by Josh Zinn
Last Christmas I kicked my seventy-year-old father out of my house for doing drugs in my bathroom. The next day Carrie Fisher died. Bah humbug.
Truth be told, though I did my fair share of Scrooging over my stoner dad the remainder of that holiday season, it was nothing compared to the Jacob Marley-esque chains of grief cast upon me by the sudden passing of the first person who made me believe someone like me could be a writer. Not to diminish my drug-addled pops and the role he played in bringing me into this world, but I can say with all certainty it was discovering the prose of the drug-addled Ms. Fisher which gave this awkward, manic-depressive gay kid life. Immaculate conception, indeed.
"Maybe I shouldn't have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares?" The first sentence from Fisher’s debut novel, Postcards from the Edge, is seared in my brain like an instruction manual for the self-destructive narcissist. I can still remember reading it in Waldenbooks, all of thirteen, and audibly gasping upon my realization not only did Princess Leia have talents which extended far beyond aluminum swimwear and hair masquerading as Cinnabon advertisements, but she was emotional kindred as well. “Fiction,” she called her story of a washed-up actress coping with addiction and a domineering showbiz mother, but anyone without a life (me) and possessing even a smidgen of Hollywood history (me, again) was aware that excuse was so thinly veiled the book may as well have been written on tissue paper. This was autobiography and I was in awe.
Finding Fisher was like stumbling upon a funhouse mirror, reflecting everything I’d ever dreamt and dreaded for myself. Neither steeped in literary pretension nor pandering to the cheap seats her sci-fi pedigree guaranteed, her work was raw, hilarious, and self-aware enough to know the silver spoon she’d been born with had given her a ready-made audience for her silver tongue. Like me, she endured mental illness and persistent pessimism, never sure which days the black hand of self-hate would completely blind her from objectivity. At the same time––again, like me––she reveled in the magic of the world, whether it be film, art, or a perfectly dirty double entendre, using those respites of joy as fuel to rocket past her head’s omnipresent gloom.
When you’re diagnosed as bipolar, doctors will describe your life and mood swings as a rollercoaster you can’t get off. What no one wants to tell you, however, is how addicting those highs can be; that, most of the time––even when you’re in the throes of the most fucking awful “I’m-listening-to-Celine-on-repeat!” depression you could imagine––you won’t want off. Carrie Fisher told me; she told anyone who would listen. Her writing was unashamed and unapologetic as it recounted the damage done. It never took glee in pain, but never shied away from its ugliness, either. If there was ever a lesson to learn, it was simply to quit crying, accept the mess, and find a way to make crazy work for you––hopefully, by laughing in its face.
I’m forty-one now and a writer myself, but it is still to Fisher whom I turn when I need to a jolt of the truth I’m constantly searching for. I’ve never read to “escape” my troubles. I read to learn how to escape, to survive, to see past the moments when my unstable mind takes myself or the world too seriously. When my Mom died five days after I graduated college; when my Dad wanted a stocking full of weed and painkillers; or when Donald Trump was elected and it truly felt like the apocalypse was nigh, I snuck off somewhere and listened to Carrie tell me, yes, life really is as shitty as I think it is, but nowhere near as shitty as it probably could be. Every single time, she was the calm inside my storm.
Now, she’s gone. And my mom is still dead, my father still thinks I’m a narc, and Trump is still doing whatever it is he thinks being President entails. For twenty-seven years Carrie Fisher’s voice saved me, but, ultimately, it wasn’t enough to save herself. This Christmas, even without her and the world (and my mind) still on fire, I’ll be returning to her well for comfort once again. As Fisher herself said, “If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
Josh Zinn is a current degree candidate at The Mountainview Low Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction.