Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Years ago my Grandma and I used to watch a game show called “To Tell The Truth.” At the opening of the show, three people stride on-stage to the beat of the show’s theme song and line up side-by-side. An announcer asks each person in turn, what is your name please? To which question each answers with the same name. Then the host reads a description, for example: Jane Doe is a mother of three, a retired schoolteacher, and the barrel-racing champion of Colorado. A panel of celebrity guests have to determine, based on answers to a limited number of questions, which person is the real Jane Doe. Writing a memoir sometimes
feels like this, only I am both a panelist and Jane Doe.

At the recent KY women writers conference I met a woman who has something called “face blindness,” or prosopagnosia. She is the writer/teacher Heather Sellers whose memoir “You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know” comes out Oct. 4th. Here is a person who cannot remember her own face. And yet, this has propelled her toward identifying others by attributes equally as unique: their gait, their outline, their voices. The way she remembers others, identifies others, is a part of who she is and how she operates in the world. I think this is true of most of us, albeit in less obvious ways. How we remember each other, our lives and our relationships, defines who we are in the world and who we are to each other.

As a memoirist my job is to be true to what is in my memory and this also means being willing to accept that my memory is sometimes fallible. I had dinner with a friend the other night whom I have known for over 20 years. Once, in a land far far away, we were roomates. At that time she was dating a man who would become the father of her child. I do not remember ever meeting this man, although, my friend assures me, not only did I meet him; I have seen him in the buff. Don’t get any big ideas people, this was at a nude hippie beach in San Diego. But still, I have no recollection of that day or any of the several occasions on which she insists I met this man.

What I do remember is that I didn’t like him much. She found a pair of stray underwear that didn’t belong to her in his apartment once. He wouldn’t let her sleep in the bed next to him. He made her cry. A lot. And although he may be a brilliant musician, he has never met his daughter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking around hating on this guy, in fact I haven't thought of the man in years. She was and is the one I care about. She was the friend I had skulked around the mall with, sang along to Casey Casem’s top 40 with, went to umpteen girls volleyball games with.

My point is: to tell the truth we have to be willing to reveal ourselves—when I tell you what I remember and how I remember it, I am telling you what I care about. I am telling you who I am. Am I up to the challenge? You betcha.


  1. Very enlightening as to how our memory serves US !! Love ya