Sunday, April 20, 2014

it's only kind of funny

I watched the movie version of It's Kind of A Funny Story a few years ago and loved it - the characters seemed real & relatable, and it felt hopeful in a not-treacly After-school Special way. I wanted to get the novel then, and especially after a student - who had experienced a startling variety of mental health issues in the few years I'd known him - mentioned it was his favorite book. I finally remembered to look for it a couple of months ago while shopping at Powell's in Portland; as I browsed and tried to remember every title I wanted in the history of publishing, this cover caught my eye, a stack of copies facing outward on the shelf. I vaguely registered the Staff Recommendation card tucked under the stack but as I stepped away, pleased with myself and considering how soon I could start reading, I noticed this written on the bottom of the recommendation card: "RIP Ned" 

Wait, what?

I knew the story was semi-autobiographical but it had ended well; Ned survived adolescence and a troubled young adulthood. I set the book in my basket and shakily Googled Ned Vizzini on my phone. My stomach lurched as I tried not to see the ugly words: "dead at 32"  "blunt force trauma"  "suicide."  I wanted to not read entire sentences, as if that would make the facts untrue, as if I could bring him back by sheer force of willful disassociation.

It took me a few weeks to start reading this book. I was angry at the author - for taking his own life, for doing so in a particularly brutal manner, for leaving his parents and wife and child with questioning despair, for abandoning fans - I felt he had betrayed people like my former student who were inspired to stay alive by his once-positive outlook. I didn't want to read about his journey to a happy ending knowing the real ending was actually so awful.

But, I wanted to revisit those characters who had captivated me in the movie version. I also thought reading about his experiences, even fictionalized, would help me understand him better. And, I guess, if this makes any sense, forgive him. I know, intellectually, that mental illness is terribly complicated. I know it takes over all rational thought with cruel resolve, that even when people are conscious of their mental illness they still feel powerless over its demands. Emotionally, though, I just want people to keep fighting. I want them to fight and fight and fight until they win. I want them to believe that I will help them fight. I, selfishly, want them to just keep living.

I read it. I loved it even more than the movie, which was itself satisfying with a soul-stunningly joyful additional scene of patients singing 'Under Pressure' together. It took me longer to finish than most books because I kept setting it aside, postponing the end of my only connection to its author.

Every word felt authentic - because essentially, it was - and that anguished but hopeful teen boy voice haunts me. I want everyone's children to read it (especially sons), to see how other kids their age have the same overwhelming, terrifying, hopeless feelings they have; I want them to know how others deal with those thoughts, how they laugh at them, and how they find ways to live through them.


Some people don't, no matter how much we wish they would.
No matter how much they wish they could.

Do, please, RIP Ned.