I’m not a winner — well, I did win a couple of things. I won a canned ham in a supermarket drawing back when I was a kid, and a few years back I won first place for a short story in the contest/publication of the Friends of the Alamosa Library. Oh wait, I used to win foot races a LOT. 400 meters, 400 meter hurdles, 100 yard dash, 200 yard dash, 600 meters.
Later on, I learned the dual nature of winning. There’s winning and there’s personal victory. It was easy for me to run 400 meters. (“Yay! I won!”) It was very difficult for me to stand up in front of people and speak. (“Wow. I didn’t die!”) I never got first place, but those second place trophies? Somehow those were bigger wins for me personally than any of the blue ribbons for running.
Judging books I find myself in the strange place of determining winners in several categories. There is one book that is so strange and important that it’s difficult to know what to do with it, and it’s made me consider the whole question of “diversity.”
It’s not just a matter of sexual identity/preference/gender or skin color. There is the question of the human mind. I’m pretty sure that as a result of biology, socialization and education there is a “normal.” Within “normal” is a whole range of weirdness, but convention tends to keep that under control a bit. Some people are not “normal” and among those people are people with mood “disorders” — bipolar and depressive, two large categories that encompass a big rainbow of “different” minds.
This book is a collection of poems and essay-like things written through and out of a person emerging from a depressive crisis.
As I read, I was, at first going “WTF???” but then as I slid into it I got it.
I have had one major depressive crisis (and a few minor blips along the way), and I know what that is. I also know what it looks like, feels like, to emerge. I remember the day when I found myself again able to DO something in and with my life — and that was the dishes! It was an amazing, transcendent, moment where the sun was again shining and the very air shimmered with life. Yep.
This author wrote IT not about it. A lot of people write AFTERWARD looking back having had the chance to fence in the experience and translate it to “normal,” a “This is what it felt like and what I did.” This little book isn’t that. It isn’t “raw” “gritty” or depressing. Far from it, but it’s not “normal” either.
As I read through it, I wept, partly because of what the author had clearly experienced and partly because I knew the experience.
I also remembered what it was like for me to re-emerge, return to work (teaching at the international school). The dangerous nightmare of major depression was nothing compared to seeing my colleagues move away from me in the hallway as I went to my classroom. One of them said, sotto voce, “Lazarus.” That was hurtful and informative. After 13 years of doing good work for/at that school, I could see that, pretty soon, I’d have to find another job.
I have never really written about it because I don’t see how. Others have, after the fact, using description and analogies from outside the actual reality of it. Kaye Redfield-Jamison has written well about it, and in a very factual and useful way, but she doesn’t write the experience itself. This little book is IN the experience. It’s so sincere and hopeful and filled with wonderment.
Luckily for me, as a judge, I can do something with this book for its writer who will never know who I am or why or what or anything, but I will be able to answer this message in a bottle.
The title is from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Sadly the clip is not up anywhere but this one is fun. 😀 Featured photo: Me with my second place in state trophy for original oratory my senior year in high school with three of my schoolmates.
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