Jenny Lawson finds joy—and something funny to say—in even the darkest corners of our lives
Jenny Lawson cannot be contained. Not by a koala suit, or the wolf’s pelt that she wore to the local Twilight premier while shouting “Team Jacob,” or the “confidence wig” she sports when she needs a boost, or even her wildly popular and very funny website The Bloggess.
Known for her irreverent writing style, she has been recognized as a top blogger by the likes of Nielsen ratings, Forbes magazine, and the Huffington Post. Two years ago, she reached beyond her million-plus online army of fans to write her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, about her unconventional upbringing in rural West Texas. It became an instant New York Times bestseller, and her current book, Furiously Happy, has followed in its footsteps.
Lawson has made a self-deprecating career out of her most vulnerable moments and very serious struggles with depression, anxiety and a host of other disorders, but she has done so with wit, vigor, and an uncanny ability to gather kindred spirits around her who have seen themselves in her broken mirror. But although she writes jaggedly funny essays about the brutal truth of mental illness in her own life, she infuses her work with a surprising sense of wonder. “There will be moments when you have to be a grown-up,” she writes. “Those moments are tricks. Do not fall for them.”
She doesn’t. Instead, she celebrates her taxidermist father, who created horrifying yet somehow compelling hand puppets out of recently deceased squirrels, and her exuberantly unfashionable mother, who dressed Lawson and her sister in Little House on the Prairie garb that had them looking like “the lesbian love children of Laura Ingalls and Hollie Hobbie.” She dives fearlessly into the pain of miscarriage and joy of motherhood, all while dressing up her vast collection of dead animals (love of taxidermy runs in the family) and extolling the joys of Japanese toilets. She spins pitch-perfect observations about the similarities between peaches and babies, which is why she won’t eat either of them, and spiders as creative inspiration. “You don’t have to go to some special private school to be an artist. Just look at the intricate beauty of cobwebs. Spiders make them with their butts.” And in baring all the broken bits of her soul to the world, she calls us to climb out of our private pain. “There’s a certain pride and freedom,” she points out, “that comes from wearing your unique bizarreness like a badge of honor.”
In Furiously Happy, Lawson dives down the rabbit hole of maladies that sometimes define her days. The surprise is that we find ourselves eager to follow her. The structure of the book is loose, even random, many of the essays darkly hilarious, but it also has a serious message. It reminds us that mental illness is often a secret battle, and the battle-scarred survivors who come back to tell the tale allow the rest of us to open the windows and let in the light, so that we can see our own strengths more clearly. “We all get our share of tragedy or insanity or drama,” she writes, “but what we do with that horror is what makes all the difference.”
Rory, the taxidermied raccoon smiling manically from the cover of her new book, might beg to differ, along with her very much alive and beloved cats, who are surprisingly tolerant of wearing period costumes, fox masks, and sleeping toddlers. But her ever-increasing tribe of fans would agree: it’s what we do with our heartache that counts. More than that, they have adopted Lawson’s story as a jumping off point for their own. If you doubt their number, or how endearingly funny we can all be at our most humiliating moments, check out the inspiringly warped Awkwardly Mortifying Tweets section of her blog, where thousands of tweets have been flooding in from hapless humans everywhere. Turns out, there’s a little Homer Simpson in each of us. Jenny, this one’s for you, from me @TheBloggess: Took garbage out and reached down to pet skunk I thought was my cat. Husband not amused.
Jenny Lawson will read from ‘Furiously Happy’ at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Friday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Free.
I’M SMILING AS FAST AS I CAN Jenny Lawson brings her irreverent new book ‘Furiously Happy’ to Bookshop Santa Cruz on Friday, Dec. 4.