It comes in like a lion

We were in the back of a cab in Munich when she told me her favorite books, The Goldfinch and A Little Life. She read a lot so I trusted her taste and said I’d read them both. They were hard heavy books about self-harm and drug abuse. Beautifully written, but hard. I was a writer too and handed her my phone: she winced and said it feels like I’m reading your diary and then handed it back to me like it was a dirty sock.

We arrived in London on a Sunday morning having left Seattle that Saturday night. The plan was to stay up all day so we could get in the new time zone for a week of meetings starting in the UK, a night in Germany, ending in Holland. There was no reason for me to be there really, I think my client just wanted to feel more confident surrounded by her vendors which explained why Kristin and I were there with the cameraman from Dublin. We filmed the meetings and everybody getting ready for the meetings, and then how everybody thought the meetings had gone. In social media they call that amplification. And that’s why I hated marketing, you could turn something small into something bigger than itself just with words.

It was on that trip that Dawn had to admit Lily to a psychiatric ward for kids needing acute care. She told me on the phone when we were about to leave Heathrow. Looking back, I should have gotten on a plane for Seattle instead. But like Dawn, I was in a state of shock and didn’t know what to do. It was Tuesday night in Europe and by Friday I’d be home. A meeting in Munich followed by two nights in Amsterdam. Lily was under expert care. And that gave me some time to prepare myself.

I got A Little Life first, on a romantic weekend getaway with Dawn. Right away you realize what you’re in for, the character a victim of childhood sexual abuse and chronic cutter. My writer friend in London called it voyeuristic, something I’d never thought about before with books. Why we’re drawn to the horrors others endure. And she’d saved Lily’s life years before in Italy after we’d driven several hours and begun our stay at the swimming pool with a Heineken, and taken our eyes off Lily just long enough for her to get in over her head. Miriam dove in and rescued her.

Not long after getting out of the hospital Lily found my copy of A Little Life and read it in a weekend. She had just turned 14. And she had seen films like It and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre already, and would later dabble in drugs I hadn’t experienced until college.

I started going to therapy myself and recommended that book to my therapist but then regretted it for fear she’d think me strange. The open horrors of the book fascinated and repulsed me, and I longed for redemption but it came in slivers at best. Then I picked up The Goldfinch at an airport bookstore on the way to Dawn’s brother’s wake in December. It starts with an explosion in an art museum where the protagonist’s mother dies and that sets off hundreds of pages of torment and self-abuse culminating in an Amsterdam hotel at Christmastime where he tries to off himself but fails. It took me back to that last night in the city myself, and I could see the same scenes looking out the window over the canals. On the rooftop of that old building with Kristin and the cameraman after last call, contemplating the flight home, what our lives would be like now for me and Dawn.

I guess books remind us that one person’s experience could speak for thousands and we could share some intimacy with strangers, make the world a smaller place. To lessen the pain by revealing our own and gain some common healing in the process. Maybe feel less alone, like our lives could mean more than they seem to on the surface. If there are three kinds of conflict in literature I’m set on “man vs. self.” It can feel confessional but that’s where the stories lie. You have to decide first what you’re willing to confront yourself but then remember, no one wants to hear what you dreamt about unless you dreamt about them.

Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

25 replies

  1. Well and truly moved by this piece, Bill. Had me in the first para and the grip tightened. Parenting. Jesus. The World. Fucking Jesus.

    Writing… Catharsis for the writer (maybe) connection for the reader (maybe) making visible the human condition in a world of amplified stories about nothing.

    You are a writer and I’m glad to know you. Lily’s story isn’t mine to comment on but I can’t quite hold back tears poked forward by suffering. I suspect the latter is what actually bonds us.


    Liked by 1 person

    • How sweet and kind Bruce! Charmed to know you too and warmed by this note. As a psychotherapist yourself I wondered if you’d heard of or read those books…they are soul-suckers. Thought of you over some nice Holgar Czukay moments this weekend! Digging on the latest Stereolab release too. Hope your week is off to a good start and glad this resonated with you, appreciate the comments there. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “she winced and said it feels like I’m reading your diary and then handed it back to me like it was a dirty sock.” Damn, I wish I wrote that. I will forever think of my blog as a dirty sock.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hard to know where to even begin to respond to this amazing post. I just finished The Goldfinch and while I think she’s a gifted writer, I really disliked the ending. She had to moralize and when the protagonist suddenly said he was writing everything down for us to read, the story fell flat with a hard thump. I think the author lost her nerve. Your daughter… young people today have a confusing world to navigate. With help, she will find her way. She clearly has loving parents. Your writing: posts like this one tell me you haven’t lost your nerve. Your bravery is an ongoing inspiration. Take care, Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow thanks for this Jadi! Such a nice thing to read before I even got out of bed. Lily is doing great, this episode was from two years ago which seems a lifetime at least from the POV of a teen. But thanks…I was spellbound by the Goldfinch right through the end, though I agree that transition was strange. I should go back and reread it. The build up to the end was fabulous though, wasn’t it? I was reading your excerpt from The Trail Back Out yesterday and then realized I have this in hard copy direct from the author, what the hell am I doing reading it on my phone?! So at last I am going to dig into that and take a break from my Flannery O’Connor, that’s been good too but I could use a step outside you know? Thanks for your ongoing encouragement over the years, means a lot. Be well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Real intensity.
    Not central to your story, but don’t you find, selling, marketing, “amplification,” are pretty much everywhere, in some form, and kind of inescapable, no matter how we wish to define our jobs?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Robert thanks. Yes on the amplification, and I poked fun at it realizing that’s the same thing I’m doing in this post and most of them in fact. And I write marketing for a living. Ha! When I was a project manager it seemed a lot of my job was to remind people of how much value I was delivering, and that was its own kind of “amplification.” Same in working contracts at Microsoft, big time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for sharing your intense story. As Robert wrote, selling, marketing etc. are everywhere, well, in some countries, they are more effective or more hidden than in others, but that’s the basic structure of our (western) society.
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Klausbernd, nice to meet you! Are you connected to Dina Honour by any chance? I knew a Dina who blogged and was wondering if she’s the same Dina you refer to on your site? Either way, love the dual German and English…and thanks for your note on my story here. I do marketing for a living and like making fun of myself for doing it from time to time. Be well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for answering.
        I don’t know if we know the same Dina but I don’t think so. ‘My’ Dina is Hanne-Dina, a Norwegian photographer and my wife. The name Dina comes from the much praised novel by Herbjørg Wassmo “My Name is Dina” (it’s filmed very well too).
        Dina and I communicate mostly in German with each other as Dina lived and worked for many years in Germany and I am a German author writing for international publishers, film and TV.
        We live in a little village at North Norfok coast.
        Keep well
        Klausbernd 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Klausbernd and thanks for your note, sorry for any confusion on my part! Your life in the little village sounds magical, thank you for sharing and keep well please yourself! Bill

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Reading this, I was thinking that one reason I like your writing is it seems very genuine/honest/raw/real (maybe that’s technically four reasons). Point is, that’s not at all what marketing is about. And in this post you say that you’ve kind of always been marketing, in some form or fashion, professionally. I find it hard to reconcile those two things. But then, there’s no need to reconcile them, I guess. That’s probably just overthinking. We’re all marketing something. And hopefully being genuine, to the degree that we can, the rest of the time. I guess what I’m saying is you seem to be good at both, which is probably rare. So, good on you, good sir. Carry on. And good post, this. Also, yet another nice pic up there, to boot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m just glad you like my writing, keep reading after all these years, and chime in with thoughtful comments…thanks man! Always good to hear from you. I have a strange relationship with marketing myself but man I’m grateful for it, it pays the bills and keeps me out of trouble!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I absolute love the equation and her feeling about reading a diary. I find it intimately romantic. Ah! Never knew amplification. Though I am into journalism and PR, somehow have the impression that marketing is a hard nut to crack. You write in such a compelling manner making readers feel they are a character and empathizing with the rest of the people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Vishal! Happy you see the romance in this, you sound like a real romantic yourself at heart. Grateful you still read and let me know what you think, thank you…be well!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: