First novel, ‘Métis,’ mines ancestry

June 21st, 2011

June 09, 2011 | By Regan McMahon, Special to The Chronicle

San Francisco author Lynn Ponton knows that teenagers are prone to risky behavior. An adolescent psychiatrist and professor at UCSF, she has written two books on the subject: “The Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do the Things They Do” and “The Sex Lives of Teenagers: Revealing the Secret World of Adolescent Boys and Girls.”

But when Ponton wrote her first novel, “Métis: Mixed Blood Stories,” she focused on adolescents in her own family, digging into her roots among the Métis – descendants of Cree and Assiniboine Indian women who married French and Scottish men in Canada, formed a hybrid French Catholic and Indian culture and later fled Canada and intermarried with people in Wisconsin.

Ponton, who grew up in Wheaton, Ill., outside Chicago, speaking a combination of French, Métis and English, is related to the Métis leader Louis Riel. Little known in the United States, Riel is a folk hero in Canada. He fought for Métis rights, led two resistance movements against the Canadian government, fled to exile in Montana and ultimately was executed in Canada for treason in 1885.

In “Métis,” Ponton portrays four family members of different generations at age 16. The characters are based on her father, grandmother, daughter (actually a composite of her two daughters, one a filmmaker, one a doctor who just graduated from UCSF) and herself.
Read this San Francisco Chronicle article.

Book Signings

March 25th, 2011

Please join me for one of my book signings:
Book Passages in Corte Madera at 2pm on April 23rd.

Books, Inc. in San Francisco at 7pm on June 11th.




New Novel Released

March 25th, 2011

This month, my novel Metis: Mixed Blood Stories is being released by Sunstone Press and can be purchased from Amazon or in bookstores. In this book four adolescents tell the story of their sixteenth year. Two chapters, ‘Red Otter’ and ‘Chicago’ from the middle parts of the book can be read in the writing section of this website.

This novel begins with the story of sixteen year old Annie living in San Francisco who embarks on a road trip with her mother, uncle and grandfather to Medicine Lake. This trip has many purposes, one of them being a quest to save her grandfather who has been newly diagnosed with AIDS. In Annie’s voice the first paragraphs of ‘The Healing Journey’ offer an eye into the world of a teenager taking an unusual trip. I hope you like the book.


The Healing Journey

Mom has always told me that ‘Medicine’ is a great word in her country, the land of doctors. For her I think it is holy, a sacrament, even though it is peddled by drug companies that make millions. Grandpa tells me that the Métis also believe that it is a sacred word. In their language, a healer or doctor is called a médecin. The Métis médecins are all reportedly magicians, skilled in the mysteries of healing. They carry their médecine with them just like my mom carries her prescriptions today. We are leaving for Medicine Lake.

I’m driving, not because I want to, but because I have more room that way—I don’t have to be crammed into the back seat. Grandpa sits next to me while Marc and Mom argue in the back, wedged between the camping stove, sleeping bags, and cartons of food. What did Mom pack in the trunk? And where will we stop for breakfast? They’ve already started discussing it. No camp stove yet. A truck stop with eggs-over-easy or a bakery with scones and lattés? Why is it such a big deal, anyway? It’s early, and the sun is rising. Who needs to eat? Grandpa and I both put on our sunglasses just before we drive onto the Golden Gate Bridge. The sunlight fills our overstuffed car as its first rays hit the water. This bridge glows. I drive slowly, not because I don’t want to get a ticket—I just want to see the light on the water. I look to fiery Mount Diablo in the east as the sun pops up behind it, casting a copper light on a land of water and islands engulfed in the morning fog. My English teacher says we San Franciscans live in Avalon, a mythical place of misted islands and foamy seas, and this morning I finally see it. San Francisco. The Magic Kingdom. I try not to get into an accident, but look long enough to freeze this image for a future photo.

My teacher is right. I need to be on this trip.

As we pull off the shining bridge and wind up the steep road leading into Marin County, I break a promise to myself and look back. I want to see it— the hot, glowing bridge wrapped in silver fog, leading to my city. Bad luck. My friends are always telling me, “Don’t turn around, Annie. You’ll be okay. Just don’t look back.” Of course, they aren’t driving their sick grandfather and half-crazed mother and uncle into the wilderness on some kind of pilgrimage. They don’t have this kind of family. With this family, you look back

“Sound Counsel”: Advice for Teens

May 18th, 2010

Dr. Ponton discusses the benefits of therapy and what to expect with Heather Corinna of Scarleteen, the website for young adults.

If you’re reading this page, it’s probably because someone suggested you might be able to use some counseling, or you’re thinking about getting some yourself. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a loss, healing from abuse, suffering from depression or anxiety or just could really use someone to talk with who you can trust and feel will listen to you.

Dr. Lynn Ponton (MD) is someone I respect a lot and who I feel really works to understand young people and to care very deeply about them. Her books The Sex Lives of Teenagers and The Romance of Risk show teen realities without demonizing or chastising, and do so with a really inspiring amount of compassion and understanding. She also has great ways of thinking about and approaching problems young people are having that are earnestly about helping, not about seeking adult control or conformity. As a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with adolescents for many years, she’s a great expert on knowing what young people can get out of counseling and therapy and what therapists and counselors can give back. She’s currently working on a new book of fiction, Métis: Mixed Blood Stories, which portrays the lives of four adolescent members of a single family who are descents of the Métis, a mixed-blood group of Native and French originating in Canada.

I rang her up to talk with her about therapy and young people. I first asked how she thinks therapy can help young people, and she said that “therapy can provide many benefits: symptom relief, so that depression gets better or anxiety becomes less, for one. Therapy can help decrease what can feel like weird or uncomfortable thoughts or ideas, and help patients feel more normal and balanced. Therapy also usually increases self-confidence and assertiveness. Many of my patients have problems with parents and other family members, so therapy is also a good place to work out family problems.”

Read more…

NPR – Morning Edition

May 12th, 2010

Dr. Ponton appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition on May 10, 2010 in the story Q&A: Teaching Kids To Take Healthy Risks.

Part of raising a child is helping him or her define boundaries. It’s a balancing act that requires knowing when to let a child take risks in safe environments versus taking risks in a situation where they could endanger themselves or others.

NPR talked to two experts about the role of risk-taking in the teenage years, and how parents can help a teen engage in less risky behavior. Lynn Ponton is a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco; Laurence Steinberg is a professor of psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Book Review: Frog or Prince?: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends

March 24th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a book about adolescent dating entitled Frog or Prince?: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Boyfriends, by a Canadian author, Kaycee Jane.  I postponed reading it, thinking that there are too many dating books already, although not enough for teenagers. This and the book’s engaging cover and fairytale title, Frog or Prince, finally encouraged my reading.

This book reads quickly. The vignettes and stories sound like the lives of the teenagers and young adults that I work with. Even more than the reality-based nature of the stories is the smart advice that Kaycee Jane offers. She uses the metaphor of the frog or prince for dating partners for girls. She shows girls how to set standards for dating partners using the metaphor of a bar that girls set which defines minimum standards and basic needs. This is an important process for young women to engage in, encouraging them to think about what they desire and need.

Kaycee Jane also does an excellent and highly humorous job of characterizing frogs and princes. You know you are dating a frog when “you have a boyfriend who is not listening to you” and “you start liking yourself less.” Princes, on the other hand, are respectful, meet important needs of the girls they are dating, and are able to engage in “heart to heart conversations.” Good ideas!

Many girls and women that I work with have trouble ending relationships. They hang onto boys and men that are unavailable active players and even emotionally or physically abusive for too long. Some are never able to leave. If this happens, therapy and far-sighted friends and family are needed, but a book like this is an excellent companion.

Kaycee also thinks carefully about why so many girls stay in relationships that are unhealthy for them, accurately reflecting cultural values that encourage girls to value relationships more than themselves.

This book also does not have scheming strategies or hurtful perceptions of men. Kaycee’s princes and frogs fit all descriptions of boys and men and portray them realistically. Although this book has a fairytale title, a fairy tale it is not. I strongly encourage girls, women, and yes, boys and men, to take a look.

Ten Tips for Teenagers and Parents: Understanding Adolescent Marijuana Use

December 30th, 2009

Dr. Ponton’s editorial, “Not the Right Prescription,” appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec.31, 2009.

  1. All teenagers take risks as a normal part of growing up. Risk-taking is the tool an adolescent uses to define and develop his or her identity, and healthy risk-taking is a valuable experience.
  2. Most adolescents try marijuana with their friends. Over forty percent* of teenagers report that they have tried it. They are often unaware of the dangers that this drug poses for them.
  3. Brain growth and development continues throughout life but there is a period of rapid growth in adolescence Read the rest of this entry »

Red Otter

October 23rd, 2009

Damn, I didn’t want to come to this place. A pull stop in the middle of a dead cornfield. Not even a real train station.  I was gonna run.  But they knew that, so the director has his assistant ride the train with me, a goon with iron arms that never let go of me.  When we are leaving Chicago, I hear him say to the conductor, “I’m not supposed to take my hands off this dirty half-breed until I see the Indian woman.” That’s me he’s talking about – the dirty half-breed. Read the rest of this entry »


October 23rd, 2009

The summer of 1968 is hot, humid, and marked with a kaleidoscope of electric storms. Lying on the hood of the Plymouth at Herrick’s Lake, Anaquad and I count the jagged streaks of lightning as they strike the lake.  One night, we watch a giant red pine on the edge of the steepest granite glacier bluff join with the sky’s fire, ignite and topple into the murky green water below. Read the rest of this entry »

Conversations that Matter with Teenagers

October 21st, 2009
  1. Initiate important conversations early with your child, beginning by listening carefully to what is important to them…bullies in the lunchroom, a commercial on television, a scary story that they heard.
  2. Speak directly using simple language to describe your knowledge, feelings and activities with your child or teen.
  3. Parental self-disclosure can increase communication with young people but it is important to be aware of your relationship role and their developmental age. For example, unhealthy parental risk-taking often slips out in conversation but has negative consequences.
  4. Adults can share what we have learned about risk-taking. A nonjudgmental and non-bragging manner is critical. It is often most important to share feelings and mistakes.
  5. Be aware of how you speak and act with your child even when you are not having key conversations with them. Your feelings, words and behaviors are imitated closely.
  6. Educate yourself about adolescent culture and behavior. This will help you to be less judgmental in conversations with them.
  7. Role-playing your teen’s tough situations with them increases closeness and improves communication.
  8. Recognize that everyone, even teenagers, has a private life which includes fantasies, secret thoughts and hidden actions. Mentioning to your child that you know of and respect this increases their respect for you.
  9. Be willing to share some of your failures and what you have learned from them. This role models acceptance of mistakes and helps them understand you better.
  10. Admitting discomfort and embarrassment and how you cope with it when discussing difficult topics also increases bonds.