As some of you know, I have been chronicling my good friend, Linda Phillips', path to publication. In my last blog about her in March, Linda shared some of that journey as well as information about bipolar disease; the mental illness that afflicts the protagonist's mother in CRAZY.
It has been my great joy and privilege to walk alongside of Linda over the last fifteen years as she has crafted her debut YA novel. From reading the first twenty poems in which Linda poured out her anguish as a teen struggling with her own mother's mental illness; through watching Linda add, subtract, and organize these poems into a story arc at the 2009 Chautauqua Highlights Writing Workshop we attended together; through hearing the up's and down's of finding her agent and publisher; to now actually turning the pages and savoring the poems--it's almost as amazing as watching the birth of a child!
Now I have the opportunity to share with you some of my favorite poems and parts of this book. I've read some of these phrases several times and they still catch my breath for their simple beauty and sensory imagery; others surprise me as if I've just discovered a new treasure. Without further ado, here are some gems from CRAZY.
In the opening poem, the protagonist, Laura, is humiliated in home ec when the class decides that her best color is brown. This poem not only foreshadows much of Laura's conflicts, but also provides the subtext for the cover of the book:
So the class decided on brown
for my basic color,
as in mud
and dirty anything.
I ran out the side door after school,
thank heavens home ec was last period,
thinking my cheeks were so hot they must be leaving a trail of smoke.
I stopped by the canal,
swarming with hungry pelicans
and screeching gulls,
and I wondered,
just wondered and wondered
for I don't know how long,
what it would fee like
not to sit and dangle my feet through the slats
and daydream and watch
like I usually do
but instead to climb up on the railing,
and let myself just slip off and down
I decided against it because,
I'm not the crazy one
in our family. (pp.14-15)
Laura's artistic talents are admired throughout her school. She sees the same talent--now unexpressed--in her mother. Laura wonders how her mother "had drifted from/creating brilliant oil paintings/to slapping paint on molded figurines." (p. 23) She asks,
"Why don't you take up painting again?"
I ask her one day,
admiring the pleasing arrangement she created when she was fourteen.
"Oh, I could never get back to that,"
she says, slamming a window
against the rising storm. (p.24)
Her mother's behavior becomes more erratic, irrational, and bizarre. One day Laura comes home from school and finds:
First thing inside the door
I smell turpentine.
I nearly trip over a wet canvas
propped against the door frame.
I follow a trail of smudgy rags
and scattered paint tubes
into the living room
where I find Mama,
her back to me,
before a dripping canvas.
She's been painting again!
"Hail Mary, Other of God…."
A sickening sense of panic begins
crawling up my spine.
"What's going on, Mama?" I ask
She passes grubby hands absently
through her disheveled hair,
leaving multicolored streaks
and smudges on her face,
and she begins crawling on the floor,
looking for the missing paint
or who knows what.
Then it hits me.
This is my fault.
I caused this.
I pushed her over the edge,
oh my God,
I did this.
It was my suggestion,
"Take up painting again," I'd said--
oh my God…..
I clean up the mess as best I can,
finally getting Mama to sit down in her rocker.
back and forth
staring past me
I watch her rock
almost in rhythm
with the ticking wall clock
and I take deep breaths
trying to match the rhythm,
trying to beat down
my body. (pp.65-68)
Here is Linda reading one of the next poems, "Nervous Breakdown."
As the book progresses, Laura wrestles with her own demon: her fear of being as crazy as her mother. With the encouragement of two new friends--a local gift shop owner who "stands out like an art piece herself/in a shift dress full of helter-skelter bright colors,/dangly earrings,/and the most beautiful long gray hair/I have ever seen" (p. 148); and her crush, Dennis, who pushes Laura to "dig for answers/don't run, dig"(p.272); Laura discovers the work she must do to discover the truth about herself and her family.