Dan Bessie, a dear friend of mine, asked me to write a forward to a new book that has now recently been published. I’ve known Dan, an artist, filmmaker and author of many books since the 1960s.
When she died in 1982 his mother, Mary Burnett, left two boxes of journals, diaries and other writing to her two sons. Dan has used much of this material (plus his own memories) to fashion a moving and poignant memoir that is at times lightly humorous, at times distressful, but always gripping.
While self-committing to a psychiatric clinic for four months, Mary resolved on four goals: to overcome the deadly demons of depression plaguing her; to liberate her sons from an almost Dickensian boarding school, where they had been placed by well-to-do-relatives; to locate a home for herself and her sons, and to discover a path through life in which she could, as she put it, “be of some use in this world.”
Life is Here, and I Have Been Away
is not a self-help book. It is instead a fresh and inspiring example of how one woman expelled her demons of depression by looking back on her life (as Dan so aptly describes it) “by seeing her life reflected in a truth-telling mirror; one without self-blame, excuses, or avoidance—or, as one might put it, “by writing the demons out.”
Nor does Life is Here, and I Have Been Away concentrate solely on depression. It does far more than that: initially focusing on her life in turn-of-the-century Michigan (where she had to deal with a petulant mother), through a sometimes bohemian existence in New York City, three marriages, the birth of her sons while living in rural Vermont during the Depression of the 1920s and 30s, active support for striking seamen on the Brooklyn waterfront in 1936, a revealing correspondence with her then divorced second husband Alvah Bessie while he fought as a volunteer with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in defense of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, to six months spent in Pennsylvania—where a third marriage ended in tragedy,
I’ve found Life is Here, and I Have Been Away an important and consistently thoughtful memoir about how one woman waged a winning battle to turn her life completely around. Mary’s story is more than timely in today’s world; it’s a book I highly recommend.
Lucia Capacchione, PhD, ATR, REAT