Quinta Brunson, SHE MEMES WELL

Quinta Brunson, SHE MEMES WELL

“I didn’t want to be preachy. I wanted to be me, who is not perfect and a friend, and give that out into the world.” Writer and producer Quinta Brunson wanted the essays in her new book, She Memes Well, to display her personal growth parallel to the development of the Internet where she first began her career in comedy. She talks with Zibby about how writing the book allowed her to explore her relationships with her mother and what thinking critically about the Internet made her realize about life offline.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Quinta. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss She Memes Well.

Quinta Brunson: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very happy to be here.

Zibby: I loved this book. I posted on Instagram about it. I’m such a fan. It had just the right mix of every element you could want in a personal memoir, and in a unique way. The thing I love — I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have jumped in. Welcome, how are you doing?

Quinta: No, that’s fine. I’m doing well. I am doing all the stuff that you have to do when a book is coming out, all the promotional stuff. What’s fun about this process is hearing people like you say that you genuinely enjoyed the book. It’s very nice. I don’t think that’ll ever get old because that’s what you do it for, for people you don’t know to enjoy the book.

Zibby: There you go. I’m your market audience here. Are you on the couch now that you talk about in the book?

Quinta: I am. I’m on the couch now. Yep, this couch has seen many a day. Post-pandemic, it’s still seeing a lot of my butt.

Zibby: Okay, so maybe you should tell people what your book is about. Then I’ll go into why I liked it and ask you a bunch of questions.

Quinta: This book is a book of personal essays, memoir-ish. The theme that I tried to keep was my growth as a person aligning with the growth of the internet. That’s kind of what’s moving through as we go through the book. It’s funny. On another hand, it really tracks the digital-sharing age of the internet while the sharing age of Quinta is also being tracked as well in the book. That’s what I’ve gotten down to, to say it’s about. That doesn’t sound really cool, though.

Zibby: I like that. I wouldn’t have thought you were going to tie in the internet growth into your description.

Quinta: It was the original motivator in writing the book. It was me wanting to track the growth of the internet in the digital-sharing age. Like with most memoirs, you wind up talking about yourself a lot. I tried to just keep that balance.

Zibby: It worked. Otherwise, it would’ve seemed like an exposé on an industry or something. This was more like a gradual tracking. One part that I liked is that from the beginning, including one passage in the middle and then all the way at the end, you involve the reader so actively. You’re actually talking to us. You’re like, “All right, settle in. Here we go. This is why I’m doing it.” Then in the middle of the book when you get engaged, you’re like, “Today as I sat down to write this, two days ago I got –” I’m like, yay, that happened in the middle of it. We went along with you while all this stuff was happening so that by the time you got to the end of writing it, it’s like we relived it and got the satisfaction of you finishing the book. Somehow, we all got to share and celebrate.

Quinta: I loved it. Part of the goal of the book was to — I talk about memes a lot in the book, as you know. I talk about sharing with people. One of the beauties of memes is sharing a small moment. It was, of course, exciting when I got engaged, but also exciting to be able to share that right then in that moment with the book. It’s something that normally you reserve for Twitter, but you don’t get to write a whole chapter that then ties into stuff with your mom and what all that moment does make you think about. It was exciting to have those moments, that and the 2020 chapter at the end. Even though I personally don’t think that’s the best chapter in the book, to me, it’s my favorite because it was all happening. I was like, I have this opportunity to write about something major that is happening in the world. I didn’t want to shy away from that. I thought it was a cool opportunity.

Zibby: No, you needed it. Because we had come along on this journey with you, I was a having panic attack with you. I was like, get me out of this crowd. What am I doing here? Joking aside, though, I found it to be extremely compelling, how you wrote about your experience of being black in America and your amazing education. By the way, I’m sorry that was illegal and that the school had to disappear. What a unique way to be educated, through that lens of black history taking center stage. It should be a required, at least course, everything seen through that lens.

Quinta: Absolutely. There’s such a huge conversation going on about that now currently, about critical race theory being taught in schools. For me in my elementary schooling, I can’t even call it critical race theory. It was a direct, here’s what happened. Here’s the reality of your existence here. We’re going to learn via that. I didn’t realize until much later in my life that other kids didn’t get that same schooling in my school. That’s what was so interesting, which is why I really wanted to write that chapter. It’s one of those experiences where retroactively, you’re like, holy shit, I can’t believe I got to be part of that. I think it’s made me a much better person than I’m even able to give my teachers credit for. I can’t put it into words, so hopefully that chapter does for them, how much I think that defined me.

Zibby: Even how you had to make the boat or that timber and how it was essentially a week-long class trip where they taught you what it was like in slavery times, that you would have to make the boat to escape. You were like, what? What am I going to do with all this wood?

Quinta: What was cool about it, too, was those weren’t presented to us up front, like, here’s what we’re doing today, we’re learning what slaves do. It was like, we’re going to go do an arts project. My teachers, I’m sure, were like, “We have this excellent opportunity. We found this place called Philadelphia Boat Work. This is a great opportunity to teach about math and skill and construction.” Then they kind of were like, “By the way, fourth graders, this is also something that your people did often.” It was just tied into our human experience. I think that’s what was really cool about it. You didn’t know that we were getting this, basically, critical race theory discussion in our school. It was really cool.

Zibby: It’s so funny, not to try to draw any sort of a parallel, but I went to Hebrew school as a kid. Every time we went, we would learn about the Holocaust again and again. Every year, we’re like, aren’t we going to cover something else? Come on. I remember, the same textbook? Is there nothing else to teach us? You’re sort of inculcated gradually. Then somehow or other, you turn around, and all of a sudden, I’m like, oh, I’m scared of German people. That wasn’t necessarily the message, but it comes in through the teaching. Anyway, random analogy.

Quinta: No, I get it. I get where you’re coming from. For me, which I talk about in the book, it just helped me navigate through this world, which I want other kids to have the opportunity to do, not just black kids. If America’s white children learned up front what the history of this country was instead of being bombarded with it at nineteen or twenty on Twitter, I just think it would make such a huge difference if we all knew our history much sooner, and not the squeaky-clean version of America’s history.

Zibby: For sure. You also do such a nice job, the scene with your mom when she didn’t want you to wear those earrings. You have a scene where you buy this $2.99 pair of really chunky, gold earrings. She didn’t want you to wear them and whatever. She was saying she didn’t want to lose you as you went off. You realize later in the book why she’s saying that. The power of seeing your parents as real people, tell me a little bit about that.

Quinta: My mother and I, our relationship, it’s the thing I obsess over, as in, I just think about our relationship all the time for no reason. She is the most critical person in my life in a way I wouldn’t take that from anybody else. I guess this is not unique. A lot of us are like that with our mothers. She’s also one of the people I admire most in my life. Our relationship was very complicated growing up. As I talk about in the book, we were never the screaming at each other type, but we could reach some real points of contention that were very complex. I, in a lot of ways, was like, you made me like this. Why are you mad at what you created? I’m sure she probably had a little bit of, I know her potential, I know what she is, I just don’t want her to get hurt. I wanted to write about that because I don’t believe it’s unique. I think so many girls have complicated relationships with their mothers, especially black girls. I don’t think that complexity has been explored as much yet. In TV and film, we’ve seen bad relationships and we’ve seen good relationships. Bad relationships can be really bad, but I think there’s this in-between world with mothers and daughters where there is so much that you’re sifting through, so much generational womanhood stuff, even the issue of — we all joke about it, but when you get married, when you’re having children, that’s a huge issue for us.

I’m a more modern woman. We don’t technically have to get married. We don’t have to get married to navigate through the world. My mom’s generation, it was kind of a requirement not only to be seen as a respectful woman, but it was a requirement to do other things. Marriage was such a huge part of your ability to be successful. We’ll have our little, teeny arguments. Those arguments are about much bigger things. If my mom says something about my hair, it’s also connected to my success in America. When are you going to get married? Are you being a promiscuous woman, or are you being a good woman? Does God like your hair? It’s so much tied into that one question. Do you like God still? It’s just so much. That chapter, it felt like the most natural way to talk about my relationship with my mom. I love starting with the simplest of things like earrings and going into a big, overarching issue. Also, that day was just so prevalent in my mind. I think about that day a lot. It was a little therapeutic to write about it and to go back and ask my mom, “Do you remember that day? Do you remember that as well as I remember it?” It was funny because she didn’t. It has such an effect on me. I found that unique too. For my mom, that was kind of just another argument. For me, it was so weighty. I feel like I’m rambling now.

Zibby: No, not at all. Now I’m in my head. I’m thinking, oh, gosh, what are my kids going to remember the rest of their lives that for me — I couldn’t even tell you what happened yesterday.

Quinta: I know. I’m like, man, what ways am I going to give my child a nervous breakdown?

Zibby: Wait, I wanted to find this passage where you were talking about friendship. I love this. This is my favorite line in the book. “Does a like replace a lunch?” Maybe it’s also because I’m sort of obsessed with social media myself. You said, “I probably sound like a cranky, old person right now, but I just care about genuine connection because it has given so much. How often do you physically engage with what your friends are going through? Does a comment fill the same space as a call? Does a like replace a lunch? If you’re lucky enough to have multiple close friends, even if they aren’t life-long ones, what are you doing to show them that you value those people, that you want to maintain the relationship? What more can you do besides sending a meme or an emoji reaction? Sure, social media can bring us together, but it will not always foster those connections that can get us to grow together.”

Quinta: Wow, it’s so cool hearing other people read things you wrote back to you. I haven’t heard any of this stuff out loud.

Zibby: It sounds great.

Quinta: Yeah, I was like, wow, this sounds pretty good.

Zibby: I could keep going. I have all these pages.

Quinta: No, that was great. Wow.

Zibby: After thinking this whole thing through, do you feel like you took your own advice, or do you feel like sometimes you do fall into the trap of a heart emoji instead of a phone call?

Quinta: Definitely, still fall into the trap. One thing, just going into your question, when I was writing this book, I was like, I don’t want to make a tell-all book or a how-to book. I wanted to talk as if, these are things I think are right and I’m striving to do. I think the most preachy chapter is the chapter about makeup and stuff. I know I got preachy in that one, but I feel strongly about that subject. Some of the friends I even talk about in that chapter, we only communicate through Instagram messaging. I’m like, ugh, I have to get better at this, but that’s huge for us. These are friends from high school who a like or a comment or a heart could suffice, but I’m trying to make a point to communicate, especially with my friend who just has such a totally different lifestyle from me. We both still strive to be in each other’s lives. Sometimes that just means making the effort. When I go back East, I do hit her up. “Hey, you want to get together?” She’s like, “I can’t because I got to do this. I got to pick up my baby.” It’s just, different lifestyles eventually become the changing factor. On a different thing, there’s a friend from high school I saw out here recently. Now we’re hanging out because I’m like, “I want to hang out with you.” We’ve been getting lunch and going out to little events. We’re going to go hiking on Friday because I really want to manifest and have these real relationships.

For me, they feel more fulfilling than just having internet relationships with my friends. Even if I start connecting with someone online, I do want the next step to be, let’s get lunch, instead of becoming just internet friends. I think that’s a thing that happens a lot now. You’ll meet someone online or start feeling someone. Maybe you guys start communicating. Before you know it, you’ve known this person via Twitter for five years but never met in real life. It’s weird when you do meet because nobody made the effort to meet. You just happened to be standing in front of each other like, wow, that’s you. I think when you take that leap of faith and it’s like, let’s go have real interaction, it means something. It’s the effort, even. You’re willing to put yourself out there in an uncomfortable way. It can even feel like that with our friendships we’ve had forever. It can feel like, aw, man, I have to put myself out there to meet in person, but I just think it’s important. Without my real-life friendships, I would not have made it through the toughest points in my life. Expressing your grievances and your heartache to the internet is one thing, but to me, there’s nothing like a real, physical person who knows you, who actually knows you to help you get through whatever it is you’re going through.

Zibby: It’s true. There’s the immediacy of putting it online. You put it out there. Then right away, someone responds. You’re right, it’s hard to connect. Everyone’s so busy. We’re just all so busy. Every so often, I’m like, oh, I have twenty minutes while I walk from here to there, I’ll call some friends. Of course, nobody picks up.

Quinta: I know, that’s the hard part too. You know, I think it’s important that you try to call and they see your missed call.

Zibby: I know, I’m like, do I leave a voicemail? Does anyone even listen to voicemails? My husband’s like, “No one plays voicemails. Why do you say, it’s me, I’m calling? That’s such a waste. Do you have anything to say? Otherwise, just hang up. They’ll see it.” I’m like, what?

Quinta: That’s hilarious. I guess he’s right. That’s what I do. I don’t leave voicemails. My voicemail box is full for the past eight years. That makes a difference. You said something, the immediacy of the internet. Sometimes I’ll watch people, or even I have posted something on the internet, I’ll say, “Oh, man, I’m having a rough day.” It’s the immediacy of the, “Oh, no. Oh, girl, tell those haters to –” It’s like, whoa. Thank you. That’s so sweet. I appreciate it. In the grand scheme of things, the people on the internet don’t know what’s going on in my day. That’s just way the internet works. It’s just not real. I don’t know what to say.

Zibby: I know, you’re right.

Quinta: I feel like this book makes me sound like an old, cranky person sometimes.

Zibby: No, I think the really important thing to remember is that is one type of, my kids would say filling your bucket. That fills a part of the bucket, but not the whole thing. There’s a time and a place for that. Sometimes it’s okay and you can get that little jolt that maybe you need so you can get out of bed to call your friend. It is a tool in the arsenal of self-care, in a way. I think that’s great, especially for younger kids to remember. For us, I’m much older than you, but this is a new world. They’re growing up like this.

Quinta: That’s a huge part of why I even talked about things like that. I really want this book to get in the hands of younger people. I’m sure people of my generation will read it and enjoy it. When I was younger, books like this helped me move through the world. With them being in the digital-sharing age and, to me, not having many books like this — just my opinion. I did search around out there. I just hope that younger people find this kind of a book and enjoy it.

Zibby: I’m sure they will. I’m sure you’ll find a way to market it brilliantly, per usual. The way you describe your career from the Apple store to Hulu or wherever your show — ABC. The trajectory of how you did that, I think people are often curious. It must have been so easy. It’s from one day to the next. It’s like, I had this small break. I took that opportunity. That’s really what life comes down to. It’s putting yourself out there enough that one of the times when you do, it lands in the right place. It’s like going fishing or something. If you’re not on the boat throwing the line out, no one’s ever going to — that sounds so stupid.

Quinta: No, that was not stupid. That was a great analogy.

Zibby: Okay, thanks. All right, fine.

Quinta: You can write a few books in your day, Zibby.

Zibby: I am writing a book. Anyway, I think you did a show-not-tell of that as well. Now I feel like, maybe in a creepy way, invested in your life. This part of your life now where you have this book coming out and everything, how does this feel in the context of everything else that you’ve done from a career perspective?

Quinta: How does it feel? Even talking to people like you makes me feel good. I think I feel a certain sense of freedom and at the same time, anxiety about it. I’m like, what’s in the book that people aren’t going to like? That’s just a natural feeling. I felt I was as vulnerable as I could be while maintaining some privacy. When it comes to a book and you’re writing so many words, there’s going to be something in here that someone doesn’t like. That’s just the way it is. I want to be ready for that and accept that, but also know that that doesn’t mean the book isn’t good. It’s 320 pages. It’d be crazy if someone didn’t find anything they didn’t like. That’d be nuts. That’s I worry I have. The idea of doing a book, it’s done and now it’s going out into the world, there is such freedom in that. There’s nothing I can do now but hope that people enjoy it. Hearing people like you, but also — I’m not going to lie, I’ve gone on Goodreads and read some reviews. It is so wild to see people enjoying the book the way you intended for them to enjoy it. I don’t know what to say. You’ve been into books for a long time. It’s just like, wow, not only are they enjoying it, but enjoying it how I envisioned them enjoying it when I was writing it. There’s just something so special about that that’s different as opposed to being at a show or a film or something like that. Maybe this is the first big thing that I’ve gotten to create that’s going out into the world. I’ve had my own internet series or internet videos and stuff. Yeah, people enjoy those. Once again, it’s the immediacy of the internet. It’s that instant dopamine hit not only to the audience, but to me as a creator.

With something like a book, someone is sitting there and reading these chapters and still comes out on the other side saying, wow, I so enjoyed this. What I’m hearing often is that people feel like they’re on a journey with me and that it feels like friendship. That is really important to me. It was one of the main things I wanted to do with the book. I didn’t want to be preachy. I wanted to be me, who is not perfect and a friend, and give that out into the world. I’m happy people are feeling that. I am at the point currently where I’m like, I don’t know if I’ll ever do this again. I can’t believe people are like, I can’t wait to write my next book. I’m like, what? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was hard. Shout out to my publisher. Shout out to my book editor. She was on my ass because I had a tough — also, with this book, my life was changing so much while I was writing it. Because I did want to keep it so current, that made it harder. I wasn’t just writing my past. I was writing about my present. When your present is constantly evolving, I had to keep doing check-ins with myself, making sure I knew how I felt. I think most people don’t do that until later. At thirty-one, you get to go back to twenty-seven and be like, aw, man, I was dumb. I had to do constant check-ins with myself. How are you feeling? You’re trying to put it on the page, so what do you really think? What are you really comfortable with the world knowing right now? I’m happy that part’s over.

Zibby: The biggest mindfulness exercise you will ever go through in your life.

Quinta: Oh, my gosh. I described it to a friend as, it felt like being your own therapist. That’s hard.

Zibby: That’s hard. Honestly, and I’m not just saying this, you did a great job. I read a ton of books. Every book has their own strengths and everything, but you did a really great job of getting the reader invested in you and rooting for you and making them think. Well done. Last question, do you have any advice for aspiring authors now that you’ve gone through this slog?

Quinta: Of course, it depends on what people want to do, what they want to make. I just feel like aspiring authors should think about the younger generation. I think they need nourishment. We’re often trying to reach out to our peers. Are you a millennial as well?

Zibby: No.

Quinta: Okay. My generation, I just feel like we do a lot of talking to self. That’s great. Whatever, that’s what we do. I do think the younger generation could use some nourishment. I just think it’s really beneficial for us to start trying to talk to them because it’s needed. I know how important books were to me from people from the previous generation. I think it’s really important. I’ve read a lot of stuff recently from people in my age group where I’m like, I don’t need this lesson. I’m fine. I just want us to keep people younger than us in mind because it’s helpful. Books are blueprints. Especially essay books are blueprints for a lot of the people younger than us. I try to think about that and what books did for me. I think books were the difference whether or not I was going to stay in Philadelphia or go pursue comedy, go pursue my field, or whatever. It was more that than anything. It wasn’t me watching TV or me watching movies or watching documentaries. It was books like Mindy Kaling’s and Tina Fey’s where I was like, look at these documented things, or even Amy Sedaris’s book. Those things helped me to feel like I had a friend who had done it. I think that’s what’s important. That would be my number-one piece of advice. Then my other piece of advice is to — we’ll see how this works out for me, so maybe they don’t take this advice. I think being as vulnerable as possible and really checking in with your own self. Sometimes I do read books and it’s like, who are you talking you? Who are you? Sometimes I’ll read a book and I’m like, I didn’t come here to be taught. I just wanted to read a book. I don’t need the lessons all the time. I think it’s cool to be as vulnerable as you can and to admit, in the beginning of book, I don’t know everything. I know some things, but I don’t know everything. Then work from there.

Zibby: I love that. That’s it. That’s authentic and real and awesome. PS, my dad is from Philadelphia. We used to get Tastykakes. I loved that you put that in the book too. That is required breakfast. So much I didn’t even get to discuss, your cousin and all this stuff. Anyway, thanks for the book. I’m not even in your target audience. I’m forty-four years old. I’m not a millennial, but that was the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day. Thank you for even asking. If I were you, don’t worry about what people don’t like because you’re right, people have their own issues. That reflects more about them than it does about you. Just go and celebrate the accomplishment. Just keep on keeping on.

Quinta: Thank you. Wow, thank you. This was nice. I knew this would be a good podcast. I did. I knew it.

Zibby: Oh, good. I’m so glad. Have a great day. Really wishing you all the best of luck.

Quinta: Thank you so much. Have a good one.

Zibby: Enjoy.

Quinta: Bye.

Quinta Brunson, SHE MEMES WELL

SHE MEMES WELL by Quinta Brunson

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