Today we’d like to introduce you to Lauren Marks.
Lauren, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It’s hard to tell when a book really begins–especially when it’s a memoir. But when I was 27, I was on a very different path. I was an actor, director, and Ph.D. student in New York City, and the summer of 2007, I was touring a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
While I was singing a duet onstage, an aneurysm ruptured in my brain, and when I woke up from my emergency brain surgery, I had largely lost my ability to speak, read, and write. I had to leave my life on the East Coast and returned to my parents’ home in Los Angeles, attending the speech and language therapy three times a week. My sense of identity shifted.
I was no longer a Ph.D. student, I could no longer read or write at any academic level. I wasn’t an actor or director-I couldn’t memorize lines or speak them intelligibly, let alone direct other people to do those things. However fractured my language was, I was deeply curious about this experience too, and I jotted down my impressions of this strange period of time in my journals.
In the beginning, it was therapeutic, something that was directly linked to my own language recovery. But over the years, it became a project in and of itself–a book. My book A STITCH OF TIME (which was published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster) serves as a sort of time capsule and a portrait of mind in construction.
Has it been a smooth road?
Some of the obstacles undertaking this sort of book are pretty easy to imagine–I was an author with a language disability! It took a long while to find the compensatory strategies to actually make this a feasible endeavor. If I had understood how hard and how long this writing project would take, I might not have started it at all. But blissfully, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
At some point, with the aid of technological assistance like “text-to-speech” software, I became able to access academic materials again, learning about the neurological condition I had acquired as a result of the aneurysm: “aphasia.” I never lost my ability to understand information, but I did lose the tools to do so. Text-to-speech software enabled me to access scientific journals, as the articles were read aloud to me, and I would use that same software with my own writing.
No matter how “recovered” I seem to those around me, I STILL make mistakes in my reading and writing, and if I am working at my computer, there is always an earbud in my ear. Even as I am writing responses to these questions, I am highlighting the words I am writing, and having them read back to me, so I can hear the mistakes I didn’t realize I was making. For instance, I initially wrote “seeing” instead of the word “singing,” “age” when I should have written “aid.”
These are very predictable mistakes for people who share this condition with me–they are called “phonemic paraphasias.” I replace words that SOUND the same but don’t share the same meaning. Luckily, my editing ear hears the mistakes, and I can correct them in (almost) real time. This rarely happens to me while I am speaking in conversation these days, but it still crops up daily in my correspondences and workload.
Unless messages are very short and straightforward, I listen to all of my text messages and emails before sending them to others. And if I hadn’t discovered this neuro-hack? I don’t know how I could have written my book. And the book was still a decade in the making, even with that assistance…
We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I am an author, speaker, and advocate–trying to bridge communities to have a better understanding about conditions such as mine. Since the publication of my book in 2017, I have spoken to literary, medical, and therapeutic audiences, and the feedback from this kind of work is thrilling.
But my injury was 11 years ago, and I have been lucky enough to pursue other work as well. Currently, I work at POPS the Club. “POPS” stands for “pain of the prison system” and serves youth with loved ones in prison. The organization partially focuses on self-expression, amplifying and elevating the writing and artwork from teens who have struggled with a lot of stigma and silence. It might seem a strange leap from jumping from realms that deal with disability to realms that deal with incarceration. But trauma is trauma. And I know what it’s like to not be able to tell your own story, and the paralysis that comes when other people tell your story for you.
POPS is a totally unique organization as well, embedded directly in high schools across the country. Shockingly, 1 in 14 kids have experienced a parent incarcerated and this number balloons when it includes other loved ones as well. This club creates a safe haven and a sense of belonging inside schools themselves, enabling a huge population to come out of the shadows. Again, this is why this work feels so natural to me. I can champion previously unheard voices and make the invisible slightly more visible.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
POPS has 14 clubs across the United States, but our flagship club was in Venice CA. We have eight clubs in the LA area alone. We love it here!
- Website: www.AStitchOfTime.com and www.popstheclub.com
- Email: Lauren@AStitchOfTime.com and Lauren@popsclubs.org
- Instagram: @laurenmarkshome and @popstheclub
- Facebook: @laurenmarkshome and @popstheclub
- Twitter: @laurenmarkshome and @popstheclub
Casey Curry, Shannon Donnelly, Brooks Girsch