If you’ve been reading this blog since its beginnings, you will know that just a few months after I started A Measured Life, I hit a very dark period in my life. I sank into a very deep depression that was also punctuated with moments of near-panic anxiety. I was home alone a lot due to schedules and the extreme amount of snow we had that winter just fed into the feeling of isolation. The worst part was I’d forgotten how to laugh.
My bio on the website for my day job used to read “she has a million laughs”. My coworkers used to tease me about all the different ways I’d laugh, giggle or guffaw. But the loss of my father in 2012 and the harshness of winter poking at my Seasonal Affective Disorder threatened to down me, and I lost all my laughs.
One day at work I had a spell of panic (I hesitate to call it an actual panic attack but I felt the sudden NEED to ESCAPE) and I left early to meet up with my husband. He suggested pizza (one of my favorite foods), and afterwards we stopped at a bookstore to look at anxiety books. I wandered through the self help section until a little gray book with a tiny mouse dressed like Shakespeare on the cover caught my eye.
The footnote on the back sold me on buying the book: “Jesus is the author’s hair-dresser. You can tell him apart from that other Jesus because they pronounce their names differently.”
I could tell this was going to be my type of book! I started reading it that evening in bed, and during the PROLOGUE I was giggling maniacally! I laughed so hard my husband came in to check on me. I’ve been hooked on Jenny Lawson ever since. Her website, thebloggess.com, is where I go when I feel lonely and I want to have a twisted laugh to make myself smile. It’s also a place of acceptance for those who suffer from depression, anxiety and a whole host of other mental health issues, for you see, Jenny herself suffers from these things.
When she announced a new book a year ago I pre-ordered it on Amazon the first day I could. And when I found out a couple of months ago that she’d be coming to PHILLY to sign books I knew I had to go! Philly is just a 20 minute train ride for me, so it was a no-brainer. I told my boss the date and that I would be leaving early and I waited patiently. Then came a snow storm that was supposed to drop up to 36 inches on the city. And then none of my friends were able to go with me. I started to talk myself out of it. But the more I thought about it the more I knew I had to go. I had to say thank you to the woman who could make me laugh when almost nothing else could (Parks & Recreation was my other saving grace). Luckily the storm dumped it’s load much further north and the city was running fine by the time the event arrived.
Now I’d never been to a book event before, so I figured if I was a half hour early that would be fine, so around 6:30 I waltzed into the Barnes & Noble at Rittenhouse Square and found standing room only. The staff had no clue how popular she was!
It was also about a thousand degrees in there. I’d dressed for the 3 block walk from the train and was quickly out of my coat, hat, gloves and sweater. I was excited, and I listened to the other people also chatter excitedly. Someone whispered she had just posted on Twitter that she’d landed about 6:45, so we’d have a bit to wait.
Around 7:15 the elevator door near me opened and there she was! She walked around the corner and saw the almost 200 people there to see her and waved and it was amazing.
I had been worried that I wouldn’t be able to see her from where I was standing but I shouldn’t have been. (Sorry for the blurry cell phone shots, my new camera hadn’t arrived yet.) She spoke for about 15 minutes, reading the beginning of her new book: YOU ARE HERE. I laughed, I teared up, and at times I noticed the room was silent except for the sound of her voice as she told a story – everyone was enraptured. After that, a Q & A session followed, and then, THE SIGNING.
I was in the top quarter of the line, but at first it seemed to move very, very slowly. While I waited I wrote on a sticky note what I’d like her to write in my book. The very copy of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened that helped me through those dark times. I wanted to say thank you, but I knew how many people there would want to say their peace as well, and I wanted to keep it short. The closer I got to the front of the line the more nervous I got. People were giving her hugs and taking photos with her. I wanted both a hug and a photo, but when the woman behind me offered to take it for me I balked, too shy to say yes, and I declined. And then, suddenly, it was my turn.
I smiled and said hello and briefly but clearly said “I just wanted to thank you because two years ago I was in a very, very dark place and this book was one of the only things that made me laugh.” She thanked me return and I could tell she was touched, as I’m sure she was touched by the many, many other people there who surely had similar words to say. She seemed genuinely honored and awed at the love poured out in that room, for the acceptance of our differences and flaws, and the support we provide for each other in those dark moments. She signed my book with the words I had on that sticky note.
At some time during the night, as I was listening to her speak and answer questions from people far braver than I, I realized something incredibly important. Jenny Lawson is just a person. She’s just a person who put words down on paper that described her own quirky thought process, her inner workings, the reality of who she is. She’s just a person, who by being HERSELF, has touched the lives of tens of thousands (if not more) of people. She’s just a person whose blog turned into a memoir, into a series of essays, into a coloring book that are BEST SELLERS. She’s just a person who by sharing herself, has given comfort and help to those of us who struggle with some of these same things. She’s just a person who had touched so many people, done so much good by just being REAL. And that, my friends, is an amazing thing. Because we don’t have to be Mother Teresa or Gandhi. We only need to be ourselves, and we can change the world for the better. And that is something worth aspiring to.