You’re probably in need of a laugh right now, and Cameron Esposito is here to help. The comic and podcast host’s first book, Save Yourself, is a coming-of-age memoir that doesn’t shy away from the awkward, cringeworthy and must-read-out-loud paragraphs you’ll be sharing with friends on Zoom. Below, Cameron chatted with PureWow about her writing process, staying in touch with her exes and how writing Save Yourself helped her through her recent breakup.
What made you want to write a memoir?
Someone told me to do it. I was writing a column for the AV Club, and I had a web series on early BuzzFeed (before it had employees), and it was called “Ask a Lesbian.” Because of those projects, I was pursued by my publisher, Grand Central to see if I wanted to write a book. And I was like, “Yes, sure!” It turns out that sometimes other people have a full plan going into writing a book, so kudos to those people, because I had to kind of make the plan going backwards.
How did you choose which stories from your life you wanted to share?
It evolved over time. At the beginning they were looking for more of an advice book, something that would fall into the category of “Ask A Lesbian.” I’d also been writing about my life for the AV Club and so, over time, we came up with a way to frame it as a memoir, especially since I have the experience of having grown up Catholic, going to a Catholic university where I couldn’t come out, realized I was gay while I was there and then the Spotlight story was happening at that time. And the same week I graduated from school, gay marriage [became legal] in Massachusetts. To me, those stories are more helpful than advice.
How did it feel to capture your younger self in writing?
One thing that I didn’t know about myself is that I have saved everything. The childhood stuff is in here, as well as my first, second and third girlfriend. In the middle of the book, there's a chunk where I'm in high school and college and in the dating world. And I saved every love note, every gift I'd been given...I have a thousand million photographs of this time. I had it all. I hadn't looked at it in forever. And I’m also in touch with my exes. Not on a daily basis, but we know what is up with each other. Two of the main characters in this book, my first girlfriend and the first woman I lived with, I asked if they’d send me any emails they had from that time in our lives, so I had an enormous amount of stuff to work with.
Why did you keep all this stuff? Were you purposely creating an archive?
I had no idea. I think they all felt very special and important. My love was very hard fought for, very hard won, and so they all felt special. I had so many things to work off of.
Is writing a book similar to writing jokes for a comedy set?
It couldn't be more different. The one thing that is true is that my written voice is very similar to my speaking voice. But the process of working on something alone in your house is torturous, to be honest. I’m so used to working with the energy of the room and having people know what I mean because it’s so clear. It’s like the difference between talking on the phone and texting. Your text tone is so hard to read, and that’s the thing about writing too. It’s so easy to miss the mark on the meaning, which is so different when you’re in the room with an audience.
How’d you come up with the title, Save Yourself?
It's not only a call to other folks to be the guiding force in your own life, but also it works in a double entendre because I was not having sex before marriage. I was saving myself as a young Catholic. In the midst of writing this book, I became separated [from comedian Rhea Butcher] and that eventually led to divorce. What an interesting time to be writing a book about self-reliance, because I did not have that experience over the past 18 months of my life. I’ve had to really look to community support, because there were some times when things were just too heavy for me to carry by myself. It’s almost like a perfect dovetailing, this book that’s about a time in my life when I realized, “You need to be the one you rely on,” and also I’m writing that book at a time in my life when I’m realizing, “You need other people.” It was kind of amazing timing."
I love the book’s dedication: “To every queer kid, be you little and bitty or all grown-up.”
My experience as a kid was filled with shame about who I was. Being gender nonconforming and having crossed eyes and thinking that my body wasn’t the right thing because I was getting feedback that I was chubby. I guess this is true for a lot of folks who grow up queer, and I think it’s true for everybody. But queer folks especially, because so often our experience is clanking against the community around us and we don’t know why. For me, I had to remember that little kid who was so full of shame and hurt was me, and was also an adorable full human. I developed a massive amount of affection for my younger self in writing this book, because I was brave. I was pretty interesting. I kind of did my own thing. The kid that I was, if I met that kid, I would respect them and like them. I think that’s a really good practice for any queer person to get in touch with that child that they may have felt shamed for being, and saying, “Dude, you’re cool. I like you.”
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