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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

28 November 2007

Interview with humor writer Christee Gabour Atwood


Today I’m pleased to interview Christee Gabour Atwood, a woman who has worn many hats—syndicated columnist, anchorwoman, radio personality, stand-up comedian, actress, editor, lobbyist, consultant, training manager, public speaker, and Universal Studios tour guide. She has spent November on a “book tour by blog,” visiting blogs to discuss her book Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis, published by Cardoza Press.

Congratulations, Christee, on the recent publication of your book, and thank you for visiting my blog.

Thanks for inviting me, Shauna. I always enjoy getting to visit with you.

I’m having so much fun with my book. Just finding out that other people are insane just like me makes it worth the public humiliation. And I get to visit with lots of famous writers before they get the restraining orders in place.

I know you're a big fan of the elastic waistband, so I thought you might be able to answer a fashion question that's been bugging me. How do clothes without elastic waistbands work? I mean, if I were, for some masochistic reason that escapes me now, to buy a skirt without an elastic waistband, what would I do? Buy it in four sizes and then change into the next larger size after each meal?

Good question. I think they put silly stuff like buttons or zippers on some skirts, but what is the purpose of that? I mean, the old “extender” of a rubber band around the button and through the buttonhole is frowned on—even in a society that wears pants so low that plumbers get embarrassed.

I guess they expect us to stay one size. Lack of versatility there. And I won’t fall prey to that kind of stagnant thinking.

So, to make a long answer longer, don’t even consider clothing without elastic. If it’s good enough to keep Santa’s beard on, it’s good enough for us!

Your book takes a humorous look at both middle age and your writing career. Which has been funnier, middle age or your career?

They take turns. But, judging by the way people laugh when they’re reading it, I think my résumé must be the funniest thing ever written… And it’s one of the few fiction pieces I’ve done. Everything else I’ve written has some truth in it…

I look back on my writing career (I use “career” in the loosest sense of the word) and I have to laugh. I remember the days of typing stories in my office (aka hot-water-heater closet) when I was in elementary school, and I laugh because I can’t even fit into that closet now. (Yeah, there’s that elastic theme again.)

I think of some of the first Great American Novels I sent off to publishers, and I’m embarrassed to have killed those trees. My manuscripts have traveled more than I have. They’ve really enjoyed it, and I live vicariously through the postmarks.

I’ve gotten rejection letters that were so “personal” that they had been copied with a hair on the copy machine. A giant curl on your form rejection letter is not as funny as you’d think—until some years later. And that’s the thing—it all seems funny now. So my writing career is pretty darn funny to me. And all that rejection is going to sound so good when I can say, “Yes, Mr. Letterman, those early days in writing were tough. I can’t imagine how I ever got along without my third yacht.”

Midlife, however, is a pretty funny thing too. Any period of life where I can blame hormones for everything is pretty darn fun for me.
  • “So I yelled at the cat. Hormones.”
  • “Yes, officer, I was speeding. Those darn hormones made me do it.”
  • “Well judge, I admit I did smash the mirror in the JCPenney dressing room. But it was hormones… and the fact that the XXL fit.”
Like anyone’s going to argue with you if you mention hormones. They’re usually as nice to me as the pharmacy people are when I pick up my megadose of Prozac.

Did I answer the question? What was the question? Oh yeah, is midlife or writing career funnier. Both. It just depends on the day.

I'm 51, and I'm really enjoying the perks of middle age. I'm expecting my fifties to perhaps be the best decade of my life. What’s wrong with me?

You obviously are much too well adjusted.

I doubt many people would agree with you!

It’s time for you to get your AARP notice in the mail. That will knock you down a notch! They keep sending ones to me and I return them with a nasty note reminding them that writers never retire. We just move to large-print versions.

I actually do like middle age. I’m loving the last of my 40s because I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’d like for their to be a little less of that skin and for it not to have quite so many little roadmaps appearing on it, but it fits me just fine.

Just keep being a writer. That’s the best way to keep from getting too content. Those publishers sure can help you stay humble, can’t they?

You believe in humor as therapy. How can people add humor to their lives to help them deal with writing problems, midlife problems, post-Katrina problems, or the year remaining of George Bush's presidency?

I can help with ideas for humor for all those problems, except maybe the Bush thing. That’s too scary to joke about.

Here’s a couple of methods to add humor to your life:
  • Read the newspaper. No, not the depressing stuff—just the headlines. I love finding mistakes. Some of my favorites: “Blizzard Hits Four States. One is Missing.” “Lawyer to Offer Poor Free Advice”
  • Read quotes from celebrities. For example:
  1. Vanna White said, “It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.”
  2. Samuel Goldwyn said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
  3. And Dan Quayle … well, there are just too many to list.
  • Read bumper stickers.
  1. “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools.”
  2. “I still miss my ex-husband, but my aim is getting better.”
  • Carry a rubber chicken with you at all times. I personally use mine as a tool in a multitude of ways. I love to stick it in the car window, roll up the window so that just the head hangs out, and let it flap around as I’m driving. People never tailgate you when you’re driving with a chicken head in your window. I don’t know why, but it’s fun.
  • I also like to label my trash can as “Inbox.” And when someone I don’t want to talk to calls, I pretend to be an answering machine, beep, and hang up before they can “record” their message.
Those are just a few of my tips for finding humor in everyday life. Well, those and drinking heavily. Wine in a box is so handy. How can you beat that?

You've done some creative—no, I have to be honest, Christee, they were really bizarre—things to promote yourself. Could you talk about some of them and how they worked for you?

What’s bizarre about dressing in a full-body chicken suit and sitting in a bookstore window in a mall to write a novel in 30 days? Yeah, that was for National Novel Writing Month.

You know, I’ve done a few really impressive things in my life. I’ve been awarded a Senate resolution, been named Young Career Woman, won Adjunct Faculty of the year, had the highest radio ratings in the history of Louisiana, and been a professional speaker, an executive, a media personality, etc., but it took a chicken suit for me to get national attention (see CBS News article: Write a Book in 30 Days). What’s wrong with that picture?

I’m trying this virtual book tour this month, and it’s a fun way to do a book promotion. I get to talk about myself all month and I never have to get out of my pajamas.

For booksignings, I’ve learned a lot of things. I never sit down. I babysit kids while their Moms shop. I give directions to the restroom. I stand next to my book on the shelf, reading it and laughing. (Which is not terribly convincing, since my picture’s on the cover.) Whatever it takes… I’ll try it…

I like to create events—like the Menopause Fashion Show and my Thirsty Thursday Drinking Club. I’ll speak to any group that leaves their door unlocked. I give bookmarks to trick-or-treaters and drive-thru workers. I wear shameless shirts that say, “Will write for food.” I’ve been everything from Harry Potter emcee to Mrs. Claus.

All of this has combined to give me media appeal that works well for me. I get lots of interviews on talk shows, syndicated radio shows, and things like that because they see this strange stuff and realize that this is not a normal person. They know I’ll be “different.” Yes, I humiliate myself, but it works for me. I’d rather do it to myself than have someone else do it for me.

So many people start books; so few finish. Please compare and contrast your writing method with theirs. This question constitutes 10% of your grade.

Those people worry about silly things like writing quality, correct use of nouns, verbs, and modifiers, and paying their mortgage. By eliminating all of those things and being prepared to move into a refrigerator box at any time, I’ve been able to finish my books.

I’d stop there, but since my grade is riding on this one, I’ll also say that I don’t accept the concept of writers’ block. Why should we be allowed to claim “I’m blocked” and get off work? The garbage man doesn’t get to do that. The kid at the drive-thru can’t call in and say “I’m blocked” unless it’s a health condition caused by the food. And I’d be darned perturbed if my surgeon called in “blocked” on the day of my surgery. What makes writers so special?

So I believe in writing when I’m in the mood, when I’m not in the mood, and when I forgot to check to see if there’s any mood present. And sometimes it stinks, but in between all those stinky words, there will always be a few not-so-stinky ones hiding. When I cull the others out, I can usually find something to salvage in a day’s work.

Why are rubber chickens funny?

Because they have nothing to hide. Yes, with a rubber chicken, what you see is what you get.

Plus, they make such a great tool. (Remember the car tip earlier?) I even use them in meetings. If someone gets negative, they get the chicken thrown to them. Then they have to hold it until someone else says something negative. It reminds people to be positive … and it’s just darn funny to watch a rubber chicken fly around the room.

Having a little rubber chicken on my keychain has been a wonderful thing for me too. I never lose my keys in my purse—nothing else feels like a rubber chicken. And valet parkers never lose my keys either. Plus, I carry it hanging out of my pocket. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously. Hard to be a bigshot with a chicken hanging out of your pocket.

Could you tell us a little about the other things you've written and why my blog readers should drop everything and rush out right this minute and buy them?

Well, right now I have three business and training books in various stages of publication. The first one is out—Succession Planning Basics. It outlines a format to create career maps in your workplace. Yes, someone actually had me write a serious book. How scary is that?

My other two will be out within the next few months. They are Presentation Skills Training and Manager Skills Training. Pretty cool. They are entire two-day seminars—ready to go. They even include a CD with PowerPoints, forms and handouts, etc. So basically, anybody could pick these up and teach a workshop on these topics. If someone is thinking of going into the business of seminars or training, these are great starting places. And yes, they’ll notice that I even sneaked in some humor. No one is safe from my sense of hummus. Oops, I’m getting hungry. I can always tell from my typos.

I also write a regular humor column in City Social Magazine in Louisiana. “Life’s Lumps” has been a feature of that magazine since 2002.

And the sequel to Three Feet Under is in the works. Look for In Celebration of Elastic Waistbands, coming soon to the bargain bin at a bookstore near you!

Thank you again, Christee, for stopping by my blog on your virtual book tour.

Thanks for letting me visit with you, Shauna. We miss you here in Louisiana! And remember, anything you read about me on the Post Office wall is greatly exaggerated…


Three Feet Under: Journal of a Midlife Crisis is available for purchase at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Christee maintains a blog about writing, "Elastic Waistbands," at http://elasticwaistbands.blogspot.com/ and a Website about her book at http://www.journalofamidlifecrisis.com/.


32 comments:

Julie said...

...well, guess it takes allsorts to make the world go round. er, brave post!!!

It would be hard for any Brit to read this without immediately thinking of the blockbuster hit 'the chicken song' on the Spitting Image satire that ran for a number of years here and has entered the collective psyche...

Thankyou for tagging me. It was a fun exercise, and made me think.

Bernita said...

Delightful interview.
(And people ask why I have a rubber chicken in my kitchen...)

Christee.biz said...

Thanks for not immediately suggesting that I be medicated and isolated from the rest of society!!

Yes, I have become ... hmmm, how do we say it ... "eccentric" in my midlife years. But it truly is wonderful to finally feel comfortable in my own skin!

And thanks for reading my interview and posting comments.

Quick note: I'll be doing some contests on my blog in December where you can win a membership to the Rubber Chicken Society. (Which is basically a rubber chicken keychain and membership card... What do you expect? I'm a starving author...) So please visit and enter!

ElasticWaistbands.blogspot.com

Thanks again for letting me visit!

Christee & Elvis, the rubber chicken

Farrah Rochon said...

Another fabulous interview, Shauna! Christee's advice has helped so much in the few times I've been invited to speak. Her words are ones to live by!

Charles Gramlich said...

Hilarious. I love the rubber chicken in the window idea. I'm going to try this. Great interview.

Christee.biz said...

Hey Farrah - hope your writing and speaking is going great!

Charles -- How wonderful to know that I might actually pass another rubber chicken in the window. That would make my day ... and we'd probably have the roadway to ourselves...

This is so cool. People who aren't scared by me!! I love this.

Can I visit again??

Thanks again Shauna.

Now, I have to ask a really stupid question. See, I'm new the world of blogs ... Can you folks explain to me about "tagging"?

Christee & Elvis, the rubber chicken

Carleen Brice said...

What great questions and great answers! Just what the doctor ordered!

Christee.biz said...

Thanks Carleen!

Shauna really made it easy to do a fun interview with her questions. Not your typical "Where do you want to be in five years?" type of questions that make you feel like you're in a job interview...

Glad you enjoyed it!

Christee -- without Elvis the rubber chicken (He went to bed early... That's what happens when you drink too much wine out of a box.)

Shauna Roberts said...

JULIE, thank you . . . I think! Glad you had fun doing the middle-name meme. I usually do serious blog entries, so every so often I like to do something silly. I knew Christee could be both silly and educational.

BERNITA, FARRAH, CHARLES, and CARLEEN, Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the interview.

CHRISTEE, thanks again for taking the time to visit my blog on your book tour. Sure, you can visit again. Your SOLA talk on public speaking was incredibly useful; maybe I could interview you one day about tips for better talks?

You asked about tagging. Tagging means that one has done a meme and then chosen some friends to do the same meme. As I recently explained to Julie, a meme is the cultural analog of a gene.

Virus genes infect cells and turn them into factories that churn out more viruses.

Memes "infect" blogs or emails (think of those chain emails you get that claim you'll have good luck if you send the enclosed recipe or prayer to the sender and 10 other people). They reproduce with the help of the recipient, who writes an essay on the meme topic (such as five favorite books or ten surprising things about oneself) and then infections others with the meme by tagging several other people.

If you think it sounds like fun, Julie didn't tag anyone after doing the middle-name meme (http://allwoodforest.blogspot.com/2007/11/tagged.html) but invited readers to consider themselves tagged if they wanted to do it.

When I worked at a magazine, I got tired of the "usual suspects" always being asked the "usual questions." I always try to work in at least one interesting or provocative question. And when I'm writing for my own blog instead of someone else's magazine, I can leave out most of the boring "usual questions" altogether.

Shauna Roberts said...

In my last post, I meant "infect others," not "infection others."

And Julie's blog post address was truncated. It's http://allwoodforest.blogspot.com/2007/11/tagged.html.

Geez. This copyeditor needs a copyeditor.

Christee.biz said...

Shauna --

Thanks for the explanation. I'm not the brightest crayon in the shed...

I would absolutely love to visit again. I could definitely give some tips on public speaking.

My favorite speech was on a cruise ship. I started out with "Anybody here from out of town?" I'm just so proud of that opening line... And the fact that they paid me to take a week long cruise.

Nice work if you can get it..

CGA

Julie said...

Shauna - and Christee,

I was a bit startled by Christee's American sense of humour - which I wouldn't have been if I'd seen more daytime TV & American shows!

Think Christee may appreciate that Brit comediennes are likewise gifted but have a different 'feel', and there is a strong, dry satirical vein over here. Plus being slightly tongue in cheek...!

Hope the tag works out well.

Christee.biz said...

Julie -

I know what you mean about the difference between Brit and American humor. My favorite channel is BBC America!

I've always loved that dry sense of humor. Wish I could do that sort -- but I'm not that smart or subtle... (My husband tells me I have all the subtlety of a land mine.)

Hope I didn't scare you off American humor with my interview. Trust me, most of the nation is much more normal than me!

Thanks for posting!
Christee

Julie said...

Christee,

Nice to talk to you! (You know what I mean...!)

No, it's ok. It's just that I come from a part of the North of England where they call tact lying....!!!?

Have family over the pond - my mother was a Canadian National, so
have some appreciation of the different worldviews.

British humour generally is changing at a very fast pace - though we still get endless repeats of the Vicar of Dibley. We saw Rory Bremner up in town last year and live, he's absolutely wicked.
(ie brilliant).It's hard to keep up with some of the rest of it.

If you've not seen the chicken song episode of Spitting Image, try and track it down. Created a riot in its day....

All the best. (And Shauna).

Sidney said...

Far out, I used to know Christee. Good to see what she's up to.

Shauna Roberts said...

Small world, SIDNEY! Was that from your reporter days!

Christee.biz said...

Wait!!

Sidney from the
Alexandria Town Talk days???

Howdy!! What a great surprise! I wondered what had become of you.

You won't believe this --- I'm actually moving back to Alexandria next week. Going back to take care of my folks. Dad's 94 and considering retirement. Geez, I hope I have his genes...

Found one of those big old houses on Jackson and we're going to renovate it. Can you say "money pit"?

Hope you're doing great! Thanks for checking in!

Christee

ElasticWaistbands.blogspot.com

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks for the interview. It was great fun but I agree with Julie... only in America! We are far more reserved in England. This is not to be judgemental of the English or the American style. All humour is good. Taking ourselves too seriously causes a lot of problems in the world. I won't mention any social groups. We all know I'm not talking about any of us...

I agree with your denial of 'writer's block'. Is it another instance of people taking themselves too seriously? I have great fun when I'm writing. I enjoy it so much (no idea why!) When I stop enjoying it, I guess I'll stop doing it. In the meantime, I've scribbled enough material this year to work up into about a dozen books, so I don't envisage stopping any time soon. In fact, I can't ever imagine stopping, now I've started. I love it! My advice to any aspiring writers is just to enjoy it. Have fun with it. Writing is a joy, not an obligation. And don't stress about getting published. It doesn't matter. Of course it's been exciting getting a publishing deal, but the real buzz is the writing. Never lose sight of that.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHRISTEE, hope your move goes well and that you settle in much faster than we have. After two and a half months, most of my office stuff is still in boxes and lining the halls outside my office. The only room that's completely done is the guest room, and that's only because we have my husband's parents coming next week to visit and see our new house (what's visible of it, given the boxes).

JULIE and LEIGH, you've made me very curious because I'm not particularly familiar with British humour. What was it you found so outrageous or strange or baffling (I couldn't quite judge your exact reactions) about the interview? Too silly? Too self-deprecating? Too something else? What made it "American?"

Shauna Roberts said...

Oh, and LEIGH, thanks for visiting and congratulations on your forthcoming book!

Leigh Russell said...

Oh goodness. What makes it American? That's a tough one...
It's exuberant, confident and fun! I don't think the self-deprecation is particularly American, we do a good job at putting ourselves down here. It's what we do well, along with supporting losers and underdogs. We're pretty silly too, so it's not that. I think our humour is quieter somehow. Oh, I don't know! This is too difficult! Julie - help!

Julie said...

Leigh's right; this is a tricky one, and hard to generalize, because there are different styles within English comedy now, and humour has inevitably to reflect some of the cultural differences between continents which with sat. TV and Internet are narrowing anyway.

Generational style shifts can produce their own ambivalent reactions over here, as do individual comedians - such as Billy Connolly, or the new kids on block who could be regarded as more 'full on' than traditional comedians.

Brit comediennes are a niche apart, and they tend to err - though not exclusively - towards the more satirical send up (think Absolutely Fabulous, or the gifted female impressionists we have); ie, the humour is a lot about word play.

Rory Bremner commented in his show that he seldom impersonates TV personalities now, as there are so many different channels that people don't watch the same thing anymore; and I think this has an implied bearing on what any one person sees as 'typical British comedy'.

My reaction isn't entirely typical, because I don't now watch as much tv as I did when offspring had it on 24/7 - so am out of touch with the American scene, and am happy to stand corrected!

Hope this gives you a partial answer to the question, and some insight into the different viewpoints.

Christee.biz said...

Leigh & Julie--

Great analysis! I really appreciate the insights.

And I guess my view of Brit comedy would be a little behind the times due to the fact that the shows we get to see here on BBC America and public broadcasting are reruns of shows that probably don't represent the current pulse of British comedy. And I haven't seen many Brit stand-up comics at all.

But then, I'm usually out of sync with the times here in America too. When I did stand-up comedy, I found that my humor was never appreciated until after I left the room. Hmmm.... Should that have been telling me something?

Thanks for visiting!
Christee

Julie said...

Thanks - we get to see a lot of re-runs too, so the comedy scene is a mix of trad and fringe - with the fringe fast becoming mainstream.

Standup comedy here is notorious for being hard graft (hard work!)and should think more so these days; even top performers have to be really on the ball with their material - and their audience - to carry it off succesfully.

Found this a really thought provoking interview - and all the best with your move.

Steve Malley said...

Funny post. YAYYYY!!!!

Christee.biz said...

Thanks Steve!!

And I was even sober for this one!

Christee & the chickens

Lisa said...

This is hysterical. Another great interview and Christee is my new hero!

Christee.biz said...

Lisa --


Thank you so much!

All I can say is "Where do I send your check!?"

Christee & Elvis, the rubber chicken

Margaret said...

Hmm.
Now I know what to do with that rubber chicken I caught last Mardi Gras (I have a regular meeting that could use it.) (No, fellow CG members, not us!)
Shauna, as others have said, truly exceptional questions!!!

Christee.biz said...

Margaret --

You really will be amazed how it helps people realize that they're being negative.

I've had people who were on my "to be throttled" list actually start responding positively because of the rubber chicken...

Or maybe they were just afraid of me and trying to humor me ... but, whichever it was, they were easier to deal with once the chicken came to visit.

Christee

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks, Margaret. Glad you got something useful out of the interview.

And belated thanks, JULIE and LEIGH, for your comments on British comedy. My husband watches the Graham Norton show on BBC America channel, and that's the extent of my knowledge of contemporary British comedy.

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