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Broken (in the best possible way)

Jenny Lawson, Full-Grown Mammal: An Introduction

You probably just picked up this book thinking, What the shit is this all about? And frankly I’m right there with you. Honestly, I just got here myself. By the time you read this it will be an actual, fully formed, and probably horribly offensive book, but at the moment I’m writing this it’s just a bunch of sentences, paralyzing anxiety, and a lot of angst. Some people write a book a week, but I’m achingly slow and filled with self-doubt and writer’s block, so by the time you read this I will have gone through years of “WRITING IS SO LONELY AND I HATE EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE.” I will have gone through the writing period when I tell my husband that real writers write drunk and edit sober, and then later the editing period when I tell him I have edited this notion and have to write drunk and also edit drunk, and even the period where I just lock myself in a room and force myself to write and it’s glorious and beautiful until I wake up the next day and realize it’s garbage and delete everything.

You, on the other hand, will only see the finished product. Shiny and edited and pasted together with the tears of copy editors whom I have sent to an early grave and/or multiple bars. Will it be worth it? No damn idea. But I can’t stop, because writers write always. Not well, necessarily. But they write. And you are a reader. So you read. (Unless you are listening to the audiobook, in which case, I guess you are a hearer? Is that right? That seems like the wrong word but I can’t think of the correct one right now. But I bet you’re a great hearer, even if that word doesn’t exist.) I don’t even know you and I can tell you’re special. Mostly because everyone seems special to me. Granted, some of that is because I have avoidant personality disorder and imposter syndrome, which automatically makes me think everyone in the world is better than me, and some of it is because you’re still reading this (or hearering it) even though it’s pretty obvious that I’m stalling because I’m not sure what to write about; I appreciate that and I owe you a drink.

(OH! “LISTENING TO.” Those are the words I was looking for. Not “hearering.” Although I sort of like the melody of the word “hearering” now, so let’s keep it.)

This whole introduction is a pretty good indication of the baffling wordsmithery that you can expect here, and that’s a good thing because 1) now you’ve been warned, so you can’t blame me if you hate this book, and 2) you’re going to feel so much better about yourself in comparison.

I’m not just saying that to flatter you. Truly. I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person. In some ways I’ve actually made it my living. And because I’m so good at being publicly terrible, other people feel comfortable telling me about how awful they are at being an adult, and then I try to top them with a “Oh, you think that’s bad? Let me tell you how I tried to rescue a decapitated human head from my work,” and then they’re like, “Nah. HOLD MY BEER,” and in the end I end up with a new best friend because how could you not love a person who couldn’t understand where those terrible farting noises were coming from on the bus but then she realized that they were the noises of the dog toy in her purse that she was leaning on and everyone looked at her and so she ended up shaking a rubber foot at them while yelling, “I’M NOT FARTING. IT’S MY DOG’S FOOT.” Answer: You can’t. YOU LOVE THEM. Hard.

It’s weird because we often try to present our fake, shiny, happy selves to others and make sure we’re not wearing too-obvious pajamas at the grocery store, but really, who wants to see that level of fraud? No one. What we really want is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness. We want to appreciate the failure that makes us perfectly us and wonderfully relatable to every other person out there who is also pretending that they have their shit together and didn’t just eat that onion ring that fell on the floor. Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.

A lot of people read my books because they love to laugh about all the terrible things you maybe shouldn’t laugh at. I hope you find this book just as funny, but there’s some really serious and raw stuff in here too, mostly related to my battles with mental illness. If I could choose the themes of my life, I assure you this book would be all about my successful otter rescue and how I became a sexy vampire who isn’t allergic to dairy. But we don’t get to pick who we are. I am still as broken as I was before, but with better stories and a little more insight into just how fucked up I am.

Even the title for this introduction comes from a conversation I had with a friend where we tried to win “worst at adulting.” I pointed out that I could barely even be human and that at most I was just a full-grown mammal. But then I remembered that the thing that makes you a mammal is laying live young instead of eggs and lactating, but I couldn’t even lactate properly. But then I remembered that men don’t lay live young and they’re still mammals, and I thought maybe I needed to consult a science book because I’d fucked up the definition, or that maybe it was another situation where men just get a pass because of that whole “I own a penis” thing, and then my friend was like, “I don’t think you’re supposed to say that you ‘lay’ live young,” and I was like, “Yeah. Poor phrasing on my part. But in my defense, I can’t even mammal correctly,” and she refused to accept that and insisted that I recognize my accomplishments. “You are Jenny Lawson, full-grown mammal!” she said encouragingly and with confidence, and I said, “I think you just came up with my next book title,” and she was like, “I think you could do better,” but GUESS WHAT? I CAN’T AND NOW I FEEL BAD AGAIN.

But fuck that. Fuck feeling bad about eating floor onion rings. Fuck the shame that comes from wearing your clothes to bed so you’re technically never (or always) in your pajamas. Fuck the people who make you feel bad for glorifying the odd behavior and questionable decisions that make you who you are. Those things are perfectly acceptable.

Be good. Be kind. Love each other. Fuck everything else. The only thing that matters is how you feel and how you’ve made others feel. And I feel okay (for the moment), and I make others feel okay by being a barometer of awkwardness and self-doubt.

I am Jenny Lawson, full-grown mammal.

And I am ready to begin.

I Already Forgot I Wrote This

I don’t remember the first time I noticed I was losing my memory. This sounds like a joke but I only laughed when I read it again and realized how ridiculous it sounds. Extremely ridiculous, but to many of you who are nodding in agreement at what you just read, it’s also extremely true. Also, now I’ll have to remind half of you why you were nodding, and it’s because I was talking about memory loss. And if you looked back at the first sentence to verify that that’s what you were agreeing with because you didn’t trust that that’s what we were talking about, then you already know my pain.

I can blame some of this on my ADD, which gives me the attention level of a kitten on cocaine. One minute I’m having a brilliant thought (like wondering if flat-chested women ever get that sweaty underboob smell even if they don’t have underboob), and then I suddenly find myself standing in front of an open refrigerator and thinking, Why am I here? But not like Why am I here, and what is the purpose of life? More like Why am I in the kitchen? How did I get here? Why is there milk in this fridge if I’m lactose intolerant? WHOSE HOUSE IS THIS? And then I remember that other people live with me, and that they probably bought the milk, but then I think, Does milk always look that color? How do I know if it’s gone bad? and then I look for the expiration date on the jug and it says it’s “good through November” but it doesn’t have a year so I don’t know if it’s November of this year or last year so I end up standing there at the fridge in confusion, holding the milk in my hand, wondering if it’s either very fresh or completely poisonous, and then Victor walks in and says, “Close the damn fridge. And why are you holding the milk? You don’t even drink milk,” and I say, “What year is this?” and he looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. Probably because he doesn’t realize that I’m really asking what year the milk is from, not what year we’re currently living in. Except then I start to wonder what year it is because I’ve gotten that wrong before. Then he gives me one of those concerned, irritated looks, but mostly because I’m letting all the cold air out of the refrigerator and less because he thinks I figured out time travel and I’m Jenny from the future who just returned from some sort of time loop where I killed someone who was worse than Hitler but who you don’t know about because I killed him (which would be my first thought if someone asked me what year it was because I give people the benefit of the doubt, Victor). And also a little because he thinks I’m losing my mind. Mostly the fridge thing though, because he’s used to the latter. If I’m being honest though, that confused irritation is probably one of the most stable parts of our relationship, and I think if I suddenly started to make sense now he’d suspect I’d been abducted by aliens.

Which—now that I think about it—I might have been, because the alien theory would account for all this missing time I’ve lost. It would explain all the times I find myself in the closet thinking, Why am I here and who bought all these shoes? Or panickedly telling Victor that I can’t find my phone while I’m actually talking to him on it. Victor says it wouldn’t explain that last part, but you don’t know what aliens do, Victor. They’re unpredictable. Probably. I don’t really remember. WHICH PROVES MY POINT.

Or! Maybe I’m a bunch of me’s all living in different time dimensions and slipping forward and back, either with too much information to sound sane or missing vital information I should totally have.

It’s not just small things I’ve forgotten. When I was younger I worried that my memory lapses were a sign I was blacking out terrible things and that one day I’d remember the terrible things that had been done to me in cults I’d obviously forgotten about and may have even started myself, but it’s not that. I just have holes in my memory. I have forgotten entire vacations. I’ve forgotten countries I say I’d like to see, and then Victor will pull out pictures that show me in them. I remember the photograph. I remember the chicken running around in the background and the fact that Victor was trying to find the Spanish word for butter but called it something else. But everything outside of that picture is fog. And this is why I write. Because my mind is tricksy and unpredictable, and without pictures and stories and constant remembrances sometimes things slip away. And I slip away with them. I wonder where I go. Is there a part of me left behind forever on deserted beaches Victor insists I’ve slept on? Is another me forever seeing the moments of my life I seem to have forgotten?

It’s not all bad. There are some perks to having a poor memory. I am eternally telling Victor that I found a great documentary we should watch about serial killers, only for him to stare at me in disbelief and remind me that we just watched it six months ago. Then I’ll tell him he’s insane and I’ll watch it, angrily, as I’m certain he’s just saying that because he wants to watch NASCAR, but then halfway through something will seem familiar and I’ll realize he’s right. Then six months later I’ll tell him about a great documentary on serial killers I recorded for us and he’ll stare at me and tell me that not only have I seen it multiple times, we’ve argued about whether I’ve seen it, and then I look at him like he’s gone insane because I DEFINITELY have not seen this documentary and so I say, “YOU CAN JUST SAY YOU DON’T WANT TO WATCH IT. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GASLIGHT ME,” but then I watch it again and at that same place I remember that I have seen it before and I also remember that this was the same place in the film I remembered I’d seen it before the last time I forgot that I’d watched it. And then I’m forced to tell Victor that he might be right, but I still finish it because I don’t remember how it ends. And that’s nice because I always have something new to watch.

It’s the same with books. Even the ones I’ve read over and over are new to me toward the end. I can never remember if the butler did it or if Alice will escape Wonderland. I thought I was a big fan of Agatha Christie but it turns out I just read Murder on the Orient Express over and over, and each time I was a little disappointed in her because I usually figured out who did it before the end, but probably just because I’d read the same story a thousand times. It’s worse when I use an e-reader because I try to buy books and my e-reader is like, “You already own that, dumbass,” and I’m like, “Nuh-uh,” and then it downloads and I see that I’ve highlighted parts of the book that I would totally highlight if it was me and read strange notes I’ve written in the pages. Some people might find this unsettling, and in some ways it is, but it’s also sort of nice to always have a new book that I discuss with my book club (who is basically all of the me’s who’ve read the book before and left weird notes in the edges). That sounds insane, but my book club is awesome and is possibly the largest group of people I encounter (even if all of them are me’s that I’ve forgotten). They’re very entertaining though, and when I read their notes I’ll cry out, “YES! I AGREE SO MUCH!… I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME.” And I guess that makes sense because it is just me, since I’m the one who wrote them, but still, it’s reassuring, and after I forget that I’ve read a book multiple times it provides a much-needed comfort.

There are advantages to having a spotty memory, the biggest being that it has kept me married for more than twenty years. I’ll have fights with Victor and I’ll be very angry over something terrible he’s done, but it’s not unusual for me to forget what it was we were fighting about while still fighting, which makes it very hard to win even though I know I’m right and that he should just trust me and apologize and maybe buy me a ferret. Victor remembers every word, so I’m forever reminding myself to buy a tape recorder to record the fight so I can stop and refresh myself, but I never remember to do that, and in fact as I’m writing this I just remembered that tape recorders probably don’t even exist anymore as I haven’t seen one in twenty years. And then I remembered that my last tape recorder was replaced by my CD Walkman that I used when I used to remember to exercise, except the CD player was sort of janky and wouldn’t play unless it was held flat, so I’d power-walk through my neighborhood holding out the CD player with both hands in front of me like I was in a very big hurry to present a small waffle iron to someone just around the corner. And now I just forgot what I was writing about and had to go back to remember that I was writing about forgetting what I was fighting with Victor about, and now I’m mad at Victor because technically he started all of this.

These arguments with Victor usually end with my yelling, “YOU KNOW I HAVE A HOLE IN MY HEAD THAT THINGS FALL OUT OF SO JUST BECAUSE I CAN’T TELL YOU WHY YOU’RE WRONG, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE NOT WRONG.” Victor will say, “You are impossible to argue with,” and I agree, but mostly because I’m pretty sure he knows he’s wrong too. I wouldn’t be mad if he hadn’t done something awful to begin with, and it’s even worse that I’m not able to remember the fight. Basically I think I should have a golf handicap but in fighting, but Victor says that doesn’t exist and then I just give up.

In fact, I suspect I’ve divorced Victor several times but every time I tried to pack up the car to leave he threw his suitcases in the car and said, “I can’t believe you agreed to go to [insert name of beach I’ve already forgotten here],” and I was probably like, “I—wait, what?” and he was all, “Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten again. You agreed to [insert thing I have pictures of but don’t remember] but we’re gonna have a blast!” And then I doubt my sanity again, because why would I pack dishes to go to the beach? And then Victor would be like, “Yeah, you’re weird,” and I’d shrug, and then we’d go on an unexpected vacation I’d immediately forget instead of getting divorced. Basically the secret to a long-lasting marriage is memory loss and well-meaning lies and beach margaritas.

It’s gotten a bit worse as I’ve gotten older, possibly as a side effect of the drugs I take to manage my anxiety, or just an effect of growing older, or maybe just my brain becoming as lazy as the rest of me. It doesn’t often bother me but it is unsettling how people who read my blog or books will sometimes remind me of things I’ve done but have forgotten. Or they’ll ask me to inscribe a quote in their book and I’ll say, “Oh, that’s so lovely. Who wrote that?” and they’ll look at me for a moment to see if I’m joking and then say, “You. You wrote that.” And I did. Or another me did. One of us did, and I suppose that’s what matters, even when it’s unsettling. If it stays like this forever I’ll be okay with it, because I usually forget it’s an issue and there are pleasant surprises that pop up when I’ve forgotten I bought something for myself or suddenly find something important that I forgot even existed. But it’s still a bit scary.

Dementia runs in my family very strongly. My doctors don’t think I have it, yet, but if I live long enough I’ll probably get it. My grandmother has it. I remember her joking about getting it when her parents dealt with it. My mother jokes about it now and I do too, because you either laugh or you cry. Mostly we do both. We pray that if it comes for us, it comes in the way it has so far for my grandmother, who is still as bright and happy as ever even if she can’t grasp who you are. She reads the same first chapter of a Stephen King novel every week and talks about how much she likes it. Then she forgets she read it and starts over, enjoying it anew each time. It’s a bright spot to a horrible and frightening disease, and a reminder that our time is limited and that our minds are fragile and wonderful and unreliable things. Maybe for some of us more than others.

I’ve seen family lose themselves and felt the sadness as they look at me without recognition, but I’ve also seen them later remember everything perfectly. It’s all there. Just locked away. For safekeeping perhaps. It’s a comforting thought that I can already relate to myself. I have a hole in my head where I fall through. It’s all in that hole, I suspect. It’s real. It’s true. It’s locked away in a treasure box. Just because I don’t remember, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And if one day I look at you and don’t remember who you are or how much you mean to me, know that your importance is still as real then as it is now. Know that you are locked away someplace safe. Know that the me who loved you is still sitting on that beach, forever feeling the sunlight. And know that I’m okay with not having that memory right now, because the me that holds it tight is keeping it safe and uncorrupted and glorious. And she loves you. And I do too.

Remember that.

For me.

Copyright © 2021 by Jenny Lawson

Broken (in the best possible way)
by by Jenny Lawson