Reading Mary Laura Philpott’s memoir-in-essays I Miss You When I Blink is like reading a series of notes from your best friend—your cheerfully type-A, straight-A, comma queen, when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade best friend. Mary Laura interviews dogwalkers. She takes an internship organizing office supplies. But she also shows up to a neighborhood supper club dressed in full disco when nobody else does because she’s damn good at a theme party, and she knows how to crack a line that will make you spit out your coffee laughing. Because one thing this book gets is that we’re not one thing—not only mothers or wives or copywriters, and also that the 25-year-old us doesn’t disappear when we turn 30 or 40. She’s still available—to offer levity, to remind us of how far we’ve come and on what unexpectedly wonderful path.
When I finished reading, I mostly just wanted to tell Mary Laura how much I loved it. We ended up talking about the roots of perfectionism, the many women you meet on a bookshelf, and what it means to care about the little things.
You make perfectionism look good, lady. Did you ever struggle with that label?
>> You’re kind to say so. I’m a half-reformed perfectionist. That is, I still have a lot of those habits, but at least I’m aware of them. I try to be forgiving of myself and my neuroses, which means embracing the label and disarming it. As in: OK, yes, I’m a bit of a workaholic and my brain loves to fixate on getting right answers, and that’s a little crazy; but, hey, who doesn’t have some crazy? I try to show myself the same empathy I’d show someone else.
I love how your book examines patterns we set in childhood that resonate throughout our lives, especially the essay where you talk about your mom’s influence. When did you realize there was more than one way to see her?
>> It’s been a series of moments over the years, especially since I had kids. When your child is doing something very eight-years-old, you can suddenly remember being eight yourself in ways you couldn’t before, and—ohhhhhh—you realize how your parents must have felt back then. As a teenager, I thought my mom pushed me too hard on grades, but I can see how she was trying in her own way to do her best and help me do my best. The longer I’m a parent, the less I judge other parents, including my own. Honestly, the longer I live, the less I judge anybody: friends, strangers, celebrities. Who am I to say why someone does their thing and whether it’s right?
Where do you see your book fitting into the literary landscape?
>> I picture I Miss You When I Blink in bookstores next to other memoirs and essay collections (and even novels) about women’s lives—as if we’re all sitting there in miniature on those shelves, side by side, swinging our legs and waving to greet whoever comes in. There’s Nora Ephron, there’s Kelly Corrigan, there’s Samantha Irby, there’s Joan Didion . . . we’re all gathered like a welcoming committee, offering up stories to help people get through life. A bookstore can be the perfect place to seek not just entertainment, but solace when you’re feeling lost. It’s not that the books will solve your problems for you; it’s that reading other people’s stories makes you feel less alone in your own problems.
I Miss You When I Blink hits the shelves April 2. M. Judson Booksellers will be hosting Mary Laura on her book tour as part of the Lunch & Lit series at Soby’s New South Cuisine on April 8. Tickets and more information available at www.mjudsonbooks.com.