“She said she thought you looked like a sweet little Texas housewife,” Kerry said. “She didn’t expect you to talk the way you did. You really surprised her.”
As it turns out, Kerry’s mother is the famous and prolific author, Kathy Reichs, who’s written so many bestsellers, from Deja Dead to Grave Secrets that it gives me the vapors just to think about it. She’s also a forensic anthropologist and the producer of the TV series, Bones, which is based on her work. All of which is highly intimidating.
But … I look like a sweet little Texas housewife to her? I think I’d better invest in a new wardrobe one of these days.
That’s the way it goes in these book festivals, though. You get thrown in with a bunch of strangers and you talk about your book and people ask you questions and you try to answer them and pretty soon you’ve been revealed to be a head case or terminally slow-witted or something that belies your appearance. (Which is precisely why I’ve never once wanted to be on Jeopardy!, even though I can be a pretty hot ticket when it comes to playing trivia in my own home without a buzzer. You never know what you’re going to do when the pressure’s on. I could always picture myself going massively stupid and sitting there with a big, idiot grin on my face in front of a national audience and that know-it-all Alex Trebek. I mean, please. Who needs the humiliation?)
In this case, at the Virginia festival, the other panelists and I were all asked the same question about why and how we use humor in our work.
I said that I felt humor was mandatory for my life and my work, since I basically viewed the world as a pretty tragic place. As often as I could, I wanted to laugh and make light of life, I said.
All of which was probably fine, but I felt I should go on and give an example from my life. So, I used the humorous example of my experience with a bilateral mastectomy. After the surgery, you get tubes under your arms to drain the incisions as they heal, I explained. My incisions drained into two small bags that bounced around my knees when I walked.
“It was really interesting,” I said. “Every time I walked around, I realized this must be what it’s like to have balls.”
The audience froze for an instant. Then they started to laugh and they couldn’t quit. I thought a couple of women in the audience were going to pass out, they were laughing so hard.
I’ve told that same story many times over the past 15 years and people usually find it fairly amusing. But not like this.
But then, most of the people I tell it to already know me and aren’t particularly shocked when I say something in questionable taste. This sweet little Texas housewife business — well, maybe I’ve found my new literary persona.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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