Wearing Flip Flops in the Cold: Meeting Jenny Lawson

I have this recurring stress dream where my favorite band is playing in town and I don’t know it until it’s almost too late. Sometimes I miss the show, sometimes I barely make it. Sometimes I’m in my underwear. Like you do.

Two days ago I saw someone mention how sad they were that Jenny Lawson’s book reading in Raleigh was sold out. The book reading I had no idea was happening. 30 minutes from my house. There were still tickets available to get books signed, though. I felt sort of lame at the thought of standing in line for an hour (how naive I was) just to get a signature and a quick hello.

I’m not one to get all gushy over my favorite musicians or authors. I figure they put their bra on one boob at a time like the rest of us (whatever, you know what I mean).

Then I realized that if there was ever a place to feel a little lame and insecure it would be the line to meet The Bloggess.

I can’t remember when I first discovered Jenny’s blog. Maybe it was after her Beyonce the Giant Metal Chicken post was making the rounds the first time?  Or the time her GPS tried to kill her (if you’ve been around long, you’ll understand why I identify with that one). Either way, I showed up for the humor and stayed for the honesty.

I had never seen anyone write about mental illness with such authentic clarity while also being fucking hysterical. Except maybe Allie Brosh. Jenny had built a following based on this and they weren’t there just to pity her or rubberneck at her fucked up brain. I saw all the people who were opening up about their own challenges. I saw me in there somewhere.

“If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” was never an adequate expression. Jenny taught me the importance of, “it’s ok to laugh and cry.” Sometimes anxiety and OCD are ridiculous. Sometimes it is excruciatingly painful. And sometimes it is both at once. Sometimes Seasonal Affective Disorder makes you show up to stand in line in the cold wearing defiant flip flops because in your mind winter is over. More on that in a minute.

My therapist and I have had many conversations about the things anxiety have given me. My fantastic problem-solving abilities, sarcasm, and deflective humor, for instance. Jenny embodies that.

I can’t say that I was specifically thinking of her when I decided to hit “post” on my It’s Not All Hand Washing and Light Switches essay. Therapy and negative balance of fucks to give after Rowan’s premature birth were more directly responsible. But without Jenny, it would never have occurred to me that I could write about it.

After that post, I had emails and comments identifying with my words. People who saw themselves there. People who were actually helped by what I said. Underneath many, many layers of imposter syndrome, there was a seed of pride and accomplishment. I don’t nurture that seed very often but it’s there.

Would I be able to tell her what her writing meant to me?

I doubted it but I knew I needed to show up.

So I picked out my nicest underwear – just in case this was actually a stress dream – and headed to Raleigh.

I got there about 2:45. This was such a last minute decision that I had not planned well. First, I put on flip flops. Second, I left my coat in the car because my River Song stick figure “Bye!” jacket was way cooler. Pun intended.

I didn’t have a copy of her books with me since I have them on audible, so I thought I would get her to sign my Kindle. I would have gone in and gotten a copy of her new coloring book but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to go into the store since I didn’t have a ticket for her reading. Anxiety is stupid.

Are you ever weirdly aware of your body? Is that just a symmetry OCD thing? Sometimes I get stuck noticing all the ways my body is not quite even. Touch one side, touch the other. My therapist and I talk about how much I suck at mindfulness, but maybe I am being mindful — about the wrong things.

Anyhow. Standing in line I found myself acutely aware of my brain. All the internal dialogues that would be absolutely ridiculous to an outsider.

Just go in and see if you can buy a coloring book. 

I spent an hour going back and forth about it before I finally muttered, “be right back” to myself and ran in to get the book.

Then I spent another hour standing in the freezing cold with my flip flops on, trying to figure out the least awkward way to go back to my car to get my heavier coat. It was a multi-step process. First, I had to establish contact with the people around me in line. Then I had to start a conversation that would give context when I pretended to have the sudden realization that I had another coat in the car.  Because, I suppose saying, “I left my heavier coat in the car, would you mind saving my spot while I go get it?” would be weird. 

I think this is an important thing to note. If you were not inside my brain you would have no idea that I was having a back-and-forth anxiety fest over walking to my car to get my heavier coat. I am a pro at looking decidedly un-anxious. You never know what someone else is going through. Hell, I was 32 before I realized anxiety was my issue, so sometimes you don’t even know what’s going on in your own brain.

After three hours or so we finally got to go inside the bookstore. They were calling groups of people based on the letter they had on their ticket. They were on D when I arrived. Then they had to get through all the people with signing line tickets. Then, because I had somehow failed in getting one of those tickets, it would finally be my turn.

Also, why did everyone else have blue tickets? Was I supposed to have a ticket?

I looked so fucking un-anxious, though.

Oh god, I was going to grow old and die in a bookstore in Raleigh.

There were a lot of people. I was feeling extroverted out, so I hid behind the rack of magazines and sat and read for a while. Then the people in the chairs nearby had their turn in line. At this point, I think I was sort of punch drunk. It was closing in on 7:30 pm and I was scared I was going to have to eat the books for sustenance. Which would I start with? Something from the cookbook section, maybe? I’d probably choose Alive just for the irony (I love that I can Google “book about people eating each other in the mountains” and be reminded of what that book was called. Probably turn on Safe Search first, though).

Instead, I passed the time by taking selfies.

punch drunk
I really dig this green chair

Eventually, I moved downstairs to people watch. It was fun to hear so many people talking so openly about anxiety and depression. I’m fairly sure there were more benzodiazepines in that room than in the CVS down the street. I guess that’s a weird sort of thing to consider fun. People were like, “Oh, if you hear my phone alarm go off, that’s just my Paxil reminder.” And everyone is like, “Oh yeah. Mine goes off at 9:00.”

Once I was finally in line, I found myself really moved by the stories people were sharing with Jenny. I think the one that touched me the most directly was the woman a few people ahead of me whose voice cracked as she said through tears that watching Jenny’s daughter, Hailey, grow up was giving her reassurance that she was not ruining her kids.

As I write this, I am sitting beside my nearly seven-year-old daughter, Lorelei, as she decorates the “worry box” we just made for her so she can write down her anxieties and put them away in that box. Next week she has her third therapist appointment. She keeps asking me to show her photos of sinkholes and reassure her that they don’t happen here. Sometimes it’s difficult to not feel like a failure when your kid is having stomachaches from worry. Nature? Nurture? Either option reflects my own issues back at me.

Finally, more than five hours after I arrived, it was my turn. What was going to come out of my mouth? What if I walk up to her and blurt out, “Knock Knock Motherfucker” like a complete weirdo. What if I just get my autograph and say “Thanks!” while I walk away, an opportunity missed?

“I guess I’ll jump on the bandwagon and say, ‘thank you.’ Without you, I’m not sure I would have found the courage to write openly about OCD.”

Jenny answered, “Thank you. It’s so important to get out there. Some people may not have even made the connection yet.”

I told her about some of the positive comments and revelations I’ve gotten from people since writing about mental health.

She asked if I wanted a picture, we snapped a quick one, and I headed back to Durham.

The total trip took me more than six hours for a two-minute conversation.

Was it worth it?


jenny and rhi
Jenny and me. We’re totally on a first-name basis, now.


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