We spoke to author Kelly Oxford about panic attacks, quicksand, and Judy Blume
My first week here at HelloGiggles was basically a crash course on Kelly Oxford — which is to say that everyone here loves her. I was even sent home with her first book, Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar, because my silence on the topic made it apparent that I had some homework to do. Fortunately, it wasn’t the kind of homework that causes you to wonder, “When am I ever going to use this in the real world?” Because Kelly’s world is our world, and she’s the type of protagonist whose ups and downs are comically familiar.
I find it fitting that, a few days before my 1-year anniversary here at HelloGiggles, fate brought Kelly and me together. I was sent her second book — When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments (out April 18th) —and asked if I’d like to interview the author herself. Though I have pretty bad phone anxiety, I agreed — and soon found out that I’m not alone.
“I have phone anxiety, too. It’s brutal,” Kelly said, responding to my anxiety-related admission while putting me at ease. And on that note, off we went…
HelloGiggles: Your #NotOkay movement is incredible. What do you hope this hashtag will accomplish in our current political climate?
Kelly Oxford: I think it already accomplished so much. I noticed, this morning, The New York Times wrote an article about how many women opened up about their workplace sexual harassment after the Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment scandal. And so, I think it already has opened a conversation up between friends, and even in marriages. I went to a meeting a couple months ago and one of the male executives pulled me aside after and was like, “Thank you so much for doing #NotOkay. My wife and I had this incredible talk and I didn’t know so much.” So, I really think that it was maybe a one-moment-in-time thing that is going to have long-lasting effects for people.
It helped me and I've had so many people tell me that it helped them, too.
HG: You mention that when you were going through puberty, Judy Blume was an author who spoke to you. I’m wondering if you have a favorite book by her?
KO: I think it was Tiger Eyes. I re-read Tiger Eyes the most. Maybe because it was romantic more than, ya know, Superfudge.
There was a movie made of Tiger Eyes and they had a premiere here in L.A., and Judy Blume was there. I was actually with [HelloGiggles’ CEO] Sophia Rossi that night and we both freaked out. It was us and Shannon Woodward and we were just like, “Oh my god. Judy Blume.” So I got to meet her and talk to her. She was amazing.
HG: Speaking of L.A., do you have a favorite place there? false
KO: Because I’m such homebody, it’s probably Aroma in Tujunga Village. Just because I live nearby and I can walk from my house. Everybody who works there knows me and it’s just comfortable. That’s my favorite hangout spot. But I wish they had plug-in outlets. They’ve gotten rid of all of them, so nobody can plug in their computer — but it also probably makes it better that you don’t see people working there. You just see people talking to each other, which is really nice. It probably makes the experience better, too.
HG: If you could shout one piece of advice from the rooftops to all the people who cope with panic attacks, what would it be?
KO: Just to remember that they end and you will go back to normal. That’s the biggest fear, for me, when they happen. It’s like, “Oh my god. This is the worst thing ever. I’m so messed up. It’s never gonna end. I’m never gonna be back to normal.” But you always do go back.
If they crop up — which I haven’t really had a terrible one in a long time, thank god — it’s good to remember that it’s a temporary thing. And it’s also physiological and it’s like, “Oh, right. A bunch of adrenaline was released and there are a bunch of chemicals floating around in my body.”
And to remember it like that, rather than to condemn yourself like you have done something wrong, or there's something wrong with your personality or anything like that. It's just [important] to remember, "This is a physiological thing and it's going to go away and I'm gonna feel normal again."
HG: I totally admire how your younger self refused to be submissive, even though she was uncomfortable in her own skin. Is there anything specific that helped you cultivate this confidence as a young woman? false
KO: I think I was just born with a big mouth, to be honest. I just talk a lot. Even my anxiety doesn’t stop me from talking a lot and, in fact, sometimes it makes me talk much, much more than I need to.
HG: You mention that the moments you live for as a parent are the moments when your kid discovers something new (like their skeleton). Do you have a favorite memory that relates to this?
KO: It was when I was babysitting and I was 14. The kids were going to bed and their mom had told me not to give them any water before bed. Then they asked for water and I said, “Well, you can’t have any water before bed.” They were like, “Why not?” I said, “Well, your mom says that you’ll pee in your bed and so, you can’t have any water.” And the kids just looked at me and were like, “Why would we pee in our beds if we drank water?” And I was like, “What do you mean? Pee is water. You drink things and it turns to pee.” And they were like, “WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” That was the first big one.
HG: What is one lesson you hope you’ve imparted on your kids?
KO: To speak their truth and be their true selves without feeling uncomfortable.
HG: You mention that quicksand was a huge fear of yours, as a child of the ‘80s. How have your fears changed as you’ve grown older?
KO: They’re pretty similar. I have a lot of nature fears, animal fears. Basically, the same fears — they haven’t really changed. Ya know, there’s always the fundamental fears like: Am I being a good person? Am I nice enough? Am I a good enough friend? Am I a good enough partner? But those fears are totally manageable and thinkable and workable, while the other fears are just innate.
Like, I do not like snakes. I feel like those are the real fears in life — like the quicksand fear — and all of the other things we label as "fears" are things that we need to work on or explore more. Things like quicksand and snakes, there's no exploring that, I'm sorry. There's gonna be no good gained from it.
HG: Is there anything you’re currently reading right now you’d like to recommend to us and our readers?
KO: I have barely any time to read right now, but I did just read Joan Didion’s South and West,the notes book, the day it came out. And it’s great because it’s short and it’s all observational and she’s such a genius. I really enjoyed it.
HG: I know you don’t have a lot of time, but is there anything you’re watching right now?
KO: No, not really. I’m so busy. It’s been bad. I went to my friend’s premiere last week, for The Discovery on Netflix, which is a great movie. So there’s my recommendation!
HG: What are you currently working on? What can we expect from you in the future?
KO: If everybody buys this book, I’ll get a third book, so… I think you just automatically, if you sell well, they’re like, “Do another book!” And I don’t have to fight for it. I’ll fight for it, but I really don’t wanna have to fight for it, so everybody just buy the book and then I don’t have to fight for it.
HG: Do you know what you’d wanna talk about in the next book?
KO: Well, I am single now, so I might write about that. It’s been interesting so far, so maybe there’s a lot of material there.
HG: Do you have any general advice for all the women out there who want to be doing what you’re doing?
Just to work, every day, and if you're not so good at something, you can get better at it. You can always get better at it. And you can do that just by doing the actual work rather than daydreaming about the fantasy life. You really have to just do it.
You can pre-order When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments here.