by Alice Eve Cohen
At the age of fourty-four, after months of symptoms, doctor’s visits and inconclusive tests, I was raced to an emergency CAT scan for an abdominal tumor—which turned out not to be a tumor at all: I was six months pregnant. Somehow, my family, my marriage, my children and I all survived and thrived, despite (and maybe because of) the storm we weathered together. It took me a couple of years to regain my emotional footing after my unexpected and traumatic pregnancy. It took me much longer to write about it.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote, in her autobiography, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.” Bearing my own story inside me, keeping it a secret for years, was terribly painful. “This is the story you have to write, and you know it, Alice,” said my bullying subconscious. “Until you figure out how to write it, I won’t permit you to write anything.”
Because I am a performer—a solo theatre artist—I tried writing the story as a solo theatre piece, but I quickly discovered that I wasn’t ready to contemplate performing this story for an audience. It was too raw, too frightening. At that time, I could barely talk about the story, no less perform it. I shelved the project for years, and feared that I would never find my way back to it.
One day, quite unexpectedly, I started writing again—in absolute secrecy. I spent a year writing with a frenzied urgency, as if under a spell. I had to finish writing the story, or else—I didn’t know what else, but I was sure something bad would happen if I didn’t finish it. I became uncharacteristically superstitious: I was afraid that if I stopped writing for even a day, or if I told anybody I was writing this story, the spell would be broken, and I’d be cursed with that demonic and depressing stranglehold of writers block. For a year I didn’t even tell my husband that I was writing the book. That early writing process was something I needed to do [amazonify]0143117653[/amazonify]for myself, in order to make sense of what had happened, so much of which was still deeply troubling to me. Then I was able to edit, rewrite, and turn it into a book.
I wrote as honestly and candidly as I could about my personal odyssey. The comedy in my memoir helped me to write. My preferred survival mechanism in life is to find humor even in the most painful situations: I look for the story value in scary moments, for the absurdity in intolerable predicaments; I take great pleasure in self-mockery. Humor is an appealing unspoken contract with the reader. I want the humor to welcome readers into the story.
I imagine that the book will speak to anybody who has been through difficult times—which of course includes just about everyone. For years, I was unable to talk about my experience. Since writing the memoir, I have felt hugely relieved, and deeply gratified that readers have enjoyed the book and identified with it.
I have 1 copy of What I Thought I Knew to give away!
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