Mind Fields: Agoraphobia and Astronomy

Mind Fields

I Conquered My Terror Of Open Spaces with Astronomy

Once upon a time I was severely agoraphobic.  For years I had a terror of strange spaces. I was limited to my house, my yard, my car, and my place of work. If I attempted to break this tight little orbit, I got sick. At the time I didn’t know the term “Panic Attack” but I had all the classic symptoms. My stomach churned, my heart raced, and I had to fight for every breath. If I tried going anywhere outside my tiny race track I got so tied into knots that I was completely paralyzed. I had no social life, I did nothing but read, watch TV and observe the animals that visited the hillside behind the house.

One day I was out in the yard in the deepening twilight. I had a pair of binoculars in my hands for watching a herd of deer who came to feed on the ripening pear trees at the top of the hill.  It was almost dark and I had an impulse to turn the binoculars towards the sky.

I was stunned. The binoculars showed thousands more stars than could be seen with the naked eye. It was visually confusing but so beautiful that I instantly fell in love with the night sky.

I spent the next several hours scanning across the heavens, trying to locate familiar stars in familiar constellations. My Sky Vocabulary was pathetic. I knew The Big Dipper (which is only part of a constellation), I knew Orion and I knew Cassiopeia, because of its distinctive sideways “W” shape.

I saw things through the binoculars that I couldn’t name. I saw clusters of stars that looked like back-lit luminous cotton. I was lost, in the topographic sense. If I chose to examine a single star in an obvious constellation I could find it.

I could locate the end star in the Big Dipper. But it was difficult to maneuver to the next star in the line without first taking my eye off the binoculars, locating my target, then carefully measuring my angle of movement. Otherwise the sheer abundance of stars was confusing.

I was lucky to live in a dark suburb sixty miles from San Francisco. There were no streetlights.  In late summer the Milky Way can be seen with its glowing fleece and its lanes of darkness and dust.

It breaks my heart to think of the billions of people who will go from cradle to grave without seeing a dark sky, without seeing The Milky Way in all its majesty. There is a vast population of human beings who will live without giving the night sky a passing thought. To me, a life without awareness of the sky’s beauty is like an amputation of the soul.  It’s as if one is cut off from one’s ancestors, from the thousands of generations who measured their lives by the movements of the heavens.

I’m not a scientific person. I have no math skills, no understanding of chemistry. I slept through those classes when I was in school. Now I became a student. I was determined to give myself some training in astronomy. I raided the library for celestial material. I learned to read sky charts and I subscribed to magazines. I joined a club.

I needed to see a darker sky. It became an insistent organic hunger. I felt compelled to go places more than a hundred miles from a large city. There is a substantial difference in what’s visible from a washed out sky and one that isn’t compromised by light pollution. I HAD to be under that dark sky!

The problem was that I was agoraphobic. The idea of getting into a car and driving to a new place hundreds or even thousands of miles from home made me break into a cold sweat. I have since realized that my agoraphobia was but a subset of phobic responses to a larger meta-phobia that I call Neophobia: Fear Of New Experiences.

This is a common posture for people with PTSD. I consider that almost everyone has some kind of PTSD, that PTSD is another name for the experience called “Life”.

There are, however, people who have more severe life trauma, longer lasting and more intensely painful body memories. I qualify for this troubled group. I’m wandering a bit, here, but that’s all right. This is about reviving in myself the ability to wander. The point of this little article is the way I pitted a powerful passion against an equally powerful terror.

I was corresponding with sky observers who had been to places like Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego State Park. These are DARK places. On clear moonless nights the sky opens like a new love affair! Stars are rated by magnitude, with the lower numbers indicating greater brightness. 

Let’s describe a star of Magnitude 1 as a star visible even in a well lit city. The star Sirius, the brightest naked eye star in the sky (excepting the sun), is a magnitude -1.4. That is Negative One Point Four. The brighter stars go into negative numbers. A bright full moon is Mag -12.6. The sun is magnitude -26.8. If you stand in the middle of Times Square you might see thirty stars. I could see several thousand stars in my unlit suburb. One way that astronomers describe sky clarity in terms of visible magnitude. I was living under a Magnitude 3 sky. My friends in the Mojave Desert were under a Magnitude 6 sky! In practical terms that would describe a sky so rich in stars that the outlines of well known constellations almost vanish in the profusion of surrounding stars.

I was yearning to experience dark, beautiful skies. At the same time I was terrified to leave my yard.  I could barely cross the street. But I wanted to go to the high desert, down to the Mojave and cross into Arizona, where the cities are distant and the sky is dark and the colors of the stars sort themselves into distinct categories of white, red, yellow, green and blue.

I struggled, I procrastinated, I beheld my fear like a chain and a set of padlocks, and I was angry with myself. Everyone goes places! Millions of people jump into cars, get into airplanes, leap from coast to coast, continent to continent without giving such travel a second thought.

I was barely capable of making the twelve mile drive to my place of work.

I had an acquaintance who spent a lot of time in Yosemite Valley. She was planning a drive from the Bay Area in two weeks. I explained my phobia and asked if I could come along. She was willing to help.

The big terrors that we harbor in our fantasies usually turn out to be less taxing than the grief we’ve given ourselves in anticipation of the event.

On the appointed day, I got into my friend’s Honda, carrying my binoculars, a book of star charts and two changes of clothes.

As we drove up Highway 80 I sat in the front seat, rigid as setting concrete. I was desperately ill for the first sixty miles. An hour-long panic attack savaged me like a hungry wolf. I felt as if I would never be able to get back home. Then I  had the sensation of hitting a giant rubber band. It stretched and stretched, urging me to reverse my direction, to turn back. 

I had deliberately trapped myself by this arrangement. I couldn’t tell my friend to cancel her trip because I was phobic, because I was, basically, a great big scaredy cat.

I knew I had to break through the rubber band. I was so sick with fright that we had to stop on the side of the road three times so I could puke. My friend was beautifully patient and supportive.

Just beyond Sacramento, about eighty miles from home, I puked one last time and the rubber band broke. The pressure vanished.

I was free. I could go. I was still scared but I could go to see the sky from Glacier Point, from an altitude above five thousand feet, from a place where the sky’s clarity is utterly pristine. 

Nobody really wants to face their deepest fears. We would prefer to get through life dodging and weaving, minimizing our risk; but some fears are debilitating. My phobia was preventing me from pursuing a love affair with the sky. My phobia was crushing my life, and if this was the only way to deal with it, pitting terror against passion, then so be it. 

Passion won the contest of psychic forces. Since my breakout to Yosemite, I’ve traveled thousands of miles, lugging telescopes, cameras, attending star parties and living a life of stellar enjoyment. What can I add? Go ahead: elope with your terrors! Go! The things you fear are never as bad as you think they will be. In fact, they seldom happen at all. You’ve wasted years dwelling in a phobia when you could be living a free unfettered life.


Arthur Rosch is a novelist, musician, photographer and poet. His works are funny, memorable and often compelling. One reviewer said “He’s wicked and feisty, but when he gets you by the guts, he never lets go.” Listeners to his music have compared him to Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Randy Newman or Mose Allison.

These comparisons are flattering but deceptive. Rosch is a stylist, a complete original. His material ranges from sly wit to gripping political commentary.

Arthur was born in the heart of Illinois and grew up in the western suburbs of St. Louis. In his teens he discovered his creative potential while hoping to please a girl. Though she left the scene, Arthur’s creativity stayed behind. In his early twenties he moved to San Francisco and took part in the thriving arts scene. His first literary sale was to Playboy Magazine. The piece went on to receive Playboy’s “Best Story of the Year” award. Arthur also has writing credits in Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug, eDigital, and Cat Fancy Magazine. He has written five novels, a memoir and a large collection of poetry. His autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won the Honorable Mention award from Writer’s Digest in 2016.

More of his work can be found at www.artrosch.com

Photos at https://500px.com/p/artsdigiphoto?view=photos


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Delving Into Creative Nonfiction in January

Creative nonfiction

Nonfiction is the stuff texts books are made of, the straight-out boring stuff that puts you to sleep, right? Not necessarily. Texts books don’t have to be boring. Nonfiction that is written creatively can capture the reader’s interest or immerse them into true life stories. From memoir, to self-help and how-to books, and yes, even text books can be highly entertaining.

True life circumstances and facts determine the story in nonfiction, yet nonfiction authors are faced with the same challenges as fiction authors to bring the characters and setting to life in the readers mind, or portray the information they wish to relate in a manner which readers can relate to. Both fiction and nonfiction authors strive to grab readers attention, now, in this digital age more so than ever before. But there are differences, as well.

To start off 2020, we’re going to delve into creative nonfiction in January. We have a pretty good sampling on the different forms that creative nonfiction might take. My author guest on “Chatting with the Pros” is bestselling author and memoirist, Diana Raab, who believes in the healing powers of writing. I will also be interviewing an author team, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, who wrote Wild West Ghosts, one of the most informative and entertaining how-to books I’ve read. I will also be reviewing a true crime book, Missing: Murder Suspected, by Austin Stone, edited by his son Ed after his father’s passing, and a book on writing, On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin Shoemaker. I do hope you will join us and help get Writing to be Read off to a good start for the year ahead.

For additional samplings of creative nonfiction see the following interviews and reviews:

Chatting with the Pros: Interview with Nonfiction Author Mark Shaw

Interview with author Mark Shaw

Interview with author B.Lynn Goodwin

Review: How I Sold 80,000 Books: Book Marketing for Authors by Alinka Rowkowski

Interview with multi-genre author Brenda Mohammed

Interview with nature author Susan J. Tweit

Review: How to Become a Published Author, by Mark Shaw

Review: The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman

Review: Stress: How Stress Affects Your Life and How to Manage It, by Dr. Christine Rose

Review: Hack Your Reader’s Brain, by Jeff Gerke

Review: Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Review: Hollywood Game Plan, by Caro;e Kirschner

Review: Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy

Review: The Road Has Eyes, by Art Rosch

Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, by Mark Shaw

Review: Denial of Justice, by Mark Shaw

Review: Courage in the Face of Evil, by Mark Shaw

Review: Letters of May, edited by Julie Alcin

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“Courage in the Face of Evil”: the true life story of a concentration camp survivor

Courage in the Face of Evil Cover Final Nov 10 2017


Courage in the Face of Evil, by Mark Shaw is the compelling story of a concentration camp survivor, drawn from her own journals from the time. Shaw skillfully captures Vera’s voice and brings readers into the camp, placing us there to stand witness to the horrors that its captives faced from day to day.

When German Christian Vera Konig is caught aiding the Jews in Nazi Germany, she never dreamed she would spend the next eight years in the concentration camp. What followed was a daily struggle for life and death, for herself and for those all around her. Others drew on her strength and courage, as well as her kindness. A true story of heroism in the face of the worst imaginable circumstances. Vera Konig demonstrates true Courage in the Face of Evil.

Courage in the Face of Evil will touch you in the depths of your soul. So skillfully crafted is this book, that your heart will break each time another friend is lost and cringe at every pain and injustice Vera is forced to suffer. You will cheer for each small battle Vera wins. You will rejoice when the allied troops arrive and Vera and her friends are saved. I give Courage in the Face of Evil five quills.

Five Quills3


Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

A Tribute to My Son


Wednesday the 21st is the 8th anniversary of the death of my son, Michael Daniel Lee Booth. Since his death, September has always been a pretty difficult month for me. His birthday was the 9th. He had just turned nineteen when he took his own life. I relate well to the song by Green Day, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, but of course, I can’t sleep the whole month away. It’s just not practical. So, instead I try and find some way to cope by honoring him in some way.


Since his death, I’ve talked a lot about how I want to write a book that will tell his story, and mine too I suppose, or at least the story of how his death affected me, and changed my life. When I first began thinking about it, I referred to it as a memoir, but it has to be more than that because there are so many others his death affected. I keep putting off writing it because I’m not sure I’m ready to dredge up all the memories that writing his story would bring. Some of them are still so painful it seems as if they only occurred yesterday.


For a long time after Mike died, it seemed that he was the only thing I could write about, and many of those writings will eventually be incorporated into the book. For now though, I’d like to make this blog post in honor of him, and share with you the eulogy I wrote. I stood up and read it at his funeral with tears streaming down my face, my heart breaking inside of me. People said it was brave of me to get up there and read it in front of all those that attended his funeral, and there were a lot. But for me, it was just something that I had to do. After all, I am a writer and he was my son.



Michael Daniel Lee Booth


When Mike Booth said, “I love you”, it was forever. And when he called you his friend, you knew you could depend on him to stand by you, no matter what.  He loved to try new things, to explore and to learn.  He had a love for life and for all that he held sacred.  Mike strove for excellence in all that he did, and lived by a code of honor that was extremely tough to uphold.  His Christian upbringing was intermixed with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs to make up the tapestry of his own personal belief system that was disciplined and unyielding.  When he made mistakes, Mike was harder on himself than anyone else ever could have been. 


When he got mixed up with the wrong people and things, he made some poor choices.  He did not deny what he had done, but instead stood up and accepted the punishment that was given to him.  He tried to make amends for his wrongs and was on his way to accomplishing that goal.  He expressed great sorrow for his errors, and inflicted emotional punishment on himself over and above what the law could ever require of him.


He had a strong will and could accomplish anything that he set his mind to, including learning to speak Japanese and perform martial arts skillfully, all on his own.  Mike had a love for Japanese culture and he could have lived off of green tea and sushi.  His knowledge and skills were gladly shared with those who wished to learn.  Mike had a love for nature and enjoyed all kinds of outdoor activities, including skiing, hunting, fishing and hiking.  His imagination was endless and he created stories and drawings that reveal a talent far beyond his tender youth.  


Mike was so much to so many people; a loving son, a dependable big brother, a doting little brother, a respectful grandson, a loyal friend and a devoted husband. He loved his dog, Zaar, who was a companion and loyal friend to him.  Mike was sensitive, and hurt so easily and so deeply, yet he was too strong willed to ever let it show outwardly.  Only through his writing, can we glimpse the love that he embraced or the pain that he felt.   When he loved, he loved with all of his being.  Mike was fun loving and enjoyed spending time with those that were important in his life.  He had beautiful curls and the most wonderful smile that could light up my heart whenever I saw it.  Mike turned 19 three weeks ago.  He had a whole life ahead of him.  He was much too young to be called home to God.


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