arts & entertainment
In a run-up to this year's Jewish Book
Fair, the JAI speaks with former Detroiter
Ned Zeman, a Vanity Fair journalist who
has written a very personal memoir
about his struggles with mental illness.
Special to the Jewish News
ournalist Ned Zeman has pro-
filed Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez
and Michael Ovitz in a career of
prime assignments for major magazines,
but he recently finished his toughest pro-
file ever: himself.
Zeman, who grew up in Franklin and is
a graduate of Groves High School and the
University of Michigan, needed a whole
book to cover his grueling subject.
The Rules of the Tunnel: My Brief Period
of Madness (Gotham Books) describes his
mood disorder and the amnesia brought
about by electroconvulsive (shock) thera-
py. Throughout the narration, he refers to
himself as "you" instead of "L"
"The 'you' came out naturally because
I'm an amnesiac telling the story," explains
Zeman, 46, in a phone interview from his
home in Los Angeles. "I gathered the story,
assembled the facts I couldn't remember
and was essentially telling myself what
"I also have a tendency to depersonal-
ize, almost talking about someone else.
That's a way of removing myself from a
situation because it's too painful for me to
The memoir, recounting troubling
hospitalizations as well as enviable assign-
ments, explores Zeman's relationships
with family and friends, colleagues and
"I was half certain when I began this
project that I would not finish it," says
Zeman, a Vanity Fair contributing writer
also working on a screenplay about World
War II and considering another book. "It's
a bit of a surprise that I did finish, and
that was satisfying to me.
"Originally, it began as an effort to try
to put together a record of what I did
because there were almost two years that
had been wiped from my brain. I was
literally trying to write in chronological
order everything that I remembered.
"I started asking friends who saw me
every day to fill in the blanks. The more
they told me, the more surprising it
became. At a certain point, I had to write
this at length because I needed to under-
stand what happened and be candid about
things I had been hiding for a long time."
A major sensitivity in putting the his-
tory together was telling about actual
people, including girlfriends, and reveal-
ing their personal lives as well.
"The last thing I wanted to do was to
make anyone else uncomfortable," says the
author, son of Evelyn Zeman and the late
Miles Zeman. "If there was to be a bad guy
in the story, it had to be me.
"Those who were substantially in the
book were given the parts about them-
selves to read for accuracy and comfort
levels before the final printing. Everyone
said it was fine with a couple of niggles of
Zeman, whose grandfather ran the
kosher bakery holding the family name,
took his career goal from that of his older
brother, David, a Free Press editor who
has worked for the Detroit Jewish News.
He also is close to his other brother, Peter,
who is more into math and science than
"I further knew I wanted to be a writer
after realizing it was one of the few things
I felt I was good at:' says Zeman, who fol-
lowed his brother to Columbia, was hired
by Newsweek, became a freelancer, edited a
California magazine and was asked to join
Vanity Fair in 1997.
"If there was to be a
bad guy in the story, it
had to be me."
- Ned Zeman
Among his critical investigative assign-
ments was tracing the failure of the CIA
and FBI to track and capture the 9-11
hijackers. He also reported on the murder
charges against Robert Durst, whose fam-
ily wealth came from real estate develop-
Zeman's articles about adventurers Tim
Treadwell and Bruno Zehnder, Hollywood
agent Jay Maloney and literary mystery
man George Trow are described in the
book as holding special fascination
because the men suffered with mental ill-
ness similar to his own.
God, entering into the narrative, always
is referenced with a lower-case "g."
"I'm not a religious person so I didn't
see that reference as a name explains
Zeman, who celebrated his bar mitzvah at
the Birmingham Temple, played basketball
at the Jewish Community Center and sum-
mered at Camp Walden.
"I see it as a generic term, like heaven
and nature, not a formal title. I was
brought up as a humanist, and I'm not
particularly observant even as a human-
Zeman, still in therapy and on medica-
tion, considers himself infinitely better. He
defines his main problem as social anxiety
traced back to experiences in Michigan,
and he has made a strong effort not to
Thirty-five million Americans suffer
from clinical depression. Ned Zeman
never thought he'd be one of them.
"I learned a lot about myself from writ-
ing the book:' says Zeman, who regularly
returns to his home state for family visits.
"There's something about actually put-
ting your own story down on paper that is
"I learned how badly I misbehaved in
certain areas and that the arc of my illness
was largely my fault. The reason I got into
such trouble suffering from a mood dis-
order was partly because I didn't take care
"I wanted to do everything that was
easy, and I had to do the real work.
Medications and therapy are important,
but there's no quick route to feeling better.
I had to decide that I wanted to change."
Zeman, while introducing the book,
plans new writing initiatives that will be
geared toward others.
"I don't plan on writing about me for
quite a while he says. "I've had enough of
Ned Zeman is scheduled to speak
at this year's Jewish Book Fair
11:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 4, at the
Jewish Community Center in West
Bloomfield. (248) 432-5692; jccdet.
September 29 a 2011