Aug 02

“Monkey Mind”: Author Daniel Smith, Living With Anxiety

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, by Daniel Smith. A new book. Anxious to read it? Well, you can. It’s been out since early July.

First off, what is “monkey mind?” I first became familiar with this via one of Natalie Goldberg‘s books on writing. In an interview I found online, she explains her interpretation of this Buddhist term: “It refers to mental activity that creates busyness which keeps us away from our true hearts.”

Daniel Smith offers this definition on his website:

monkey mind (mung ke mind) n. A state of being in which the thoughts are unsettled, nervous, capricious, uncontrollable. [Chinese xinyuan, Sino-Japanese shin’en]

Also on his site is his personal introduction to his book in which he states, “It’s about anxiety so acute and chronic that it permeates every waking moment, affecting your body and mind, your friendships and relationships, your work and your will…”

Anxiety has been part of his life perhaps always. “The condition is genetic. My father was anxious. My mother was anxious. My grandparents were anxious. Probably my ancestors were all anxious…”

This excerpt from the publisher approaches the book’s essence from a more universal perspective:

In Monkey Mind, Smith articulates what it is like to live with anxiety, defanging the disease with humor, traveling through its demonic layers, and evocatively expressing its self-destructive absurdities and painful internal coherence. With honesty and wit, he exposes anxiety as a pudgy, weak-willed wizard behind a curtain of dread and tames what has always seemed to him, and to the tens of millions of others who suffer from anxiety, a terrible affliction…

In her article in Newsday, Marion Winik gives us the back story to Smith’s condition, starting with a brief statement from him:

‘The story begins with two women, naked, in a living room in upstate New York.’ In what is possibly the most awful story of losing one’s virginity ever recorded, 16-year-old Smith was on a road trip from his childhood home in Plainview to a Phish concert when he was taken advantage of while drunk and stoned by a pair of unappetizing older lesbians. This terrible experience set off a nightmare of despair and anxiety…

Fortunately, Marilyn Smith was herself a lifelong anxiety sufferer who had become a therapist. What she couldn’t do for her son with sympathy, hugs and conversation, she made up for by doling out Xanax and sharing a copy of the guided relaxation tape she had made for her clients. Sensibly, she found him another therapist but, unfortunately, the squat blond woman was a body double for one of his violators. ‘It was as if Esther had returned to help me sift through the confusion she had wrought, only now she wore long floral skirts and accepted Blue Cross Blue Shield.’

To say the least, not a good introduction either to sexuality or to young adulthood—whether the abusers were “unappetizing” or not. Also, not a good introduction to therapy—though it wasn’t the therapist’s fault, of course, that she so resembled one of the perps.

Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and Musicophilia: “Daniel Smith’s anxiety is matched by a wonderful sense of the comic, and it is this which makes Monkey Mind not only a dark, pain-filled book but a hilariously funny one, too. I broke out into explosive laughter again and again.”

Jan 30

“Bossypants” By Tina Fey, Comic Chronicler of Everyday Problems

Tina Fey‘s bestselling book Bossypants (2011) was released this month in paperback. As described in one review: “Bossypants gets to the heart of why Tina Fey remains universally adored: she embodies the hectic, too-many-things-to-juggle lifestyle we all have, but instead of complaining about it, she can just laugh it off” (Kevin Nguyen, Amazon.com).

Or, as Fey herself writes: “Because I am nothing if not an amazing businesswoman, I researched what kind of content makes for bestselling books. It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions, and recipes. Here, we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.”

She says a number of things that I find quite relevant to self-growth and/or mental health issues. For example, on dealing with the childhood trauma of having her face slashed and permanently scarred by a stranger: “I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding.”

Other quotes from Bossypants on topics of interest:

“My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.”

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

“I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’ll be ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”

In 2010, Fey became only the third woman to ever win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, arguably the biggest award a comedian in the U.S. can receive. The award, which has been given annually since 1998, was given to Whoopi Goldberg in 2001 and Lily Tomlin in 2003.

When she gave her acceptance speech at the Mark Twain event, she directed the following remarks to her parents in the audience: “They say that funny people often come from a difficult childhood or a troubled family. So to my family, I say, ‘They’re giving me the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor! What did you animals do to me???”

Here’s a watch-worthy clip from her speech: