Ink-Stained for Life
I had no plan to write a memoir, though the itch to write has been in me since my adolescence. I was not one to keep a journal, though I did carry a small pad and pencil to write odd thoughts and experiences down, never saving those.
I had been listening, on a long car ride, to two CDs on writing a memoir by my greatest (and only) writing teacher, Bill Zinsser, who was revered by so many writers (he is now deceased). That got the itch going. I recalled a short memoir I had written years ago in his evening writing workshop at the New School, in New York City, not far from where I live. I had read it in class, to considerable approval – especially Zinsser, who said, very unlike him, “it’s perfect.”
Emboldened by that experience, I submitted the story to the New York Times. Very soon thereafter, I got an email from them accepting it as an op-ed, for a Saturday edition of the NYT/International Herald Tribune. They had retitled it (bless them), Ink-Stained for Life, a far better title than I had provided – but that was about it for changes. On the Saturday it was published, I went out early and bought a lot of copies of the paper.
So, I had one memoir story and decided to write some more. Thirteen to be specific, twelve new ones and one adapted from a piece I had published in the HuffPost. I had no clue I had those stories in me, especially the ones from when I was younger. I had followed Zinsser’s guidance that memoir should “Stick to a specific time and place… be sure you meet the two, clear coordinates you had chosen…” The anchor story, the book’s title, had me pleasantly boxed in: that story is about me as an eight-year-old boy in NYC; the rest of the stories end when I am seventeen, completing high school, and still in NYC. I had met the requirements of time and place!
I thought I was done. Wrong again, Lloyd.
At the end of an evening’s scribbling, I read the one I had written to my wife, a superlative writer and thinker, who had been the editor of the Amherst College newspaper, among many other accomplishments. She is not one to be gratuitous, including with her husband. She really liked them, she said.
That was enough for me to contact the publisher of my most recent book (The Addiction Solution, Scribner, 2018). She asked me, “How many words?” 19,000, I wrote, which had her respond unequivocally, “No way. You can pitch me a book that length after you win a Pulitzer.” The business of publishing, deeply hurting since 2008, had its rules: 50,000 words, minimum, to price the book where they needed it to not lose money.
I was not only wrong in thinking I was done. I also was mad at such a dismissal. Not that I had any substantive basis for expecting my publisher (or others I tried) to bend to my views.
It took me a few days to dust myself off. I could then wonder, what might make the book better, and longer? It dawned on me that I could cover each story with an “overcoat,” so to speak, by matching each memoir story with an essay, what I could I say about the story’s theme, and to reflect on its message as it might relate to 2020. That took me a lot longer to write those than the 14 stories. I am glad I did, as I hope you will be as well.
The essays have titles like: Family Businesses; Boys Will Be Boys; Rich People; Jewish People; Fathers, Sons and Gambling Too; Intelligence; and Enterprise. Those are not memoirs - rather more like meditations on subjects that effect so many of us today. They are meant to be social and scientific commentaries, current and revealing of what we feel and wonder about today.
The essays became my opportunity to share with readers the clinical, scientific, policy and practice knowledge I have gleaned from the diverse jobs I have held, including: Medical Director of a Harvard teaching hospital (McLean); decades of direct patient care; my two years doing policy work in Washington, DC; my five years as Mental Health Commissioner when Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of NYC; my twelve years as Chief Medical Officer of New York State’s mental health agency, the largest in the country; and my varied media experiences, including my seven years as Medical Editor for Mental Health with the HuffPost.
I hope you will see, by your reading, the synergy between my development as a youth and the most amazing of responsibilities I have had the privilege of trying to meet.