“These anonymous people who are struggling have no idea that they saved people’s lives. I just think it really speaks to how wonderful it is when we can share our struggles and realize that we’re not alone.” Jenny Lawson talks with Zibby about the community that has formed in the comments sections of her blog, The Bloggess, and how their candor inspired her to write more openly about heavier topics like her depression and rheumatoid arthritis. The two also discuss what it has been like for Jenny to open up an independent bookstore in the middle of the pandemic and how she still meets with her fellow essayist friends (though it’s not how you imagine).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jenny. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m so excited to talk to you.

Jenny Lawson: I’m excited. Thank you for having me. I’m actually joined today by Hunter S. Tomcat, my enormous ginger cat who has decided that he will not leave me. He’s part of this, apparently.

Zibby: For those of you listening who can’t see, Jenny is also basically strangling this poor cat so that it’s attached to her body. There is no hope for this cat escaping.

Jenny: I’m not doing anything. He has anxiety. He feels better if his head hears my heart, is what the vet says. I’m like, okay. He just stays strapped to me like a little BabyBjörn.

Zibby: Have you read the book Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman? The whole thing on the cover is that she wears a baby sling with her dog.

Jenny: No. That’s awesome, though.

Zibby: You would love it. It’s really good. You should definitely pick it up. I relate. My lab is a little bit too big to do that. Usually, she’s right here. Okay, so you are The Bloggess. You have this blog you’ve had forever. You own a bookstore. You’ve written multiple best-selling books with your brain just on the page, which I love. It’s all the inner thoughts and feelings which I identify with so, so, so much. How did this whole thing start? Take me to the beginning. Then we’ll talk about, obviously, your book.

Jenny: Let’s see. It started when my daughter was maybe two. Now she’s sixteen. I was reading this blog on the Houston Chronicle. The person writing it said — it was a parenting blog. She basically said, “I don’t think that I can do this. I can’t be a mother and also write at the same time. You can’t be a good mother and write at the same time.” I reached out to the editor and said, “I must be a terrible mom because I’ll do it. I’ll do it for free.” It was that combination of “I’ll do it” and “for free” that made him go, “You’re hired,” if you can get hired and not actually have a real job. I started blogging there at the Chronicle for a while. I kept getting in trouble for sort of going right on the edge of what you’re supposed to say or not supposed to say, and so I decided, I will get my own blog. My first post was just the F word as big as it could possibly be. It was wonderful, very freeing. Then years after that, led to my first book. Now this is my fourth book coming out if you count one of them which was technically a coloring book. I count it because it was really hard.

Zibby: You can count it. It counts. It’s a book. It doesn’t matter what’s inside. Maybe we should start a movement of people publishing books that are just blank inside to give them the confidence that they published a book. You can do a lot with the cover and the end papers.

Jenny: Exactly. I love it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I think that’s hilarious. I just crack myself up all day. This recent book, Broken (in the best possible way), the first chapter, I Already Forgot I Wrote This, I just obsessed with every word of this essay. You say that you’re blaming some of this on your ADD which gives you the attention level of a kitten on cocaine, and then obviously just the distractions and aging and all these things. Then you take it and talk all about your husband who you’re so funny when you write about. Now that leads us to the quote that I made you wait while I found because it’s the best quote ever in a book. You said, “Basically, the secret to a long-lasting marriage is memory loss and well-meaning lies and beach margaritas.” Brilliant. Let’s hear your take on a good marriage and why these are the essential ingredients.

Jenny: I’ve been married for decades, twenty, twenty-five — I don’t even know anymore. A really big part of why we have been able to stay married for so long is because my memory is so poor that it’s very easy for me to forget whatever it is that I am currently angry at him about. He’s able to just sort of slip by a little. The other really helpful thing is he’s so funny that even when I’m really just absolutely furious, he’ll say something funny and I cannot help but laugh. He’s very lucky that I have a good sense of humor. It’s not a good secret. The good secret’s supposed to be trust and absolute communication. Mine’s just like, just be too lazy to get divorced. Then you just work through it. Then you forget that thing that you were mad about that you were like, oh, I’m so furious. We’re both too lazy to have to deal with anybody other than the people that we are. We’ve just accepted each other’s flaws to the point where we’re just like, no one else would get the same jokes that we get. It would take too long to train someone else. We’re it.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that’s great. My husband is also really funny. One of the first times we got together, he was making me laugh so hard about something. I barely remember what it was. I remember hysterically laughing and being like, “Are you always this funny?” He was laughing. He was like, “Yes.”

Jenny: It makes such a difference. I think most people, when they read the book, they think that I’m the funny one because I write the stories about it, but I’m funnier on the page, he’s funnier in real life. Whenever people meet him, they’re always like, oh, you’re the funny one. I’m like, yeah, I’m an introvert. I will sit here quietly. I will listen to y’all. I will write what all has happened. It will be much funnier even than what you remember, but at the moment, I’m just going to be really quiet. Nobody is going to pay any attention to me. That’s the way I want it.

Zibby: I love that. I was writing something and I said to my husband, “You know what? This just isn’t funny.” He was like, “You’re not me.” He’s like, “Not everything has to be funny.” That’s the truth, too, with your writing and all the things you write about whether it’s on your blog or all in your books, many of which I have all over this room. It’s that tapping into the parts that you could feel sorry for yourself about or you could make light of them, depression and anxiety and OCD and all these things that so many people relate to. You have a choice of how you deal with them. You can accept and let them bog you down or you can find the humor. You even put rheumatoid arthritis. All this stuff is out there. Tell me about that, and dementia, all of it. Tell me about the decision to be open. Tell me about how it makes you feel to be open and the approach to making light, in a way, to unite.

Jenny: It was not that far into my blogging that I realized that I was basically creating this false history because I I would get into a depression. For me, depression typically will last up to a week. When I have it, it’s a feeling of just uncomfortably numb and complete exhaustion and inability to focus. On those weeks when I absolutely could not function, I would have these other posts that were written that I knew that I could slip in. People would respond on the blog and be like, oh, my gosh, you’re so funny. There was this terrible cognitive dissonance that came with that, of having people be like, you’re so funny, you’re great, and inside, I’m like, I am a failure. I haven’t taken a shower in four days. I’m failing so miserably. I finally was like, I’m just going to be honest about this. This was maybe twelve years ago, maybe longer. I thought it would scare people. Instead, I had all of these people who were like, me too. I thought it was just me.

What was really amazing is over the years after that I would get all of these emails from people who would say that they had been actively in the process of planning their suicide and decided to stop and get help not because of what I wrote, but because they saw thousands of people in the comments saying, me too. I also feel worthless. I also feel like my family would be better off without me. They realized, well, that can’t be true. They realized if depression is lying to them, maybe it’s lying to me too. Maybe I deserve to try to get myself help. What’s really wonderful is there are all of these people who just left these anonymous comments saying, me too, I feel the same way, and they saved peoples lives. There’s sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who are alive today. These anonymous people who are struggling have no idea that they saved people’s lives. I just think it really speaks to how wonderful it is when we can share our struggles and realize that we’re not alone. There’s so many different ways that you can do that. For me, my way is, if there’s this terrible monster of depression or anxiety or whatever challenge it is that you’re facing, if you laugh at it, somehow that monster becomes smaller. It’s still there. It’s a terrible disability to deal with, but it is something that is so much more easy to handle.

Zibby: That’s excellent advice. Even with all the grief in the world these days in particular and the time that we’re living through, I feel like humor is one of our only weapons against the current fight. We have very few at our disposal. This whole past year, that is one of the only things we can pull out from under our coats and brandish, is that.

Jenny: Exactly. It’s one of the only weapons still in the toolbox that is still consistently working for me. I keep coming back to it. I’m like, okay, if I can just find a way to laugh through this. The other thing is, especially when it comes to depression, when I’m in a deep depression, there’s not a time when I’m like, if I just watch something funny, that’ll take me out. I know that’s not going to work for me. What I also know is during the times when I’m out of the depression or where I still have some workable brain space, that I have to be able to take advantage of those moments and have real joy and happiness and to not feel bad about “wasting time” doing things that are guilty pleasures or reading or just doing things that I sit there and I think, I really should be doing the dishes. You know what? Maybe you should just be taking care of yourself because that makes you a better person. Then you can give to other people. Just give yourself permission to be human and as happy as you possibly can without pressuring yourself.

Zibby: I could not agree more. The fact that you called reading a guilty pleasure, I’m trying night and day to change that point of view. Reading is actually essential and should be a part of the fabric of our everyday lives; in fact, makes every other part better the more you read. Those escapes don’t have to be lounging around on the beach for a seven-day vacation. It can be twelve minutes in a chapter of a book like yours, even, or whatever you need at the time, whether it’s relating or empathizing or complete escapist fan fiction, whatever your treat is. I think that some of these things we relegate to the wish list, that’s what makes life worth living. Life is short. What are we waiting for?

Jenny: Exactly. There’s so many times that I look back at the greatest things that I’ve done in my life, and so often, I think of the books. When I was a kid, my mom and my grandmother and I and my sister, we would all go to this little RV camp. We would spend a week there. we would just read books. That was the entire thing. I remember all of the men in my family were like, but why do you have to leave the house to read books? They’re like, because that’s the only way we can escape from feeling like we need to be doing other things. This whole week, that’s all. Every single day, it was so quiet. We’d just sit in the RV, in the camper. We all had our big stacks of library books. It seems so ridiculous now to be like, some of my favorite memories ever are these vacations that were just about the books. That’s it.

Zibby: Totally. I’m planning this whole retreat, a Moms Don’t Have Time To retreat. I just decided yesterday or something. It’s just so people can get away and sit and read. Maybe they meet some authors and have some good panels if they want. Maybe they just sleep and read. That’s the best thing ever, right?

Jenny: Honestly, reading has saved me over this quarantine. I’m naturally reclusive, so this kind of feels like it was a marathon that I had been preparing for my whole life. I still wasn’t super prepared for it. Because I have so many autoimmune problems, we have to be very, very, very isolated. Everything is delivered. We do not leave the house. The only thing that we do is — my bookshop, nobody works on Sunday. Sunday, I go up to the bookshop. I’m like, “This whole bookshop is mine. I could steal all these books.” My husband’s like, “You can’t steal them because you own the bookshop.” I’m like, “I’m taking all of these.” He’s like, “We’ll never make money.” I’m like, “Dude, we didn’t do this to make money.” We opened an independent bookshop in the middle of a pandemic. There’s no way this is ever going to make money, but it has saved me because I just come home with these stacks of books. I get to go into different minds and escape mine, which is so great. It’s such a wonderful reset.

Zibby: I couldn’t agree more. I feel like everything you’re saying, I’m like, me too. This must be getting very annoying. Right before the pandemic, I was literally looking at spots to open an independent bookstore in New York City. I did the math. I was like, wait a minute, how is any independent bookstore still in business? This is completely impossible. This isn’t even close to possible to being profitable. I would have to rent a closet somewhere far away from where I would want to have a bookstore. I was like, I can’t do this right now. Plus, it’s going to take so much time. I was imagining — I’m curious to know from you. I guess you don’t have to go in. It’s a pandemic and all the rest, but I was thinking you had to be in the shop a lot. I would want to micromanage everything the way I tend to do. Did I have time for that? You’re basically living out my dream. What is it like to own an independent bookstore?

Jenny: It is really wonderful. I’m really lucky. Elizabeth Jordan is our general manager. She’s there day to day. She does all the stuff where I say, what am I doing? How do I do this? She’s like, “You know what? I got it. It’s okay.” I can send her, “I like this. I like this. These books are great.” She’s like, “Okay, yes. We will stock that. Let’s do the inventory.” That was very helpful. I want to say Nowhere Bookshop is probably — I need to check with Guinness — probably the longest-running bookshop that has literally never opened its door to customers because I don’t think it’s safe enough. We have never opened the doors to customers. We’ve been open for well over a year. We’ve still done really well just because we have a great community that supports it and does curbside service and all of that. I started this book club. We have thousands of members now. That’s supporting us. It’s paying for our employees. It’s paying our rent. It’s sustaining us. It’s so great. It’s great for authors too because it’s really hard to sell books right now because all of the bookshops are closed. It’s great for publishers. It’s great for me because I get to have these Zoom meetings with authors and talk to them and feel like I’m accomplishing something and having some sort of social life. We have these long conversations with — anybody can come in and ask questions. It’s so lovely and wonderful. It one hundred percent saved me through this quarantine.

Zibby: Once again, I’m like, I did the same thing. You’re so smart. I started a virtual book club. We do half an hour of talking. Then the author comes for the second half and we do a Q&A. I don’t charge anything and I don’t send the books. You send the books, right?

Jenny: Yeah, we send the book. Although, technically, we probably lose a lot of money because we just charge twenty-five dollars. Almost all of the books that I select are twenty-eight dollars and thirty dollars. I’m like, whatever, we’ll eat the cost because I love it so much. Elizabeth is always like, “Okay. All right. I’m a bookseller, but I love books too, so yeah, let’s do it.” People are like, hey, I’m saving money with this. I’m like, yeah, that’s probably not the way it’s supposed to work.

Zibby: I just love that. I just love it. Amazing. Are you working on a new book now?

Jenny: Not really because I’m having a really hard time during quarantine with struggling with creativity. I just don’t feel like I have it in me. I got my first vaccination. I get my second one day after tomorrow. I’m starting to feel like maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe soon I’ll be able to get away from this house a little bit. Typically when I have writer’s block like this, I will go and I’ll spend a couple of days in a hotel where it’s just me locked in a room. I don’t leave the room. I don’t do well with — I don’t know if it’s ADD or focus or what, but I don’t do well with interruptions. Of course, living here with a child who’s doing full-time high school from the house — she’s also a theater major, and so she’s doing her musical theater all over the house, which is great but also really not super conducive to writing. My husband comes out and he’s on a conference call. He’s yelling at somebody. Then the dog is like, I need to go outside. The cats are all just like this, attached to me. It’s hard.

Zibby: I could see that. At the same time, there is an essay right there. You can start with that one, cat attached to my…

Jenny: It looks like I’m breastfeeding him, actually, from this angle.

Zibby: It does. I’m kind of wondering what’s going on under there, but it’s okay.

Jenny: It’s a little bit of a Tori Amos cover thing.

Zibby: I like it. For aspiring authors who may also be having this writer’s block and just in general, tell me a little more about your process and the advice that you would have. When you start writing, do you repurpose content? Do you recommend against that or for that when you’re doing books versus blogs? Do you write in a different style? Just tell me transitioning from blogger to author, all that good stuff.

Jenny: I try to have my books be around eighty percent new material. Otherwise, I feel like people would be like, I already read this for free. There is always a little bit of a crossover. Just because I’m blogging in real time, a lot of times there’s stuff where you may have seen some of it. What’s really great about blogging is you can kind of see what works and what doesn’t work. Sometimes the thing that is, for me, such a throwaway ends up being something that people are like, this is so relevant to me. You can be, oh, okay, let’s flesh out this idea a little bit more. I think blogging is very helpful in finding your unique voice and in finding out what people like and what they don’t. One of the things that’s really helpful to me is not comparing myself to other people. It takes me years and years to write each book. I have friends who, it really feels like they wake up in the morning and then by the evening they’re like, doing first edits on my new novel. I’m like, how? I wrote one paragraph today, and then I deleted it because I hated it. I don’t compare myself to other people. One of the things that I found that was very, very helpful is because it feels like such a slow process for me, I will put a post-it up on the wall for every single chapter that I’m going to do. Then on each chapter it has a tiny, little synopsis of, don’t forget to put this, this, and this. Then I will have a little percentage done. Every day, I can come in and be like, this chapter was only nineteen percent done, but now I can scratch that out and change it to twenty percent. It’s such a small thing, but you can feel like you’re doing something every single day. It’s sitting there. It’s always on your wall. You’re always walking past it and sort of thinking about it.

The other thing that I found was really helpful for me because I have really severe ADD or — what is it? Inattentive-based ADHD. I don’t know. They’ve reclassified it in the mental health whatever. I just say ADD because that’s what it used to be. The thing that I found really helpful is pink noise, which you can find on YouTube. You just look up pink noise. It’s like white noise, but it’s at a slightly different volume. There’s something about it that helps you to get rid of all of the background noises. People with ADD, fluorescent lights, you can hear. You can hear lots of things that really mess with your head a little. Pink noise I found is very helpful, especially because if you’re doing it on YouTube, it’s only fifteen to twenty-minute increments. If I turn it on and start writing, when it gets to the end, I’m like, oh, I wrote for fifteen minutes. I feel like I can that. Those are the things that have been most helpful to me. Then also, reading other people’s work that I absolutely love can sometimes inspire me. For instance, Allie Brosh and Samantha Irby are two of my favorites. Say I’m reading Samantha’s book. I will read a chapter and I’ll be like, that’s so funny. That reminds me of the time that… So many of my chapters are really in response to other people that I’ve read their book and I’ve been like, I’m going to tell my story about… It’s like our books are talking to each other. You would never know that. I always tell Samantha, I’m like, “You helped me write my book. Did you know that?”

Zibby: That’s a great way to think of it. When I studied art history way back in the day, they’re like, every painting is actually a conversation and it’s basing it on the last one. I was like, no, it’s not. These people are just splattering paint or doing whatever. Come on. I think you’re giving them too much credit. Same with authors, like with you. That’s so great. It’s a conversation. You’re keeping it going. Wow, so neat. Have you and Sam been in conversation together?

Jenny: We have. We have a couple of times. I’m doing my virtual tour here sometime soon. She very sweetly agreed to moderate one of them, so I get to talk to her again soon. I love her so much.

Zibby: Okay, I have to watch.

Jenny: Oh, my gosh, she is the best. I did an In Conversation with Allie Brosh, which was really nice because we’re both pretty reclusive, and she even more so than I am. When her book came out, she was like, “Can we do an In Conversation With?” I was so into it. She was in her blanket for it. We just talked and visited. At the end, I was like, “You know we’re never going to talk again, right? But I still want to be best friends.” She was like, “You know what? I have this whole thing where I have these fantasies in my head of these trips that we take together.” I was like, “That is fantastic because that means we don’t have to leave the house or actually talk on the phone or do any of that, but we still get to stay friends forever.” Anytime I start to feel really alone, I’m like, but you know what? Me and Allie Brosh are running through the hills of Appalachia or something. It’s okay. That’s just happening in our mind, but that kind of counts as being out, maybe.

Zibby: I mean, all vacations just end up in your mind anyway. Why waste the time? It’s the speediest vacation endorphin rush ever. Just imagine it. You don’t even have to go. It’s perfect. Jenny, thank you so much. This was great. I am going to go on vacation with you in my head. We are going to laugh.

Jenny: Yay!

Zibby: Your book was great. I love how it makes me feel like I’m not as crazy as I often think I can be. I’m just so impressed with what you’ve done, and particularly your bookstore which is a dream come true. Just love it. Congratulations.

Jenny: Thank you. Come to San Antonio. You can come and visit it one day when the plague has passed. You can come visit it.

Zibby: I’ll come to San Antonio for some curbside pickup.

Jenny: Yes, exactly.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Take care, Jenny.

Jenny: Thanks. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.


BROKEN (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

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