How it feels to be a “youngish woman” is the subject taken up by writer and comedian Monica Heisey, 26, in her first book, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life (Red Deer Press, May 12). For the Toronto-based writer, whose work has appeared in VICE, She Does the City and Rookie, adulthood amounts to a series of poignant embarrassments, revelatory bodily functions and profoundly healing discoveries of the deep-fried variety.
We recently chatted with Heisey about the subjects—and carbs—closest to her heart, how it feels to count Lena Dunham as a fan, and her very cool plans for the future.
How did I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better come about?
I got an email from a publisher who liked my column for She Does the City and wanted to talk about turning it into a book. He asked if I wanted to have lunch.
I was like, ‘Cool, free lunch!’ And then we started talking more about it and it seemed like the publishing house was really serious so I went back and looked at the columns and saw what I had and I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to make a book.’
The book is divided into subcategories: Food, Werk, Female Friendships, etc. How did they emerge?
I just tried to think about what’s important to me—which is obviously why the book opens with the food section—and what things my friends and I talk about. Those are sort of the basic subjects of our daily conversation—how our phones are broken, who we’re dating and what kind of weird spell we’re going to try and cast over the weekend.
I appreciated that the food section was about burritos and pizza, i.e., foods people want to eat. You’re not cleansing or detoxing…
No, it’s largely bread-focused. It’s not a low-calorie book.
The book is made up of essays, riffs, quizzes, sketches and poems—why such a varied format?
I think it was just me amusing myself. I had to fill this book and I had to keep it interesting so I couldn’t just take the same format and apply it to the different sections. I wanted to do something different everyday that was relevant to the theme still. The quizzes and stuff are sort of a parody of like classic YM quizzes that you would take as a teenager and that you would base really big life decisions on, like choosing mostly C’s in the “Which Celebrity Man Will Be Your Husband?” quiz.
I’ve done my share of quizzes. The weird part is that sometimes you truly think you derive answers from them.
Yeah, you’re like, “Oh, I’m a Josh Hartnett woman! I know more about myself now.”
The book centres on how it feels to be a young woman now. Do you feel like you’re in a unique position because you’re not just absorbing the culture, you’re participating in it, too?
I feel like I am just doing what everyone else is doing, I’m just allowed to do it a little bit louder because people sometimes publish my opinions about what I’m absorbing… All of my friends are hilarious people, and I think that’s why women’s writing and humour writing online has exploded, because women are so funny and we’re getting more outlets to do that in a visible way.
Lena Dunham gave you a very complimentary blurb for the book: “It is the only humour book I ever want to own. It made me keel over with laughter and recognition.” How did that come about?
Lena has this habit of seeking out and assisting other women writers online. I’m not the first person she’s done this for, but she read something of mine on The Hairpin and she started following me on Twitter and I was already freaking out and then she DM’d me and said, “I’m going to be in Toronto tomorrow for a reading of my book, do you want to come? I would love to meet you.” We had a little chat at her reading and she’s the sweetest person. I said, “Can I send you a copy of my book?” And she said, “Of course.” We emailed back and forth for a bit and she sent me that very very kind quote.
What are your plans now?
I’m getting ready to move to New York, which is really exciting [she’s going to be an editor at Vice’s new female-focused vertical, Broadly]. And I have some ideas for a second book that I would love to get going.
What’s the idea?
I’d like to do more humorous fiction. Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich is a really good example of something that I would love to have written. If they could just swap my name on the cover of that I won’t need to write anything.
For now, click here for an excerpt from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better.