Neurofeedback Brain Training

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Back in early November, I began a process known as neurofeedback. This process, which I undertook partially out of curiosity and partly to see whether it would allow me to transition off of antidepressants I’ve been on since my late teens, is a non-invasive , side-effect free form of brain training. In short, a practitioner applies electrodes to the top of the skull, listens in on brainwave activity, and, using a computer interface (in my case I watched old sitcoms), attempts to train the brain toward more efficient ways of working.

I watched Bewitched. When my brain waves behaved in more desirable, more regulated ways, the screen would get brighter. When any of my brain waves faltered and moved at too high or too low a frequency, the screen would darken. My brain would have to figure out ways to behave in the desired way. All of this happened at a subconscious level. I could not will the screen to get brighter.

It’s a bit like exercise for the brain.

I did not have any expectations, really, for how this would work. Or if it would. I read as much as I could about it prior to going in, and some of the information looked a little too good to be true. “Expect miracles,” one site proclaimed, and as soon as I saw that, I thought, “Hm.” Not sure.

And frankly, when I had my initial brain mapping (they map your brainwaves before you get started), I became doubly skeptical. The doctor who went over this with me asked me questions like, “Did you suffer brain trauma when you were younger? Are you possibly autistic? Do you have trouble understanding and reacting to visual cues?”

None of these things apply to me. At least I don’t think so. But there were other things that did seem to apply. My math skills, it said, were  “off the charts.” That’s true. People don’t know this about me because I’m a writer, but I am a math whiz. Always have been.

Still, I went forward with it.

The first two or three sessions, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe I had paid money to watch Bewitched episodes. But I stayed with it.

It was right about my birthday, right around November 11th, when I noticed something unusual: I was feeling really, really good! Uncommonly clear.

Chuck and I spent my birthday out in Sedona with the dogs, exploring shops and taking nature walks. It was an exceedingly nice day. Chuck noticed that I was particularly vibrant and mentioned something about it. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I just went with it. Might it be a coincidence? Could it be the brain training? I wasn’t sure.

It continued. For about two weeks, I went through a period of joy that I have truly never experienced before, ever. I was smiling more than usual; I was very present in my relationships with other people, deeply connected with others; I was funny, and fun, and a bit more outgoing than usual. I took it with me to Florida, where I had a few days to visit my dad and some friends, and I was just ON. And I took it to Atlanta. I went to a conference, and I felt magnetic.

When I look back on this period, I think what disappeared for me was anxiety. For once, I was not worried about the many things that consume me on a daily basis about whether I was messing anything up, or if anyone was upset with me, or anything like that.

Chuck, who is a major skeptic, took major notice of the changes. He decided he’d try it, too. One of the things that neurofeedback is supposed to help with is sleep irregularities. Since I’ve known him, Chuck has woken up pretty much every day around 4am. It’s just what he does. It impacts him, because he feels tired all the time.

For a couple weeks, Chuck felt as I had, if not more. He wondered if he, too, were paying to watch a sitcom he didn’t particularly even like.

Then, on Christmas morning, I woke up and looked at my clock. It was 7:30am. I rolled over. There, snoring away, was Chuck.

I have never, ever, ever seen him sleep in. Ever. I worried momentarily that he was dead.

Nope. Just slept in. He agreed it was noteworthy.

Now, it’s not all roses. Chuck’s sleep pattern has been uneven since then. I went through a couple weeks after Thanksgiving when my mood wasn’t so great. But I think in both cases, we’d both agree it’s better. While I struggled with my mood, the bottom never fell out; I never got depressed. Chuck, too, has been noticing significant improvement in his own mood.

In fact, I would dare say that this short period has been among the best for Chuck and me as a couple in our 13 years together. We are both doing well at the same time, which is delightful. As I said, it’s not perfect. But it’s darned good!

I don’t know what to make of this all. After today, I don’t expect to do any more brain training. I did 20 sessions at considerable expense, and my hope is that it is, as advertised, permanent. I was told that if I suffer a significant event–a death, God forbid, or some such trauma–that I should come in for some more sessions.

In the end I have not stopped taking my antidepressants. I saw my psychiatrist and we talked about it and he noted my improvement. He likened the neurofeedback to “brain exercise,” which is, I think, a good analogy. He said that if I’m still feeling good in six months, we’ll re-visit the antidepressant matter.

But on a day-to-day basis, I must say it feels like I’ve improved. A lot. And I think if you are searching for something that might help you deal with your brain, this may be a good way to go. I did my training at East Valley Naturopathic Doctors in Gilbert, Arizona. I highly recommend them.

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Starred Reviews for Honestly Ben!

I remember the day I pitched Honestly Ben to my editor. We were in her office in SoHo, and I was pitching her various ideas for my next book. A thought that had barely crossed my mind came out of my mouth.

“You know, a lot of readers are writing me after finishing Openly Straight and asking if there’s going to be a sequel. You don’t want a continuation of the story from Ben’s perspective, do you?”

(Note: the best, most confident people generally do not ask questions in the negative like this. Try to avoid.)

My editor’s eyes went wide. “Yes! This! Write me that book!”

Walking north on Broadway away from Scholastic, I thought two things. One was: Yay! She wants a book from me! Two was: How the hell am I going to do that?

You have to understand. Openly Straight was meant to be a standalone book. I wrote it purposefully, and I ended it the way I did on purpose (spoiler alert). I didn’t do it to break hearts; it didn’t really occur to me that it would. It had to end that way. Rafe’s journey necessitated him not being with Ben at the end.

So I had to go back in, open up the story, change narrators, connect with Ben on a deeper, more personal level, see Rafe through a different set of eyes, and find a brand new story that would both stand on its own, and satisfy fanatics of my most loved book.

Sure. No problem. 🙂

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To be real: this was as big a struggle as I’ve had as a writer. The degree of difficulty, for the reasons stated above, was high. I sweated and I cried and I plunged deeper and I wrote and deleted and wrote and edited and then wrote and edited some more.

And when it was done, I had something. I wasn’t sure what I had, but it was something.

So I have to tell you that receiving three “starred” reviews for Honestly Ben, from Booklist, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, is just about the best present a writer could get.

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Gratitude for the debacle of 2016

Quite the year, eh?

If you’ve been anywhere on social media recently, you’ve most certainly been inundated with “F*** You, 2016” posts. When I see them, I laugh. It reminds me how similar we all are. It was challenging, when Debbie Reynolds died a day after Carrie Fisher, two days after George Michael, in the same year that we lost Prince, David Bowie, and countless others, not to want to cuss out 2016.

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RIP, GEORGE! YOU WERE MY FAVORITE! 

But I want to take a different approach today. As we look forward to this new year, when so many of us are feeling anxious about the state of the world, I want to talk about the many reasons I am grateful for the shitshow that was 2016, and, moreover, why I’m elated about the opportunities presented by 2017.

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Merry Happy Christmas Holidays!

From my family to you and yours… We wish you a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hannukah, or a Happy Kwanzaa, or a Terrific Festivus, or whatever it is you like to celebrate at this time of you. In my family, we celebrated Christmas even though we were Jewish.

The wonderful song you will hear, if you click on the below link, is All I Want by the amazing Rhonda Ross, from her new album “In Case You Didn’t Know,” which you can buy at CD Baby or Amazon (digital only).

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First review for HONESTLY BEN!

Here it is, the very first review for HONESTLY BEN, the forthcoming companion to OPENLY STRAIGHT!

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The book will come out in March of 2017. And maybe, if you’re nice, just maybe, there may be a bit of a surprise for you OPENLY STRAIGHT fans that will come before the new book! I’ll say no more for now…

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Open Letter to Senators McCain, Flake

I have not written a blog entry since Donald Trump won the election last week. That’s not exactly true. I’ve written a couple times, but haven’t pressed send. I simply don’t seem to know exactly what to say.

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But then Trump chose Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, and my silence had to come to an end. It was one thing when Trump chose Bannon to run his campaign, which was based on a lot of fear and hateful rhetoric. I was willing to accept the possibility that Trump was saying what he felt would get him elected.

But to have the head of Breitbart, which has become the mouthpiece of the “alt right” movement, as the president’s main policy advisor is just a step too far for me. I wrote my Arizona senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, today. You may feel free to use parts of this letter if you choose to write your senators, though I would ask you to please put some thought into personalizing these letters. These are people are we writing, and they deserve our respect and, if we really expect them to respond to our concerns, we should take the time to write them personally.

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Dear Senator McCain,

Congratulations on your recent re-election to the United States Senate. While I am not a Republican, I have always considered you to be a reasonable man and someone who, as a public servant, has done what you felt was right for the people of Arizona.

I am writing today to ask you to consider using your voice in the name of what is good and just and fair. I recognize before I even sent this that you have just won re-election and it may not be politically expedient for you to speak up here, but I believe this is extremely important and I hope you will consider doing so.

I am extremely concerned about President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. While I am well aware that he may do as he wishes, the choice of a man who has helped give voice to the “alt right” movement worries me more than anything that has ever happened in U.S. politics.

According to Andrew Anglin, editor of The Daily Stormer and a major player in the “alt right”, the concept behind the movement is “that Whites are undergoing an extermination, via mass immigration into White countries which was enabled by a corrosive liberal ideology of White self-hatred, and that the Jews are at the center of this agenda.”

I think we deserve the right to know whether the president’s new right-hand man agrees with this. I think we need to know, in fact, whether the president’s choice of Bannon is a tacit sign of agreement with this belief.

If I see a bright spot in the election of Donald Trump, it is the opportunity for reasonable Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to band together against the hateful messages that Trump used to get elected. I felt strongly that it was important to take a “wait-and-see” approach to his presidency, and it saddens me so much that he has so quickly chosen to give so much power to a person with such close ties to a hate group. We may not agree on much in this country, but it would be my hope that we can mostly agree that potential agents of White Nationalism should not have an official place in The White House.

I would really appreciate hearing back from you about where you stand on the announcement about Bannon, and whether you plan to speak out against the normalizing of an angry, Far Right movement such as the Alternative Right.

Sincerely,
Bill Konigsberg

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“Put the bottle between your legs…”

Our visit to a Scottsdale restaurant that has delicious food and attracts a pretty old, conservative crowd started awfully, but ended beautifully on Saturday night.

Walking in to the restaurant (I won’t name it because I don’t now if the owners would want me to) for an early birthday dinner (I turn 46 in less than a week), I saw a man wearing this t-shirt.

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I almost stopped in my tracks, because, well. That shirt just seemed to encapsulate so much of the past few months.

It was mean-spirited.

It was flat-out wrong.

And it was out of the closet, as if it’s perfectly okay to be mean-spirited and flat-out wrong these days, for WHATEVER reason.

Just so I say what is right here, so it is understood. Because this isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact. It’s a fact, and I know it’s a fact, because I actually know a lot of transgender people. Trans people are not perverts who want to see your children’s private parts. Trans people are human beings, and sometimes human beings have to use the bathroom.

The laws like the one that got so much attention in North Carolina actually require people to use only the bathroom that corresponds with his or her birth gender. So a transgender man who has transitioned (meaning that this person might have a beard or a penis and in all ways identifies himself as a man) would be required to use the ladies’ bathroom.

 

So that t-shirt is not just mean-spirited, it’s also lazy and incorrect. And it put me in a bad mood. I was feeling pretty on edge when we were seated.

And within about five minutes, a table of four men came and sat to our side. There was something about this group of men, who were drinking heavily, who were loud, that gave me a bad feeling. Their energy was … icky.

That bad feeling was confirmed about 10 minutes later, when they were escorted out of the restaurant.

One of the owners, an older white male, did it. And after, he came by our table to apologize for the hubbub.

“What happened?” I asked.

He explained that they complained to their young waitress that the wine was too cold. One of them told her: “You know how you could warm it up? By putting the bottle between your legs.”

I thanked him for throwing them out. He didn’t need my thanks. He seemed pretty miffed that one of his waitresses had been spoken to that way.

As we ate, a thought came to me. It was about the totality of the dining experience so far, and it didn’t feel profound, exactly, as I’d had thoughts along this line previously during the last few months. But it felt more clear than it ever had before.

What’s going on in our country is that segment of our country wants to go back to 1960.

It was a simpler time. Well, it was a simpler time if you were a straight, white male.

The U.S. was the most powerful country in the world. No one could touch us.

If you were a straight, white male, and you wanted a good manufacturing job, you could get one, pretty much no questions asked.

If you were a straight, white male, you could pretty well assume that your salary would be higher than that of a woman, or a Latino person, or an Asian person, or an African-American person.

If you were a straight, white male, you could pretty much say whatever the hell you wanted to say. Pretty much no questions asked.

And to a straight, white male, it was a gentler time. Privilege wasn’t a concept yet. No woman was threatening to become president; no black person was president; no gay person was saying, “please stop using the word faggot”; and trans people seemed to only exist as the butt of jokes.

It’s 56 years later, and so much of that is gone. Almost all of it, really. And suddenly the slogan “Make America Great Again” resonates with so many people. I actually get it. From a certain perspective, it must indeed feel like so much has been lost. And manufacturing jobs? Jobs for people without a college education? Oh my God. What are blue collar workers, what are folks without a college degree to do to make money in this country? I get that, too.

The fact is, none of this is simple. The message “Make America Great Again” is simple, but the problems facing our country are not. It’s not the same country, it’s not the same world as it was 56 years ago. Our enemies are not located within the borders of certain countries anymore. They are here already. They are everywhere, and it’s not always so easy to know who they are.

That’s fucking petrifying. I get that, too.

But we can’t go back. And frankly, we shouldn’t go backward. So many things are, on an objective level, better than they were 56 years ago. That is especially true for those who are not straight, white males.

Gays can get married!

A young, black person can see that the presidency is no longer an impossible dream.

So can a young, white woman.

These are good things. But they also make our country much less simple. Not less great. Just less simple.

After our meal, the owner again apologized and thanked us for being there. We stopped and spoke with him for a second, and he said, “Imagine saying that to a young woman.”

We shook our heads. No, we couldn’t imagine.

“You can’t say that here,” he said. “I’m not Donald Trump.”

Amen, brother. Amen.

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