I will confess that I do not follow The Bloggess,aka Jenny Lawson. I found out about her because some Facebook friends posted a link to her blog entry “And That’s Why You Should Learn to Pick Your Battles,” about a large metal chicken named Beyonce. It was hilarious and so I checked The Bloggess’s web site (www.thebloggess.com). I saw that Lawson had a book coming out (including the Beyonce story), and I bought it based on the one essay I had read. If you like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, Lawson should be on your reading list. Like them, Lawson’s focus is often on her dysfunctional family, highlighting the warts but written with great humor and love. She also writes unflinchingly about her own struggles with anxiety and OCD but never loses the funny. It’s an amazing feat, in my opinion.
This is a great book for quotes — pretty much every page had some witty/snarky/hilarious comment on an outrageously unbelievable but mostly true event in her life. “The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door” is about Lawson’s attempt at a colon cleanse using excessive amounts of Ex-Lax. According to Lawson, “…there would have been no way to maintain the sensual mystery of womanhood if anyone had heard the noises coming from that bathroom.” The chapter on her 15 years in Human Resources,”The Dark and Disturbing Secrets HR Doesn’t Want you to Know,” is especially rich in hilarity. Some of my favorite quotes:
- “Choosing to work in HR is like choosing to work in the complaint department in hell, except way more frustrating, because at least in hell you’d be able to agree that Satan is a real dick-wagon without having to toe the company line.”
- “…HR is the only department actively paid to look at porn.”
- “…sometimes you get brought in for an interview just to settle a bet.”
Lawson kept a notebook about the most interesting cases that crossed her desk over the 15 years, which involved a surprisingly large number of penis photographs being emailed or left in the office printer.
Taxidermy is a running theme throughout the book. Lawson’s father has a taxidermy business and once presented his daughters with a genuine dead squirrel puppet. Lawson has some unusual “stuffed pets” of her own including a boar’s head named James Garfield, an alligator named Jean Louise and a mouse, Hamlet von Schnitzel, who is featured on the book’s cover. [I still haven’t figured out how to put a picture in my reviews. I tried very hard to include the cover with Hamlet von Schnitzel.]
Even truly sad experiences, such as miscarriages, the death of her dog and her struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and OCD, include some humor. Lawson describes the agony and terror of attending dinner parties where she would hide in the bathroom due to anxiety. This might seem surprising as you read her intelligent and witty blogs, but she explains, “…I can actually come across as reasonably witty and coherent in e-mail, because I have time to think about what a normal, filtered, mentally stable adult would write before I press ‘Send.'” Real life/real time situations are a very different matter. Here is her description of what an anxiety attack feels like:
“I feel the panic build up like a lion caught in my chest, clawing its way out of my throat. I try to hold it back but my dinner mates can sense something has changed…. I vainly hope they’ll [people on the street who see her after she flees the scene] assume I’m just drunk, but I know they know. Every wild-eyed glance of mine screams, MENTAL ILLNESS.” When her friends or husband of 15 years Victor find her, she won’t talk and they assume it’s because she is embarrassed, but she writes, “I keep my mouth closed tightly because I don’t know whether I could stop myself from screaming if I opened my mouth.” This is a serious, honest depiction of what must be a traumatizing experience, and yet later in the chapter, Lawson is able to inject the humor again. After a particularly disastrous dinner party experience, she says, “…Victor made me leave, swearing to never take me to another dinner party again. It was hard to argue with him, but I did point out that the party was kind of a win, because no one saw my vagina. Victor says we have different definitions of what a ‘win’ is.”
I especially love Lawson’s Epilogue, in which she looks back over her life so far and writes “…you are not defined by life’s imperfect moments but by your reaction to them.” She is an excellent example of this, and she recognizes the importance of her family and friends in helping her through the imperfections.
I would like to finish by declaring that I initially felt weird reviewing a book by a popular blogger whose blog I’d never read , but I now feel that by buying the book instead of reading the blog, I am a better Bloggess fan. Some might argue that those who have followed the blog religiously, Tweeted with her, and provided fodder for her writing are better. But I bought her book. That’s money in her pocket. And I bought it on my Kindle which means I can’t even share it with anyone. If you want to read it (and you should), you’ll have to go buy it your own damn self. You’re welcome, Jenny Lawson.