The Strangers Among Us: Tales of Underdogs and Outcasts anthology book launch at When Words Collide was the most moving I have ever attended. Instead of doing readings, each author was asked to speak to where the idea for their story had come from. The authors all related personal stories of encounters with mental wellness issues: PTSD; lifelong anxiety; chronic depression; the suicide of a son; the death of friend.... It wasn’t just the authors who struggled to get through this portion of the program without crying.
A specially commissioned song, written and performed by Vanessa Cardui, was included as an intermission between author statements. Achingly beautiful, the song was about coping with ongoing thoughts of suicide. Putting poetry to music does not lessen the impact of saying these things out loud; on the contrary, the song cut right through the brain directly to the emotions. (Vanessa and her friend performed a second painfully wonderful song later in the program depicting the downward spiral of alcoholism.) Then more author stories.
I presume they placed me last to speak because they knew my story in the anthology is about toasters not trauma, and had decided that having me go last might provide a bit of buffer between the emotionality of the event and returning to the convention outside. That might have worked better if I were not myself having a bit of difficulty holding it together, though in my role as listener rather than as speaker.
Door prizes were distributed, announcements made, thanks said, and everybody went home.
Of course, the major takeaway is that in any group of 10 people, 9 of them will have some deep connection with mental health issues. (10 out of 10 if you count ‘denial’ as an issue. See “The Missing Elephant” in Playground of Lost Toys for my shortcomings...) I should say that the anthology itself is actually surprisingly optimistic. I don’t want to leave the impression that this is a cover-to-cover tear-jerker. Far from it. Just as the immediacy of the launch event was something else entirely. So honoured to be included in the anthology, and so glad to have been able to make this very memorable and touching launch.