I am new to the Jenny Lawson camp, but I definitely want to sign up to be a card-carrying member of her fan club. This newfound love for this humorist and blogger (see Bloggess) came after listening to her read her newest book Furiously Happy. Most critics describe this second book as a collection of essays about her mental disorders toldthrough sardonic, witty humor.
On one hand I agree with this premise because Lawson does spend a great deal of time discussing what it is like to live with depression, anxiety, social (and less common) phobias, and self-mutilation with a smattering of stories about her rheumatoid arthritis as well. At times the stories are funny like when Lawson explains her inexplicable phobia of doctor’s coats. Whenever she sees one, she passes out, even if she is at the gynecologist in the middle of an exam and how when she wakes up, she hopes the doctor continued the exam while she was unconscious. (I think that is a reasonable desire myself.)
Lawson writes about early on-set social phobia and how that manifests today in hiding in her own house whenever someone rings her doorbell. She is completely aware that how she reacts to certain situations is irrational, and goes so far as to call herself crazy. In fact, Lawson relates a lengthy conversation she has with her mother over whether or not she is crazy. Jenny, I believe, wins that one.
Yet, Lawson is okay with being crazy. In fact, she embraces the notion, and punctuates her book with reasons why people who have mental disorders like she has should not sit alone in shame, but celebrate their differences. She calls for society to re-envision how we think about and relate to people with mental disorders. That’s where the name of her book has its origins. She refuses to continue life down in the dumps. Instead, she wants to be “furiously happy.” According to Lawson, we all have a choice—even in the midst of terrible events—to be happy. The furious part of the equation is how hard one should work to be happy.
So, yes, this book is about mental illness, but to me it was more than that. What captured my attention were her long, convoluted, stream-of-conscience ramblings about how she copes with and lives an ordinary life as a mother, wife, daughter, and friend. These stories are cross-your-legs funny. In fact, a woman in my book club suggested the publisher should sell Poise pads with each copy. I thought that was a great idea.
Although I say Lawson’s life is ordinary, her exploits and the tales are anything but ordinary. Some of my favorite stories are as follows:
- As the daughter of a taxidermist, she loves playing with her taxidermied raccoon named Rory and sometimes she involves her cats in these games.
- She write a lengthy chapter about dressing up as a Koala bear when she meets Koala bears in Australia, a place she swears wants to kill her.
• In one chapter, Lawson writes about how she fell asleep in a strange position and both arms went numb. When she awakens, she falls out of bed and lies there pondering her temporary paralysis. Then, she asks her husband to set up her recorder so she can work with no hands (or hands experiencing the pins and needles of recovery) while lying on her bedroom floor surrounded by her cats. That’s a dedicated writer!
• In her chapter on parenting, Lawson begins with, “I don’t know how many times I’ve done meth in front of my child.” Of course, she is kidding, but it is her way of saying that once you make that statement, anything else you do as a parent seems fabulous.
Statements like the one above are often dotted generously with swear words, that quite frankly I think add to the effect of her writing. When I listened to Lawson read her own stories, I felt as if I were listening to the crazy twin inside my own head. I got her sense of humor because I think a lot like her. I am not sure Lawson would find that complimentary, but I do. I often write potential skits for Saturday Night Live in my head. I too am a bit crazy as I also suffer from clinical depression, anxiety and compulsiveness. Although I am not social phobic, the older I get the more I too want to pretend I am not home when the doorbell rings.
So, I highly recommend this book to (1) those who are crazy like Lawson and me, (2) those who are not necessarily crazy but love crazy people, and (3) people who make not love crazy people but have always been curious about the way they think.