Thursday, September 8, 2011

Valerie Frankel interviews herself and talks about It's Hard Not To Hate you

Valerie Frankel is one of the bravest, boldest, funniest writers on the planet. I loved her last book, Thin is the New Happy, and her new one, It's Hard Not To Hate You carries the same kind of startlingly fresh honesty (you can read my review in this month!). Every page feels as if you are sitting across a cafe with her, having coffee, and spilling your soul. I asked Val if she'd consider doing a self-interview for me here, and I'm honored that she agreed. 

What made you decide to write a book on toxic emotions? 

I was inspired to write It's Hard Not to Hate You in April 2009 while staring down simultaneous health and career crises. I was diagnosed with colon cancer, which led to the discovery of a genetic mutation that could cause cancers in numerous other organs. At the same time, due to the Great Recession, magazine assignments were hard to come by, and I was afraid for my livelihood. The double whammy of problems beyond my control was too much. My carefully maintained easy-going persona cracked under the pressure. Instead of trying to suppress my so-called toxic emotions, I decided to just let them come--in real life, and on the page. The hate in me just had to come out. I'd been wearing a poker face since I was a tweenage closeted rageaholic, so there was a lot of it. 

How has opening the door to negative emotions changed you?

I had no idea just how happy being angry would make me. Women struggle to be perfect in so many ways--having a stellar career, being thin, a great cook, a skilled lover, a wise mother. We expect ourselves be emotionally perfect as well. I blame the positivity movement (The Secret, etc.), but it goes back farther to "sugar, spice and everything nice." Anything less that bursting with joy feels like a personal failure and public shame. Happiness, as opposed to Honesty, has become the ultimate emotional goal. The paradox is that you can’t really be happy unless you’re honest about how you really feel. This memoir's goal, of feeling whatever comes up without guilt or shame, was a humanizing process. As in, I let myself be human. 

What kind of hate are you talking about?

So many kinds! Chapters address professional jealousy, envy of social butterflies’ ease with maintaining so many friendships, raw impatience when dealing with rude people, disgust with overindulgent parents, anger at my husband, insecurity (aka, self hate) inspired by being repeatedly snubbed by a bitchy neighbor. One of my favorite chapters is called “The Enemies List” about nurturing old grudges—keeping them in a drawer, as it were—and how good it feels to air them out. 

What advice would you give someone who doesn't want to own her negative emotions?

Some women are genuinely delighted by the successes of their peers, love their children's friends like their own, and smile patiently at slow service and bad manners. Such super humans do exist. I just don't happen to know any. If I ever meet one, I'd refer her to nearest army base for observation. The Feelings Police in our heads make us afraid to be angry. But sometimes, the only appropriate response is anger. To those grinding away at their happiness projects, I’d urge them to shed the Sally Sunshine skin. It'll feel GREAT. No one actually likes Sally, you know, she's sooooooo boring.

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