Deborah Lott’s memoir, Don’t Go Crazy Without Me, is an embodied act of generosity. The narrator shares her life, turns everything inside out, paws through debris, so we can see how it’s possible for people to love and survive. She writes with unwavering clarity and precision. She never varnishes things, never looks away or shrinks from writing about the intricacy, the sticky quality of finding oneself born into a situation, and staying deeply tied to the other humans who live there.
Reading this narrative—enjoying how boldly and beautifully it’s told—I feel a sense of openhearted optimism. A sense of hope, of humanity’s possibility of survival.
Also delectable is how Lott shares a riveting glimpse into the early writer’s psyche, her awareness about what it is to be a writer. Here are a few bright bits:
“I wrote in the persona of an orphan, inspired by the cheesy Keane print of a huge-eyed, sad girl harlequin that adorned my bedroom wall as my patron saint. The girl in the painting, like the speaker in my poems, was an unloved, misunderstood waif. I wrote in the persona of a child grieving and then turning away from her mother, whose true state she finally recognizes: Look up at me, mother, and feel a moist eye / look up at me, mother / for mother I cry / …so bury your face / and I’ll cover your head. I must walk alone now / for mother you’re dead. I wrote as the confused, estranged girl who, a la some episodes of The Twilight Zone, suddenly realizes that she is dead herself: Don’t hate me / Don’t hate me with wet eyes / Talk to me / Don’t let me cry / …I’ll never know why you were that way / Why did you have to go? / Because I’m dead, you wouldn’t stay?”
[For me, this passage recalled that particular sheen of 1960s & 70s sadness…that ubiquitous art by Keane, from childhood…the images of freaky-sad children and animals that I remember spanned the walls of our veterinarian’s office…I hadn’t thought about how haunting those images were for a long time. Recalling them made me wonder if they were an early seed for my own writing about orphans, or the sense of being an orphan.]
“On the walls of my bedroom, I hung up my poems. They were close enough for a foot to touch when I lay in bed and stretched one leg out toward the cool wall. I’d copied them with colored markers onto butcher paper in my own approximation of calligraphy. In this graphic form, they provided an assertion of self larger than on the pages of my notebook or diary. I saw them when I woke up every morning, and they provided the backdrop as I fell asleep. This is who you are, they said, a writer, an observer, a fighter for freedom and justice. Hang on.”
And finally, on p. 250 (a conversation between the narrator and her brother, as adults)
“‘You know, I’m writing a memoir about our family,’ I say. ‘Do you want to read it?’
‘I’m not sure. I bet if I wrote it, though, it would be a much different story.’
‘To the writer belongs the story. You could write your own version; no one’s stopping you. Maybe if you wrote, you wouldn’t have to hold onto so much actual stuff. Maybe you could find some peace in writing about it.’
‘Has it given you peace?’
I laugh. My brother knows better.
‘At least it takes up less room in my house.’”
May you, too, enjoy this powerful and life-affirming memoir. To learn more about Deborah Lott, visit her website.