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An Interview with Reed Rotondo, author of Silent Whimper

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I’m a poet, artist, philosopher, and musician whose ability to blend imagination, engineering, art, and technology epitomizes the modern day Renaissance Man. My appetite for knowledge and adventure, combined with a decades-long battle with depression, mental illness, and the feeling of not belonging, have shaped my ideas on the value of life, the need for friendship and love, the torture of hope and inevitability of loss, and the balance between life and death.

Emotional and raw, my poetry speaks of a passionate and frightened animal who fell asleep in the forest, only to wake in a world that they don’t understand.

You can buy Silent Whimper here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

My earliest influences, and the poets who got me writing, were the classics: Shakespeare, Kipling, Dante Alighieri. But I would say that the biggest influences on my writing, aside from my favorite high school English teacher, Mrs. Dowd—may she rest in peace—are the poems and fairy tales of Hermann Hesse and the writings of Fernando Pessoa. There’s something so raw and emotional about the way that they write, and the way that they delve into their shadows, stare face-to-face with their demons, and write about the experience honestly and whole-heartedly. Hesse, Pessoa, and even Shakespeare and Kipling…they aren’t afraid to confront painful emotions like longing and rejection. Good poetry, true poetry—and you experience this a lot in music as well—doesn’t need to follow any particular form or style. Simply put, it’s emotion taking physical form so others can hold a piece of you, and know you in a way that couldn’t otherwise be expressed.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was diagnosed with severe depressive disorder in 1999, but spent most of the time since then self-medicating and pretending that my worst behaviors were just part of my personality; a part of me that couldn’t be changed. I spent all that time having terrible experiences when seeking help, which climaxed during the summer of 2023 in the months immediately following TMS therapy. Little did I know that I was having a mental collapse during TMS that led to me crossing boundaries that are in place for a reason, and the reaction from the staff left me feeling shamed, rejected, and humiliated; three words that should never be used to describe someone’s experience with their mental health team. During my final appointment with my psychiatrist at that time, I made it clear that I wanted to die and that I felt like the best thing I could do for everyone around me was to kill myself. The doctor’s response is burned in my mind: “You know that you don’t need my permission, right?” It was probably an attempt at reverse psychology. But it was a dangerous gamble on their part since I immediately went home and started planning.

Fortunately, during the same appointment they also suggested that I try an intensive outpatient program (IOP). I am two months into the IOP, and at 43 years old, I finally feel like I’m turning a new page in my life. The entire experience led to me to find a new therapist and psychiatrist who diagnosed me with a serious mental illness (SMI) beyond severe depression, so now I feel like—for the first time in my life—I know what I’m working with. It’s been said that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. For the first time in my life, I’m learning where I am, and I feel like I have a clear destination. The SMI will be with me for the rest of my life, but at least I’m learning to manage it without allowing it to bleed all over the people in my life.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I wouldn’t say it was easy to come up with the title, Silent Whimper, per se. I’ve struggled with insomnia, depression, mental illness, and suicidal ideation since I was a teen. Late one night while I was writing my book, I was really wrestling with this concept of the “cry for help” that we hear so much about in the mental health world. I’ve always felt that the idea of a cry for help was kind of bullshit. When I think of that phrase, I imagine people crying out, shouting, yelling, and thrashing against their captor. I think of a battle cry or a primal yell—something nearly impossible to miss.

But the reality is, more often than not, the shouting, yelling, and thrashing is really happening inside of our own mind. In depressed individuals, the torture comes from within. Our mind is our captor and our emotions form the cage. There are definitely times when a cry for help presents itself as a huge display of outward emotion, substance abuse, visible self-harm, repeated suicide attempts, etc. But in my experience, knowing people who have attempted or died by suicide, it is far more common for a cry for help to leave our lips as a barely audible whimper. It comes out in the form of self-isolation, hidden scars from late-night cutting, poorly concealed substance abuse, and focusing on making sure other people aren’t feeling the same mental torture that we are wrestling with.

The title of this collection of poems was born of that late-night struggle as I realized that I wasn’t crying out for help—I was whispering quietly into the night while hoping in vain that someone would hear me and save me from myself.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I’ve been drawing and working with charcoals and other mediums since I was a child, and Silent Whimper was such an intimate part of me that it was really important that I create the cover myself, without the use of digital tools. The inspiration for the cover came from the same place as the rest of the book: the passion and emotion that runs feral inside of me in what Dr. Carl Jung called our “shadows.” The poems in Silent Whimper speak of the longing, rejection, hope, and feelings of isolation that I have fought my entire life, and I feel like the cover perfectly illustrates those feelings by showing two lives, so different from one another, fighting to be a part of something bigger than themselves, yearning to become something more substantial than they could ever dream to be if they continued growing in isolation. The two pieces of the heart—one gold and one silver, separate, but longing to touch the other—follow the Fibonacci spiral and represent the interconnectedness and harmony that I believe each of us craves deep inside of our shadows.

After finishing the cover, and especially once I held the completed book in my hands, it just felt so perfect to me. Complete. I spent a long time just staring at it, like a parent holding their creation for the first time, marveling at what I saw as perfect, and feeling like I had created something special—even if it was only special to me. It felt like I had peeled away a piece of myself so others could see deeper inside of me.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Music is more important to me than I can express in just a few words, and it’s common for me to listen to music while I’m writing. But to list just a few of the songs that would easily be on that soundtrack…

“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd perfectly describes the feeling of being isolated from a world that’s just beyond your reach. The lyrics come from Roger Waters’ deepest shadows, and tells the story of someone retreating inward while longing to be touched by the world, while the music is the perfect manifestation of the build-up and explosion of emotion that we all feel; emotions that I try to convey in the pages of Silent Whimper.

“Carry Me” by Airborne Toxic Event has such a melancholy melody, and the words tell the story of someone struggling with mental illness and addiction and their desire to give their life over to someone else so they can be shown how to live, love, and thrive in a world that doesn’t make sense to them.

“Shiver and Shake” by Ryan Adams is such a powerful expression of love, longing, rejection, heartache, and the feeling of seeing the world that you desire while wrestling with the knowledge that it’s just beyond your reach.

“A Better Man” by Blue October perfectly describes the pain and shame of having a serious mental illness (SMI). But it also contains the hope that people with mental illness face when wanting to “fix” their illness so they can become a better version of themselves. To me, this goes along with “Hate Me” by the same band. The writer, Justin Furstenfeld, who also struggles with SMI, perfectly sums up the feeling that many in the SMI world have: that the people in our lives would be better off if they left us to our self-destruction and moved on.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I think my perfect reader needs to be open to the idea that there isn’t a specific formula that needs to be followed in order for the physical embodiment of emotion to take form. But I also think that the readers who will get the most out of Silent Whimper are the ones who may be struggling to put their emotions into words, whether they be feelings of love, longing, grief, reluctance, isolation… They want to be honest with themselves about how they are feeling, even though it might terrify them. My ideal reader definitely does not need to understand the Fibonacci sequence that I use as a frame for most of my writing. They don’t even need to be fighting depression or mental illness. I simply want the reader to see and feel the pain and overwhelming emotion with which I bare my soul and maybe admit that it’s exactly how they feel—though they didn’t realize it, or maybe they couldn’t put words to it.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Even though publishing a collection of poems has always been a dream of mine, I was extremely nervous about baring my soul so publicly. But within a couple of weeks of publishing Silent Whimper, two people contacted me saying that the book helped them realize how much they had been struggling, and that it encouraged them to seek help. As a writer, there is no greater reward than knowing that something you wrote drove someone to act. Especially when that drive to act leads someone to get the help that they need to stop simply surviving in this world, or when it helps the reader realize that someone else in their life—a friend, a family member, a coworker—is silently wrestling with their demons and is dying for someone else to hear them. The feeling that Silent Whimper might have helped another person feel less alone in their silent battle can’t be expressed in words.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’ve started working on an idea I had as a teen. It’s an epic of sorts about a young man who falls in love with a woman, but the woman is violently killed. As it turns out, this was the Devil’s plan all along because he was in love with the same woman. The man follows her into the depths of hell to retrieve her. That’s all I’ll say since I don’t want to spoil the story.

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