Today we’re getting real about mental well-being, and the women who make us laugh in the midst of our pain. We also touched on representation in YA and children’s literature, brutal, scary honesty, and how a person can be brave and terrified at the same time. Ashley Shannon is my own personal Jenny Lawson, is what I’m saying.
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Books discussed in this episode
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Didn’t See That Coming by Rachel Hollis
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
Harry Potter Boxed Set by J.K. Rowling (Check out this stunning illustrated version)
Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
And That’s Why You Should Learn to Pick Your Battles – this is the Jenny Lawson blog post that Ashley and I talked about. Do yourself a favor and read it – it’s one of my favorite pieces of writing ever. Ever. Ever.
Unrelated to our podcast, but I think you should read anyway: this blog post Jenny Lawson wrote about her non-binary daughter.
Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson
This is Me Letting You Go by Ashley Shannon
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
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Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m thrilled to be talking to Ashley Shannon. Ashley is the founder of GYST media, a content creation company that aims to create female driven podcasts, books, blogs, videos, and more. I have followed Ashley online for several years, but this was the first time we’ve really had a chance to sit and talk. I was absolutely thrilled to discover that she is the same in person as she is online: real, funny, and very cool. Ashley chose a book this really close to both of our hearts, and I know you’re going to love hearing her tell me why Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson is the Best Book Bver.
For more information on how to support this podcast, check out my Patreon. For about the cost of a latte, you can have access to all sorts of extra goodies every week. You’ll get exclusive interview clips with my guests that are only available to patrons. I also send out advanced notice of the books we discuss, curated reading lists, my monthly reading wrap-ups including the good, the bad and the DNFs, and essays about the reading life. Go to patreon.com/bestbookever to learn more about how you can help me keep the candles burning over here in my reading cave. Now back to the show.
Julie Strauss: Hi, Ashley. Welcome to the Best Book Ever podcast.
Ashley Shannon: Hi, thanks for having me.
JS: Ashley, you are currently working on a book which has the most delightful title I’ve ever heard in my life.
AS: Um, yeah, so you’re probably talking about my memoir, which is called Girl, Get Your Shit Together.
JS: Tell me about it.
AS: It’s actually just a collection of essays about times I’ve found myself at rock bottom and had to grow up and glow up and figure my shit out.
JS: And what’s the goal of it? What’s your overlying purpose?
AS: Wow, that is a deep question. Well, when I started writing on Medium, I was really lost and kind of at a really low point in my life. I was on welfare and I’d just had my second kid and I needed to write things out to kind of figure things out for myself. But then I started to realize, as people were reading my blog posts and essays, that a lot of people related. My first comment was something like, I’m so glad that you wrote this. I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one. Or, now I know I’m not alone. And so that was kind of the whole purpose. I was just writing about myself to just kind of get it out. The tagline for Girl, Get Your Shit Together is “Picking up the pieces when life falls apart.” It’s just to show women that are struggling that they’re not alone. I feel like women, more than men, suffer in silence.
JS: Right from the title, it feels way more honest than what a lot of the wellness movement is normally doing. Is that intentional on your part?
AS: Yeah, I think that whole “good vibes only” thing is actually really toxic. I have read Rachel Hollis’ books. Not her latest one about her divorce. Perfectly timed. But I did read, you the Stop Apologizing and the Wash Your Face. I know a lot of people resonate with her, but that’s not me. I used to be an addict, I’ve been arrested, I once got really mad at a guy and threw a brick through a window. My life is messy and raw and I just feel like people resonate with that more because it is honest. It shows that I’ve been at rock bottom and I started down there and now I’m here and you can do it too. I think a lot of people don’t see that – from the very bottom to rising up. They see privileged people who got a head start and then they rise up.
JS: I’m always automatically attracted to those stories of people who I know are going to tell the raw truth.
AS: Yeah. I mean, uh, the most detrimental thing I’ve ever heard about depression, which I’m not clinically diagnosed with depression, but I have adult onset ADHD, which one of the symptoms of that is anxiety and depression. And so one of the most detrimental things, God love my mother, but it was can’t you just get up and start doing stuff? Once you start to do stuff, you’ll feel better! But she doesn’t understand the mountain of mental things I have to climb to be able to do the stuff, and I do. I do want to say that if I didn’t have kids, my mental state would probably be worse. I’m a single mom, so I don’t have a partner to rely on. So I do have to get up and bathe children and feed them and do those things. Not to bring it back to her again, but that’s kind of the issue with like the Rachel Hollis thing. Girl’s got nannies, you know? There’s no way that she could do the kinds of things that she does in the lifestyle that I have. And so comparing myself to that Instagram mom who has a husband, or has paid help, or even has a maid, I mean, I had to sweep Cheerios out from behind me so you didn’t see that. You just can’t kind of compare that. So I tend to not have a veil on any of that. It’s just very raw and very open and who I am. And if you don’t like it, that’s cool.
JS: I really want to ask you about your reading life. You have two very young children – how do you make time in your life for leisure reading? Like what are your tricks and tips to get books into your life? Because that is a hard thing and for most people it’s not considered a necessity. How do we make time for that?
AS: Yeah. Um, I’ve always been an avid reader and after I had my son, so my son is seven. His name is Graham. And then Emmy is my daughter. She’s two. After I had Graham, I took a job as a custodian and I was on my third year in a row of wanting to read a hundred books in a year. But I went from being a stay-at-home mom to working full time. And then I realized, well, I can clean a school while I’m listening to a book. And that just stuck. I’d go through in an eight-hour shift. I mean, most audio books are between six and eight hours. Some are a little bit longer, but I do a book, a shift and that just kind of stuck. And so now I listen to books when I’m folding laundry or washing dishes, those kinds of things.
JS: Do you still hit a hundred books a year?
AS: Oh, no, not even close. I had to give that up a couple of years ago. Probably after my daughter was born. Just because then I started running a business and, my ADHD got worse to where I can’t work and listen to books. I have to be doing like mindless action to pay attention to it.
JS: So tell me what do you gravitate towards in your reading life? What kind of books do you like to read?
AS: I tend to do a lot of self-help because I’m always trying to fix myself. I’m not sure it’s possible at this point. Um, but not so much anymore, but I used to read a lot of self-help. I read a lot of young adult books cause that’s where my passion is. If I could write any genre for the rest of my life and it actually paid my bills, I would pick young adult. I think that’s just cause I didn’t like to read until like the fourth grade. Then I found Harry Potter and I was just never without a book. But then I went through a phase where I was like, I want to read like the biggest books. Like I wanted to be an impressive reader. So I read Roots and Gone With the Wind when I was in like seventh grade.
JS: Are you serious?
AS: Gone With the Wind is my favorite. Which is odd because I claim to not like romance. Roots was interesting, and my mom made me watch like the television series after I was done. We got it on DVD and it definitely changed my outlook. I grew up in Iowa. I live in Iowa now, in a small town. There was not a single non-white person at my school, or in my town. So, reading that really kind of opened my eyes up at a younger age. So I’m kind of grateful for that.
JS: And do you find it in YA? Do you find that there’s a real diversity in the books that you’re reading?
AS: I do now, but not when I started reading. I read a lot of, uh, LGBTQIA books, like David Levithan and Nina Lacour, ‘cause I’m queer and I like representation. But it’s definitely opening up now. There’s a lot more coming out that makes it available. I mean, before it was just, like, an orphan kid whose parents died or are on vacation gets into trouble. And that was the whole genre for the most part. Maybe there was magic. But now it’s a whole rainbow of races and representation, and different mental health issues and sexualities. So it’s nice to see for sure.
JS: You are raising a neurodivergent family. Are you finding that kind of representation in literature or in children’s books specific?
AS: Hmm, not yet. And I think it’s because there’s a lot of fear around writing those kinds of characters and getting it wrong. But I do think that it will come, but it’s going to take more time.
JS: How did you find this book that we’re talking about today? Furiously Happy.
AS: I found it when I was working as a custodian. I found her first book, which I think is called Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I had just been officially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I was looking for books about mental health, but not, like, fix me books. I was looking for, like, you’re not alone type of books. You know, the stuff I write now, basically. It just came up on Audible and I bought it and I listened to it. And I remember thinking, cause she’s into weird taxidermy things and there’s like a taxidermy raccoon on the cover, and I was dating a taxidermist. I remember being like that’s kismet. Fate.
JS: I have never met a taxidermist. How are you all meeting these taxidermy folks? This is not a California thing I guess.
AS: Yeah. I live in a small town in Iowa, rural, the kind of place where people come here to hunt deer and stuff.
JS: Okay. So how do you describe this book to other people when you’re telling people to read it?
AS: It’s gonna make you laugh about all the things that are wrong with you. Jenny Lawson has a writing style that’s kind of like my own. She writes in personal essay style. Each chapter is, for instance, of something that happens to her. It’s kind of like blogging in the way that there’s a little takeaway at the end. It’s kind of like, you’re not alone or, you know, you’re broken, but you’re not trash or, you know, something along those lines. For those of us that struggle with mental health issues, which there’s more, I think there’s more people than they realized that struggled with these issues, coming forward that it’s not as stigmatized. So it just kind of helps people see, you know, I’m not alone. I do these things too. And I gave it to the person I was dating when I found it, because it was kind of like, see, I’m not the only one! I think it really does help people who have loved ones with mental health issues, kind of understand things a little bit more. Cause sometimes we can’t always explain what is going on in our fucking heads, but she does a pretty good job of it.
JS: I first came across her, I don’t even know how many years ago, but she posted on her blog about the chicken that she named Beyoncé. Honest to God, probably 15 people emailed that to me and went, this is you! Because that is exactly how I operate with my husband. So then I sent that to him and he was like, wow, there are two of you?
AS: Yes. Guess what? There are a lot of us, there are a lot of us and it’s, it’s funny. Cause she takes these stories, you know, and like, that’s really funny, but I can read that and see like, oh, I do that. But in different ways. And maybe now that I’m more self-aware I can not burn every bridge in my life just because I’m unhappy about one little thing. And so it’s very relatable shit. Right? Somebody on the surface will read this and be like, it’s very, very funny. I mean there’s some serious stuff in there too, but it’s very, very funny. But for me, it’s a book filled with light bulb moments, you know? So then maybe there’s therapy or medication adjustments, or just knowing that I do this, or I have done this in the past. Let’s not repeat that behavior. I was relistening to it while I was doing my makeup today, and she talks about how depression’s like a demon that rides on your back and you take it with you everywhere. And sometimes it parties, and sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it wraps its arms around you and holds you in bed. And I’m like, oh yeah. Okay. So I’ve been feeling a little not productive lately, and that’s that thing I’m carrying around. Every time I listen to it, it’s like a new moment of like, that’s why I do what I do. Okay. Now time to adjust.
JS: I’m always so impressed by people like Jenny Lawson, and you, who can be unfiltered and will just tell the truth without fear. It seems to me that it is without fear. Is it without fear? Because from the outside, that’s what it looks like.
AS: No. That’s nice to hear. You know, there are people who look at what I do as a job and are like, you have your shit together. No. That’s cute though. But no, I’m, I’m scared constantly. I have insane anxiety about what I do, which would make most people be like, okay, then don’t do it. You know, just go be a waitress or something, go back to college, whatever. But I feel like I have to do this. This is just kind of what I was made to do. I’m kind of weighing out, like, I need to write this story versus people are going to judge me. I’m going to get trolled. I get trolled a lot. And just overcoming that fear, which is not easy at all. The first blog post I wrote about my mental health issues was called Borderline Personality Disorder Is Ruining My Life. And I just was like, it’s ruined every relationship I’ve ever had, I’m pushing away the people that I love, even though I really just want them to love me and want them to stay. And when I hit publish, I immediately took it down because I was like, people that know me, are going to read this, like my mom’s going to read this. It’s embarrassing, but then I don’t know; It’s really not because everybody’s suffering from something. Nobody’s perfect. And so, yeah, I might as well tell my story and let other people know that they’re not alone. Because I felt alone for a very long time.
JS: Is there anything that is off limits to you? Like, is there anything you absolutely would not write about?
AS: The answer is no, but there are stipulations. I do I write about sex, but I do it under a pen name because I live in a very conservative, small town. I used to live in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is kind of like Austin, Texas, but smaller. A very weird hippie town. And there, it was just like, let your freak flag fly. But now I’m back in Iowa, very conservative, small town, and I don’t want the mom at the school pickup to read my blog article about the best ways to orgasm or whatever, you know? So I write that stuff under a pen name. But no, I write about everything. There is no limit. I just I’m just open like that. I never used to be.
JS: What changed?
AS: I was really tired of being an insecure person. I was really tired of worrying about what other people thought about me. And just really kind of tired of feeling like I was living my life fitting into somebody else’s box. I tried really hard to be one of those Rachel Hollis soccer moms with the blonde hair and the always being on time and the baking and all of that stuff. And then I just realized that I was so unhappy. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was so unhappy and so alone trying to like fit into this, I don’t know, stereotypical, whatever. That just was not me. Actually, this is a common thing in my life: when I’m very, very unhappy, I tend to over-correct. So then I dyed my hair black and I over-corrected and started just writing about everything and posting it on the internet. And the overcorrection kind of worked because I found my people. I found readers who. I don’t know nobody. They didn’t feel like they had anybody either. So we just had each other. I set boundaries. I don’t want to write anything that my kids are going to be ashamed of or would make them uncomfortable when they read when they get older. I don’t write about my current relationship that I’m in because that ruined a relationship. There were other reasons that relationship failed, but one of the big, main fights was you get really mad and then go write shit on the internet. Yeah. So, there’s a couple of boundaries. But for the most part, I’ll cover anytime.
JS: So back to the book, do you have a favorite essay in here or any one in particular that speaks to you?
AS: That is really hard.
JS: It kind of depends on where you are in life, right?
AS: It does. It does. Rereading it, re-listening to it, because I listened to the audio book and she reads the audio book herself. The last one, I think it’s called the appendix or whatever, and it’s where her husband interviews her. And it’s where she has the talk about depression being the demon on her back. Of course, she’s written the questions. I really wish that they would have had him recording his part in the audio book, but they didn’t. But for me right now, I’m single, and I have been single for a little while and one of the most touching things throughout that book, and now I’m reading, she just released a new book and I’m reading that one, is her relationship with her husband and how much he is aggravated by her, but loves her unconditionally. And that essay this last reread really kind of struck a chord with me. Cause I find myself settling in relationships for people who maybe kind of understand me, but don’t really. I was just listening to it and deciding that I just need to hold out for my Victor. Like I need to find that one person. Any normal married couple that I know, the husband would have told them to take that chicken back. I want a man, who’s not going to tell me to take the chicken back. A man’s going to have to come into my chaos with my kids, and you know, contain the crazy, and maybe not fully understand it but love it anyways. And I feel like I’ve just been settling for people who are like, I like her and I guess, you know, I’ll deal with the crazy. But now I’m old enough to be like, I’m going to hold out for that person whose like, I like her and her crazy. You know?
JS: So tell me what you’re reading these days. What have you been into lately?
AS: Well, I have two books and I’m kind of going back and forth. One of which is Jenny Lawson’s new book, which is called Broken (In the Best Possible Way.) And so far it’s, so, so good. And then I’m reading something for work, which now I’ve got to think about if I can talk about it. I can talk about it. I’m reading my co-host’s memoir that she wrote about her marriage to a sex addict, called “Love Me More.” And it’s so good. It’s going to be out soon, but, um, it’s, uh, it’s different. Cause like I write very like funny, kind of sad, but mostly funny stuff about my life. And this is like, I don’t know, it was almost like Gone Girl. It’s intriguing and it’s thrilling. And I was like, I can’t believe this happened to you. And I don’t write like that, but I definitely admire people that can do that kind of stuff.
JS: Tell my listeners about your podcast.
AS: I host with Kerry McEvoy. She is the legitimate C to my Crazy. We have a podcast called Girl, Get Your Shit Together. She’s a licensed psychologist and I’m just crazy.
JS: You’re a perfect match.
AS: We talk a lot about mental health and relationships. We’re both neurodivergent. Kerry is autistic, and I am autistic, and have ADHD, and lots of other things, but we have a time limit. So we just kind of talk about what it’s like to deal with mental health, bad days, good days, parenting. All of our children – between the two of us we have five kids, they’re all neurodivergent – so it’s just, it’s really interesting. Most of the time we talk about how we suck at dating. Or how dating sucks.
JS: Ashley, I adore you. I’m so glad you’re here. Will you share with my listeners where they can find all of your work?
AS: Yeah. So I have two books. I have one coming out in August and then I have a book out right now. Um, both of which are memoir style books. Girl, Get Your Shit Together comes out in August. And then I have a book called This Is Me Letting You Go, which is essays about relationships and breakups. You can find me on Instagram or Facebook, you can find me on TikToK, even though I feel way too old to be on TikTok. And then of course you can find our podcast anywhere you listen to them.
JS: I want to thank you for joining me today and I hope you’ll come back anytime you have a book you want to talk about, cause it’s a delight talking to you.
AS: Oh, thank you for having me. This has been a blast.
JS: And I got to glimpse Graham. Yay. I’ve only ever seen pictures of him.
AS: I’m just glad he had all his clothes on.
Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, go to our website. You can also follow us on Instagram. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me on Instagram. If you loved this episode as much as I loved making it, why not leave a review wherever you’re listening. Each review helps new listeners find my work, and I’m so grateful for your help.
Thanks for joining me today. And I will see you at the library.