Thursday, November 12, 2009

Survival Prayers

When I asked how long it took Abby Sher to write her memoir, "Amen, Amen, Amen" she replied, “I guess thirty five years. Or maybe two.”

It is Sher’s quirky, funny voice that takes the reader through her personal journey of terrors. "Amen, Amen, Amen" is an unusual story of survival and ultimate success about a woman who prayed to overcome Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Sher’s book is number five in the Fall 2009 list in O, The Oprah Magazine. Self Magazine awarded it “Book of the Month” and it won the “Reader Prize” in Elle Magazine. An inspiring triumph for someone who used to shred her dinner napkins at every meal then later suffered through anorexia and self-mutilation.

Last night Sher performed at Magnet Theatre in Chelsea. In the lobby, sat three plastic pumpkin heads. One had a post-it that read, “Dreams.” The other two, “Worries” and “Trash.” Erin Cox, of Rob Weisbach publishers, handed out sheets of notepaper and instructed guests to write their dreams and worries and deposit them into those heads. I asked what goes in the trash head. “Your trash” she said, “you know—used tissues, crumbled napkins, whatever you have.” “Yeeuw!” I cried. “Would a person with OCD feel safe touching other people’s germs?” She laughed and explained Abby washes her hands after the trash part.

Sher referred to the show as a “Jamboree.” It began with her playing a recorder, looking like a cute kid in red gingham dress with lace scoop collar. She sat in a chair cross-legged in black tights and Dr. Seuss-ish striped socks. Her most notable accessory was a kitchen colander upside down on her head. Seated next to her was a “cowboy,” a woman with a fake handle-bar mustache, bangs and long black braids poking out from a huge beige Stetson hat. As the cowboy played an acoustic guitar she sang, “I’m the sheriff with chronic fatigue syndrome. I’m so tired.” The audience burst out laughing.

Sher’s performance gave what she hoped readers would take away after reading her book. “A sense of hope, even laugh a bit. If any of my story resonates with someone I want them to know they can become unstuck and there are moments of feeling free.”

My favorite moment of the evening came when Sher, dressed as a Rabbi, randomly picked a dream out of a pumpkin head. She read it aloud and it was mine. “I want inner peace and euphoria.” She asked the audience if anybody had anything to say about how to get euphoria. A stranger next to me handed me a box of “Euphoria” Calvin Klein perfume. This was in no way staged. It was just one of those precious New York moments of freedom.

-Dorri Olds

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