The Toronto writer and comedian doles out sage life advice in her first book I Can't Believe It's Not Better. Well, sage-ish.
Everyone has that friend, the one that consistently has the perfect pithy motto or life hack-y tip to save the day. Or rather, everyone should have that friend. If you’re a poor soul without that friend, do yourself a favour and let it be Monica Heisey, author of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life.
In under 250 pages, Heisey doles out essential guides to leaving a party early and how to host the best Female Sharing Event possible, quizzes to find out if you’re being flirted with or which unfortunate fashion choice of Heisey’s past best matches your personality, personal romantic meditations on snacks like pizza and burritos, edgier pieces of straight-up fiction, and thanks the long list of people who made the book possible (including many of her personal girlfriends). It’s delightful.
Before Heisey’s official book launch party, taking place tonight at 7 p.m. at the Garrison, Torontoist sat down with the first-time author to discuss humour, friendship, and the awkwardness of promoting your own book, over—what else?— burritos.
Torontoist: Have you always been the type to give advice? Do your friends seek you out for it?
Monica Heisey: I’ve always been a bossy person, so I don’t know if people were seeking out advice so much as it was just happening to them. They would tell me what was going on in their lives, and I’d be like “Well! This is what I think about it.” I think I’ve always been interested in hearing about other people’s lives, and almost doubly interested in giving my own opinion on their lives.
How much of the book comes from your advice column on She Does the City, which started all of this?
Give or take, 30 per cent of the book was originally published on She Does the City, most of it in 2014 which was my last year working there. Because the earlier stuff I was writing, I was just so young and so Internet-y. And I think this is true of anyone in any field, your early work that you thought was so good makes you just want to cringe your face off.
But they’ve all been edited pretty heavily, because writing for the internet is different than writing for a book! But it’s been really fun, and kind of embarrassing, figuring out what works on the internet then and what works in a book now. And what I found funny then, and what I find funny now.
Are you happy with the book?
I am! When I first took it home, I held it in my hands and just kind of stared at it for a while thinking, “Like what, are you going to read your whole book cover to cover?” And I did. And I liked it! I’m not embarrassed about it. I obviously see things I would change, but that’s normal for everyone, though it is weird to put it out there and say, “This is it.” But I like it.
On Twitter you wrote “writing a book is like having a baby you are immediately so embarrassed by.” What’s embarrassing about it?
I’m more embarrassed about having to talk about it! It’s like I made my mom a craft and she made me show it to everyone on our street door to door. And explain why I used macaroni here and marker there instead of a felt tip.
As a writer, do you think it’s because you’re more comfortable asking the questions instead of talking about yourself?
Yeah, I don’t mind talking about myself! That’s what’s so weird. I thought I might enjoy it, I like attention, I don’t mind. But it turns out there is a maximum level of attention that feels pleasurable. Like, more along the lines of your friends saying “Good job!” rather than several journalists asking about your abortion.
What are you going to do after the book launch then? Hibernate for a bit?
Well, I have to work the next day. I’ve been writing for Baroness von Sketch Show for the CBC for the past three weeks; it’s been really, really fun. And there are more book events. I’m going to Winnipeg for a couple days, probably Montreal, maybe Vancouver, and then we’re launching the book in the States at some point in the next few months.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better refers to life just not being better. What did you think being an adult was like as a kid?
Well, I think it’s funny because on some days, you’re like, “Being an adult is amazing!” Because you’re grocery shopping and you can technically buy anything you want. And I think that’s a big thing when you’re a kid, going to store with your own money. And you’re like, “Yep, you’re going to buy kale. That’s just what happens to you.” So it’s the mix of loving your life, and then mundane things like realizing you have to pay taxes every year until I’m dead. And commuting just takes a long time, forever.
How do you look at those mundane things, and extract a larger meaning from them?
I think looking back is when the meaning is attached to something. I’m a heinous story repeater, my best friend Emily says she loves my Twitter account so she can hear my stories for a fifth time. I don’t diary or anything, I just spend a lot of time hashing out vocally on my poor long-suffering friends, husband, and family. And I think stories take shape the more you tell them; it figures out what the important or relevant parts are.
Your book talks a lot about friendship, and specifically female friendship, which is something that is becoming so crucial to women our age. But what kind of role did they play in the making of the book as well?
Your mid- to late-20s is a very magical time for your friendships. Especially because you’re old enough that you’ve had friends for a really long time, but you’re not at the age yet where everyone is married and has a baby. My friend Emily has a thing, “Friends are the new husbands.” And we have mega plans for our Golden Girls retirement home. But yes, my friends were crucial, I used my own title but they helped brainstorm, they were so supportive through the writing of it, they make up so much of the stories, I’ve for sure stolen jokes from them. It’s the kind of thing when I think I could’ve done it by myself, but it was so much better with my support network.
You talk about food, sex, friendship, the internet…Are there any other topics that you didn’t get to cover in the book?
Maybe more on family. I know some people have pretty fraught family relationships, but my family is pretty easygoing so I’m not sure I’m the person to give that advice. And I get asked a lot, “Is there anything you wouldn’t share?” And I’m like, “Is this a trick? I don’t want to share that!” So there’s also advice that I would like, but I didn’t write about because I don’t feel qualified and it’s personal to my life anyway. And nobody cares.
Are you thinking about a second book?
I’d like to do a book of humorous non-fiction. I really loved Simon Rich’s latest book Spoiled Brats and Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You, and Sheila Heti’s recent story in The New Yorker that was really dark and really weird. When you’re joking about your personal experience, you still have to stay true to that experience. In fiction there’s more room to play. There are two pieces in the book like that, and I would like to do more.
Your story about Pinterest was posted on The New Yorker‘s website too. How did that feel?
It was pretty cool! When I first started freelancing about three years ago, I made this embarrassing list of publications I wanted to be in and I found it recently. And I think I’ve covered almost all of them; that’s pretty exciting…And I’ve really enjoyed writing for TV now, too. TV comedy is so good right now, that’s something I’m just staring at and drooling.
As Amy Schumer said in the first episode of the third season of her show, “It’s a great time for women in comedy,” while rolling her eyes like this is a thing.
It’s a great time for comedy, and some men are funny and some women are funny. People really want to tie talents, traits, abilities to people’s genitalia. It’s such a bizarre, weird way to classify things. And it’s like every couple of years, people ask, “Is feminism having a moment right now?” Feminism’s been having a moment for decades. And the fact that we need to keep bringing it up means it’s probably not having as much of a moment as it could if you keep asking women if we think we’re equals. “Just checking, just checking in with you, do you as a human person feel equal to other human people?” Yeah.
What were you hoping this book would do?
I was hoping that reading it would come off like a conversation between my friends and I. And I think that the tenuous self-help angle was my way of saying, “This is what I think about these topics right now, this is my philosophy.” And if you find that helpful, that’s great. If not, I hope you laugh.
So 2015 has been a huge year for you: you published your first book, you’re moving to New York, and you got married. What are you going to do in 2016?
Uh, nap? I’m really excited to start working with Broadly. We’re stockpiling some articles now and what we have is amazing, I can’t wait to get the site out there. And maybe start working on another book. And spend more time with my cat.