When Louise Krug graduated from college in Kansas and moved to Santa Barbara to be a journalist, she had nothing but sunshine and success on her mind. But before she ever started her real-deal reporting job with the Ventura County Star, disaster struck: While attending a premiere during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2005, her face went limp and her body went lame, the early symptoms of a spontaneously bleeding brain. She never made it to her first day of work and soon returned to her mother’s home in Kansas more needy than a small child.
In the months and years that followed, Krug learned that she was the victim of a serious brain injury called a “cavernous angioma” and began to deal with the consequences, both physical — double vision, facial paralysis, hearing problems — and emotional: the loss of her once stunning beauty, her promising career, her boyfriend. Against quite a hefty stack of odds, Krug managed to survive a risky surgery and start literally stumbling down the path toward recovery, discovering along the way that life isn’t just about being pretty.
Krug comes clean with all of these details in Louise: Amended, a literary memoir that was released last week by Black Balloon Publishing and came out in e-book form this weekend. It’s a deeply moving, inherently tragic tale, but one that’s creatively told from diverse perspectives with strong, brisk writing that manages to be both blunt and beautiful.
This past Wednesday, Krug spoke with me from her home in Lawrence, Kansas, where she teaches at the University of Kansas and is working on her PhD. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.
How did the book come to be?
I started writing it when I was in grad school getting my MFA in creative writing. Then after I got my degree, I realized that I wanted to keep going and get it published as a book and have it be more than just a school project. It definitely started as a healing, therapeutic type of writing, then it became more than that. It became an actual book that could be published. It just kind of evolved.
It seems like you had to do a lot of reporting to get other people’s perspectives.
I definitely did a lot of talking to my parents and my brother and Nick [her husband] about everything. I did a lot of talking to my parents about their feelings, like, “How did you feel when I still had double vision?” For the technical stuff, like the parts of the brain or what kind of surgery I had, I did a lot of looking back at my medical records. The only person I didn’t talk to was Claude [her ex-boyfriend]. I feel like there are still bad feelings. We haven’t talked about anything since we broke up.
The memoir plays with perspective, jumping from first person to third person. Tell me about that.
Before writing this book, I thought I was fiction writer. I read a lot of fiction, and I hadn’t read that much nonfiction. In a lot of novels, they do this all the time, looking from different viewpoints, and it makes the story a little more complex, a little more interesting. So I borrowed that technique and thought it might open up the story a little bit.
When I had the memoir just from my perspective, it was just kind of a pity party. It was depressing and kind of boring. It was just me complaining from my bed. So I tried this and ended up liking it. It was kind of an experiment.
Do you have empathy for Claude? He was kind of a victim himself, all of a sudden being burdened with a debilitated girlfriend.
I didn’t at first when I was younger. It’s just like any kind of relationship gone wrong: At first, you try to villainize the other person. But then you think about it philosophically. I really tried to put myself in his position. … I really tried to give him a break. It definitely got easier over time. I even had a writing teacher point it out to me, saying “Louise, you have to stop villainizing Claude. He’s just a person.” That teacher was totally right. That helped.
It’s an interesting idea to include copies of your medical records in the book.
We kind of decided to do it at the last minute. … It is a memoir, so it gives it an air of authenticity, that’s one thing. Another thing is that it’s just fun as a reader, when you are reading about someone’s life, the more you can get, the better.
And some of the documents are kind of funny. There’s an aptitude test that tested what kind of person I was, and it was really kind of horrible. I really tried to find the humor in a not very humorous situation.
You still aren’t fully healed, right?
I still have a balance deficiency. I still have double vision and still have to wear a prism in my glasses. I still have a partially paralyzed face. I guess I have a weak right side. All these things I can work on, but I am definitely not healed.
Is there any chance of full recovery one day?
There’s always a chance … but I think it’s gonna be like this for a long time. My family and I are just accepting the way things are and trying to live that way.
What do you hope people will take away from your story?
[Explains that an article she did for the Huffington Post got readers riled up, with more than 200 submitting comments.] I talk about how being pretty matters, and how when that’s taken away from you, you are treated differently. I’m just being honest. Everyone knows that’s true. It’s okay to admit that looks matter. It sucks, but it’s no secret. That’s one thing.
I just hope people understand that it’s possible in life to be happy — I have a beautiful daughter, a great husband, a great life — and unhappy at the same time. It’s possible to be happy but still wish things were different. I think it’s okay if people don’t admit that it’s totally great all the time.
Louise: Amended, A Memoir by Louise Krug (Black Balloon Publishing; $14; 192 pages) is now on sale both in print and electronic form. See louiseamended.tumblr.com/ and blackballoonpublishing.com for more info.