Jenny Lawson’s first book,“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” — a darkly humorous memoir about her hardscrabble upbringing in rural Texas — drew comparisons to David Sedaris and Chelsea Handler and was an instant bestseller. The daughter of a professional taxidermist whose family kept (live) chickens in a filing cabinet in the garage, Lawson is also the irreverent voice of the Bloggess, a popular blog where this wife and mom turns her troubles — of which there are many — into a cockeyed comedy of self-deprecation and slapstick.
Her new book, “Furiously Happy” (Flatiron, $26.99), brings together odd stories from her life along with some heart-rending confessions about her struggles with depression, anxiety and chronic pain. By e-mail, Lawson spoke about her writing, her stuffed raccoon and why it is (sort of) okay to call her crazy.
How would you describe your books to someone unfamiliar with them?
Irreverent humor for intellectual misfits. I usually ask people if they’ve ever wondered why Jesus wasn’t classified as a zombie since technically he came back from the dead, and if they aren’t offended, that’s usually my test to see if they’d like my writing.
How would you describe yourself to a potential reader?
I am a very strange but entertaining woman who will make you feel better about yourself by comparison. I battle with depression and anxiety and a host of other disorders, but my strongest weapon is a dark and baffling sense of humor. And a chain saw. Just in case zombies turn up.
How is your second book different from your first?
My first book was about my functionally dysfunctional family, but deep down it was really about accepting your own weirdness. This book is about my battle with mental illness, but, more importantly, it’s about celebrating the battles we win against life and b.s. and sometimes our very brains.
Why the title ‘Furiously Happy’?
I came up with the concept of being “furiously happy” years ago after the death of a friend came on the heels of a depression. I was so tired of being sad and feeling hopeless that I went to my next emotion, and that was anger. I was mad that life had thrown so much crap at me all at once, so I decided to be furiously happy. Vehemently joyous. To do everything I could when I was out of a depression to enjoy life, even if it was just from pure spite at the universe. It’s probably not the most healthy way of dealing with depression, but it works for me. It forces me to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of the times when I’m not in the middle of a depressive episode or anxiety attack.
Tell us about Rory the Raccoon.
Rory is a roadkill raccoon who has been taxidermied into the ecstatic, arms-out, furry cheerleader on the cover of my book. He “lives” in my office and scares the cats and occasionally houseguests. He once lost several limbs and a couple of toes in a tragic roller coaster accident (true story), but somehow that just made him an even more fitting mascot for furiously happy. Broken but still ecstatic. My father, who is a taxidermist, spent the better part of a day sculpting new arms and feet for Rory. We couldn’t use the kitchen table that weekend because it was full of raccoon parts and associated taxidermy crafts, but it was totally worth it.
In your book you write that you “sometimes get hassled for using the term ‘fat’ but I also use the term ‘crazy’ to describe myself and I’m fine with that because I’m taking those words back.” What do you mean by that? Would you be offended if someone else used those words to describe you?
People call me crazy all the time, but it’s usually “crazy in a good way,” so I consider that a compliment. I’m not sure I’d take “fat” as a compliment, but only because I’d pretend they meant “phat” or that they’d mispronounced “fantastic.” I prefer “curvy” or “buxom,” but that doesn’t always capture the moment. For example, “Ugh. I ate too many tater tots and now I feel all buxom.” That does not work.
How much do your health issues play into your work? Do they make it harder — or better?
It depends. When I’m depressed or anxious, I have a really hard time writing, but at the same time, I think my mental illness helps me to look at things with a different perspective. So I suppose my issues make my work both harder and better.
Most people think the Internet is an alienating, lonely place. You seem to tweet and blog your way out of the darkness. Can you explain?
I’ve always struggled with anxiety, and it made me painfully shy when I was young. Even now, I still struggle with it, but when I’m too afraid to leave my house, I know there will be thousands of people on the Internet who are equally terrified and will be able to keep me company in my blanket fort.
Do you have any regrets about being so forthcoming with your personal struggles?
No. I really feel like I had no other choice but to be honest about my issues because they seem so obvious. There are always repercussions, but they’re worth the freedom that came from being totally myself. And in helping myself, I’ve been lucky enough to help others as well. It’s a wonderful thing.
Is there ever a line you don’t cross in your writing?
I never write about something I think a mean 14-year-old girl might use against my daughter one day. I never write about something I’m still fighting with my husband about. I never write anything where I’m not the biggest butt of the joke.
What is the holy grail of taxidermy?
Full-sized, smiling double-unicorn Pegasus suspended from the ceiling with ropes like a swing set so I could fly around while reading. Dammit. Now I’ve invented something that doesn’t exist and that I now desperately need.
What’s the strangest thing in your house?
Nora Krug is a contributing editor at Book World.
By Jenny Lawson
Flatiron. 352 pp. $26.99