JOHN KERASTAS has worked at a global advertising agency, at several technology start-up companies and as a free-lance writer. Now, in addition to non-profit work, he spends his time blogging (www.johnstumor.blogspot.com), speaking and writing about brain health, brain tumors and rehab.Memoir Honesty
One of the big challenges I faced in writing my brain tumor memoir was “honesty”: being honest with my reader, being honest with my family, and being honest with myself. Honesty takes some courage. And when I first learned about the tumor, I felt anything but courageous. This feeling was exacerbated when, after the first operation, I learned that my IQ took several large steps backwards.
Learning about my cognitive dip felt like a body blow because I used to think that my noodle was pretty darn good. The online intelligence test I took, though, didn’t lie. It clearly showed that I was significantly dumber (slower, cognitively-challenged, pick your euphemism) compared to, well, almost everybody my age. I now feel that the book’s narrative didn’t really become compelling until I was honest with my readers about how bad my cognition was and how I dealt with it (i.e. not particularly well). I also became particularly aware that all my friends and family would read it. Part of me kept saying, “Do you really want your mother to know you sent embarrassingly blunt emails to old colleagues? And do you don’t really need to admit that, while sitting in a hospital bed waiting for a prosthetic skull implant; you flunked an imaginary job interview with yourself? Who would know?” I would know. And somehow, I knew that my section on post-operation employment worries would hit false notes without it. Richard Bach famously said “The worse lies are lies we tell ourselves.” He’s right. The seductive memoir trap is to tell yourself that you were more courageous during those operations, more accepting of the consequences, and certainly better looking than that those pictures your wife took. But the fact is that I wasn’t particularly courageous, that I avoided thinking about the consequences, and that those awkward pictures showed a guy who looked like he was auditioning for a part in a bruised banana commercial. Perhaps the good news in telling the truth about operations gone awry, about my excessive denial of cognitive challenges, and my truthful admission of numerous social blunders is that, honestly, it made for a much more interesting story.