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Furiously Happy

December 18, 2018

Back in the 80’s, when we lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., we would get on the Metro at New Carrollton on a Saturday afternoon and ride to Foggy Bottom, where we’d get off and walk the rest of the way to Georgetown. Often we’d make the trip with our friend Ashley, and she and I would stop at the Four Seasons Hotel to use the restroom. While we were in there, we’d pretend that the toilets in this particular restroom at that particular hotel were singing toilets. We would comment on what lovely singing toilets the place had while we washed our hands and walked out the door.

I’ve been reading Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy, and when I got to the part about Japan, I knew that the Japanese toilet maker must have been through The Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in the 80’s. Lawson says she was “too afraid to try out all of the buttons because just sitting on it triggered something that made it break out into song.”

I wasn’t sure that I was going to write about reading Furiously Happy, but today, when I’d finished sending an email to Ashley about the singing toilets part and then gotten the urge to read another part out loud to my daughter, I figured that all of you needed to hear about it. What’s a blog for, anyway, except to figuratively read the good bits out loud to the world?

Here’s the part I thought about reading out loud to Eleanor (but then didn’t because tempting as it is to talk to your adult children the whole time they’re staying with you over the holidays you have to resist or they’ll feel crowded and won’t want to come back):
“The closest equivalent women have to pocket-pants are pocket-books and honestly that’s just insulting. Pocketbooks aren’t pockets or books. They’re liars. Basically they’re pockets you have to carry around with your hands until you get tired of it and give up and buy a purse to put it in. It’s as if the clothing industry just came out of a bad breakup and was brainstorming during a bitter drunken rage and was all, ‘Hey, you know how girls hate carrying purses and they just use you to carry their lipstick and shit in your pocket and then they leave you for Brad? Let’s make a purse in the shape of a pocket. But we’ll make it too big to fit in a pocket so you have to buy another purse. AND WE’LL CALL IT A POCKETBOOK. THOSE BITCHES WILL NEVER SEE IT COMING, AND THEY’LL PAY FOR IT.’ I might be overreacting but it feels like they did it on purpose.”

The book is full of zany stories about stuff Jenny did and what she thinks and how what she terms her mental illness affects the day-to-day, and so I found it self-involved (yes, I do realize the irony of this, as I also write a pretty self-involved blog—is there really any other kind?). I could enjoy it only in small bits, reading a chapter a night over a few weeks. There’s something for almost anyone to identify with, although Jenny’s is always the worst case ever.

I’ve been increasingly lactose intolerant since I was pregnant with Eleanor; evidently this is a thing that can change permanently during pregnancy. I take a pill with lactose enzyme whenever I think I’m eating anything that might have diary in it (that means pretty much anything I didn’t cook myself). So I enjoyed the part about why Jenny can’t eat canapes, although I’ve never heard of lactose intolerance sending anyone to the hospital. Usually the result is a few uncomfortable hours followed by the need to stay close to a bathroom. Here’s Jenny’s version of why people who are lactose-intolerant often refuse fancy party food:
“because I’m dangerously lactose intolerant and I’m always afraid there will be some sort of cream hidden in there that will send me to the hospital, but what sucks is that the waiters keep walking around asking you over and over if you want a canape now even though I just said two minutes ago that I couldn’t eat them, and now it’s like they’re just taunting me with food I can’t have. I recently fixed that problem though because I realized that the secret to not having to continuously say no to delicious food is to loudly say, ‘No. Sorry, I can’t eat that BECAUSE DIARRHEA.’”

I found a lot of what Jenny says a little precious because she’s so self-conscious about how wild and free she is all the time. It’s kind of how I react to friends who call themselves “nerdy” or “geeky.” I see no need to preen yourself about it.

My low point in reading this book came when Jenny tried to give writing advice. Having spent the entire fall semester urging undergraduates to try writing what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts” and do all of the kinds of freewriting Peter Elbow recommends to help separate the creative urge from the critical, I was not amused by hearing Jenny’s personal opinions about writing:
“Now, some people will say that if you have writer’s block you should just start writing anyway because ten you’ll at least accomplish something. However, I’ve never liked anything I’ve ever been forced to write so I’m pretty sure all that accomplishes is a bunch of shitty writing, and I already have enough of that even when real inspiration hits. Good writing cannot be forced.”

But then—and this is the charm of reading a book like this in small bits—the next time I picked it up, I’d find something funny, like her opinion on Christmas caroling:
“’We wish you a merry Christmas’ is the most demanding song ever. It starts off all nice and a second later you have an angry mob at your door scream-singing, ‘Now bring us some figgy pudding and bring it RIGHT HERE. WE WON’T GO UNTIL WE GET SOME SO BRING IT RIGHT HERE.’ Also, they’re rhyming ‘here’ with ‘here.’ That’s just sloppy. I’m not rewarding unrequested, lazy singers with their aggressive pudding demands. There should be a remix of that song that homeowners can sing that’s all ‘I didn’t even ask for your shitty song, you filthy beggars. I’ve called the cops. Who is this even working on? Has anyone you’ve tried this on actually given you pudding? Fig-flavored pudding? Is that even a thing?’ It doesn’t rhyme but it’s not like they’re trying either. And then the carolers would be like, ‘SO BRING US SOME GIN AND TONIC AND LET’S HAVE A BEER,’ and then I’d be like, ‘Well, I guess that’s more reasonable. Fine. You can come in for one drink.’ Technically that would be a good way to get free booze. Like trick-or-treat but for singy alcoholics. Oh my God, I finally understand caroling.”

When I was reading the book, this was funny. When I quoted it just now, I found it less funny because it seems part and parcel of the recent movement to separate the lyrics of Christmas songs from their historical context. So it goes with this book. If you’re in the mood, you’ll find some of it funny. There might be parts you want to read out loud to your loved ones. Or you could skip reading it and do some research on the historical context for references in Christmas songs instead.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2018 3:15 pm

    The person writing the blog post gets to pick the topic, how much and what to write about it, and whether it goes out.

    I like blogging.

    Even though it may be separating us into tinier and tinier groups of people who like the same thing. Because I love different topics, and can find someone saying something interesting about something almost all the time.

    Keep up the quirky. Merry Christmas. Happy everything else – you tell me what you celebrate, and I will be happy with and for you. There’s never too much joy in the world.

    • December 23, 2018 2:39 pm

      Of course she can write whatever she wants on her own blog. If a blogger gets a book published, though, I think that book is fair game for people who talk about books!

      • December 23, 2018 3:07 pm

        Oh, definitely! It’s the least we can do for our clan. Especially if it’s something we would love to read. Or, better still, have read.

  2. December 18, 2018 3:35 pm

    I read her first book and really didn’t care for it. I thought she tried too hard and was out to see how many times she could write the word vagina and get away with it. It was funny the first few times, but grew old fast. I think I was right skipping this one.

    • December 23, 2018 2:40 pm

      That word did appear pretty frequently in this book, too, including a very zany story about someone sending her a knitted model and the cat playing with it.

  3. December 18, 2018 5:37 pm

    I think you read this in the right way, a little bit at a time. I read her first book for my book group some years ago, and I didn’t love it like some of the other ladies did. She is just a little too much for me, I think. Although the taxidermy stuff was a hoot.

    • December 23, 2018 2:42 pm

      I like the philosophy she derived from the taxidermy raccoons. There’s lots to like but after a while I agree with you, it just gets to be a little too much in terms of repetition. Zany works best when it’s a surprise, not when someone comes in and introduces themselves as “your zany friend, here to do zany stuff!”

  4. December 19, 2018 3:08 pm

    That’s exactly what caroling is, specifically Wassail-ing. ‘You lord it over us the rest of the year, but now we are coming for snacks and drinks: Pay Up.’ It’s a wonderful time of year.

  5. December 21, 2018 10:20 am

    A book (or blog) like Jenny’s reminds me of cookies for breakfast.

    My aunt, only seven years older than me and the baby in her family, regularly breakfasted on Entemann’s chocolate chip cookies and orange Hi-C when she was a child, a habit she never outgrew. My mother, aunts, and uncle, even now, in their seventies, cannot get past the indulgent parenting that their baby sister enjoyed, and this sugar-rich morning meal remains the symbol of what she got and they didn’t from their mother.

    I was 18 and away at college the first time I grabbed a cookie and a fruit-flavored drink for breakfast. I immediately thought of Aunt D., and then the delightfully indulgent novelty gave way to a sort of sickish feeling.

    I am again thinking about Aunt D. — and now books and blogs like Jenny’s — because I ate a Christmas cookie with my coffee this morning. The queasy stomach that followed made me wonder how my sixty-one-year-old aunt is still eating this way, because I? I am clearly too old.

    It’s not that cookies for breakfast (or books or blogs like Jenny’s) are bad. But I am getting older, and certain things are no longer as appealing as they may have been when I was 18 or 35.

    • December 23, 2018 2:45 pm

      That’s a great analogy, not least because some people can eat cookies for breakfast all their lives and never suffer any ill effects. I enjoy a bowl of Capn Crunch cereal some mornings, and I’m in my mid-fifties.

  6. the other theo permalink
    January 15, 2019 7:57 pm

    I’ve been reading her blog off and on for some time. I’m with you that her humor is something that I can take only occasionally and in measured doses. She can be uproariously funny. Sometimes she just makes me just shrug. She seems to revel in carving out these odd little spaces in the mundane details of every day life, either through odd conversations with her husband Victor, recounting the antics of her pets, or the acquisition of odd objects (rooster art made from a steel drums, anyone? or a stuffed and mounted monkey she names Copernicus?) It’s not a shtick that always works for me, but I always admire that she’s open to adventures and happenings big and small at all times. Inviting readers along for those adventures is, I suppose, what has allowed her to publish multiple books.

    If you want a song that keys in on the bawdy revelry that underlies the “give us some figgy pudding” aspect of Yuletide, consider Sting’s rendition of Soul Cake:

  7. January 15, 2019 8:06 pm

    That was interesting, thanks–some good fiddling, too!

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