August 12, 2012

Imagine: By Jonah Lehrer

It's been several weeks since my last post (actually, it's been more than a month, but since I only have two official "followers," I doubt anyone but me is counting!).

This summer has been filled with lots of living. Happy living.  Sad living.  Ecstatic living. Dark night of the soul living.  Reading. Thinking. Journaling.

Blogging...not so much.  The experiences I've been living this summer do not have close ties to the themes I have set out to address in my blog.  I'm sure there are connections, but I haven't discovered them yet (or I haven't chosen to introspect closely enough to recognize the connections).

In the past weeks and months, I've traveled to Greece with my family (a beyond-incredible experience).  I've juggled the emotional and physical challenges of all FIVE of my (living) parents experiencing dramatic medical events (this after helping to care for one of my six parents before she lost her fierce battle with cancer last year).  I've mourned the changes in my family now that my SMom is no longer with us to bridge the relationship between two quarreling family members that I love.  I've engaged in a stress-induced spat with one of my sisters, then found myself flooded with forgiveness as we've tightly held each others' hands through the journey of supporting the parents we share.

I've been filled with mixed emotions watching my own children grow and mature in amazing ways as our family has taken in the highs and lows of this unforgettable summer, and I've found strength and solace in their laughter and hugs. I've lashed out at my husband for sharing (spot-on) perspectives I wasn't yet ready to hear, and I've marveled at the life I've shared with this wonderful man for 27 years (24 of those in marriage, come the 19th of this month--yes, we married when I was five). I've eaten more chocolate than I care to recount, and I've read some glorious books.  One of those books, IMAGINE, by Jonah Lehrer, is what I'd like to write about today (and maybe longer).

I heard Jonah Lehrer interviewed on NPR about his latest book when I was driving my daughter to gymnastics one evening last school year.  I was fascinated and hooked, and immediately put the book on hold at my public library.  A copy became available just before our family left for our summer vacation, and so I packed a (hardcover) library copy of IMAGINE to Greece.  I LOVED this book. I DEVOURED this book.  I was COMPELLED to highlight, underline, and dog ear passage after passage in this book.  But, alas, it belonged to the library, so I could not mark it up.  Instead, I marked hundreds of beloved, thought-provoking passages with torn strips of sticky notes.

I read passages out loud to my (patient) husband and children (and possibly a few strangers).  I insisted that my husband read the book after I was finished (AND I suggested that he pass it along to his boss and team of fellow administrators).   I went to the bookstore after my return from Greece and bought my own copy of the book (and diligently transferred all of the sticky note strips from the borrowed library copy to my new, personally owned copy).  I bought a copy for my sister, and I talked it up at my writing group.  Chapter by chapter I was inspired and motivated.  I was even moved by the final acknowledgement on the last page of the book (to Rosie, the author's young daughter, who arrived in his life toward the end of the writing process): "Rosie! . . . I can't wait to see what you become, although I'm already certain that you're the best thing I'll ever help create."

Imagine my surprise when I learned (from my husband and children, no less) that NPR recently reported that Jonah Lehrer admitted to fabricating some quotes (amongst other journalistic transgressions), and the book was being recalled by his publisher.  Like contaminated food.  Another hero bites the dust.  I fell in love with a fraud.

I lamented to one of my writing partners, Sara T. Behrman, that I was glad I'd been too busy to write a review of the book, as I'd intended (procrastination finally pays off!).  She encouraged me to reconsider.  To go ahead and write a review.  To start a conversation.

I'm glad for her suggestion.  Here is the deal: The quotes in that book may not be authentic.  The author may well have repurposed his earlier writings without requesting appropriate permissions from his previous employers.  The stories he told may have been exaggerated or fabricated.  But gosh darn it, the words in that book awakened something inside of me. The stories inspired me.  The ideas intrigued me.

I'm gravely disappointed that Jonah Lehrer cut corners. I'm sad that he lied. I'm deeply bummed that someone that I looked up to for about a month turned out to be a cheater.  But I'm not going to let that stop me from growing.  I will re-read those delicious words I highlighted with scraps of sticky notes, and I will reflect (albeit with a grain of salt) on what those words, however true or false, might mean for my own creative life.  I will look for connections and meaning.  I will look for insights and opportunities.  I will look for good in the midst of disappointment.


  1. If the words had been anonymously written, they would have been no less inspiring to you. I am glad you will continue to examine why the words in this book awoke something in you and take from those words whatever meaning you glean.