If you can make a long story short, was it really a long story to begin with? I’ve decided to write a funny book full of stories about mental illness. I can’t tell if it’s going to be long or short, because I don’t know if I’m a long story short or a short story long person.
My grandfather was a persnickety milkman who suffered from a mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder, which strangely my father didn’t inherit, although my dad was most definitely mentally ill. He had a devil may care, hyperactive/ragey form of mental illness. I was alternately annoyed and amused by all of my family member’s mental illness, and holy shit, there was a lot of mental illness in my family. Of course how I felt about it when I was growing up depended on my level or irritability, which before my mental illness was diagnosed and managed, was ALWAYS REALLY HIGH, as was I for a couple of years in my teens, because smoking pot helped me be less irritable.
My adventures in mood management via substances could be short story or a long story depending on how detailed I decided to get and why or why not I would do that in the first place is something I struggle with because the being high every day for a year makes me fuzzy on the details. See? VERY confusing, as everything was for me growing up because my family has a long, strong history of mental illness. So many stories. Long and short. I’m going to tell some of them.
Not all. Some aren’t mine to tell.
When it comes to story length, I do believe that the Devil is in the details. The Prince of Darkness seems to have his mitts in everything, you know? And I don’t know if I believe in the Devil as an actual person or being or whatever, but damn if the metaphor isn’t something I feel connected with! As a person who struggles with mental illness, I’ve got a lot of the Devil in me. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Anyhoo… I’ve been struggling with the deciding what stories to write because I tend to get turned off by stories that use details in the “look how literary I am with all these details and fancy pants words and adjectives that make my story stretchy,” but the story I want to tell would make a perfect angel say, “This is a waste of my fucking time,” if I don’t do a good chunk of details.
But if I do DO the details, the story could be War and Peace long if I’m not careful. And then there’s that thing about me being a mental health professional that is an important detail that makes it necessary for me to provide some details because otherwise it wouldn’t make sense at all for me to even write this book at all and all the details would make me seem smarter and more important.
LOOK AT HOW EDUCATED I AM, MOTHERFUCKERS!
I know that there is a middle ground between the War and Peace and the Cliff’s Notes of generations of “nervous breakdowns,” and alcoholics, so I’m just plucking away at it like a plucky fucking nut-ball mental health professional/writer l I am. I know my literary agent knows that I’m not dead because she re-tweets my shit and comments on my Facebook page, so, “Hi Jenny! I’m working on my proposal! I hope you can sell the book because I want to come to New York and shit talk with you again while I drink ALL THE WINE!”
Writing a humor book about the rich and tragic history of mental illness in my family and in the world AT LARGE requires taking the details seriously. I am having the most deliciously fun time scratching out the ideas for stories and thinking ALL THE NAUGHTY AND DARK THOUGHTS.
My clients are always trying to maximize the time they have with me, and most of them also spend a lot of effort trying to limit how much of their personal demons the will share with me, so I constantly hear them say, “Ok, I’m going to make a long story short,” before they launch into whatever story they want to tell me. It bugs me and I tell them so. I say, “DON’T DO THAT! Give the Devil his due!”
Sometimes that make for a brief period of awkwardness and discomfort, but you know that’s all part of the process and I quite enjoy that part. I like being a witness to people surviving hard stuff without falling apart, even if the hard stuff is simply a minute of squirming while trapped in a tiny office that smells like cheap candles. I encourage people to talk about dark things because it provides clarity by taking some of the mystery and power away from them.
Trust me, it’s better to deal with the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t. Dealing with the Devil of mental illness doesn’t have to be a long, sad series of story telling. There is light and humor and healing and hope. I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it first hand with the people that have given me the privilege of being their safe person.
And that is just one reason why I am writing a humor book about mental illness. Another reason is selfish. I need a platform to release myself from the burden of guilt and shame that my grandfather perceived as bratty rebellion and a lack of gratitude for resisting the constant gifts of dairy. I know now that I’m actually lactose intolerant, so there was a good reason I sat refused all that goddamn cow juice.
I think my book will make my milkman grandpa proud. In a way, I’m going to be a lot like him, you know, delivering informational nourishment, that for some might cause a little digestive discomfort, but the tasty delivery will make it worth the pain.