I had no idea I would grow up to be a writer. I certainly never thought I’d write four books—which is what happened or will happen when my newest book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers, comes out this spring. The embarrassing truth is that I wrote my first book accidentally. I’d like to say it was a grand plan because that would make me sound much more professional, but it would be a lie. Before I knew it, a second, third, and recently a fourth book snuck up on me when I wasn’t paying attention.
These days, it seems like everyone I meet has a book in the wings, but I never thought that was for me. I thought of myself as a reader rather than a writer. I love to read what other people write. It’s my favorite thing to do. With three children, I couldn’t imagine having time to write a book. Over the years, I learned that chapters leak out of my fingertips in search of a keyboard at the most inconvenient moments—in dark movie theaters and at 3:00 am when I should be asleep, for example. Trust me. There’s nothing you can do when that happens except hop on the writing roller coaster, throw up your hands, and see where the loop-de-loop takes you.
For years, I lived a neat, orderly life. That was before I had kids, of course. I worked as a teacher in a small liberal arts college. It was a good gig. Then I had three children in five years, and I needed a different schedule. I also needed the occasional grown-up conversation to keep the two hemispheres of my brain functioning. Nobody told me how much physical labor is involved in child-rearing. I found it shocking—akin to digging in the local rock quarry. Late at night, writing became my thrilling escape from the reality of four-loads-a-day of laundry and scraping cat throw-up off the living room rug. Writing is like therapy, only much, much cheaper. It is the adult version of tattling. That’s why it is so much fun to do.
When my kids were really young, I had to write in short time blocks, meager minutes scrounged out of the daily grind of errands, cooking, cleaning, and parenting. I began writing about what I know best, the ups and downs of daily life for a woman in a new millennium. Short, humorous essays came quickly and easily to me, and I began publishing a newsletter for twenty friends. I was curious to see if there were women in other zip codes struggling with the same life questions I wrestled with every day. Guess what? There were. Are. Over the years, I have become convinced that the only differences in women all over the world are accents and geography. There’s something comforting about that.
You can guess what happened with the newsletter. Women talk. Word-of-mouth works better than cable television. Newsletters were passed along to friends and friends-of-friends. A subscription list was born, and I found an audience of women and men all over the country who told me the same thing, over and over:
“I feel like you are writing about my life!”
After about five years of publishing the monthly newsletter, I was able to sell a publisher on a book idea, and my first book, SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully, was sold. It was a hit, so I wrote another, The SWAG Life, and then, a third, I Love You—Now Hush (with co-author, Morgan Murphy). This year, my life with three teenagers inspired a new book, I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers. I hope you like it!
There isn’t anything unusual about me. I know a hundred women who could do the same thing if they had the time and the patience and the courage to tell the truth. I write chapters about ordinary things–grumpy teenagers, aging angst, and standing in line at the grocery store—aspects of life common to us all. My humor is always at my expense, no one else’s. Okay, the humor is a little bit at the expense of my teenagers in the new book, but I offered each of them the opportunity to read it first and remove anything particularly embarrassing. It’s not my fault they couldn’t be bothered, for the most part.
My life is, apparently, a deep well of humorous inspiration. Friends who appear in my books come out smelling like a rose, but I never know what character-building adventure the Lord has lined up for me next. It is usually something I have just declared, publicly and emphatically, that I will never do. Feel free to yuk it up. I consider it my civic duty to spare my readers any incidents of public humiliation I have already experienced myself.
There is nothing in the world more exciting than walking past someone stretched out on a beach towel or crammed in a tiny airplane seat reading one of my books and laughing out loud. On one occasion, I actually tripped over my own feet and landed in an unladylike heap on the floor while relishing one of those moments instead of watching where I was going. It’s a good thing that reader turned out to be a genuine fan because I did some serious damage to her shopping bag trying to break my fall.
Although it’s true that I’m not curing cancer or fixing the economy or anything noble, I am doing my small part to make the world a better place. I often hear from cancer patients who tell me they were distracted for a few minutes by something I wrote. That’s enough for me right there—even if I never earn another dime. If you add up my change-the-world minutes and yours, something big happens. All those minutes together make a difference. Don’t you agree? That’s what gets me out of bed in the mornings.
I am a Southern writer. In many ways, my humor is the peculiar product of culture, history, and geography, but it is remarkable to me how similar women’s lives are all over the world. Even if we’ve never met personally, I bet we know some of the same people. In case you don’t know, let me tell you that Southerners are very big on identifying your “people.” If they haven’t heard any gossip about you, they fear you may be a serial killer. The South is connected like that. This can work for you or against you. It depends.
I have found great joy and humor in the everyday aspects of our lives, things often deemed too boring to merit attention. There is no greater adventure than regular life being lived full-speed-ahead. For me, making people laugh is the equivalent of a two-margarita high. Laughter is one of the few things in life that isn’t dependent on good health, money, or leisure time.
Real life, I think, is what goes on in between the highlight reels—the birthdays, weddings, and births. Some people are always so busy videotaping an event for posterity that they squeeze out every smidgen of joy from the actual event. I do not want to be like those people. In my life, the best moments happen when I least expect them–when the beds are unmade, the kitchen is a wreck, I’m sporting last night’s mascara, and I have a fever blister.
I’d love to say that my career as a writer was the result of a thoroughly mapped-out life plan, but it wasn’t. It was an accident, the best one of my life.