Georgia Pritchett, MY MESS IS A BIT OF A LIFE

Georgia Pritchett, MY MESS IS A BIT OF A LIFE

Screenwriter Georgia Pritchett joins Zibby to talk about her debut memoir, My Mess Is a Bit of a Life, which takes readers through her experience dealing with lifelong anxiety and a number of crises that have arisen along the way. Georgia shares how the book stemmed from advice from a therapist who recommended she write everything that had happened to her when she found herself unable to share verbally, what life is like raising two neuroatypical children (as well as how it has impacted her mental health), and why she’s only now beginning to show herself more kindness for what she went through. Zibby also asks Georgia about her time writing for the hit HBO show Succession, which is one of Zibby’s favorites.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Georgia. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety.

Georgia Pritchett: Thank you so much for inviting me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I could not wait to pick this book up and see what your adventures were like. I know in the book, you have this — I don’t know if it was fictious or not — this encounter with a therapist where you decide to write your feelings down because you had trouble talking about them. Then of course, you loop it all together at the end because you’re so good at telling a story. Is that how it happened? That is how it happened?

Georgia: That’s exactly how it happened, yes. I don’t know how to break it to you, but I’m British. That is another way of saying socially awkward and emotionally repressed. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Words are my thing. I’ve always loved words. My job is all about words. My life is all about words. Then when it came to trying to tell someone how I was feeling when I was in crisis, I just couldn’t find the words. That was a scary thing. My therapist said, write it down. I thought, yeah, I’m definitely not going to do that. I resisted for quite a long time. Then I just thought, well, I don’t know what else to do, so I’ll start. Let’s see if I can do it or not. I ended up writing down all my experiences of feeling anxious and all the stuff that’s happened and how I’ve coped, often badly, with it. It was a surprise. I’ve spent so many years as a scriptwriter putting words in other people’s mouths. To suddenly write something very personal and direct was kind of horrifying and scary. I don’t know what happened.

Zibby: Do you feel any better or worse now that it’s out there in the world and people are actually reading it?

Georgia: It’s weird. I was very worried. Certainly, people who have known me all my life don’t know eighty percent of what’s in the book, so I was concerned. Then I did think, I wonder what my mom and dad will think. Then of course, because we never talk about anything, we’ve never had to discuss it, so that’s worked out perfectly.

Zibby: Maybe there’ll be a companion, their book, that they felt like they couldn’t talk —

Georgia: — We could start a literary feud. They could just do their version of events.

Zibby: It would be great. You could just alternate. You’d have a whole bookshelf full of alternating dialogue and never actually meet up. It would be great. Perfect next family therapy suggestion here. I love how you involved little bits and pieces of your whole career writing, how it was being, particularly, a woman in the male-dominated industry, how you dealt with that. I thought it was so funny when called yourself etc. You were like, people would write in the scripts, to Dan, John, and Larry, etc. I was etc. We see the arc of your whole career. We know that you’ve become successful at the end. When I was reading it, I’m like, how does she go from the charcuterie counter to Succession? That is quite a jump.

Georgia: I miss the charcuterie counter in lots of ways. I suppose you never feel you’re successful, do you? As you say, it’s a male-dominated industry. I think women in any walk of life, we learn pretty quickly we have to be resilient and persistent. I think I just learned that I had to be relentless and keep going and keep going. Lots of obstacles were thrown in my way. In the end, I got to a point where it was almost kind of a defiant mode. I’m going to keep writing whatever you say or however hard you try and make it. I think where I’ve got to is more about persistence, necessarily, than talent, but I’m very glad to be where I am.

Zibby: I had no doubt that you would be self-deprecating the whole time. I had no illusions that you would be like, yeah, it’s really wonderful. You did quickly mention your one Me Too moment where the man you were working with, who was much older, pushes you into an elevator night after night. The worst part about it — that, obviously, in and of itself was a huge problem, that that happened. The part that kind of broke my heart about it was when you tried to reach out to another woman to help you and tried to explain, just come into the elevator with me. She caught your eye at the end, and then she didn’t come in. You’re like, and that just about sums up the industry.

Georgia: It really does, doesn’t it? It really does sum up the industry. I’d obviously thought, should I mention it? I feel like along with a lot of other stuff in the book, it’s so easy to think that other people are doing better than you are and to think that no one else is struggling. I just felt a responsibility to be honest. Also, as women, we’re sort of trained not to complain. I think there’s a distinction between complaining and being truthful and being honest. Certainly, when I was younger woman, I would’ve loved it to have a book to read or for other people to have been talking about their difficulties, whether it was of a personal or sexual nature in the workplace or otherwise. I think it’s great more and more women are speaking out. I hope that means that the landscape is changing for the younger women who are coming through now.

Zibby: The career stuff, I found very interesting, but also your personal stuff, some of which was truly heartbreaking, from your two miscarriages, late-stage, not too late, twelve weeks, and the scare you had with your wife about the tumors. There were some really big-deal, sad stuff in the book that you quip your way through. You tidy it up in a paragraph. Of course, there so much pain behind it. I know that this is your communication style, so I get it.

Georgia: For better or worse, those are the tools that I have. That’s right, that was the only way I had of dealing with things. Maybe that’s why I kind of think, well, I can just make a joke of this and then file it under “never open this container of emotion ever again.” Unfortunately, my filing system let me down after a number of years. It all came bursting out.

Zibby: The one guy you joked around with on set who called himself a worm wrangler, and you go, well, I suppose I’m a word wrangler, you showed off that skill a lot, especially with the more difficult bits. When you had your first miscarriage, you said your womb had become a tomb, something like that. Oh, my gosh, it just got to me.

Georgia: It’s tough being a woman. I think we blame ourselves for so many things that are out of our control. There’s a lot of pressure on women as parents. I say in the book, when my sons got diagnoses, there was certainly implications, if not more than that, from people in the medical world that it was my fault in some way or another. That’s tough. People have a weird idea about motherhood. It’s been tough. I was very grateful, actually, when — the one thing I knew was I had really bonded with my son. I had loved him from the first moment. Thank goodness I felt sure about that because I think someone telling me that I hadn’t done that properly would’ve been pretty devasting if I had been less sure of that.

Zibby: You have two neuroatypical — that’s the right moniker, right?

Georgia: Yes.

Zibby: Neuroatypical children. You have to talk about the education and finding the right home and how the right school finally enabled you to have a birthday celebration and all these things that were just out of reach and how great that was. There’s a lot of stress when things like that happen to kids because it doesn’t just happen to them. It’s everybody. It’s all-encompassing. All of that manifested itself in a physical way for you too. How was that? I kept reading this and I was like, she’s got to see a different doctor. You were seeing all the black spots and everything. I was like, could she be having migraines? What is going on? Should I get her a new doctor? Is she going to figure this out?

Georgia: Please. It’s so interesting, isn’t it, when — we want to think there’s some easy, physical explanation for any problem. We don’t want to think it’s an emotional problem. Yes, as you say, I saw so many doctors and homeopaths and healers and all kinds of things trying to solve the mystery of what was wrong. Of course, it was actually very simple, which is that I hadn’t expressed any emotion for decades, except for happiness. Turns out that’s not a good plan. That was a learning curve. I really put the hours in trying to solve this mystery. Then I finally went to see a therapist. Then when I got there, I couldn’t speak. It was a pretty tricky time.

Zibby: When you look back on it, is there any other way you could’ve ever coped? Do you ever say, oh, I wish I’d written this down, or you’re like, well, this is just how I did it? This is where we are. We all cope with things differently. I’m going to have fifty-seven nosebleeds, and she’s not. That’s just life, right?

Georgia: You say “have nosebleeds” as though that’s not a very normal way of expressing your emotions. That’s my main way. It was interesting, actually, writing it down. When you’re in the middle of the chaos of life, it’s so easy to think, oh, I should be a better person or partner or mother or writer or whatever it is. Then when you write it down and look back with just a little bit more objectivity, I think you can find a little shred of compassion for yourself because you think, well, with the kind of information I had, with the resources I had, I was doing my best. It’s so easy with hindsight to think, I should’ve done this. I should’ve done that. When I was writing the book — I’m really interested in memory and how memory works and the fragmentary nature of it and the impressionistic nature, in particular of when you’re younger, the memories from when you’re a child. I really wanted to be true to those and not imbue them with any sort of hindsight or adult sensibility. It’s interesting. As you go through life, you observe things. You witness things. You experience things. So often, you don’t get the full picture for whatever reason. I think it’s important to be true to that and also be kind to ourselves and say, look, you did your best at the time. Maybe now you’d do it differently, but everyone was just trying to do their best. That’s not a crime.

Zibby: Very true. Do you mind if I read a section or so?

Georgia: Sure. I’d love that.

Zibby: There were so many parts that I thought were so awesome. Wait, hold on, let me find a few examples here. Oh, my gosh, the tooth fairy, that was so funny. You were having a nosebleed trying to be the tooth fairy. You woke up to her horrified screams. Oh, my gosh, too funny. It’s funny but sad a lot of the time. Here’s your thoughts on writing called My Calling. “Back at home, I had to get a job. I had to persuade someone to pay me money to do something, but what could I do? Apparently, wanting to spend twenty-three hours a day wearing pajamas is not a vocation and wanting to eat my own body weight in chocolate biscuits is not a calling, but there was a job that would allow me to do both those things and monetize the fact that I spent a lot of time sitting around watching TV. Writing,” which is perfect.

I just wanted to read this. You’re so funny about your perception of how you look and your body. Oh, my gosh, you’re just so funny about it. This is called Ferret. “The problem was, the way I looked was not the way women in magazines look. I have the shoulders of a Muppet. My freakishly long torso coupled with my unusually short legs make me look like an eel is taking a ride on a gerbil. The overall effect is more ferret than human. I was bald for years as a child and when finally some scratty hair started to form a thin, brush-like covering on my head, it stopped too soon. I’m all forehead, and for as long as I can remember, my brow has been furrowed. There’s room for a lot of furrow. My hair is curly. I have no say in what it decides to do. My choices are big hair or small hair. All this is set off by a flat face, a snaggletooth smile, and thin lips. To make things worse, I’m told I dress like someone whose best clothes are in the wash. I had always imagined that as I emerged into adulthood, my hair would straighten. My legs and fingernails would lengthen. I would develop fashion sense, and I would be able to snap my fingers three times in the way that all cool people do. Nope.” Meanwhile, of course, you look totally normal. From here, you would think you’re some sort of monstrosity. You’re a lovely looking, normal-looking person. Your reflections on your relationships are really interesting, too, and even getting to your relationships and figuring out who you loved and why and saying, right, I might not like men. I don’t know.

Georgia: Very good English accent.

Zibby: Oh, thank you. Should I keep going?

Georgia: Yeah.

Zibby: I’m joking. Those were some of my favorite bits. “Mass is not a word you ever want to hear unless you’re a nun.” You just have so many one-liners in here. I hope that some of these end up in shows that I end up watching because they’re really fantastic. Do you kind of laugh to yourself? I laughed out loud many times in this book. When you’re writing and you’re saying something funny, do you kind of chuckle, or not?

Georgia: I think you’re always just trying to make your imaginary friends — not my imaginary friend who dumped me cruelly and never came back. Your friends or your imaginary readers, you’re just wanting to make them laugh and hoping that they’ll be able to relate to some or all of it. It’s interesting that I wrote so much of it in lockdown. I think it’s trying to connect, isn’t it? Wanting to make someone laugh or relate is just kind of a need for connection. As I say, when you’re a British, socially awkward, quite hermit-y person, you have to find other ways of reaching out and having human connection. I do mine through writing.

Zibby: Even the way you described the differences between the British and Americans and their love of winning and how most of your sports are designed for a polite draw at the end of five days, whereas Americans are just like, someone has to win at all costs. The award shows, you win too. I’m basically just saying how much I liked all of these different bits and pieces. I’m so happy you shared.

Georgia: That’s so lovely. I feel so lucky that I’ve got to work in America. It’s funny, being British, I kind of thought, oh, I don’t know what I’m going to think of those Americans. They’ll probably be very loud. Actually, I just completely fell in love with the people and the country. I think there’s an American trapped inside the body of a repressed British woman here because I actually find it incredibly liberating and exciting how emotionally eloquent Americans are, and how honest and how open they are. I just find it so lovely and appealing and want to be more like that. I love every moment I spend over there. I’m thrilled that I get to write for American shows. I’ve grown up watching American shows. That was such a huge influence on why I wanted to become a writer. I feel like I’ve kind of found my spiritual home. There isn’t really a word, is there? You can be an anglophile, but I don’t think there’s a word for loving America.

Zibby: It’s so rare.

Georgia: It’s been great for me, very good for my sanity. I’ve evolved, even, a tiny bit. I do admit to having feelings. I occasionally talk about them, which is all good.

Zibby: Yes, all good. Your work on Succession, I just have to ask because I’m almost at the end of the last season, watching — this is when I ever have time, my husband and I, our go-to show. We have two more, I think. When you’re writing for the show and you’re in a writers’ room and all of that, this is probably a really stupid question, but do some people have more of the characters’ voice? Do you veer more heavily towards one character or another, or do you all just — how does it work?

Georgia: Funny enough, I’ve just come from the Succession room. We’re writing season four at the moment. It’s been really nice. Because of the pandemic, we finished writing season three just before the very first lockdown in 2020. Time is blurred. It’s almost two years since we’ve seen each other and talked about the characters. I’ve really missed them. I’ve missed the characters. I think at the beginning — we all write for everyone. We’re very involved in every episode. We plot it all out together. Then you might take away an episode and write it, but we all add lines to each other’s. It’s very organic and collaborative. I must say, as time goes on, it’s just such a joy when you write a long-running TV series that you get to spend so much time with these characters. You get to know them. I have developed this secret soft spot for Roman, which I don’t know if I should admit to.

Zibby: That’s okay. It’s all over your Instagram.

Georgia: Oh, yeah, that’s true, if you look on —

Zibby: — It’s okay. The cat is out of the bag.

Georgia: That’s true. I just love him because he’s one of the few characters that — he loves his dad. He loves his siblings. He loves Gerri in a very inappropriate way. At the beginning, it’s very difficult because you’re just thinking, these awful, rich, white men who are destroying democracy in the world. We’ve been able to spend so much time with them that you get under their skin. You kind of work out what their deal is. Roman just strikes me as a really damaged and tragic figure who’s been so neglected and abused that he can’t have regular relationships. The closest he can get is this weird thing he’s got going on with Gerri. I always enjoy writing for him, but they’re all fantastic. My goodness, what a cast. They’re just extraordinary, aren’t they?

Zibby: Totally. They’re all amazing. I was talking to my husband. I was like, “Do you think this counts as abuse? Do you think this counts as verbal abuse or neglect or whatever? How would you characterize — I mean, he’s not being nice. Their dad’s being terrible, but is it abuse? How would you know?” He was like, “Yes, yes, it’s abuse.”

Georgia: It’s intense. They’re fantastic people, the cast. When you’re a scriptwriter, it’s so different from — which I could never do. I could never write a novel because I don’t know enough adjectives. I can’t describe things. I don’t want to describe things. It seems really difficult. When you’re a scriptwriter, you have to collaborate with the actors, basically. You can’t just write in a vacuum. It’s a relationship with the actors. Certainly, writing for Succession has been just a dream because all of the actors bring so much to the role. It’s a fantastic experience to write something and then see it elevated to a whole other level by these incredible people.

Zibby: Very cool. What is coming next for you?

Georgia: We’re writing season four at the moment. Then I’m writing — there was a really good podcast over here called “Tunnel 29,” I don’t know if you heard about that, which was a true story about some young engineering students who dug a tunnel under the Berlin Wall in the sixties and rescued some people from East Berlin. I’m adapting that with the director of Chernobyl and with the producers of Chernobyl. Then I’ve got this thing I’m developing for the wonderful Julia Louise-Dreyfus. We’ve been trying to think of something to do together since Trump put an end to Veep. Not the worst thing he did, I know, but one of the many things he did. We’ve got something cooking. I hope that that comes to fruition because she’s such an incredible performer.

Zibby: Amazing. That would be great. I love her. I know you mentioned in your acknowledgments, holding her coat while she overcame cancer.

Georgia: Beat cancer.

Zibby: Beat cancer, yes. You are the wordsmith. I just want to say thanks because you easily could’ve not shared any of this. That’s how you were going about life. It seems almost highly unlikely that I would be reading about your interior life, and yet I have. It makes me think. It makes people feel less alone. It’s funny and entertaining. I’m so glad you decided to share it. It’s really awesome.

Georgia: Thank you. Yes, I have a fear that people will say, what were you thinking? It’s very nice when people don’t say that. It’s been fantastic talking to you. I love your podcast. I love your bookshelves. I love your typewriter.

Zibby: Thank you. That was my grandmother’s.

Georgia: It’s great.

Zibby: When she passed away, they were like, “Is there anything you want from her apartment?” I was like, “I want the typewriter. That’s it. I have to have it.” Thank you. It was so nice chatting.

Georgia: Thank you. So great to meet you, Zibby.

Zibby: You too. Take care. Buh-bye.

Georgia: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Georgia Pritchett, MY MESS IS A BIT OF A LIFE

MY MESS IS A BIT OF A LIFE by Georgia Pritchett

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