As soon as I saw the Manhattan map, I wanted to draw it. I should be able to draw the place where I lived. So I asked Mom for tracing paper and she got it for me and I brought it into my fort and I pointed the light right down on the first map in the Hagstrom Atlas—downtown, where Wall Street was and the stock market worked. The streets were crazy down there; they didn't have any kind of streets and avenues; they just had names and they looked like a game of Pick-Up Sticks.
In this early passage, Craig discusses one of his childhood attempts to create a map image. The younger Craig proves to have trouble drawing Manhattan, but this quotation captures his initial excitement about the possibility of creating an artwork of his own. As It's Kind of a Funny Story progresses, Craig works backwards and re-captures this childlike, inspired attraction to art.
We kept doing it. It became a regular thing. We never formalized it, never named it . . . but on Fridays Aaron would call and ask me to watch movies. I think he was lonely. Whatever he was, he became the one person I wanted to stay in touch with after junior high. And now, a year later, I was in my kitchen holding my acceptance letter and wondering if he had one too.
Here, Craig describes his routine of going to Aaron's house every Friday afternoon. This routine is such a part of his life that, even when he scores a major victory, his instinctive reaction is to seek out Aaron. Yet Craig detects a deeper meaning to his friendship; despite Aaron's apparent confidence, Aaron may need Craig just as badly as the more timid Craig seems to need Aaron. Indeed, Craig is not the only character who is massively dependent on the Friday get-togethers.
What was I doing taking pills? I had just had a little problem and freaked out and needed some time to adjust. Anyone could have a problem starting a new school. I probably never needed to go to a doctor in the first place. What, because I threw up? I wasn't throwing up anymore. Some days I wouldn't eat, but back in Biblical times people did that all the time—fasting was a big part of religion, Mom told me. We were already so fat in America; did I need to be part of the problem?
After spending some time following a regular treatment schedule, Craig becomes critical of his own practices. Here we see Craig's desire for independence; he is aware that treatment for psychological issues can carry a social stigma with it, and refers to history and culture to convince himself that he should be stronger. Ironically, it is only by following a treatment regimen and acknowledging his problems that Craig will be able to make progress. The desire for independence turns out to be a sign of insecurity, not strength, in his case.
What the hell, I'm in the hospital. I put 4's down the line—there are about twenty prompts—except for the lines about self-mutilation, drinking, and drug use (I am not putting anything about pot, that's just the rule, told to me by Aaron—you don't ever, ever admit to smoking pot, not to doctors, not to teachers, not to anyone in authority no matter how much you trust them; they can always report you to the FBI Pot-Smoking List). As I'm getting done, a squat black nurse with a kind wide smile and tightly braided hair steps in. She introduces herself in a thick West Indian accent.
At this point in the novel, Craig is transitioning into the new world of Argenon Hospital, and is having trouble letting go of his identity in the world beyond. Craig's first thought should, naturally, be for his own well-being. Yet he is still responding to the high-school world of social status represented by Aaron and, by doing so, may be hindering the process of clarity, honesty, and release that will address his depression issues.
Something flashes out in the hall. The blond girl streaks to the window. I can't be sure it's her. I mean, it is a her—it has breasts. And I think I recognize her small body and wife-beater. But I can't see her face because she presses up a piece of paper against the glass:
BEWARE OF PENIS
The "blond girl" in this excerpt is Noelle, but Craig does not know her well enough to readily identify her by name at this early stage of his stay. Nonetheless, this scene—in which Noelle warns Craig that "Jennifer" is a transsexual—foreshadows Craig and Noelle's later bond. In big ways (alerting Craig to his artistic powers) and small (sharing casual conversation), Noelle proves attuned to Craig's situation and eager to help Craig navigate the world to the best of his ability.
I feel the Cycling starting again—I'm going to get out of here at some point and have to go back into real life. This place isn't real. This is a facsimile of life, for broken people. I can handle the facsimile, but I can't handle the real thing. I'm going to have to go back to Executive Pre-Professional and deal with teachers and Aaron and Nia because what the hell else do I know? I staked everything on that stupid test. What else am I good at?
This quotation details a few of Craig's more negative sentiments from his stay at Six North. Despite his panic, Craig clearly understands that his new milieu is a miniature version of the real world—except that, at this early stage in his stay, he draws the wrong conclusion. Rather than presenting a self-defeating and falsely soothing version of the real world, Six North presents the opposite: a place that prepares Craig to function better once he re-enters society at large.
I look up at her, rolling her mouth and smiling down. I look at the map. It's not a brain, clearly; it's a map; can't she see the rivers and highways and interchanges? But I see how it could look like a brain, if all the roads were twisted neurons, pulling your emotions from one place to another, bringing the city to life. A working brain is probably a lot like a map, where anybody can get from one place to another on the freeways. It's the nonworking brains that get blocked, that have dead ends, that are under construction like mine.
In this scene, Craig is beginning to re-discover his artistic powers. The art session and Noelle's advice have awakened Craig to the idea of drawing maps, but Ebony (the "her" referenced above) helps Craig's idea for the brain motif to form. Craig is breaking out of his solitude and learning to make sense of constructive advice from others. Art, which can be stereotyped as a lonely and idiosyncratic activity, in fact gives Craig a means to form important connections with the people around him.
"I'm glad you came here and got the help you needed," Neil says, and he shakes my hand in that way that people do in here to remind themselves that you're the patient and they're the doctor/volunteer/employee. They like you, and they genuinely want you to do better, but when they shake your hand you feel that distance, that slight disconnect because they know that you're still broken somewhere, that you might snap at any moment.
In interacting with Neil, who provides music therapy for the residents of Six North, Craig is reminded of his ambiguous status. Craig has begun to understand the importance of communication and artistic expression. He resembles Neil in these respects; however, the simple fact that Craig is confined to Six North while Neil is not places a considerable barrier between these two characters.
"What art school are you going to go to?" Dad asks.
"Manhattan Arts Academy? It's easy to transfer to with my grades—"
"Oh, but Craig, that's the school for kids who are all screwed up," Dad says.
I look at him. "Yeah? Dad?" I raise my wrist, show him the bracelets. I have pride in them now. They're true, and people can't screw with them. And when you say the truth you get stronger.
This significant dialogue poses Craig against his own father. In a sharp shift from earlier passages, Craig now sees his position within Six North as a source of strength, not as a social stigma—even if his father thinks otherwise. Moreover, Craig had demonstrated a willingness to talk with adults, but not actually to challenge them, earlier in the novel. Here, he asserts himself against his father's wishes in a way that he hadn't before.
I feel my brain on top of my spine and I feel it shift a little bit to the left.
That's it. It happens in my brain once the rest of my body has moved. I don't know where my brain went. It got knocked off-kilter somewhere. It got caught up in some crap it couldn't deal with. But now it's back—connected to my spine and ready to take charge.
Jeez, why was I trying to kill myself?
It's a huge thing, this Shift, just as big as I imagined. My brain doesn't want to think anymore; all of a sudden it wants to do.
This excerpt follows Craig's departure from Six North and leads into the dramatic sequence of self-awareness that concludes It's Kind of a Funny Story. In his own mind, Craig is so changed that earlier segments of his life seem unreal. He still reverts to some of his private symbols (the Shift), except that now he feels able to explain the world coherently; he is no longer oppressed by his routines or by the commanding voice that once occupied his thoughts.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.