I don’t really know what I expected from this book, a follow-up from Morton’s very successful One Hundred Years of Dirt, which I reviewed here. After all, not many of us have a very interesting ‘what-happened-next’ story that can be told while it is unfolding around us. He couldn’t just rewrite the last book, and, as he admits:
I’ve written about my family before, in my debut book One Hundred Years of Dirt, but spent so much energy focused on everyone else’s trauma that I never noticed my own.p.6
In this book, he picks up on his trauma, formally diagnosed in early 2019, but manifested through a five year mental breakdown, in spite of multiple attempts and strategies to save his sanity. In those five years, he came to understand that his meltdowns were triggered when his close, straight, male friends established a relationship with a woman. Then his complex PTSD would emerge, a trauma that he traced to being left on a remote pastoral property as a child, while his father embarked on an affair with the governess. That little boy, watching, shut down and became an absence, and under stress the adult Rick Morton would shut down too.
It always happens the same way. The moment I find out my friend is seeing someone it is as if the world goes blurry. I can feel myself leave my own body. There is ringing in my ears and a sensation that has no equal in daily life but what I can only describe as 100,000 ants marching up from my feet along the length of my nervous system, nesting in my chest. It is the most agonizing type of fear where death itself feels imminent….Trauma is not a memory. It is a Broadway production of the first hurt, a leg-kicking, show-stopping conflagration of the mind and body that needs no remembering. It is the thing. Each and every time.p.9,10
However, in the midst of his flailing during 2015, the year when he lost his grip, his closest (female) friend hugged him and apologized for never telling him that she loved him. He started telling other people that he loved them too and it was “as if the colour had begun to run back into my world from the top of the frame, pooling at the bottom around the moss-covered rocks on one of my infrequent bush walks. “(p.11)
It was not, of course, a cure but a “renaissance of tiny joy” (p.12) but it did give him permission to do the work required to get better. This book is a series of essays on this work, each chapter named with a single concept: Touch, The Self, Forgiveness, Animals, Beauty, Masculinity, Loneliness, Kindness, Dysfunction, Doubt, Next, Beginnings. As with One Hundred Years of Dirt, there are times when he writes ‘journalistically’ with the dispassion of the intellect, and in the next paragraph divulges an intimate event or observation. His choice of topics could be schmaltzy and twee, or patronizing, but there is enough self-deprecation to bring his lofty pronouncements back to earth and to stop the book sliding into a self-help manual.
I will admit that this book isn’t what I expected it to be. It’s far more gentle and human than that. Having said that, though, I don’t know that there’s much more to be mined from this genre, and I doubt if he would want to anyway. It’s not a final destination; it’s just steps along the way. Not ‘cured’ – how pretentious and premature that would be- but ‘better’.
My rating: 8/10
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library