Funnywoman is {not} having a baby! An interview with Jen Kirkman

i can barely take care of myself

Congratulations are in order! Jen Kirkman is {not} having a baby! Or maybe she is (see her response to our first question below!). In either case, she was gracious enough to chat with us about being childfree, writing her recent book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, the childfree movement (if we can be so bold as to call ourselves a movement), and navigating the tricky waters of book title negotiations. We had a blast chatting with Jen and can’t thank her enough for taking the time to check in with our fledging blog between rubbing shoulders with the likes of Time, The Atlantic, and Huffington Post (to name just a few). Our questions and Jen’s responses follow. Enjoy!

Q & A

w{n}hab!: So, are you SURE you don’t want kids? You’d make such a great mom! (You know we’re kidding, right? Actually, we think you’d make a terrible mom. Kidding again!)

J.K.: I’m giving you the exclusive. I got pregnant by the room service delivery guy on my tour. I’m not sure which city.  So, if he’s reading this, come claim your baby in 9 months.

w{n}hab!:In i can barely take care of myself, you share some of the crazy things people have said to you when they find out you don’t want kids. We’ve gotta know… what’s the nuttiest of them all? And why do you think people seem to take it as a personal affront when they learn that you have no plans to, in your words, “contribute to the excessive number of double-wide strollers on narrow city sidewalks”?

J.K.: I think the craziest one is “You’re going to die alone if you don’t have kids.”  What’s crazier about that comment is it isn’t said in a beautiful setting as two female friends walk on the beach and share their most intimate thoughts.  STRANGERS SAY THIS TO ME at weddings, cocktail parties, waiting rooms, anywhere they can get their two cents out – they say it.  So, part of the crazy-ness is WHO says it (strangers) and WHERE they say it (nowhere appropriate.).

Secondly, I have no idea why people take it as a personal affront. I’m on an Amtrak answering this question.  I’m sure that right now in this very train car someone is playing Sudoko, a game I don’t get and think is dumb.  I bet someone else is reading the Amtrak magazine and even though I think, “Didn’t you bring your own entertainment? You’ll just read whatever is in front of you?” [Sorry, but we feel we should note that Amy read this response from Jen shortly after having devoured Delta’s Sky magazine cover to cover from 30,000 feet. We’re just saying, you know, Jen, have a little compassion for us under-prepared travelers here. Oh, and Amy will take you in Sudoko any time. Game on.]  I’d never approach them to say it. I don’t care what the hell other people do.  I only care what other people do when it directly affects me or my loved ones.  Don’t murder me or anyone I know – otherwise, I don’t care what you do with your free time.

I think people will always accuse me of being preachy.  They ask me, “Do you have kids?” I say, “No.”  They say, “Do you want kids?” I say, ‘No.” At that point, I am usually given an inquisition and then told that I was preaching.  People are sensitive.  They think that if you aren’t doing what they are doing – that perhaps you are judging them.  And again, I’m not.  Or if I am, I’ll forget I was judging them like two seconds later, because I’m just too damn busy to care.

w{n}hab!:Tell us about writing the book. What made you want to write it? Who do you hope will read it?

J.K.: I have wanted to be an author since I was a little girl (hence the un-dedication to a terrible teacher I had at the beginning my book).  I’ve had many different literary agents and many different agencies and have pitched book ideas for a long time – most of them were collections of essays about being a weird kid and an unconventional adult.  Everybody passed.  It didn’t even ever make it to the point of pitching to publishing companies.

A couple years ago, I got a new agent.  I re-pitched my book idea.  I was advised it needed a definitive through line and hook.  My manager – who is a close friend – and I talked and she actually mentioned the “no kids” thing.  She had been hearing from me that when I’m on the road and do my couple of jokes about not wanting kids that audience members would come up to me after and say “You’ll change your mind”.  I realized that the “no kids” thing would be a great way to epitomize my overall story about being unconventional.  And as fate would have it….the editor at Simon and Schuster who bought my book – doesn’t want kids.  (She and her husband don’t want kids, I should say.) She wanted a book about this very thing and was familiar with my comedy and it was the stars lining up after…..28 years.

I hope everyone reads it because it’s not an anti-mom book.  One chapter is very anti-certain-kinds-of-moms-who-are-mean-to-childfree-women. But it’s not an anti-kids book.  It’s my story and there’s a lot of funny and relatable stuff in the book about how we all navigate through the world. Now I just made it sound like it’s about sailing or something by saying “navigate through the world.”

w{n}hab!: Did it take convincing to get publishers to believe there’s an audience for such a book?

J.K.: Whoops! See above answer.

It seems like Simon and Schuster was on board.  I think they were smart enough to know it’s a topic that gets people talking.

w{n}hab!: We can SO relate to your fears about losing friends once they have kids. And in the book you’re so kind about your friends who have gone over to the dark side. But tell us the truth. Have those friendships really lasted? And if so, what advice do have for folks like us who want to maintain friendships (FUN ones – you know, the kind that involve inappropriate conversation and alcohol) with their buddies post-procreation?

J.K.: Yes, the truth is the friendships have changed.  But I work almost 7 days a week and when I have one day free – (and that means just a few hours in that day because you know, errands need to be run) it’s easier to hang out with people with more freedom.  I can ask my child-free friends, “Hey can you grab a coffee for an hour – in between both of our places?” My friends with kids usually want me to go to their house and sometimes their houses aren’t close by.  Things like that.  However, as my friends and I work more – this happens with child-free people too.  We’re all in the industrial phases of our lives.  People with kids do need to realize that while we’re honored that you want us to have a relationship with your child, if we only see each other a few times a season and I don’t have a relationship with YOU – getting to know your child seems less impactful.

I definitely have lost the ability to have adult conversations with some close friends – you have to realize when you are going to see a family – and there isn’t going to be much bonding between you and your adult friends.  You have to make time separately for that.  And that’s where it’s tricky.

I do think that the sad part is – sometimes when my friends with kids see me and we comment on how we haven’t seen one another in so long – they point to their stroller and say how busy they’ve been with their kids and they ask me what’s going on “out there.”  They ask me what bars and clubs are like.  I never go out. I work. Constantly. And when I’m not working, I’m home recouping because I have to work again the next day.  When I socialize, it’s long dinners with a friend or two.  My child-free friends think I’m boring.  I’m not the one you ask to go to Vegas with you.  I’m the one saying, “Dinner at 10pm? WHAT?” But for some reason – simply because I am child-free, my friends with kids just don’t believe that my life isn’t one big party.  They’ll say, as I leave their house for the night at 9pm, “Where are you going now? Somewhere fun?” No. I’m going to home to bed.  Just like you are.  They still don’t believe me.

w{n}hab!: Some members of the childfree community have taken issue with the title of your book, taking the position that it reinforces rather than challenges stereotypes of the childfree. How do you respond to these critiques?

J.K.: I remember saying to my manager, “I’m glad we all settled on a title but I think that some people are going to get mad and you know what? I CAN take care of myself.” And she reminded me, “You’re a comedian.  It’s a funny expression and I’m sure many people have said it themselves and they get what it means.”  She’s right.  I CAN take care of myself.  I’m super responsible.  My apartment is neat as a pin. I have a full time writing job and three other career pursuits in the air.  My iCal looks like a rainbow – I’m scheduled to the max.  I pay my bills. I always have a proper manicure.  I see my doctor once a year and my dentist twice.  I work out. I eat right. I don’t do drugs.  But what my title means is, “I am doing all of this and am in dire need of a rest.  I am easily overwhelmed. If I had a kid, I could barely take care of it because I’m too busy taking care of me.”  But that’s not a funny title.

Besides, I think these people criticizing me are doing me a disservice.  There aren’t many books about being child-free (that are funny) and there are going to be ALL KINDS OF PERSPECTIVES and hopefully there will be more child-free books. And people can call it whatever they want.  The heartbreak of my life is that I wasn’t able to call the book “You’ll Change Your Mind.” It was sold as that but you’re dealing with a major publishing company and many people have ideas of what the book should be called.  There’s a lot of belief that the title can make or break a book and I was trying to wrangle everyone away from the notion that my book should have a pun title.  I agreed to a silly picture in a crib if I could have a more conversational title.  There was just so much behind the scenes.  Tears were shed.  Not just mine.  Back spasms happened. I mean, it’s not easy to name a book.  For some reason – they give you money to write a book and you could write anything you want but the title – it has to be approved by a committee of a LOT of people who have been in publishing a lot longer than Jen Kirkman.

So – to these women with their articles about how my title does the movement a disservice, I say that taking yourselves so damn seriously hurts the movement or your cause. And crack open the book and anyone can see that I CAN take care of myself and it’s a JOKE title because first and foremost, I’m a COMEDIAN.  This isn’t Shakespeare.  This isn’t a scientific book.  This isn’t even an angry manifesto or a socio-political commentary.  It’s a comedic memoir and I am not about to call it, “The Child Free Choice – Comments on Contemporary American Memes of Motherhood.”

w{n}hab!: You mention the childfree movement in your book but say, “I’ve never actually seen members of this movement all in one place. I guess we’re not as organized or fabulous or as into riding floats as gay people.” True that. But have you seen more evidence of the movement now that you’re out there promoting the book? Any further thoughts on the childfree movement for your fellow childfree peeps out there?

J.K.: I am overwhelmed by the amount of people who have contacted me to say that they are childfree.  A lot of MEN have expressed this to me – they say they are buying the book to read with their wives because they too spend their time at weddings and work functions being grilled with question after question about why they don’t want kids.  Every day I get tweets, Facebook messages, emails sent to my Tumblr account, people come up to me after stand-up shows to tell me that they don’t want kids either – or that they just aren’t sure.  But one thing we all have in common is that – we swear to God, we never sit around thinking about how we “hate children” – we don’t sit around judging parents. We’re just going about our business until somebody asks, “Do you want children?” And then the conversational sweater unravels……..What most people are feeding back to me is that they are tired of being told that they are not going to have a fulfilled life without a child.  Other than that – as I said before – I have no idea anything else about these people or what we might have in common.  We’re all individuals – which is probably why we recoil when we hear so many different people say the same ten offensive things to us.  Yes, I’ll never know the unconditional love of a child.  I’m okay with that.

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