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(34) TMI About Adult Conversation with Brandy

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I’ve been holding onto this story and these words for what feels like forever, and I am excited to finally share with you my heart spilled out onto pages, and all the TMI that goes along with it. In this super professional “interview,” I answer personal questions about my book, its characters, my writing process, my life, and more, along with a sneak peek excerpt.

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Brandy:                   Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. As many of you know, I wrote a novel. I know you’re all probably like, “Yeah, we know. You’ve only mentioned it every damn episode.” {laughter} Okay, fine, but it’s something I’ve been working on for years, and I’m finally moving past the blue balls stage and friggin’ releasing this thing into the world tomorrow! Or for many of you who are listening to this after May 4th, it’s already out! I’ve been holding onto this story and these words for what feels like forever, and I am excited to share with you my heart spilled out onto pages. As I wrote this book, I laughed a ton. I cried a lot, too. I held nothing back, and there are certain moments, still, on my zillionth read, that choke me up or make me LOL. On today’s episode, I am giving you TMI about the book, its characters, my writing process, my life, my marriage, and more along with a sneak peek excerpt. Also, because I’ve had to cancel book signings and in-person events, I’m offering to do virtual book clubs and stop by your book club for an author Q&A. For more information, go to my website at http://www.adultconversation.com/bookclubs, and we’ll work the specifics out together. On to the show —

Brandy:                   Okay, so joining me today to conduct this super professional interview is the Google UK English Female Bot Voice. I’ll call her ‘Matilda.’ Thanks for being here today, Matilda.

Matilda:                 Thank you for having me, Brandy. How did the idea for your novel, Adult Conversation, come to be?

Brandy:                   The idea for this novel kind of came out of nowhere. I had no intention of becoming an author. One day, my youngest (my daughter) was around two years old, and I just — I remember where I was standing. I was standing near our dining table, and my husband was in the room because when the idea came to me, I immediately said it to him. “Wouldn’t this be cool? What would two moms do if they went to Vegas and they were at the end of their ropes? What really would those two moms do? Would they do a bunch of drugs? Would they cheat? Would they just lay in bed alone with no one touching them and watch reality TV? What would that really look like?” And so that was exciting to me to think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write that?” And then somewhere it came to me, kind of in that same moment, “Wait a minute. What if the two moms that go together — what if one is the therapist and one is the client? How would that dynamic change things?” And it also got me to thinking about this idea of experts in our life, you know, life coaches and therapists — I mean, in no way am I trying to take away anything from those roles. I have benefited from therapy in my life, and I think it’s amazing. But I also think it’s interesting how we as human beings, like, we’re all human, and nobody’s a master at life. Even though it looks like it from the outside, maybe, and some people are trained in specific things, we’re all just trying to figure out our own way. I had this idea of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if the therapist, even though there’s a lot of things that she knows and she can guide April through — what if the therapist has her own shit show going on that April is able to help her with in a totally different way that’s not necessarily therapeutic like a client therapist relationship? That would be really cool to see the roles change.” This was all kind of coming to me in the same moment, and then my brain was like, “Well, let’s make it really weird. What if Snoop Dogg was one of their neighbors?”

Brandy:                   That was all my brain needed to basically be occupied non-stop for the next week because this idea came to me, and I thought, “Oh, my God, I would love to read that.” As somebody who likes to write (I don’t even know if I considered myself a writer at that point), I would love to write this. How fun to get to think of what these people would do and say and oh, my God, the Snoop Dogg scenes. What would those be like? But I just kind of pushed it away because I’ve got a two-year-old, and at that point, I had an eight-year-old as well. Where do I have time to write a book, and how does somebody write a book? That seems like a very big undertaking. I’m not somebody who’s “classically trained.” I’m not somebody teaching classes at college or even was an English major, so I felt pretty intimidated by that. But also, it was just honestly, the logistics of having small kids. At that point, my daughter was not in preschool or any sort of half-day or full-day anything. I basically had no time to myself. What happened was, for the next week, I didn’t sleep. I was up at night taking notes because, I didn’t realize this, but I had a lot to say about motherhood. It’s like this idea was the thing that got me thinking about it, but I think deep down inside, I knew there are floodgates that this idea is going to open. What I realized after a week of not sleeping and being up writing down character ideas, quirks, scenes, moments from my own motherhood experience that were profound or frustrating, and all of those things, I was inundated with it. It wouldn’t let me sleep. After about a week, I realized the only way I’m gonna get my life back is if I write the damn thing. So, I did, and looking back on it, it’s such a naive journey, really. I mean, it’s like becoming a parent. There are so many things here that are fitting with that (like ironies and things), but I really didn’t know what I was biting off. I just sort of naively started. I had an opening scene that really pulled me in, and I wanted to begin from. So that’s where the idea originally came from.

Matilda:                 How did you write this with two small children at the time?

Brandy:                   Yeah, so that is a great question. I don’t really know the answer to that. When I look back on it, I think, “How did I do that?” But I do know the major thing that made it possible is I knew that I couldn’t write without having time to write, which I hadn’t really had the luxury of any time to myself up until that point. We weren’t really in a position where I could afford a nanny or any sort of steady babysitter, but I knew that it was important and that I would lose my mind if I tried to write this while also micromanaging and multitasking a toddler. I would literally have driven my van into the ocean if I had to do that. I decided to hire a babysitter, and that was the first time my daughter had been with a babysitter at all. It was a new experience for us. And my son, at the time, was at full-day school already. I hired a babysitter who happened to be a college student, so she was really affordable. She was awesome.

Brandy:                   What I would do is I would go sit — we live in a relatively small house, so it’s not like I have a big office or anything (which I dream of having). I would go in her room, and I would sit in the glider chair that I think is mentioned in the book. I would write my balls off. It’s funny because when you’re paying a babysitter to do anything, but in my case, to write — I think my brain went into a mode that was like, “We do not have the time or the financial resources for you to have writer’s block.” It lit a fire under me in a way to know I’m paying to do this, so I better actually get this done! I think it’s different than if you’re somebody who either doesn’t have kids or has luxury of more time, then, maybe, you can stall it a little bit. And again, I don’t know if maybe it’s just my personality — I am somebody that when I get an idea for something, it usually flows pretty well. That’s what happened to me is that it flowed great, and I think part of it was because I was like, “If I paid for this time, I’m going to get my money’s worth.”

Brandy:                   But I also think, at that point, I’d been a mom for eight years. I had eight years of repressed feelings and wonderings and resentments and joys. I just had so much right at the surface that the minute I started writing, it flowed out of me. It’s interesting because I’m a little bit nervous that if I were to write a next book, which is something that I’ve been thinking about – a sequel to this that I sort of have an outline for, and it’s something I could start on. I’m a little bit terrified that, “What if I go to sit down and write it and it doesn’t flow like it did this first time?” I think many writers probably have that feeling, but, I mean, it’s kind of like when you have a first kid that’s really well-behaved and semi-easy, and then you have a second kid and it doesn’t turn out to be the same. I’m a little bit terrified that would be my experience because the first time around, it felt like it was happening through me. It was almost like this out of body experience because it was just all right there.

Brandy:                   My first draft of it was garbage. The first draft of anybody’s anything is garbage. It’s a cathartic vomit on paper. That’s what it was, and that’s as it should be. Really. It’s not to say that all the words were crafted perfectly, and I had everything figured out. With this book, I never lacked for what I wanted to say. I never was unsure of, “What is my message here?” That was clear from the beginning. So, the concise answer to the question is that I hired a babysitter. I was terrified by the thought of spending money and not using my time wisely. That’s how I wrote the book. I know that there are authors, I think Tony Morrison was one of them, who’s been noted as saying something about, “You have to write through the spit up. You have to find these ways to find little snippets of time in your day as a mother.” There are a lot of people who don’t have the luxury of even hiring a $10 an hour babysitter like I did, and I absolutely understand that. But for me, the book would not have been possible, like I said, if I had to write through the spit up. I would have lost my mind. I really want moms who are writers or aspiring writers to not feel alone if they feel that way. I really need quiet, and I really need focus in order to do this because I absolutely felt that way. This is part of the bigger message of the book, and I don’t think that we should have to write through the spit up. I mean, I don’t hear us saying to men, “Well, you have to work through the spit up.” It’s, I mean, you know — here we are — we are not even fifteen minutes in, and I’m already talking about gender stuff!

Brandy:                   If writing is a passion or whatever — insert creative thing here — if you want to and it works for you, and your kids are such that you can fit your passion in without it making you more frustrated to have to juggle all the things, by all means, awesome! I’m, actually, envious of that because it sounds really, really nice. But if you are somebody who needs that space, I fully support however you can take that space. Take it. And needing that space in order to create is totally normal and not a weird thing. It’s not selfish. It’s not any of that. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary in order to create the thing. I almost feel like I don’t even have to explain to any mother what it’s like to try to multitask and, also, work on something. But I will say that one of the downsides of doing this was that I would go for maybe two to three hours at a time and I would write (for those of you who’ve read the book or who know what the book’s about, it’s about a lot of the realities of motherhood) these scenes that were about kid stuff or hard marriage things and overwhelm and motherhood. I’d be writing about it for three hours. When I’m writing it, I feel like I’m right there. That’s what I was mentioning at the beginning where I would tear up parts and laugh at parts. I’m in this story when I’m writing it. What was kind of crazy-making was my time would be up, and then I would come back to my life, which was dealing with crazy kid stuff and overwhelm and motherhood and toddler and all of that. There was a moment where I was like, “What am I doing to myself? I could take these two to three hours and just go away and get that time and that space and recharge. Why am I writing about the thing that I need the break from?!” It was like this conundrum, at some point where I realized, “I’m killing myself slowly!” But I felt like I needed to write this. I mean, obviously, the idea wouldn’t let me go, but also, I knew that there was great value in writing about being in the trenches while being in the trenches. I knew that if I waited until there was a convenient time (until my kids were older and both in school), I would forget the most important parts of it which are the parts that I really tried to get, in my book, to be very visceral and clear. Those moments that when you’re away from them, you forget how much they bog you down or can bog you down. I guess it was, maybe, a sacrifice of some kind, but I am so happy I stuck with it even though it was crazy-making. I’m really happy I did that because, otherwise, I think it would have been a watered-down version.

Matilda:                 What, specifically, were you not finding in literature that you wanted your book to reflect? Was that a consideration before writing, or did that come to you while writing?

Brandy:                   I’m not sure if my book was a reaction to what I wasn’t finding in literature or if it was something that just organically came up inside me, but one of the things that I think was lacking or is lacking — and I think it’s changing a little bit — and not that I was reading every single thing out there (there were probably things out there that did talk about it in this way), but I feel like, as a mother, we have these certain expectations about what we write. People expect us to always have a tidy bow at the end of everything that’s like, “But we love our kids, and we’re so grateful.” Of course, I feel that way. That’s kind of where the book came from for me. I felt like I’m not going to spend a ton of effort trying to prove how much April and how much mothers should sacrifice. Of course, she loves her kids. I’m going to write this book from a place that’s like, “We all, as mothers, know that we would die for our children.” I’m just going to inherently believe that you feel that way (the reader), and I’m going to expect that you know that about me. I mean, maybe, that’s an assumption to make, as I’m thinking about it now, there are writers who probably write from places that aren’t that. But I feel like from the very beginning, you can tell that April’s character is somebody who is trying to do the right thing, trying to be thoughtful, and trying not to damage her kids. I felt like the most important thing that I could do with this book was be honest and not try to sugarcoat something or to explain it away or to tidy it up. I wanted it to be real, and I wanted to say the things that I didn’t think other writers were totally saying.  

Brandy:                   I only realized this a couple of days ago as I was doing a Facebook Live about this for a specific group, but I realized that part of the reason why I felt comfortable to be honest, was because of the relationship that I have with my husband, which is amazing (just him as a person, as well). Also, my kids — I have been nothing but transparent in my life with the people who are really close to me, and I allow them to be the same. I so believe in being truthful and authentic and all of that, so I am grateful that I could do that. At the end of the day, I have people supporting me and standing behind me and saying, “Your voice matters.” Not even just in my family, but I even had a couple just really important friends who were reading pages as I was writing them and telling me the same thing. I think that’s part of it too. I knew that, by being honest, it was freeing me to be honest on paper about this experience through April. I knew by doing that, the reader could also, hopefully, feel freedom by reading somebody else being honest. I think all of the people in my tight sphere of writers and my tight family all know how important that is because they all sort of live that way too. I realized the other day how lucky I am and how grateful I am to be surrounded by other people who value vulnerability and truth and nuance. This book isn’t, “Motherhood is absolutely awful, or motherhood is absolutely the most joyous thing.” It’s a lot of different things. I was trying to highlight the side of it that nobody talks about. That’s where I feel like I didn’t come across a lot of that in other motherhood writing.

Brandy:                   Another piece that I didn’t feel was out there very much (and now, since it’s been almost five years since I started writing this, that I’m seeing more of) is writers talking about some of this more progressive, maybe feminist stuff about the gender inequality in parenting. I feel like people weren’t speaking about that. Maybe they didn’t feel comfortable. Maybe it was something that they knew readers would feel was controversial or whatnot. But I think the examining that I do of that theme, specifically, is now becoming more and more of a topic of conversation, and people are starting to realize it. I’m happy to be tackling some of these topics that, five years ago, were barely in what I was reading, and weren’t even being talked about in this way. That felt super important to me as well.

Matilda:                 One of the book’s themes is gender inequality and parenting, and “Dad privilege.” Can you tell me more about those things?

Brandy:                   Yeah. As I just mentioned, the gender inequality is something that I think people are waking up to more these days. But it’s this idea that even if you have a loving, woke

spouse and you call yourself a feminist, after you have kids, it’s as if a giant curtain drops, and you see that all this, “Women can do anything,” and “We’re equals,” stuff was a total farce. You can’t do anything when there are children to feed and bathe and keep alive. I think a lot of us are living this right now too — maybe, some people who weren’t living it as much before but who are now quarantined with kids nonstop. You quickly realize that there is a built-in Dad privilege which is an unspoken expectation that you, as the mother, will do nearly all of the domestic and childcare labor, even if you also work. Our culture has supported this notion since before we were born. We’ve been conditioned to think that this is how it works, and men are conditioned to be over-receivers and women are conditioned to be over-givers. It’s like the perfect storm in a way. These topics are hugely important to me because I think that they are at the heart of a lot of marriage issues. To be honest, I think this is why you can have a husband that you marry, who you’re in love with, and you work together — maybe, each of you have jobs, you’re both contributing in pretty equal ways back then, before you have kids, you’re cooking meals, but it doesn’t feel overwhelm because you’re not also attending to kids. But then, after you have kids, it’s this gender inequality thing where we’re doing more of the load. I mean, in the past couple years, we’ve heard about the unseen work of motherhood, and I think all of us feel this in some way. Like I said, even the most well-intended, nicest husband still benefits from this unspoken privilege, and I feel like it’s our job, if we want to feel less resentful, if we want to be happier, is to, basically deprogram them from that – which is a lot on top of doing all the fucking work we have to do as mothers! On top of making all the meals and doing the childcare and all the drop-offs and pickups and homework and all of that, also, deprogram the other person that should be helping you.

Brandy:                   That stuff is pretty heavy, and I don’t know that we were ready to look at it until recently, but, obviously, it’s something that my book really focuses around because Aaron, the husband character, he’s every man. He’s that husband that is really well-intended and loves his wife, and yet, also does these little micro-aggressions toward her that undo her. He doesn’t mean to. It’s not like he would overtly do these things if he knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of them. It’s like, “Well, what do we do with that?” And that’s what I wanted to explore in this book with the April character is, “What does she do with that?” To be honest with you, where I’m at about some of those topics, where I am now, and where I was when I wrote the book are, maybe not totally different places — no, they’re not totally different places. But if I had to write the book now, and even on my last edit of it (which was only maybe like a year ago, or maybe even less) I thought to myself, “Damn, April need to be way harder on him! She needs to take no shit!” I guess I’ve just become stronger in my opinion about it, and seeing the difference it makes in my own marriage when I require something to be more humane and to have it be more equal. It’s such a game changer. Again, I’m so lucky that I have a husband who is a feminist at heart and is open to trying to do his best and will have these conversations with me and sees me as an equal and respects me. He’s willing to try to deprogram. In the last couple years, I’ve gotten more into, “We need to tiptoe less, and phrase it just right.” Maybe, a little bit better is better than nothing. I think I’m a little bit less in that place than when I wrote the book, but on my last edit, I was kind of like, “Man, should I change some of this? Should I go harder?” I finally came to the realization that I shouldn’t because where I was when I wrote this book, I think a lot of the readers are at. I, actually, don’t think it’s normal or mainstream for most moms to be at the place that I’m at right now with it. There’s such a benefit of leaving it as how I felt at the time, and where I think a lot of moms are. I still feel like the way it ends and the way that April is — I mean, that’s her trying to be thoughtful with the entire scenario and with her marriage as well. I think that that’s really relatable to most moms rather than having this staunch like, “I’m taking no shit,” sort of attitude which I also think is absolutely valid. I kind of think we need a little bit more of that in the bigger scheme of things, and, maybe even in some of our marriages, but, maybe not. Honestly, my answer for everything is really like, “I don’t know.” I don’t know if that’s better. I don’t know if having a more compassionate, more slow-changing, kind of feeling like April did is the right way, or if having a more, “Here’s my demands, and this is how this has to be,” if that’s better. I don’t really know. But what I do know is if there’s a sequel to this, April will take a little bit less shit, which will be interesting and fun to write and, also, as a character, to see her develop that way. In this book, we see what happens when she finally breaks, and Aaron has to step up.

Matilda:                 Is this book based on your life?

Brandy:                   {laughter} I expect to hear this question often, and the answer is, “Yes and no.” This is not a memoir. These characters are not exactly replicas of myself or my husband or my kids, but obviously, my experiences as a mother and what I’ve seen inside my marriage and friends’ marriages — I was doing birth work for about ten years watching families become families and watching moms become moms — and also, the various mom groups that I’m in and online and in real life. You get kind of a collective sense of what this experience is like. That’s really what informed every single one of these characters is all the things I’d seen in my years as a mother. Many of them are personal, and there are certain details that were taken directly from my life. Then there are certain things that weren’t. It was funny, my mom read the book and we did a Zoom call afterwards. This was a couple months ago, and she was like, “What of this stuff happened to you??” She was just curious, and I really had to tell her that — I mean, a lot of the moments that are like kid stuff, and the feelings — a lot of that stuff is real, but the sort of bigger plot points and things happening never happened to me. It is not totally based on my life, but I feel like April is based on a lot of my inner life for sure.

Brandy:                   And then obviously, as writing this, I wanted it to be more heightened or dramatic. There were choices that I had to make with characters. Maybe, I started off with a character that reminded me of somebody from my life, and then I had to make choices to make them a little bit more of a caricature so that it was more interesting to read or so the tension was adequately heightened. The Aaron character — even though the Aaron character has some of the same personality traits as my husband, the ones that I felt were most interesting or funny (like the fact that he loves Noam Chomsky and he’s really into all these wonk political podcasts, but yet, he loves Vanderpump Rules the same way that I do and Bachelor and just garbage TV) – I love that about him. I was like, “I have to put that in for Aaron,” but nobody in there is a direct replica.

Brandy:                   I will have you know that the Marnie character has some personality traits that I took from my mom such as the writing with a straight-edge ruler so that your printing looks perfect. That is straight-up, real, my mom. Also, a funny story on where the Marnie character even got her name is when my son was born, we were asking her excitedly, “What do you want to be called when you’re a grandma?” She said, “Well, do you think he could call me Marnie?” My husband and I are like, “What?” She’s like, “Yeah, I just have always loved that name. Tippi Hedren played her in an old movie and I’ve just always loved it,” (kind of like the character in the book). I was like, “Mom, I’m not going to have my son just, like, call you some random name.” So, one of my favorite things is that my mom’s name is Barbara, so she was “Grandma Barbara.” But obviously, when my son started talking, he turned it into “Baba,” which is super adorable. But then somewhere along the line, he shortened it to “Bob,” so she went from wanting to be called “Marnie,” and now she’s called “Bob,” which is one of my favorite things ever.

Matilda:                 What do you wish for mothers who read your book? What underlying message do you want them to hear most strongly?

Brandy:                   Initially, I wrote this book because the ideas in it wouldn’t let me sleep, but I also wrote it for all the overwhelmed survival-mode mothers out there (like I was) who don’t have the energy or mental bandwidth to articulate the entanglement that is modern motherhood. I want these moms to know that they are not broken, that if motherhood wasn’t what they thought it would be, they’re not alone. I think that’s really what I wanted to prove to myself in the writing of this. The process, for me, gave me what I hope that the reader can gain from it as well. So of course, I wanted to also make the moms laugh while communicating this message. I felt if I could tell a really vulnerable, relatable, entertaining story that legitimately made moms laugh at their ridiculous realities, while also giving them some things to think about and, maybe spark some conversations in their life that, needed to happen, and give them some therapy through April, that, maybe I did my job. I think many of us moms have this deep desire to be seen in what we do every single day, day after day, year after year, sometimes decade after decade. That was also important to me that someone could read this and go, “Oh, my God, I’m not alone.”

Brandy:                   And something else I want to note here, too, is the choice the April makes at the end of the book — and I don’t want to give any spoilers away — but the choice that April makes at the end of the book, I know that some people will read that, and it will feel so right to them. And then I know there are going to be other people who didn’t make that choice in their life, who chose something different, who are maybe gonna feel unsure about it. I mean, they may feel unsure about why I chose that ending, but then they also may feel unsure about why they chose their “ending.” I just have to trust here — see, here I am already, like caretaking the reader about it! I trust that people who read books understand that when they read characters who make choices that are different from what they made in life, that they can accept that and not feel like it makes their choice like, “Oh, should I have done that or not?” Although maybe there’s a certain level that’s good introspection. But anyway, I’m hoping that readers will realize that just because April makes one choice about staying or going does not mean that they, the reader, made the wrong choice if they picked differently than her. This is a novel. It’s a snapshot. It’s not an entire marriage. Even if some of the surface stuff in this book seems really similar, the reader knows what they were and were not willing to tolerate, where that treatment was coming from from their partner, and if there was a chance that it would change or if they had tried to make a change and it wouldn’t. I guess I’m wanting to caretake the readers who read the ending and go, “Damn it. I wish that was different because it’s different for me.” I want to say that the ending of my book does not mean that you made a wrong choice. There are no really right choices. There’s just the choice that you make. We also don’t know what April is going to choose in the next book, too. Again, her story is a snapshot, and we don’t see all of the nuances and all of the things that go on behind the scenes.

Matilda:                 Your book contains a lot of hilarious and unflattering observations about motherhood and marriage. Why was it important to you to include those anecdotes?

Brandy:                   First of all, thank you, Matilda. I’m really happy that you found my book to be hilarious, especially, coming from a bot. Mothers need to know that they aren’t broken, and if we keep up the facade that we’re all loving it and doing just fine, then we go back to our isolated homes (especially, right now) and wonder what’s wrong with us when it’s not, actually, as enjoyable as we’ve been led to believe. No one’s mentioning that part. Despite having small people on you or around you 24/7, the job of a mother is quite lonely. Our work goes widely unseen, and we aren’t valued for the huge sacrifices that we make. How can we be if they aren’t being seen and if nobody recognizes them? I needed for mothers to feel wholeheartedly seen and appreciated, especially, around the emotions and situations that are too personal to talk about openly. Laughing about it, of course, was a must. My hope is that after reading my book, moms will feel validated, empowered, and motivated to ask for what they need and to set some much-needed boundaries — or to drive off to Vegas with their best friend — I don’t know, either way.

Matilda:                 What do you think about this trend of self-care from others?

Brandy:                   Anyone who has listened to this podcast consistently pretty much knows how I feel about self-care, but I really loathe the idea of self-care in this context from others, which I know is controversial. I get the idea of it, and at the core, I think it’s actually a very loving thing. Under better conditions, sure, we can all benefit from being kind and looking out for ourselves, yes, but the idea of self-care is being sold to us by people and systems that refuse to help us, which is what makes it so sinister to me. They’re basically saying, “Yes, you can take care of everyone in your family, but now, add yourself to that list because we’re not going to do it.” It’s to the point that moms themselves believe and regurgitate this self-care sentiment. The whole thing feels like a complete gaslighting to me and elicits immediate rage. That’s how I feel about that, and in the book, there’s a moment where April — I don’t think I put a lot of the loathing of self-care in there, but I know that there is at least one moment where April questions like, “Okay, so in order to self-care, I actually have to get help. Is that technically self-care?” You spew this idea that self-care is just supposed to be an easy thing, but when you have kids around you nonstop, it’s, actually, not possible.

Matilda:                 How do you think our culture’s gender standards are being sold to us now in the 21st century?

Brandy:                   I think we all feel like it’s getting better, like we’re moving closer to equal, but surprisingly, recent studies have shown that we are, actually, moving backwards. The good news is that many changemakers in this motherhood arena are writing books, producing podcasts, and finally talking about ways moms can demand better and how to set boundaries in their own marriages and families. People finally seem to be listening, somewhat, as much as they can in a patriarchal society (ding, ding, ding – patriarchy, first mentioned!). I think the change is coming, and I think this lockdown and pandemic has at least made people see what it takes to caretake children. But I’m so skeptical that there’s going to be real change because I think people just want to go back to how it was, and some of these bigger lessons of like, “Maybe we don’t value moms like we should,” or, “Maybe there should be universal childcare because it’s really hard to get anything done with kids around,” – some of those bigger things that I thought were going to be lessons out of this, I feel like people are like, “Yeah, let’s just go back to how it was anyway.” But I think the change is coming, and I’m hoping that my book is part of that change or part of starting some conversations and, maybe, some inner change in moms. We weary mothers are definitely the ones on the front of the revolution. We have to demand different, and we have to say, “Your babysitter just canceled. I am no longer doing an unequal amount of work.” This idea that no one is coming to save us, it’s one of the themes of my book, and it’s definitely applicable here, too. If we think that these systems are just going to somehow change and that they’re just gonna all of a sudden see the struggle and the things that are not humane in motherhood, we’re fooling ourselves. We really have to demand different and basically, like in the book, the moment where April says to Aaron, “Yeah, well, your babysitter just canceled.” We need to be willing to do that in order to force some people to step up and do their equal share. The more that we allow it to happen, the more that it will happen. I don’t mean to be in a position of saying it’s our fault because it’s not, but (maybe this is a really pessimistic view) they’re not going to change it unless they have to. Why would anybody who’s benefiting from dad privilege or patriarchy — you know, these gender inequalities — why would they change anything if they didn’t have to? If they’re living this life where they can be over-receivers and not have to show up and do all the stuff that we do, why would they change that? An answer to that is if we got pissed and if we had an ultimatum. I’m not saying that overnight you have to say to your spouse, “You know, you need to be doing X, Y, and Z, and if you’re not, I’m out of here,” but there’s a version of that that’s more compassionate, slower moving, and kind. The version that isn’t us being a doormat. I’m a huge advocate for moms speaking up and using their voices to say, “I will not do this any longer in this way.” And of course, everybody’s got a different situation and a different spouse. Some are open to that, and some are not open to that. We each do our best to navigate that in the way that we can.

Matilda:                 For those who are aspiring writers, where do they begin? How do you go from the idea of writing a book to putting it into action?

Brandy:                   I was really thinking about this the other day and thinking, “Why did I keep going? This has taken me almost five years. Why was I so determined, and why did I have such endurance for this?” And then it sort of hit me that I had a message that I felt needed to get out, or a way of looking at the experience of motherhood. That feeling that my message was important — it was so important for me to get it out on paper, and then that translated to me knowing that this is also important for other people to hear in some way, whatever way that is. I think, partially, some of the things I would talk about with friends and when I’d be really open and vulnerable, I would get validation back from people that like, “Whoa, that thing we talked about or that thing that you said really changed something inside me or made me feel so much better.” I knew that there was something important here but getting that message out was the fire. It was the fuel that drove this entire machine when I really look at it from this higher viewpoint, and I’m not so much in the weeds. What I would say to aspiring writers is, “What is that message that you think is so important that you are willing to be rejected time after time after time to try to get that message out there? What is that experience that you’ve had in your life that you want to write about — something you want to shine a light on that other people are not in the way that you think is important for this world? What is that message?” That is, in my opinion, how you get the endurance and the drive to do this because if the author doesn’t feel like their message is worth fighting for to get out there, it’s likely that nobody else will feel that way. If you’re not excited by your own material, like honestly, I don’t want to read a book by somebody who’s not that excited about their material. I don’t even know if that’s a possible thing or not. Could somebody really spend all that time and effort and write a book that they aren’t that excited about? I think that’s not even possible, but I mean, it probably is.

Brandy:                   However you can tap into the passion for what your message is and what you want people to know — you can’t control everything. You can’t know how everybody’s going to react to something, but you can think to yourself, “What was important about this for me?” That can be something that’s from your life if you’re writing a memoir, if you’re writing fiction that’s very similar to your life, and if you are writing fiction and you think of a fun or meaningful story. Why is that story fun or meaningful to you? The fuel that keeps you going is thinking about someday somebody is going to read this who’s going to be entertained by it or who’s going to feel relieved by it or validated by it. That is what kept me going through this entire process, and I know that some writers may not have what that message is or what that passion is. They may come to it in a different way. Maybe there are people who already know that they love writing and they want to write something, but they’re not sure what that would be. Or people who have experienced some interesting shit in their life and they’re like, “I think there’s something here, but I don’t exactly know what the message is.” There are a lot of different ways that you can figure this out, and get clear on it. I’m not going to say that there are easy ways, but if you have these stories, whether they’re fiction or memoir, and you have these stories that you want to write but you’re not exactly sure what the message is or what is the thing — write them. Because once you write them and you look at them, you can start to piece them together. Where is that golden thread that goes through all of these stories or all of the experiences in your life that you’ve had? That’s where you can start to see some clarity on, “Oh my gosh, I’m noticing that every single story I’ve written is about feeling this way or is about being treated this way.” You can start to see patterns in things and see where there are recurring themes. That’s something that you can think about, “Wow, there’s probably something there.” And then get clearer on what it is you’re trying to say. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re trying to say until you say it. As much as I’m saying that there’s this message in this fuel that keeps you enduring, yes, that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that you have to know what that is upfront. Sometimes you do have to write it out in order to figure out and get clarity on, like, “What am I doing here?” That’s the exciting part. Maybe that’s part of the fuel if you don’t know what that thing is yet – “I gotta find that thing!” It’s like you’re on the hunt, and that in itself can be motivating. It can be a certain kind of fuel. But then when you find what that thing is  — and I would imagine, most of the time, we have an idea of what that thing is, what we’re kind of trying to say, what we’re feeling about something, but maybe all the pieces aren’t there yet, and so we have to find them. But then once we have that clarity and we realize, “Here’s why my story is important,” — and not that it has to be important on like a global level — like my book, for example, there are huge amounts of people that would not relate to it, who aren’t mothers, or who aren’t mothers like April. It’s like the book doesn’t have to change the world. The book also does not have to be the next great American novel. I was so clear with myself when I sat down to write this that I was not doing that. I mean, I don’t have the skills to do that, yet. Maybe someday I will, but I mean, that’s not even something that I’m striving toward. That’s the other thing is knowing that it doesn’t have to be this perfectly-crafted literary work of genius in order to be meaningful. You have to start somewhere. If you’ve got the message and you know what you want to say, write it and get it out there. If you don’t know what that is yet, but you’ve got some stories, write them and be on the hunt for it.

Matilda:                 What did your mom think of the hand-job scene?

Brandy:                   Yeah, I was completely unsurprised when my mom said to me after reading it, “So, there was just one part that I didn’t think you really needed in there.” And I was like, “Was it page 195 by any chance?” And it was. {laughter} It was the hand-job scene. I feel like I’m doing something right if my book has a section that my mom thinks shouldn’t have been in there. I don’t really want a book where my mom approves of all of it.

Matilda:                 Will you read us an excerpt from the book?

Brandy:                   Yes, gladly. Okay, so I’m going to read to you the beginning of chapter four, which maybe has my most favorite chapter title, although there are a couple that are in the running for it. It says:

Chapter Four: Parenting for 15 Hours Isn’t An Aphrodisiac:

For dessert, I rattled two Advil out of a bottle. The mediocre spaghetti dinner had sufficed, and the child abuse in the form of teaching someone to write a capital Q at age eight was now behind us. I had triumphantly made it to bedtime. Not my own, of course, but kid bedtime. The time of night when I had the least will to live and my kids had the most. Tonight included the usual shenanigans of heavy negotiation, stalling, a bumped ankle, tears, the application of a My Little Pony band aid, the removal of a My Little Pony band aid, the right pajama drama, slow-ass water slurping, chasing, hiding, hog-tying, and then threats. I turned out the soft light in Violet’s room. The lack of nap knocked her out cold.

One down.

Even though Elliot was old enough to have a job in some cultures, his bedtime routine length doubled that of Violet’s because he simply would not fall asleep without another human body lying next to his. The whole thing was sweetly maddening. We laid there, in the dark, looking up at the glowing stars I had helped him stick to his ceiling.

“Mom, this shirt’s tag is itchy.”

I rolled my eyes so hard I went dizzy. Then I motioned for him to get a new shirt because I knew I couldn’t hide my exasperation if I spoke. Constantly trying to temper outward signs of my motherly frustration was wearing, but if I didn’t, my kids would grow up feeling like they were a burden on me, which they sometimes were by nature, but they didn’t need to know that. And fuck, it was hard to pretend to enjoy the unenjoyable parts of motherhood.

Matilda:                 Thank you, Brandy. This is the most riveting interview I’ve ever conducted even though my vocal tone never changed to show it. Where can people buy your book?

Brandy:                   No, thank you, Matilda. You did an amazing job. And yes, if anybody wants to buy my book, it can be found at all the places online: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Indiebound, Bookshop, and maybe once this whole quarantine pandemic thing is over, you can find it in bookstores everywhere. And one last really important thing, name that movie.

Male bot voice: I am now telling the computer exactly what it can do with a lifetime supply of chocolate.

Brandy:                   As always..

Male bot voice:      thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.