Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Completed: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding


What I did While You Were Breeding is a memoir of TV writer Kristin Newman’s international travels, served up with a big helping of her international love affairs. This memoir was great for a lot of reasons. It was charming and clever; but mostly, it was such a treat to read this book after all of the heavy shit we’ve been reading.

As you know, I’m no fan of the memoir. I’m mistrustful and never truly believe that the author has such a vivid memoir [Aside: you rightly pointed out that just because my own memory is so spotty doesn’t mean that everyone’s memory is like that! Ha!] However, now that I think about it, the x-factor for the memoirs I have enjoyed does seem to be “women in the entertainment industry dish about love and romance.” This topic was a hit for me with Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Patti Smith’s Just Kids---but I think it also has to do with tone. I like the memoirs that are “Here’s a cool story that you might want to read about” vs. “I am self-important and let me tell you about my journey.” The ones I enjoy are breezy AF. They’re fast. You don’t read a lot of memoirs, either, just generally not being a fan of non-fiction.

We did have some interesting discussions about the memory issue. You pointed out that memoirs don’t have to provide absolute truth. An author’s job is to present a story as she remembers it happening, so the expectation is not that this is exactly how it happened. The key to the memoir isn’t reporting, it’s about self-reflection. I have to admit that this is fantastically good point, and if I’m able to remember this as a mantra, I may give more memoirs a chance--especially if they’re written by the ladies of Hollywood. Heh.

There’s a lot of great stuff in this book. For both of us, we related to a story that Kristin tells about going on vacation as a child. Kristin says, “I was a shy little girl and an only child, so on vacations I was usually playing alone, too afraid to go up to the happy group of kids and introduce myself. Finally, on one vacation, my mother asked me which I would rather have: a vacation with no friends, or one scary moment. So I gathered up all of my courage, and swam over to the kids, and there was one scary moment… and then I had friends for the first time on vacation. After that, one scary moment became something I was always willing to have in exchange for the possible payoff” (13). This is such a great moment in the book---both thematically for what comes after in the text, but also advice for approaching life. Even last week when we were on vacation, I thought about this moment of the book. I think it’s going to stick with me for a long time.

I especially liked how sex-positive and unapologetic Kristin is about her life and her choices. This is a book about a woman fucking her way through the world, and having the time of her life doing it. Once I got into the book, I realized how clever the title is. At first, “what I was doing when you were breeding” sounds like the author is judgmental. After all, calling parents “breeders” does feel really aggressive to me since I am one. However, as Kristin continues to tell her story, it’s clear that she is the one who has been judged. She knows people don’t approve of her choices or her many lovers, and this is a book that celebrates her life choices as being just as valid and affirming as those that are more “traditional.”

Finally, Kristin gives lots of advice and tips for how to be a good traveler. In particular, she includes a long list that shows that being a good traveler is a disposition and a state of mind. She says that the best way to travel is to be flexible, go with the flow, know your budget, and do your best to blend in with the locals. There’s another funny “lesson” in the book that is something very similar to what my brother-in-law Nate taught me: in times of stress or trouble, always go to the nearest luxury hotel.

We also spent some time talking about the ending of the book. She ends up settling down and marrying a man with kids. It’s not unexpected that she would grow and change, but in a book that celebrates her bohemian, free-wheeling lifestyle, what does it mean for her to end the book with a slow descent into normalcy? Maybe it’s related to a theme that repeats throughout the book, which is to enjoy perfect moments when they happen. Traveling, like life, demands that we be in the moment. It’s impossible to go back and recreate a perfect time. For Kristin, that crazy time of being young and free to do whatever is over, and a new adventure has begun. But I’ll always like to think of her on a beach somewhere, fucking her brains out.