Archive for February 2013

The Next Big Thing

My buddy Cecil Castellucci tagged me in this meme, in which you talk about a project you’ve been working on. Which is incredibly scary for me because I almost never talk about the project I’m working on. I worry that the magic will leak out. But Cecil is a magical being and I’m pretty sure she would never let me do anything to drain the mojo.

First, you should know about Cecil because her books are the only ones that consistently go missing from my bookshelves. I always tell my babysitters that they’re free to borrow any books they want and somehow Cecil’s never make it back. I don’t mind, really. I get it. They’re treasures. Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults and the young at heart. You will want to read them under your covers with a flashlight. They will make you remember who you were once, who you still are somewhere. Read one now!

The book I’m writing right now is a memoir about my epically post-modern family. Here goes:

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This memoir is different from Some Girls in that it addresses the very recent past. I think that my blog has got me in the habit of writing from a life-in-progress, rather than sharing a narrative that was all tied up in a bow long ago. I knew that I wanted to talk about identity, motherhood, adoption because those are my most pressing themes right now, but I wasn’t sure what the medium was going to be. Initially, I wrote a one-woman show, which I toured with this summer. But it became clear to me that I needed a wider canvas. I needed space to explore the issues more in-depth. When I sat down to write, a memoir started coming out of me. Ultimately, I think that where books come from is a mysterious thing.

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie 
rendition?

Tariku should definitely play himself. Who else could possibly do it? Scarlett Johansen as me (as if!). Vincent Price as my father (kidding). Mike Patton as Scott (just cause he’d be STOKED and also I want to watch the fake me make out with him).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

MAPPING THE FAULT LINES is the story of letting go of my mothers in order to become a mother, and how the journey enabled me to forgive all three of us.

When will this book be published?

I’ll let you know when I know!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft is still in progress. But I imagine it will take about four or five months. Then there will be seven or eight more drafts, because that’s how I work!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Lit by Mary Karr, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Becoming a mother is so transformative that it’s almost impossible to ignore, as a writer of non-fiction. Plus, I find that people are very curious about our story. People ask me about it all day long. They seem to really want to know how I got from where I was back in the ol’ harem days to where I am now. So this book is the answer.

Here are the other super talented people that Cecil tagged:
Jenn Fujikawa and Sarah Kuhn and Amber Bensen., Liza Palmer, and Sherri L. Smith.

As for who I’m tagging to go next, here are some of my fave writers/friends/humans:

Shawna Kenney is the author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix (Last Gasp), which is in development as a tv series with the FX Network. She also wrote Imposters (Mark Batty Publishers), a book about the celebrity impersonators of Hollywood Boulevard. She and her husband Rich Dolinger are currently co-editing Live at the Safari Club: a people’s history of harDCore. Her work has appeared in Bust, Ms., Juxtapoz, Creative Nonfiction and numerous anthologies.

Jamie Rose is an actress, teacher and author of the fabulous memoir Shut Up and Dance! The Joy of Letting Go of the Lead–On the Dance Floor and Off.

Amanda Fletcher doesn’t have a blog yet, but she’s cooking up a hell of a memoir. She was my mentee in the PEN USA EV Fellowship and she blows me away. Amanda, don’t give me lip! You’re it! Just post on fb or something!

Enjoying a Suck-Ass Day

I recently went out for non-drinks with a pregnant writer friend, who is understandably concerned that motherhood will ruin her life.

Oh, it will, I told her. Everyone’s going to tell you to go see a movie alone or some stupid thing like that. As if balancing a popcorn bucket on your belly for a couple of hours is gonna make up for the fact that life as you know it is just about over.

She looked at me, shocked. Okay, so maybe I could have been a little gentler.

But seriously- I had just had a day, during which I drove from a school conference in Altadena to an occupational therapist in Encino then over to a child development specialist in Sierra Madre then to Trader Joe’s for some special fucking salami and crackers that we can’t possibly live without in this house for five seconds, even though the rest of the stuff we need is at FOUR different other stores. Then I made a stew that nobody liked and they both ate frozen pizzas. The end.

But you’re happier now, right? She continued.

Nope.

Nope, not happier. I was happy when Scott and I went to Japan every ten minutes. I’m exaggerating for effect here- I’m sometimes happier. I’m also more worried, stressed, exhausted, annoyed, et al.

But I am certainly better. I am less selfish. I am stronger. And the world breaks open for me in surprising and transformative ways.

Of COURSE you’re happy spending your days shopping for Hello Kitty barrettes (for yourself) in Harajuku and then writing humorous little blogs for Vanity Fair while eating room service and overlooking snow-blanketed Tokyo from your hotel room. That’s easy.

But what I never would have expected, is that somewhere in between the school conference and the occupational therapist, I was listening to a great Shins song and the car was facing west toward the beach (sometimes it’s enough just to know the ocean is so close) and the afternoon light was buttery gorgeous and this enormous and surprising sense of joy cracked over me.

Because who knew that I ever was this person? That I can show up for my kid and seek help for him and advocate for his needs? I always thought I was selfish and depressed and narcissistic and barely functioning. I guess I still am on some days, but there are other facets to me that I never would have had a chance to see without my son. I prefer to be this person, even when she is less happy than my previous, more carefree incarnation.

And then there is the thing about the giant, heart-expanding, crazy-making, everything-they-ever-said-it-would-be love that comes with motherhood. Happiness is for wusses. I’ll take the love.

Here’s that Shins song I was talking about…. Also- the dog in the video looks just like my dogs!

Dancing in the Passenger Seat

Hi. Remember me? I used to blog here.

It’s always a fun experiment for a minute- to live the story and not tell it concurrently. What’s it like to let moments- good ones, funny ones, moving ones- pass right through you and be gone forever? Ultimately I always come back because my anxiety starts to climb when I’m not documenting. If you ever want to see me have a panic attack, watch me get caught in traffic without a pen.

Last week, I told a story at a special Moth Mainstage event in Portland, in front of three thousand people at the gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. The other storytellers were Adam Wade, Satori Shakoor, Dori Bonner and Kerry Cohen. The night before the show, we had a little rehearsal at the hotel, at which we sat around and told our stories to the other storytellers and the director. It is a wonderfully (if somewhat uncomfortably) intimate thing, to stand a few feet from a handful of people, look them in the eye and tell them a story. By the end of the rehearsal, I was sobbing. I felt honored to be included in such an honest and accomplished group. We went out to dinner afterwards and wound up talking about our storytelling predecessors in each of our families. For me, it was my dad. I’ve only started to understand him in this context and to contemplate the function of his stories in our lives. I remember how I judged him for repeating his stories, for altering them in the retelling.

I was foolish.

I didn’t understand that he was shaping an emotional arc, exploring nuance, choosing and editing the stories that would define our identity as a family. I just thought he was a blowhard. But then, I was a teenager; that was my job.

My father’s stories had recurring characters. One of these characters was an alter-ego of sorts. His name was Jeffrey and he was the fast-talking college roommate, who was always getting my more reluctant father into trouble. For some reason, as I sat nearly hallucinating with stage fright in the green room on the night of the show, a Jeffrey story came back to me. It goes something like this…

Jeffrey had a ’56 Ford- two-tone, turquoise and white, with bubble skirts and a continental kit. There was a raccoon tail hanging from the antennae, fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror. The two roommates thought themselves very urbane, driving around in this fantastic car wearing dockers and cardigans and looking like Pat Boone, but a little more Jersey.

One time it was five or six o’clock, just getting dark and they were late to pick up some girls for a double date. Jeffrey really dug that song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” They were caught in a terrible traffic jam and it came on the radio. Jeffrey turned the song up full blast, climbed on top of the car and started dancing on the hood.

(There is more to the story. I think it involves mouthing off to police and decidedly not getting the girls in the end. Or maybe that was a different story. But, anyway….)

I had tried to picture my father being best friends with a wild man, who danced on the hood of his hot rod at twilight. It always made me a little bit sad, imagining what it must have been like to be the one in the passenger seat, staticy music turned up too loud, listening to your friend’s footsteps. To be the one whose lot it is not to dance, but rather to tell the story years later to an unappreciative teenage daughter.

It was this story I remembered when I sat in the green room, literally seeing weird spots in front of my eyes and completely unable to remember even the first line of my story because I was in such a cold panic. Over the past year, I’ve been getting increasingly bad stage fright and it has made each of my storytelling gigs a rather fraught experience. I keep at it, because I know that if you let anxiety cripple you in one arena, it’s not like it stops and is satisfied. It gets a taste of triumph and goes in for the rest of your life, too. So I keep fighting, but I constantly worry that I’m about to freeze onstage and forget everything and it’ll be exactly like that classic nightmare except I’ll still have my pants on.

I honestly don’t know why that story popped into my head, but I decided to go out there for my dad, who doesn’t even talk to me anymore, but still gave me so much of who I am. As I walked onstage, I thought- here I go dad. I’m telling my story on a huge beautiful stage in a new pink dress. I figured it out. I’m in the passenger seat and I’m the one dancing.

It went great. It was thrilling.

So, I took a little break from blogging to dance on a car for a moment. Or at least on a Portland stage. But I’m back now, friends. I have missed you.

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