How to Weep in Public
by Gili Malinsky
Comedian and writer Jacqueline Novak wants you depressed. No, that’s not right. Comedian and writer Jacqueline Novak wants you happy, but, if you happen to be depressed, Novak wants you to be the best, most comfortable depressed person you can be. Hence her recently released how-to on life for the “depresso”, as she calls it, How to Weep in Public: Feeble Offerings on Depression From One Who Knows. The book is part memoir, part instruction manual (or suggestion manual, really) on how to deal with your crippling depression, when the only option seems to be curling up in fetal position on the floor with your cat. Here’s how she describes the book’s offerings on page 9:
“What This Book Will Not Provide:
- Useful exercises
- Insights of lasting value
- Relief from depression
- Help of any kind
What This Book Will Provide:
- Mild entertainment for the immobilized depressive when cable/Internet’s out
- Feeling of being ever-so-slightly less alone before loneliness returns even stronger
- ‘Fun’ activities to occupy the mind during its travels through hell
- Small book-shaped headrest”
As the title suggests, the book is a fun read, despite its heavy subject matter. Novak manages to both lightheartedly poke fun at depression, and give a true account of how paralyzing it can be. Having gone through a period of depression herself, just after college, when the weight of life rested heavily on her shoulders (or broke her completely, as it does many of us), she recounts her early days of happy Westchester, New York, life, trying to figure out exactly when the seeds of the condition could have begun. She then takes us through her high school days of loving Tony Robbins, her college days of snorting crushed Adderall, then the downfall, having moved to New York to pursue her dreams of a comedic, writerly life that led to a day of sleeping 28 hours and losing her job. She subsequently moved back in with her parents, making the slow, arduous climb back to life. (Novak is now back in New York , having performed her stand-up on The Late Late Show With James Corden and appeared on Netflix original show The Characters).
How-tos for the depressed are dispersed throughout the book, chapter titles including “Socializing for the Burgeoning Depressive”, “You’re a Real Depresso Now and You’re Ready For Your Uniform”, “Eat to Not Die, Don’t Not Die to Eat” and “Explore the Whole ‘Having a Body’ Thing as a Break From the Prison of Your Mind”. There are also suggestion lists like “Top Six Ways to See Yourself, Other Than as a Useless Lump”, “Top Nine Things to Love About the Floor” and “Top Five Tips for Crying in the Shower”.
Having used literature, specifically nonfiction, as an escape from life often, Novak knew how she wanted to tackle this subject matter.
“I live inside of self help books,” she said in our recent interview, connecting, specifically, to the fact “that they’re talking directly to the reader.” And when you’re depressed, she adds, “everyone’s sort of telling you how to get out of it… You have this feeling like you're not on the map of human experience. I guess that’s [the benefit of] the self help format. It’s acting like there's a full lifestyle here and we can visit all of its different parts.”
Author Sam Lipsyte once said comedy comes not from human emotion, but from how humans deal with their human emotion. Maybe, even in its forgiving way, this book is a distillation of that.