I met Ned Vizzini sometime in February 2011. I had been a fan long before then- perhaps sometime around 2007-8, after someone had recommended I read one of his books (shout-out to that book club forum on Gaia!).
Describing the YA novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story is as strange as one would expect from its idiosyncratic title. There’s a young boy named Craig Gilner who, when overwhelmed with the pressures of his academic and social lives, contemplates suicide. He then ends up in the adult psychiatric ward of a local hospital, and from there, the rest is a tale about finding personal redemption in the minute yet charming, rejuvenating aspects of life. At the end of the book read a short message about how Ned had spent some time in a psychiatric ward prior to writing IKOAFS.
I was an instant fan. I followed Ned’s blog, his Youtube channel, and of course, read all his books. For the first time in my life I had not simply read a book, adored it, and moved on. I felt something behind Ned’s words- what it was I had not quite figured out yet- but it was something worth connecting to. When the opportunity rose a couple years later to meet him, I took it. It took three hours, three buses, and a great deal of wandering on the UCLA campus until my friend and I found the building where he would be speaking.
Post-event, the line to meet Ned/get books signed stretched on, so I took time to get to know Sabra, his beautiful wife, whom I recognized from Ned’s blog. She told me the story of how she’d met him, and described the opportunity of dating him as something similar to snatching up a good piece of real estate in New York. She also made sure I got my books signed and had a couple photos (by the time we’d finished talking, the line had disappeared), which I’ll always be grateful for.
Ned signed my copy of IKOAFS that night at UCLA, and invited me to his writing workshops in Glendale. I always enjoy retelling the story of, when I sat in front of a blank page, he looked at me and recited a Hemingway quote he thought of sometimes when he couldn’t write:
“Write the truest sentence you know.”
I have never forgotten it. Hemingway said something else I’ve committed to memory:
“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”
Ned’s passing hurts in more ways than I can express, particularly because I had the honor of knowing someone I admired not just as an author whose books I bought, but as someone who took the time to understand everything we fans threw at him- the parts of ourselves that his books made us feel- and he wrote back to us all, trying his hardest to relate. But you know what? He didn’t have to try very hard at all, because he could figure out where we were coming from. The true sincerity behind that renders me speechless.
I’m going to miss that.
The hardest thing to accept about Ned’s passing was the manner in which it occurred. If you or anyone you know is dealing with suicidal ideations, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or even consider reading this message from metanoia.org.
Ned, this project’s for you. I’d always wanted to make a “real” blog, but I never knew how to start. I’m ready now. Rock on, be strong, wherever you are.