Joining us today is Christee Gabour Atwood, who is the author of the hilarious book, Three Feet Under: Journal of a Mid-life Crisis. We’ll talk about this book and what Christee has to say about rubber chickens.
Welcome to The Book Connection, Christee. I’m glad you’re here.
I’m thrilled to be here! I love being able to do interviews in my pajamas… Oops, we don’t have to tell everybody that, do we? Too late?? Oh well, they’re really cute PJs anyway. They’re Atlanta Braves pajamas – and after the year those boys had, they need all the encouragement they can get…
Before we get to your book, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been writing? What led you down this career path? Do you have any fun hobbies you want to share with us?
I wrote my first book at the ripe old age of 4. The Lion Who Tamed the Man. What a social statement. And what a collection of scribbles, drawings, and chocolate smears. In those days, I did my own illustrations…
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I was raised by parents who owned a weekly newspaper and I slept in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. Which explains why many of those early records are somewhat soggy. My parents gave me one of the old typewriters from the office for my own when I was six and I took over the hot water heater closet as my office.
Since then I’ve been writing constantly. Some of it even made sense … I now have enough manuscripts to wallpaper a 4,000 square foot house. Now, if I could afford a 4,000 square foot house, that would be pretty cool.
I’ve had enough careers so that my resume looks like a novel. Maybe War and Peace. With much more war than peace. There were some tough jobs in there…
I’ve worked in radio, television, newspaper, association management, corporate America, stand-up comedy, Universal Studios Tour Guide, professional speaker, unprofessional speaker (we all have our off days), and as a columnist.
I haven’t had much time for hobbies lately – but I did discover a love for quilting not too long ago. I adore old black and white movies – William Powell is my hero! And I collect old books. Gee, with those hobbies you’d think I was in my 90s…
How long did it take you to bring this book from just a little blip inside your brain to a published creation?
45 years … I’m a slow writer…
The thing is that this book was unusual. It was inspired by the columns I’ve been writing since 1989. By the way, if anyone out there is having trouble being a disciplined writer, a column is a great solution. You have to write whether you’re in the mood or not. It teaches you to throw stuff on the page and keep throwing until something sticks…
The real compilation of this book happened when I got spayed … known in polite circles as a hysterectomy. I actually had to stay home for weeks and I would have gone crazy without being able to write. I was able to finish it in the six weeks before I had to go back to work. Of course, the first few days after surgery, I wasn’t using real words. After all, those are some good medications they give you. But after that, my humor started getting clearer and writing was more fun than ever.
Oh yeah, I did doze off and drool on the keyboard frequently, but that’s just natural for me.
In the prologue of Three Feet Under, you say that mid-life occurs from “mid-thirties to beyond a mid-thirty inch waistline.” I guess I’m there from a chronological perspective anyway. Got any advice for me?
Enjoy it. It’s an excuse for anything you want to blame on it.
“That outfit is inappropriate for someone your age!” “I’m having a midlife crisis.”
“You are acting ridiculous!” “I’m having a midlife crisis.”
“You just ran your Toyota over Pauly Shore.” “I have good taste. Oh yes, and I’m having a midlife crisis.”
See how this can work for you?
There’s an excerpt on your website, which talks about a certain shopping trip you took with your mother. It starts off by saying that your mother just doesn’t understand you. Has this been a life-long battle for understanding or did it happen as you got older? Is there any hope for your mother or is she a lost cause?
Well, now Mom is having those memory issues that come with advanced years, and we’re actually finding that works well for us.
We can have the same disagreements five times in one hour, so we never run out of things to talk about. She tells me it’s okay to tell her the same joke over and over. She still won’t laugh at it. And we’ve decided that anything we forget must not have been all that important.
The battle for understanding actually comes from the fact that she knows me way too well. And she knows the buttons to push to make me crazy. It’s a great way to keep me humble.
Mom has the best method of keeping her kids in line. Whoever is living the furthest away from her is her favorite child.
I love that woman. She’s an inspiration to me at all times…
Speaking of your mother, do you ever find yourself acting just like her now that you’re middle-aged? Is it scary when you stop and say, “Oh my God, I’ve become my mother.”?
Oh lordy yes…
I talk about “kids today”. I say things like, “I remember when none of that was here.” And I play new games like “Connect the varicose veins” and “Make the hair dye job last one extra week”.
I cook like she does. We create meals that we call “exotic”. That means leftovers with additional seasoning on them.
I give myself the same kind of positive self talk that Mom does, like “Well, that’ll have to do” and “At least I don’t sweat much for a fat girl.”
My favorite car used to be a Mercedes. Now my favorite car is “any one that’s paid for”.
I often turn off the radio saying, “That just sounds like noise.”
And I don’t apply lip color anymore. Instead, like Mom, I “slap on a little lipstick before I go out the door”.
I got all of these from Mom and discover more every day…
What are three things that women in the midst of a mid-life crisis will relate to in your book?
I think most women will relate to:
a) Using their exercise bikes as coat racks.
b) Not really remembering what their real hair color was.
c) Spending a half day at the mall trying to remember where they parked their cars.
Those are pretty basic experiences that I think most of us have in common. And one person going through those types of experiences can be depressed, embarrassed, or feel silly. With all of us going through it together, it’s hilarious…
So, what does the rubber chicken have to do with this whole thing?
About 15 years ago I found myself in the hospital from stress. No, not a mental hospital like you might expect from me, but a regular one. I was physically sick, but I knew it had been induced by the constant stress I was under. I worked and worried about work and on my off time, I worried about not working. I was as much fun as a day at the DMV.
When I got home I decided that it was time to stop taking myself so seriously. That’s when I found my first rubber chicken keychain. I started carrying it with me everywhere to remind me not to take myself so seriously. Since then I have given hundreds of rubber chickens to people in my audiences, workplaces, and even drive-thru windows. It’s my own little legacy of laughter. It’s also a way to ensure that my keys are never lost by the guys in valet parking.
I also find that big rubber chickens are a great tool. I use one in meetings. If anyone says anything negative, they get the rubber chicken thrown at them. Then they’re stuck with it until someone else says something negative. Then they can throw it to that person. It reminds everyone to be positive … and it just looks darn funny to see a chicken flying around the room.
And if you want people to give you a lot of room on the road, do what I do. Get a full sized rubber chicken and roll him up in your car window so that just his head is hanging on the outside. No one will tailgate a car with a rubber chicken staring at them.
This all fits in with my theme for midlife, “If I laugh at myself first, then the rest of the world is laughing with me, not at me.”
Where can readers get their hands on a copy of Three Feet Under?
Anywhere books are sold in stores or online. It’s distributed through Simon & Schuster, so if folks can’t find it in their local bookstores, they can order it. And if they order it, I can assure them that it will make my friend, Mr. Electricity Bill, very happy.
And if they want it autographed, they can email me at Christee@Christee.biz and mention this website and I’ll mail them a free bookplate with an autograph to insert in the book. I’ll even autograph it to whomever they like so they can use it as a Christmas gift after they finish reading it. How’s that for a special deal???
What is up next for you? Are there future projects you would like to share with our readers?
Right now I’m working on the book, In Celebration of Elastic Waistbands. I’m doing it as part of National Novel Writing Month, so it will be complete by November 30. It’s a lot of fun and basically celebrates getting comfortable in our own skin.
I’ve also got a number of business and training books out right now – Succession Planning Basics, Presentation Skills Training, and Manager Skills Training. Readers can find out more about these at online bookstores or on my blog at http://successionplanningbasics.blogspot.com/.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’d like to quote Erma Bombeck, who was a great inspiration to me as a writer. She said, “Seize the day. Remember those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
How can anyone top a quote like that?
Thanks for stopping by, Christee. Your book sounds great! I hope I can bribe Santa into bringing it to me. Good luck with your mother. If all else fails, I have a friend who lives in a town with a state mental institution on the main drag.
A mental institution?? You’re brilliant!! We’ll just tell Mom it’s a spa.
Thanks so much for allowing me to visit with you and your readers today. This has been a lot of fun. Now I’d like to sit back and see what midlife stories they have. I might want to steal – I mean recycle them for the sequel…