An Incredible Talent for Existing: A Writer’s Story
A memoir by Pamela Jane
Open Books Press
An Incredible Talent for Existing (my primary talent growing up!) is the story of a troubled young woman who wants to be a children’s author but finds herself seriously derailed by radical politics in the 1960s. A personal, psychological, and political adventure.
About the Book
From her vividly evoked existential childhood (“the only way I would know for sure that I existed was if others–lots of others–acknowledged it”) to writing her first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, Pamela Jane takes the reader along on a highly entertaining personal, political, and psychological adventure.
The heart of the story takes place in 1965, the era of love, light–and revolution. While the romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with children running through the dappled sunlight, her husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills.
Their fantasies are on a collision course.
The clash of visions turns into an inner war of identities when the author embraces radical feminism; she and her husband are comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage; she is a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of her isn’t speaking to the other half.
And then, just when it seems that things cannot possibly get more explosive, her wilderness cabin burns down and Pamela finds herself left with only the clothes on her back.
Read an Excerpt
In elementary school, back in the 1950s, we were never given writing assignments, and I never imagined there were any living authors. I pictured a cemetery filled with tombstones of my favorite writers with their last names first, like card catalogs in the library: Baum, L. Frank 1856-1919. Writing – the pleasure of articulating interior worlds sensed but not seen – was something I did on my own. I was in eighth grade before I got a chance to write a story for school. My eighth-grade English teacher, Mr. Mortem, was a malevolent-looking man with a low brow and small beady eyes. We joked that he moonlighted as an axe murderer. But he was even scarier as an English teacher. He terrorized us with menacing-sounding exams called “evaluations,” which turned out to be ordinary multiple-choice tests. But he was the first teacher to give us an assignment to write a short story. “Remember,” Mr. Mortem called as we filed out of class, “no stories from TV!” I hardly heard him. I was … Read on
“A five-star read!–Story Circle Reviews
“Pamela has a way of describing things that I never knew existed, with eloquence that I had never read before. Pamela’s story is inducement to all writers who aren’t afraid to take their past experiences and use them towards the future of her dreams…her memoir is a lovely, simple, straightforward story that will touch the heart…” – a comfychair
“This coming of age story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Pamela’s writing lulls the reader into her life . . . almost like sitting down to tea with someone very wise and well traveled to garner their wisdom.” – Allie’s Opinions.com
“[This book] takes us masterfully through this story of a lifelong writer struggling to emerge.”—Deborah Heiligman, author, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist
“…incisive, funny, and touchingly candid evidence of the power of the stories we tell ourselves.” – Howard Rheingold, author, The Virtual Community and Net Smart
“…a harrowing story that invites the reader to experience the thrill and danger of the Sixties from a place of safety and acceptance. It’s the story of hundreds of thousands of women; our lives were huge experiments.” – Tristine Rainer, Director, Center for Autobiographic Studies, author, The New Diary and Your Life as Story
“Of all the hundreds of memoirs I’ve read this is the first one I’ve found that takes us behind the flashy images of Woodstock and hippies of the Sixties.” – Jerry Waxler, author The Memoir Revolution
“With an inquiring mind that always seems to race through time and space, Pamela Jane’s story unfolds and folds back upon itself…what distinguishes a mediocre or even good story-teller from a great one, is when we find ourselves unable to put a book down.” – Linda Appleton Shapiro, author She’s Not Herself
“…I started and finished the book in an entire sitting, due entirely to the magical way Pamela Jane weaves her story…this is a book not to miss.” – Karen Jones Gowen, author of Farm Girl and Lighting Candles in the Snow
“Jane has given us a book that will touch the life of every woman who has ever questioned who she is, where she is going, and what the future holds.” – Matilda Butler, Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story and Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep
“…a gem, a well-written and powerful memoir. I highly recommend it.” – Sherry Meyer, author
[Pamela Jane] describes her life with an effortless narration…the writing is excellent… it reads as something of an autobiography of an everyman (or everywoman) from the 1960s and beyond” – Inside the Inkwell
“Her prose reads like poetry and her imagination is like magic!”–Jacopo della Quercia, author, The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy and License to Quill
In 1965, when I was eighteen, I ran away to Portland, Oregon. Running away was an act of rebellion, but also of faith. In one beautiful leap I would escape my family, my past, and the insufferable person I’d been living with for the past few years—my teenage self. This person was quite obviously screwed up. She had way too many problems. No one wanted any part of them, especially me. In Portland I could reinvent myself and leave the past behind. My brother agreed to drive me to the airport on the condition that I stop to say goodbye to my parents. So on a gray November morning, I found myself driving down the flat Midwestern streets where the silent, respectable houses stared impassively out of the dawn. We turned a corner, and my brother slowed down. There it was—the familiar red brick bungalow with my writing alcove overlooking the maple tree. My brother pulled over and turned off … Read on