Based on my entirely anecdotal, but undoubtedly accurate research, motivational quotes have got to be the least successful method for enacting measurable change in people’s behaviours. Oh they make for terrific Facebook and Pinterest fodder but a quick look around on any given day clearly indicates they are having zero impact on the people who view them. Or post them, for that matter. Except, of course, when they do, which for me is reading a quote that becomes a nagging reminder of why I’m never going to accomplish anything in the field of writing. Just a hunch but I suspect this is the opposite of the quote’s speaker’s and poster’s intent. (Using three possessives in the same sentence like that could be another reason for my lack of success in the literary world.)
One such quote that haunts me every time I plunk myself in front of a keyboard and for which I can’t recall where I read it or whom spoke it, so grant me the freedom to wildly paraphrase here, is as follows:
“Write the kind of stuff you love to read.”
On the surface this seems brilliantly simple. Some good ole common sense spoken eloquently and succinctly that is just begging to be written in an authoritative but artistic font and adorned with a modest but poignant drawing like, say, a quill pen before taking its rightful place in my Facebook news feed. But dig a little deeper, as I have on too many occasions, and this quote becomes an ambition arresting nightmare.
How the hell am I supposed to write the kind of stuff I love to read when the kind of stuff I love to read is the kind of stuff that leaves me awestruck for opening my mind to something I’d never thought of myself? In other words, I should think of something I could never think of and write a story about it? No daunting task that! Just think of something like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the first high school English required reading that I actually read cover to cover, leaving me stunned that we were allowed, no forced, to read something so gloriously deviant in school. Or Stephen King’s Christine, the first novel I ever read just for pleasure, which left me with embarrassing goosebumps as a car attacked and killed a person in their own house. Or Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, something I read over four days isolated on the Canadian Prairies with Comet Hale-Bopp a fixture in the sky and the philosophizing of Jubal Harshaw inducing a meteor shower of thought in my head. Or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a book whose basic idea so delighted me in its originality that I devoured more of his writing which lead me to The Graveyard Book which delighted me even more. Or Jenny Lawson’s, well, pretty much anything and everything this woman writes.
I Have Never Read Anything This Bizarre
I first learned of Jenny Lawson after I started my own blog and was googling things like “funniest bloggers” and “most popular bloggers” and “bloggers who have truly and honestly made bazillions of dollars by doing nothing like everyone thinks” in order to fast track my own path to internet success. Online she is known as The Bloggess and she’s a phenomenon of sorts which has led to a book deal, the actual high water mark for any blogger unlike the aforementioned and oft dreamed about bazillions of dollars.
Rather than spend hours and days trying to catch up on her blog of many years, I chose instead to read her first book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, a self-described “mostly true memoir”. By the time I finished it, a moment that occurred far sooner than anticipated thanks to my inability to put it down, any minute hope of writing stuff I love to read had been thoroughly and unequivocally bleached from possibility. I have never read anything so bizarre, so hilarious, and so staggeringly unique in my life. I was left a confused puddle of awe and bewilderment, much like it feels, I presume, to fall in love with a serial killer.
I never willed myself to write a review of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I had no idea what to say and a single line review (read this book) seemed unworthy of a blog post. You should read it though, I highly recommend it. Just don’t read it while you’re eating or drinking unless you enjoy foodstuffs exiting via your nose and be sure to wear absorbent undergarments if laughing makes your bladder fickle. I, thankfully, have neither problem but I also typically don’t audibly chuckle while reading and I truly did myriad times while reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. You’ll also snort, gasp, question, exclaim, and periodically interrupt a stranger to share a wickedly and comically preposterous passage.
Luckily for all of us, Jenny Lawson has recently had a second book published, Furiously Happy, and I’ll be damned if I miss this opportunity to tell you about both it and its precursor. While Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was a collection of life stories, Furiously Happy takes this tried and true template and deftly incorporates some serious, soulful discussion of her personal struggles with an array of mental illnesses. The addition of this difficult subject is both jarring and welcome, adding something new and worthy to what easily could have been a still funny but redundant second book. In a lovely illustration of irony, you’ll finish the first book thinking Jenny Lawson must be certifiably crazy then begin the second book and learn that she actually is.
I say that fully realizing that it’s not Kocher to call the mentally ill “crazy” but Jenny openly and gleefully uses that term throughout Furiously Happy, so I figure in this context a little impropriety is warranted. It’s shocking at first, there’s no doubt about that. You feel like you’re reading something illicit but eventually the political correctness force field deactivates and you begin to appreciate the candor. If anything, the irreverence towards mental illness shown by The Bloggess is part of the book’s charm; a palpable, passionate “fuck you” to a disease she not only endures in some of its worst manifestations, but with the help of doctors, friends, and family is also controlling and slowly conquering. Besides, I’ve had my own skirmishes (minor by comparison) with depression and members of my family have battled mental illness (some winning, some losing) and I’m kind of partial to this Chuck Norris attitude towards it.
Between the honest, gut-wrenching yet inspiring essays about real life depression, anxiety disorder, impulse-control disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and depersonalization disorder are dozens of extraordinary tales just as outlandish and uproarious as those found in Jenny’s first book. I came away from reading Furiously Happy unabashedly jealous of a clinically diagnosed crazy person. Half the time I can’t believe any of it is true and yet if she actually were just making it all up, I’d be even more envious knowing she can concoct such wonderfully absurd fare! I just love reading this stuff. The language and style make these ridiculous stories such a treat to read. It’s so unlike anything else I’ve read, shocking your sensibilities and twisting your mind and tickling your heart without resorting to the sordid self-confessional sex life nonsense that is so popular in these non-celebrity memoirs.
But perhaps the best part of Furiously Happy, at least for me personally, is what it has unwittingly managed to do with regards to that haunting inspirational quote I talked about up there. After a full book and a half of Jenny Lawson’s diabolical humour that left me entertained but ultimately resentful that I’ll never be able to write the kind of stuff I love to read, page 222 of Furiously Happy gave me perhaps the greatest gift of all; hope.
You Have Beautiful Nostrils
Riffing on the old adage her grandmother proffered that “it’s what’s inside that counts”, Jenny spends a few delightful paragraphs talking about how she compliments people with gems such as “I’d wager you have an exquisite pancreas” or “I bet your tendons are fantastic”. Funny, yes, but hardly earth-shattering insight except if you’re me and are responsible for this witness-verified how-did-you-two-get-together story. Many years ago, at a pub after work, mutual friends were trying to instigate a relationship between myself and my eventual wife by encouraging me to tell her something nice. Having had a couple bevies, enough for strength and courage but not enough to be obnoxious, I sat down beside her and uttered the now legendary “I think you have beautiful nostrils; very symmetrical” much to the eye-rolling of my friends. So you see, I CAN think of stuff like the stuff I love to read! And for that, Furiously Happy may just be my favourite book of all time.
I absolutely recommend Furiously Happy to everyone unless you’re offended by weirdness and cussing in which case stick to your Reader’s Digest I guess. This is a terrific book (as is its predecessor Let’s Pretend This Never Happened). I give these books a combined 5 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. Go read these books. They are fun and ridiculous and wonderful and, in the case of Furiously Happy, even enlightening. The strobing spotlight shone on mental illness will unsettle you and comfort you. Jenny Lawson’s bravery in both embracing her crazy and fighting it is more inspiring than any quote that’ll show up on Facebook.