August 21, 2014
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Elissa Washuta's My Body Is a Book of Rules is a bold and powerful memoir of mental illness and identity, a precisely told and captivating book.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"In a reliably honest, original and frank fashion, Washuta's ruminations lift the veil of her chronic (and highly medicated) bouts of mental illness to reveal the confused, frenetic and often traumatic reality of living with overwhelming bouts of depression and mania."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
My memoir, My Body Is a Book of Rules, is a book of my early twenties. I tell the story of my bipolar disorder diagnosis and treatment, my Native American/Euro-American identity confusion, and trauma following episodes of rape and sexual assault. The book is not exactly linear: I interweave my own story with pop culture references and present chapters in different forms, like a college term paper and a Match.com profile, to create a snapshot of my bipolar brain at a particular point in time. It's a story about how I stopped seeing my body as the cruel master of my brain and began to believe the whole package of myself was worth caring for.
Timbuk 3 – "The Future's So Bright, I've Gotta Wear Shades"
In June of 2007, nothing could pull me down by my mortarboard's bright red tassel or silken commencement cords. Things were going great and only getting better: I was too high on my brain's own brand of dopamine to choke. In the mornings, my body made freckles and vitamin D poolside while my brain tried to fold in the antipsychotics that would turn me from beast to beauty. Heavenly blessed and worldly wise, eyes on the grad school escape hatch that would transport me out of there, at night, I poured vodka over all the brain cells that got me graduated.
Depeche Mode – "Personal Jesus"
There was a time when I believed in divine mysteries, folded my hands across the lap of the plaid skirt of my uniform jumper, and trusted the Lord to work me out. As a child, when the Eucharist dissolved on my tongue, I believed that I was not alone. I reached out, groped, and touched nothing when the nuns promised me that God was everywhere. I did not lose faith so much as withdraw it from the Lord once I knew he wasn't listening, and I shoved it onto every body I met—the cruel boys, young and grown, then the tiny forms of every pill, one savior after another. Someone would hear my prayers. Someone would deliver. I asked for so much but had so little sense of what, exactly, I was asking for.
The Gits – "Second Skin"
One of the first things I learned in college was that I was in the wrong skin. If I was to be Native American, the other students said, I should not look so white. I needed a second skin, something born from deep in my bones to hold me up, swaddle me, and remind me I was a Cowlitz woman with special strength. "But you don't look Indian," strangers would say, and I'd tell myself, girl, just let it breathe, but they took away my lungs, my mouth, and even my pores.
Joy Division – "Day of the Lords"
I thought I would live a long time bearing my hymen like a shield. I thought it kept me impenetrable. I never knew I could bleed so much without seeing a wound. Outside my bathroom's locked door, sleeping like a seraph, was the fucker I'd trusted—the one who promised we'd take it slow but, in darkness and silence, delighted in bloodsport. This room, where he slept in defiance after I told him not to take my body, was the start of it all.
Liz Phair – "Fuck and Run"
I had a boyfriend, and then I didn't. Yes, I wanted all that stupid old shit—letters and sodas. I also wanted to work all the hate out of my body, like a gymnast practicing the correct moves over bad learning. I fucked and I ran but the malignancy was in my own body cavity, so I let it run me.
Nirvana – "You Know You're Right"
The summer before my senior year of college, I became convinced that I was addicted to infatuation. I saw a psychiatrist who told me that condition didn't exist, but he could offer me straight-up depression and some pills to knock it right out. My ex-boyfriend kept asking me, "Where did Elissa go? What have you done with Elissa?" and I told him that she was gone. I no longer had to hide: I was a shark and I had eaten that dumb little girl.
Motörhead – "Ace of Spades"
Who would have known that depression and bipolar disorder require different forms of drug treatment? My doctor would have—but instead he glanced at the results of my intake quiz and found me sad. Who would have known the antidepressants would turn me into the vibrating string of a guitar, my moods quivering in rapid movements through mania and depression over the course of a day. I liked to gamble: drinks on an empty stomach, men with weapons and tempers, the worst neighborhoods at ugly hours. When mania and depression mixed, it was all the same to me, and when no drug would fix me, it all became a game to me: will I or won't I let myself out of this place alive?
Nirvana – "Big Long Now"
Halfway through senior year, my doctor and I found a drug that worked, a drug peerless in its class. Soon after I was stabilized near the top of my endless climb, my body was covered in a recognizable rash, about which all patients are warned, signaling a potentially fatal reaction. I went off the drug and back to the pharmacy line, imploring a new drug to fix me. I had shown my face, for a few days, to the sun. Now I knew I would never leave this pit.
Tom Waits – "Goin' Out West"
Skip back to where I began this list. I juggled drugs. I discovered the sun. I graduated. And then I left for Seattle with my real scars and my baby face, where I hoped somebody would appreciate me, because I'd had about enough of myself.
Jay-Z – "Change Clothes"
Fresh to death: It's my birthday. It's my first time at this bar. It's Halloween. I'm new in this city. I'm new to karaoke. I'm new to online dating. I promise you, it's no substitute: it's just me and my pickled brain straining to be seen and not seen behind my shield. What you want me to do?
Neil Young – "Fuckin' Up"
I did not mean for the curves beneath my flowing gown to be an invitation. My heart was meat and my legs were jelly the night a second hound found my scent and came for what he wanted. I said no and he said all kinds of things. Drifting on the road at dawn, hand up for a cab, I asked the friend's voice on the other end of my phone, "Why do I keep fuckin' up?" Over and over, I would ask the question, and nobody would tell me that mine was not the leash that had broken.
Britney Spears – "Toxic"
A pill like this should wear a warning: one that makes me unable to sweat, unable to do anything but scrapbook and thrift-shop; one that makes holes in my memory that I can put fists through; one that slaps forty pounds onto my abdomen. Instead, the pill bottles tell me not to drink alcohol and not to get pregnant. My kidneys are filled with lithium sludge. I'm slipping under within forty minutes of taking my antipsychotics nightly, so I never complain. I love what they do, and I know that they're toxic.
Throwing Muses – "Delicate Cutters"
In late 2007, I quit writing fiction and started writing about my real dread. I spent years in rooms turning regrets into beginnings and endings. I turned back to look at my early wounds through clear windows of prose, then threw my head through the panes. I cut the wide sheet of memory into delicate shapes and hung them on my screaming walls. This segment of life would have another ending: I would write myself out the door of my madhouse.
Massive Attack – "Teardrop"
Love is a verb, a doing word, and I could perform no greater act of love for my embattled self than turning her into a narrator, scrutinizing her, and letting her be done with the horrors and of her extended adolescence. I stumbled; I've been shaken. Only my wrenching words could make me lighter.
Elissa Washuta and My Body Is a Book of Rules links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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