In this excerpt from her book, The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, Leslie Jamison recalls how in the early days of recovery, she examined the work of newly-sober writers like John Berryman and Charles Jackson for clues about how sobriety would affect her as a writer. It wasn’t until she read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest that she found “proof that sober creativity was possible.”
Essayist Leslie Jamison visits the Breakup Museum in Zagreb, Croatia — created in 2003 after founders Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić ended their relationship — and considers what stories are told by the objects we shared with former loved ones.
An essay examining women’s long-standing conditioning away from owning and expressing anger, instead often sublimating their rage in sadness, which has historically been more acceptable.
Leslie Jamison profiles several long-term, hard-core users of Second Life, an online platform in which you create a fantasy alter-ego. Your “selective self” resides in a virtual world that allows you to leave behind everything you don’t like about yourself and your real life.
Leslie Jamison is stepmother to Lily, age 6. Lily’s mother died of cancer just before Lily turned three. Jamison explores fairy tale stepmothers both as the rare “port in the storm” and the much more common “stock villain” — stereotyped by cruelty, abuse, and withholding affection — as she reflects on her relationship with Lily and on navigating the fraught role of stand-in parent.
Leslie Jamison’s speech on writing about personal experiences. “If you honor the complexity of your own life—if you grant us entry into moments that hold shame or hurt or heat, and if you’re willing to follow that heat, to feel out where all the small fires burn, then your readers will trust you.”
The author of The Empathy Exams on the power of personal stories.
An affecting essay about medical acting, illness, and empathy:
I grow accustomed to comments that feel aggressive in their formulaic insistence: That must really be hard [to have a dying baby], That must really be hard [to be afraid you’ll have another seizure in the middle of the grocery store], That must really be hard [to carry in your uterus the bacterial evidence of cheating on your husband]. Why not say, I couldn’t even imagine?
Other students seem to understand that empathy is always perched precariously between gift and invasion. They won’t even press the stethoscope to my skin without asking if it’s OK. They need permission. They don’t want to presume. Their stuttering unwittingly honors my privacy: “Can I… could I… would you mind if I—listened to your heart?” “No,” I tell them. “I don’t mind.” Not minding is my job. Their humility is a kind of compassion in its own right. Humility means they ask questions, and questions mean they get answers, and answers mean they get points on the checklist: a point for finding out my mother takes Wellbutrin, a point for getting me to admit I’ve spent the last two years cutting myself, a point for finding out my father died in a grain elevator when I was two—for realizing that a root system of loss stretches radial and rhizomatic under the entire territory of my life.