this is not a review: ‘everybody’s different on everybody street’, written by sheree fitch; illust. by emma fitzgerald

 

This morning I made a pot of lemon verbena/peppermint/orange mint tea with leaves from my garden and read Sheree Fitch and Emma Fitzgerald’s extraordinary Everybody’s Different on Everybody Street..

Is there a better way to start the day than tea and a (picture) book?

Answer: hardly.

And so I sipped. And marvelled over the brilliantly colourful, completely delicious illustrations… (birdcages on head, balloons up one’s skirt, laundry and tomatoes on the roof, street meditation in the presence of turtles [personal favourite], an empty fridge, a command to dance, someone in a wheelchair, others kissing in a tree, a homeless man, an angry woman, images of loneliness and images of joy, all woven against a background of a father reading a story to a young child who imagines this ‘Everybody Street’ as crowded with so many ‘others’ and who comes to realize all of those people are actually one…that we are all of those people and all of those people are us… “Yes… EVERYONE is travelling on EveryBody Street and EveryOne IS EveryOne and AnyOne you meet…”

And as I read I could feel emotions rising as the everbodyness  contained in Fitch’s buoyant poetry practically floated off the pages.

This book is a testament to community, and to joy. It’s also about mental health/illness in its many forms. And to be honest, the power of it kind of takes you by surprise.

Oh but we are in such good hands here because, as only Fitch can do, we are gently (playfully!) shown that all those people who look and act ‘differently’, who for whatever reason fall outside the punishing parameters of what society calls ‘normal’… are simply displaying aspects of being human that we all share.

The very young will only see peacocks and happy chaos… in the way of the very young, who don’t judge. But the message of inclusivity is there, the subliminal suggestion of non-judgement and, for those old enough to understand or who, in the company of a reader sensitive enough to explain, it becomes a thing to celebrate, to embrace, the beginning of meaningful conversation.

I look forward to sharing this with my eight year old niece. We will eat french fries at the beach while we read and we will talk about how we feel some of these feelings some of the time and we’ll notice people around us and make up lives for them… and remind ourselves that they have feelings too.

(The Afterword, written by Fitch, explaining the motivation behind the story, and the difficulty of taking on this subject, is an equally powerful read, in which Fitch says “I don’t like poems that tell me how to think; I like poems that make me think.”)

What a bold book.

And what an important one.

 

I got my copy at Blue Heron Books, and you can too!

Support indies!

 

wordless wednesday

 
Not encouraging anyone to be wordless today.

indexIt’s #BellLetsTalk and every single form of online communication using that hashtag (until midnight) will generate five cents for mental health initiatives.

Am writing this not so much for a friend as because of them, someone who is an inspiration to me in ways he’ll never realize. Twenty something years ago his bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes got bad enough that it was recommended he move into a residence designed for people with mental health issues at every level. It’s become home and he says he’s lucky to be there and feels safe, but he also says that most other residents are very low functioning and it can be a depressing environment. So he keeps busy. He listens to the radio in his room. Local news stations, every kind of music, sports. TV is less interesting to him, too much an assault on the senses and, anyway, it’s in the common area, which he prefers to avoid.

Not that he’s anti social. Quite the opposite. He’s forever in search of a good conversation. It’s just that where he lives it’s impossible. So, every day, without fail, he does something to work around that.

He once told me he tried to speak to at least three people a day. Even if it was just to say hello in passing on the street.

He loves the phone. Computers are beyond his ability. He’ll spend weeks composing a letter he sends by mail. He doesn’t have a lot of money but he likes to go out, so he spends afternoons walking and drinking coffee or tea in various cafes where he always asks if there’s anything he can do to be helpful. One place said they’d be grateful to have him tidy up their bulletin board occasionally. He does this with extraordinary devotion to detail and all kinds of pride and tells me why he arranged things on the board as he did that day. This place has become his new favourite haunt and he’ll spend money he can’t really afford on too many muffins just to support them, so grateful is he to be able to tidy that board.

Sometimes at night he’ll go out to hear a local band and if likes them he’ll tell everyone he knows and several he doesn’t that they need to hear this band. Not pushy, just passionate.

He goes through phases of doing things left-handed, brushing his teeth, holding the phone, eating soup. Someone told him it’s good for your brain.

For awhile he took it upon himself to report street lights that had burned out. He would note the location and call the city works department. He gets involved with various local groups, folds envelopes, whatever needs doing. He discovers a second hand shop that’s struggling to make ends meet but the people are nice so he buys a belt he can’t afford, just to help them out.

What he doesn’t do is complain. Which is astonishing to me.

He knows how some people see him. He doesn’t fool himself, he knows what his limitations are, what he’s dealing with. He’s just somehow able to override all that and keep going.

Though he gets weary of it all sometimes.

Occasionally his disorder turns psychotic and he ends up at The Royal, the mental health centre in Ottawa, where he might spend months at a time.

There are aspects of his life that are so frightening I don’t know how he copes as casually as he does. He says he’s used to it. But surely becoming used to something awful can as easily destroy spirit as it can be the reason to work even harder. That his spirit is not only intact but shines as brightly as it does…. is extraordinary. I never take it for granted.

And so he is an inspiration like no one else I know.

I tell him all the time. But I’m not sure he believes me.

He called the other day to remind me of #BellLetsTalk. And he’ll be calling everyone he knows today, at least once. It’s what he can do, so he does it. So, yeah, not wordless today. Let’s talk up a storm.

This one’s for all of us, but especially for E.

Shine on, my friend.

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Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman