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05/06/2010

Salon Sneak Peak: Emily Steinberg

Never Talk to Strangers?


The First Person Salon Spilling Your Guts invites three authors of revealing memoirs and blogs to take the stage. I was asked to interview one of these authors, Emily Steinberg, about her illustrated memoir, Graphic Therapy. Emily’s book offers a very intimate look into her life as a 30-something, struggling artist.


Initially, I was nervous to interview someone who had so completely shared her private life with the world. I have often had the impulse to relate my problems to complete strangers, but have always been afraid of censure. These fears are based on the following, oft repeated, experience: I meet a random person at a coffee shop, and begin chatting about something inane like the weather or sports. All of a sudden, the conversation changes, and this stranger starts telling me his life story, eventually, asking for my advice on his most intimate matters. The end result? I feel extremely awkward.


I never analyzed my negative reaction to receiving confidences from strangers; I just knew that having so much revealed about someone’s life made me uncomfortable. I began reading Graphic Therapy with a similar mindset. However, after several chapters, I realized that I was not at all uncomfortable. I related to Emily’s misadventures and rather than feeling put-upon by a stranger’s confession, I felt liberated to realize that I am not the only person who occasionally has bad judgment or goes through tough times.


Initially, Emily did not realize how truly revealing her stories were. But these candid descriptions of life, for the most part, have sparked a very positive reaction in readers. Many claimed to have had an experience similar to my own; they felt that Graphic Therapy was honest and easy to relate to. Others were made uncomfortable by her blunt descriptions, but still enjoyed the humor woven throughout the narrative.


Graphic Therapy was written over ten years ago, so quite a bit of time has passed since the events in the book occurred. Emily says she is thankful that she did not publish the diary immediately; the lapse of time gave her an opportunity to process and look at her experiences with a more objective eye. Emily occasionally cringes when reading her old diaries. She no longer suffers from extreme depression and self-doubt; and often feels like a completely different person from the woman described in the book.


Writing a graphic memoir also caused unexpected changes in her artwork; Emily began her artistic career as a painter. Graphic Therapy started as a sidetrack from painting, but eventually became a sort of obsession. Writing the book led to a completely overhauled experience of painting; she now feels freer in her artistic expressions and tends to make more immediate creative decisions. For Emily the process of pairing her illustrations with words is more exciting and rewarding than painting ever was. She is not sure if any of her future artwork will feel whole without some accompanying text. The experience of memoir illustration was such a positive one that Emily hopes to eventually conduct classes on graphic memoir writing at local universities.


In many ways, Graphic Therapy seems to have profoundly changed Emily’s life; she said to me that if you are open to new experiences, life has a way of opening up in return. My own experiences at First Person Arts have shown me that people can better relate to the story of an individual – like Emily – than to the history of an entire village. Talking with Emily and reading Graphic Therapy may have had a more lasting effect on my life than I could have expected. At the very least, I will approach strangers differently. You may even run into me at a bar some time, pouring out my own life story to someone I hardly know.


– Sarah Crawford

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