A girlfriend gave me this book once.
At the time, I was living on an island of about two hundred people, teaching English. A foolish, miserable task--the kind of "good-for-you" intervention bound up in so many good intentions that the inevitable crass exploitation and inadequate resourcing and nonexistent long-term vision and full-on horseshit stupidity seem, in hindsight, a necessary cosmic counter-balancing. Ostensibly, I was teaching English and helping the other English teachers improve curriculum. Instead, the other English teachers wised up--let the fucking American handle this shit, and let's hit the lagoon, while the fishing is fine--and I struggled to piece together an elementary curriculum for non-English speakers who'd never heard anyone fluent in English speak. No television, except when the local generator was fired up, and the vhs hooked in, so that we could watch "Best of the Best" and "Best of the Best 2" for a quarter. Two or three radios, which only got Armed Forces Network. One communication radio, intermittently functioning, which I got on once a week to talk to pals distributed around the islands over 40,000 some square miles. I got mail once a week, if the plane showed up, if the weather was good, if I actually got any mail. I could run around the island, by which I mean quite literally I could run around the island. We periodically hit a dry patch where few fish came in, and breadfruit weren't in season, so we ate canned food and rice and coconuts, and when the canned food ran out we ate rice and coconuts. I lost about 60 pounds. I sank into periodic depressions. I certainly got along with everyone, and drank tons of instant coffee hanging out with the guys, but I wasn't really connecting -- except with one guy, a really great person who I was starting to become good friends with, and then he died of tuberculosis. Those periods of depression became more like exclamation points.
Twice a year, during the two years I was there, I got into the "main island." (Let's describe that in some other post.) During those trips, I drank excessively. Took up smoking despite having never had any interest in smoking (even leaping straight to Kool Menthols, 'cause as I believe Denis Leary put it if you inhale excessively on a Menthol it feels like your eyes are bleeding). Stayed out to all hours. Fell in love with everyone I met. And at the end of one stay, I began dating (okay, let's call it "dating" as well as dating) a very nice, sweet, good-intentioned English teacher like myself. We had a whirlwind of hyperbolic romantic passion, before we both headed to our respective islands.
Months passed. Mail, infrequent, the occasional too-public radio conversation. I had been there... oh, maybe 18 months. I was seriously losing it. And I wrote this sweet, wonderful, well-intentioned woman a cri de coeur, a howl of anguish and existential fear and self-loathing ... and she sent me this book. Oh, she also sent me a very moving, sweet, well-intentioned letter, explaining what the book meant, and how it might help me. She really was a great person. But I read this book and wanted to immediately begin gassing hippies. I turned from self-loathing into a fairly aggressive other-loather. I realized that this task I'd taken on really wasn't for me. A couple weeks later, I left the island and the gig, for good.
We broke up, too. I wasn't even sure how to say anything ... the book flabbergasted me. But, in a way, I guess, it saved me.