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CONTENT WARNING: The main linked websites contain descriptions, both examples and fiction, of toxic relationships and abuse. The news link leads to an article on L.M. Montgomery’s death.

Title: Sick Systems (websites) and Down The Rabbit Hole (website)

Author: Issendai

Website: Sick Systems: How to Keep Someone With You Forever

Website: Sick Systems: Tag (LJ)

Website: Down The Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents’ forums

Title: The Blue Castle (novel)

Author: L.M. Montgomery

ISBN: 0-7704-2315-9

Website: The Blue Castle [full text]

Summaries:

The Sick Systems links are a set of writings and satire on toxic/abusive environments and relationships, and how they work. Down The Rabbit Hole is a set of analytical writings on estranged parent and grandparent forums from the point of view that these forums provide insight into abusive behaviour through the lens of the people doing it and talking about it online. Both of these are amateur and insightful analyses of the topics.

The Blue Castle is a novel set in the early 1900’s Ontario (Canada). Valency Stirling is a depressed and chronically ill woman trapped by her society, circumstances, and toxic family, in a life that she hates. Then she gets news that she only has one year to live and decides that she shall live it (“I may not be able to do much that I want to do but I won't do another thing that I don't want to do.”) This, unsurprisingly, pisses off her family and improves her life.

Writing Styles:

Issendai’s writings are a mix of satire and analysis. How to Keep Someone With You Forever might as well be the Evil Overlord Assessment for this review. They make use of examples and links to threads external to them and following these links can lead to both insights both informative and ugly.

Lucy Maud Montgomery is a Canadian writer better known for the Anne of Green Gables series. This is one of her few books that is entirely about an adult protagonist and set outside of PEI. Despite being known as a children’s author[1], L.M. Montgomery knew quite a bit about sick systems and mental illness (News link). It shows.

My Opinion:

Read it in this order:

1) How to Keep Someone With You Forever

2) The Blue Castle - Chapters 1-8

3) The Tenacity of a Sick System

4) Ginnie Post: Breaking a Sick System by Walking Away

5) The Blue Castle - Chapters 9-45

Extra: Keep Down The Rabbit Hole: The world of estranged parents’ forums open (for comparisons) while reading The Blue Castle.

I realize that The Blue Castle is a work of fiction, however I can’t help but notice how well it illustrates Issendai’s observations and I think the novel benefits from a combined reading… otherwise the first eight chapters are unrelentingly dismal. I love both The Blue Castle and Issendai’s satire (obviously given my spin here), and the brief love fest that is to be this review gives me a chance to point out that there is a place for both Credentialed self-help and Amateur self-help. I will be writing about both, so it is useful to note some of the potential differences I’ve noticed.

In self-help works where the author’s name come with a list of credentials, the back material often contains a substantial list of references [2]. This can be useful if you want to follow up on something or check research. They are also more likely to draw on  studies, professional experience, and research in their area of expertise, rather than anecdotes and personal experience. This isn’t guaranteed. “More likely” doesn’t mean “certain” and what we think we know and the values that drive that understanding can vary and change quite a bit. Also, outright fraud tends to be more convincing and harder to debunk if it is perceived as authoritative [3]. Readability of professional self-help can suffer from jargon, ego, textbook-itus, and the desperate belief that publishing one’s Ph.D. thesis is a way to fame or fortune.

Amateur self-help (like Issendai’s), can be more readable and relatable. It tends to rely more on personal anecdotes [4] and experience, storytelling, opinions, and interpretation of other people’s work. This can be very useful, especially if the author is skilled at making complex ideas accessible to a general audience. We tend to connect more with the personal and it has a greater ability to move us. How to Keep Someone With You Forever is a presentation of widely accepted views on how abuse works. Its humour and presentation make sense of something that is rather horrific. In addition, biases and spins may be more blatant. In this case, the Evil Overlord slant hits you over the head with the idea that only someone “Evil” would think this is a good idea. Amateur self-help is “buyer beware” (even more than credentialed self-help). Truthiness and common sense can be very convincing if they line up with our own biases or narrow experience. [5]

I like Issendai's observations. They amuse me, connect with me, and have truthiness for me. That said, it is opinions and observations on the Internet without much referencing. Do your own checking.

Evil Overlord Assessment:

How to Keep Someone With You Forever is a “How-To” manual of the highest order. This shit works. It works deliberately. It works accidentally. Watch the accidental stuff… it might trap you as well as your target.

Footnotes:

[1] Why are there so many orphans on PEI in her books? It’s not necessarily because their parents are dead. Unwed women could “go away” (to Halifax, N.S. or other locations) to have their babies, who were then either put up for adoption or “adopted” into the family of one of the parents.

[2] Do you read footnotes? I rarely do. I wonder what we are missing.

[3] Dear Andrew Wakefield, Go. Fuck. Yourself.

[4] The plural of anecdote is NOT data.

[5] I know someone who tracked a fake university back to an office containing multiple such universities. I’m told it was near to the FBI building in Hawaii. This assertion doesn’t have any references to check, so you will have to do your own work to find out if it is true. That said, you are totally going to tell someone this without checking aren’ t you?

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