Wendi Aarons, I'M WEARING TUNICS NOW: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder

Wendi Aarons, I'M WEARING TUNICS NOW: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder

Humor writer Wendi Aarons joins Zibby to discuss her hysterical, honest, and moving new memoir I’m Wearing Tunics Now: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder. Wendi talks about her witty and unique clothes-themed essays, explaining how each article of clothing (from chunky heels to maternity pants to cooling cloths) connected meaningfully to an important time in her life. The two also discuss motherhood, aging, weight gain, and self-acceptance (which are all so rarely discussed in books). Finally, Wendi shares the origins of her writing career (it all started with a satiric piece about maxi pads!) and what is currently on her TBR list.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Wendi. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss I’m Wearing Tunics Now: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder.

Wendi Aarons: Thank you for having me here. This is really fun.

Zibby: I’m curious what your alternate titles were. This is such a good title. Did you have something else?

Wendi: Not really. That just stuck with me. I’m not wearing a tunic today. I don’t wear them all the time. A tunic was kind of a metaphor for no longer caring what anybody thinks of how you dress except for yourself. I just stuck with it. No other titles.

Zibby: It’s so good.

Wendi: Thank you.

Zibby: First of all, tell listeners — the title gives it away, but tell listeners about the content of the book and what made you write it and all of that good stuff.

Wendi: I’m a humor writer. I’ve written satire for McSweeney’s and The New Yorker Daily Shouts for years. I was approached about writing something longer form. Humor is my lane. I wanted to stay in that, but it is . I started to write more humorous essays about getting older and this phase of life because there isn’t a lot out there. To be honest, in the past, I didn’t think I really had anything I wanted to say that was long enough for a book. I realized when I turned fifty, I’m like, there isn’t a lot out there examining how a woman changes from thirty to fifty in a humorous way. There is, but not that I had seen recently. I always say that I never thought I had a book in me because my life is so ordinary. I’m not like . I haven’t climbed any mountains. I’m not doing anything extraordinary, but what I’ve done is relatable, which I’m finding out with the response to the book. Each chapter has a title like, I’m Wearing Blank Now. I’m Wearing Maternity Pants Now. I’m Wearing Twinset Sweaters Now. Nobody Cares What I’m Wearing Now. I realized that my life and many women’s lives can be framed by what our fashion is at that point in time. That was the trajectory. The book starts when I’m thirty and ends when I’m at my current age in my fifties. That transition from being a young mom, finding my place in the world, getting louder and more politically active, realizing that there’s so much freedom in erasure when all of a sudden you aren’t subject to the male gaze, or you feel kind of condescended to just because you have some gray hair — I’m really going crazy with this description right now.

Zibby: I love it. Keep going.

Wendi: I feel more confident and more powerful at this age than I ever have before in my life. I didn’t plan on having any inspiration whatsoever in my book. I just wanted it to be funny, but I’m getting feedback that it is kind of inspirational. Let’s talk about how hard it is to find friends as a mom and as an older woman. I have some thoughts in there about how I did it. Life is not impotent. If you want to do something and you want to go down a new path, do it now. There’s no reason to wait anymore. There’s, that’s my five-second spiel that I think actually went on for two minutes.

Zibby: Take your time. This is your show to hawk your wares, if you will. I’m serious. Here, let’s go through some of the clothes. You can give a little snippet. You go from, I’m Wearing Chunky Heels Now, I’m Wearing Maternity Pants, Twinsets, Conference Swag. I’m Wearing Bad Decisions from the Juniors Department Now. I’m Wearing Fury Now. No One Cares What I’m Wearing Now. I’m Wearing Business Casual Now. I’m Wearing Wrinkles Now (Or Am I?) I’m Wearing a Bigger Size Now. I’m Wearing the Name Ma’am Now. I’m Wearing Cooling Cloths Now. I’m Wearing Decades Now. I’m Wearing a Slower Pace. I’m Wearing a Party Hat. I’m Wearing Badass. I’m Wearing Tunics.

Wendi: That’s pretty much it. That’s my life in a nutshell right there.

Zibby: Talk about I’m Wearing a Bigger Size Now. Then it says, “Nine ways I wish I could boost my metabolism.” You’re so funny.

Wendi: Probably, I would think that most women go through this when your metabolism suddenly changes in midlife. I was doing all the diet/exercise I’ve done my entire life, but I was gaining weight just because of hormones and pre-menopause or perimenopause and all of that. It’s a humorous take on that and how I tried Weight Watchers and stuck to the letter and did everything. Then I gained five pounds at the end of the month just because your body is not — you can’t control it anymore. It’s just a different feeling. Like I said, I think most women go through this at that age. You either laugh or you cry. That’s how I put it. I tried to explain how it was for me. I’ve kind of regulated back to how I was before, but it’s weird. Everything you thought you could control, all of a sudden, you can’t, which explains about a million things in life. For me, it was the metabolism. My body was changing. I always say I would never go back to being age thirty again, but I would take certain body parts from when I was thirty and have those come back. It’s a little bit rough with the self-acceptance in certain phases of midlife.

Zibby: I used to actually, back in the day, work at Weight Watchers.

Wendi: It’s a great program.

Zibby: After business school, I was like, I have to lose these twenty pounds. I’ve tried everything in the world, but I haven’t tried Weight Watchers. Who knows? I got so gung-ho about it. I was like, oh, my gosh, it’s the only thing in the planet that’s going to work for me. I got so carried away that I was like, I’m going to be a leader. I have to get to this goal. I became a receptionist. Then I became a leader. I started leading meetings.

Wendi: That’s really cool.

Zibby: What did I know? I was twenty-eight. I would hate myself now. I was twenty-eight and a size zero. My hair was falling out. I was freezing cold all the time. I was barely eating. It was not the best. I go back to that time because I did a good job. They promoted me. I became a private meeting leader. I would go to people’s homes. I had this one client. I would go to her home on 1st Avenue once a week. She was middle-aged and going through all of this stuff. We would look at her food records. I remember thinking, I don’t know, she’s doing everything right. I don’t know why you’re not losing weight. I don’t know.

Wendi: That’s exactly it.

Zibby: Now that I am that age, I’m just like, oh, my gosh. Okay, I guess I’ll just be a large. It’s okay. I’ll just be a large.

Wendi: It’s okay. That was it too. I grappled with, it’s ridiculous, I shouldn’t have to get down to a certain size. I shouldn’t have to go get Botox. I shouldn’t have to color my hair. I know all of that. Then on the other hand, I’m like, but I don’t want to look in the mirror and be scared of not recognizing myself. If all these other women in my neighborhood are doing that, then I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb. It’s just this quandary. I haven’t figured it out yet.

Zibby: I’m forty-six now. I just feel like, all of a sudden, especially post-COVID when no one could get Botox for a while, there’s this whole group of women who I’m like, oh, my goodness, okay. That’s what we’re doing. All right. The holiday cards were so funny. I feel like middle age is similar, as one of these womanly moves, you don’t know how you’re going to be as a pregnant person until you’re pregnant. You don’t know. Are you going to be one of these beautiful pregnant people? Are you going to be hideous and your nose gets too big like mine with my twins? All my features distorted. You just don’t know. It’s the same thing for middle age. Nobody warns you this could go any way. It’s out of your control. You’re going to have to ride it out.

Wendi: You have to ride it out. I say in the book that it’s similar to puberty. It’s a big change. Hormones are involved in each case. All of a sudden, you’re like, why did I just sit in my closet and cry for twenty minutes after watching that 90 Day Fiancé episode? It’s a weird feeling. It’s unsettling. That’s why I’m like, let’s just make some laughs about it. Hopefully, most people can relate to it. That’s my way of coping with the world, is finding what’s funny.

Zibby: We have to commiserate, right?

Wendi: We do.

Zibby: Otherwise, forget it. How did you get into humor writing and writing in general? Start back in the day. How did this whole thing start?

Wendi: Back in the day. I’ve been getting asked a lot if I was a funny kid, and the answer is no. I was not a funny kid. I was the one in the corner reading and reading and reading. I was a big bookworm, but my sensibility was for humor. I was the strange six-year-old walking into the city library and checking out Erma Bombeck books.

Zibby: I love Erma Bombeck.

Wendi: I know. I guess I identified with domestic housewife humor at a very young age. I reread her because she’s so sharp and witty and I think didn’t get the recognition that was due because she was writing about women and domestic issues. I always loved humor. I would seek out funny movies and funny books and all of that. It wasn’t until I had been a mom — I was laid off from my advertising job when I was pregnant. I became, as I say, a reluctant stay-at-home mom. I started writing as an outlet. My brain just goes naturally to humor. I teach a lot of kids’ humor-writing classes. I tell them, if you all had the assignment to write something about a horse, some of you would write a poem. Some of you would write something dark and twisty. Some of you, like me, would write a joke because that’s how your brain is wired. You see the world in a funny way. That’s how I started to make sense of the world, motherhood. I wrote a lot of funny parenting stuff. The thing that changed my life, and it’s in the book, I wrote an angry letter to Procter & Gamble about their Always maxi pad “Have a happy period” slogan for McSweeney’s. It’s a satiric piece.

I’m like, yay, I got something published on a website. Then it went viral. This is before Twitter and Facebook existed. It went viral like, people were printing it out and mailing it to their friends. That was a huge thing in my life because I’m like, somebody wants to hear my voice. I’m sitting here in my little Texas bedroom with my kids in the next room typing away. What I wrote resonated with all of these people. They liked my humor. They liked my feminist point of view, blah, blah, blah. That led to starting a blog. The blogs were a big deal back in the early 2000s. That was my way of connection. I’m like, I can put my humor voice out there. Through that, I’m going to meet these other funny women that are in Wisconsin and New York City and all these other places. It was just the best gift in the world. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t put myself out there and taken a risk and just said, I’m going to write what I think is funny. Hopefully, it’ll attract a few people that get me.

Zibby: That’s amazing, oh, my gosh. How did you get it into McSweeney’s? Did you just pitch randomly?

Wendi: Yeah. I tell aspiring humor writers this. The beauty of McSweeney’s and also New Yorker Daily Shouts is anybody can submit something. I remember way back when, I would try to get into magazines. You’d have to track down the address and submit it. It just was too hard for some want-to-be-writer in Austin, Texas. When the internet started — I sound like Al Gore. Back when the tubes and wires were hooked up… McSweeney’s, anybody can submit. It’s really been interesting to see the wave of female humor writers take off over the past ten years. If you go onto their site on any given day, it’s usually, the top trending pieces are all women writers, which I think is fantastic. They’re writing about parenting and whatnot. My piece, “I’m Wearing Tunics Now,” that’s in the book has been trending on McSweeney’s for a couple months, which is great. It’s such a good way to get your work amplified because people will share it. Now they can email it and text it to each other. They don’t have to print it out. It’s been wonderful.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Then what about The New Yorker?

Wendi: The New Yorker — this is typical me. I was really upset a few years ago because I’d never had anything in The New Yorker. Then I’m like, oh, I’ve never submitted to them. That would help. I’ve had some pieces in there. The ones that have done well have been about midlife, how midlife women can stun in cell phone photos, which is in the book. One of my favorite pieces happened after I was interviewing for jobs trying to get back in the workforce. It was really humiliating. My way of therapy is to make fun of it with a satiric piece. I wrote, “We can’t ask your age in this job interview, but please take this quiz about rotary phones.” I loved it. The New Yorker ran it. It’s in the book. I have these emotions and these jokes. I don’t know what to do with it, so I sit down, and it comes out that way in a satiric piece.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Who do you love to read? Who are some of your favorites?

Wendi: I follow your accounts. Everything you have up there is what I read. You have great taste. I read novels. I read a lot of novels. I like thrillers. I used to read about a book a week. That slowed down. I found my attention span is — I just watch TV. I need to break that. I just started Cloud Cuckoo Land, which I’ve had forever. I’m like, this is a daunting challenge because it’s five million pages. I’m going to sit down and make myself read it for an hour a day. Of course, once I get into it, I’m going to be hooked and want to read it all the time. I read mostly women writers. That’s not a conscious choice, but that seems to be who’s putting out the most interesting stuff right now.

Zibby: When I was preparing for my interview with Anthony Doerr, I ended up going back and reading this memoir he wrote about his time in Paris. Have you read that?

Wendi: No, that sounds great.

Zibby: You should go back to that. Not to discourage you from Cloud Cuckoo Land. If you’re feeling like you’re not in the mood for that one particular night but you still want to be loyal to the author, you might want to dip into it. It’s a quicker read, but it tells you so much about him and puts a new light on everything he’s written since.

Wendi: That’s good.

Zibby: I’m like, why have I not even heard about this? I guess it was before all the success of All the Light We Cannot See.

Wendi: I loved All the Light We Cannot See so much. My kids had to read it in school, which I thought was wonderful.

Zibby: Really?

Wendi: Yeah.

Zibby: I always look at what they’re bringing home. I’m like, tell me I interviewed this person. Come on, I have to impress my kids. No, never heard of him. Then they’re like, “Can you interview Neil Patrick Harris?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I’ll try.”

Wendi: You can come up with some reason.

Zibby: Maybe I’ll try because they’re reading that today. By the time I book the podcast, they’ll be over it and be like, whatever.

Wendi: That’s funny.

Zibby: What are you working on now?

Wendi: I’m not sure. I’m in the promotion phase of the book, which I like and I don’t like because I’m kind of itching to get back just to writing. I have a recent empty nest, so I’m batting around the idea of writing something funny about that, but I haven’t found anything funny about it yet.

Zibby: Aw.

Wendi: I know. All the books that exist about empty nest are very sad and maudlin. It’s just another phase of life. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with your partner, to start traveling more, to try a new path that you maybe haven’t done. I’m optimistic about this phase of life, but it’s also bittersweet. It’s melancholy. You walk past the empty rooms. My older son goes to school in London, which is a great opportunity for us to go to London as much as possible. I highly recommend that. If your kids are looking for colleges, have them go someplace you want to visit a lot.

Zibby: I will be sending them to Australia.

Wendi: Exactly. Here, go to college at this Sandals resort in Jamaica. They have a school.

Zibby: It’s great. I am divorced and remarried. Every other week, all my rooms are empty. It started seven years ago when my kids were really little. I still have them part time. Although, my older two go to boarding school. I relate to that so much because I get little glimpses of it. When it started, I was like, this is the worst thing in the entire world. This is like grief. It feels like grief. It struck all the same nodes of grief that I have. I had the same response. It’s sad.

Wendi: I could see that. On the other hand, you’re like, they’re thriving. They’re happy. They’re in a safe space.

Zibby: Then I was like, buh-bye, I’m flying to LA. I still get sad. I started this whole business. Now I’m like, wait, what? I used to have time? That was part of why I started all this, is to fill the time when they weren’t here.

Wendi: You’re not just going to sit home and play cats in the cradle and look at baby scrapbooks.

Zibby: Very sad. What’s been the most effective way to reach this audience? How have you connected the most? What have been the most effective channels for you? Where have you met the most engaged readers of it?

Wendi: The day the book came out, McSweeney’s nicely ran the “I’m Wearing Tunics Now” piece. That did really, really well. I think that was, for me, the best place. They’re all about humor. It’s easily sharable. That’s done really well. I’ve been doing podcasts, which I like a lot. Later this month, I’m doing Tunics and Tea at Austin’s legendary Driskill Hotel in this fancy ballroom, which was an interesting invitation. I guess I need to get a fascinator and all that. I’ll say that humor brings people together. If you can make somebody laugh, you have them in the palm of your hand. We all like to laugh at the same thing. It lightens the mood. It’s an endorphin thing to laugh. Any time I can get together with a group and read from the book, that’s been really successful just because it’s funny. I’m not reading some dark, twisty poetry. That’s also effective, but it creates a different mood. When you’re making people laugh, it’s more celebratory.

Zibby: Why do you think this has been not written about enough, even old age? In this bookstore I’m opening, I have a whole coming-of-middle-age section, which would include this book. Somebody was like, why don’t you have a coming-of-geriatric-age section? I’m like, what would I put there?

Wendi: There isn’t much. I say in my book that the words, even the phrase middle age, kind of has a negative tinge about it. When you and I were growing up, women would say, a lady never reveals her age. It was this big mystery. I’m Gen X. I think you are too. We’re getting to be where we’re just like, I hate this phrase, but living out loud. We’re like, yeah, I’m fifty-five. This is it. This is my life. Gen X really started writing about parenting more than anybody had before. I think now we’re going to write about this. You’ve probably noticed Gwyneth and Naomi Watts and Brooke Shields, they all have these companies about midlife. I think it’s just taking these big mouths getting to this age and wanting to talk about it. I don’t know if I’ll be writing a book about being sixty, but maybe. Again, it’s me trying to find a connection and trying to put out something that I hope people will relate to and make them feel less lonely.

Zibby: The best aging — I don’t know if you’ve read Judith Viorst’s essays on aging. Have you read On Being 70 90?

Wendi: Yes, yes, yes. So good.

Zibby: So good. I feel like that’s all I would put in my section. We need more books like that. I also like to read books about the next phase. I always have done that to let me know what’s coming. I don’t have any older siblings or anything. I feel like this is how I sort of mentally plan or prepare. I was in high school reading about what it’s like to plan your wedding or something. Now I’m like, okay, time to prep for .

Wendi: Definitely, read the chapter in my book about turning fifty since you’re coming up to that in about four or five years.

Zibby: Yes, for sure. This was so fun. I’m so excited to get a chance to talk to you. I’m glad I got to meet you in person.

Wendi: Yeah, thank you for coming to that.

Zibby: I didn’t even know how I was invited to that party. I was like, I just have to meet her.

Wendi: That was fun. It blew my mind that — Zibby’s talking about, I had a book launch party in New York City in November that my friend Isabelle threw. It was surreal to me. I’m like, how do I know all these many people in New York City? Like I said, I started writing this in my Austin, Texas, bedroom. It was great to see you there. It was a fun party.

Zibby: Do you still live in Texas, in Austin?

Wendi: Yeah, we’ve been in Austin twenty-five years.

Zibby: I’m dying to get down there. I’m doing these retreats. I want to do one in Austin because I’ve never been to Texas.

Wendi: Let me know because I know great retreat places. We have a very, very strong writing community in Austin, so many novelists and people that I’m sure you know their names. That would be fantastic.

Zibby: That’s on my to-do list maybe for the fall. I want to do California and Texas if I can stay standing through the .

Wendi: The fall in Texas is much better than the summer. Plan that way.

Zibby: Fall everywhere is better than the summer, pretty much, except for the ocean.

Wendi: Agree.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on and this great guide to the funniness of the saddest parts of life and the inspiration, too, to just try and submit. Why not?

Wendi: Submit. Thank you. This was great. I love this podcast. I’m telling everybody I know that I was on it.

Zibby: Please do. Thank you.

Wendi: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye, Wendi.

Wendi: Bye.

Wendi Aarons, I'M WEARING TUNICS NOW: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder

I’M WEARING TUNICS NOW: On Growing Older, Better, and a Hell of a Lot Louder by Wendi Aarons

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