Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Soloist - Steve Lopez

http://www.stevelopezonline.com/ - This is the non-fiction book that the movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx is based on. It takes place in Los Angeles, where Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, seredipitously meets Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician. As Lopez listens to Ayers playing his violin on Skid Row, he knows that the man has a tremendous gift and wonders how he ended up on the streets. It turns out (no surprise) that Ayers, a former Julliard star, is also a paranoid schizophrenic. Lopez becomes obsessed with "helping" Ayers - he wants to get him a room at a local half-way house. He wants to help him receive medication or counseling. He wants to get to the root of how such an illness could destroy a person with so much hope and promise. Lopez portrays Ayers's illness honestly, and conveys the frustrations and sadness of befriending a person living with schizophrenia. At the same time, he also portrays Ayers with dignity, as a person who appreciates the beauty in music (to a point of his own obsession) and his need to be respected. Over time, Lopez slowly realizes that he can't "save" Ayers or make him "better." But, he can be part of a trusted support system and he can help others to understand Ayers's condition. To me, one of the most powerful lines in the book is when Lopez realizes that Ayers is not a schizophrenic who plays music, bur rather a musician who happens to be schizophrenic. I think this is the key to understanding mental illness and treating people with mental illness as human beings.

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