Three years ago when Jenny Lawson published her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), I was still mostly homebound, not yet well enough to attend social functions. The night Lawson read at BookPeople, I threw myself a pity party as I sat at home staring at the clock knowing that just 20 minutes from my house there was an event happening that I wanted to attend but my health would not let me be at. It was crazy making for me.
This time around, my life is very different both personally and professionally. I am so grateful to be in a much better place. I’m still not able to do nearly what most people do on an ordinary day, but I am doing so much more than three years ago. Hence, I made plans to attend Lawson’s reading of her new book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, switching custody nights and various appointments so that I would have enough energy to attend the event. Yesterday afternoon, my body tried to give me a migraine, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from attending. I took the drugs I can take for migraines and headed out.
As I sat waiting to turn left onto Lamar to get to the bookstore, my stomach started churning with nervousness. Despite how much better I am doing, there’s always the fear that I will get to an event and not be able to physically handle it. I do still have to leave certain situations when the chemical fragrance is more than I can handle. After the issues I had last week around disability accommodations, I was really worried about what the Universe might throw at me. It’s still a physical challenge for me to get from point A to point B, and sometimes I just can’t do it no matter how much determination I have.
When I arrived at Bookpeople, the parking lot was full but mercifully the two disabled spots closest to the door were still available. Once in the building, I debated the stairs versus elevator issues I have, and I decided to take the stairs mainly because it was what other people were doing and since I haven’t been in BookPeople for 11+ years, I wasn’t sure where I was going. When I arrived at the top of the stairs at 6:40 for a 7 pm reading, it was already standing room only. There were no chairs available in my vision nor were there any places to sit on the floor anywhere within visual range of the podium. I approached a store employee and asked him if they had disabled seating; I let him know that I could sit on the floor but I couldn’t stand for the event. He asked if I had called ahead, and I had not because it hadn’t dawned on me to do so. I now know for next time! However, they had a few extra seats set aside as reserved for those who needed them. The reserved seats were in the first and second rows. At first, former Catholic that I am, I tried to sit in the second row (because Catholics never sit in the front row in church unless it’s the only available seating, and even then, sometimes they prefer to stand). However, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t sit in that second row because the seats were too close to the row in front of them and I couldn’t bend my legs at an angle that was relatively painless. So I moved up to the front row between another woman who was likely in her 20s or 30s and a senior citizen couple. None of them were loaded with perfume, thank heavens, so I was ok for the entire reading.
While we were sitting there waiting for the presentation to begin (15 minutes late), the older couple next to me were chatting with each other. To preface this, I have to say that I have issues around fame and people’s private lives being in the public eye. I had to do a great deal of personal work before I could be comfortable with having a website with my picture on it on the web. So part of me still feels strongly that what people choose to share publicly should be respected as the limit; paparazzi, reporters and fans should respect those limits. However, this couple next to me were talking about Hailey and Victor, Jenny Lawson’s daughter and husband, in a weird way that sounded like they knew everything about the Lawsons just from her blog. It was kind of freaking me out that I had managed to end up seated next to a couple of senior citizen stalkers who seemed to think they were actually part of Lawson’s life. It also was a reality call for me to recognize my own prejudice that stalkers are only young people. These senior citizens were teaching me otherwise.
Before the reading began, a BookPeople manager came over to our section with another employee and told us that he would be escorting us upstairs via the elevator to get our books signed first. I actually had not bought a book because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle the full evening and because waiting to get it signed at the last book signing I attended at another store was hard on my body. If I had known that BookPeople was aware of this kind of issue for the disabled, I definitely would have pre-ordered one; I now know that for future events as well. However, I’m actually grateful I didn’t order the hardcover because after listening to Lawson read two chapters last night, I really want to listen to the audiobook. I’m not a fan of audiobooks 99.9% of the time which makes this is an exception to my norm. Lawson also mentioned during her “no pants party” on Tuesday night that there is an extra chapter in the audiobook, so there’s that incentive as well.
When Jenny Lawson finally made her appearance, she looked around with grateful and amazed tears in her eyes and said, “Holy shit, you guys! There are so many of you here." She was greeted with a raucous round of laughter that along with her comment set the tone for the whole evening. It was a truly amazing crowd; I’d bet there were 250-300 people there. Lawson’s phone wouldn’t let her take a panoramic of the whole crowd because it was too big! (My leg is on the far right of the top photo; I’m cut out of it mostly, though.)
Lawson began by reading two chapters from Furiously Happy. After reading one in which she describes the advantages of passing out with a speculum in one’s vagina, she commented that she had been practicing looking up and making eye contact while she read about her body parts at the gynecologist’s office. When she actually did look up during the reading, she saw her grandparents listening to her read about her vagina. She then said, “Hi Granny and Pop-Pop!” and waved at the senior citizens sitting next to me. Oh. No wonder they sounded like they knew the Lawson family so well. They weren’t actually crazy stalkers after all! Not even once did it dawn on me that they might be relatives of hers even though she lives in central Texas.
Moving on to the Q&A session, Lawson began by addressing a question about parenting with mental illness; she gave a similar answer during her No Pants Party. She said that the amount of openness one can have with a child about one’s condition is going to depend on the age and personality of the child. Lawson said that her daughter Hailey knows now that she has mental illness, but Hailey knows that no matter how bad things are for Lawson that Lawson will always have time for her. Even if all they can do is watch Doctor Who or Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery Series together on the couch, it’s still time spent together. Lawson does not allow her daughter to read her blog though many of her daughter’s friends do. Hailey does get to read anything written about her and has veto power about what is said. There are some things about Hailey that Lawson doesn't share because she doesn't want her to be tormented by mean 14 year old girls. When Lawson does share something to Hailey, she reads the blog entry out loud so she can censor the language in it. Lawson believes that most kids are far more perceptive than we realize when it comes to what is going on around them.
Another woman from the audience asked how one balances taking care of one’s self when dealing with a mental illness and still actually managing to get writing done. Lawson responded that a great deal of it is about respecting the need to not write at times. She admitted that writing about certain topics can be triggering for her, especially the darkest parts. At those times, she had to give herself permission not to write and just take care of herself. She said her editor helped her to see that sometimes the best breakthroughs for writer’s block come when engaged in recreation such as when she was refilling her creative cup such as watching Doctor Who or reading. In addition, Lawson mentioned the phrase, “If you can’t write, just sit down and write.” She said that while that used to make no sense to her, she’s learned that some days that she has to write stuff that’s not very good but which will eventually evolve. Lawson said she’s got a thousand pages of stuff that may someday actually be good enough but they’re not there yet.
On a lighter note, someone asked Lawson if there was a piece of taxidermy she really regretted not buying. Lawson said that she limits herself in that the pieces must not be too expensive, they must have died a natural death, and they need to be old. She said the one piece that she is still haunted by is a unicorn at Paxton Gate in San Francisco which is actually a French horse head. She said it’s not white like the typical unicorn but brown and actually rather jinky looking. The unicorn is missing some of its teeth and is “so messed up.” From there, Lawson went on a very long-winded and extremely funny diversion about her Bank of America credit card recently being put on a fraud suspicion hold because Victor had bought a taxidermied beaver for her at Paxton Gate while he was there with a friend. Any transcript of the story would simply not do justice to Lawson’s fabulous storytelling ability. She’s just one of those people you could listen to for hours while she talked about almost anything because she could find a way to make it funny.
When asked which author Lawson herself would line up to meet, she said that she still has difficulty doing this because she’ll get in line to meet an idol and then panics when she gets close to the front. She said she is a fangirl of anyone who manages to finish anything, but more specifically she loves Neil Gaiman whom she got to meet backstage at an event. She also loves David Sedaris but she hasn’t met him; her friend Dylan Brody opened for Sedaris and got him to autograph a book to Lawson which says, “Any friend of Dylan’s is a whore.” (See comment 68 here). Most of all, she would bring Ray Bradbury back from the dead because he really does it for her.
A more recent fan asked Jenny Lawson why she began the Bloggess. Lawson said that many years ago she was working at a non-profit in human resources ironically teaching people how to act appropriately. She had actually started writing as a child as an outlet for her anxiety disorder. Eventually another mom blogger in Houston decided to quit her job because that blogger didn’t think one could be a good blogger and a good parent. Lawson decided she must be the crappiest parent ever because she volunteered to not only write on that blog but to do it for free. However, she was frequently getting in trouble for what she wrote, so eventually she started her own blog where she could write whatever she wanted without censorship. She said she now blogs to read the comments because the humor from her readers makes her laugh quite often. (And it's true. While I generally abide by the rule "never read the comments," I love reading the responses on her blog.)
Lawson ended the evening with a great question from a man in the audience: “What do you think of The new Doctor [Who]?” Lawson asked if they couldn’t discuss something easier like abortion. After loud laughter from the audience, Lawson said that she is still getting used to him. She thinks that it is an interesting take on The Doctor, and he is “way alien” but doesn’t make a very good human. He’s definitely not her favorite, but for her the pinnacle was Doctor Donna. And with that, Jenny Lawson closed the Q&A and headed upstairs to beginning the signing portion of the evening.
After 75 minutes sitting in the same chair, my body was definitely ready to leave. So much has changed for me physically since just four months ago when I went to see Chris Harrison's book release. When I left the book signing this time, I could feel that my body was exhausted, but I wasn’t having many of the symptoms I had when I walked out of the last event. I didn’t go into a lot of pain last night (aside from the migraine I was already trying to fight off), and I slept really well-- no fibro flares or any other assorted misery. I am so happy that my health is finally returning to a place where attending events like this is a reality for me. It was a wonderful evening filled with great people watching an abundant laughter. I was also incredibly grateful to have a positive experience around disability accommodation thanks to BookPeople instead of the obstacles I’ve encountered in so many other places of late.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC