“You don’t know how to life your life anymore and you start drowning in it.”

House of Anansi, 2012

That’s the thing about depression, Lynn Crosbie explains in an interview with Shelagh Rogers on CBC Radio.

She describes what happens when you really start looking at the world, with the steady accumulation of little instances of pain, from stories about bullying to widespread famine

“The book has a tension between…my tragic sense of sadness and isolation and…the way in which I burst out of that, and that’s always with humour or with people I love…. But the tension is definitely between the pain and the pleasure and the depression and the fight against the depression.”

Well, she says ‘people’, but the one creature she loves most of all is Francis, Frank, her terrier.

In the interview she speaks about the intensity of that particular kind of love (she also has cats but…). In the book, she writes: “Francis is the only thing that has ever made me happy….” and the only photograph included is of Frank. She even took him to “Take Your Son to Work Day”.

Life Is About Losing Everything is not so much about Frank, but about all that contrasts with the happiness he inspires. She began writing it as a way to cope with two losses, a long-ago death of a boy she had gone to school with and the more recent death of her first boyfriend.

“Often, I am just standing there.
And I move into the past as if making a gesture as simple as a wave.”

She began writing it out and describes that process in the interview. You can take possession of the loneliness and self-loathing, which allows you to take control of it, and that changes it.

“That’s how you get through those things…you need to find a sort of antidote in art… a way of understanding it artistically or even if you’re really lucky making it beautiful through art.”

Well, that’s how she takes control of it now, but in the past she succumbed to addiction and substance abuse and a series of spiralling and unfulfilling relationships with men.

“It is unbearable sometimes and I need to…let the poetic side of my mind take over and surround those moments and give them a different aspect.”

When her poetic mind takes over, the result is a series of short pieces (usually two or three pages in length) which describe encounters with lovers and strangers, musings inspired by pop culture figures (from Michael Jackson to Julia Roberts), and introspective blurs and bursts of sentiment.

(The piece which really tugged at my heart was “It is a Mattress in the rain”, about all the memories that a particular mattress can hold, and the one which made me laugh out loud was “I need you”, which is a conversation she has with her vibrator about the nature of their relationship — well, the vibrator does most of the talking.)

Lynn Crosbie

Though short, the pieces reveal her poetic sensibilities. Even in a piece about cat-sitting for a neighbour, the scene is sketched with enough sensory detail for the reader to imagine herself in it alongside the author.

“It is not the mess, which is astonishing. Or the halo of flies around the black dish rack and random  piles of plates.
It is not the many overspilling ashtrays, the dripping walls, or unlaundered sheets and single pillow on the yellow mattress.
It is the rank stench of cat piss that originates in the beige crate-sized litter box in the centre of the apartment; that spreads beyond its point of origin, into every crevice, every scrap of fabric or upholstery, every dirty, black inch of the place.”

(This is a long quote, but if the smell gets to you, keep in mind that Lynn Crosbie soon closes the apartment door on this scene: much of what writer and reader inhabit in this book is harder to escape.)

This book will not appeal to readers who prefer a story with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Life Is About Losing Everything is all middle.

(When I began reading, I approached it as a novel, but I soon adopted the method by which I read poetry, reading a few pages a day: that worked better for me.)

In some moments the act of writing it seems self-indulgent, in others self-sacrificing; it is difficult to characterize and difficult to recommend.

Although the work is obviously crafted, which would suggest the necessity of an audience, at times it reads like an inward musing. (Which is, as the author has said, how the pieces began.)

Watching “Sleeping With the Enemy” years after it was released, the author was inspired to write a letter to “Julia Roberts’ people”, “[b]ut this letter was never finished. The days are long and filled with pain.”

In many ways, Life Is About Losing Everything feels like an unfinished letter to the author’s self; there are moments of beauty, but the book is long and filled with pain.

Project Notes:
Day 28 of 45: Although I did read Lynn Crosbie’s controversial work Paul’s Case some years ago, this is a novel that I would not have picked up outside this project; if you trust in a publisher’s eye for quality, it can take you on some unexpected reading journeys, worthwhile explorations indeed.