by Kari Lizer
Running Press Adult, 2020; 288 pp.; $20.24Buy Book
Kari Lizer is a comedic writer best known for her work as an Emmy-nominated co-executive producer of Will & Grace and creator of the award-winning The New Adventures of Old Christine, which was based on her life as a single working mother with three children.
After Lizer’s children left for college, the empty nest inspired her first book, Aren’t You Forgetting Someone? Essays from My Mid-Life Revenge. In it she takes an honest and humorous look at life after fifty, dealing with loneliness, caregiving, and more. Rhonda Havig recently talked with Kari about writing, midlife, and being a mother to human and nonhuman children.
Rhonda Havig: You have written a play, television shows, and now a book. What inspired you to write Aren’t You Forgetting Someone? and how did the process compare to your previous experience?
Kari Lizer: My third (and last) kid had just left for college and I found myself with all of this new freedom in my schedule, which also translated to creative freedom. It felt like I had the time to write something just for myself and see where it took me. I’ve mostly written for television, which is a very collaborative process—there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen along the way. Writing this book was really the first time I was able to tell stories entirely the way I wanted to tell them, which was both liberating and terrifying, because, well, if it’s terrible, it’s all my terrible.
RH: As an accomplished writer, what advice do you have for anyone starting a career in writing, be it for television or print publication?
KL: I think the thing that serves any writer best, and has certainly served me, is to be honest. To have a point of view. Tell your story. Know your own voice and figure out how to get it on the page. The writers I love to read are those that have truly authentic voices. Don’t think about what’s going to sell; that’s not your job, and as far as I know, it never works.
RH: When you had your twins, you were working as a writer. How did becoming a mother affect your writing?
KL: The same way that becoming a mother affected me as a person: it forced me to stop fooling around in my life. Get serious. Buckle down and work harder. Having kids deepened me as a human being (which I sorely needed) and I think deepened me as a writer, too. It also gave me a lot to write about because I had never cared about anything as much before I had my children.
RH: This book shares some personal stories, as do the shows inspired by your life, The New Adventures of Old Christine and your upcoming project, Call Your Mother. How do your three children feel about seeing bits of your life on television and in print? Do you talk with them about any of the stories or subject matter before producing or publishing them?
KL: My kids are used to being fodder for my work. I don’t think it really fazes them anymore. In Old Christine and Call Your Mother, the autobiographical elements are much more loosely based. In the book, it’s memoir, I use their names, so I did have to run some things by them. I asked them to read the more delicate chapters for their approval. I would never use anything that made them uncomfortable. They gave their blessing. I think they realize, no matter what I write, I always come off worse than anybody else—which is sort of the point.
RH: Midlife can be a challenging time for women. The subtitle “Essays from My Mid-life Revenge” offers inspiration to look at this stage of life not as a crisis, but as an opportunity to take the second part of life in a different direction. What encouragement can you offer to women hitting their fifties, possibly with empty nests and aging parents?
KL: I’m not sure I’m one to give advice on this subject. I’m fighting my way through the process myself. For those of us who identified so closely with parenthood, that suddenly don’t have anyone to parent, it’s definitely an identity crisis. Aging is kind of a shock. But I do have moments of feeling liberated from worrying about the things that nagged at my younger self: what other people think of me, what I’m wearing, what my hair looks like, what my house looks like, how much money I’ll make, constantly looking for love—and there’s freedom in that. And when I embrace the sense of relief that comes with living on my own terms, I can enjoy this place I’ve gotten to.
RH: Not feeling alone is a theme that runs through many of the essays, including the first, which states, “It helps to know other people are going crazy too. We’re in this together.” What kind of responses have you received from people who have read the book and saw themselves reflected in your stories?
KL: I feel like the whole reason to write—especially the kind of things that I write, pretty basic human experience—is to hold my hand out and say, “Anybody else?” And when someone reaches back and says, “That’s exactly how I feel!” it is the most gratifying thing in the world. I’ve gotten that reaction a lot. I think there are so many people that really believe no one in the world could understand what they’re going through or feel the way they do, and it’s such a relief to find out they’re in good company. It’s how I feel when I read David Sedaris, and I know we’d be best friends.
RH: In the book you mention that you are pathologically maternal, and that seems to extend to your nonhuman children—dogs, chickens, cats, and more. Please tell us about your current animal family and how you came to be an animal person.
KL: I grew up in a house with animals: dogs, cats, mice, horses, chickens, sheep . . . my dad loved animals more than humans. I can’t imagine my life without them. Even at my lowest (and poorest) points in life, I’ve had at least one dog, which means I’ve never been alone. Through the many changes of schools as a kid, struggling actor days, divorce, bankruptcy, deaths, I’ve always had a companion. Currently, I’m at capacity. It’s possible I’ve gone a little overboard filling the empty spaces left by my children. I have four dogs, two cats, four chickens, a rabbit and two horses. Even I know it’s a little much.
RH: As noted earlier, you have a new show coming soon called Call Your Mother. Please tell us a little about that and any other projects we can look forward to seeing or reading from you.
KL: Call Your Mother is a comedy for ABC starring Kyra Sedgwick. It premieres January 13. It’s about (yes) an empty-nest mom, a widow, whose grown kids are both living in Los Angeles, while she lives in Iowa. Wondering what she’s doing with her life and why it’s so far away from the ones she loves, she decides to head out to LA to be closer to her kids. She builds her next chapter there. It’s my fantasy. My real kids probably wouldn’t let me follow them. Getting the show up and running has pretty much been my all-consuming task this year. It’s been challenging, writing and producing through the COVID restrictions, but we’re getting it done and I’m having a great time with everyone involved.