I have never shied away from writing about important topics. I believe a book is the distilled thoughts of a generation, the writer a wine-maker, crafting and brewing sedimentary sentiment until it can represent something tangible. A writer tries to say in many words what a few words cannot.
If I am made from the food I eat, what does it do to my psyche when someone tells me I have an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are a complex topic to tackle. There are a myriad reasons behind each type of disorder, so many that even the word disorder is misleading. How can we glue down something that is so transitory and important to all of us as food? A young person who is told they have a disorder feels they have some tumorous piece of brain growing from their face. But, without that piece, the rest would suffer, and so cutting it off is an almost impossible task.
When I was a young man, fresh out of school, I wanted to write something that my friends would find cool. Nothing more. This was before the internet (betraying my age here), and so I penned down the first draft for My Secret Family on a sweltering day (I remember because I thought I would lose a few pounds) in November of 1991, just a few days before my first year of college was about to expire for the summer. I was a portly guy with absolutely no dress sense, but I didn’t struggle to make friends at all. I found at college every type of weirder imaginable and felt more-or-less at home. Only now the students were no longer the bullies, it was the lecturers who had become that icky butt-end of society.
I handed my then short-story to my friends, people who would be considered ‘alternative’, though before the fashionable clothing and cultured hair, and thought that was the end of it.
As I traveled on in life I forgot about the story and wrote other things, until one day in 2007 when I decided to dig it out and give it a spring cleaning. We artists suffer from something called the Artist’s Dilemma – by the time we’ve finished a piece we have grown our skill, and so must start again at the beginning, and this can repeat endlessly until we force ourselves to walk away.
Now that the internet had fruited and multiplied, it was easy to research, to add opinion to my already tricky tale. To my surprise I found that Instagram gave a warning popup… “Are you okay?” I was quite taken aback, having never been asked by any site if I was okay. I clicked ok (an ironic button), and entered what was a sort-of surreal universe. Thousands, no, millions of posts about My Secret Family, eating disorders, and the names of the characters in the book. I dug more, and founded references in medical textbooks on neurobiological disorders, movies, artwork. It seemed to stretch out forever.
I had created the characters to personify each disorder, a metaphor, something I had learned only months before in writing class. My writing teacher thought my writing was wonderful, actually she wouldn’t stop going on about it, but I didn’t take it seriously at the time, because I never felt that my writing is particularly wonderful or well engineered. I write odd sentences, and I’m always twisting around corners that other writers seem to stride around with well-versed ease.
If you google the book’s characters, Ana, Mia, Debbie-Sue, and Sophie, you will find the family has grown somewhat. People have started adding their own experiences, giving their own names to disorders, or perhaps traits, that were in a way ‘medical’. The book has taken on a life of its own.
I re-release the book periodically, keep things up to date, like changed how phones work (otherwise the idea of Sue waiting painfully for the telephone dial to clatter back to zero becomes comical), and the terrain, but the people are pretty much the same.
Now My Secret Family is 27 years old, in Hollywood this may mean a pitiful end, but I am overjoyed (if saddened) that the theme of the book is still relevant today. It should have been something we sorted out decades ago. We should all be happy with who we are and live according to our own standards and not those set by others, by bullies, by overbearing mothers or fathers… but we’re not. We’re still the same fucked-up species trying to make sense of ourselves within the few years we have been allotted.
I won’t go into detail about the book, because any detail is a spoiler alert, but do read it, if only to arm yourself for what lies ahead.
Do you want to read My Secret Family too? Get a copy here and tell me what you think…