A month or two back, I had the great pleasure of being one of the lucky few to receive a copy of Faith Salie's new book 'Approval Junkie' before the masses.
Not only did I manage to get my hands on the book, I also stole away a little of Faith's precious time to pick her brain about what led her to write Approval Junkie.
Whilst I planned on getting this Q+A up on the blog in a much more timely fashion, life got in the way.. literally two lives actually. So, finally, here is what Faith had to tell me about Beauty Pageants, baking and being a mum:
Though it follows a chronological path through your life, Approval Junkie's chapters are each a stand alone essay in themselves, did you write these pieces over the years or during one period of reflection on your 'quest for approval'?
Only a few of the essays had been written before I decided to write Approval Junkie as a whole and as something that is an implicit memoir. I’d published the “What I Wore to My Divorce” and the “My Fling With Bill O’Reilly” chapters years before I wrote my book. The year I published them, I didn’t recognize that they shared a theme, but when I decided I wanted to write a book and I started mulling the most dramatic and funny tales I had to tell, I recognized that they all had this theme of striving for validation in them. I appreciate your noting that the essays can stand on their own, because I very much want them to. My goal wasn’t so much to tell my story of how I got from here to there, as it was to talk about different meaningful experiences in my life and the lessons I learned from each of them. So, for example, I’d like to give my chapter about breastfeeding, “Breastfeeding Sucks” to anyone who’s ever thought about breastfeeding or tried to or managed to do it until her kid’s bar mitzvah. Or, frankly, to anyone who’s ever suckled, just so you can know what your mother did for you. Even though my stories are very unique (I mean, I assume not many people asked their gay brother to show them how to give a killer hand job or had an exorcism of sorts), I believe that almost everyone—particularly women—can relate to stories of losing mothers and babies and husbands and jobs and gaining new loves and babies and fulfillment and gratitude.
One of the things I loved and appreciated most about the book is your honestly about the good, bad and embarrassing, how does it feel to put yourself out there so openly?
Oh, thanks! Thank you for that. I feel sometimes I get too much credit for my willingness to be so open, because, really, I know no other way to be. (This was a big problem for my wasband, in my first marriage!) I’m horrible at being discreet and unforthcoming. I’ve found that transparency and vulnerability are superpowers that connect us. I figured how dare I ask people to be generous enough to absorb my stories unless I am generous enough to give them as much of myself as possible. And it’s personally gratifying to dig deep and to be honest and self-deprecating. It’s healing. And I love making people laugh—I’ve always known that. But what I didn’t anticipate is how moved I’ve felt to learn that my book has also made people cry and touched them.
Having claimed the title of Miss Aphrodite 1989; paid $130 to be told 'you're not as pretty as I want you to be'; spent enough money on lashes to fund a small public radio station; but ultimately been beautiful 'in sweats, without a lick of make-up', what advice would you give to someone about beauty and appearance?
Oh man, right now I’m not the one to ask. I have a ragged topknot and am in the same shirt I sweated in at 6 AM when I took my daughter out to walk by the river. (Ie I wore her while I did lunges until I wanted to pass out. She’s two and kept asking me, “Mommy, why are you doing lunges?” Then she sang “Mr. Tambourine Man” while I panted.) I think becoming a mother changes us all. I mean, I’m not saying you have permission to let yourself go when you become a mother, but the beauty standards I once held myself to are now impossible to achieve. I used to have eyebrows done, weekly manicures, walk everywhere (bc New York City, and I had the time), take the stairs. I never used to eat rogue spoonfuls of mac and cheese. And mostly I was well-rested, which went a long way towards keeping up an appearance.
Now, I try to dress as comfortably as possible so I can chase them. Then, on days when I have to be on camera, I become another creature entirely: makeup, “real” hair, beautiful “TV dresses,” jewelry and heels. Hardly anyone recognizes me, which is rather disturbing, really.
So…advice? Do figure out a way to get exercise every day. You owe that to yourself—to clear your mind and keep your body strong. Never feel guilty about taking time to be alone with your own body, mind, and heart.
The chapter about your mother was incredibly moving, Vanilla will never taste or smell the same to me again. Baking, whilst standing on a chair pushed up to the counter, next to my mum is a really vivid childhood memory for me as well, one I hope to pass on to my children. Do you bake with your children now? If so, what's your favourite thing to cook with them?
My kids love to “help” bake with me. This is really a Buddhist lesson for me to be okay with the entropy (read: mess) they create in the kitchen. The kitchen in our apartment is small, so a little mess goes a long way towards creating a disaster area. Augustus particularly enjoys making Coca-Cola cake with me and announcing to the doormen and his teachers, “I MADE A COKE CAKE!” Because we do not live in the South, no one understands what kind of delicacy he’s talking about. He’s on the fence about cracking eggs—some days he likes it, and some days he finds it too aggressive an act. He loves whisking, which sends batter everywhere. Minerva, his little sister, basically just wants to do whatever he’s doing, which means double the mess. Really, what my son enjoys the most is washing dishes. He can’t get enough of pulling up a chair and playing with stuff in the sink under running water. (I know this is terrible, environmentally.) Someday I hope to embrace this affinity of his, resulting in a cleaner kitchen, rather than a soaked one.
As someone who has also had a few hiccups along the way to becoming a mum (I'm nearly there- a couple more months to go!), I was surprised by the outpouring of support when I did speak up about our experiences. Have you found this to be the case since sharing your not-so-simple journey to motherhood?
Writing about becoming a mother—about the surgery I had on my uterus when I was single in order to become what I thought would be a single mother; about freezing my eggs at age 39, the day after I went on the first date with the man who would become my second husband; about my five pregnancies and two babies; about becoming a mother for the first time in my 40s; about all the injections and semen and the candles we lit and the vespers we said—was one of my favorite experiences of creating my book. Motherhood has so changed me, healed me, exhausted me, invigorated me, surprised me, softened me. When I read my audio book, I found that the last paragraph of my “Ovary Achiever” chapter includes some of my favorite words I’ve ever written. I like the cheekiness of the chapter title. Not to get too Steel Magnolias about it, but that’s how life is: the very funny and the deeply tragic, painfulness and gratitude, bump up against each other all the time. Women tell me over and over how that chapter in particular has spoken to them. I’m humbled when they thank me for sharing my journey to motherhood.
I’m surprised, though, that you’ve been surprised at the support you receive when you talk about your fertility challenges. What could bring out compassion in us more than sharing our sadnesses and joys on the road to becoming parents? I’m evangelical about encouraging women to freeze their eggs, and I talk about my experiences with IVF and miscarriages, because I never understand why anyone would ever feel a sense of shame around fertility. I’m so happy for you, Holly, about your boys and glad that you talk about your experiences!
Your gentle love story with your husband John is as touching as it is aspirational. With a busy lifestyle and two children to keep you both permanently occupied, how do you try and make time for your relationship amidst the hectic schedule known as 'life'?
I’m so, so lucky. I’m not sure how I got lucky enough to have been successful with the JSAP. “JSAP,” as I write in my book, is what a friend of mine named my courtship with my John: the “Jewish Semen Acquisition Program.” John and I met when we were 39 and were married a year later in Rome while I was improbably pregnant with our son. We had so little time to be together as a couple before we became a family of three…and then four when our daughter arrived two years later! We both work so much and also devote so much of ourselves to our kids that it is very difficult to carve out time for our relationship. What’s great, though, is that we both agree that our marriage must remain paramount, that making time for just each other is actually the best thing we can do for our kids. About once a month we go to Chicago together for my NPR show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! We spend three days together and leave the kids with a babysitter back at home. We live for those weekends, even if we don’t do much but hold hands and go out to lunch.
Once a year, we get back to Rome for our anniversary, and that, too, is sacred. But for the rest of the time, sadly, we often say, “I miss you,” even though we live together. He works in New Jersey, and we live in Manhattan. We hardly see “Daddy” during the week, and on the weekends I often take one kid while he takes the other, due to various commitments and different naps. Sometimes we forget to kiss each other in the morning even though we never forget to kiss our kids—we both work on that. We remind each other constantly how these long days will be short years, and soon enough, our lives won’t revolve around naps, and we won’t be stumbling around sleep-deprived. Maybe because John and I were both married before and because we both became first-time parents in our 40s, we are acutely, almost onerously grateful…and that usually gives us perspective. Occasionally, though, we’re way too exhausted to feel as appreciative as we should!
You book, 'Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much', is out now- do you have any plans to tour, and to offer readings and signings?
I’ve had the wonderful experience of touring and appearing in different cities for different audiences of friends and family and strangers who feel like friends, because they know my stories. Reading from my book—especially reenacting how I won my ridiculous high school pageant—majorly scratches my performing itch. After spending almost two years writing by myself, it’s magical to actually hear people respond to words I wrote in solitude. I have more readings and signings upcoming (on in DC on June 12th), and I’m available to Skype into book clubs! Lots of information is at http://faithsalie.com/
What's next in the world of Faith Salie?
I definitely want to write another book, and I have lots of stories upcoming for CBS Sunday Morning. I’m also looking forward to shooting a new season of Science Goes to the Movies. At the moment, however, I’m urgently figuring out how to make a “rainbow gecko cake” for my son’s 4th birthday party. All suggestions welcome!