Zibby Owens: Hi, everybody. I hope you’re having a nice Thursday. I hope you enjoy this following podcast. I also hope that this week you’ve had time to check out my new website called wefoundtime.com. You can also access it on zibbyowens.com. It’s a collection of original, exclusive essays written entirely by guests who have been on this podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” This week’s five essays are by Gretchen Rubin, Claire Gibson, Elissa Altman, Nicole Kear, and also one from myself. Each week, we’ll have different authors writing about things that moms might not have time do but that they somehow found time to do. It’s intended to be a little respite from the rest of your life while you just read and consume great new content in a new way while we’re all stuck at home. It was not supposed to be a stuck-at-home publication, but hey, why not? We’re all here. I hope it helps you. I hope you like it. Let me know. Look forward to more essays each week from different authors. Also, don’t forget to watch my Instagram Live show today from eleven to twelve. I’ll have five new authors on, four or five, mostly five each day. They have great, interesting things to say. Please check it out on @ZibbyOwens.

I’m excited to be interviewing Tara Schuster today via Skype who’s the author of Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: And Other Rituals to Fix Your Life, from Someone Who’s Been There. That was all the title, by the way. She is currently the vice president of talent and development at Comedy Central and is the executive in charge of Light’s Out with David Spade. She was formerly the executive in charge of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning Key & Peele, Midnight, and numerous other shows. Her plays have been performed at the International Fringe Festival. Her writing has been featured in The New Yorker and Forbes online. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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

Tara Schuster: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Can you please tell listeners what your book is about?

Tara: My book is the story of how I reparented myself. What that means is I grew up in a really neglectful household where things came to die, the plants, the pets. Iggy the iguana was just a goner because nobody knew what to feed iguanas or that we should. It was just chaos. By the time I was twenty-five, I was this mess, wreck, disaster of a person suffering from chronic anxiety and depression which felt really physical. It felt like I was living in a headache. I felt like I was living in a panic attack. On a good day, this would reduce me to sobbing on the subway or falling apart on a random person’s stoop. That was a good day because it meant I had held my — can I curse, or no cursing? I can not curse.

Zibby: I think, go for it. Curse, it’s fine.

Tara: It meant that I held my shit together at work if I was crying on a random person’s stoop as opposed to in my cubicle. This would’ve, I think, kept going on had I not hit rock bottom at twenty-five when I drunk-dialed my therapist on my twenty-fifth birthday threatening to hurt myself. That next morning I played back the voicemails that she had left me. When I heard the worry in her voice, the concern for my safety, I got really worried. I realized this is not a sustainable life. I’m not going to make it if I don’t make some radical changes, but how do I move forward? I don’t have any mentors to go to. I don’t have parents I can ask. I don’t even know how to change a vacuum cleaner filter, so how exactly am I supposed to change my life? I also kind of felt like I shouldn’t feel this bad, that in a lot of ways I was privileged. I had gone to really good schools. My parents had gone into credit card debt to keep me in private schools. I had student loans, so I went to a really good college. I was always really good at work. That was where I shined, but I was just so bad at life. That next morning I decided it really didn’t matter if I should or shouldn’t feel this way. The only thing that was real was that I hated my life and wanted a new one. I wondered, what would happen if I reparented myself? What would happen if I became my own parents and I gave myself the nurturing I never had? What would that look like?

Since I had always been really good at school, the very first most natural thought I had was, let’s build a curriculum. Let’s build a curriculum of self-care. I started a Google doc where I put in all the questions I had that I wanted to learn the answers to, like, what are values? What are principles? What are vegetables? What are they and which ones should I be eating? I just attacked that Google document. I read a lot of memoirs as self-help. I think all memoir, in a sense, is self-care and self-help because it is the story of how people make sense of their lives. I followed any advice I heard, like anything, even stuff that sounded too woo-woo like starting a gratitude practice or journaling. I thought journaling was just for broken narcissists, not for me. Five years later, I had a six-hundred-page Google document. I was calm and stable and happy. I cannot describe what a shocker that is to me, that I am content with my life and not trying to run away from it anymore. That was when I realized I had a book in me, that I had an offering, something I wanted to share with other people because I think there are a lot of us out there who think we should be fine, and so we just repress any negative feelings because we shouldn’t feel that way. The truth is that shit just comes back up over and over and over again. I write in my book, that which you do not deal with deals with you, always. It becomes the soundtrack to your life. I thought if I could, through stories and through my own insights, help others, then that would be something meaningful. That could be something that I could put out into the world. That long ramble is what the book is about.

Zibby: That was great. Are you kidding? That wasn’t a ramble. That was perfect. It was very articulate. That was more than what the book was about. That was the heart of the book right there, which was fantastic. Let me read you this one passage, if you don’t mind, which speaks to what you had started to talk about. This is in the self-hatred part, the before, before you developed your new plan. “I feel ashamed that sparks in my belly creeps up my chest and sets my heart on fire with hate. I hate myself. I hate the things I do. I hate my body. I hate this double life of being good at work and bad at life.” Just take me back to that moment a little more. Now I sound like a therapist. Take me back to that place. What did it feel like? Aside from hitting bottom, what did feeling like that inspire you to really — just tell me about that quote, something about it. What do you feel even hearing it again?

Tara: It’s funny. I’m so happy you chose that because I haven’t talked to anyone about that particular passage. It was so raw. There was such a particular shame about drunk dialing my therapist. I knew that was not a good look. That was not something somebody anywhere near stable would do. I felt a lifetime of shame because growing up I was told pretty explicitly, “You’re wrong. You are bad. Your body is bad.” I get into the book about specific times that that happened. It felt to me like every cell in my body hated me and was putting a knife in my heart, in my lungs, like a stabbing kind of pain that turned into a fire. It was painful. Even thinking about it now, I’m welling up a little bit because I have a lot of distance from that moment, but I have a lot of compassion for that version of myself, for the version of myself that just absolutely was miserable and then was adding blame to the misery.

I think that’s where a lot of people get stuck. They think, I feel bad about this one part of my life. I shouldn’t feel bad. If you’re putting a knife in yourself of self-hatred, then you really twist the knife when you say, I shouldn’t hate myself. You do further damage. I think I had to get that low to be able to climb back out again. I genuinely am grateful for hitting that rock bottom and for feeling those feelings because it allowed me to see where my floor was. That was the worst I’ve ever felt. I really wanted to describe it to readers because I wanted them to come with me for a second, to go down to the basement and see what scary things were there because we can all face the scary things. We can all feel our feelings. If I could do it, a completely unqualified — I’m not a special person. I just was willing to feel it. My message is you can get through these things. Glennon Doyle says we can do hard things. We really can. I wanted to make sure that people knew this wasn’t just a la, la, la, let’s go on vacation to Tuolumne self-care journey. There’s some feeling that you really have to do, to do the work.

Zibby: Just as a reader, you definitely took me down there with you. You were so expressive in your writing style and so conversational. I felt like I was literally sitting with you on the bathroom or wherever, which is why it’s all the more rewarding when you get to the place that you’re at, I presume, now. I can’t assume anything, but certainly when you wrote the book, you were feeling pretty good. I’m beyond impressed that you took the initiative. I could not do that. I could not sit there and basically give myself therapy for six hundred pages or whatever — six hundred, eight hundred, what did you say? — in a Google doc.

Tara: Six hundred.

Zibby: Six hundred, that’s impressive. There was a quote in the book where it said, “As I wrote, it felt like I was receiving DMs from my soul,” which I underlined. I was like, oh, my gosh, that’s perfect. It’s so true. Sometimes when you write, you don’t even know you’re thinking the things until they come out. Is that sort of what you found when you started writing it all?

Tara: Yeah. The book is based off of my findings in the Google doc, but the book is definitely a more thought-out version. The Google doc was just me experiencing my feelings for the first time ever, really, not being ashamed of my feelings, not repressing them, but actually feeling them. Between the doc and journaling, what I realized is journaling is the thing that can most quickly build self-awareness in anyone because it really forces you to be present. The act of writing is an act of being present. Even if you’re writing about the future or worried about the past, in your writing you are experiencing those things in the present. I thought it was going to be really hard to understand where all of my issues were and why was I such a mess? But it was pretty fucking easy. As soon as I started writing, my soul was like, we were never hugged. We were told we were bad. I’m scared. I talk to a lot of people. A lot of people ask me about journaling. They’re like, “Ugh, do I really have to journal? Is that really a good solution?” I’m like, yeah. I’ve been doing it for eight years. I’m not really that disciplined of a person. I just know it works.

Zibby: Do you really do it every day, the gratitude practice? I know you say you do. I just wanted verification.

Tara: Is it going to annoy you if I say yes?

Zibby: It’s not going to annoy me at all. I’m going to be impressed. I’m going to be totally impressed.

Tara: Yes, I journal three pages every day. I end that practice with a list of ten things I’m grateful for, every day for eight years. If anybody wants to be ten to twenty percent happier, if you just did a gratitude list of ten things every day, it makes a huge difference in your life. It takes a couple minutes, but now I’ve listed 32,000 things I’m grateful for, or some number like that. How do you not have a better perspective on your life when you’re constantly forcing yourself to do that? How I approach it, because I’ve heard — a lot of people have said, “You must be so disciplined that you do all these things.” I am not a disciplined person. I literally late night ate a chocolate babka muffin out of my freezer because I remembered it was there. It’s not discipline. What it is is enthusiasm. I know it works. I’m enthusiastic about it. I like feeling better. I really retrained my brain to think about journaling and the gratitude list and my other rituals as enthusiastic, joyful, fun things, not things I had to do; things that made my life richer, not that I was obligated to do. When you reframe it that way, then writing a gratitude list every day isn’t some disciplined act. It’s a fun thing that makes your life better. I’d love for my ego to be like, oh, you’re so disciplined, wow. Candidly, that’s not where it’s coming from. It’s definitely coming from my enthusiasm.

Zibby: Can you share, what were you grateful for today?

Tara: Oh, yeah. In these times, it’s become a lot more basic. For me, the things that I keep coming back to are food in the refrigerator, food in my freezer, fresh water, my heath, the health of my family. There’s nothing like a pandemic to show you what’s real, what’s essential. Maybe a month ago my biggest concern was should I or should I not get eyelash extensions? Everyone seemed to have eyelash extensions. Should I have those? Now I am grateful for a friend who checked in on me because she knows that I struggle with anxiety and depression. She just wanted to put her hand out there and say, “How’s it going?” Those were some of the things on my list this morning.

Zibby: That’s so nice. I know. It’s so funny. I feel like before this whole thing I was like, I should watch my weight. I’m so annoyed about how this fits, and this, that, and the other thing. Now I’m literally like, okay, so the global food supply situation, my supermarket’s pretty much empty. Where’s the food coming from? How do I know I’m going to get any more of it?

Tara: Right. This is the kind of thing where we can — I feel two ways about this moment. One is, I don’t love — I’ve seen a lot of posts on Instagram that are like, “This is the time to fix all your routines and do self-reflection and introspection,” and I agree. I think self-care in a crisis is mandatory because just like in the airplane safety videos, you really do need to put on your oxygen mask before you can help anybody else. I do think that’s really important, but I think we don’t need to put any pressure on ourselves to do pandemic perfectly. You don’t need to pick up a new habit and lose weight. People have been talking about, “I’m going to be so jacked by the end of this.” I just want to gently remind people we didn’t ask to be in this situation. This isn’t a productivity vacation. There’s a very real threat. I think we need to feel those feelings and feel that people are not safe and people are unwell, not to be overwhelmed by them, not just throw up our hands and lie on the couch and watch Love is Blind, but to recognize that this is not normal. There can be some learning from it. I didn’t know about the food supply. I didn’t know that my medication comes from China. There’s so many things about my life I didn’t know until this pandemic showed me. I don’t know if you’ve experienced any of that.

Zibby: I feel the same way. I feel exactly the same way. I took so many things for granted, that they would just be available. I called the pharmacy. I’m like, “I know that all these different medications for everybody in my family are not due for a couple — just FedEx them to me anyway. Don’t wait for the insurance.” I felt like I didn’t know if the pharmacist would still be in business. I didn’t know if FedEx would still be working. People have to live on these medications. Then I think, what if everybody else — not to use this podcast for my list of worries. What if everybody else’s medications run out? What’s everyone else doing? What if all the doctors succumb to this? Then what? In other words, yes. Also, I think I must be following completely different people from you on Instagram because nobody I follow is trying to get jacked or anything. My feed is all writers being like, “I can’t get any work done. I can’t focus,” and then moms wanting to tear their hair out and things like that.

Tara: We probably need to exchange some people to follow because I need a little bit more of the reality. Most of the people I follow are like, “How to be your most productive self in a pandemic.” I’m like, that is so off base. Yes, I’ve come up with some goals for myself. One thing I do think about is who do I want to be on the other side of this? How do I want to come out of this? How do I want to remember my time in this? Do I want to have just been worried and pressed pause on my life for however many months? Do I want to be somebody who was a resource to other people, who found some joy, still found some things to be excited and happy about? There’s nothing like this moment to say that there is no more time guaranteed. Not to be really bleak, but this reminds us of our mortality. Yes, we’re in this horrible place, but what joy can I still find while acknowledging that shit has hit the fan?

That’s even the message of the book. I had a really traumatic start at life. That’s always going to be true. I never get to go back and rewrite history. At the same time, it’s true that I have found ways to be grateful for that upbringing. It made me into the person I am today. It gave me a story that I can use to relate to other people who — you really don’t have to have had a childhood like mine to read the book. It’s not just for people who had a traumatic time. It’s for people who earnestly want to make their life a little better and make sure that the routines that they have in their life are ones they actively chose and that serve them well. I hope it’s also for people just to be entertained because I think there’s some good storytelling in there. That’s my thought on it.

Zibby: There’s great storytelling. Like I said, it’s so conversational. I feel like I just went out to dinner with you or something and I was sitting there laughing and being like, oh yeah, that’s good advice. I’m sure others feel the same.

Tara: I definitely wrote it with the reader in mind. At the end of the book, I write a thank you note to the reader thanking them for being with me the whole time. This is so woo-woo of me, but I felt the presence of a reader with me the whole time I was writing. I imagined somebody who was right there with me. When people comment, “This feels like I’m talking to my best friend,” or “This feels like I’m having a conversation,” it’s because they are. The way that I wrote it was keeping the reader in mind, keeping it a conversation, always trying to be my most honest, but also always going to the most vulnerable part of me. If I was going to write a memoir, what would be the point in trying to sugarcoat anything? I tried to be really real, but also really kind, kind to myself and kind to the people who appear in the book.

Zibby: What about your family? What has their reception been to this, to the book?

Tara: It’s been interesting. I don’t have a relationship with my mom. I feel like it’s very important to say that because I know that there are a lot of people out there that have estranged relationships with family members, but it’s just about the most taboo thing in our culture to say, “I don’t talk to my mom.” It’s like, “You should, though. You should call her. You only get one mom.” Those are responses I typically hear. The thing about that is I’m like, well, that’s so nice that you can’t even imagine why one might ultimately decide that they were better off without that relationship. I haven’t spoken to her about the book. My dad, however, he loves me. I have no question that my dad loves me. In the writing of the book, it was the first time that there was sort of a conversation about my childhood. I gave him and my sister the manuscript a year before it came out. There were time to still make changes. I said, “I have no intention to hurt you. Please tell me if anything in here rubs you the wrong way or you’d rather I not include it because I love you and I want to be sensitive to you.” My dad, to his credit, he said, “Don’t change a word. This all happened. This is the truth. I’m sorry I didn’t protect you.” It was the first time we had an honest conversation about my childhood. It was incredibly healing. If anything, the book has been really good for my relationship with my dad and sister. I’m very close with both of them. It helped us suss out some of our issues because now there was a narrative to talk about. Instead of a bunch of jumbled traumatic memories, there was sort of a chronology that we could talk about.

Zibby: That’s so great. I’m so glad it’s helped in that way.

Tara: Me too. I’m very glad.

Zibby: Were you inspired then to write other books? Do you think you’ll want to write more books now that you’ve done this one?

Tara: Hell yeah. Nothing has ever felt more natural to me than writing the book, even when it was horrible to do. I do not trust any writer who says that writing is fun. It’s a lot of things. Fun is not one of the words that I would apply to it, but it was really a very natural, great experience. I’m working on the proposal for the follow-up for this book right now in isolation. That actually is what I’m trying to accomplish in this isolation time. Let me work on the thing that feels good and natural and kind of tune out everything else that’s going on.

Zibby: Then you can get back to — what movie did you reference? I can’t remember. Love is Blind or something?

Tara: Yeah, exactly, or Tiger King or any of these Netflix shows that everybody’s talking about.

Zibby: Can you talk briefly about the process of writing it, like how you fit it in with your job at Comedy Central and all the rest?

Tara: Yes. You’ve asked my favorite question in the entire world, which is a process question. Are most authors like that? Do most authors want to talk about process? I love process.

Zibby: Nobody has said, “That’s my favorite question,” so I’m thrilled to finally have someone say that. Thank you.

Tara: Process is my favorite question because I think it demystifies writing. I’m all about demystifying anything that looks big and scary and overwhelming. My process in writing this book was, obviously I had this six-hundred-page Google doc and many, many journals full of, essentially, brain garbage. My journaling is not eloquent. In fact, it’s very rant-y. If I’m hungover, it’s very scrawled out. It did not have the makings of a book, for sure. When I set about writing it, I decided that the only way it was going to get written was if I wrote it in the mornings because that’s when my brain is the freshest. I’m not a morning person, and I have to be at my corporate job where I’m an executive at Comedy Central. It’s a serious, full-time corporate job where I go to an office and I work for the man. It’s a fun man. It’s actually a woman. It’s a fun place, but I just want people to be very clear that I’m not a full-time lifestyle blogger. No shade to that, it’s just I have no flexibility in my day.

I tricked myself twenty minutes at a time to wake up earlier and earlier and earlier until I got to about 6:40 AM. I also don’t have kids, so that was helpful in this. I would get up at 6:40. I would journal for twenty minutes. I’d make myself a cup of coffee. Then I would sit down at my desk and time myself for an hour. That’s when I would work on the book. There was no Instagram, no Facebook, no online shopping, no texting, zero distractions, everything off for that hour. Then when the alarm went off, I was free to go on with my day. I think one of the reasons I knew I was a writer was because I felt an incredible guilt if I didn’t write every day. I felt bad. I just figured probably not everybody feels bad if they don’t write. This is probably a sign that I need to be doing this. I would do that every morning. Then on the weekends, Saturday usually from eight AM to eleven AM, I could go over bigger chunks, so looking at how does this essay work with this next essay? Some Saturdays, it would have to be all of Saturday and all of Saturday night when I was getting close to having drafts. Whenever a draft was due, I would have to have a much longer sprint. I wanted to write a book, and the only way to write a book was to make time for it. I just made time in my current schedule instead of getting overwhelmed by, “I need to move to the country. I can’t have this job and do this thing.” I probably couldn’t have written the book, actually, without the job because the job gave me stability and security, which Adam Grant — do you know Adam Grant?

Zibby: I don’t.

Tara: He wrote Give and Take. He’s a fabulous author. He was voted the number-one professor at Wharton many times over. He writes in his book Originals that having structure in one part of our life gives us the leeway to take a risk in another. I think the structure of my job and needing to be somewhere and having that gave me the room to take a big creative risk in writing the book.

Zibby: That makes sense.

Tara: Was that an adequate process answer?

Zibby: That was the best process answer I’ve ever heard.

Tara: Yay! I needed a gold star for today. Thank you. Thank you for that gold star.

Zibby: Anytime. Thank you so much for sharing all of this and for your book and for your openness and even just that you want to take your life and how you’ve figured out a way to reset yourself and how willing you are to share that with other people to help them too, it’s really great. It’s a true gift. Thank you on behalf of everybody reading it. I’m sorry it’s come out during this time where there’s not enough events and forums for you to be celebrated, but hopefully when everybody gets out of the house again, there’ll be a continuation of the tour.

Tara: Exactly. I definitely had to reframe this. I really hate when people call this the new normal. I’m like, no, it’s not. It’s the temporary circumstances that we’re in. I’m not going to accept this as the new normal. I’m excited to celebrate it when I can. I will say that it’s been really amazing. People have reached out to me and have said, “Thank god I have this book in this particular time. It’s a real comfort to me.” In a weird way, the timing sucks in terms of my own ego and getting to do fun things around the book, but in terms of the goal that I ever had, which was to make people feel less alone, maybe this was the perfect time. At least, that’s how I’m reframing things in my head so that I don’t go crazy.

Zibby: I need you around here to reframe things for me on a regular basis. I need an on-call reframer.

Tara: Anytime. That’s the muscle I’ve worked out the most, is reframing. Hit me up anytime. I’ll reframe something for you.

Zibby: Perfect. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Tara: Thank you so much for having me.