Being You

I have said that when I interview writers I am less interested in the book they have written than the journey he or she took to write it. I was reminded of this again as I was doing a little pre-interview research on a memoirist I will be speaking to (as of this writing) very shortly. The writer, Alexandra Fuller, had written a memoir in 2001 (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight) about her childhood in Africa during a time when then Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe was going through a convulsive, racial, post-colonial civil war. I found an archived radio interview and had a listen. Of course, the interviewer wanted to talk to Ms. Fuller about Africa. And understandably—the topic is juicy with race, war, justice, and historical implications. Fuller had a front row seat for it all and wrote compellingly about what she had seen. Her latest memoir, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, also takes place largely in Africa, and in Fuller’s hands it remains a very interesting place.

But not, at least to me, as interesting as she. Politics and justice and art and all the rest are curious enough—but tell me again what it feels like to be alive. Tell me again what you remember about being alive once upon a time and tell me again why you thought something was important and then you discovered that something was not as important as simply being alive and interested and moving onto the next thing.

I can feel so lonely when I read newspapers and listen to stories about Places and about What Happened and about Who’s To Blame. I never feel lonely when someone tells me again what it feels like to be alive. And a writer telling me why she wrote a book and why it was easy here and hard there sounds like life as I have lived it, both at and away from the desk. I can forget from time to time what it feels like to be me. Hearing what it feels like to be someone else often reminds me.

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