I read Jenny Lawson’s first autobiography Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, with a sense of having made a happy discovery, and that, I thought, was that. Of course, that wasn’t that at all. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was the first friendly, funny introduction to a dark subject. Lawson gently pulled us into her world, and allowed us to talk and laugh about it. In Furiously Happy, she pulls us into her world again, but this time with little claws and a grin like a crazy raccoon. She pins us to a wall and pokes us in the eye with the truth, saying hey you, this isn’t all fun you know. The theme of Furiously Happy is that she will survive and be happy, even if it is furiously, determinedly, maniacally so. Lawson gets very serious here (not all the time, but enough to make her point) about the fact that she has health problems and depression and mental illness, but that knowing that others have the same problems makes it easier for her. Her friends, online and in real life, and those who eventually meet her in person, help her to keep going. I thought that was rather sweet – kind of a love letter to weirdos like me.
The Spoon theory and Internet Friends
Lawson writes about the Spoon Theory. She explains it like this:
“The Spoon Theory was created by a friend of mine, Christine Miserandino, to explain the limits you have when you live with chronic illness. Most healthy people have a seemingly infinite number of spoons at their disposal, each one representing the energy needed to do a task. You get up in the morning. That’s a spoon. You take a shower. That’s a spoon. You work, and play, and clean, and love, and hate, and that’s lots of damn spoons…but if you are young and healthy you still have spoons left over as you fall asleep and wait for the new supply of spoons to be delivered in the morning. But if you are sick or in pain, your exhaustion changes you and the number of spoons you have. Autoimmune disease or chronic pain like I have with my arthritis cuts down on your spoons. Depression or anxiety takes away even more…” (p.241)
It’s a good metaphor. I get it. Lawson writes that she does not mind the people with limits on their spoons coming to her book signings, even if it takes a lot for her to get on a plane and out of her hotel room to face a venue full of strangers.
“I’m lucky because I have options. I have medications and therapeutic tools and breathing techniques. I have friends and family I can call to come rescue me if things get too bad. And I have the Internet. That sounds weird, but Twitter is a lot like having a large, invisible gang of equally messed-up people who will hide with you in bathrooms and make you laugh under the pillow fort you’ve built in a lonely hotel room. Many of them suffer from the same fears, which keep them similarly isolated, but we’ve found a way to be alone together.” (p.244)
Beautifully put – found a way to be alone together. I never thought of the Internet in that way.
There are still extremely funny parts (like the chapter on parsley, wasabi, cream cheese and soup – couldn’t agree more) though I’m getting the hang of her convoluted logic and expect to be entertained as she wanders off down the mental garden path. Take a simple incident, add an off-side interpretation, some anxiety, some desperation and voila! The explanation is way off and explained by an even more way off footnote. The whole thing is absurd.
Ordinary things really get difficult in Lawson’s universe. There is driving on the “wrong” side of the road in Australia.
“It took two of us working in tandem just to drive to the Poturdo because Australia is filled with roundabouts and everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. In the end we decided to split up the work and I feverishly watched the GPS and yelled, ‘Left! Right! ROUNDABOUT!’ while Laura white-knuckedly followed by instructions and glared at people daring to easily drive on the wrong side of the road. Roundabouts presented the most difficulties. In stead of red lights and yield signs, everyone just drives in a circle until they find the place where they want out. I’m sure there have got to be some sort of rules to this but we didn’t know them and so we’d just drive in with our windows down, pointing and screaming, “WE’RE GOING THAT WAY SO PLEASE DON’T HIT US,’ to the people in nearby cars. A pile of dogs could’ve driven better than us.” (p.172)
Rory the grinning stuffed raccoon (one of two) is a symbol for Lawson’s determination to keep fighting her illness and keep trying. Fans would know by know she likes stuffed animals, not the toy variety.
“When the mailman dropped off packages I’d open the door a few inches and have Rory peek outside. ‘Well, hellllooo!’ Rory would say in a snooty British accent. ‘I hope you don’t need a signature because I seem to have misplaced my opposable thumbs.’ Eventually the mailman just stopped ringing the bell and would leave the packages on the porch, which was nice because it cut down on awkward small talk.” (p.28)
Lawson writes in her own inimitable style – which includes asides to her editors, direct comments to readers about what they’re buying or reading, running gags in footnotes, and made-up words, like pocket-pants, skinterventions, bangtox, potaterrific, and catouflage. (Yes, my Mac is trying to auto-correct all those words. So’s WordPress. But she thought them up and to my mind, they work.) I love Lawson for this one comment:
“The amount of money I would pay for people to stop fucking up grammar is only slightly lower than the amount I’d give to ensure I never have grammatical errors in the statements I make calling others out on their grammatical errors.” (p.20)
Big grin here. Well, she and I are both are in good company; Justice Antonin Scalia (who passed away recently) was also a self-professed SNOOT (stands for Syntax Nudniks of Our Time), a grammar and usage fanatic, “and that makes me happy,” he once said. (Other SNOOTs in the justice system, according to Scalia, include former Justices Harry Blackmun and David Souter. Ruth Bader Ginsburg shares their zealousness, but, Scalia said, she’s “too polite.” Heh-heh!)
Lawson loves playing with language, stepping up the pace, toning it down, changing from essay to list to script to something like prose poetry. She varies it enough to engage and entertain the reader, but throughout her voice is clear, her particular mindset and reference framework. She can write, that is certain. (As judge Doug Marcaida says with relish after he has tested a blade in Forged in Fire – “It wééll cut”.) Hauling out your mental innards and draping them in the sun like Lawson does cannot be pleasant. But she explains:
“Sometimes I wonder if the best thing to do is just to be quiet and stop waving the banner of ‘fucked up and proud of it,’ but I don’t think I’ll put down this banner until someone takes it away from me. Because quitting might be easier, but it wouldn’t be better.” (p.321)
I’m glad she is waving the banner and combining that with such obvious writing skills. I’m looking forward to another book from her.