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Rob Lowe on “Truth Vampires”

You might recognize actor Rob Lowe from his TV and movie career, but in 2011, when he released his memoir, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” the world learned he was a damn good writer.

So when I read his second book, 2014’s “Love Life,” I expected the writing chops. I expected the storytelling abilities. I expected something entertaining, light, and frothy.

Never have I been so glad to NOT have my expectations fully met. “Love Life” is entertaining, yes – but also deep, vulnerable, and insightful.

We learn about Rob’s exotic day job, yes, but Lowe also explores his time in rehab and recovery, the benefits of marriage, and reveals how hard he and his wife of 25 years, Sheryl, worked to give their sons normal childhood experiences – something of a challenge when their father has one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. (Rob somehow managed to coach his son’s grade-school basketball team, and chaperoned school field trips.)

Today, I’d like to focus on one of the observations Rob makes in “Love Life”: that artists are “truth vampires,” that we tend to absorb life’s little details, sometimes standing slightly outside our own lives, feeding from its essence. We observe, then mentally file away what something looks like, smells like, feels like, tastes like, so we can faithfully render the experience later, in our work.

This, as Rob notes, can be…problematic for those who love us. In this excerpt from “Love Life” (pp. 38-39), Lowe describes having a “truth vampire” experience when his wife’s father, Norm, was dying:

We had to try to get to the hospital right away; the prognosis was grave.

I rushed home and collected Sheryl, who, in shock, was picking out the right shoes to wear for the occasion. Looking at her, pale and shaking, standing in a pile of footwear, I thought, “I need to remember this.” I pulled her out of her trance and into the car.

At the hospital, we rushed to the emergency room. A doctor who looked disturbingly young barred the door. “You can’t go in. We are fighting to save him,” he said, closing it in our faces.

I led Sheryl to a quiet corner where we could watch the ER door. Time expanded and contracted, as it seems to do when crisis surrounds you. Minutes felt like hours and yet everything happened at once. I held my wife’s hand but I didn’t dare meet her eyes.

Eventually the ER door opened. The young doctor began to walk toward us.

“I need to remember this,” I thought. His face betrayed no hint of the outcome. There was no “tell,” which Norm, the inveterate poker player, would have been looking for in this ultimate moment of truth.

“This is just like you see in the movies,” I thought as he opened his mouth to speak, yet in fact, it was nothing like the movies.

“I’m sorry. We did all we could.” His eyes were sympathetic yet businesslike. He was appropriate and decent, but there was nothing more to say and so he didn’t.

I held Sheryl as her knees gave way. Norm was the moon to her, bigger than life and always somewhere on the horizon. She was a little girl who’d just lost her daddy. I held her as she cried.

I hope I was a good enough husband to her on that terrible day. I’m sure I could have been better somehow, maybe stronger or perhaps comforting in ways I didn’t think of then. We got through it as well as could be expected and now, years later, I realize why my inner voice had split me off from the unfolding reality and had urged me to remember the awful details.

It’s because I’m an actor. And actors play real life. Actors play doctors who give bad news and actors play daughters who lose their fathers and we play shock and horror and dismay and we can’t do any of it, not honestly, unless we have been paying close attention to those moments in our own lives.

It can make you feel like a cipher, standing outside observing, taking mental notes. Or worse, like some vacant pretender, feeling and participating in the moment only partway, while you file away the details in an ever-expanding emotional toolbox you must fill to successfully ply your trade.

It is the details of human experience that matter. And as always, what even the most talented screenwriter could write pales in comparison.

Does anyone else find this excerpt…oddly comforting? SOMEONE FOUND A WAY TO DESCRIBE THAT WEIRD THING I DO! How, at random moments, a piece of my consciousness kinda…steps away, steps aside, to take a mental (or sometimes a literal!) note instead of fully engaging in the here and now. Instead of fully engaging in what’s happening in my life.

Thanks, Rob Lowe! I feel less abnormal. I do this because I’m a writer, an artist – and noticing the fine details and tucking them away for later, feeding from life’s essence, is my job.

Job description: TRUTH VAMPIRE. I like it. But then again, I write paranormal romance, so liking vampires is somewhat of an occupational hazard. 😉  

Any thoughts about Lowe’s work, the excerpt, or the concept of truth vampires? Care to share a “truth vampire” moment of your own?

-tammy

— who just received notification that the publishing rights to her first two books, TASTE ME and CHASE ME, have been reverted! Look for reissued and new Underbelly Chronicles books in 2017.

 

 

19 responses to “Rob Lowe on “Truth Vampires””

  1. Wow! I’m totally impressed with Rob Lowe now. That excerpt was beautiful.
    As a writer, I’ve been a Truth Vampire of course. Sometimes I use it as a way to survive a situation – stepping outside my screaming head to notice the details of the faces and movements around me. I say to myself that it is because I need to remember this for my writing, but that’s only half the reason.
    Hearing someone tell you that you have cancer or when you watch the round lights overhead as they wheel you into another surgery room – the fear and anger can overwhelm. But as a writer, I have a tool, one that allows me to watch and remember the details as if I’m studying them for another book. It helps me step back out of the thunderous emotion, even for a brief moment, to breathe.
    Thanks, Tamara, for the great post. Heather

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Heather, I think the kind of…dissociation you describe – that Rob describes – is a survival skill that some of us are forced to develop out of sheer self-preservation, due to life events. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals over the years, and for me, it’s the smells that stick with me the most. In ENTHRALL ME, the book I’ll release in 2017, I pulled a lot of those memories and observations out of long-term storage, interpreting hospital scents through a were-shifter’s heightened sense of smell.

      What a truth vampire workout!

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  2. Rita Henuber says:

    I don’t recall ever thinking I need to remember a moment. I’ve always felt in stressful times there is another me inside my head keeping a log while outside me is dealing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to stick my finger into a USB port and download the log. That is if I have the courage.;-) Great post Tammy. Thank you.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I’ve always felt in stressful times there is another me inside my head keeping a log while outside me is dealing.

      Rita, this starts feeling automatic after awhile, doesn’t it?

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  3. jbrayweber says:

    I have always loved Rob Lowe. And not just for his eternal good looks. He has alway seemed humble to me, even during his darker years. Someone I have always quietly rooted for. I am and yet I am not surprised by his talent at writing.

    As for that thing, that disassociation, I absolutely adore how he worded it. So spot on. I am aware that I do it, that filing away reactions and emotions, but the older I get the more I consciously know I am doing it and why.

    Beautiful post, Tammy!

    1+
    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I’ve always enjoyed Rob’s work – he and I are about the same age, so he’s always been on my radar – but I started developing a less, erm, SUPERFICIAL appreciation for his work when he appeared in “Wayne’s World” as a hilariously sleazy producer. Comedy chops, he haz them. 😉

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  4. I’ve been waiting for your this post ever since I saw it on the sideboard, Tammy, and you did not disappoint! I will confess that as someone who just watch the entire series of West Wing I thought your post would be about Rob Lowe’s character as the speech writer for the President of the USA and he strived to get right word right.

    The example you shared definitely showcases his talent. I wonder if he received advice from Arron Sorken, or he just absorbed the muse.

    Great post and as always your reading suggestion is on my buy list. I get wait to read more.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Autumn, I hope you enjoy the books. I did, very much – so much so that they’re on my Keeper Shelf. There are a couple of great “West Wing” stories in “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” including one where sitting Pres. Bill Clinton pitches “West Wing” story lines to Sorkin and Lowe during an Oval Office visit. 😉

      I have to admit that, being so close to the holidays, I struggled with what to call this blog post. I even looked for images of vampires with Santa hats on, but came up empty…

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  5. You and Rob are speaking my language, Tamara. As a journalist and later a novelist my job has always been to chronicle truths of my world. Many times I’ve found myself on the fringes…observing, gathering, and tucking away bits and pieces of people and places and events that later appear in my story worlds. It’s what I do, but it’s also who I am.

    On my wedding day twenty-seven years ago this month I remember standing at the back of the church with my father before we walked down the aisle. I remember the act–almost physical–of pulling myself from one of the most important events of my life and taking mental notes of the sights and sounds and feels. At the time I remember thinking normal brides don’t do this. I’ve since come to realize that ARTISTS do. 🙂 It’s a matter of loading our palettes with plenty of paint.

    1+
  6. Such a fantastic description of that detachment I feel sometimes. I think sometimes people think I’m cold or too calm/collected when I shouldn’t be, but inside I’m feeling all the feels. It’s just that I’m noting things for later. Thanks for sharing this, Tamara!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I think sometimes people think I’m cold or too calm/collected when I shouldn’t be, but inside I’m feeling all the feels.

      Me too, Anne Marie – but the older I get, the less I care what other people think of me. I see controlling my emotional reactions as emotional intelligence. Or embracing my inner Mr. Spock. 😉

      1+
  7. Addison Fox says:

    Wow, this is an incredibly powerful post! And such a clear way to explain what does happen at those moments. I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy, but I do think the artist keeps their observation hat on through all emotions – joy, sorrow, pain, happiness. All of it’s fodder. We don’t see ourselves as “vampires” on the good moments, but it’s the same experience, being filed away, catalogued for a later time.

    Powerful post, Tammy. Crazy powerful!!

    Addison

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy, but I do think the artist keeps their observation hat on through all emotions

      This is a great way to put it, Addison.

      Writer Susan Sey, a good friend of mine, and I have talked about how difficult it can be to have a personal point of view about a subject or a topic, because writers can see valid motivations for just about ANY action or point of view! We’re the ultimate devil’s advocates. 😉

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  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    I just love Rob Lowe. Awesome post, Tammy!

    He does describe that weird double-consciousness really well. And it IS our job to analyze and reflect the world back to others.

    I’ve heard theater described as “a lie that tells the deepest truths,” and I think all fiction works that way. If artists don’t observe the world, how else can we see it clearly?

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      –> I’ve heard theater described as “a lie that tells the deepest truths,” and I think all fiction works that way. If artists don’t observe the world, how else can we see it clearly?

      So true, Elissa.

      1+
  9. Liz Talley says:

    Wow! So much this. I sometimes wonder if something’s wrong with me because I do that. I commit things I sometimes should be feeling more to memory. And the thing is…I say those EXACT words. I should remember this. I need to remember what this feels like, the expressions, the joy, trauma, disbelief, pain.

    This is an awesome look into what it’s like to absorb the life you live.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Isn’t it amazing how many of us recognize this experience, and wonder whether there’s something wrong with us because of it? Rob describes it as feeling like a cipher, or a vacant pretender, but I think it might be extra-loaded for women – for partners, wives, daughters, and mothers – who tend to perform the lion’s share of emotional labor for their family members. Taking a moment to observe, taking a moment for ourselves when others need us, can produce a lot of guilt!

      The next time this happens, I’ll cut myself a little slack. “Hey, I’m working here.”

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