Thursday, June 14, 2012

Author Encounters: Jenny Lawson

Last Saturday was the best in recent memory.  I had the chance to attend the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in downtown Chicago and meet Jenny Lawson who many of you know as ‘The Bloggess’.  Printer’s Row was the last event on the third leg of Jenny’s book tour and I thought I would have a nervous breakdown when her Sunday appearance sold out in less than a day.  I was happy for Jenny that so many people wanted to come see her, but I was a little stabby nonetheless.  
Favors were called in and my very sweet friend  Stephanie Precourt even tried to get a ticket for me, but luck was on the side of the ticketless misfits because Jenny graciously added a Saturday appearance to her schedule.  So on Saturday morning Mom, Dad (he didn’t know what the hell he was getting himself into), and I headed up to Chicago and found Center Stage, where Jenny would be appearing, amid a see of books, authors, publishers, and voracious readers.  It was both overwhelming yet wonderful, and I spent a little time browsing before heading back to Center Stage to ensure a spot at the head of the line because I’m selfish like that.  
I was glad I arrived early because Jenny had a great opening act: an author named Sapphire who called all her characters ‘motherfuckers’ and probably didn’t realize she was Jenny’s opening act.  Anyway, no sooner had Sapphire finished her rant--I mean reading--did Jenny casually walk onto the stage and begin setting up for her reading.  It was sort of a pre-show watching Jenny wrap Copernicus the Homicidal Monkey around her microphone and lining up all her pill bottles on the table which created a disturbing yet festive display.  One of Jenny’s readers brought up a fan for her since it was unbearably hot and as Jenny fanned herself she said in that sweet Southern voice of hers, “All I need is a pool boy up here.” I thought about volunteering, but nobody wants to see me with my shirt off. Trust me.
When Jenny officially took the stage there were deafening applause of the rock concert variety.  Jenny was humble and admittedly surprised by the size of the crowd (over a hundred). For our earhole pleasure, Jenny read “The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door” which also happens to be one of my favorite chapters from her book.  She also added little side notes during the reading pertaining to this chapter including “No one told me coffee was a laxative...I know now,” and “Pepto Bismol contacted me. They were not pleased.” The latter was in reference to her being one of the one in six people who’s tongue turns black when they drink the aforementioned antidiarrheal. 
The reading was followed by a fun and enlightening Q & A section where Jenny promised to answer anything except algebra questions. I love learning about writers, about how they write and what they read. Jenny answered both questions saying that she loves Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, and Dorothy Parker. She also explained that, “writing is super lonely which is why I love blogging.” She addressed her anxiety disorder and told us that although she couldn’t always open up to people when she was growing up, “I always felt like I could open up to a book,” which is something a lot of us can relate to I’m sure. 
Jenny also informed us that she is working on another book that will focus more on mental illness and self harm.  Additionally, she’s writing a children’s book which I can’t wait to buy for my goddaughter (and myself). 
The Q&A ended all too soon and I suddenly found myself in the middle of an insanely long signing line. While waiting in line I was able to see Jenny’s great generosity and patience first hand.  She talked to everyone, signed everything, and took pictures with all her fans. No one was rushed and it was well worth the wait when I spoke with her. It surprised me how relaxed I was talking to Jenny.  I wondered if perhaps I was getting a Xanax contact high since I hadn’t taken any that day, but I think it was just Jenny’s positive and calming aura that just let the words flow out of me so that I could say everything I needed to say to her.
We had a great day at Printer’s Row and I’ll blog about the rest of the day soon, but today I wanted to focus on Jenny and the love she so readily gives to her fans.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened book by Jenny the Bloggess"I was still painfully shy and would have rather starred in a Tijuana donkey show than to have to make small talk with semi-stranger."-Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I used to think memoirs were for old people. I mean, they should be written by old/older/oldish people, because really, how many people’s lives were changed by Miles to Go?  Not mine, that’s for sure.  70 seems like a good age to write a memoir, don’t you think?  Well, that’s what I thought until I read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess. 

I first heard about Jenny last year when I was in Listen to Your Mother and I’ve been an avid fan/stalker since. Her wit, humor, irreverence, and unique perspective on mental illness have made her something of a role model for me.  In fact, “Let’s Pretend” is sort of my new Bible…not that I ever had a Bible to begin with, but if I did have a Bible, Jenny’s book would replace it.  Now that I’ve alienated all my Christian readers I’ll go ahead with the actual review.

“Let’s Pretend” met and exceeded every expectation I had and made me laugh like I haven’t laughed in months. Each chapter essentially stands on its own, but Jenny’s overall theme is that you can overcome any obstacle life puts before you as long as you have the right attitude. It’s more about the reaction rather than the action itself (kind of like in acting). It’s a lesson I’ve never really learned, but thanks to Jenny I’m hoping to get the hang of it.

For readers of The Bloggess, you’ll be greeted with the usual cast such as Jenny’s husband; Victor, her daughter; Hailey, and even her ever growing collection of taxidermy animals; Hamlet Von Schnitzel, Jean Louise, and James Garfield. They all get their moment in the spotlight and readers will feel as if they’re in Jenny’s rural home, seeing the chaos unfold first hand.  The book has a good flow, taking you chronologically through Jenny’s childhood in rural Texas, life with Victor, her time as an HR manager (one of my favorite chapters), as well as life in the here and now.  There are also lots of pictures, so even if you’re illiterate it’s still a fun book!  There is no losing side to buying this book. Trust me.

The book is not just fun and games by any means. Jenny is open about her mental illness and the brutal struggle she went through trying to have a healthy baby. Luckily, Jenny always seems to come out on top, even if it results in a sex concussion. That last bit will make soooo much more sense once you read the book.

I hope you will enjoy Let’s Pretend This Never Happened as much as I did. Jenny has done so much to help me feel unashamed of my own depression and anxiety without even realizing it. She has taught me that you can still have a fulfilling life even when the black days come around without warning.  The words that flow from Jenny’s beautifully bizarre mind are sure to give you a lot of laughs, and you’ll learn a lot about Jenny, and maybe even yourself. How’s that for deep?