Category Archives: more than meets the eye

For David. For you.

I’ve been carrying this around since yesterday and I wasn’t sure if I was going to write about it, but if it affected me then maybe it will affect you, so here goes.

There’s a guy named David who you probably know, but probably also don’t know.  He’s been part of our community for at least the last seven years.  You sometimes see him in the comments.  He encourages me on Facebook.  He’s always smiling.  I never spent any real time with him but I knew him well online and as part of this amazing community.

Sunday he told his online friends that he’d been diagnosed with cancer and that he wouldn’t survive it.  He said it in a Facebook post that was alternately horrible and inspiring and he ended it with this:

“Much love to you all, and thank you for your friendship. Above all, don’t take tomorrow for granted. Live today as if it counts, because it truly does.
Enjoy every sandwich.”

And then, yesterday, he was gone.

He’d be mad if he knew that his passing caused sadness because he was all about joy and laughter, so I’m passing his words on to you only if you use them for good.

Whether you knew him or not, listen to his words.  Enjoy life.  Laugh.  Play with dogs.  Do silly things.  Be great.  Be you.  Do something for yourself.  Do something for others.  Walk barefoot in the grass or build a snowman or read a book or adopt something wonderful into your life.

Go right now and make a decision to do something fun or silly or glorious that you hadn’t planned until you read this, because it’s the best way to honor the passing of those we love who want us to be happy, and also the best way to honor the life we’ve been given.

Enjoy.  Every. Sandwich.

Amen.

PS. Today I had a german brisket hoagie covered with fried pickles.  And I made myself enjoy every bite.  It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Thank you, David.

And thank you for your friendship.

 

DNA. What is it good for?

This isn’t a funny post.  It’s just me talking.  My sister and I do genealogy stuff for fun and we’ve gone through libraries and records and websites and cemeteries, but a lot of time we hit dead ends.  It’s fascinating to pull up the lives of these people we never met and try to figure out who they were and what they were like, but so often there are bumps because of estrangement or missing records or because relatives refused to speak about ancestors for strange reasons.  And sometimes for understandable reasons.

You’ll find stories you don’t want to find.  Hints that show that your ancestors may have owned slaves or may have been slaves.  Records that show that your ancestors have been forgotten and hidden, and you wonder if those roads were closed because they wanted to escape from who they were or if they wanted to escape from the line that would produce you.  You find that your family stories are sometimes hard to verify and sometimes you get more information than you want.  You read about your not-so-distant ancestor who died in a mental institution from “extreme psychosis” (or more likely, died as a result of the barbaric treatment of that psychosis at that time) when she wasn’t that much older than you.  You find ancestors with hidden pasts and ancestors who had brushes with notoriety and ancestors who had names like “Moonbeam” and “Sour Mash” or who had no recorded name at all.

When I did my DNA test I’d hoped it would give us more info regarding our Native American ancestors but they’re so far removed from me that I assumed that their DNA might not show up, and it didn’t.  What I didn’t expect was the small but measurable amounts of African, Jewish Iberian and Middle Eastern that we can’t explain.  My father (and all of his ancestors as far back as I’ve been able to check) are 100% slavic so I expected more than the 21% Eastern European that showed up on my test, but each child gets semi-random amount of DNA from their ancestors so I suppose it makes sense.  More confusing is the 19% Irish that I haven’t figured out yet.

For Christmas I sent my grandparents and my parents DNA tests because they’re just as fascinated, and my grandmother really wants to research the Native American bloodline that her mother refused to speak about.  I’ve found a lot of Native American branches from different parts of her family in the records I’ve uncovered (many within several generations of her) but her DNA test showed no Native American, which surprised me.  But it showed the same confusing Iberian markers, and a very heavy Irish background that seems contrary to everything we’ve found so far.  But why?  Is it because the group of Native Americans we’re supposedly related to haven’t been DNA tested?  Does that branch not exist anymore?  Are the records wrong? My grandmother’s DNA was such a surprise that I suspected that maybe she’d mixed up her results with my grandfather’s but I got a message from Ancestry today that my DNA is a match with hers as a “close relative” so it has to be hers because my grandfather isn’t blood related to me.

So what does it mean?  No idea.  Maybe it means that it’s important to tell your story while alive so that it can be passed down.  It means that DNA results are confusing and might have a lot of weirdness in them.  It means that you should know that your ancestors were real people with flaws and with brilliance and with lives that were shrouded in secrecy.  It means that finding the immigration records of my great grandparents when they fled from “The Kingdom of Bohemia” are almost impossible because their confusing slavic names were recorded in a million different ways.  Ditto with the Native American ancestors who married into other tribes and sometimes had very different names for each tribal affiliation.  (My favorite relative so far is The Squirrel King – leader of the Savannah River Chicksaws – who had an amazing name but a very sad life.)  And sometimes it means that a road you’ve been chasing is a different one than you thought…one you may never find because sometimes a secret is kept forever.

I’m looking forward to my parents getting their results in because it might help me better understand mine but I suppose I’ll never entirely know where I came from.  But I know who I am now and I suspect in some way I’m made up of the lessons learned by my ancestors, even if I’ll never know them.

So I’ll keep looking, but I’ll also keep remembering that I am more than my past and that it’s my job to leave a better record for the next generation…both of successes and failures.  Because that’s what makes us human.

PS.  This is me, according to my DNA test:

33% Great Britain

21% Eastern Europe

19% Irish

17% Scandinavian

5% Western Europe

1% Italian/Greek

1% European Jewish

1% Iberian Peninsula

1% African

1% Middle Eastern

100% Weird

 

family

Season’s Greetings, you magnificent bastards.

It’s Christmas!  Which is full of awesomeness and glitter and also a lot of conflicting emotions and sometimes depression, which seems even worse than normal because it’s a day when you’re supposed to be happy.  But that’s okay because it’s just a day, y’all, and I’m giving you full permission to be joyful, or nostalgic, or sad, or to avoid people who make you feel like shit, or to be happy in spite of the fact that the holidays are full of weirdness.  I am glad that you are in the world and I’m toasting you right now from my own quiet house.  It’s a time to be thankful for the things that are going right in the universe and to lock yourself in the bathroom with a small flask of schnapps when things get overwhelming.  It’s a time to dance in your living room to songs that make you happy, or watch zombie movies and eat Chinese food all day.  It’s whatever it needs to be for you.

It’s also a good time to remind ourselves of the awesomeness in the world and I’m doing that starting with a quick recap of the 6th Annual James Garfield Miracle.

jamesgarfieldholiday

(That’s James Garfield, above, in his festive finery.)

This year (in just a little over a week) we collectively gave over $85k to help children.  That includes giving presents to kids who might not otherwise get them, donating to Heifer International, and giving over $30k to Project Night Night, who will use our donation to put a bag with a stuffed animal, security blanket and a book into the hands of 1,200 homeless children.  In the six years we’ve been doing this some of the kids who were helped that first year are now old enough to help others, which makes me feel very proud, happy and also more than a little old.  In the last 6 years more than a quarter of a million dollars has been given by this community to help others.  No sponsors.  No middle-men.  No special recognition or fancy graphics or pleas for help.  Just people directly helping people because it made them happy.

What the shit, y’all?  That’s amazing.  My email has been full of awesomeness (which is a wonderful gift to me because I’ve been fighting off a bit of depression myself) but I thought I’d share this one because it’s one of my favorites:

“I cried every night for a week when I realized that an unexpected bill had decimated the plans I’d made to get my kids presents this year.  I told my kids that there wouldn’t be much for Christmas this year but that our Christmas present was that we had a roof over our heads and that we were together.  They were as understanding as kids could be but I was heartbroken and felt like a failure.  I left a comment on your blog hoping that I could get a warm coat for at least one of them and within a day so many people gave help.  Packages started arriving this week and it made me cry again.  Happy tears. When my youngest  asked why I was crying I told her that I’d gotten a Christmas miracle.  There are two new coats under the tree for my little girls, plus three toys and two books that I can’t wait to read to them.  I was able to thank some people but some of the packages didn’t come with any notes saying who the presents were from so I’m sending you this email so you can maybe pass it on and tell whoever saved Christmas for my girls that they gave me a gift so much bigger than they probably know.  Thank you for this grace, in helping me keep them safe and happy and for reminding me that people care.  Next year when I’m back on my feet I can’t wait to pay it forward.  I will never forget this.”

Ditto.

Thank you, everyone, for another year of craziness and kindness.  You are the best kind of people and I’m lucky to have you in my life.

PS. A special Merry Christmas to my parents, sister, grandparents and all my other family members that I won’t see this Christmas.  I love you guys more than cheese.  We’re with you in spirit.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not real.

When I’m on tour I often stop in the airport bookstores during layovers to do rogue signings.  I do them when I can and sometimes strangers stop to ask about the book.  Sometimes they buy a copy or two.  Mostly they don’t.  But last week one older woman in particular looked at Furiously Happy and told me that she would never buy it.  And I smiled and nodded as I assured her that was fine. “It’s not for everyone,” I said, because it’s not.  I thought she’d walk away but instead she said, “I guess you can pander this to all those college kids who have been convinced that depression exists by some pharmacy company that just wants you addicted to drugs.”  And then I explained that depression exists for a number of reasons, including chemical imbalances which are very, very real and that if not properly treated it can be fatal, and then she told me that mental illness was just “made up” and then I kicked her right in the lady junk.  Or, at least that’s what I did in my mind.  In real life I said that I hoped she would never have to learn how wrong she was and then I stared at her until she got uncomfortable enough to leave.

It’s not just ridiculous strangers in airports who feel comfortable publicly doubting an illness they’ve never fought, or sometimes couldn’t acknowledge they were currently fighting.  It’s sometimes family members or friends, and sometimes even we manage to convince ourselves that it’s not a real problem – and that mental illness is just a weakness rather than a medical disorder that needs treatment just as much as heart disease or diabetes or those disorders which are more easily measurable or unquestionably visible on the surface.

That night I locked myself in my hotel room and drew this to remind myself of the truth:

"Just because

“Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Because sometimes I need a reminder.  Pain is real, whether it’s from depression or anxiety or arthritis or one of the many invisible illnesses that don’t easily show themselves but still exist and have to be treated, and – more importantly – have to be believed in order to be treated.  You need to know that your struggle is a real one.  You need to know that your fight is real and your survival is something to be proud of.  Remember that you are needed.  Remember that the things you say can affect those of us who fight.  Remember that not all things are visible and provable.  Love, faith, pain, anxiety, depression, compassion…these aren’t always quantifiable.  They aren’t always measurable.  They are often invisible.  But they are real.

And so are you.

Stay real.  Stay alive.  Stay vigilant against assholes who make you question yourself.  We already get enough of that from the doubting voices in our heads and the lies depression tells us.  Listen to my voice, now.  You are real.  You are worthwhile.  You are so important both in ways you will discover, and in ways you’ll never see.  You send out needed ripples of greatness and kindness in unexpected and accidental ways.

You won’t always see wonderful ways in which you shift the world.  They may be invisible to you.  But I promise you they are real.

What goes on tour stays on tour. Unless you have a blog in which case it’s all over the internet.

First week of the FURIOUSLY HAPPY Book Tour and it’s been so amazing.  Thank you!  I’m always shocked to see so many faces there, especially since so many of us deal with anxiety levels that keep us from attending the things we want.  And I totally get that.  If you came or plan to come to the tour I am incredibly thrilled and proud, but know that it’s okay if you can’t make yourself.  If you come you will not be alone and you will be surrounded by other people who understand completely.  Even if you just drive to the parking lot and make it no further you should be incredibly proud of yourself.  And if you know that you can’t do it and are practicing self-care by staying home know that that is a brave act in itself.  I’m so proud of every single person in this community and I want you to know that.

This week I met a woman who had only made it to the parking lot at my last book tour and then could go no further and cried in her car feeling like a failure for not having the courage to come in.  This time she made it inside and met lovely friends in line and made me so happy with her story.

I met a beautiful girl who missed my last book tour because her agoraphobia had her confined to her home for months.  She showed up in Houston and is now getting ready to start her new job…as a flight attendant traveling the world.

I met a lovely man who gave me jewelry his wife made out of broken things she finds who couldn’t make herself come to the signing line but watched from a distance as she saw me appreciate the beauty that comes from the broken pieces so many ignore.

I met a woman who told me that her beautiful transgender daughter struggles with depression but that this book is helping to convince her that although her life right now is now easy, every day she’s alive is a chance to find happiness.

I met a man who brought the book I’d signed for him years ago when he was battling leukemia in the hospital.  I’d written “KICK CANCERS ASS” in it.  Three years later I was able to finally hug him in person and write “YOU KICKED CANCERS ASS” in my new book.

I’ve met Whovians and psychiatrists and teenagers and people in red ball gown carrying taxidermied possums or giant metal chickens or fee tie pajamas.  I’ve met people who hand me a book to sign and say only, “I don’t have words” and I understand and appreciate what it means that they are there.  And it’s been amazing.  Today I’m hiding in my hotel room because that’s how I practice self-care.  And that’s okay.  And however you practice self-care is okay too.

Just, thank you.  Thank you for being here.  Thank you for the feedback online or in person.  Thank you for keeping me going.  Thank you for finding friends in book-signing lines or online or (the hardest one for me) thank you for finding a friend in yourself.  I’m still working on that one too.  We can work on it together.

A few shots from the road so far…

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Next stop?  Atlanta, Nashville and Miami.  I hope you can come, but no matter what you’re here with us in spirit.  Click here for the whole tour list.

 

So this is eleven.

Happy birthday, Hailey.  

eleven

You are our sunshine.

I’m broken. I’m furiously happy. Both of these things are true.

If you’ve been reading here you know that my next book comes out in a few days.  It’s subtitled “A funny book about horrible things” because Furiously Happy is all about looking for the light in spite of the dark parts of life that weigh us down.  It’s easy to lose yourself in the fog so when you find your way out it’s important to celebrate that victory with joy so that you can remember it and carry that hope and that memory with you the next time you go back into battle.

I have clinical depression, severe anxiety disorder, chronic pain, and a host of other disorders.  My broken, dark times are terrible…but the bright, furiously happy moments are blinding.  I wanted to find a way to share that but I couldn’t do it alone, so I reached out on the internet and asked for volunteers brave enough to share with me.  And thousands of you responded and the responses broke my heart and then made it stronger again.  I wish I had 100 videos because there were so many amazing stories I wanted to share, but I only have one video and I hope (and believe) it’s strong enough to inspire us all a little.

(Click here if you don’t see the video, or want to make it bigger.)

So now what?  That’s up to you.  You can watch the video and if it speaks to you you can share it.  If you are moved to then you can share your own words in the comments.  If you want to share your own images of why you are broken but still furiously happy to inspire others that would be amazing.  (And if you tag it with #furiouslyhappy others will be able to see it and share.)  Or if you simply watch it once and it makes you smile then it’s done its job.

PS.  An enormous thank you to everyone who shared their words, to the brave people who sent in video – both to the people you recognize and already love, and to the people you don’t recognize but love now. Thank you to the people who were on board until it was time to film and then realized they just couldn’t do it, because your strength in saying, “No, I’m not quite ready to share this yet” is inspiring and a reminder that self-care comes in many forms.  Thank you to my niece Gabi who wrote and played the song on the video, and thank you to the creative team who made this a reality.  And thank you for watching.  And sharing.  And supporting.  And for saving me and so many others.  Thank you for everything that you are.

You are home.

This is my song for you today:

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and it’s truly wonderful to have voices speak out about something so many of us struggle with.  It’s not an easy subject or even one that people understand.  Even the people most vulnerable to suicide have a hard time understanding it.

There are many things I could say here but there’s one thing that I hope you hear completely if you are one of us…one of the strange people who feels things too strongly…one of the people who battle with a brain that tries to kill you…one of the people who has to remind yourself that depression lies.  It does.  But I’ve said that before.  This, however, is new:

One of the things that always saves me when I feel the deep isolation that comes with depression is the thought that I’m not alone – that so many amazing people are in this same dark place.  And they feel alone but they aren’t.  I’m with them.  Sometimes you’re with us too.  You might not be able to feel us here because your brain has robbed you of the ability to feel (or to not feel) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  You are here.  You are needed.

You are home.

I mean that in two ways.  You are home with us, the strange ones feeling the same doubt and pain, who understand and who would be the first to tell you that you are needed and necessary and that if we are going to keep fighting you have to as well.  That’s just basic fairness.  We rely on each other because no one else understands totally this terrible halfway-gone waiting place we have to survive until life comes back to us.

And I mean it in another way.  You are home.  You are home for the wonderful things that you still have to offer the world.  You are home to unique thoughts that will help and inspire others.  You are home to people who love you.  And you are home to people who will one day meet you and tuck themselves into your heart for shelter.

You are home.  You are real.  You are needed.  You are loved.  You.  Even if we’ve never met, know that I mean you.  The you doubting yourself.  The you who doesn’t let on how tough it is.  The you who doesn’t know if you’ll make it through.  You will.  You’re gonna get through this.  Even if you don’t feel it yet, trust me, you are already home.

PS. I know a lot of people who don’t touch this subject because it’s complicated, or maybe isn’t something they feel they understand enough to write about and I completely get that.  There are all sorts of ways to help, from sharing suicide hotline numbers, or asking someone who seems down if they’re okay, or leaving an encouraging post-it note on a bathroom mirror, or just reaching out to say something kind to a friend.  The small act of telling someone how important they are to you can be a limb to cling to when everything else in the world seems to be telling you otherwise.  Spread kindness.  Pick a few people and tell them the world is better with them in it.  You make such a difference.  Every single one of you.  Thank you for answering the door when we ask for help.  Thank you for being home.

A love letter to libraries

I just found out that Furiously Happy was chosen as one of the 10 LibraryReads for September.  That means that librarians around the country nominated it as one of the top books they can’t wait to share with readers.  That nod is one of the most poignant honors I have ever received and I cried when I heard it, although not everyone would understand why.

When I was little my favorite places were libraries.  You weren’t expected to speak, which was heaven for a shy girl with an anxiety disorder.  Thousands of small secret stories were hidden in plain sight all around you, just waiting to be held in your hands and discovered.  As a small girl in rural Texas, I knew that the best chance I had of seeing worlds that would never be open to me, and meeting fantastic people I’d never be bold enough to speak to was through books.  I was able to see places that exist (or that had existed, and or that would never exist) through the words of the storytellers whose worlds had been bound up and shared and protected through generations of docent-guardians who called themselves “librarians”.

I don’t remember my mother ever playing with my sister or me, but she read during any spare second she had.  She read to us.  She read to herself.  She had us read to each other.  A few times a month we’d get dressed up to drive into town to visit the nearest library.   I still remember the reverent hush as we walked through the doors – the quiet hum of the air conditioner…the feeling of reverence that others may have experienced in churches but which I found in the quiet awe that was the library.  I remember breathing in the welcoming smell of the dust of the books.  The soft sounds of the drawers of wooden card-catalogs that had slid open and closed so many times that they became a velvety hush.  The clean white slips of paper and tiny pencils waiting there (for free!) so that you might look up something wonderful and write down the secret code that would lead you to treasure.  I remember the hunt for the book.  For adventure.  For magic.

And sometimes you’d get lucky and there would be a special librarian there.  Of course, all librarians were special when you were little.  They were the guards and they were larger than life.  They knew the secret codex of books.  They were good witches and wizards who kept small keys around their necks, keys to special, sacred artifacts you had to know the secret password to see.

The librarians were all magical in their own way, but some had a special gift, as if they could see behind your eyes.  They could look at you, measuring you in their heads, and say:

“Let me see your hands.  Ah.  Yes.  Today is a day for adventure.  Would you like to see Mars?  Let me introduce you to Ray Bradbury.”

“Today you look like you need magic.  I think a dose of Ruth Chew will fix you right up.”

“I know you may feel lonely sometimes but I have friends I think you’d love to meet.  This is Francie Nolan and Celie Harris and Laura Ingalls-Wilder.  They will never, ever leave you.”

They knew the secret spider-web path from one book to the next.  They knew when it was too early for Melville.  They knew when to turn a blind eye as you furiously devoured the Stephen King books your mother didn’t think you were old enough for.  They knew when to pull out the special key and gloves and let you see their first edition of Alice in Wonderland, or the hidden-from-light, brittle, handwritten histories of the bordello that had done booming business next door to the library until the Texas Rangers shut it down.  They knew all the secrets that had ever been whispered and you hoped – in time – they would share them with you.

Librarians are how libraries speak.  Theirs are the small faces behind a million stories and facts.  Theirs are the simple hands that introduce you to the people who will shape you, and the ghosts that will haunt you, and the ideas that will drive you, and the friends that will never leave you.  They know the science of knowledge and beauty and laughter, and – though you can’t quite imagine it – they’ve cried over the same books that have broken and rebuilt your heart.  They’ve ridden in the same sleigh with the snow queen.  They’ve flown over London and sailed on pirate ships and visited Shangri-La and watched the world be destroyed and created and destroyed again.  And what they want more than anything else is to share those impossible journeys with you.

Librarians are magic – In every sense of the word.  And that’s why this particular recognition is one of the greatest things I could possibly imagine.  Because it feels like – in some small way – I’m giving back.  That I’m becoming  part of the tapestry of writers who reach out through time with their words to say, “Let me tell you a story.  Let me tell you about us.  You are not alone.”

One of the greatest gifts I will ever get is to imagine that one day soon, in a faraway town, a librarian may look down at searching eyes and say, “Yes.  You look like you need something special today.  Let me introduce you to my friend – Jenny Lawson.  She’s slightly profane and highly irreverent and I believe she may have exactly what you need.  I think you’ll be great friends.”

“Honored” doesn’t quite seem like a strong enough word for what I feel.  I need a better word.  I suspect a real writer would probably know that word immediately, but I’ll give it time until it comes to me.  And if it doesn’t come, I’ll do what I always do.  I’ll ask a magician.   I’ll ask a librarian.

 

 

The small things are the big things.

I had a post for today but I couldn’t finish it because my head isn’t working properly right now.  Some of this is because my head is always broken.  Some is from how bleak the news has been lately and I tend to fixate on that stuff.  Some is because we’re supposed to be at a family reunion right now but we’re not because we’re all sick with what I assume is the plague.  I was going to post something simple and just go back to bed but I know that the only way I’m coming out of this is to do it the hard way, and that means refocusing on the good.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to do that sometimes.  When good things happen we tend to weigh them in a smaller way or compare them to others or to feel guilt for having good things happen because others in the world are suffering.  But the good things are what make the world go around.  The good things are what give us strength to go on.  The good things are what we wish for everyone we love, and for strangers, and for strangers who will one day be people we’ll love. The good things and good people are what make you realize that things are so much better than we think, and that life is both dark and disturbing but also brilliant and amazing.  The tiny things add up.  We carry the tiny bad things with us because they stick to our skin in painful ways but often we forget the tiny good things.  And the giant good things.  So today I’m refocusing from the negative and celebrating the things that bring me joy.  You do it too.  Tell me what you’re proud of today.  Tell me what brought you joy recently.  Tell me of someone who inspires you.  I need that.  I think we all do.

I’ll go first:

Hailey snuggled up to me last night while we were watching tv and said that she sort of liked it when we were all sick at the same time because it’s nice to have a reason to watch cartoons together.

Yesterday I got a text from a friend saying “Check your porch” and she’d dropped off chicken soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.  I cried a little.

FURIOUSLY HAPPY is being translated into Italian.  I am taking over the world.

This is real, y’all.  It’s called a sea bunny and it’s really more of a sea slug but I love it so much.  There are tiny bunnies hiding in the sea, you guys.

And if there are sea bunnies out there then God knows what else is around the corner.  Kittens that never grow up?  Puppies that don’t have buttholes?  A brownie that makes the plague go away?

The world is full of possibilities. 

Your turn.  Tell me sometime good.

PS. This is Angel.  She’s 18 and is a foster mother to baby kittens.  She’s not the person grooming the monkey.  She is the monkey.

PPS.  Is it weird that I’m a little jealous of this monkey?  Someone come brush my hair and bring me kittens too.