I met the Bloggess (aka Jenny Lawson) recently at a book signing for Furiously Happy, her second book. (Her first book was Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.)
The space at the bookstore was full to overflowing. (People had driven for as much as five hours to see her.) Jenny read two chapters of her new book to riotous laughter and applause. There was a brief Q&A session. (I figured she got the same questions all the time and wanted to ask her something that no one else had. I imagine that writers on tour need a little variety.So I asked: If you could be any animal, what would you be and why? Her answer: A tapeworm, because I could just not move and have people feed me.)
I joined the signing line (#17). She signed my copy of her book (“Our story is not over.”) and I showed her the semicolon tattoo that goes with that saying. She also signed my armadillo purse (Erma) and a piece of glass for my husband, who wants to put it over a picture of her or of a vagina; he hasn’t decided which. She laughed. He was one of the many that ask for perhaps her most famous – or at least most quoted – phrase, “Knock knock, motherfucker.” (It comes from her story about leaving a giant metal chicken on someone’s doorstep. There were also a lot of metal chickens she was asked to sign.) The bookstore personnel made sure that everyone knew it was okay to ask for that. In fact, they announced it just before the signings, reassuring the shy or inhibited.
The title of her new book, Furiously Happy, is Lawson’s way of telling depression to fuck off: If part of her life is misery and pain, she’s going to damn well make the most of the parts that aren’t. And while she’s at it, she’ll spread the word that mental illness is not a thing to be hidden or ashamed of.
This is not to say that her mental disorders are cured or that she no longer suffers from them. She was clearly anxious when reading aloud the two chapters, and visibly relieved when that part of the evening was done. Her strategy is to laugh at mental illness, joke about her meds, and speak bluntly to those in the audience who also suffer or have a person in their life who does.
Furious Happiness is a worthy goal, and her out-there enjoyment of life leads her into some of the hysterical situations she has written about in both books. These are the stories that make you say – only you, Jenny! Then she turns around and tells you that you are just like her in the ways that count.
The readers of her books and her blog – thebloggess.com – have formed an odd mutual support community. Although we may feel alone, Jenny rallies us to be alone together. Since one of the major difficulties with being a psychiatric patient is the feeling that no one else understands or experiences the same feelings, bringing people together in the virtual world or between the covers of a book is a valuable form of networking, especially for those who can’t network any other way.
Myself, I can’t manage the Furious Happiness. Too long dealing with the black dog and relatively little experience of even the mild highs of hypomania have left me depleted. Jenny will just have to do it for both of us. This is not to say I don’t love her or her work. I do, despite the blog post that I wrote, “Seven Reasons I Hate the Bloggess” (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-56). I can see myself in her and her in me, but for the moment I’m not able to follow her exuberant example. But she gives me hope. And I’m sure that’s one of her most important goals.