Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Interview with writer Mark Pendergrast

Writer Mark Pendergrast is chatting with me today about his new non-fiction psychology book, Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die (Upper Access, 2017).

Independent scholar and science writer Mark Pendergrast has written well-researched, critically acclaimed nonfiction books about a wide range of subjects. His books include The Most Hated Man in America; Memory Warp; The Repressed Memory Epidemic; Uncommon Grounds; For God, Country and Coca-Cola; Inside the Outbreaks; City on the Verge; Mirror Mirror; and others. He lives in Colchester, Vermont. He can be reached through his website, www.markpendergrast.com

Welcome, Mark. Please tell us about your current release.
The repressed-memory craze that tore apart millions of families in the 1980s and ̛90s has been repudiated by the consensus of scientists who study human memory. However, Mark Pendergrast, who helped to expose this scourge more than twenty years ago in his book Victims of Memory, now revisits the subject, and finds that it is coming back, perhaps as virulent as ever, turning loving family relationships into nightmarish battlegrounds. Pendergrast warns that we face great risks as individuals, families, and society at large if we fail to learn from—and halt—the resurgence of this shocking episode of our recent past.

What inspired you to write this book?
Like many critics of repressed memory therapy, I thought that most of the cases stopped in the late 1990s, but I realized that it is an on-going epidemic, and that new generations of journalists, therapists, and patients don’t know what happened 25 years ago. I documented how this disaster arose and why it has not gone away. I also discovered that repressed memories were heavily involved in the case of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, which led me to write another new book, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment (Sunbury Press, 2017).

Excerpt from Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die:

“Before” and “after” therapy letters such as these became all too common.

        May 1987
  Dear Dad,
   Just a note to thank you for taking such good care of me and my friend during our much-too-short stay. My friend is impressed and a bit envious of the loving relationship and open lines of communication which you and I share....I love you and I'm glad you're my dad!
                  Love "D"
  November 1989
    I am writing this letter for two reasons: (i) to attain closure for myself regarding my relationship with you and (ii) in the hope that you will seek help before you hurt anyone else the way you hurt me. I have spent 37 years of my life denying and minimizing the torture that was my childhood and adolescence...I genuinely hope this letter causes you to seek help—you are a very sick man. I do not wish to hear from you unless you are willing to admit the things you did to me and to seek help for your sickness.

It was ironic that “feminist” therapists were the avatars of this destructive phenomenon. One retractor (someone who later realized she had developed false memories due to misguided therapy) wrote poignantly about her own recovered-memory experience, in which she became convinced that she had so-called multiple personality disorder. “It robs women of all power and control over themselves. If I really hated women and wanted to keep them in a completely powerless and childlike state, the best way to do that would be to remove their faith and trust in their own minds and make them dependent.” That is precisely what happened in this form of “therapy,” which frequently managed, quite literally, to turn women into helpless, suicidal children clutching their teddy bears and shrieking in imagined pain and horror. The repressed-memory hunt breathed new life into one of the most damaging and sexist traditions in our culture—the subtle message to women that they can gain power and attention primarily through the “victim” role.
It is difficult to convey how saturated our culture became with the repressed memory phenomenon. In her 2010 memoir, My Lie, retractor Meredith Maran described her quest to recall how her father must have abused her. “I drove back across San Francisco Bay [in 1989], back to Planet Incest, where the question was always incest and the answer was always incest and the explanation was always incest, and no one ever asked, ‘Are you sure?’”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on a novel set in the time of Jesus.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have enjoyed writing since high school, and I started to write freelance articles for a local weekly newspaper in 1972, but it never occurred to me that I could write books and make a living that way. Yet I’ve been doing it since 1991.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like?
Yes, I write full-time.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t really have a “writing quirk,” but when I get absorbed in writing something, my wife can hold an entire conversation with me that I don’t hear.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I never thought about it. I don’t think I really wanted to grow up. I still don’t.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
The moral of Memory Warp is: The road to hell is indeed paved with the best of intentions. Be very careful when you are on a crusade. Educate yourselves. Research the facts. First, do no harm.

Thank you for joining me today, Mark.

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