Before you judge, take a look: “You Are Here” is a hybrid of art, self-help and memoir. It also makes sly fun of all those things. This is the same Jenny Lawson, after all, behind the Bloggess, the same woman who used a stuffed roadkill raccoon named Rory as a way of talking about her struggles with depression, anxiety and ADD.
On one page of her new book, she asks readers to write down five outrageous things they’ve done, “at least one of which is a lie.” Elsewhere, she suggests that you “build your dreams around you. Then build a pillow fort around your dreams. Fill it with cats and books and wine slushies. Then build a fiery moat around your pillow fort, filled with acid and razor blades, because people are going to want that fort. And your dreams, maybe.”
The book, subtitled “An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds,” comes with perforated pages, so you can hang up your creations on the fridge, above your desk or perhaps on that pillow fort.
In an email interview, Lawson talked about how the book came to be, why she thinks coloring books are actually useful and the value of sort-of meditating.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q. “You Are Here” is very different from your previous books. How did it come about?
A. When I was on tour for “Furiously Happy,” I spent a lot of time hiding in hotel rooms and to calm myself. I’d draw and then share the images on Twitter. And I found so many people coming through the signing lines who had printed out my drawings to color or frame or even tattoo on their bodies. It was sort of amazing to think that something I did when I was feeling like such a failure helped other people. But I guess that makes sense because I think we all feel alone and scared, and having someone else tell you they’re with you can be so comforting.
Q. The book is dedicated in part to your chronic anxiety. Why?
A. I dedicated the book in part to my chronic anxiety because I would never have created it without that broken part of myself. A normal person would be out exploring new cities while on tour, but instead it was just me and a sketchbook for hours at a time, so in a way my anxiety is the co-author of this book. It sucks to deal with mental illness, but it is a small silver lining that sometimes being broken leads to strange things you never imagined.
I was afraid that people who like coloring books wouldn’t like it because half of it is text and I was afraid that people who liked my text-based books wouldn’t like it because half of it is images, but it seems to have struck an emotional chord with so many people who are struggling or who have someone they love who is struggling.
Q. You call the book “true art therapy.” How did it help you — and how might it help readers?
Ever since I was little, I found the act of drawing patterns to be calming. Even just filling a page with circles felt meditative. It gave my hands something to do so my brain could rest and stop worrying. It’s hard to worry about life when you’re concentrating on making a perfect circle. That ability to zone out is so important when you have a mind that races with terror or dread. It’s like giving your broken head a coffee break, and in a way it can be a reset button. I think that’s why people are so into coloring now. It’s the same idea of giving your head permission to just zone out and focus solely on the moment, and the moment is one of creating art. Even if you’re not good at coloring, the act of slowing down and giving your mind time to reset is so important.
Q. What do you think of the adult-coloring-book craze?
A. Personally, I prefer to draw rather than color, but I totally see why people do it. It’s weird because this is a coloring book, and I’m loving seeing everyone reimagine my work and put their own spin on it, but to me it’s more of a sketchbook that people can color if they want or leave blank.
Q. What would you say to someone who called it a self-help book?
A. It’s a strange book to classify, but it does get put in the “self-help” section a lot, which seems so strange to me because it’s a book I made while trying to help myself. I didn’t fix me, though. I’m still just as broken or anxious or depressed, but I have a book I can look through to remind myself that I’ve been to these dark places before and I got out. It’s a collection of all the things (good and bad) I said to myself to keep moving. So I guess it is self-help, but in a very “I don’t know what I’m doing either” sort of way.
Q. “You are here” — the expression — sounds like a phrase from a meditation session. Do you meditate?
A. I do use the phrase “you are here” as a meditation. Not like legs crossed, candles lit and white linen curtains blowing in the wind kind of meditation. I just say it to myself when I want to remember a moment or when I need to remind myself to live for right now and stop panicking about the future.
Q. What do you hope people will do with the book (besides read it)?
A. So many people have said they bought extra copies to leave in their therapists’ offices, which is nice because maybe it’ll be like those Gideon hotel bibles, but instead they’re irreverent coloring books in waiting rooms. I’ve heard from groups of friends who color a page and then mail the book to the next person in their group and they color a page and add notes and then they pass it on, and they keep going until it’s complete. The sisterhood of the traveling coloring book, I suppose.
Honestly, I don’t care what people do with it as long as it makes them happy and makes them realize that they aren’t alone. It’s something we all need to be reminded of again and again. Myself included.
Nora Krug is an editor and writer in Book World.
By Jenny Lawson
Flatiron. 146 pp. Paperback, $15.99