The pile of the unread, the partly listened to, the somewhat downloaded waxes and wanes with my ability to stay awake and finish anything. Teetering on my bedside table we find David Foster Wallace, Richard McCann, Virginia Woolf, a book on collectible Japanese scrap, a book on making handmade books, Lee Gutkind, Erin Morgenstern, several personal journals and several literary journals, several books on writing, some humorous essays, a book I should be reading on neuroplasticity, and a book on hoarding. The piles on the floor include my father’s unfinished novels, notebooks for my own unfinished novel, novels to give away, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the desk and the top of the dresser- which seems to be more the repository for non-fiction. My Kindle is in my tote bag with All the Beautiful Tomorrows, a sample of George Saunders, my micro-fiction, and then there is the unbearable Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer on my iPhone, made more unbearable as an Audible.
What made me finish Bill Whiting’s An Early Work Late in Life: the art and life of Danny Allen in one wide awake siting? Well the obvious; having just come from the book launch in Rochester, NY, where people I knew were part of Danny Allen’s life and the artwork in the book. Much of that art work had been part of my life as a young art student, pieces that my friend Eva Weiss had in her apartment where we spent so much time, Eva having been part of the art scene that Bill Whiting describes so vividly, a scene I just missed by a few years. I was jealous of that time. Rochester Institute of Technology had already moved its art department to the sterile brick netherlands of suburban Henrietta, NY by the time I moved back to the US from Jerusalem, where I had been attending Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Bezalel had been cool in its own way, but not the cool-hippie-beatnik-crazy artist cool that I imagined was the Cornhill district during Bill and Danny’s time. What else kept me so attentive? I resonate emotionally with the content, my two genres- creative non-fiction and suicide. I’m a writer of creative non fiction. And a psychiatric nurse practitioner who deals with suicide narratives every day. Those patients who have tried and failed and are happy to be telling me about it, those who are not so happy they failed and for whom we need to start the arduous process of finding a hospital bed, those who have survived the successes and failures of others. My own family history, my own narrative of depression.
Emotional attachment not-withstanding, does the book stand on its own? Yes it is fearless in its self-disclosure, yes it is honest in its dedication to the truth of such a loss, yes. Yes. But more than that, it chronicles a tender time in our history, and an innocent look at unraveling. Would we have treated Danny Allen’s journals, painstakingly reproduced, today as tangentiality, as ‘word salad’ – yes a real clinical term- as evidence of mania, tried to find a bed? Some Abilify for its capacity to slow things down without fattening them up or putting them to sleep? Or as Bill suggests, “if he were treated for his mental illness, would he have ceased to have that spark that defined him?” Would Danny Allen’s art withstood the test of time? Gestures simple and complex, Beardsley-like puzzles, intricate shadowboxes, the imploring glance of the cow in Sunny Ducks on the cover of the book. Oh yes. And now they can.
The book is available at the Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY as well as by contacting Bill Whiting at http://anearlyworklateinlife.wordpress.com