pamie.com is thrilled to be a part of Virtual Book Tour once again. This time it’s Jennifer Traig’s hilarious Devil in the Details : Scenes From an Obsessive Girlhood. She promises me that the copy of the book I received had a binding issue, and wasn’t intentionally off-center by one centimeter. The three borderline obsessive-compulsives who tried to fix the book before a recent Writers Guild screening of Closer do not believe her. In fact, our discussion of how her publishing company was genius to make a book about obsessive-compulsive disorder have a small, irritating, disorderly flaw garnered the attention of more than one audience member sitting near us. In fact-in fact, the book held the attention of more than one Guild member much longer than Julia Roberts could. Apparently writers like things to be orderly, and Jennifer’s book was calling to us, asking to be fixed, begging to be righted, to be held and taken care of.
Once we fixed the outside of the book (it never really bent back into shape, but at least the spine didn’t bleed over onto the front anymore), I was able to read. The inside of the book reminded me of all the strange obsessions I’d had as a child. I’d successfully blocked a few of them out of my memory, but this book brought them all back. I had the ability to turn anything into an unhealthy fixation. I’m talking about more than just my therapy-worthy crush on Johnny Depp, the one that made me videotape every episode of 21 Jump Street, decoupage my walls in one-inch photos of him ripped from TV Guide or create a photo album of his Bop! and Tiger Beat photo spreads. I was already in… high school… when that happened. I’m talking about my secret life when I was younger, the down-low of my single-digit years.
First there were the imaginary friends. I moved a lot, so that explains my need for friends who could never, ever leave me. I’d usually turn my best friend from the last place into my imaginary friend in the next one. But that person wouldn’t be my best friend. They were too difficult to conjure for hours at a time. I focused more on people I knew a lot about. Thus, my first imaginary boyfriend was Danny Zuko, and every night he and I would re-enact a few scenes from Grease before I could fall asleep. Then that was so much fun I’d have a few other boyfriends, like Sha-Na-Na’s Bowser and Grover. We’d have wonderful adventures within the boundaries of my mattress, and I realized I could have as many friends as I wanted. I pretended to be Annie’s (as in “Little Orphan,” but the movie, not the strip) little sister, and this was the orphanage we were staying in until Daddy Warbucks sent Punjab to come get us.
By the time I was nine years old, there were almost fifty random celebrities living in my bedroom. They would sleep on the floor, in the closet, on my dresser, and there were more than ten of them sleeping in my bed. Some nights Tony Danza would complain that Cyndi Lauper was using too much of the pillow they shared. Sometimes it meant one of them wanted to leave and not come back (because a young girl’s crush can be so fickle). Kevin Bacon only lived with me for a very short time.
Kevin Bacon. Shit, I might have been ten. Eleven. What I’m saying to you is that my imaginary nightlife went on for a very long time. And when I finally let it fade away because I knew I was getting too old for it, I had a hard time falling asleep on my own. I was very used to pretending to kiss Michael Jackson until the next thing I knew it was morning.
My daytime habits weren’t any less disconcerting. I would group bathroom tiles. I’d make patterns on the floor and have to repeat them over and over, usually in the shape of a knight’s chess move. I’d have to do that until it went “off-screen,” and therefore was no longer in my line of vision.
I used to think I was constantly on television. A camera would follow my every move, and sometimes I had to address the camera, usually at recess, to explain how I’d been feeling about my day. Long before The Real World‘s confessional, I had a set of monkey bars and an imaginary film crew. The Pam Channel played twenty-four hours a day, including any moments I’d had in the bathroom. If my mom had ever opened the door on me, she sometimes would have found me sitting on the toilet, talking to myself, with the shower curtain demurely wrapped around my torso.
There were lines in Jennifer’s book that were like that scene in the movie where you find a photo of yourself but there are two of you in the photo because you have a twin you’ve never met. I don’t mean I thought Jennifer was my twin, but her writing gave me the same chills on the back of my neck like someone had just found out a secret about me. In the book, Jennifer talks about the paranoid thoughts that she used to have, and there were so many that I’d also had. The kind of thoughts I never, ever told anybody about because I thought for sure those thoughts meant I was crazy. Loony. Insane in the membrane.
Jennifer put it so perfectly when she said, “I was afraid I’d rape the baby.”
I would worry that somehow I was going to kill someone or molest a child, and it would totally be an accident, but I did it, somehow. Here were my fears. Picking up the baby, I’d somehow accidentally molest her. I’d wake up and find I’d accidentally stabbed someone while I was sleepwalking. I’d get behind the wheel of a car, the brakes would go out, and I’d roll over twenty people before I could slam the car into a wall to stop myself from killing everybody. There would be a body in my trunk and somehow I had killed that person and now I have to deal with it. I’d accidentally set someone’s house on fire, just by walking too close to a dry brush. I’d somehow knock someone’s teeth out from hugging them with too much passion. I would kick a puppy in the face. That fear happens a lot. I’m afraid I’m going to kick a puppy in the face.
I’ve moved into present tense, because now I’m talking about the fears that haven’t gone away, the obsessions that have stuck. I don’t count or sort. I’m not a freakishly clean person. I don’t have to check the locks three times. But.
I don’t have referral logs for a reason. I used to check my stats five, six, seven times a day. I still do it with a few websites, but because they don’t update five, six, seven times a day, it ends up being a click-click-click and then I’m on with my day.
I realized recently I cannot fall asleep unless my right hand is touching my face in some way. It usually needs to rest on my forehead, or tucked under my cheek. If my right hand is under the covers, or draped over someone, I eventually end up pulling my hand back to my face. I have no idea. When I was little, I always slept on my back, legs straight, and didn’t move in my sleep even an inch. That doesn’t happen anymore.
Sometimes I wash my hair twice because I can’t remember if I’d already done it, and then it’s just easier to rewash my hair than risk going without the shampoo.
And while I know I won’t rape your baby (on purpose), that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly terrified I’m going to drop her on her head.
I wonder why so many of my obsessions focus around the bathroom and the bedroom. I don’t remember doing weird things to my schoolbooks. No, that’s not true. I had to have a book owned by fewer than three people or I knew the class would be a bad class. I needed to keep my Trapper Keeper a certain way or it was all going to be wrong. I kept a secret notebook (a la Anastasia Krupnik) wherein I wrote a list of people I hated and people I loved, and I would update it constantly, even in the middle of a test.
Dammit! Now that the memories have started, they won’t stop. How did I make it to a functioning adult? Why couldn’t I have the cleaning obsession? At least then my house would be spotless. What good is this constant desire to check CNN.com to see if the world blew up five minutes ago while I was updating this entry?
Jennifer’s book should probably come with a warning. “You will be reminded of your freak status, regardless of whether or not you’ve convinced yourself you’ve moved on past that weird time in your life when you had to read all of the ingredients in the shampoo before you could wash your hair.” That way, when you read it, it’s like you’re sharing some good, silly times about your past, in that look-back-and-laugh way, instead of what happens instead, when you think to yourself, “Holy shit. I really should go apologize to some people. I’ll start with my parents.”
Devil in the Details : Scenes From an Obsessive Girlhood, by Jennifer Traig will either make you feel way superior to those of us who can’t seem to complete one task without doing five, or will make you worry that you forgot to turn off the iron. A week ago. At a hotel in Boston. That has surely burned down by now and it’s all your fault.
(If you’d like more information on the Virtual Book Tour, contact Kevin Smokler.)
I asked Jennifer to participate in one of our writer’s group exercises — uninterrupted writing. We usually do five minutes, but I thought fifteen would be more interesting to see what Jenny’s brain would make her do for us. Dance, monkey girl, dance!
Pamie has given me an assignment. I am to write whatever comes into my head for fifteen whole minutes, stream-of-consciousness-style, on the subject of obsessions. It’s an exercise designed to reveal hidden truths. I am afraid that it will do just that, revealing that I’m very, very shallow, and extremely dull to boot. The last time I had to do this was in a writing workshop two years ago. I didn’t realize two important things: 1. we were actually supposed to take this seriously; and 2. we’d be exchanging them with a writing partner for critique. Which resulted in my writing partner giving serious literary consideration to my grocery list. She was kind enough to suggest there might be symbolism in “PAPER TOWELS. DO NOT FORGET!!!!!!”
But Pamie knows what she’s doing, so I am going to trust the process and try this again. And if it turns out I’m not up to the task I’ll just post pictures of my hair from high school.
Which brings us to the subject at hand. I have been obsessed, just obsessed, with hair recently. This is partly because of Pamie’s fabulous wedding hair posts, and partly because I’m working on the hair chapter of my next book, a sort-of follow-up to Devil in the Details I’ve been referring to as “Wait, Wait — There’s a Whole Bunch More Things Wrong with Me.” I’ve been writing about a truly disastrous haircut I got in junior high. My mother talked me into it. I believe she suggested it would make me look like Andie MacDowell. I ended up looking like Dee Snider. I like to think I’ve come a long way since then, but just last year, when I was on the bus, a snarky cabal of junior high girls seated behind me got me again. They were shrieking and flailing their arms, so I turned around to see if they needed help. “Oh, that’s just your HAIR,” one of them said. “We thought there was a wild animal on your head and we were fixing to kill it.”
I guess we never really leave junior high behind.
Let’s see, two minutes left. Hair hair hair. Hmm. What else is there to say about hair? Oh, screw it:
(If you’d like more information on the Virtual Book Tour, contact Kevin Smokler.)