on April 25, 2007

GO ASK OGRE is the story of a teenager who feels so alone with her pain that she writes her heart out to a stranger, the lead singer of Skinny Puppy. In fact, she sends him 73 letters, 14 postcards, and 5 notebooks filled with her most private thoughts. Remarkably, Ogre saves these letters, and years later, returns them to her.

14 February 1987
Nivek Ogre,
I’m Jolene. I’m 17. I’m a senior at an extremely boring school. It’s packed full of heavy metalers. Do you like heavy metalers? Sorry to say but I don’t get along with them too well. I hate this school…. My mother hates me….
– from GO ASK OGRE

GO ASK OGRE+ is a collection of those letters, including the sometimes blood-stained drawings she sent with them. The memoir is a story of a young girl looking for something to hold on to during a time when life seemed hopeless.

Some people go through hellish times and come out bitter and hard-shelled. Others, and Jolene is one of them, manage to take a bad experience and become loving and wise.

+ You can buy GO ASK OGRE from lots of bookstores like Amazon and Powell’s. But if you’ve been in on LitPark discussions regarding the survival of indie presses, you know, it’s better to buy directly from the publisher, and in this case, it’s Process Media .

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Talk to me about self-loathing – how it takes hold, and the toll it exacts.

Self loathing and negative thoughts”¦Well, I know what generally brings it on and how to deal with it before I’m in too deep. Over the years I’ve had a lot of therapy and have also been lucky to have the influence of my smart and healthy friends. I know that when I’m tired it’s easy for me to slip upon unhealthy thoughts so as soon as that begins to happen I just remind myself that I’m really tired. I try not to overanalyze things when I’m feeling that way and focus on the present. For example, I don’t think about my writing or art or relationships or anything that could upset me. It seems easy enough but it has taken me years to learn this. There is a term for this called “mental slippage” that I learned about in a book called, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, which is about cognitive behavioral therapy.

It’s really fascinating and informative and has helped me tremendously. It’s about how you can change your brain chemistry and thought patterns through cognitive behavioral therapy and how it is possible to do so without drugs, which is what I prefer. That’s why I chose the Anais Nin quote to begin GO ASK OGRE because I’m frustrated with doctors these days and how pushy they are about suggesting drugs as treatment and put psychotherapy as a secondary solution. It’s especially disturbing when they do this to young adults before they even have a chance to fully develop. I know a lot of people benefit from these medications but, I think that those drugs should be secondary to therapy.

I wish I could wake up some morning and be someone else.
– from GO ASK OGRE

In your memoir, the teenage Jolene reaches out to a most unlikely confidante, Skinny Puppy’s lead singer. At the time, what would you have said your reason was for seeking him out?

At the time I had a lot of pen pals. I was very much into correspondence and the mail art scene. I was also being introduced to a lot of new music by way of my pen pals and a show that was on MTV at the time called “120 Minutes,” which is where I first saw a video for Skinny Puppy, which lead me to purchase their album “Mind the Perpetual Intercourse.”

I had reached out before to musicians that I had admired. I can’t explain why my letters to Ogre were so immediately personal. I really don’t know why. It’s still a bit of a mystery even to myself. I guess I could point out the obvious. His look was interesting to me. I liked the black spiky hair and torn jeans and the dark eye make-up. And from what I could tell from his lyrics, he seemed like he was familiar with pain, which I could identify with.

My “mother” just went crazy. She’s throwing things in my room. She ripped my posters and then she pulled my hair.
– from GO ASK OGRE

I have to say, while the subject is often so serious, there’s something so playful and humorous in the letters and in your comments to Ogre acknowledging the weirdness and the frequency of the letters. It has a Morrissey quality to them, kind of dramatic with tongue in cheek. Can you comment on the surprising humor that’s in there?

I was suprised myself when I was going through the letters before I began transcribing them. I did make my own quirky jokes about how much I was writing to him and what I chose to share with him. But I also laughed at some of the 80’s references. Like how devastating it was to me to be out at a show, the night that I met Ogre and to look in the mirror aftwards to see that my hair was flat. And other things that are kind of sweet. Sentiments that come from the heart that are kind of warming.

Then there’s the dark humor… and the humor that you attempt when trying to lighten up situations. For example, when recounting a particularly dramatic fight with my mother, throwing some humor in there to make it less painful.

Now that you have healed some and gained distance, how do you understand that act of reaching out to a stranger?

I still can’t figure that one out! I guess it has a bit to do with the safety of being extremely honest with someone who you are not close to. It’s hard to be so open with friends or family about such personal things sometimes.

I can have my own opinion when I write.
– from GO ASK OGRE

You were seeing a therapist during this time, or part of it, but neglected to mention the letter writing. That fascinates me, though I think I would have done the same. Can you say why you kept that private, and what eventually made you reveal the secret?

I wasn’t seeing a therapist regularly. After my grandparent’s passed away in 1986 I told my mother that I wanted to see a therapist. She wanted to get therapy together, as we were having problems but I didn’t like that. I wanted to speak to someone on my own so I wasn’t happy with our sessions together, which we eventually dropped.

There were times throughout the book when I would see a therapist for a session or two but it wasn’t long term.

I’m such a loser. All I want to do anymore is write you and sleep.
– from GO ASK OGRE

How old were you when Ogre sent the letters and notebooks back to you? And can you tell me what it was like to receive that package?

I was 31, I guess. I had known that he still had the letters. He was living in LA and the letters were in Calgary with a friend of his so it took about a year to get them back. I was really anxious about it. Ogre told me that some of the letters were unopened (which, I was thankful for) so it was really strange to open a letter from myself from 17 years ago. I was engrossed. There were so many letters that, days later I was still opening letters”¦ I was surprised by my sense of humor at the time which I don’t remember having and of course, the dark things”¦ the suicide attempt. I had blocked a lot of things out of my mind so reading them opened a few wounds. I fell into a mind depression but I think it was good for me to re-live that. I think it allowed me to fully heal to re-read and transcribe those letters.

I’m not afraid of dying, I’m just afraid of how I will die. The kind, the ways of death. I’m terrified of being murdered. I have a fear that when I’m driving, if I pass a car the people in the car are going to shoot me in the head. I don’t want anyone to slice my body up. I’m afraid of being stabbed to death. I don’t want my body thrown in a river or put into a trunk of a car. I have a fear of having my head cut off. I don’t want anyone to cut off my fingers and make me eat them.
– from GO ASK OGRE

The book is full of some hateful episodes between you and your mother; and yet the epilogue is so awfully forgiving. What changed, and how?

Well, getting out of that environment was the first step. My mother and I have always had a love/hate relationship due to our mood disorders. We’ve never seemed to be able to communicate properly during any sort of crisis. We were both very emotional and immature. I went away to art school and became a little more aware. I learned that most relationships were not like this.

In my early 20’s my mother and I had an argument and she told me that she hated me. I learned to detach a bit and though it was painful, I told her that I found it very sad that she hated her daughter. That was the first time I was able to successfully detach. She didn’t respond well when I put up my boundaries but over the years I continued to do so, cutting her off when her behavior was unhealthy. In my late 20’s I began to get regular therapy after an unhealthy romantic relationship. I found a therapist who I really connected with and I learned a lot from. I began to understand a little about my mother’s behavior with her alcoholism and mood disorders and her abuse history. I encouraged her to get therapy as well, which she did and she’s grown a lot.

When I first began working on the book she was concerned about how she would be portrayed. I didn’t want to hurt her. I told her this. The process of putting the book together took a couple of years, which, gave her some time to digest it all and she asked me to use a pseudonym for my last name, which I did. But something really beautiful has happened with the release of this book. My mother completely supports it. She came to my book signing in Toledo, Ohio, my hometown and invited all of our relatives to come. She has finally forgiven herself for the past and sees the book as a way for her to close that chapter. It’s had an amazing effect on our relationship.

Despite our past, I would never want to hurt my mother. Although what is documented in GO ASK OGRE does not portray her in the best light, she was wonderful in a lot of ways.

My mom said, “It’s over!” once again. Once again, it’s over.
– from GO ASK OGRE

What kind of feedback have you heard from your readers?

People usually thank me for being so honest in the book and I appreciate that because as excited I was about having a book published, I was also terrified about exposing myself. Because these were letters that I had never thought I would ever see again, let alone share”¦ you know if I had written this book with the intention to share it with the public it would be less “stream of consciousness” style. But people seem to like that. It makes them feel that they are reading thoughts directly transcribed and I guess that’s interesting.

Hear one R.E.M. song, you’ve heard them all! I’m going to have nightmares about too loud R.E.M.
– from GO ASK OGRE

If you received a letter from a teenage girl who hated herself like you did, what would you say to her? How does a kid go from self-loathing to healing?

I do get a lot of letters from people who are going through a tough time and I feel for them. I try to encourage them to reach out to counselors or family members whom they trust. I tell them not to feel so alone because a lot of people feel this way and that things can get better but that it takes time. I tell them to focus on the little things that make them happy. That’s what I do and it seems to work!

Jolene, thank you for your book and for taking the time to do this!

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If you’re on MySpace, you can “friend” Jolene and Go Ask Ogre.

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Question of the Week: Hope

by Susan Henderson on April 23, 2007

What gives you hope when times are tough? What do you hold on to?

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Wednesday, Jolene Siana will be here. Her book is a compilation of letters and journal entries from a time she felt hopeless. Come join us and find out how the singer from Skinny Puppy helped her get through.

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Tonight is Nile Rodgers’ We Are Family Foundation gala, and I’ll have more to say about it at the end of the week. I’ll bet I’ll have some swag to give away, too. Kenny, Kathy, and Mike, don’t forget to pick me up at 2!

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