Photo credit: Kristen Jennings
Describe your latest book.
My new book of essays is called We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
It’s basically a collection of strung-together swear words that turned out pretty funny. It chronicles the last several years of my life, with bits from the past and a little nod to the future.
What was your favorite book as a child?
. Or maybe Misery
. I was a pretty intense kid and Stephen King is a really good storyteller, so I spent a lot of my young life absorbed in his books. I really like a lot of details and descriptions, like, tell me exactly how frayed her shirt was and list every single thing on the kitchen table, and he writes like that. Also he is a prolific writer and churns out 500+ page books; every time you finish one he’s got another bullet in the chamber, ready to blow your minds again.
When did you know you were a writer?
Probably not until I saw my first book in an actual bookstore. Although even now I kind of feel like a fraud because I’ve never taken a single writing class or workshop and I read Bird by Bird
so long ago I can’t even remember what it said.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I have a big black metal desk that I got from CB2 that looks totally punk rock and modern shoved into the corner of our cozy farmhouse living room, right across from the wood-burning stove. I like to be surrounded by a lot of stuff when I work, so my desk is piled high with stacks of books I want to read and unopened mail that I don’t. I really love the collage artist Eugenia Loli, so I have several large prints of hers on the wall above my desk, a chalk drawing of Forest Whitaker hanging next to the largest collage piece, and on the opposite wall a beautiful watercolor of my cat Helen rolling her eyes in what I can only assume is disgust at whatever I’m working on. There’s a cardboard banker’s box full of magazines and scented candles under the desk, and a couple of bright green succulents in pots lining the window next to the desk. I also keep a set of resistance bands under my desk as a reminder that an alternative to turning in my work on time is 50 biceps curls, which probably explains why my book is so long. I also used to keep a vase of flowers on my desk but all they did was wilt and die, which felt like too real of a metaphor for my dumb jokes.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Manners. Which I know might come as a surprise considering how much I swear and how little I tend to keep to myself. But I have impeccable manners. I am painfully self-aware and always treading carefully with the feel of publicly embarrassing myself looming over me, so I try to be as polite as possible to narrow the odds of that happening. And when I say “manners” I don’t mean using the proper fork or anything like that. I mean walking on the right side of the sidewalk to reduce the chances of running headfirst into someone looking down at his phone, or arriving at the salon 20 minutes early for a haircut even though my barber is always late because I don’t want anyone scowling at me when I cut into her time in the chair with my gross tardiness. I use my turn signal and I pull all the way up at a red light and I tip the mail carrier and I would never carry on a bag that was clearly too big for the airplane’s overhead bin, because I don’t want to get hit or honked at or be hated by the postman or every other passenger impatiently waiting for the flight attendant to gate-check my bag while I make us all late. I’m acutely aware of the space I take up in the world, and how the noise I make may be affecting someone. I wear headphones, I don’t make public calls, I would never eat a tuna sandwich with onions near people who could smell it. So yeah, I might not have a form thank you letter memorized to send to someone who gives me a gift, but rest assured that I would never try to engage you in mindless conversation we have to shout across a crowded rush-hour train.
Share an interesting experience you’ve had with one of your readers.
I married one? The short version: she tweeted at me, I responded, she responded, we got married. The long version is in my book, so you’ll just have to read it to find out the rest.
Tell us something you’re embarrassed to admit.
I hate editing my work. Getting a piece back with notes on it is super embarrassing to me. And it’s not ego; I have absolutely zero ego when it comes to professional corrections of my stuff. I just feel eight years old again, humiliated because I didn’t see the mistake as I was working on it. I wasn’t really a high achiever in school, so it’s not like I have this record of perfection to adhere to. It’s just that shame is such a ready emotion for me; I’m quick to mortify, and every highlighted spelling error or run-on sentence feels like an accusation, that my impostor syndrome is about to be made real.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
I cannot stop talking about The Mothers
by Brit Bennett. I got it the day it came out and read it the same day. It was incredibly compelling, and I was genuinely invested in every single character. I want Brit to write a dozen more books. Like, today. But I understand that that’s a lot of pressure to put on a stranger, so I’ll just be over here patiently waiting to buy every single thing she ever publishes.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I have every single one of Carl Hiaasen
’s books. And I’m not sure I’m his target demographic, or am I? Is he writing these madcap Florida capers for "chubby black nerds"? But I love him so very much. His books are just so wild. I got on the Hiaasen train late; I started with Skinny Dip
when it came out and worked my way backward, and I’ve read everything he’s ever written since. Even his books for children are brilliant and hilarious.
What’s the strangest or most interesting job you’ve ever had?
In 2001 I worked as a researcher on a political campaign once for this guy who was running for Illinois attorney general, even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The job was in this sweet high rise in downtown Chicago, and I didn't know what “business casual” meant, so I spent a lot of time there feeling dumb about my clothes and reading press releases while eating cheap takeout Thai from the restaurant below the office. I definitely had this idealistic naïveté about government and the election process, and even though I was pretty far down the bench, I learned very quickly that winning is about money and influence and having the political machine behind you. I’m not even sure how I charmed my way into that job, but after we lost (sad!) I never worked in matters of state again.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I’m not even sure what this means, so I’m pretty sure I haven’t. Is it, like, taking a road trip to a place you’ve read about? Making a pilgrimage worth writing about!? Either way, I’m fairly certain I have never done so because I am not a good traveler and “pilgrimage” is one of those words that has a negative connotation to me, a word that feels like “tired” or “suffering” on my tongue.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Being forced to either read or listen to negative reviews of my work. I don’t ever read reviews, because even if I encountered 99 good ones, my mind would never stop zeroing in on the one that said “THIS IS TRASH.” I don’t have enough confidence to laugh that off, and I haven’t yet acquired that extra layer of skin that protects you from people tweeting 140 characters of hate vomit at you, so I don’t even bother. Especially because my inclination isn’t even to get angry — it’s to wish I could talk to that person and carefully explain what I was trying to do, or how they misinterpreted what was meant to be a harmless joke. I do understand that everything isn’t for everyone. I’ve read lots of books that I would never pick up again. We all have. But I’m also not the kind of person to publish a review online or seek out the author of something that didn’t grab me and give them a piece of my mind. What the fuck do I know? And why ruin some innocent author’s day by hating on a piece of writing I likely did not understand!? People can hate whatever they want and if it’s me, that’s cool, but I don’t think I have to go find it and read about it. The problem then becomes my well-meaning friends who misguidedly screenshot and send to me the one-star Amazon review left by someone’s angry uncle who doesn’t think girls should write about butts, but my iPhone has that block feature, so actually I think I’m all good.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Dumber Than She Sounds: The World’s Most Boring Comedian
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
“My daughter is happy and brave. When she falls down or gets hurt, the first words out of her mouth are always: I’m all right, Mom. I’m okay. And she is. I want her to be okay always. So while my refusal to keep laughing or making you comfortable may seem like a real fucking downer, the truth is that this is what optimism looks like. Naming what is happening to us, telling the truth about it — as ugly and uncomfortable as it can be — means that we want it to change. That we know it is not inevitable.”
– Jessica Valenti, Sex Object
Share a sentence of your own that you’re particularly proud of.
“I braced myself and watched the slow-motion horror movie that is the empty conversation bubble that pops up on an iPhone when someone is typing a message to you, terrified that I might have been an overzealous abuser of exclamation points who dotted her I’s with hearts in my youth.”
Describe a recurring or particularly memorable dream or nightmare.
I dream about Tom Cruise with embarrassing frequency. A couple weeks ago I dreamed that he was in town to promote a movie and, for reasons that are unclear to me because I’m a terrible organizer and super unmotivated, I was tasked with “showing him around.” So basically I get in our car, which is full of empty coffee cups and baggies full of nuts and Cheerios and start driving him around on my daily errands. And Tom is totally humoring me, but I’m not sure if it’s because he’s kind of scared because he’s in a strange place and I’m his only link or if he actually thinks watching me pick through nectarines at the farmer’s market is charming. In the dream I could feel this tension rolling off him in waves, yet I just could not stop ignoring his movie star needs in favor of my own shit. I was totally stressed about getting him to his event on time, but I kept saying, “I just need to run to the bank,” and, “Sit in the car while I go grab this cat food.” I have no idea how it ended but I woke up in a panic, totally embarrassed that I had gone through the McDonald’s drive-thru with Jerry McGuire in the passenger seat of my filthy mom car.
What’s your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Old me would’ve said “misused apostrophes,” but current me knows that correcting someone’s grammar might make me look like a classist asshole, so now I try to avoid doing that. Although it does kinda make me die inside when I see it.
Do you have any phobias?
I’m not sure that this qualifies as an actual phobia, but it is a waking nightmare for me to be trapped in a car/room/other small enclosure with a person who won’t stop asking me shit. I will launch into this exhausting charm offensive because I’m terrified of coming across as rude, even to a rude person asking invasive questions that have no bearing on either his life or our shared experience. I don’t know how to say “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t want to talk to you” without feeling like bursting into flames for the duration of the cab ride, so I instead do the opposite and go into great detail about my childhood pets or whatever. Never talk to me.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
My favorite time wasters are makeup tutorials on YouTube. There is something so soothing about spending hours listening to pleasant voices guide you through expert winged eyeliner application and under-eye-circle concealment. The wildest part, though, is that I rarely wear makeup, and if I do, I’m too allergic to put any on my eyes and too much of a pig to keep anything on my face looking nice for more than an hour and a half, tops. I have shaky hands and hate paying attention to things, so if I wear mascara, it’s definitely speckled around my eye and my attempts at nail painting always look like a child did it. But I love watching total transformations, acne-spotted and kind of greasy, when I should be doing something useful. Like exfoliating my T-zone.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Top five essay collections/memoirs, not written by me, but by people I actually know in real life.
1. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
by Kiese Laymon
by Roxane Gay
by Lindy West
4. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
by Issa Rae
5. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter
by Scaachi Koul
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writes a blog called “bitches gotta eat.” Her new book is We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.