Sunday, December 22, 2013

RIP my friend Ned Vizzini, April 4, 1981 – December 19, 2013

On October 28, 2010 I had a reading with Ned Vizzini at The Wellesley Booksmith. The bookstore’s website listed it asJoin Ned Vizzini, best-selling author of It's Kind of a Funny Story, and his friend, author/poet Timothy Gager for a dynamic, dual presentation!  and the event announcement on Ned’s blog notes his reading with "friend, Timothy Gager." Ned Vizzini wasn’t a day-to-day friend but as someone who would pop in on me occaisionally he made more of a mark on me than most people I've met. The reason for this is that Ned openly battled depression and did so in a way that helped others. He wrote about, lectured on it and deeply supported young people who were having difficulties with this disease.

Let me flash back to February 2005 when I first met Ned. He was asked to feature at my Dire Literary Series and I was excited to hear him read from his book, “Be More Chill” Instead, he said he was reading new unpublished material. He flipped the pages onto the floor after he completed dark page after dark page. It was Chapter One of what would become “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”.  

After the reading he stayed at my house, commented on my “old school” REM album "Monster" and told me he had been hospitalized three months earlier. The “kind of funny part” was that his breakdown was related to the pressure of trying and not finishing what he called a “bad” novel and then banging out “It’s kind of a Funny Story” in about a  month after his release from Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital. He also said, “Don’t worry, I’m doing better…it’s all behind me.” He was a gracious, intelligent and funny guest and we talked until 3 in the morning, mostly about music and of course writing of which he was very supportive.

Between then and October 2010 he called about every six months, mostly to just keep in touch. Throughout many of these conversations Ned was fighting a war with his career. Ned drove himself on the pressure to succeed more than anyone I’d ever met and ironically in the cold world of publishing he was very successful, yet it never seemed to be enough. After the Wellesley reading he was to give a lecture the next day at Lexington High School and needed some supplies; glue sticks and foam core for his presentation. He asked where the nearest Staples was but since it was after 9 it was closed. There was a CVS a mile away which I said we could go, but he lashed out and shouted, “It has to be a Staples.” Immediately in the next breath he apologized for his need to have things comfortable and we headed to the CVS and found everything he needed. Later at The Brickhouse Restaurant in Dedham, he told me he was married and was looking forward to having a family but a bit scared of the thought. It surprised me because it was the first he mentioned he had a wife. He said it happened quickly but he was never happier--and also, he said,  "check out her writing, it's wonderful." Throughout the meal he was very busy setting up by text, meetings to pitch the television screenplays he had been working on.

The last time we talked, it was all about Teen Wolf. He was energized that he was branching out into this world, succeeding but the pressure to do so was very hard. We never spoke again.

 I was saddened and shocked when I heard that he lost his battle with depression. He seemed so equipped to deal with it but I’ve learned for myself that there often is no defense.

I found an article from Neal Zupancic, wh0 put it best:

If there's one thing we can learn from Ned's life and work, it's that depression isn't a matter of being sad, and suicide isn't a matter of selfishly shirking your duties one last time.  Depression is a disease - a physiological problem, a chronic condition that you often cannot control.  Depression is more like asthma, but of the brain, and sometimes medications help, and sometimes you can get to a hospital in time, and sometimes they don't and you can't and sometimes people die of it.

I’d post a picture of Ned and I with our bro arms around each other our two readings but there are no pictures, only echoes, but there is this. Ned, like myself liked to record fake commercials. This one was filmed before his reading at The Dire Literary Series, February 2005 at the Out of the Blue Art Gallery, Cambridge, Ma.

This one of me from the Spring Street Cafe for "Timmy Tippy Cup" which, of course, was a fail and tipped over.

I am profoundly saddened by this loss. Marty Beckerman posted on Facebook, “All the hope he gave readers with "It's Kind Of A Funny Story", all the lives he saved, nothing changes that. The page still says, "Live. Live. Live. Live. Live."


UPDATE: One year later, Marty Beckerman writes about his wonderful best friend,.

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