Thursday, May 14, 2015


I recently finished an amazing memoir by Heather Sellers* called You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

Ostensibly, the book is about face blindness, but I admire how she handles the trickiness of talking about her mother's undiagnosed schizophrenia and her own undiagnosed condition, mixed with alcoholism in her father and others, and still comes out talking about love.

This is from the afterword, and I love it:
In childhood, it’s our parents who give us standards for experience: “Here’s an inch,” they say.  “And this is a foot.” And a child says, “Thanks! I can make my own yardstick now.” In my family, there wasn’t any kind of calibration demonstration. In the chaos, I struggled to figure out anything at all…
And then one day I went home and turned on the lights, and began to look clearly at my childhood. Gradually I could discern what was, and what was not…More than anything else, laying out the story of how I came to see has brought me to clarity.
But I discovered something else in writing this book, something even more graceful and vital than the elusive “perspective.” In all that darkness, there had been love. What I’d felt all along was not a fantasy, not yet another misinterpretation. I loved my parents. I wasn’t wrong about that. And somehow, against all odds, my parents (especially my mother) were able to bring their versions of affection into our world, into our family, as well. I’d set out to write a book about how we learn to trust our own experience in the face of confusion, doubt and anxiety. What I ended up with is the story of how we love each other in spite of immense limitations…
The discovery that deeply flawed love and deeply flawed vision can coexist has been life-changing for me, and I feel uniquely able to illuminate it…Face blindness helped me to stay open to possibility – motivated me, on the cellular level, to try to know and understand what can’t easily be seen.
I hope that, at least in some small way, this story will help steer others toward clarity, and toward love, in spite of the greatest odds.

I deeply relate to this experience in writing memoir: recognizing love. The moment, the moments, of seeing how it was there, is there, despite it all. It's a powerful recognition, and absolutely necessary. It's harder to write stories out of the link to truth of story than vengeance or vindication, as Laraine Herring recently addressed. But it is possible.

And for me, in my process, the recognition of real love is really the only reason for surviving, and therefore, the only reason for memoir.

*Heather Sellers is also an amazing writing teacher. I cannot get over how pithy, smart and funny her book Page after Page is. Read it.

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