Like the great ocean gyres that are the engines of the world, life is often driven by currents of motivation and dreams. A memoir, being the written life of its author, requires currents as well, lest its prose sit torpid.
Availing itself to a particularly troublesome current is David Leite’s memoir Notes on a Banana, which is, as one would expect from a James Beard winner, about food, and, as one would expect from the son of Azorean immigrants, about being Portuguese, and, as one would expect from a gay man, about sexuality. But in totality, it’s truly about manic depression. Bipolar II, to be specific, the form of the disorder marked by deep depressive modes and hypomanic episodes (hypomania being, as Leite describes it, “a watercolor version of bright-neon manias”). It is the alternating currents of depression and hypomania that have galvanized and rendered black Leite’s life, a perpetual rolling brownout.
Notes on a Banana is one of the finest portraits of bipolar disorder I have ever read.
I would know.
Much has been written about depression and anxiety, two fairly common mental health disorders that can be situational. Someone who has never presented signs of a mental health disorder can auger in to depression via a death or divorce, and they can feel the white-hot iron maiden of anxiety when experiencing an extraordinary enough scenario. Leite’s writings can be added to the Depression/Anxiety Canon.
But it’s at the opposite end of the bipolar spectrum—mania—where Leite truly shines. His depictions, from being Touched by the Lord in a library at Carnegie Mellon to his repeated revelations that he is the Most Special and Supreme Individual in the World (there will be much capitalizing in this essay, something Leite will most definitely understand), join a too-small list of examples.
Let me add some, then, to the list.
Hypomania, gloriously brilliant hypomania, is driving forth these very words you are reading. It put me in the gym this morning and knocked out almost every item on my to-do list before 11 a.m. Hypomania is a charming, hot energy—the feeling after a good run or a successful project or making out—a boundless power which is yours to harness. Hypomania is coveted; it’s the one shining, wonderful thing to be taken out of bipolar disorder. For me, at least, it’s the Gift I receive in exchange for the brutal depression and brief psychotic breaks.
Mania is, as Leite described, neon. If I am full-blown manic, I am All; I am the Greatest Writer Who Ever Lived, I am a Deity and, as such, require My Pronouns and Titles to be capitalized. I rive skulls, rend nature, exert Myself upon the universe, Intelligence and Sex and Creativity, a Perfect Creature, Napoleon, immune to even heat-death, My mind red-shifting, driven by murmuring voices which I can hear but never make out. I am a Run-On Sentence, a Living James Joyce Passage, and I file essays with 386 word lede sentences, which are, really, as apt a metaphor as I am able to offer, a truly definite porthole, in My Indomitable Opinion; I am Ego, Great and Powerful and Right Ego, gloriously and deliriously thrilled with Me, Myself, the complete and utter inverse of bitter depression, I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, flipped and reversed and shot screaming up in to the night like a bullet, a Catherine Wheel, a cruise missile, a Saturn V, the Immolating Flight of the Wendigo, the very thoughts and prayers and animus of the Earth and creation itself, King of the Towering Peak with tears lashing My eyes, and everything laid out before Me, for Me, to be manipulated by Me; I am Galactus.
I was manic the night that track and field athlete Florence Griffith-Joyner attempted to speak with me, via articles and quotations and YouTube videos, my mind the color of her speed suits. I desperately scoured everything I could about her, attempting to piece together what I was so certain she was saying (we were both sprinters; does it not make some semblance of sense?). It was the most important search of my life, until the next morning when it was completely forgotten.
I was manic when I woke up on the Fourth of July in a studio apartment-cum-oven-cum-movie, everything a hazy sheen of unreality, a day which I remember only as lens flares and sepia tone and fireworks over Lake Michigan on a distant horizon, a day I observed more than lived, a pilot in an ersatz machine, a psychotic break.
I was manic back on Water Street, living in a house for my second senior year of college with dear friends, running from room to room to find the TV that I thought was on before realizing what I was hearing was only for My ears (a sympathetic friend and marijuana made for a pleasant descent).
It is mania that sends text after text after text after text after text after text to patient, patient people who should have their hagiography written by Me (because I owe them, but also because I’m the World’s Best Writer) and that hangs Me in front of every mirror, car window, subway door, Snapchat camera and reflection in the worried eyes of those I ask for their opinion on My Hair, a fixation on which hangs the currents of my moods.
I (so much I, so much Me!, so many exclamation points, My beloved punctuation affectation, right there with—ah, here’s one, I felt like I could not have filed this essay without it—the em dash) tell you these moments for, I suspect, a similar reason Leite does: not to engender sympathy, but understanding.
And, more importantly in My case, for the simple narcissistic release of writing them down.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayis, and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, his work can be seen in Hazlitt, Sports Illustrated, The Chicago Reader, VICE Sports, The Creators Project, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.