Interview: Jenny Lawson, author of ‘Furiously Happy’

October 5, 2015 

Blogs are a lot like one-night stands: Most of us have had one or two, but few people actually turn them into something substantial. For Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, writing musings on the Internet is a full-time job and has spawned two books, "Let’s Pretend This Never Happened" and now "Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things."

The Texas native has been blogging for a decade, writing about her wild childhood, her father’s taxidermy practice, her menagerie of crazy pets. Readers flock to catch up on her latest silly row with her husband, Victor, to laugh at Lawson’s parenting missteps, to check out the latest animal she has forever preserved and mounted on her wall. Side note: she only has animals stuffed if she is certain that they died of natural causes, as is the case with the excited raccoon on the book cover; it was hit by a car.

A few years into blogging, Lawson revealed to her readers that she suffered from mental health issues. In "Furiously Happy" (Flatiron, $26.99) she explains her diagnosis: "high-functioning depressive with severe anxiety disorder, moderate clinical depression, and mild self-harm issues that stem from an impulse control disorder." Throw in avoidant personality disorder, depersonalization disorder, a little rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune issues and "sprinkled in like paprika over a mentally unbalanced deviled egg, are things like mild OCD and trichotillomania — the urge to pull one’s hair out — which is always nice to end on because whenever people hear the word ‘mania’ they automatically back off and give you more room on crowded airplanes."

Lawson’s ability to balance hilarity with vulnerability, to mediate between being the comic heroine of her stories and offering an honest portrait of living with mental illness, has elevated her to a literary force that Hollywood would like to lure. 

Q: Did you always write about mental health issues on your blog?

A: It wasn’t until several years into blogging that I came out with the fact that I was struggling with mental health issues. At the time whenever I would go into a depression, which typically lasts a week or two weeks, I can’t do anything. My only goal is to survive. During those times — I would never know when they were going to come, it’s just a chemical imbalance — I would have drafts written of things that were funny that I could use on those weeks when things were completely awful and I would think, "I’m going to die." So I’d post these things and everyone would be like "You’re so funny! You’re hilarious." It felt like I was living this horrible lie.

Q: How hard is it for you to go on a book tour or promote your work with your condition? 

A: It’s really difficult and really rewarding. I learned a lot about what my limitations are with the last tour. I have an amazing editor and agent, and they are so understanding so they are going to come with me and chaperone me. For a long time I felt like a failure because there were some things I couldn’t do that normal people do, but then I realized that there are things I can do that normal people can’t do. 

I had the medical TED people approach me about doing a talk. I was like, "Do you know what I do?" It was funny too, I won last year a big award for breaking stigma for mental health, the NoStigmas Hero Award, and they wanted me to come to a gala with a red carpet and celebrities. And I was like "What? No! That sounds awful!" I asked if I could just Skype in and accept the award in my house, and I can talk about the fact that finding out what your limitations are can be a really good thing. So that’s what I did, and it worked really well for everyone. 

Q: Have you been approached to do other things with your work? 

A: I’ve had a lot of offers to turn it into a movie or TV shows and this and that. And every time, I take the call, I take the meeting, every time I do it because I think this could be really funny to write about. So like when NBC offered to do a pilot I said, "I will only do it if you bring ‘Rags to Riches’ back because I need to see what happened to those orphans." Don Cheadle’s company reached out and said they were interested in talking, and I said, "Well, only if Don Cheadle plays me because I think he has range." ABC Family came, and my book is filled with profanity. There’s absolutely no way. They enjoyed the weirdness and the irreverence, and they got the character, and so they got closest. They were like, "So you can come down and be one of our writers, and we’ll get you a studio apartment." I was like "Oh no, I don’t ever want to go to California." 

Q: The blessing and curse of having a blog is direct contact with readers. What is the ratio of love to hate that you get?

A: I am so extraordinarily lucky that I get almost no negative comments. When I do, they’re really, really bad. I do occasionally get people who are like "I want to rape you to death." And what I do with those people, and I feel bad about it, in my blog your first comment goes to moderation and people who leave those comments want to come back and see you get really mad. I’ll take the comment, and I’ll change it to "I want to be more like you. You are what I aspire to be!" Then they’ll come back and write "I never wrote that!" Then I’ll change that comment to "I wish I could wear your skin like a jacket. My God, you’re amazing." I’ve never had to do it more than three times, and they get lost.




McClatchy-Tribune Information Services