What Gives

 Jenny Lawson, on the left, and Laura Mayes, on the right, at Mom.20. 

Jenny Lawson, on the left, and Laura Mayes, on the right, at Mom.20. 

Last month, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, at Mom 2.0, a conference for parenting writers. I find conferences overwhelming, but I stuck around for every minute of Mom 2.0 because I learned something cool in every session.

The afternoon of the last day, I was tempted to retire to my room for some much-needed quiet time, but Jenny Lawson, “The Bloggess” was on the schedule. I’m a fan of Jenny and her work, so I gulped down a cup of coffee and headed in to the session.

The room was nearly empty, so when the start time came and went, I figured Jenny's session had been cancelled. But a few minutes later, she appeared onstage, clutching a giant white binder adorned with pictures of taxidermied animals. She was accompanied by Laura Mayes, her friend and co-founder of Mom 2.0.

Frankly, Jenny didn’t look so good. She was pale, and shaky, and scowling. She certainly didn’t look as if she wanted to be there. As Laura wandered up to the microphone, Jenny settled in to her chair on center stage and made stress faces.

Jenny, Laura announced, was there to read from her new book, Furiously Happy. Alas, Jenny looked anything but.

As soon as she began reading, I understood why. Furiously Happy is a memoir about the dark and scary monsters under the bed. Furiously Happy is funny, because Jenny is funny, but it’s also unflinching, and terrifying.

We watched, captivated, as Jenny yanked her monsters out from under her bed, one by one, and named them for us. She was frightened, but vulnerable, and honest. Above all, she was brave.

As I watched Jenny name her monsters, I realized it was time to name mine.

That day, I was part of a panel on publishing with Gabrielle Blair, Katie Workman, Bill Braine, and Doug French. Doug, who was moderating, asked the audience to raise their hands if they had a book they wanted to write (everyone’s hands went up) and to raise their hands again if they felt they just did not have time in their busy lives to write that book (many hands went up).

When it was my turn to speak, I argued that they do have time. If you really want to write that book, and you look closely enough at your life, you will find that there’s something that can give, something less important than the book. Something that maybe needs to give anyway.

I paused, unsure of whether or not to go there, but I took a deep breath, seized my monster by its spiky, slimy, venomous tail, and yanked.

“When I sold my book in 2013, I knew something had to give. For me, that thing was alcohol. I knew I had a problem, and I sure wasn't going to be able to drink and write my book. In that equation,  my book was more important.”

This Sunday, June 7, I will celebrate my second year of sobriety at my favorite AA meeting, the first meeting I ever attended. I will greet newcomers as they arrive at the door, because I was greeted at the door when I first arrived. And at the end of the hour, I will collect my two-year medallion in front of the same people who supported me the night I took my 24-hour medallion. 

The same people who, over the past two years, have helped me name my monsters.

So thank you to those people, and to Jenny Lawson. Because, as she wrote recently, “I thank people who help save me.”

Now go. Go figure out what gives, and write your book.

 

This is Adolescence: 15

Fifteen isn’t easily impressed. The details of my teaching and writing, his father’s doctoring, his little brother’s imaginary battles for world dominance – these things rate a nod, maybe a raised eyebrow, but no more. To offer more might be interpreted as enthusiasm, and fifteen doesn’t do emotional histrionics.

He does, however, do opinions. Specializes in them, actually, and as he’s come of age with a cell phone in his hand, Fifteen’s lifelong verbal reticence has been supplanted by the convenience and emotional remove of the text. Texting allows Fifteen to voice his feelings and opinions everywhere, all the time, a sarcastic Greek chorus of one.

When a recent marital debate took a nasty turn into discord, my pocket began to vibrate. I suspected some sort of alert, a flood warning or approaching electrical storm, but no, it was just Fifteen, texting color commentary on our respective arguments from the next room.

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When the fighting is over, and peace is restored, Fifteen rolls his eyes at our displays of affection and tolerates our need for hugs, but we are to understand that he does initiate that sort of sappy nonsense. Fifteen’s particular brand of affection is served up dry, with a dash of wit and superiority. And like any great chef, he metes it out in tasting portions, just enough to delight, never enough to fully satisfy.  

When discourse sneaks over the line from affectionate into mushy during three-way text conversations, Fifteen offers subtle cues that he's maxed out, and would like to be excused, thank you very much.

However, despite all appearances, Fifteen loves me. Of that I am certain. His displays may be rare, but they are all around me, all the time. I feel it when he’s playing guitar in the kitchen, and switches from his favorite song to one he knows I adore. I hear it when he talks about his English class, and the unexpected realization that he, too, likes poetry.

And then, when I’m most hungry for it, he lets me see it as well, offering up an abundant feast right before my eyes.

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This is the fifth post in This is Adolescence, a series conceived by Lindsay Mead and Allison Slater Tate. Please also read (click on the number to make the jump) 111213, and 14, and keep following along for 1617, and 18