3 Relatable New Books About Messes and Misfits Who Made It
Let’s be real. Behind our Instagram-ready selfies, our polished Facebook profiles, and our masterful Pinterest epigrams, most of us are a bit of a mess. Almost everyone is or at least feels like a misfit at times. We have all sorts of neuroses that we’re really planning to work on at some point once we buy the perfect journaling materials, and we’re still waiting for that moment where we feel like real adults. (It’s coming, right?) That’s why it’s so great to read the new releases in this week’s book club, all about our fellow messes who made it, but in a real and human way. They never really stopped the messiness of life; they just either embraced it, made it better, or both.
1. 30 Before 30: How I Made a Mess of My 20s, and You Can Too by Marina Shifrin ($17): Shifrin spent much of her 20s like most do; she drifted a bit, failed a bit, complained a lot. The child of Russian immigrants who constantly reminded her how lucky she was to live in America, she eventually one night over wine with a friend realized they hadn’t yet done what they wanted to in life, so they made a list of thirty things to do before 30: “No rules. No impossibilities. Only a timeline.”
“My 30 before 30 list was the restart button I was looking for. I desperately wanted to prove to my parents that moving to America was a good choice and that I was taking advantage of the opportunities for which they worked so hard. I didn’t want to be another lost twentysomething, wasting my youth and smooth skin on a bad job and recurring existential crises. My father didn’t work himself to the bone so that I could curl up into an anxious ball every time I was confronted with my difficult-to-pursue dreams. Coming up with, and sticking to, my 30 before 30 list gave me some much-needed focus. It gave me a second chance at doing my twenties right and conquering my own version of the American Dream.”
Shifrin posted dispatches from her quest online, and soon became wildly popular, receiving floods of messages asking for advice. She recognizes she’s not a guru, though, and instead presents an irreverent guidebook to dominating your 20s from “a schmuck” who managed to figure a few things out. The book is a series of essays taking us through her list items, include “take a writing class,” “go to a nude beach,” and “cook a five-course meal.” It all started with, perhaps, the most important goal, and the only one she and her friend had in common: “Quit shitty job.” Seeing as goal #30 was “write a book,” Shifrin’s endpoint can serve as your beginning.
2. Okay Fine Whatever: The Year I Went From Being Afraid of Everything to Only Being Afraid of Most Things by Courtenay Hameister ($26): Courtenay Hameister was “a toe-dipper. A cringer. A wait-and-see-er.” From not being able to jump off the high dive at eight to not being able to have a real adult relationship until 34, she had always felt like the ultimate wuss. She wasn’t even happy at her awesome job as host of Live Wire, a nationally syndicated public radio show where she interviewed friendly celebrities and tried not to throw up out of fear… every. Single. Show.
After Hameister had a massive anxiety attack that eventually led to her leaving her hosting position, she was finally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder on top of her already-known OCD. Everything fell into place. She wasn’t a wuss; she had a mental illness. And now that she knew it, she decided to deal with it — and write about it. “This book is about my attempt to climb out of the ruts in my neural pathways that said everything was going to suck,” she writes. “To rewire the negative connections that quashed any effort to change. To try things that scared me in order to teach my brain that everything was going to be okay. It was my version of exposure therapy — to the entire world.” Rather than risking life and limb, this mostly resulted in trying to get over her fear of embarrassment. It was her Okay Fine Whatever project.
Hameister candidly discusses her anxiety disorder, its triggers, and the steps she’s taken to combat it. She balances the sadness with humor — Cheryl Strayed calls it “hilarious and poignant” — and her long, descriptive, and ribald chapter titles will have you laughing your anxieties away. (How can you not want to read a chapter called “Casa Diablo: In Which a Stripper’s Vagina and a Blind Chihuahua Cause Me to Send a Monumental Text”?) In the end, she counsels anxious people to look on the bright side and make the most of their mess: “Because when you’re scared of everything, everything is an adventure.”
3. My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir Through Unpopular Culture by Guy Branum ($26): Guy Branum was born “wrong” and out of step with his rural farming hometown of Yuba City, California. He was an overweight half-Jewish gay man who loved Greek mythology instead of guns and pickup trucks, and his childhood aspiration was to be a waitress, not a football player. “I grew up in a place with no dreams… Greek myths made me feel connected to the important stuff.” The most important thing mythology taught him, though, was in the story of Leto, consort to Zeus and mother to Apollo, who obediently suffered Hera’s curses before she remembered one very important thing: She was a goddess too.
“I didn’t know you could be a goddess and forget it. I am not supposed to be a goddess. I am very fat. I am bald. I have a faggy voice. My family is poor. My parents are uneducated. I dress like a wet three-year-old. My handwriting is bad. I sweat a lot. My parallel parking is amateurish. I’m wholly devoid of the skills required to make any ball go in any goal, hoop, or pocket. I’m not supposed to like myself, and I’m certainly not supposed to think that I should matter. The world has spent a lot of time telling me that, and in the past thirty or so years, I often listened, because we all listen. The World is mostly full of fine facts and good lessons, but some of those facts and lessons were built to keep you down. And I got kept down for decades. Then I remembered I was a goddess.”
After Branum left Yuba City, he blossomed, writing for Berkeley’s humor magazine and getting a law degree before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his passion for stand-up. He didn’t really fit into any of these places, either, but it mattered less, particularly once he landed a job writing for Chelsea Lately. Eventually, he wound up on the team writing for The Mindy Project (legitimate mess/goddess Mindy Kaling provides the foreword, praising Branum’s wit and kindness and admitting to an only sort of violent jealousy). Branum proves that you can surmount being a mess and misfit, if you only remember who you are.
What books help you remember you’re a goddess? Tag us in your next mess-made-best read @BritandCo.
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