Tag Archives: Texas

Meet the Writer: Misti Rainwater-Lites

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Meet the Writer: Misti Rainwater-Lites
Misti Rainwater Lites

 

I want to thank Misti for answering my questions! These are definitely some of the sauciest answers I’ve gotten back for a Meet the Writer feature. Like me, Misti is a contributor to the TOO MUCH anthology, now available from Unknown Press!

What kinds of writing do you do? What kinds of writing do you wish you did more of?

I write the occasional poem. I was much more prolific when I was a housewife/stay-at-home mom living in rural Texas. Now I’m in the big city (San Antonio), a cougar on the prowl, a part-time single parent (I share joint custody of my six and a half year old son with my ex-husband) and a full-time student at UTSA. I am brainstorming a novel entitled Fuckerbutt Happy Time. I wish I wrote more short stories because there’s money in that. I just received a $100 check for three micros. Also, I wish I could write genre specific stuff such as fantasy, erotica and sci fi because there is more money in that, as well. I wish I were a prolific hack, basically.

In what ways has academia shaped your writing? In what ways has life outside of academia shaped your writing?

Academia has taught me to write more critically. Academia has not helped me with the creative writing. I can write fine creatively all day long without any help from academia, thanks. Most of my life HAS been spent outside academia…in the context of marriage, motherhood, poverty, bullshit entry level jobs and the trials and tribulations of being a single woman with loose morals in 21st century Texas America.

What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

The first piece of writing that I remember being happy with would be my first published poem. “Morning Musings,” published in the campus literary magazine at Texas State University when I was nineteen or twenty. I won $150 for that poem.

too much anthology

What happens when you’re not happy with your writing?

When I’m not happy with my writing I put it aside and work on something else. Collages, paintings, photography, masturbation. I just discovered the wonderful world of vibrators in 2010. The honeymoon isn’t over yet.

Could you tell us a bit about your contribution to the TOO MUCH anthology?

I contributed a true story to the anthology. It still makes me laugh, the fact that my boyfriend at the time was so alarmed when I told him I’d watched 8 Mile three times in a row. He soon learned that my watching a film three times in a row was the least of my insanity. The best was yet to come, alas.

Anonymity

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Anonymity

Anonymity
by Janna McMahan
Koehler Books, 2013
291 pages

“I guess I just never really thought about how they live. I mean I’ve been downtown for years, and I supposed I just sort of think of them as background noise. You know they’re there, but you just tune them out.” These are the words of Emily–a twenty-something who is a bit directionless, single, and worried she isn’t keeping up with the young women with whom she graduated–when she learns more about the homeless youth in Austin. You see, Austin is a place that has a great party scene, and working at a bar and being promiscuous suits her just fine; she doesn’t care that she’s different from her corporate America-loving parents. Really, Emily’s made her own choices, and I say, “more power to her and her happiness.”

But when she’s made aware of the homeless youth population in Austin, she can’t look away ever again. Children who are living on the streets because they are mentally ill and their parents can’t deal with it; kids who aged out of the foster care system; kids who leave home because they have younger siblings and want to be less of a burden on their parents in a down economy. Janna McMahan shows the reader an in-depth look at the homeless youth to give them a better idea of why it happened, why the kids are tattooed, if they use drugs, and how they survive.

McMahan plays off of the reader’s expectations and shows us we’re wrong. Meet Lorelei, a young girl who arrives in Austin. She’s starving; she’s alone. When Austin is flooded and Emily, on her way to her own parents house in a safe area, finds Lorelei, “Emily couldn’t, absolutely wouldn’t take this girl to her parents’ house.” Who knows if Lorelei is a thief, violent, a drug user, “Crazy”…Here, Emily echoes our own thoughts. It’s really impossible to trust Lorelei to the point where she actually began to annoy me. When Emily takes Lorelei in for a few days, when David (the man who runs the homeless youth shelter) tries to give her a place to stay, when she runs away and tells others she doesn’t need them (clearly she does if she’s taking things from them): Lorelei can be completely frustrating and hard to understand. Even worse, she adds that her mother used to take her shopping at the mall and send Lorelei to summer camps, so the reader is left to believe that Lorelei is a selfish, ungrateful girl.

Emily’s mother Barbara serves as a foil to the homeless youth. She acknowledges that she and her husband bought things at a rapid pace, but when the economy collapsed, they were left with debt. In order to survive, she and Gerald must forge ahead, but they don’t do a great job. They’re still trying to pay off three cars, one of which is an enormous SUV. Essentially, because Barbara and Gerald have credit, they are able to remain in a home. Barbara is critical of the “gutter punks” with their facial tattoos, piercings, and bad smells. She tries to be helpful when she launders Lorelei’s clothes after the flood, but for the most part she talks badly abut the girl while she’s not around (what kind of person destroys her whole life by getting a tattoo on her face).

McMahan masterfully leads the reader to this place in order to prove her wrong. It isn’t until near the end of the book that the real reasons for Lorelei’s homelessness emerge, which left me feeling like a bad person, like I am just like everyone else who walks by children without a place to eat, sleep, or be loved. Homelessness continues to be a problem (of course), and Anonymity doesn’t pretend to solve the problems put forth in its pages, which makes this mainstream novel a more challenging read for those who might not have expected to be enriched.

Favorite Memoirs of 2015

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Memoirs really grabbed me this year. There was something about reading real lives, real reactions, real people that got under my skin in 2015. It didn’t help that NPR’s Fresh Air show often features memoirs (I have many on my TBR list). Here are some memoirs that sucked me in!


Cheryl StrayedWild

by Cheryl Strayed

I finally got around to reading this book in January of 2015. I had a disastrous time with the audiobook, but loved the film. It’s worth the time to read Wild. Strayed doesn’t romanticize her mother (in fact, she admits the reasons she could hate her mother, too). She doesn’t over-exaggerate her hiking accomplishments (Strayed admits she’d been lucky for most of her journey, that she was helped by many, and that saying she was ill-prepared is a massive understatement; she always seemed inches away from being another Christopher McCandless).

Wild also isn’t a heavy reflection; sections about her mother are smoothly transitioned into the story, so the focus is on the hike, but the motives for the hike are not lost. Though she thought she would spend the 1,100 miles thinking about Bobbi, Bobbi’s death, and the resulting poor choices, Strayed admits she thought little about those things. Instead, she is physically and emotionally broken down and rebuilt by the inclines and declines of the mountains, predators (man, animal, and weather), and the literature she reads and writes.

Read the full review here!


cover chastCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

by Roz Chast

Roz Chast’s graphic novel examines the dying process (my choice of words, not the author’s) of Chast’s extremely old parents, George and Elizabeth. George and Elizabeth were born a few days apart in 1912 and only a few blocks apart in Harlem. Their parents were Russian immigrants who came to the U.S. with nothing but misery.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a moving memoir from the perspective of an aging daughter who details what it’s like to deal with parents who are so very elderly, and also so very stubborn. Chast is honest in her portrayals, including how she abandoned most of her parents’ belongings for the super of the apartment to deal with, and how using money to house her parents in assisted living was cutting into her inheritance, which did and did not concern her. This graphic novel also takes a realistic, deep look at anxiety and the effects parents have on their children.

Read the full review here!


letpretendthisneverhappened11

Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermy mouse the author owns.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened & Furiously Happy

by Jenny Lawson

Lawson grew up in a tiny town in Texas with her younger sister, lunch lady mother, and taxidermist father. Living in relative poverty and having a father who constantly brings home animals, both dead and alive, makes for an influential childhood. Then, Lawson meets a college student in a book store named Victor, who is from a wealthy family, and the two marry. After much heartbreak, Victor and Lawson have a child named Hailey, and they live happily ever after in Texas. The end…sort of!

I found myself eager to return to Lawson’s life, and I appreciated that she kept the focus of the book on her. As soon as she had a baby, I worried the memoir would turn into one of those books about how funny moms think their kids are. It didn’t.

Read the full review here!

furiously-happyWith Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson spent ten years composing a single memoir. With Furiously Happy, she got it down to somewhere around three. As a result, the stories are contemporary and do make reference to current cultural markers. Again, Lawson include fights with head-shaking husband Victor (I’m so glad they didn’t divorce; I was sure they would), and there are mentions of daughter Hailey, but Lawson respects her child’s privacy and mostly leaves Hailey out of it. Furiously Happy is a much more introspective book.

Read the full review here!


cover fun homeFun Home

by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel focuses on her father, a man who obsesses over appearances, including that of his house, children, and personal clothing. The house looks like something out of a Victorian novel. He also forces his children to look nice, encouraging–and then belittling for not obeying–the author for not adding feminine touches, like pearls, to what he considers a dowdy outfit. Alison Bechdel confesses that she would rather dress like a boy, and readers discover that her father would rather dress like a girl (and has). The two exchange clothing advice in a surreptitious fashion for years, living vicariously through the other.

If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, you’ll love Fun Home. The weaving of past and present, psychology and action, is complex and reveals a person who has extracted meaning from a complicated, lonely childhood. Even better, the images as all professional looking–no cartoony images, no bright colors, no squiggly-doodly pictures.

Read the full review here!


Tomboy CoverTomboy

by Liz Prince (read our interview here)

31-year-old comic artist Liz Prince shares her history as a tomboy. All through elementary and middle school, Prince is tormented. No one wants to play with her, she hates all things girly, and classmates begin to question her sexuality. High school is a huge problem area until Prince finds a group of friends who are more open-minded. Tomboy is a graphic memoir that will have readers nodding along in recognition as Prince analyzes what it means to be a tomboy in a society that tells men and women how to be from birth.

If you read this book, you may find yourself experiencing some intense emotions you hoped you’d forgotten upon high school graduation. Yet, the analysis Liz Prince includes will help you think about why children were so cruel, perhaps why you were cruel, and that we all share a universal terrible time in grade school (even the popular kids are hiding something awful). Tomboy is a powerful memoir.

Read the full review here!


Sarah leavittTangles

by Sarah Leavitt

This graphic memoir that recounts 8 years of turmoil in her life beginning with when she suspects something is wrong with her mother, Midge, and ends with Midge’s death. Leavitt’s father, Rob, cares for Midge at home for as long as he can. Meanwhile, Leavitt, her younger sister, Hannah, and Midge’s sisters, Debbie and Sukey, help Rob support and care for Midge while her brain deteriorates from Alzheimer’s disease. Tangles refers both to the complicated relationships in the family caused by the disease and the very curly hair that both Leavitt and her mother possess.

Tangles really would be impossible to finish if Leavitt didn’t balance the challenges of Alzheimer’s with small moments that Leavitt and her family treasure.

Read the full review here!


In 2016, the first memoir I plan on reading is a book I picked up at a conference called PHD to PhD.: How Education Saved My Life by Elaine Richardson. The cover explains that PHD stands for “Po H# on Dope.” Published in 2013 by Parlor Press, the synopsis of this book reminds me of why I went into teaching. Here’s the description from the publisher:

“There was a time when Elaine Richardson was one of ‘the Negroes everybody pointed to as the Negroes you didn’t want to become.’ The title of this book is no metaphor or allusion, but a literal shorthand for a remarkable, unpredictable journey. She inherits a plain way of talking about horrific pain from a mother who seemed impossible to shock. The way too fast way she grew up was and is too common, but her will to remap her destiny is uncommon indeed. To call her story inspiring would be itself too plain a thing, hers is a heroic life.”–dream hampton (writer and filmmaker)

Po Ho on Dope

 

Furiously Happy

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Furiously Happy

furiously-happyLast week, I reviewed Jenny Lawson’s first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). Since then, my number of visitors to Grab the Lapels has increased by a lot (though I will admit someone was earnestly looking for “Steven Hawkings Wife” and found me). Like most people, I had to immediately get my hands on Lawson’s brand new memoir, Furiously Happy (Flatiron Books, Sept. 2015). On the cover, we get yet another taxidermied animal, this one named Rory. Some fans have taken to photoshopping Rory around and sharing him at #WheresRory. Honestly, I couldn’t quit calling the book FUR-iously Happy thanks to that thrilled corpse.

Last time, Lawson spent ten years composing a single memoir. This time, she got it down to somewhere around three. As a result, the stories are contemporary and do make reference to current cultural markers. Furiously Happy at times felt like commentary on what’s up with people today while remaining true to the memoir genre. Again, Lawson include fights with head-shaking husband Victor (I’m so glad they didn’t divorce; I was sure they would), and there are mentions of daughter Hailey, but Lawson respects her child’s privacy and mostly leaves Hailey out of it.

In my review of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, I complained that Lawson mentioned huge topics (like anorexia) and then ran from them, like digging deep into a certain topic was too hard. It’s you’re going to write a memoir, though, readers are asking you to go to those hard places. And, in Furiously Happy, Lawson does. She spends much time talking about mental illness and embracing a diagnosis in a way that allows her to protect and understand herself and reach out to others. Lawson explains medicine:

The side effects and troubles with taking medication are very real and (if you have a chronic mental illness) are something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. Even if a drug is working for a while, it might stop working and you’ll have to start all over again with something new, which can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening.

Lawson also explains how mental illness is one that people don’t take seriously, which is unfair:

Clearly I wasn’t as sick as I said I was if the medication didn’t work for me. And that sort of makes sense, because when you have cancer the doctor gives you the best medicine and if it doesn’t shrink the tumor immediately then that’s a pretty clear sign you were just faking it for attention. I mean, cancer is a serious, often fatal disease we’ve spent billions of dollars studying and treating so obviously a patient would never have to try multiple drugs, surgeries, radiation, etc., to find what will work specifically for them.

By Shawnte Orion @ShawnteOrion

By Shawnte Orion
@ShawnteOrion

This sort of deep exploration of American’s understanding of metal illness and how that definition affects Lawson is a theme throughout the memoir. She brilliantly encourages readers to join the conversation in order to make mental illness less taboo, as many readers have already done at her blog and on Twitter. Lawson herself reaches out for help, sharing one pleading post from her blog as an example.

Even Victor prompts his wife to explore herself more deeply during a mock interview. Lawson admits that there were so many interviews after the success of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened that this time she’ll include interview Q & A in the book so she won’t have to suffer the crippling anxiety. Victor points out, “It seems like by this point in a book about depression you would have explained what depression is.” Lawson replies, “It’s hard to define.” Victor prods, “Well, this is a book, so maybe try.” Here, I applauded Victor for expressing my very thoughts while reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, and I was thrilled when Lawson tries again and again to define depression. Meanwhile, Victor says, “Hmm” and “So…?” and “I want to be helpful but I don’t know if that means that I should ask you to elaborate or tell you to stop elaborating.”

Of course, the main feature of Furiously Happy is how funny it is. Lawson combines her self-analysis with humorous storytelling. When it comes to beauty aids, Lawson doesn’t believe in adding to the body, like Botox or augmentations, but instead she is for stripping away. She writes, “Somehow that all seems healthier to me. Or at least more likely to make me less of who I am. Which is probably pretty unhealthy, now that I think about it.”

One of my favorites was when Lawson was missing, sending Victor into a panic. She can only explain how she was at a “surprise funeral”:

In a nutshell, I stopped at a nearby cemetery because I love the quiet, but unfortunately I unwittingly pulled into the cemetery minutes after a funeral procession had pulled in. I would have driven off…but when I turned to reverse I saw a line of cars right behind me and that’s when I realized I was fucked….I wanted to explain that I was just browsing but thought it would sound weird, so I just got out and went to the funeral, which was odd because I avoid most social occasions of people I know and love and here I was, willingly participating in the burial of a dead stranger.

It’s good to read that Jenny Lawson is still taking life one step at a time and promoting the #FuriouslyHappy way of thinking to combat all the assholes and bad days. I’m happy to know that Victor is still there, even when they seem so ill-matched (he has a retirement fund, whereas the author keeps change in a drawer–though not quarters; those are for gum). I was also pleased to see that while not in color, the photos were bigger/clearer this time. Overall, Furiously Happy is a much more introspective book that doesn’t lose the humor, and I recommend you read it.

By Manning The Merciless @pooinanalleyway

By Manning The Merciless
@pooinanalleyway

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermy mouse the author owns.

Hamlet von Schnitzel, actual taxidermic mouse the author owns.

Jenny Lawson’s newest memoir, Furiously Happy, was published this past September. I saw the cover with the crazy raccoon all over the advertisements on Goodreads. So, I looked up Lawson, who already has a tremendous following, originally the result of her blog, but also from the success her first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). I wanted to read the new raccoon book, but I figured that I had to start at the beginning and picked up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (2012, Penguin Books).

Lawson grew up in a tiny town in Texas with her younger sister, lunch lady mother, and taxidermist father. Living in relative poverty and having a father who constantly brings home animals, both dead and alive, makes for an influential childhood. Then, Lawson meets a college student in a book store named Victor, who is from a wealthy family, and the two marry. After much heartbreak, Victor and Lawson have a child named Hailey, and they live happily ever after in Texas. The end.

Sort of.

Except that Lawson has this way of exaggerating common situations. Except, she also has experiences that are highly unusual to those who grew up with enough money to not wear bread bags filled with newspaper inside their shoes in the winter. Except, Lawson also has severe anxiety that causes her to ramble, panic, and say exactly what she’s thinking, even if it’s telling her husband’s co-workers that she was stabbed by a chicken. And it’s all these “except”s that make her so damn interesting.

Lawson’s clarifications throughout the book will bother some readers, but I found it spastic and fun. Right away, she starts clarifying what she means:

Also, I just want to clarify that I don’t mean “without my vagina” like I didn’t have it with me at the time. I just meant that I wasn’t, you know … displaying it while I was at Starbuck’s. That’s probably understood, but I should clarify, since it’s the first chapter and you don’t know that much about me. So just to clarify, I always have my vagina with me. It’s like my American Express card. (In that I don’t leave home without it. Not that I use it to buy stuff with.)

The entirety of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened isn’t so circumnavigated, and Lawson’s splashes of silliness make the book light when some stories are terribly serious in content.

There are, however, serious topics that are mentioned and then fade away, and I hope the author addresses these issues in Furiously Happy. Lawson mentions she’s anorexic, but abandons the topic quickly, whereas later she devotes more than a page to a hypothetical huge labia. In the last paragraph of a chapter, Lawson has and then corrects her anorexia. In this scene, Lawson and Victor are newlyweds:

Still, I felt sorry for Victor, because he did know that I was kind of mentally ill, but he also thought I was naturally thin, so he was kind of expecting “crazy,” but I think he was expecting hot, sexy crazy. Then Victor insisted I start seeing the college shrink, who coaxed me away from the anorexia, and I immediately gained thirty pounds, which was very healthy, but which seemed not hot at all. Also, I suddenly stated eating solid food, so I cost a lot more than Victor had originally expected.

Lawson also describes her and Victor’s wedding, which was incredibly cheap, including the Sears wedding photo. The author had previously shared how wealthy Victor’s family was and that an actual wedding (not a court house contract signing), and I wondered why some information is dropped in my lap and left to sit.

The majority of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is humor-driven, though. During a lunch break, Lawson’s co-worker mentions he saw a documentary about a woman whose top half was normal, but her bottom half was “enormous.” Lawson’s train of thought is both funny and creative:

…My God. I bet her labia is huge….If I were her, I’d roll it up with binder clips. Or foam curlers. And then on special occasions she lets it out of the curlers and bingo: spiral perm. Totally ready for prom….If you got attacked you could throw it on someone to swat them back, or you could catch children jumping out of burning buildings….You could put a lantern behind it and make shadow puppets.

Meanwhile, the coworker is getting angry because he’s brought a tuna sandwich to work that day, and Lawson works in Human Resources, adding a new level of inappropriate to the situation.

Some of the stories truly are not remarkable, but it’s all in the telling. The chapter entitled “Stabbed by Chicken” gets your brain thinking the worse, but by the end readers learn that Lawson’s dog accidentally tripped her and she cut herself on the dried chicken jerky she wanted to feed him. In the telling of the story, though, everything is disastrous, life-or-death, and hilarious. In truth, the humor is the build up of each story as opposed to one-liners, and Lawson’s funny bits are pretty much too long to quote to give you a good example. This is why you have to read the book yourself.

Several times, Lawson pins her fears on the zombie apocalypse or chupacabras. I couldn’t tell if the author was genuinely afraid of these fictitious creatures, or if she was using zombies because they’re in vogue. Again, I wanted more conscientious digging into her fears to determine what’s going on with her mentally, and if she truly is terrified of said creatures.

Rory, the taxidermic raccoon, who I am told fell in with a bad crowd. We'll see in book two!

Rory, the taxidermic raccoon, who I am told fell in with a bad crowd. We’ll see in book two!

Lawson does work to make sure you believe her. She has photographic evidence. The photos, however, are pretty small, and all are in shades of grey. In several, I couldn’t distinguish the different parts from lack of color, and I wanted Penguin Group to pony up the dough for color photos. Then again, I can see how that would increase the cost of the book, and most likely the pictures wouldn’t appear in the right places to serve as evidence (most publishers use special shiny paper and put all the color photos somewhere in the middle of the book, which makes no sense when you see people the book hasn’t discussed yet, but also images that would have been relevant 100 pages ago).

In the end, I found myself eager to return to Lawson’s life, and I appreciated that she kept the focus of the book on her. As soon as she had a baby, I worried Let’s Pretend This Never Happened would turn into one of those books about how funny moms think their kids are. It didn’t. *Whew* I caught myself laughing out loud many times, much to my own embarrassment, and became vigilant about reading away from public places. Totally recommend.

This book was procured from the public library. I have zero relationship with the author, and all thoughts are my own. Please keep an eye out for my forthcoming review of Furiously Happy!