I recently published my latest novel IN THE GARDEN ROOM and I think I did a disservice.
To myself? How is that possible?
Instead of being proud and proclaiming “Hey, everyone! I wrote a book and here it is!” I said, over and over, “I wrote this book and please check it out if you can but it’s really dark and I’m sorry about that.” Maybe that’s not a direct quote but it’s the sentiment behind it.
Why did I apologize about my own book? Then again, in general, why do I say sorry all the time?
I apologized, I think, out of fear. I worried that people would think poorly of me, or whatever colorful impression I made on them (tried to make on them) would twist. So it’s fear that makes me apologize. If I apologize, then I won’t be hurt. Then I don’t really own the piece, the idea, the feeling.
Here’s the thing. This novel was one of the scariest things I’ve ever written. I started with an idea of “What if I wrote something that was emotionally honest about mental illness? What if the heroine couldn’t be plucky and ahead of her time? What if she was truly trapped by her time and circumstance? What if I tried to show how brutal life can be when women don’t have the ability to be independent, when they’re valued for their bodies and not their spirits, when they have no real power at all?”
Those were big questions. Interesting ones. So I wrote as an act of discovery. When we published the piece, I didn’t say anything about my intentions. I apologized.
I’m not trying to sound all Self Help Aisle here. I’m trying to be very real. I wrote a book where I gave myself the freedom to confront head on the dark times I’ve lived through…if not in exact details, in the essence.
I’ve dealt with unchecked mental illness in my family my entire life. It’s been a constant dark companion and something I’ve been told over and over again not to talk about. That I needed to be more understanding and forgiving of my loved ones. That their actions weren’t their fault, and I needed to control my own emotions better because I was healthier than they were. But the thing that’s gotten to me over the years is the effect of mental illness not only on the one suffering, but on their caretakers and loved ones. And if there is no support, no therapy, no medication, there are very dark things that can, and sometimes do, happen.
Why would I want to write about that? Isn’t it better to write another comedy? That’s something people will want to buy. But something dark? Something scary in a real-world kind of way? Why do that?
Because that was the story I needed to tell.
I don’t make my living from writing. I make my living from narrating, so I have the unique freedom to tell the stories I need to tell.
My hope was to be emotionally honest. To go to those places I’ve been told to stay away from. And to create something that is a dark mirror to current problems. We’ve forgotten our own history. We’ve forgotten how far women have come and how, not too long ago, your only real power came if you had money or if you were beautiful. And actually, that’s not too different from today.
I’m still dealing with mental illness. With close family members, friends, extended family, and now with my own son who has debilitating anxiety and depression. I deal with anxiety and depression too. It’s something I’ve learned to live with and navigate with. All of this 'living with' and 'dealing with' makes me sad at times.
And here’s the thing…it is okay for me to be sad and angry and frustrated about this. I have family members in pain who have caused me pain because of whatever is misfiring in their brains. Sometimes I wonder ‘what if’ with them. What if they’d had therapy sooner? If we had day programs and even free stays at hospitals and medication and an openness to talk to one another about struggles with the psyche? What if we had a society that said: “We may not be able to fix this, but we can help you all manage and heal.”
So that’s why I wrote IN THE GARDEN ROOM. I’m not sorry about it or embarrassed or ashamed that I wrote it. It’s complicated and scary and beautiful all at once. That’s something I should be proud of.
And I am.