David Leite describes himself in a Youtube video as “Crazy, Gay and Happily Portuguese.”
“Humor is the missing prescription in mental health,” said Leite.
My interview with David Leite, author of Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression, was laugh out loud funny as we discussed writing, food, love, and Leite’s bipolar disorder.
AZ: What does your morning ritual look like?
DL: I dont have a morning ritual perse because I go back anf forth between Connecticut and NYC, especially now when there is interviews and book related stuff. My writing ritual is I wake up and I’ll eat some breakfast and tea. Then, I’ll check my email and social media. Once, I get that out of the way, I’ll start to write. I will write until late afternoon early evening.
AZ: Tell me a little how your relationship with food developed.
DL: When I was very young and talking as early as I can remember five until 12, I didn’t love Portuguese food and tried to stay away from it. I didn’t want to be Portuguese. I wanted to be blonde, blue-eyed and the adopted son on Bewitched. Those people weren’t eating salted cod or purple octopus stew. As I got older, I was eating more American food.
My relationship with food as with what I do happened with my partner Alan…I was young thin and beautiful at 34 years old. He said ‘I’m going to bake a cake.’ I said, ‘Knock yourself out.’ He asked me if I wanted to lick the bowl. And I said, ‘Sure fine’, because I was studying for school. And I licked the bowl and just the smell and the flavor brought me back to my childhood. I had completely blocked it out that my grandmother had baked. It was that taste of that cake batter and the smell and even the texture of how it dripped down into exclamation points of batter. This started me taking cooking classes and cooking and starting to write about food. That’s really how my adult relationship with food developed. I started Leite’s Culinaria in 1999.
AZ: What is your favorite dinner party dish?
DL: My favorite dish to make for dinner company: no restrictions Porco Alentejana from the Alantejo region of Portugal. My family is from the Azures. It is pork marinated wine, garlic, herbs spices, sauteed, simmered tender clams and added, cubed roasted potatoes served in two woks hinged together.
AZ: What is your favorite rainy day dish?
DL: Spaghetti carbonara
AZ: Tell me about why you sectioned the book the way you did.
DL: I wrote the book almost the way you would write a mystery, clues dropped and I am not picking them up. It divided up life how I saw it. I like the term manic depression better. Early-onset was myself starting to see manesfestations of my illness when I was a child and it ends right after House of Wax chapter. Rapid-cycling mid section longest section ups and downs of life, of coming out, and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I knew there was something definately wrong with me psychologically. I put a lot of humor in book to help augment those highs. The reader goes from one dark passage to another but to have the humor in there is a way of mimicking what I go through for the reader.
A lot of people aren’t catching on that the book is actually very funny.
AZ: Does your writing style stem for your acting training?
DL: My acting training helped my writing…play analysis…idea of story and arc of story inciting incident thingI learned in drama….In the book, House of Wax is the incident. It launches me on search what’s going on. I got the story elements got from studing acting.
AZ: Where did you learn how to write scenes like you do?
DL: I haven’t studied writing a lot. I’ve taken avocational classes that lasted six weeks. Something I always had. I started writing in thirties when got advertising job. Always kept journals. Love rich full characters and I love storytelling I just think my love of character and storytelling came together. Also my use of language which I think is an absolute outgrowth of my manic depression. When I saw psychologist as a child, use phrases like I’m looking at world through wrong end of a telescope. I feel hot molten lead being poured in my body. I had to describe what was going on with me physically. And I thought if I did that enough in different ways someone would say what was wrong with me. Because I had bipolar I think that’s what fostered this love of language because I tried desperately hard to explain myself.
AZ: How did your illness amp things up for you concerning your sexuality?
DL: I think what anxiety and bipolar illness did was amped up the volume of all of this. Searching desperately for what was wrong with me and I lay the blame on maybe it’s because I’m from a Portuguese family, maybe it’s because I’m gay oh maybe it’s because I’m over-weight. I kept trying to find the answer of what was wrong with me. I think what manic depression amped up tension and stress and energy around my sexuality. The issue of the sexuality became bigger becauase I was dealing with so much anxiety and bipolar disorder.
AZ: How does your partner, Alan, live with a writer?
DL: He has more of an issue when I use the fact that I’m an writer against the relationship. We’ll have an argument and I’ll say that I have an artistic temeperament. That’s when he gets really angry. He’s quite proud that I am a writer, he loves the book and is quite proud of the book. He has more of issue how I might carry on with something.
AZ: Has bipolar been an issue in your relationship?
DL: Absolutely. We almost broke up. It was ripping our relationship apart. He’s a very patient man, and very loving and kind. It was wearing him to the nub. We had a big argument about money becuase as a writer I wasn’t making a lot of money at that time. I smashed the marble counter with a frying pan. I hit it three times and there two huge dents. That was sort of a clairon call for us. That came from stress of being bipolar and not making a lot of money at that point. Constant things since being diagnosed like my temper getting out of hand, or becoming obsessed with something or depressed, getting manic about something leaving him in dust. We are constantly monitoring it. It’s a third entity in our relationship. We have to acknowlege it daily, not getting too angry, lonely and tired.
AZ: How do you balance your moods with the creative process?
DL: I’m lucky able to make my own schedules now. In advertising, my creative process was on the clock. Because I work for myself, I’m able to work around my moods. When something bubbling creatively I go for it, then if mood gets in way I back off. Later, I’ll pick it up again. It’s very fluid. My mood can sometimes dictate the creative process; the creative process can sometimes dictate the mood.
AZ: You’ve been an actor, waitor, a copywriter, studied psychology. How has your life come full-circle into what you do now?
DL: I think everything I’ve done…waitor, actor, copywriter, photographer all those things I use in my daily work…actor when i do reading, give performance almost. As a matter of fact, I’m looking into taking some of the book and writing a one-hour one-man show. Psychology …thirst and drive understand what I was about. Because of study of psychology and being very introspective, is how I can create such vivid characters. I understand motivation with characters. All the things I did when I thought I was wasting my life, they have all come together and held hands. I pull on each one of those in different ways.
AZ: In what ways have you learned to take care of yourself?
DL: I have five that are instrumental to self-care.
Sleep: going to bed at a certain time. Sleep is the great reset button for me and many others who suffer from manic depression. If not enough sleep, the mania ramp up.
Diet: I have a terrible time with this one being a food writer. Cutting out sugar, carbs, not having that carbonara, having healthy proteins and vegetables, greens, fruits. Sugar and simple carbs really destaiblize moods.
Exercise: I walk every day 2 and 5 miles a day
Talk therapy: aim of therapy started changing into how we going to improve your life
Humor: a great sense of humor being around people see the light side of things is how I coped for 25 years as I was looking for an answer for what was wrong with me.
Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author and psychologist, blurbed the book and thought it was funny, it will appear on the second printing. “Humor is a great way to keep civilians interested in our stories. If we caral them in with humor, more people who will listen,“ said Leite.
Leite gave two readings of his book. The first one the audience was afraid to laugh. So the next night he said, “Feel free to laugh. You will be doing what I hope you would do.”
People began laughing with his stories. At the end of the reading people shared stories of mental illness and bought lots of books. “A conversation had started all because I gave them permission to laugh.”
You can find David at http://leitesculinaria.com.