Anthony Rapp is Back in Massachusetts Again with “Without You”

I cried through the entire performance as Anthony Rapp returned to Boston to perform his most-personal musical, Without You. It was just as spectacular as it was 2015, and in 2012 before that.

Without You is Anthony’s story of playing the role of Mark in Rent, the Broadway musical and film, his relationship with Rent’s writer, Johnathan Larson, his own mother, and coming to terms with both their deaths. I wrote about Rent and Mark in my book. Excerpts here:

I went to see Rent. Again. It’s a Broadway musical that had started touring around the country. Kate, Patricia, Beth and I had seen it in New York during its original run. I’m not really sure what it’s about. Those who know more than I say it is a modern retelling of La Bohème, whatever that is (It’s an opera by Puccini, whoever he is). But this version has something to do with love and AIDS and living and dying in New York. The music is haunting. And popular. When Patricia was in fifth grade, her school chorus included some of its songs in their holiday concert. I was always surprised the music director overlooked the words and the themes when she selected music for an elementary school performance. Or had she?

For the last couple of years, every time the show came to Boston or Providence, I found myself drawn to it. Kate and I managed to get to the movies together regularly; we could pull this off because Patricia was medicated at 7 p.m. and asleep for the night by 9. And Patricia slept so soundly, we knew she would be safe if we went to a 9:30 movie that was playing 10 minutes from home. Driving more than an hour to go to an 8:00 show wasn’t something we could do together very often, so again, I ended up going alone.

As I sat there, dead-center in the eighth row, (because you can buy a single ticket dead-center in the eighth row on the day before the performance even if it’s been sold out of the two-seats-next-to-each-other seats for months), I realized the story playing out in front of me was actually my life. I was Mark, the filmmaker character in the play. He spends his entire existence lurking on the sidelines, documenting what’s going on around him, as the rest of the characters, including Angel, the drag queen who succumbs to AIDS in the third act, all live incredibly full and deeply satisfying days. Mark’s only contribution is to get in the way while he tries to film everything.

My favorite song in the show is sung by one of the bit-part characters, Gordon. It’s less than a minute long. He sings it as he introduces himself to today’s group at the Life Support meeting at the local community center. These meetings are a chance for men and women who are living with the inevitability of death by AIDS to get together and talk—to talk about whatever they want. About how they are feeling. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Mark, of course, bullies his way into the meeting.

This day, at this performance, for the first time, I heard and really comprehended the words of Gordon’s song. He sings about how he is surprised to be alive. How logic and reason no longer work for him. How he should have died three years ago.

We were just passing the three-year mark on Patricia’s journey.

She was still alive.

I’m supposed to be the engineer. And on that day, I was having trouble with logic and reason, too.

—Pages 173-174, Witness to the Dark by Bob Larsted

… and later near the end of the book:

I saw Rent again tonight—the movie this time. I wanted to take a second look at Mark to see if he really is the loser I made him out to be in the Parent Support Group chapter. Maybe he’s not. During the first few seconds of the movie, he tells us he’s thrown out the script and instead of trying to direct everything, he is just going to experience real life—something far more interesting than he could come up with on his own. And so Mark gets to live, too.

—Page 245, Witness to the Dark by Bob Larsted

20th Anniversary of Worcester Cold Storage Fire

The 20th anniversary of the Worcester, Massachusetts Cold Storage fire is coming up. I wrote about it in my book. Today, I live just down the street from the site of the fire. I park my car in what used to be the abandoned lot I parked in that day when I stopped by to pay my respects. I share the story here:

Worcester, Massachusetts is famous for just a few things: Triple-deckers. Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry. And the guy who invented the smiley face.

On December 3, 1999, Worcester became famous for a horrific building fire that killed six firefighters. It took days to put it out and recover their bodies. Our community was devastated.

When it came time for a memorial service, everyone came. Even the president. I took a couple of hours off work and walked downtown to watch the funeral procession. What struck me most were the 30,000 firefighters from around the world who came to pay their respects. Some were dressed in their best uniforms—polished buttons and crisp pleats. But most just showed up in the only thing they had—their turnout gear. The sight was incredible.

When it was over, as I walked back to work, I passed by the city’s main fire station. Hanging on a chain-link fence were several hand-drawn posters. Messages from local school children to the lost firefighters. I slowed to read them.

I was struck by one:

“May your house be safe from tigers.”

I burst into tears.

A few days later, I made my way down to the fire site. A makeshift memorial had sprung up nearby. A fire truck, parked by the side of the road, was festooned with mementos left by people coming to pay their respects. Flowers. More of those notes. Flags. T-shirts.

I collect things. I’ve been doing it for years. I call it “Real World Stuff™.” It started with sand from some of the beaches I’ve visited. It has grown into trying to collect some little something from the places I’ve been that will remind me of that special day. Some of the things are straightforward: Confetti from the millennium in Times Square. Water from The Great Salt Lake. A dining room table. Others are more esoteric: Light from a Leonid Meteor Shower. Fog from the Sargasso Sea. I keep some of the stranger stuff in little glass bottles I have for just this purpose.

As I walked up to the fire truck, I kept wondering how I could collect something that would remind me of this solemn place and time. I certainly wasn’t going to take something someone else had left—that’s not how I do it. Maybe I’d find some soot. Or maybe just a smell would be enough. As I came around the truck, in the back, amid all the flowers and the other stuff, was a baseball hat. With four letters embroidered on the front. FEMA.

It took my breath away. I burst into tears again.

I went back to my car, opened the glove compartment, took out two of my little bottles, and walked back to the fire truck. One by one, I opened each, filled it with my breath, and sealed it up again. I left one on the truck’s bumper. The other went into my pocket.

Some things are bigger than one person, or one family, or one community can handle. For Worcester, it was that fire. We needed the whole country to support us. And they came.

Mental illness, like fires, strikes at unexpected times and in unexpected places. The victims and those trying to support them aren’t always in the best position to be able to handle it themselves. And even if they don’t always know the right thing to do, sometimes, we need our government to throw its hat into the ring, too. To help us make our houses safe from tigers.

—Pages 220-221, Witness to the Dark by Bob Larsted

Much has changed in 20 years. But just as much remains the same: Mental health is still bigger than one person.


Jane Dutton

My friend Jane Dutton died on April 17, 2014. I will miss her.

Jane was Director of the Gale Free Library in my hometown, Holden, Massachusetts, before she up-and-retired early and moved to The Netherlands—of all places—for love—of all things. It took me a long time to forgive her … because it took me a long time to realize she had made the right decision rather than some colossal, adolescent blunder.

My first real notice of Jane was in 1996 when she spoke at a parent event about family read-aloud at my daughter’s soon-to-be elementary school. Years later, that encounter made its way into a book I was writing, Witness to the Dark, the story of that same daughter’s struggle to survive her teenage years.

Here’s that snippet:

Reading to the children was my one true passion. We’d been doing it for years. Nearly every night. When Patricia was little, I would read her Goodnight Moon, or A Pocket for Corduroy, or The Poky Little Puppy. Over and over. Night after night. For hundreds of nights. I always assumed that once Patricia learned to read, my job would be over. Patricia was pretty smart, so I was beginning to dread the day.

When Patricia was in nursery school, I went to a parent program at the local elementary school about family reading. Even though we already knew how to read, I decided to go anyway. And sit in the back. And listen. Just to make sure I hadn’t been screwing up my kid. It turns out that reading aloud to your children is OK. Good to know.

I learned two more things that night: The first is that children’s literature had changed since I was a kid. I sat there and listened to our town librarian talk passionately about books. Librarians are supposed to do that; it’s their job. But what I was experiencing was more than that. This lady actually believed that books were interesting. And she gave us some examples: Hatchet, the story of another Brian’s survival despite acts of unspeakable cruelty rained down on him by Mother Nature, and Holes, a new book about digging for clues to your own history. I had to read them.

The second thing I learned that night is you are allowed to continue to read to your child even after they’ve learned to read for themselves. No one does it, but it’s allowed. The next day, I went to the bookstore, snuck into the children’s section—a place where I had never been and where I thought fathers weren’t even allowed—found the books I was looking for, brought them home, went into my closet, turned on my flashlight, and read them all. They were amazing. Things had changed since I was a kid. These books were actually interesting. They talked about real problems. Real issues. Uh oh. Patricia was four.

That’s when I really started on my first Quest. I spent years searching for the perfect books to read to Patricia. We started with books that were a little calmer. Books I could read to her as we got ready to read the books I really wanted her to experience. And during that time, we found lots of great books. Books for younger kids. Books that dealt with younger kid issues. Eventually, I overcame my fear of bookstore clerks. And librarians. Since then, they have been a great source for ideas on important books to read to my children. I didn’t realize until years later that, like firefighters, librarians and bookstore clerks have a passion in life: To help fathers find the next perfect book to read to their kid. Or at least the good ones do.

As we read, I overcame another fear: The idea that a book, particularly a chapter book, is just too big to read aloud to a kid. It turns out that if you read nearly every night, for years, you end up reading tens of thousands of pages. That’s hundreds of books. The other thing reading did was put us together. I got to spend time—about 40 minutes each day—one on one—reading to each kid. I was never a good conversationalist, and I certainly didn’t know how to talk with children, but reading passed the time, and for a few minutes each day, at the beginning or the end of our story, we’d talk. About little things. About problems and worries. It made it so I really did know about some of the things going on in my children’s lives. And it made me accessible. I could talk to them. And they could talk to me.

—Pages 29-31, Witness to the Dark by Bob Larsted

A few years later, and again a few years after that, as each of my children had learned to read on their own, and it remained clear that I was still nearly the only parent in town who read to his elementary-school-aged kids, I helped organize another couple of these family read-aloud events. Our guest speaker? Jane, of course. She was only too pleased to spread her message to new generations of parents. And it gave me a chance to spend time talking with Jane about something she clearly still cherished—even after her promotion from Children’s Librarian to Library Director—her love of children’s books.

As my book began to make it way onto paper, as I began to read what I was writing about my own hometown, and, even worse, as I came to realize that I had managed to write more than ten thousand words without writing even one properly-punctuated sentence, I knew I needed some real help. So I walked into Jane’s office, sat myself down in her side chair, a place I’d visit many times over the next couple of years, and asked Jane if part of her job was to help budding authors in her community try to understand how to navigate a journey begun more out of need than of desire. Actually, what I really asked was, “Do librarians like you get stuck reading and commenting on every wannabe author’s great American novel?” She said yes.

Jane became one of my first, actual, early readers. And because she wasn’t family or a close friend (yet), she was able to tell me what she really thought. She started by asking two questions: 1) Why are you writing this? and 2) How can you tell an honest story if you leave out your wife and other daughter? And then she made two suggestions: 1) Cut the oil-burner story in half, and 2) Lose most of the drug details. Those were the first four of a whole gaggle of my most precious darlings laid waste by Jane and her sawed-off shotgun over the next couple of years. I appreciated every one of her comments. My book improved every time I managed to take a bit of her wisdom to heart.

As the book progressed, Jane helped me answer some of those questions. And she helped me find the balance between writing the book I needed to write, writing the book I was willing to write, and writing the book that my intended audience would find some solace in. For some reason, she let me get away with my self-invented grammar without a fight, and, as the book got longer and longer and kept referring back to that oil-burner story in more and different ways, she let me get away with cutting it by only a quarter, provided, of course, that I trimmed the rest of the book by that same amount.

Jane’s exit from Holden came as a big surprise to me and to others in town. She had become such an important pillar in our community we didn’t know what we would do without her. But a strange thing happened: as she moved away physically, she grew closer by way of her occasional emails and her more-regular, new blog. And we all managed to find ways to survive with and without her in new ways. Over time, it became clear that Jane had found true happiness in her new family, something that could only have come by taking a tremendous risk. I hope they found that same connection with her, and if the smiles in the Facebook postings are any indication, it seems they did.

On March 16, 2013, barely two months after my book was published, I got an email from Jane saying that she had written a blog mentioning my book and hoped it was OK because she was posting it later that day. OK? Jane’s blog was famous. Of course it was OK. (But only if she had something nice to say?) I spent several time zones holding my breath waiting for her to press the go button. Ultimately, I was so pleased with her comments that I asked if I could quote her. Months later, at an author talk, someone looked at Jane’s quote—right up there next to the Kirkus review on my little display stand—and said, “Is that by the famous Jane Dutton?” Of course it was.

How could there be more than one famous Jane Dutton?

I will miss her.


Judge’s Commentary

I entered the Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards Competition. Apparently I didn’t win, but I did get this nice commentary out of it:


Entry Title: Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions.
Author: Bob Larsted
Judge Number: 88
Entry Category: Life Stories

This is a very candid and carefully crafted look at the author’s young daughter as she struggles with a number of mental challenges. The author’s background as an engineer is both an asset and a parallel here; his skills at problem-solving as an engineer act as a mirror of his attempts to find professional help for his daughter as she struggles with suicidal impulses, depression, and other phobias. It is a no-holds-barred narrative without being overly dramatic. In addition, the volume carefully documents (as an engineer would do) the discovery process of finding the right help as the daughter’s needs change and as she ages. There are sample questionnaires, checklists, prompts, and questions that the author encountered as the guardi[an] and parent. Thus the volume proves instructive as well as informative all while sharing very candid and honest details about one family’s journey with mental illness. The author uses a clear writing style (again, as one might expect from an engineer’s orderly mind), but he also uses repetition and short, dramatic sentences as a way of building tension, releasing tension and pacing the work. For traditionalists, this abundant use of sentence fragments might seem too bumpy; others will find it effective. The cover is eye-catching but not clearly connected. The subhead, “My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions,” seems off kilter in that there is very little humor attempted here. In fact, the earnest tone is one of the volume’s assets. If that is meant as a satirical statement, it’s not clear.

— Judge, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards

Second Book Review

The second review is in for my book, Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions. I’m pleased. I’ve excerpted it here.




My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions.
Larsted, Bob
CreateSpace (262 pp.)
ISBN: 9781468150131; January 11, 2013


In this accessible, chatty memoir about his daughter’s struggles with mental illness, first-time writer Larsted narrates, in exhaustive detail, his rocky four-year journey navigating the perilous mental-health system, his daughter’s shape-shifting symptoms, intermittent hospital stays and behavioral therapy.

Larsted’s book is a labor of love addressed to a parent like him—one not well versed in the mental health field or particularly aware of the psychological sphere of the human condition—and yet thrown into the dark, deep end of it. The alarm first sounded when his 14-year-old daughter, Patricia, reported, two months after the fact, that she took 14 Tylenol. Larsted, starting from ground zero, had to find the guidance and treatment his daughter required. Because of his wife’s recent stroke, it was left to him to handle. Although the author considers this Patricia’s story, it’s Larsted who goes from being a self-described “aloof” old-school father to a nurturing, articulate advocate and near expert on coping with a child’s severe, undiagnosed mental illness. He emerges on the other side having kept Patricia safe through her precarious adolescence and having evolved into a wise and soulful man. Larsted’s prose is admirable in many ways: He writes with emotional honesty, deftly uses metaphor and analogy, balances the specifics of both the trial and error of medication and sympathetically details his often frustrating experiences dealing with psychiatrists. …

A heartfelt, valuable resource and source of comfort for parents of mentally ill children.

First Book Review

The first review is in for my book, Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times. A Comedy of Emotions. Wow! Is that what it is about?


ForeWord Reviews
Clarion Review


Witness to the Dark: My Daughter’s Troubled Times: A Comedy of Emotions
Bob Larsted
Four Stars (out of Five)

Bob Larsted isn’t the type of person who works out his problems in public. He had always made a point of “avoiding speaking in public—or to anyone for that matter.” And yet, the introverted engineer has written a moving memoir about his quest to find answers for his daughter as she struggled with serious mental illness. Witness to the Dark tells the very human story of a father who is just trying to do the right thing, even when he has no idea what that thing might be. Larsted’s self-effacing humor sets the tone for a book that easily could have become drowned in drama. The situation is undeniably dire. Larsted’s daughter Patricia has attempted suicide several times. She hears voices and has friends nobody else can see. Patricia spends her teen years cycling through hospitals and treatment programs, none of which offers a permanent cure. And yet, Larsted never resorts to a “woe is me” lament. Instead, he opts for an engineer’s problem-solving orientation: “Here’s what I did. Here’s how it went. And here’s how I screwed it up time after time and how I kept trying anyway.” Not surprisingly, sometimes it worked for him.

Larsted points fingers not just at his own frequent follies but also at the American mental health system that failed to provide consistent, competent treatment. Each chapter is headed with a simple illustration of Patricia’s ever-changing medication regimen—cut the round one in half, take two of the diamonds, and add one of the oblong—that calls vivid attention to the fact that her doctors are scrambling for a solution rather than planning a considered course of treatment. In all of this, Larsted is pretty much on his own. His wife, Kate, is recovering from a stroke, and his younger daughter, Beth, is busy being a normal teenager. Whatever role they played in Patricia’s treatment is minimized; Larsted chooses to leave them out of the narrative to honor their privacy, a move that may have been unnecessary given that “Bob Larsted” is itself a pen name, and all of the family names are invented as well.

Poems and e-mails from Patricia, notes to and from doctors, and some spot-on analogies about handling emergencies round out Larsted’s tendency to make a lot of lists. There are lists of Patricia’s dreams, lists of medications, lists of the dreaded phone calls to therapists (and the inevitable failure of the therapists to call back). Larsted acknowledges his own compulsive tendencies, though, with self-deprecating comments and gentle humor.

Parents will identify with Larsted’s tenacity in getting treatment for his troubled daughter, as well as the missteps he makes along the way. While he honestly recounts the enormous struggles he has faced, his story also offers hope that even the most ordinary parents can rise to the challenge and find help for their child.

Sheila M. Trask

The First Draft

I finished the first draft of my book today. It’s been in the works for quite some time. It was only recently that we made it to an appropriate place to give it a hopeful ending.

This means that I’m no longer a pseudonym, but a pen name.