Cole Cohen has a hole in her brain. Read the memoir about how she finally learned what was missing and her resilience in overcoming the disabilities associated with having been born without a section of her brain, completing her MFA, and writing a compelling memoir: Head Case. Cole's mini book tour ended yesterday with a party at Harry's after another successful reading at Chaucer's Bookstore in Santa Barbara. She answered five questions for La Bloga.
I was interested in hearing more about a question that someone asked at your UCSB reading. Specifically, how did you go from writing backwards and getting in trouble with the teacher for not conforming (at least it sounded as if the teachers were a bit judgmental and unkind about your disability) to deciding you were going to get your MFA and become a writer?
To me, these are not incompatible! The teacher who helped me with my backwards writing was my first grade teacher, who also taught us to sound out poems by Emily Dickinson and William Blake. She also encouraged us to write our poems. I started then and never looked back, I was lucky enough to have a great teacher who made all the difference in my life early on.
Your great relationship with your boss Emily Zinn sounds great and unusual. Can you tell us more about her influence in the book and what, if anything, she did to help you along?
Emily Zinn, the Associate Director at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UCSB, where we both work, knows that everyone who works at the IHC wears a variety of hats. I work with parents, professors, playwrites, and grad students. We all care deeply about the humanities for both personal and professional reasons. Emily is essential in creating an environment that allows me to pursue both my writing and my work at the IHC, and to see how they're connected.
In addition to the diagnosis being a huge relief, you've also made a big splash with the book, including an excerpt in Vogue, interviews on NPR and a cover story in the Santa Barbara Independent. What was the moment when you realized something important and more than noteworthy was happening with your book?
There hasn't been one moment but the book is really about connecting with people who feel different and alone, so I'm really glad that it's finding its way in the world.
|Cole Cohen's memoir, Head Case (Macmillan 2015)|
Your disability is somewhat invisible. Can you talk a little about what has been the most challenging in getting institutions such as Social Security to recognize your disability?
And does it bother you when people without holes in their brains tell you stuff like, 'oh, I'm bad at math' or 'I can't tell my left from my right' or 'I forget things all the time'?
I had to figure out how to work within a big system that isn't ready-made for unique conditions, so it took extra work to make it work for me. That said, I'm glad that there is support even if it's labyrinthine. It actually helps me when when people relate, it doesn't bother me at all.
|Cole Cohen at UCSB|
Finally, I've very impressed with you. I'm sure if you had a whole brain, you would be a genius, considering you don't go around wearing your disability on your sleeve. At least, I've known you for about a year now and I had no idea you had this gaping hole in your brain. I attributed your condition to being shy. Are you used to trying to mask your condition or tired of explaining yourself or?
No, I'm not trying to mask or tired of explaining myself, I'm pretty open about my condition. That said, when I first meet people I don't lead with that information because it's just one facet of who I am. It always turns up organically the more time that I spend with new friends, just as I'm also learning more about who they are.
Next Saturday. Santa Barbara Poet Laureate, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle hosts The Poetry Zone, same time, new venue.
June 13, The Poetry Zone Moves to the Book Den, 4pm,
15 East Anapamu Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Saturday's features are Juan Delgado and Carol DeCanio
Juan Delgado has been poet-in-residence at the University of Miami. He is a professor of creative writing, Chicano literature, and poetry at California State University, San Bernardino. Read more about him at the Poetry Foundation.