After reading the title of Lorna Lee's book, How Was I Supposed to Know? The Adventures a Girl Whose Name Means Lost, a Memoir, I wondered whether I would be reading a memoir or a self-help motivational book. On the back cover Lee asks the prospective reader a number of questions. Have you ever "felt as if you've never gotten over your childhood" or "looked at your life choices and asked 'what was I thinking?" Have you ever "wished you knew then what you know now" or "had trouble maintaining a healthy relationship?" Have you ever "been told that you're 'too sensitive,' 'the problem,' or 'an alcoholic'" or "wished you fretted less and laughed more?" If the answer is yes, then Lee assures the reader that this book is for you.
I certainly can answer affirmatively to many of her questions, and as I began reading, I wondered (hoped even) whether Lee was going to help me resolve all of my angst. How Was I Supposed to Know? is indeed a memoir—one that is most enjoyable. With self-effacing humor, she shares her tales of a good-girl youth, alcoholic teen, mismatched marriage, fulfilling career, responsible parenthood, and premature retirement.
Early in her marriage, when she is in her late twenties, Lee first asks herself "Who am I?" She tells us, "in a rare moment of clarity while skunk drunk, I realize just how self-centered, heartless, and deceitful I had become. I no longer displayed the qualities I wanted others to think of when they thought of me..." Lee, "whose whole life was about proving my worthiness to anyone who cared to pay attention to me," sets out to prove herself to her husband. She becomes sober and a good parent, earns a PhD, and pursues a career as a college professor. She spends quite a bit time discussing her deteriorating marriage, noting that she has always suffered from "Confrontation Phobia," and describing how difficult it is for her to finally reach a point where she moves from "where did I go wrong" to "I can't live like this. I deserve better."
A debilitating Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome followed by brain surgery complicates Lee's life. At 48, she is "prematurely retired." No longer able to teach, she begins writing stories about her childhood that she describes as "therapeutic and safe," reminding herself of the lighthearted Lorna whom she "didn't want to lose in light of all her marriage and health problems." What follows are tales of her determination not to define herself by disability and move beyond an "in-valid" Lorna.
She tells a story of attending a Deepak Chopra lecture. She'd won her ticket to this event by submitting the question: "What's the difference between giving up and letting go?" Enlightened by his response, Lee begins to find some peace and stasis. Self-reflection and self-care ensues, leading her in unexpected directions and more tales of her "curve ball" life.
Throughout this book, Lee successfully entertains her reader with a series of anecdotes of one tough life. Her tales are incredibly upbeat and many times just plain funny. This reader never felt sorry for her. Indeed, Lee's energy and drive and overwhelming desire to get things right are motivational. Her culminating reflections on her contentment with "being me" are inspirational.
How Was I Supposed to Know? was awarded Best Memoir 2012 by the Adirondack Writing Center. In 2010 she was a finalist in the Memoir genre of the in their Writer's Digest Annual Writing Contest with her short story, "Monkey Business." Her novel, Never Turn Back, based on the true story of her grandmother's life, was published in 2014. To find out more about Lee and her current shenanigans, visit her website.
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