I met Anne T. Donahue two-ish years ago on a press trip. It was in Cincinnati, Anne wasn’t feeling well for a good chunk of it and somehow a friendship was formed over ginger Gravol (her), copious amounts of caffeine (me), humour defined by cynicism (both) and some very genuine and easy conversation. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about Anne. Things like her dedication to her work, her ride-or-die level of support for her friends (provided you don’t wrong her) and her bang-on takes on topics like feminism, friendship and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. The best part about having a friend like Anne though, is that talking to her about almost anything is the best way to gain both perspective and confidence—Anne is the perfect mix of no-bullshit tough love and exactly what you need to hear pep talk. But, don’t take my word for it. My conversation with the newly-minted author about her book is below, and even more exciting, Nobody Cares is out now. I’ve read it (twice now), but I’d recommend it even if I hadn’t—because you can always count on Anne to be honest, funny and insightful. That, and the fact that she literally always has ginger Gravol in her purse.
Keep reading for my conversation with Anne T. Donahue about her book, Nobody Cares.
Alexandra Donaldson: What essay did you start with?
Anne T. Donahue: I’m pretty sure it was an amalgamation of death and the introduction. I started writing it in January 2017, which was less than a month after my Uncle died, and a lot of the exchanges that happened during that time were still very fresh. So it was originally an essay on how none of us are important as told through “Well, I was at the funeral home, and . . .” Fortunately my editors (who are also wizards/witches) were like, “Why not break this up?” And thank heavens they did. Otherwise I think I’d have written a book that was just super sad. I mean, it IS still super sad at times—but there’s also levity. I hope!
AD: It’s actually interesting because a lot of the ground you cover is sad, but the book never made me feel depressed or like it was a downer. You always offered up some element of “okay, but from here…” which I really appreciated. Was that intentional?
ATD: That’s a relief! I think through writing it I realized that we’re all kind of sad? Like, to be a person means harbouring and carrying a kernel (or more—maybe less) of sadness around. But you don’t have to be defined by it. So I intended to be honest. Like, everything feels like the world’s on fire and a lot of us feel like we’re barely keeping our heads above water, but it never helps me to finish on that note. I like to have some semblance of hope, even if it’s “Well everything is terrible, BUT…” I think sometimes I was writing with myself in mind, as selfish as that is. Like, “What do I need to hear sometimes?” Which is also what I do with my newsletter! Ninety-nine percent of those newsletters are pep talks I need to give myself.
AD: Do you think it just sort of went the way of the pep talk because you wanted to end on something hopeful? Or do you think it had more to do with getting into a no-nonsense straightforward headspace?
ATD: I think it was more about getting into a no-nonsense headspace. When I started writing this book, there was this grandiose ideology that took over for a bit. Like, “Oh la la I’m writing a BOOK!” But the more time you spend with it and the deeper you get into some of the more painful things, the less space there is for the delusion that you’re fancy or special. So almost by default, you have to be honest. Because without honesty, you are writing nonsense. Especially when it comes to mental health or addiction or any of those glorious topics. You have to be honest because that’s the only way you can do any of it (or yourself or anyone reading it) any service. Like, it’d be almost more painful to be like “Hello I am an alcoholic!” and make it grittier or more glamorous and then have to reconcile that you just peddled a lie. So it was honesty by default.
AD: That sounds terribly vulnerable. How are you feeling now that the book is almost out in the world?
ATD: A lot better than when it wasn’t! Isn’t that weird? Like, I can finally be like, “WELL HERE IT IS EVERYONE—GO NUTS” instead of sitting with this project I’ve been writing and editing for 18 months. Also, I am very lazy. So now if anyone has a bunch of questions about my past, I can just hand them the book and be like, “HAVE AT IT.”
AD: Obviously you dug through a lot of your past. How did your friends and family feel about their starring roles?
ATD: Well, I made sure not to write anything about anyone that they wouldn’t feel comfortable with. So my Mom, I made sure she was fine with the Catholicism chapter. And any friends named I either checked with, or knew that the story was so well known between us that I could retell it here. I also made sure to make sure that these stories were about me and not about delving into anybody else’s pasts because they didn’t sign up for that. And I changed the names of two guys I mention because I don’t ever want them to feel important. Because I’m petty. Also: a monster.
AD: Since you brought up the Catholic essay, that was my favourite!
ATD: Oh man, was it? It was one of the hardest to write. By the end, I didn’t want to look at it ever again. Even reading it for the audibook I was like, “WHY?”
AD: Even as someone who wasn’t brought up with religion, I still completely identified with how easy it is to become full of your newfound beliefs and then just stomp all over your parents’. Why do you think it was the hardest to write?
ATD: Oh for sure! I was an asshole for many years! I still am, but I’ve learned to turn it off to respect someone telling me how much something means to them.
And I think it was difficult because going back into that headspace—being this Christian Leadership winner and trying to break free from that, then having a priest drop the word “boner” in relation to a conversation we’d had—was not a fun place to be. Not liking who you are is terrible, feeling betrayed is terrible, hearing a priest blame you (a baby teen!) for his erection in confession is the worst. It’s like wading back into the trenches and having to work through things that may have been easier to have left buried.
AD: I think it’s something a lot of people can relate to, Catholicism angle or not—finding something so uncomfortable but not really being able to understand why it’s wrong and how to grapple with it.
ATD: Seriously! I think that’s life, to be honest. Just a marathon of trying to work through things that have happened. And we all cope differently.
AD: Yeah! I mean you obviously found a way to articulate the experience. I feel like that’s hard enough.
ATD: It was hard to turn it into something that was a story or had more to it than “FUCK THIS INSTITUTION.” Like, my default setting when I feel cornered or hurt or angry is rage. But rage without anything outside of that would’ve been so insular. Also: it would’ve just been my Twitter account! That being said, if anyone wants to publish a book of my tweets, I will never say no.
AD: Did you go into the writing process working through your rage or did you already have an idea of how to put a (sort of) positive spin on the essays?
Was the actual writing therapeutic or did it reveal anything to you?
ATD: I found the biggest challenge of this whole thing was answering the age-old question: “What is the point of this?” Like, what did I want each essay to say and what were the bigger themes and lessons. And I’d get so defensive because I’d begin with these essays that were very much like, “THIS IS A STORY. BY ME. FOR YOU. GOODBYE.” And my editors would have to rip them open and have me make connections between the past and present, or answer why I was writing about these things in the first place. Which I HATED. First, because I didn’t want to have to make them bigger than my own experience since that takes a lot of work and a lot of combing through feelings and head spaces. And second, because those things are so awful. Necessary! But awful. Which was a revelation in itself: being as honest as possible can force you into the Bell Jar pretty quickly. That and writing is HARD. Isn’t that the worst revelation? “Writing is hard.” But this was! And I underestimated how hard a book like this would be. And not the actual writing, but weaving feelings and memories and perspective into something relatively readable. But then you remember: the reader owes me NOTHING. Nothing at all! I owe everyone reading something worth their time, though.
AD: I was going to ask whether you struggled with making your personal experiences feel more universal. I think a lot of them are shared experiences, but obviously, you’re writing about yourself.
ATD: Yes! I struggled with it big time. Which is why I was so lucky to have Jen and Crissy as my editors at ECW. They were on my shit. They’d be the first to be like, “Okay I get what you’re saying here, but what are you saying outside of your own experiences?” And my knee-jerk reaction would be to close my laptop and be like “I HATE THIS GOODBYE.” And then you go back and are like, “Ah shit. They’re right.” So in terms of vulnerability, I had to learn how to be vulnerable with two people helping me shape this thing, AND I had to be vulnerable in terms of learning how to ask for help. Like, you KNOW I hate asking for help.
AD: It’s funny because I definitely know you hate it. But you also admit at every turn how necessary it is.
ATD: Which is also me pep talking myself!
AD: And distance from a subject definitely helps.
ATD: It’s been very humbling. I have had to ask for so much help over the last 18 months. I hate it until I do it, and then I feel better. I’m still working on trying to undo the belief that being an adult means being an island. Logically I know it’s not true, but emotionally it’s a different story.
AD: To lighten up a bit—I loved your lists in the collection. “Things I quit,” “Conversational starters.”
ATD: Thank you! They were there to ensure the book wouldn’t be a terrible bummer! Because I think after hearing a priest say “boner” you need a palette cleanser. Also you know I love quitting things and hate parties, so the lists I think are also a guide to being my friend.
AD: It made me think of what I would put on the lists myself. Which I think is a great way for people to think about their own (perceived) failures or personality quirks. It sort of seemed like a reclaiming to me. Which was powerful but also very funny and self-deprecating.
ATD: Right?! I mean, we’re all bananas. All of us. Which makes me happy you felt that way, because one of my #goals with this was to make someone (anyone?) feel a little less alone. Like, “Hello! I am a messy bitch, so if you are too look! There’s two of us!”
AD: I think that’s the power of writing about your personal experiences and sharing them. So others don’t feel so alone. And not everyone can do that (share) so it’s nice when it happens.
ATD: Yes! Because I think we’re all very much like, “Oh God, everyone’s going to realize I’m this, that, or the other” and as soon as someone steps in and is like “I AM THIS THAT AND THE OTHER!” it’s this feeling of camaraderie. Also, I think with the current political climate, it’s very important to remember you are not in the dumpster fire alone. We are ALL in the dumpster fire.
AD: We truly are. And it’s so easy to get caught in your own head and wonder how anyone else deals with anything. So that when someone says “I deal with things poorly sometimes and so can you,” it’s like a fucking revelation.
ATD: I agree! I felt like that reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Where that type of honesty was so valuable.
AD: Okay, so what essay is your personal favourite? Or what one are you most proud of or want people to read the most? What one sticks out to you?
ATD: In my head, they’re all blended together. I never ever want to read the death chapter again because it was really difficult to write. But it’s the one I think about the most.
AD: Is it one that depicts more recent events in your life?
ATD: Yes! That and the hometown one were the last two I wrote. Well, then I wrote the fashion chapter quickly after BUT that felt like just an extension of me talking normally (since I am an all-caps vintage coat-loving bitch), but the death and hometown essays destroyed me. By the third edit on those, I’d just chip away with tears running down my face. Emotions, man! But also, there’s something very cathartic in that too.
AD: So the ones that were hardest were also the ones that you’re most thoughtful about?
ATD: I think so. I keep thinking about the audiobook and the ones that sucked to read the most. And those were: death, hometown, religion, mental health, alcoholism. Because no matter how much time I had writing and editing them, they quickly bring me back to where I was when those things were happening. Which feels like a cop-out answer. But I think about reading them to an audience right now and I would rather walk into the sea.
AD: Ha! Okay, so they won’t be your chosen reading excerpts. Also, I want to know the outfit you’ll be wearing to the launch. Not the actual outfit, but like the feeling of the outfit. What Anne will you be channeling?
ATD: Okay, so I will be honest and candid in this moment: I have absolutely no idea. It depends on so many things! But I think the colour black will be involved. And probably some slacks. Also if it’s humid I will weep.
To purchase your copy of Nobody Cares by Anne T. Donahue, click HERE!
(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)