Book review: Calling all nonconformists: Explore your inner FREAKDuluthian Sarah Seidelmann’s “Born to FREAK: A Salty Primer for Irrepressible Humans” is a bold, funny, in-your-face memoir/self-help manual with a funky presentation that sets it apart from mainstream advice books.
By: Maureen Maloney, For the Budgeteer News
Duluthian Sarah Seidelmann’s “Born to FREAK: A Salty Primer for Irrepressible Humans” (self-published, 2012) is a bold, funny, in-your-face memoir/self-help manual with a funky presentation that sets it apart from mainstream advice books.
In addition to her credentials as a physician specializing in pathology, Seidelmann is a certified life coach and, at the time of the publication of “Born to FREAK,” was enrolled in a Shamanic Studies program. New Age meets “Saturday Night Live” in this sort of surfer girl’s guide to inner peace.
With her traditional, whole-person, and spirit-world approaches to addressing mental and physical health, plus her artistic drive, thirst for adventure, and extrovert tendencies, Seidelmann has produced a sassy and humorous “primer” of lessons extracted from her own personal experiences. She reaches out to like-minded people and also encourages those who want to understand “freaks” to read this book.
What Seidelmann has to say about finding your strengths, accepting your shortcomings, and following your dreams may not be entirely new. However, she puts it into language that probably appeals more to those who think outside the box of traditional self-help advice.
The book’s topical chapters are arranged in an alphabet book for adults (rated R for strong language), complete with illustrations, talking animals, and jazzy fonts. Seidelmann’s unique lexicon of self-help includes off-beat terms such as Change Agent, Divine Porpoise, Hocus-Pocus Focus, Jonesing, Kerfuffle, Off-Leash, and Reckless Disregard.
Seidelmann employs a sort of alter ego, an elephant named Alice (a symbol of wisdom) to dole out nuggets of advice throughout the book. Alice’s advice is the kind you might see on decorative signs in an alternative gift shop; instead of the more prosaic “Keep calm and carry on” or “Live well, laugh often, love much,” Alice encourages: “Let your defects shine. They’re what make you so f***ing kick-a**” and “Be a student of absurdity. Tap into some whack-a-noodle. Doodle. There’s magic in the impossible.”
There are other lessons from the animal world, too — you’d be surprised what you can learn from the black mamba snake and the honey badger.
The art of encouraging people comes naturally to Seidelmann, dating back to her days as a mascot at Duluth’s Cathedral High School. “Even back then
I was cheering people on,” she recalls. Later, in her professional career, it played a part in her humane approach to patient care. She and her sister, comedian Maria Bamford, share a passion for confronting mental health issues head-on with humor and compassion.
At one point in her life, Seidelmann took a six-month sabbatical to step back from her demanding career and spend more time with her husband and four children. She spent a good deal of it walking in the woods with her dog, and came out feeling more connected to the wilderness and what it can teach us.
Seidelmann is no stuffy dispenser of platitudes or anemic pats on the back. From A (for Attention Deficit Disorder) to Z (for Zugunruhe), she inspires confidence to boldly go where conventional folk dare not go. Who cares if people look at you funny? Express your strangeness proudly and go after what makes you happy! It’s the first step toward bringing about positive change in the world around you.
Seidelmann’s counseling style is very personable. It’s easier to imagine discussing life issues with her over a bottle of wine than in an office with a desk between the two of you. Although she does engage in some shameless self-promotion throughout the book, she is self-effacing, honest, and engaging, and profound.
One of the most entertaining parts of the book appears at the very end. Normally a book’s index is intended to be a useful referential tool that’s consulted only when the reader is looking for a specific bit of information and doesn’t want to browse the main body of the book to find it. The index of “Born to FREAK,” while maybe not terribly useful, is hilarious. You won’t find entries for “anthropology” or “melanoma” or “empathy” there, but who cares: You’ll just get distracted by “abby-normal,” “mayhem, unwanted,” and “dolphin, inflatable” anyway, and want to read the whole index just for laughs.
As much effort as it takes to publish her book, it is apparent that Seidelmann took a lot of pleasure in crafting this one. She says of her decision to self-publish, “It’s like running a marathon. Once you decide to do it, you just go for it.” She hired an editor and a designer to help carry out her vision and researched the various avenues to get it into print. “Born to FREAK” is also available for Nook and Kindle e-readers.
Not the least of Seidelmann’s many gifts is her fabulous ability as a storyteller. It would be wonderful to see fiction from her — it would no doubt be FREAKY and kick-a** and
Maureen Maloney is a reference librarian at the downtown Duluth Library.