Thoughts on my friend Ned Vizzini

ImageIn the five days since my friend Ned Vizzini committed suicide, I haven’t been able to look at the cover of Openly Straight.

I just haven’t wanted to pick it up. At one point I was cleaning and I had to move a copy from one room to another, and I covered it with another book.

You see, on the cover of Openly Straight, Ned’s blurb appeared. I’d quote it, but that would mean looking at the book. Which I’m not ready to do.

Grief is a strange thing. I know I have to grieve. Because if I don’t grieve, the feelings tend to twist into something worse: depression. Compulsive behaviors, which is a thing about which I need to always be aware. And yet it’s really hard, because grieving means I need to think about Ned. Who isn’t here anymore.

I can’t believe this happened. When I first heard a rumor about Ned having passed away, my brain rejected the information. I just. I said, “No.” That couldn’t be true. I just saw him in October at the Los Angeles Teen Book Fest, and he was, if anything, shinier than usual. His smile was bright. He was filled with funny stories. We were on a panel together, and I recall laughing a lot in that session, and I recall Ned being in the center of that laughter quite a bit.

Image

Ned Vizzini, Patricia McCormick, Maurene Goo, Andrew Smith, Bill Konigsberg, Amy Bradley

Before the panel, Ned and I had a good conversation about what he was up to (TV writing). I told him my husband was a Teen Wolf fan, and we discussed the homoerotic elements of that show. Ned told me that the writing team was basically him and bunch of gay guys. This did not surprise me. He asked me how things were going with Openly Straight. When he read it back in January, he wrote me a long email telling me that this book was a game changer for me, and giving me detailed suggestions of what I ought to do to make sure it had the best shot of getting an expanded audience.

We parted with a hug and our typical promises to be more in touch. That’s what happens when two busy authors see each other. The love is surely real, the joy is, too, but in reality our time is limited. I don’t get to chit chat as much as I’d like to with the authors I truly love and admire. Ned was one of those authors, and I hope I conveyed to him how much he meant to me.

It never occurred to me that I’d never see Ned again, because, well, how could that be? He was 32 and alive and healthy and seemingly happy. 

He and I had talked about depression once, if I recall. Obviously it was a topic he wrote about, and he was open about his struggles. I, too, have struggled with depression. Much more in my teens and twenties than now, but the struggle was absolutely real. I know what it’s like to stare at the same spot on a wall for six hours, feeling unable to move. I know what it feels like to be completely sure that I can’t take a moment more of the gut-wrenching pain. It doesn’t help, at those moments, to know that a chemical imbalance is the culprit. The feelings are as palpably real as anything you can see or touch. I should thank my lucky stars every day of my life that somehow, someway, through medicine and — who knows — time? I’ve found myself on the other side of depression. It no longer grips me. There but for the grace of God.

I want to say one last thing about suicide, and the reaction to suicide.

Some people seem to have taken this tragedy as an opportunity to talk about how suicide is selfish. I get how a person could feel that way. I cannot begin to express the pain I feel as I think about Ned’s son, and what he’ll go through. I can’t even.

But suicide, at least the suicide that is brought on by the disease of depression, is not a selfish act. To me, a selfish act connotes an ability to make another choice. I know that it is hard to get one’s head around the idea that a person could not make another choice. It’s hard for me, too, and I’ve suffered from severe depression. But the fact is, we cannot put ourselves in the head of a person who is suffering from a chemical imbalance.

Depression is chemical. Suicide is not logical. Nor is it a good answer. Far from it. I’m just saying it helps no one to judge the act. In fact, to me, it seems like a way around grieving. The fact is that a beloved person, who was a brilliant and talented writer, is no longer with us. He leaves behind a family. It is a tragedy, and now we grieve.

Goodbye, dear Ned. You were amazing, and the world is less bright today without you.

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8 Responses to Thoughts on my friend Ned Vizzini

  1. Bill, I send you my good thoughts as you wrestle with the pain of losing your friend. Thank you for pointing out some key facts: “Depression is chemical. Suicide is not logical.”

    Be well.

  2. Mark S. King says:

    Thank you for this, and especially your remarks about suicide. You helped me see it differently. Isn’t that what good writers do?

  3. Lucy says:

    I have to say this death hit me (and my daughter) hard, even though we only met Ned through his books. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. Sending you good thoughts, Bill, and I appreciate your wise words on processing suicide.

    • bkonigsberg says:

      I definitely believe that we can come to “know” authors without knowing them. All artists, really, because artists put themselves in the work and appreciators connect to those works, and thereby to those artists. So likewise, sorry for the loss of your friend.

  4. annjacobus says:

    Thank you for this honest and heartfelt post. By discussing depression and suicide, you’ve paid a meaningful tribute to Ned Vizzini and done us all a service. Much misunderstanding and stigma remains attached to depression and suicide, and they both affect writers and artists at a significantly higher rate than the general population. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and an outstanding author.

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