Dear Marin Sardy,
I worked in a mental health crisis unit for a short time last year. One of the things it taught me has been reiterated so thoughtfully in this book, The Edge of Everyday: everyone has their own reality. From person to person, the variations are usually only slight, but, on chance occasions, they vary so completely that the world is almost unrecognizable as the same one. This is usually defined as a mental disorder, in this book’s case, the mother has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. She searches for control in a reality that is just out of reach from a neurotypical mindset: “my mother lives in a bubble that disintegrates into chaos two weeks in either direction”. But, so does the father, as he believes he is shielding the narrator from something that he is only imposing on her in a different way. As stated so thoughtfully in “Chokeberries”, “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.” You get to the core of what creative writing is meant to do by causing the reader to empathize so completely with the story that is being told. I began to see glimpses of my own story within yours and your mother’s. It is as if the book is saying, among many other things, look, what the mother believes is not so crazy, it is not so impossible to believe what she believes.
But the book is also saying so many other things. It is expressing distinct loss experienced by mother, daughter, father, cousin. It expresses how a child’s role can go from student to translator in an instant. In this narrator’s case, translator of her mother’s experience to the rest of the world. Your voice is empathetic and unjudging. There is hope and love amongst the pain. Like when the daughter sees a swirl of flowers and wishes the mother could be there to experience that with her. The reader begins to see the good in the mother, how fully and complexly the mother experiences everything: “For all the confusion and fear induced by her ever-reconfiguring world, it also grants her the full richness of its magic”. This expresses the wonder that the mother’s reality comes with. We see the bounds of human hope and understanding when a family member says, “She did tell me once I’m not who I think I am—but she likes me anyway. Which I thought was so touching. It really was.” We begin to see the mother as so complex and so human that it only reinforces the confusion around who is rational. Who is right? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps, reading this book, it doesn’t matter. I’m starting to see the effect this is aiming at, but we might want to be a little more specific or on the nose with it.
The book itself twists the traditional form on its head as well. It has essays, but it also has micro-memoir I would just choose micro-memoir or flash nonfiction that allow for thoughts so fragmented that allow us a lense into schizophrenia as an equal human experience to our own. Sentences like:
“Once I caught a high fever and spent a day talking to the walls, which bowed outward from the corners of the room.
A lichen-covered human skull lying in a weathered coffin on an expanse of tundra, pushed up out of the frozen ground.
The balls of aluminum foil that my mother wadded onto the ends of our television antennae to protect us from radiation. That she would decide that foil could solve the problem, but not, say, rubber or Styrofoam.”
This form allows for our own mental processes to be interrupted as we read, broken in a way that connects mental illness, or at least allows for a different headspace that the reader can accessr.
While I was working in that same mental health center, I encountered a woman who experienced the things around her turning into droids as she interacted with them. She said sometimes they were kind and were only spending time with her, but other times they were there to attack her. She was put on the strongest psychotropic that we had after months and months of failed therapy and other medications, but as soon as the droids disappeared she became erratic and depressed. She no longer understood the world to be what it had been. I see this story reflected in many of the mother’s stories, but also in your story about the egg. How we all understand the world to be one way and suddenly it isn’t anymore. The desperation as the narrator wishes, “It happened. I swear it. I know it. It happened. I see them still, those eggs. White on the white Formica. Smooth and faintly stippled, reflecting the countertop’s glow, soft in the pale light cast through the sliding doors.” The reevaluation or rethinking of reality is human, and we all experience it, though those afflicted with schizophrenia or other mental illness may face this often or constantly
Thank you for connecting all our stories using your own, Marin. Thank you for building this narrative that allows for hurt and hope in the same sentence
It reminded me what it is to be human and full of confusion and hope.