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deskjob TNBI chugged hard on the last of my beer and wiggled the empty can in the air for Mustachio behind the bar to see. Another cold sweaty can arrived with its short shot buddy. Then another. And another. A parade of cans and shots across the bar and the place filled up with people.

A woman I recognized came through the door and pushed her way into the crowd. She walked down the bar and sat next to me on the only empty stool.

indexUp and down Broadway, in and out of journalism, taken by daguerreotypes, transported by opera, gathering gathering gathering experience—but for what? By the early 1850s, Whitman began to feel what he later described as a “great pressure, pressure from within.” With his thirty-fifth birthday fast approaching, he grew pained by the notion that at the same age Shakespeare was “adjudged already to deserve a place among the great masters,” having by then written such plays as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III.

justin_martin_photoSo you’ve written the first book ever about Pfaff’s saloon. Why didn’t somebody write this book earlier?

It’s a daunting challenge, research-wise. My subjects were a group of wild, decadent, and very talented artists, properly considered America’s first Bohemians. During the 1850s, they hung out at Pfaff’s saloon in New York City. They lived loose, unconventional lives, which makes them rich subjects. But they lived those lives 150 years ago. It required a ton of research, but it was also truly rewarding to bring this mostly forgotten but vitally important artists circle back to life. I often felt like a time-traveling cat herder.

deerI imagined myself coasting calmly into the ten-day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. Instead, on day two, I was teary, overwhelmed and my mind roared. Secluded at a rural retreat center in Massachusetts, I was in heavy withdrawal from Manhattan’s chaos, din and light. Uncomfortable, I craved a fix. So I snuck into the bathroom, locked the door and sat on the floor checking my contraband: a Bic pen and paper.

PhotoMarinSardy4In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ suicide, a plethora of articles and blogs have been published on the topic of mental illness and depression. As a writer whose work often directly or indirectly addresses mental illness, do you think this sort of mass response is helpful?

In some ways, yes, absolutely, the mass response is very helpful. The cultural silence around mental illness, without a doubt, made my experience as a child of someone with schizophrenia far worse than it needed to be. I had no one to talk to about it and no vocabulary for it even, and so that silence stunted my ability to even do my own thinking about it. In a culture without open conversation around mental illness, I was cut off from social support that could have helped enormously. So I’m pretty much glad across the board whenever anyone is openly discussing it. But with this I’ve also been glad that most of it seems to be aimed at educating people and fighting stigma.

chokecherriesAt Easter, in the early years when my mother was still sane, she cut lengths of pussy willow branches and brought them inside. Not yet budded, they came laden with soft silver pods like rabbits’ feet. She took colored powders and dusted the fur pods. Pale yellow, pink, lavender, blue.

My mother told my father, They’re trying to kill us. She said, They’re coming after us.  She said, They are a band of assassins hired by the CIA to kill the families of Green Berets. He said to her, that doesn’t make any god damn sense.

Reality is slippery. If someone tells you something often enough for long enough, regardless of whether it’s true, you begin to believe it. Or at least you might begin to doubt your own perceptions, think, maybe she knows something I don’t know. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s something here that I don’t understand.

mount rainier TNBWhen I first read drafts of your book, you were still thinking of a title. Rollercoaster. “Terrible title,” you said. Dyke Aching. You sent it through Google Docs and I chatted with you. After a break, you were writing again and it was feeling good, raw. New.

Sometimes when we talk it’s like neurons synapsing – we’re going through texts, emails, voice messages, Skype, Google Docs.

“Love it. I love when Finn says ‘I’m a small little animal?’”

“Here’s a link to this John Prine song.”

“I’m drinking a beer with my melatonin.”

“I so suck at letting things go.”

p3“It’s cold in here,” he says, sinking into the wingback chair. His hoodie bunches up near his neck as he leans back. He smooths his salt-and-pepper mustache a few times then puts his hand down, only for it to rise up again automatically. He sees me watching and stops fidgeting.

I grab his arm for leverage and pull, rolling my chair closer to his, knocking our armrests. “Here.” I kick one leg up and rest it on his lap. I smile. “Have some body heat.”

Erin Marie Daly-26Researching and writing about drug addiction and personal loss sounds not only challenging, but very depressing. What kept you going as you were developing the book?

Guilt. When my brother died, I was shell-shocked. I felt a strong sense that I had failed him. Pat was 10 years younger than me, and our dad was sick with cancer for most of Pat’s life (he died when I was 19 and Pat was nine), so I spent a lot of time babysitting Pat when we were younger, and there was a maternal aspect to our relationship. But I also tried to foster openness and honesty between us, which is why I didn’t understand the secrecy of his addiction. Hiding is a part of addiction; no one wants those who love them to know the depths of their darkness. I didn’t know that at the time, so I felt that Pat was either making stupid choices or actively trying to hurt me—sometimes both. And because of that misperception, I was angry with him. I had no experience with addiction and I certainly didn’t know about the link between painkillers and heroin. I ended up saying things to him like “just stop doing drugs,” as if it were something he was doing for fun. He wasn’t. His downfall was hard and fast, and shocking in the context of our family. Of course we’d had tragedy with the loss of our dad, we weren’t perfect, but we loved each other and lived in a great community where this type of thing didn’t happen.

Generation RX_FINALJust Let Me Forget

 Luke tells me it is the rush that draws you in. It makes you forget the darkness.

He flicks a lighter under a spoonful of syrupy brown liquid and says he is ready to die. Fumes rise from the potion, filling the room with the scent of vinegar. It is sickly and sweet at the same time.

We are sitting side by side, Luke and I, on his unmade bed in a sober living house in San Juan Capistrano, a seaside town in southern California where I am reporting a story on the epidemic of pill and heroin abuse. We have just met, but he lets me in, lets me close to the poison that has taken over his life since he became hooked on prescription painkillers eleven years ago, at age fourteen. And he’s right: there is a rush. There is something exhilarating about the poison in his hands, just in its presence, the way that it swirls and bubbles in the spoon. I wonder about the strange seduction of these little bits of crystallized black tar swimming around in circles. I wonder what my brother felt like as he stared down at them three years ago.

LeMay

On Health

By JoAnna Novak

Essay

JNovak

There is no clear path around the Park District. I’m one of sixty-four second graders led across busy Wolf Road in Burr Ridge, a small suburb dense with green and white ash trees. It’s 1993. Cars idle as we dawdle through the crosswalk.

I’m in the middle of the line, my last name centered in the alphabet, but I wish I could fall back. I wish I could hide in the chapter book stacks at the library or chisel out my linoleum block print in the art room. As a new kid at Pleasantdale, I don’t like gym class, where I’m reminded of my lack of friends every time we form teams. I also don’t like this walk, which means we’re running the mile.

I’m not the worst-looking girl. But I’m close: chubby plus homely. I have round cheeks. A pudgy stomach. Legs like tree trunks rather than twigs. My hair is a brown mushroom, and every girl at my new school seems smaller and blonder than the last. Even my front teeth came in too large for my mouth. Sometimes I wish I could just be fat—really fat—so I wouldn’t be stuck in the middle.

Wedding pics 383This is the second installment of my column, CNF 500. The column will deal with topics related to anything and everything creative nonfiction, and will be 500 words. As essays editor of The Nervous Breakdown, I’m always ready to consider essay submissions of any length for publication. Please email essays to ekleinman at thenervousbreakdown dot com.

Facebook is a bitch.

I never figured out how to post status updates and links to specific people. When I publish an essay somewhere, I usually just email friends and family I know would be interested, if they can tolerate the topic. For example, I love my cousins in Arizona, but would they really want to know about how I got my cherry fisted as a young dyke in Seattle? Probably not.

“Neither Here Nor There” | Rebecca Marino

Inside a moving hotel elevator, I’m painting pink strokes on the wall. It feels like I’m painting glue on thick fabric. I’m in a hurry because the first floor is fast approaching. Right before the door slides open, I bring the thin paintbrush down to my right side, trying to hide it from whoever is waiting to step in. I can’t see the person, but I know it’s a man. We stand in silence until he leaves. The doors close again, and again I bring the brush to the wall, this time retracing the strokes, trying to fix it before someone else arrives. This repeats.