Today’s Featured Author – Kevin A. Hall

Today I welcome author Kevin A. Hall to my blog. Kevin released his first book, Black Sails White Rabbits, in December 2015.


Tell us a bit about yourself.  

I tend to be an all-or-nothing guy, which seems to carry into my moods sometimes too. It’s a double edged sword, like so many things. It can be fantastic to be immersed and effective, and it can be crippling to feel like I’m half-assing something and would be better off never having started it. I’m trying to learn to be able to be 100% comfortable with doing some things only part way!

What or who inspired you to start writing? 

My very first class in college (8 am Monday morning – OUCH!) was a creative writing class. I’ve always loved writing, but when I started living with manic episodes and depressions, it became part of my literal survival to write open, honest letters to friends, and to journal extensively. I taught myself to be honest during my early twenties, at least on paper. So maybe the answer is “I did.”

What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst?

The best thing about being a writer is the click, the engagement of whole self and the completely disorienting evaporation of time. I have looked up from a writing session and realized it was five hours later. In no other activity does that happen to me. A few other things make time stop, but they don’t last for five hours! The worst thing about being a writer is that it is lonely. No water cooler jokes, nobody to give you a funny look when you arrive to work late the second day in a row, nobody dragging you out of the office on Friday afternoon for a few beers. Just you, the page, and your hopes and fears.

How did you come up with the title? 

It started as “Words, Words, Words; Accept My Life” which is a way-too-cute nod to my worship of Hamlet. I had written in the memoir about once quipping that I wanted to some day write a book called “Cancer Was the Easy Part”. That became the subtitle. The main title spent quite a bit of time as White Jackets, White Rabbits; (I’m a Herman Melville fan and White Jacket; or, The World in a Man of War is one of his other novels. Plus, there’s the double entendre with doctors in white coats. The Melville book is also how I legitimize the semicolon in my title. It’s a nod to both Melville and to Project Semicolon, a very beautiful mental health awareness initiative.) Finally I realized it really needs the “Black” to go with “White Rabbits”, and between carbon fiber sails and Tristan and Isolde, I had my title.

What was the most difficult thing/scene to write in this story?

The last chapter was incredibly difficult. I had quite a few threads open, and I desperately wanted them to come back together in a positive, but not forced way. I have four outtake final chapters, which led me to realize I couldn’t do it all in one chapter. I closed a few threads before the final chapter. Eventually, I got really lucky one morning while reading, and had some specific words from David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King remind me of a Tom Waits song which has the exact same five words: “East of East Saint Louis”. That spark gave me what I needed to illustrate the delicate nature of maintaining a difference between “inside” and “outside” thoughts. I love that I hear voices, and writing the last chapter finally allowed me to express how it works a little bit, and to make peace with the challenges and blessings that my mind brings me.

What inspired you to write this book?

After toiling for a year and a half on a novel that just doesn’t work yet, my writing coach Stephanie Gisondi-Little suggested I try my hand at telling my story. I started by going back to my old journals and love letters (the love of my life at the time saved them, and we share a garage among other things now). Transcribing the journals and letters was so much more powerful than just re-reading them. The thoughts had to pass back through me and out my typing fingers, which helped me create the world in which Black Sails White Rabbits; takes place. From there I was off.


There are two ways to look at what happened to me in the fall of 1989. The safe, sanctioned explanation is to simply say my body attacked my brain, like this:

I got a fever of 104° F. My skin erupted in a violent rash all over my back, legs, and face. My brain swelled and pressed against the inside of my skull. My neurons short circuited. My brain caught fire. I went mad. It wasn’t MY fault, it was my body’s.

The damage done by those tempestuous weeks of fever and rash left my brain vulnerable. My previously dormant biological psychiatric illness never slept again. I was born manicdepressive. It was only a matter of time. My fate was always to make a scene. The diagnosis was simply the last one on stage.

It’s a forgiving perspective, which explains everything. This is helpful.

How I am is not me. It’s my Illness. It has a name, symptoms, and cure.

The other way to look at my challenges used to be unthinkable to me. Now, I see it as part of a wider perspective on a very complicated picture.

I had two academic passions. Mathematics, and French literature. I know, a bit schizo right? Backing up, I had only applied to two colleges. Brown University, and the United States Naval Academy. Not exactly sister schools. I was accepted for admission by both. Navy was an efficient path to having the Government pay for my fuel to fly jets. The easiest way to boil down the decision is to say that I didn’t want to be told when to brush my teeth or cut my hair.

I really liked math. But I was used to being the best thinker in math class. Not anymore. Not at Brown. As the leaves turned to reds and golds the fall semester of my junior year, I enrolled in two upper‑level math classes. Differential Geometry and Topology conspired to shunt me away from my handful of exceptionally bright classmates into the dunce’s corner of Euclid fans.

I adored French literature. When I opened a French book, I fell ass over teakettle into imaginary worlds two steps removed from waking, Anglophone life. Seventeenth century, nineteenth, twentieth…didn’t matter. A dreamer is freer in a second language. (Samuel Beckett, though Irish, wrote much of his best stuff in French.)

A description of my two majors as “bipolar” isn’t silly. Math: practical, precise, proven to be helpful in a world of men and money. French Lit: navel‑gazing, or escapist. Or else super‑serious Absurdism.

Not long before I was to graduate from Brown, I got ambushed picking up a girlfriend in New York City for one of our early dates. The whole clan was there in her parents’ Upper East‑Side apartment to size up the new tribeless boyfriend. Some had driven in from halfway out on Long Island. As I stepped through the front door, my date’s aunt fired point‑blank: “What are you gonna do with a degree in math and French literatchuh?”

So here’s the second, more complicated way to look at my meltdown: I was disintegrating, right down to my core. I wanted to continue to pursue math, I loved it. But it was becoming clear that I sucked. I also wanted to pursue French Lit, I loved it, but Aunt Mary‑Bette was right to ask. What, exactly, would I do with a degree in French literature?

I used to cling to the absolution that came with putting all my struggles down to bad luck, to a body playing mean tricks on me, and to a trendy diagnosis. However, I now believe that my mind—or perhaps my Soul—made sure I didn’t miss the invitation to see that I might be barking in the middle of a forest of hollow trees.

Joseph Campbell talks about the seat of the soul being that place where the outer world and one’s inner world meet. My outer and inner worlds were colliding head‑on when I dragged myself to the infirmary with a violent rash. I had midterms the following week, and I was going to fail.

Instead of stepping down, resting, and reflecting, I did the opposite. The second I got off the IV drip, I doubled down on the stress, tripled up on the caffeine, and went for broke on the determination. Then, I cracked.

Did my stress divert all remaining powers from my sanity force field?  Did madness pass into me from a fraternity party sneeze, or maybe the morning dew? Once inside my body, did the insurgents give me a fever, swell my brain, and cause me to lose track of what was real and what wasn’t? Maybe. That’s the chicken theory.

The egg theory is messy. It’s jagged. It has taken me twenty five years to swallow: the arrow points the other direction.

I was in trouble. I was smacked from peacock to feather‑duster when I realized that in the world of math I was barely a guppy in an ocean of white whales. There was no map for passing through magic French doors which led to a roof over my head and food on the table. At least, not a table set with the silver and privilege to which I had become accustomed.

In a world where “what do you do?” and “who are you?” seem to be interchangeable to potential future in‑laws, I couldn’t answer either question. I went insane fighting to keep the ideas of who I was and what I did separate. My mind was well on its way to splitting—which would have shown up soon enough—when my body flinched first with a fever and a rash. A few short weeks later, I played the madman and the fool, got arrested, then locked up to sit still and drool.

The Western, medical model had the cause outside the patient. So, give him pills, restore the neuro‑electrico‑biochemical balance, and get him back in the game. Job done. Case closed.

As soon as I stopped drooling, moved out of the locked ward, and caught my breath, I ran right back out on the field. Like nothing with spiritual or self‑identity implications had happened. I didn’t slow down. Not in class, not in training, not on the racecourse.

Well, my body tried its hand again at getting my Soul’s attention. This time, instead of crazy, it was cancer.

Book Blurb

Black Sails CoverYoung sailor and aspiring Olympic competitor Kevin A. Hall’s biggest dream was to raise a family. But within the space of three years, he was diagnosed with both testicular cancer and bipolar disorder, putting his family and Olympic dreams on hold. He soon found that surviving cancer was the easy part. Now a renowned Olympic and America’s Cup sailor with a wonderful wife and family, Hall shares a behind-the-scenes look at his struggles with mental illness in his riveting memoir.

About the Author 

AuthorKevinAHall_B&WKevin A.  Hall is an Ivy League graduate of Brown University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and French literature. Despite being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1989, he went on to become a world-champion Olympic sailor, as well as racing navigator for Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2007 America’s Cup match. A two-time testicular cancer survivor, Hall has spent a successful 25 years as a racing navigator, speed testing manager, and sailing performance and racing instruments expert .A brief version of his story was featured in Joel and Ian Gold’s book Suspicious Minds: How Culture Shapes Madness, as the only non-anonymous case study of a patient with Truman Show delusion. Hall currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife and their three children.  Black Sails White Rabbits is his first book.

You can find out more about Kevin on his website or you can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

You can purchase Black Sails White Rabbits on Amazon.

Losing a friend to cancer…and raising money for her family

I’m incredibly sad. My beautiful friend lost her fight with cancer. She was beautiful on the outside with gorgeous red curly hair. Trish was always smiling, so full of joy. And she was beautiful on the inside with her positive attitude and energy that was so contagious.

Never before have I seen someone so sure that she would beat the diagnosis of breast cancer. (See my post Explaining cancer and chemo to the kids.) Not once did she seem down about it. And it wasn’t just an outward show for others. Even her husband marveled at her “I can beat this” attitude. And she did. Nine months after her breast cancer diagnosis, she was cancer free.

That lasted just three months. Then the headaches – intense, hurt-so-bad-I can’t move type headaches – came. They admitted her to the hospital while they looked for the cause. It turned out to be cancer cells in her spinal fluid. (See my post about her cancer returning.)

I looked that up on the Internet after the diagnosis and found nothing good. It always indicated a tumor somewhere else, typically in the brain. But the doctors couldn’t find the source of the cells and started her on chemo.

She made it through this again, but her spirit began to wane slightly from this second round of chemo. trishBut she still made an effort to be involved in her children’s lives. She threw her annual Easter party for the kids. She came to their school performance. She took them to theme parks and festivals. She cherished every minute with them.

For Trish, her family meant everything. She worked hard to provide her kids with so many opportunities. She also worked to allow her husband to be a stay-at-home dad which in turn allowed him to volunteer at the kids’ school and be deeply involved in his children’s lives.

And now I fear all of that is going to change. I am not only sad to lose a friend, but I am sad that this is going to change the lives of her children and husband. She was the bread-winner for the family, and now her husband will be looking for full-time work.

Her children – eight-year-old boy/girl twins – are friends with my kids. They walk to and from school with us and often her kids are over here or mine are over there. Jase had Emma in his kindergarten class, and they now have third grade together. Noah is Jase’s best friend. I am heartbroken for them. No child should ever have to lose a parent.

When I picture Trish in my mind, I don’t remember the woman who was sick. Even though she was brave in the face of something that I don’t wish on anyone, what I remember most about her was her smile and upbeat attitude. So when I think of Trish, I picture her wearing her black dental hygienist scrubs, her long red curly hair pulled back in a high pony tail, her glasses perched on her nose. She is smiling and bouncing around as we walk the kids to school. And that is how I want to remember her.

Now in all my posts about my friend and her cancer, I have referred to her as Patty. This is the name she grew up with, but I have always known her as Trish. I used the other name originally to protect her privacy. But now I am going to do something I typically wouldn’t do.

Trish loved her family. But as I said, she was the main income provider for the family. Her husband worked part time a few evenings and weekends when she was home to take care of the kids. But now the family is without Trish, and things are about to change. Her husband will have to get a job that pays more than his part-time employment. They have medical and funeral expenses hanging over them while they transition their lives.

A friend of mine and I have set up a fund to help out Trish’s family. (On the donation page, I am part of the “Henry family” – in case you are wondering.) And this is where it gets to something I typically wouldn’t do – I am asking anyone who can help to donate money to her family. Every little bit will help. I know they would appreciate it and so would I. She truly was a wonderful person. She will be missed but not forgotten.


My friend’s cancer returns

In January of 2013, I wrote a blog about my friend Patty being diagnosed with breast cancer and having to talk to my kids about cancer and chemo. I am glad to say that everything went well. Patty had an awesome “I can beat this” attitude. She took everything in stride – even having a head-shaving party before her hair fell out due to the chemo.

My kids also took everything in stride – the hair loss, the occasional extra visits by their friends, and that they saw Patty less. (Of course seeing her less is easy when you typically only see her briefly 2-3 times a week.) Patty finished her chemo, had a mastectomy on one side and then did radiation. Everything went well and in September, she was declared cancer free. Her family celebrated by going to Disney World in October.

cancer2Then after Christmas, Patty began having really bad headaches. A trip to doctor didn’t help and was followed up by a trip to the ER and a visit to the neurologist. Both her CT scan and MRI showed nothing. Finally, on a second trip to the ER, they did a spinal tap to check for meningitis. While that is what they first said it was, Patty (by then admitted to the hospital) wasn’t feeling any better. They tested her spinal fluid and found cancer cells.

I looked up cancer cells in the spinal fluid on the Internet. I found only a few references to it, and none of the information was good. Patty and her husband (who hopefully didn’t research this on the Internet) are worried. Gone now is that “we can beat it” attitude. The day after the discovery of the cancer cells, Patty had a port put in her head and began chemo.

Right now, they are planning on doing chemo treatments for the next 4-6 months. The good news is that the cancer cells are all they found. There are no tumors. Whether this is significantly better or not, I don’t know.

I am worried about so many things. I am worried that Patty may not recover this time from cancer. It would be devastating for her kids. I can’t even imagine what would happen to the family with the loss of Patty and all the changes that would have to happen. I worry about them and of course, my own kids. This would be the first death my kids have had to experience and while they don’t see Patty often, they do see her husband, Bruce, and the twins all the time. I also worry about how Patty’s family is going to survive with Patty not working this month. She is the main bread winner of the family. Bruce stays home with the kids and has a part-time (under 25 hours a week) job doing inventory for one of the big-box stores. They can’t last long without her income. (Bruce has been missing a lot of work too.)

I guess only time will reveal what will happen next. If anyone knows anything about cancer cells in the spinal fluid – good or bad news – I would like to hear it. I would like to understand what is happening and what the chance of Patty pulling through this are. Until then, I will just pray for them and try to help out any way they will allow me to help. And I will be thankful that I am only having the cancer talk (again) with the kids so far.

My Top 10 parenting posts from 2013

Well it is the end of the year and I have been busy with holiday shopping and activities with the kids. So for my last parenting post of the year, I decided to highlight ten of my favorite posts about being a parent.

1. Explaining cancer and chemo to the kidsThis one was from Jan. 28, 2013. As the year progressed, the kids only had a few questions about Pat who had such a great, upbeat attitude through her whole ordeal. I am glad to say that as of this October, she is cancer free!

2. Why I choose not to have my kids birthday parties at home – This one is from March 4, 2013. It ran the day after we had Lexie’s party at Inflatable Wonderland. This coming year she wants to go to Chuck E Cheese for her birthday. As for Jase, I think we are going for a smaller party – and gasp, it probably will be at home. I am sure that will be a post this coming year!

3. Favoring one parent over the other – This one was from May 6, 2013. This topic may come up again as we are planning a trip to Disney World in 2014 and I will be explaining to the kids that there will be NO arguing on who gets to sit with Daddy on every ride!

4. Unique Anatomy: Situs Inversus and Interrupted IVC  &  Unique anatomy continued: Polysplenia – These two post ran May 20 and June 3 about my daughter Lexie. I was touched by the parents who contacted me thanking me for posting about her condition and sharing their stories of their children with either the same or similar conditions.

5. Should we lessen disappointment and rejection for our children? This post ran on May 27, 2013 and of course the answer should be “no” but it seems society doesn’t agree.

6. Establishing House Rules – This one is from June 24, 2013. Our posted house rules have helped somewhat and we have yet to have to add to them though we did change the last one to not interrupting anyone rather than just adults.

7. Building the kids a Lego table – This one if from Aug. 5, 2013. I had to share this one again since I think it was so worth building Jase a Lego table. He uses his all the time. Lexie is just now getting into Lego Friends so I think hers will get more use soon but until then I love that it is easy to store under her bed!

8. It’s a different age…kids growing up with computers – This post ran Sept. 30, 2013. It is amazing how much kids use and rely on computer these days. I am sure a few more posts will appear next year about kids and computers including one about bringing a tablet to school.

9. Planning a Trip to Disney World – part 1 – This post appeared Oct. 28, 2013 which is right after Pat and her family came back from Disney World where they celebrated Pat being cancer free (see post #1). We too are planning a trip in June 2014 so I expect there to be two or three more posts about planning our trip to appear in 2014.

10. Puppy Sadie Rose joins the family – This one is from Nov. 4, 2013 (my hubby’s birthday). For those of you who know about Lexie’s allergies, the fact that we brought a puppy into the house and she hasn’t had any issues with that is simply amazing. I am sure there will be at least one post about Sadie and the kids in 2014.

And as the year wraps up, I also wanted to thank all the other parents who take the time to read my blog and post their comments. I appreciate every one of you and hope to hear more from you in 2014!

Explaining cancer and chemo to the kids

cancerTwo weeks ago, my friend revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I immediately offered to help her out any way she needed. For the purposes of this blog, I will call her Pat since I am not sure she wants me to announce to everyone on the Internet that she has cancer. I know, I know, it isn’t very likely that you could recognize her from this, but it just feels better to give her an alias.

Originally, Pat was supposed to start chemotherapy right away, but it has turned into a hurry up and wait type situation. Now this is a friend whom my kids see several times a week as we walk with her kids (boy/girl twins who are the same age as Jase) to and from school. (We don’t see her daily as she is the bread-winner of the family and on most days, it is her husband walking with us and the kids though Pat joins us two mornings and one afternoon each week.)

Anyway, since the kids do see her several times a week, I felt it necessary to discuss with my kids some of the upcoming changes. I thought the discussion might be as hard as the death one that I had with Lexie back in November, but it proved to be easier than I thought.

I spoke to each kid separately. I didn’t really explain to either of them what cancer is but concentrated on the fact that the doctors would be treating Pat in order to make her better but that the treatment would be rough. We talked about her not feeling well and that the twins might be coming over to our house more often. (We had already had them over while she met with the oncologist.) And we talked about her losing her hair which according to her oncologist should happen within a week of her starting treatment.

The kids seemed fine with what I told them, and I encouraged them to ask me any questions they had – now or as time went on. Of course, I am really unsure what will happen. I have never known anyone who had Chemo. My dad has been diagnosed with cancer twice. He first had prostate cancer where he received radiation for about a year. His appearance never changed, and we don’t see him all that often for them to notice any of the other side effects like being tired.

This summer my dad was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The kids knew he had surgery since I went and sat with my mom at the hospital. But being kids, they really didn’t understand. All they knew is that their other grandparents came to play with them while I was away. In this instance, the only thing we told them was my dad’s voice would be scratchy and rough sounding from the surgery for a few months. Though they did comment on that when they say him, they never did ask any other questions.

So I guess we will see how things go with Pat. I am sure the questions will come, and we will answer them with straight-forward responses. And I am sure Lexie, who is still obsessed with death, will bring up that subject again too.