Zibby Owens: Kari Lizer is the author of Aren’t You Forgetting Someone?: Essays from My Mid-Life Revenge. She is the creator of the award-winning show The New Adventures of Old Christine, which was based on her life as a single working mom, and an Emmy-nominated co-executive producer of Will & Grace. She splits her time between Los Angeles and Vermont.

Welcome, Kari Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Kari Lizer: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Can you please tell listeners about Aren’t You Forgetting Someone?: Essays from My Mid-Life Revenge? Can you tell everybody what this book is about?

Kari: It’s a collection of essays. There’s diversity there, but a lot of them are about my coming to terms with the loss of my identity as a mom, more or less, coming to this place in my life where all three of my kids are out of the house and what it meant. I had stopped working as hard as I was working too. Things sort of came to a screeching halt all of a sudden. My house was empty. I didn’t have three kids who I was constantly nagging about getting into college, up in the morning, getting their homework done, figuring out what they were going to be and do with the rest of lives, and also running television shows, working on television shows, writing scripts, trying to do that, sell things. All of that sort of ended all at the same time. I found myself in this void of purpose. I started writing about it and this no-man’s-land time of life. Also, it’s the same time when my parents are aging. That added to the equation of, who am I and what I am doing with myself? I wrote stories about it.

Zibby: They’re so funny. You make all the everyday occurrences laugh-out-loud-able. That was really awesome as a reader to read. Speaking also as a mother, because my kids are still relatively young, I love reading books by people whose kids are just a little bit older because it shows me the path. I just read somewhere, somebody said when you’re a new mom, somebody who has a child who’s six weeks old is like a prophet. I feel like now when you have school-age kids, it’s people like you who show us the way and give us a preview of what’s to come. Then people going through it, of course, can relate as well. It’s the perfect time to write about, I think, and to read about.

Kari: It’s still shocking when it happens even though you know it’s coming. Everything you do when your kids are going to school is in preparation for that moment when they leave. I think I even talk about it in the book. I do. I went to this playwrights’ conference. I was writing a play about this empty nest time of life thing and about a woman that falls apart when her only child leaves. She was this super mom who had done everything and was room parent and went along on all the field trips and did all of these things. Then the kid leaves and she completely falls apart. Her marriage falls apart and everything else happens to her. I’m writing this play about it at this conference. There was this man there who was also at the conference. He said, “I don’t understand why this is a play. Why is she surprised?” I was like, “Do you have children?” He had a kid still left at home. I said, “It is still a shock even though everything you do sort of is in preparation for this moment when they leave. When they actually do it and it actually happens, it still is such a shock to your system.”

I feel like every stage of parenting is like that. I remember one of my sons — I have two sons and a daughter. My son, when he was nine years old and he was still in that really lamb-y phase where he would sit on my lap, at Little League, he would run up after. He would be at bat and kiss me on my cheek. It was just the greatest time. There was a woman at Little League who had a teenager. She said, “I remember those days. Now my son doesn’t talk to me.” I thought, oh, she has a horrible kid, I guess. She got a bad seed. How terrible for her. I thought, that will never happen to me. I have these angelic children who will always sit on my lap and love me and hug me. Cut to five years later or whenever it was that of course I had those same children that everybody has that separate from you. All of it is always shocking even though you see it coming down the road.

Zibby: I think it’s similar in a way to when you lose somebody, with grief. You can know somebody’s very sick and that the end is in sight. Knowing that doesn’t make that transition any easier, I find. It’s still shocking and awful when it happens.

Kari: Absolutely. I think that’s true. I’m at that age where a lot of my friends, we’re losing our parents. Many of our parents suffer with illnesses for years and years. Yes, still it is a shock when they go finally. It’s not easier just because we saw it coming. Life is like that, I guess. We protect ourselves against it. Denial is a beautiful thing.

Zibby: I used to think that if I worried about something enough that when it happened, it wouldn’t bother me as much.

Kari: I think I have that a little bit too.

Zibby: The more I can ruminate, I must be prepared. It turns out that really is an ineffective strategy. I haven’t fully tucked it away in the closet because I’ve been relying on it for so long that it’s hard to retire. It is one way. I related also, it’s not the same as what happened when your three kids were gone, but my oldest son went to boarding school this past September. Just having one child out of the house, at some point my husband had to be like, “He is still with us.” I was grieving so much and crying so much. I couldn’t really articulate the sense of loss other than something had been so cut short, it felt.

Kari: It’s a shock to your system. I felt I got a little taste of it when I got divorced. I felt like I was a little bit ahead of the game because my kids had to go to their dad’s two nights a week. It was so devastating to me in the beginning. I would sit on my couch and look at my Apple TV of photos of them in a photo thing, like the Ken Burns effect, put to music of my Pandora. It was the worst possible thing to do, to just sit on my couch and weep at their baby pictures. It was sort of good preparation. It was a little bit of a mini course in separation because until then, I wouldn’t go on vacation. I wouldn’t spend a night away from them. I wouldn’t do it just because I had that working mom’s guilt. I just wouldn’t spend an hour away from them more than I needed to because I was away from them when I went to work. When I did get divorced and they had to spend those two nights out of the house, I had to process some of that separation, some of that grief. I think I was a little better, maybe, when they finally did have to leave the house, maybe. I don’t know. I wasn’t great, so I can’t imagine how I would’ve been if I hadn’t gone through that before.

Zibby: I am also divorced. I had a similar thing where I felt like, well, maybe now because I’ve been so sad for years, when they leave, I’ll be okay at the end. Like you, I remember at the beginning just sitting in my little boy’s, my youngest child’s, in his little chair in his bedroom surrounded by all his stuffed animals just in the dark crying. My husband was then not even my husband. He had to pull me out of the chair and be like, “Get out of his room. You have to come out now.”

Kari: It’s very tragic.

Zibby: I had this whole debate at the time. When your kids aren’t there, should you leave their doors open, or should you leave their bedroom doors closed? This weekend, my kids are with their dad. Do I go in and close them? I don’t know. I’ve decided to leave them open.

Kari: I don’t know. It’s still not easy. I don’t think I’ll ever repurpose their rooms, for instance. I can’t quite imagine it. It doesn’t get easier, I don’t think.

Zibby: Meanwhile, my mom emails me and is like, “All your stuff is being thrown out from your childhood room if you don’t come and pick it up.” Everything is different. There are no signs of my brother’s room or mine, not a trace. It’s like she never had kids. I guess everybody handles it differently.

Kari: Different strokes, for sure.

Zibby: One of the things that you wrote about in your book so well was that feeling of just not having enough time, which I’ve now inadvertently devoted my career to talking about. You had this whole quote in the book. This is referring to when you were working on your TV show and your kids were little and everything. You wrote, “I was so busy some of those days between mothering, writing on other people’s TV shows, then eventually running my own show, waking up at four AM to bake cupcakes from scratch so I didn’t feel the burning shame of store-bought baked goods that I would find myself standing up halfway through peeing declaring to no one as I yanked up my pants, ‘I don’t have time for this.'” I love that. I just love that. Tell me about that time when you felt so time constricted and how it ends up passing, if it does.

Kari: It does, finally. It does in a way that it’s either that — for me anyway, I was either in that mode of everything had to be done all the time, or nothingness. There’s no in between. That’s the hard part about it. Either everything has to be done now, three kids have soccer tournaments, one in San Bernardino, one in Santa Barbara, one there, and there have to be fifteen of me; or they’re all out of house, the TV show didn’t get picked up, the book’s going nowhere, there’s no boyfriend, there’s no nothing. Crickets. There’s nothing at all. It’s feast or famine, is how it seems to have gone for me. During that time in my life, for me, it was this sense of not being able to do anything well enough, just feeling like I was failing at everything. I wasn’t doing right by my kids. I wasn’t doing right by my job. To add onto that, I write about too that my sister was very ill during that time. My sister ended up dying of a brain tumor. That lasted for a long time. She had two young children as well. There was so many things pulling all at the same time. Actually at this point in my life, it’s a bit of a blur, which is why I was glad that I was able to write about it. I was able to recall moments that I didn’t think were in my head. That was nice to be able to write about that. I recommend it to people because you remember more than you think you do.

When I thought about my kids at that age — the twins were seven years old, maybe, then. Dayton, my youngest, was five. I think of it all as a blur because I was working so hard. I was trying to care for my sister. I was trying to do all of these things. It’s like, boy, I wish I could go back because there was so much going on that I felt like I lost it a little bit. The nice thing about writing about it is that you can retrieve it. There’s more in there than you think there is. That was the beauty of it for me. That time was, and I know it is for a lot of people whether they’re doing a job that is as consuming as that, just trying to get it all right with kids, it’s impossible. It just feels impossible. It just feels like you’re letting everybody down. That’s what I heard from my friends at the time. I still hear it. Everybody just thinks they’re always not quite getting it right. That was the feeling of the hamster in the wheel and not getting the uniform and the emails from the coaches, just all that stuff. I’m a little neurotic and a little bit of an overachiever.

I was such a ne’er-do-well earlier in my life that now I don’t know what happened to me that suddenly I just want to do it all right. I don’t want my kids to be embarrassed and not show up with the right thing at the school. I already was going to school and feeling like I hadn’t been around very much. There were the moms there that I felt like I was getting the side eye a little bit because I didn’t make it to the concert the morning before. We were filming the day before, and so I didn’t show up. I would get comments like, “Oh, my god, I don’t know how you do it. You work so much. I could never miss one of my kid’s concerts. Good for you.” I don’t think you mean good for me. I think you mean something else. There’s those mommy wars that go on, which were frustrating too because we should be on the same team. It’s a tricky time for everyone, for those moms too who are fighting their own battles, which is why they say things like that.

Zibby: I was going to say, it’s the most insecure of all the moms who feel the need to lash out at everybody else. If you’re at peace with how you’re parenting, you’re not the one who’s wagging your finger at somebody’s something or other.

Kari: Of course, always. We’re all suffering in our ways.

Zibby: The thing is, is that despite how every mother or parent, really, thinks they’re failing, most kids turn out okay. I’m sure your kids are great. Most kids, they just turn out fine no matter what. It’s really putting yourself through this blender of shame and self-doubt, and the kids are fine. The kids are fine without us. Sometimes I just think it’s a whole mind game of moms and parents.

Kari: There’s no doubt about it. Like you said with your mom throwing your junk in garbage, this preciousness about parenting I think is new. You’re right, my kids are great. In terms of my worry and all of my overwroughtness about the things, they were really glad I wasn’t at school all the time. When I would show up at school and make sure that they saw me so that I could check in, like, “Hey, here I am. Here I am,” they were horrified that I was making my presence known. I think that the kids are fine. It certainly is all on us. There’s no doubt about it.

Zibby: Even though you know that, it’s impossible to put that into practice. You can know something intellectually and yet I’m still going to, if I ever get out of here and go back to a kid’s assembly, I am still going to be standing up in my row manically waving at my child to get that recognition.

Kari: Of course you are.

Zibby: Tell me a little bit more about the book. You had written for TV. First of all, how did you get — I know we don’t have that much more time left. You’re this major TV person. How did you start your own show? How did you accomplish that? That’s a whole different type of creativity than what ended up in the book, which is also super creative and awesome.

Kari: I was an actress first. That’s how I started. When I was a kid, I did commercials. I did that for a while until I just — this is the dumbest story ever. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t set myself up to do anything real and just was this flaky actress bumming around Los Angeles. My work dried up completely when I was about thirty years old. It was like, uh oh, I don’t know how to do anything else. I went to a psychic who said, if you act you’ll be moderately successful, but if you write you will be successful beyond your wildest dreams. I thought, oh, that seems so much harder than acting. But I was broke. I had sold everything that I earned during my acting days. I wrote a play. At the time, I was earning money typing. The only subject I was ever good at in school was typing. I was typing scripts for friends of mine. I wrote a play. I passed it to these writer friends of mine who I was typing scripts for. They liked it. They put it up in a theater here in Los Angeles. They produced it. They invited all of their show biz-y friends. I got agents, and I got TV jobs. That’s sort of the short, fairytale story of how it started. I got a lot more yeses as a writer than I did as an actress, fortunately. At first, I was very resistant because I was really like, no, no, no. I thought, I’ll just write until I can write myself acting jobs. I was really reluctant. Now I’m so very grateful. It’s been a great career. I’ve written on great shows with really wonderful people and then started creating my own shows. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m doing a pilot now with Kyra Sedgwick, if ever get out of my house, which is about empty nest which is sort of all my world now and on my mind. It’s a lot of luck and a lot of people that have supported me and been very kind and given me a lot of opportunity, as it goes in this town in particular. That’s sort of the way it happens.

Zibby: Wow, that’s a great story. Now we can all drop out of college and try to put plays on and type our way to success.

Kari: Thank god it worked out that way because there were very few things that I could do. It’s a stroke of luck, for sure.

Zibby: How does it feel having this book come out in the world, particularly now? How’s it different than when you do a TV show and then you watch it? This is a totally different type of medium. How does it feel that it’s one big release and it’s now-ish?

Kari: It’s so personal, this book, obviously. It’s very vulnerable, for sure. It takes a long time. TV is so instant. It’s instant. You put an idea out there. I write it one week. We’re shooting it the next week, and it’s on television. It’s a little bit more of a machine, television. It’s a little bit, it comes and goes. If it’s a success, great. You can sort of push it aside and you’re onto the next thing. This, it’s a little bit more nerve-wracking because so much time goes into it. Then there it is. It’s out in the world. That it’s coming out in the world during this really strange time is odd. It’s strange to be doing promotion and self-promotion when people are having such a hard time. Even putting things out on social media and stuff feels contrary to what I should be doing. I have to say it with like, “I know this is weird. If you want to buy my book…” It feels a strange time to be sort of tooting my own horn or even talking about anything other than the suffering that’s going on and what people are going through. It is a very mixed bag right now. It’s very strange, but it’s been a great experience. It’s been a completely creative experience because where television is so collaborative, a book is such a personal, individual experience. All the people I’ve found that I’ve worked with, it’s all about supporting one person’s vision, where in television, it’s just much more collaborative. It’s a group effort. The more people that join that experience, the more it becomes everybody’s vision, which is great too. It’s just a different experience.

Zibby: I’ll say this about your feelings about self-promotion, I think your book will help people. I think that as the author of the book, you should not feel bad trying to get it to the people who need it because that’s probably part of why you wrote it to begin with. A lot of it was what you needed to do for you. Now that it’s here, there are people that I feel really need to read this book. I think it’s going to be entertaining people and it’s going to be helping people. If you don’t mention that it’s out there, then those people aren’t helped. As opposed to looking at it as self-promotion, it’s more like — it’s like you have a Band-Aid and somebody out there is bleeding. You wouldn’t withhold the Band-Aids because you have to charge a dollar to buy a Band-Aid or something. Do you know what I mean?

Kari: I appreciate that. That would be my hope, that it would lighten things up a little bit. That would be my greatest wish for it, certainly. I appreciate that.

Zibby: I think storytelling is one of the most important ways people connect, and people are dying for connection right now in every way. In that way, I think it’s well-timed.

Kari: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Do you have any aspiring-author advice now that you’ve finished this project?

Kari: I think it’s my advice for any kind of writing. It’s what I tell aspiring television writers too, the thing that’s really worked for me from the beginning, which is just to be authentic and tell your own story. When people are authentic and find their voice, I always find those stories the most compelling. I can just say that’s what’s worked for me. That’s the only advice that I can give.

Zibby: And honing your typing skills, also important.

Kari: That typing is key. It’s brought me a long way, I’ll say that. I wish I could remember my typing teacher’s name. I would plug that person, but I can’t.

Zibby: That would’ve been the shining moment for that typing teacher. You have to go look it up.

Kari: I will. I know. I’ll find it. I’ll do that today. That will be today’s project.

Zibby: Perfect. Thank you so much, Kari. It was really nice chatting with you. Maybe one of these days we’ll meet in person.

Kari: That would be great. I would enjoy that. Thanks so much.

Zibby: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Kari: Take care. Bye.