Feature Main Column

First novel, ‘Métis,’ mines ancestry

Tuesday, 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.

New Novel Released

Friday, 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

Tuesday, 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…

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

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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 (more…)

Teen “Sexting”

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

At the end of last year, a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies was published which reported that 22% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys said that they had sent nude photos of themselves online.  The study also reported that one third of teen boys and one quarter of teen girls admitted to receiving nude photos electronically.  I read this study with interest and concern, already aware that most teenagers are avatars of the internet far more knowledgeable than the adults they live with, and simultaneously searching for ways to reveal their developing sexuality to the world.

Not long after this article was published, I began to receive phone calls from parents. Three calls came in rapid succession, all from parents who had recently discovered nude photos or videos of their daughter online. These calls were followed by a series from parents of sons who had been caught sending nude photos of girls. (more…)

Back From School

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Dear Dr. Ponton:
It is again time for kids to go back to school, but not for my three “almost adult” children. My twenty-year-old daughter is taking a semester off from college and my two sons who have recently graduated are searching for, but have not been able to find jobs. One of them is smoking a lot of weed with his girlfriend and seems depressed.  My three kids spend a lot of time “hanging out” at home and my wife and I often feel like we’re the only ones working. When I see them lying around it makes me want towork harder and I find myself getting angry and unable to relax. I realize this is not easy for them but I had hoped that they would be “launched” by now.  How do I help them and myself?
-Disappointed Father (more…)