Thursday, November 6, 2014

Linda Vigen Phillips: Growing up with a bi-polar mom

If you're waking at 4 each morning compelled to put words on paper, you've likely got a story worth telling. That happened to Linda Vigen Phillips of Charlotte several  years ago. The story is fictional, but it's based on growing up with a mother with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Phillips' words rushed out in the form of poetry -- very accessible poetry -- and she wrote for months. She thought maybe she'd publish what she had as a small book of poetry. But a good friend encouraged her to keep writing. "This is a novel," Carol Baldwin kept insisting.

Those 4 a.m. writing jags have turned into a just-released Junior Library Guild Selection called "Crazy" (Eerdmans Books, $9.995).

I'd say it's an indispensable novel for anyone, young or old, who lives with a mentally ill relative.

Phillips' life growing up was unpredictable, but she says she wasn't always miserable. She had  her art, as did her mother, and she had a great gang of friends. But she never talked about what went on at home, and because it was the 60s, she never saw a therapist or even told a teacher about her home life.

It also turns out that Phillips' mother wasn't schizophrenic. While she was writing "Crazy," Phillips wrote  to her hometown in Oregon for her mother's medical records. She took those records to a psychiatrist in Charlotte, who said her mother was much more likely bi-polar or manic-depressive.

Phillips will be reading from "Crazy" at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Park Road Books. I think you'll be surprised how the verse reads as naturally as prose.