"Q&A With Mary Laura Philpott"
Book: I Miss You When I Blink
Author: Mary Laura Philpott
Mary Laura Philpott is the author of I Miss You When I Blink, the nationally bestselling debut memoir-in-essays. She writes periodically for The New York Times, and her writing also appears in such outlets as The Washington Post, The Paris Review Daily, O The Oprah Magazine, and others. Across her work, Mary Laura examines the overlap of the absurd and the profound in life, literature, and culture.
1. Readers have said I Miss You When I Blink makes them feel “seen.” What do you think they mean by this?
That is wonderful to hear. Whenever I say that about a book myself, what I mean is that something I’ve read has made me feel less alone — that I’m relieved to discover I’m not the only one thinking or feeling what’s in my head.
2. Why did you choose this format of writing (multiple short, true stories) as a method of speaking to your readers?
I love the essay form. There’s something about the confines of the 2,000-3,000 word format that gives my mind just enough room to wrestle with a question or an idea while also challenging me to do it efficiently. You can’t wander all over the place in an essay; you have to make every word count.
I love reading essays, too, especially when I’m in a phase of life where I don’t have long stretches of reading time. You can read a couple at a time, put the book down, and come back to it in a little while.
3. How often should you reevaluate who you are? And, what do you find is the most effective means of doing so?
Constantly! Well, maybe not constantly. That’s a lot of navel-gazing — you’d never get anything done. But I definitely advocate for small, recurrent reinventions. If we wait until the “perfect” time or until someone else gives us permission, it’s easy to put off making changes.
I’ve found it can be helpful to do a little math: how many hours of my day do I spend on activities I love? How many hours on things I may not love but which are essential to life? And how many hours do I spend on things I don’t like and don’t need to be doing anymore? The numbers tell us what to do.
4. When did you realize that you were funny, or at least had the ability to make people laugh?
Oh, you’re kind to say I’m funny. I’m a bottomless pit of approval-seeking need. I don’t remember the first time I got a laugh, but I remember being really little and knowing that it felt like getting a kind of approval to land a funny line.
5. What was your writing process like for I Miss You When I Blink?
Lengthy, circuitous, and full of doubt. But often fun, too. Writing a book’s worth of essays, one at a time, seems so much more of an attainable goal than writing a single book-length work of nonfiction or a novel. How do people write novels? I have no idea.
6. What has it been like to receive so much positive feedback from national media outlets for I Miss You When I Blink?
You know how when you say a word or phrase a bunch of times in a row, it starts to sound funny in your mouth, like nonsense syllables? That’s how much I’ve said “thank you” this year.
I hope the people and publications I’ve been thanking know how much I mean it every time. I spent years thinking no one would ever read this book but me; it’s still a little stunning that people have read it at all, much less that anyone would go on record recommending it. I’m gobsmacked with gratitude.
7. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s fear. There’s boredom. There are slow workdays and bad workdays. But you either decide to sit down and put your hands on the keyboard or you don’t. You either keep going when it gets difficult or you don’t.
That said, I do believe staring out the window and thinking counts as part of the writing process.
8. What’s a great book you have read this year?
One of the best books I’ve read in 2019 was an advance copy of something that comes out in the summer of 2020: The Dragons, The Giant, The Women — a memoir by Wayétu Moore. It’s absolutely breathtaking. Pre-order it now and put in your request for a day off from work to read it. [https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/dragons-giant-women
9. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
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