On the heels of my last post, I’d like to come clean. I’m not what you’d call a, “well-read” gal. That isn’t to say, I don’t occasionally inhale words in the same fashion I would a hot fudge brownie every 28 days, but it takes more than the slight shift of hormonal imbalance to grab my literary interest.
I know, I know, who the hell am I – this quasi writer chick, who blogs about her journey of working on her memoir – having the audacity, to not read more, swallowing every creative morsel she can – while honing her craft? Like most things in my life, it’s a little absurd.
I could attempt to win your understanding and sympathy by sharing facts of my Attention Deficit Disorder and Dyslexia (which is really just a fancy way of saying I’m a backwards pain in the ass), but I respect you too much. Sure, I may have to flip letters in my brain, and go back to re-read what my eyes just scanned because I somehow fell off the page and landed in my closet, wondering how much laundry I need to sort, but that’s normal when we read – right?
Truth is, when I do crack open a book, it always serves me well; my challenges of reading anything cover to cover are met with a sense of accomplishment, and an overwhelming drive to follow the dream of completing my own. Also, I have excellent taste, and not once have I been disappointed with my choice in authors. This has never been more evident than today, as I sit here quietly, marinating in awe, having just completed Kristen Johnston’s new memoir.
I started Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster three days ago, which, given what I’ve just shared about my mad reading skills, speaks volumes about this book.
As a former professional party girl in Waikiki, complete with stripper poles, countless drugs and hair bands, the stories I gravitate toward are raw, authentic, and always include tales of overcoming obstacles (addiction). If they’re served up on self-depreciating, familiar pu-pu platters of irreverence and humor – even better.
No one knows more about the tragedy and seriousness of addiction like the addicts themselves (even when we’re using, on some level, we’re aware). So, to allow the gift of laughter within the walls of heartache, is to give us permission to crack open a window, and let in some light, on an otherwise dim existence. It releases some of the air in our over-inflated emotional tires, which are usually spinning circles around our egos. Carrie Fisher explains it well: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”
Like Carrie’s enormously successful memoir Wishful Drinking, Kristen’s Guts gives us permission to laugh (and cry) right along with her, as she takes us through her harrowing tale of a near-death experience in London, brought on by her addiction – one she has since overcome (but don’t crown her Miss Sobriety – she’s just like you, trying her best to stay the course). It’s within the safety of her words, where we fall in love with Johnston’s candor and moxie, leaving no cobblestone unturned, as she shares her unbelievable story of suffering and survival. And share, she does, unabashedly, far from the glamor of Famous Actress.
Kristen is so much more than red carpets and Armani gowns. In a time where more and more people are becoming famous for being famous, she seems to make a concerted effort to not be That Girl, focusing on life away from the Hollywood magnifying glass. Staying true to her love of acting – a craft where she’s excelled for over twenty years – Kristen’s managed to balance television and silver screen fame (3rd Rock from the Sun, ER, Sex and the City, The Exes, Bride Wars, Music and Lyrics, Strangers with Candy) with the stage (The Understudy, “Love Song”, So Help Me God!). And now, with Guts, we are privileged to know her on a different level, as an extremely talented author.
Before I laid eyes on the first chapter, I was all in. In reading two quotes after the title page, I knew I liked her, and would connect with her story.
“The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open” – Chuck Palahniuk (this name is a dyslexic’s worst nightmare, by the way)
“Somebody’s boring me – I think it’s me” – Dylan Thomas
I’ve never read those quotes before, but understood completely, why they made the cut. To explain further, would strip away the very reason Kristen chose them, so I’ll let the words stand on their own – and say, that if you’re like me – you get it. If not, read the book, and you will.
That’s the beauty of this story. You don’t need to be an addict to get it.
Anyone who has been picked on for being different, or just loves reading about how people persevere in the face of adversity, will appreciate Guts. And have I mentioned it’s hilarious? It takes a talented writer, who really knows who they are, to weave their personal tragedies within the fabric of laugh-out-loud comedy – all while making it seem easy. It’s not.
As I read on, I realize the similarities between Kristen and myself are palpable. We’re both addicts who’ve tried to anesthetize our clinical depression, adore our LGBT friends (and strangers, because if they’re in a three-mile radius, they’re BFFs waiting to happen), have the same type of humor (the funny kind), and take a certain sense of pride in being a freak. And why shouldn’t we? We’ve earned at least that, having been mercilessly bullied as kids for things that were out of our control.
Our humor served us well through childhood, working as weapons against incessant name-calling (Kristen was The Jolly Green Giant because of her height, I was Freddy Kruger because of my skin), and we learned quickly that self-deprecation was our friend.
Of course, not everything in Kristen’s story mirrors my own. As she was projecting on the theater stage, I was grabbing my ankles on the stripper stage. My world wasn’t that of show biz, but rather, the business of showing – all my goods. Still, we share the same desire for instant gratification, with adoration and applause through performance. And although we received reviews for our work (hers were actual reviews, mine were dollar bills), it’s the critiques we gave ourselves we so passionately clung to (and still do) the most.
And don’t we all have versions of mental self-evaluations we wrestle with? You don’t need to be a stripper or famous actress/author to understand the lessons of learning to love yourself.
Some of us may seem (the operative word) to have it easier than others, but everybody has a story, and there isn’t anyone who won’t identify with Kristen’s on some level.
Addict or not – we’re all striving to live in our truth, learning to love ourselves for who we are, from the inside out. In reading Kristen’s story, you may just be reminded of your own. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to lift your own veil of self-doubt and denial, with whatever may be holding you back. And that, my friends, takes a helluva lot of Guts.
**UPDATE 2015: Kristen’s DREAM of launching New York’s first sober high school is a reality! Read here.