The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Mary Karr — The Master of Memoir on Creative Process and Finding Gifts in the Suffering (#479)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Mary Karr (@marykarrlit), the author of three award-winning, bestselling memoirs: The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit. She is also the author of The Art of Memoir, which lays bare her own process as she breaks down the craft of memoir, and Tropic of Squalor, her latest volume of poetry.

A Guggenheim fellow in poetry, Karr has won Pushcart Prizes for both verse and essays. Other grants include the Whiting Award, PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and a Radcliffe/Bunting Institute Fellowship. Karr is also the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University.

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

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#479: Mary Karr — The Master of Memoir on Creative Process and Finding Gifts in the Suffering


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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today is Mary Karr @marykarrlit on Twitter. She’s the author of three award-winning best-selling memoirs, The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit. She’s also the author of The Art of Memoir, one of my absolute favorites, which lays bare her own processes; she breaks down the craft of memoir, and Tropic of Squalor, her latest volume of poetry.

A Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, Karr has won Pushcart Prizes for both verse and essays. Other grants include the Whiting Award, PEN Martha Albrand Award, and a Radcliffe Bunting Institute Fellowship. Karr is also a Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University. You can find her online at, on Twitter @marykarrlit. Mary, welcome to the show.

Mary Karr: Hey, Tim. Thanks for having me.

Tim Ferriss: I appreciate you putting me at ease when I mentioned that I have copious notes in front of me, and that’s usually an indication that I am nervous and—

Mary Karr: Not you. You do this all the time. You’re going to kill it. It’s going to go great. I’m convinced.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. And you reassured me by saying, “I make really good waffles.”

Mary Karr: That’s what I do.

Tim Ferriss: Like a nonna.

Mary Karr: I’m like a nonna. You’ve got to think of me as a nonna out here in podcastville.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s rewind the clock as a first step in podcastville. And maybe we can talk about nonnas in the family lineage of sorts. And I want to talk about, or have you speak to, a guy redoing your mother’s kitchen and holding up a tile? Could you perhaps elaborate on that please?

Mary Karr: Yeah. Right after my first memoir was published, we were having my mother’s kitchen retiled. My sister and I were there and, yeah, the tile dude pries off a tile and he holds it up and it has a little round hole in it. He looks at my little fluffy-haired, gray-haired mother, and says, “Miss Karr, this looks like a bullet hole,” and my sister says, “Mom, isn’t that where you shot at daddy?” And she says, “No, that’s where I shot at Larry. Over there is where I shot at your daddy.” So people ask me why I wanted to be a memoirist. I’m like, “Why would you make stuff up when that’s who your mother is?”

Tim Ferriss: So for those who have no context, I’d like to provide a bit more context, where was this kitchen or where is this kitchen for that matter?

Mary Karr: This kitchen is in southeast Texas. It’s a town that I write about, to protect the mayor, and the school principal, and the people who didn’t sign off on what I said about them, I call it Leechfield. But really it’s east of Port Arthur, Texas, a small town in East Texas. I call it the Ringworm Belt.

Tim Ferriss: Which I’ve also heard you describe as a swampy town. So moisture, humidity, ringworm. As a former wrestler I can say those things combine to produce ringworm.

Mary Karr: Exactly. Yes. No, that’s it. And industrial, like a lot of oil refineries all around. So not Vienna, not Paris in the ’20s, I guess, is the way I would put it.

Tim Ferriss: Now I’m going to hop around like Memento the movie, if I must. And I must, because that is my way. You’ve written extensively about your childhood. You had, in many respects, an extremely difficult, painful childhood. We’ll probably unwind some of that. Now you have written extensively about it, and you’ve also mentioned about writing memoirs. And if this is a misquote, please call me out. Quote: “I’ve said it’s hard. Here’s how hard: everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.”

And certainly in your book, you paint a high resolution picture of just how painful that can be. And certainly an element might be catharsis, but it is painful. And I would love for you to speak to the catalyst for beginning to publish this type of work. Write, and then publish this type of work.

Mary Karr: Well, you know, the publishing is nothing compared to the writing, I think. Publishing for me was great because they gave me money and I didn’t have any. So that was good. But yeah, I think I had a flamethrower on my ass. Can I say ass on your show?

Tim Ferriss: You can say ass. Not only are three-letter words allowed; four-letter are allowed as well.

Mary Karr: Oh, there we go. Yeah. So I was a weird little kid and my mother was Catholic and nervous and married seven times, twice to my daddy. Both my parents drank hard. It was Texas. Everybody was armed, and we were a loud, combative house. So, I loved my parents. I mean, that’s what I should say. I don’t think anybody who’s read anything I’ve written about them would challenge that. But it was not a safe childhood and, yes, it had its fair share of blows. I mean, look, I was born in the richest country in the world. My skin color is something the whole country privileges. I’m a college professor. I grew up skinny and my teeth came in relatively straight. I have a lot of advantages.

So whatever I went through, a lot of people, and people I grew up with and loved, had it way worse and didn’t make it. So I think I was haunted. I was a haunted little girl. I tried to kill myself when I was a kid. When I was still in grade school, I took a bunch of aspirin. It said pain relief, and I thought, “Okay, this is what I want.” And so I didn’t have a choice. In some ways not having a choice was a lucky thing because I went into therapy very early. After leaving school without a diploma, I managed to weasel my way into college and had a really kind professor. His wife kind of took me under their wing and urged me to go into therapy when I was 19.

And so I was sitting in rooms talking to codependent social workers starting when I was a kid. And all of that helped. But I guess I’ve been really blessed with a lot of outside help. I’m a big, big fan of the mental health professional, and the librarians, and English teachers, and those kind souls you meet along the way.

Tim Ferriss: So you have kind souls that you meet in person. You mentioned a few, and I want to talk more about weaseling into college in a few minutes. But I’ve read a lot about your reading, if that makes sense.

Mary Karr: Yeah. I read a lot, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And some might envision in their mind’s eye the childhood you described as a family of illiterates. Nobody picked up anything other than People magazine. But that was not the case.

Mary Karr: No, a huge advantage.

Tim Ferriss: I’d love for you to just describe that a little bit. And also if I could tag on an additional piece of that question, I’ve heard you describe finding and reading poetry as Eucharistic. I would love for you to just speak to that as well.

Mary Karr: Yeah. I started reading poetry when I was a little girl and you know, reading is socially sanctioned disassociation. They won’t let you drink or use heroin when you’re a little kid, but you can disappear down a valley of Winnie the Pooh, or Charlotte’s Web. And in some ways the poets I read, I think poetry really captured me early. And my mother, who was a painter, had gone to art school in New York, and was enormously well-read. There were books all over my house in a place where the nearest bookstore—the bookstores in my town sold bibles as big as station wagons and little dashboard icons—but there wasn’t a lot of literature to buy. But I found a home in the little library. It was a three-block walk from my house and I could disappear down the snowy valley of a book and I was somewhere else.

And so poetry saved my life. I mean, my best friends were poets. I think the way people worship saints and have crosses blessed, I felt that way. And if you think about the idea of the Eucharist, we weren’t Catholic; we were atheists. My father was a union organizer and said church is a trick on poor people to get their money away from them. And my mother was the kind of Marxist lady who was very smart and just a little bit of a loose cannon. So we were not churchy in the Bible belt.

And yeah, when you read a poem, you put it in the meat of your body. I mean, you’re a body person. I’m a body person. I feel like you take somebody else’s suffering into you and it changes you. It transforms you. I had this idea of being a poet starting when I was five or six years old, that I wanted to be a poet. It was the strangest thing because there were no poets around. No one I knew had ever met a poet.

Tim Ferriss: What was the feeling that elicited that desire? Was it just the sort of tangible brilliance in some type of wordplay? Was it a kinesthetic reaction to the aesthetics of certain poets? What was it that produced that desire?

Mary Karr: Wow. You said it better than I could, Tim. You win. It’s not a joke that I used the Riverside Shakespeare as a booster seat. That’s literally what happened. When I had to reach the table, I sat on this giant edition of Shakespeare my mother had that was very water-stained. It was a book that I read very early, and I started memorizing, not Shakespeare poems, but the speeches from Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth, and Richard III. I would memorize these speeches and say them to my hung-over mother, and she liked it. I got her attention that way. To say she was not nurturing, I mean, Lady Macbeth is probably not nurturing the way my mother was not nurturing me.

Her disinterest in being a mother was profound, let’s just put it that way. She once said to me early on when I was getting sober, she was supposed to watch my little boy, who was then a toddler when I went to an AA meeting. I came back one day and she sighs, “I can’t keep him. He’s just too…” I mean, I was gone for an hour and a half. She said, “I just don’t do kids.” I was so mad. I said, “Mother, you had four children. What do you mean you don’t do kids? You don’t cook. You don’t clean. You haven’t had a job in 40 years. What exactly do you bring to the party?” And she thought for a minute, and she said, “I’m a lot of fun to be with.”

I forgot to do anything for any other living human being but I am fun to be with, which was not untrue. So I guess I had an aesthetic sense. She played music. She played opera. She played blues. Janis Joplin grew up in my hometown, or rather, I grew up in her hometown since she was older. Her brother would be in my high school carpool. So there was a lot of music I listened to. And I think poetry was part of that. The form, the shape.

You know what it felt like, Tim? I felt less lonely. I was a lonely person and I would read these poems and I felt like someone understands me. Someone knows what it feels like to occupy this body. I remember trying to tell other little kids in my neighborhood about it, about poems that I liked. There’s an E.E. Cummings poem I once tried to tell some girls about in my school. “In just-spring when the world is mud-luscious and the little lame balloonman whistles far and wee and eddieandbill come running. And it’s spring and the world is puddle-wonderful, and the goat-footed balloonman whistles far and wee.” Something like that. I can’t even remember it, but it’s so long ago.

Tim Ferriss: That’s pretty good for not remembering.

Mary Karr: I can remember little bits of it. But I remember these girls in my school just going, “What are you talking about? Like, that doesn’t make any sense.” And I’m like, “What about it doesn’t make any sense? It’s about it being spring.” And she’s like, “Well, what is the mud-luscious? Like, that’s not even a word.” I mean, “No, it’s like muddy and luscious and delicious.” And it’s like, “How is mud delicious?” It’s like, “No. Y’all aren’t getting it.” And I thought they were messing with me. It seemed so obvious to me how great this was.

And so I learned to shut up about it very early. By like third, fourth grade, I learned just don’t. You like this stuff. Nobody else. Your mother likes it. Your sister likes it. Your daddy likes it. Nobody else is going to like it. And you shut up.

Tim Ferriss: One expression that I think was in The Art of Memoir. I’ve read it in other interviews. And again, I’m probably going to paraphrase here, but that poetry should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.

Mary Karr: Yes. I wish that were my line. Isn’t that a great line?

Tim Ferriss: It’s so good. Where’s that from? Or do you recall where you learned it?

Mary Karr: Yes. I know. I know vaguely where it’s from, but I can’t remember the guy’s name. You can Google it.

Tim Ferriss: We’ll find it.

Mary Karr: It’s an early 20th century, maybe 1920s to 1950s, journalist, a guy. So I’m sorry. I wish I could take credit for it. But yeah, all art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. And all therapies should, and most foods. You know, it’s not a bad goal to shoot for at the beginning of a day.

Tim Ferriss: How did you weasel into college?

Mary Karr: How did I weasel into college?

Tim Ferriss: If you could flash back? Because I would imagine that there’s some listeners, like me, who are just, in their mind’s eye, seeing this little girl sitting on Shakespeare, and out of focus behind her head in the same kitchen are bullet holes in the tile, imagining the experience and the experiences. Although, truly, you’ve endured some horrific things. But wondering how does someone in that position get into college, especially when they’re missing, at least based on some of my homework, for instance, 87 days of school in the sixth grade? Things like this. How on earth does someone get into college? Was it your wielding of words in an essay that just unlocked it? Was it something else?

Mary Karr: I won an essay contest when I was in high school, I remember. I think it was from the National Council of Teachers of English, and I had some professors. Actually my mother had gone back to graduate school and got me a recommendation from this teacher of Chinese history who felt me up, sexually assaulted me in his office, and then wrote me a recommendation. So maybe that helped.

Actually what I think helped, when I look back on it, was I opposed the Vietnam War and I wore black armbands on Moratorium Day. That’s the kind of thing that, where I grew up, I remember my, the football coach pinning me up, physically pinning me up against the lockers by the front of my shirt and holding me against the lockers and threatening me essentially to take my black armband off.

So I did things like I didn’t stand up for the American flag. I mean, I don’t know. I thought I was Colin Kaepernick or something. It didn’t win me any friends. Let me just say that. But I later found out when I got to my school and I had to have a lot of jobs to go there because it was a private school. It was Macalester College. It’s a very good school. And I later found out that the assistant principal of my high school who had thrown me out a lot for things like my skirt was too short. One time he threw me out for not having a bra on. And I said, “What makes you think I don’t have a bra on?” Then he called in the gym teacher to look under my shirt and confirm, in fact, I didn’t have a bra on.

So I was a pain in his ass. And I later found out that he called Macalester and told these people in the admissions office that I was a bad citizen, that I wouldn’t stand up for the pledge of allegiance and stuff. Well, they hear this old redneck assistant principal, and they hear about this little girl who’s doing this, and they think, “She sounds great.”

Tim Ferriss: She’s perfect!

Mary Karr: She’s perfect. So I actually think my misbehavior that got me in so much trouble and made him hate me so much, I once had an algebra teacher reveal to me, “He really is after you. You’re not paranoid. He wants you out of here.” And so I don’t know how I got in. I don’t know how I got it in. It was clearly a mistake.

I made a D in art my senior year, and my mother was a painter! I mean, all I had to do was slap art on something and I would have gotten a B. I couldn’t handle the pressure. It was too hard. So I don’t know how I got to college. But once I got to college, I’ve got to say, while everybody else was complaining about their parents, and I don’t know, that you weren’t supposed to smoke pot in your room or whatever they were mad about, I was like, “This is great. All these people read books, and they’ll talk to you about them.” I made straight As and I got a scholarship. It was just shocking to me that I might succeed at something.

Tim Ferriss: What about the environment aside from people who read books and are willing to listen, if it was the environment, maybe there are other variables, led to the straight As? Was it being outside of your home environment? Like what was the recipe that contributed to that sort of conversion of sorts from defiant to straight As? Maybe you were still defiant it but you got straight As.

Mary Karr: I wasn’t defiant. I wanted to please people. I think I had a lot of jobs. I had one of those hairnet-wearing jobs at the food service, ready to go in at like four in the morning. You cooked scrambled eggs and washed dishes and stuff. So I think in some ways I had to organize my time, but I had been living with a bunch of drug dealers before I went to college out in Southern California. We moved out there. Initially we lived in cars and stuff. A couple of us were slinging dope, mostly pot and psychedelics, although one guy had robbed a drug store.

I was hitchhiking one day from Laguna Beach to San Clemente where my friends were surfing. And I got picked up by a guy who really scared me. I thought he was going to rape me and had to jump out on the side of the road. And it’s interesting because there were six of us who lived in that house when I left home. And of the six, four went to jail and two of those were dead before they were 20. Only me and one other guy who’s still my best friend, Doonie, wound up getting sober. We both kind of made it, quote-unquote. Him in construction in Southern California and me doing whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing.

So I was scared. I was scared by how dark things—that I brought the darkness with me. You get to Southern California from where I grew up and you’re like, “Where has all this been?” Everybody’s orthodontured. People’s teeth are great, and nobody’s missing any digits or anything. Everybody looks so amazing and everything’s so beautiful. And you’re like, “God, I’ve never seen anything like this. Golly.”

So you would think everything would have been great. But as you know, when you have a lot of trauma growing up, you bring the darkness with you. So I had this idea after I was hitchhiking and I got scared. I had to jump out. I went to jump out of this guy’s car. It was a Volkswagen and that had no backseat and it had a bunch of garbage in it. And I pulled up on the handle of the door and it just went floppy round and round and round, like it was locked and I couldn’t get out.

And so the window was open. Stuck open, wouldn’t go up, wouldn’t go down. And I stuck my arm out the side of the window and opened it from the outside and jumped out and went down this embankment on the side of the road. And I was really scared. You know how those moments of trauma are. I was scared like I had been when I was a little kid and there were bullets flying around my house. And I thought, “I know. I’ll go to college in Minnesota.”

That was the other thing. Everybody in Minnesota is so damned nice. Have you ever been there?

Tim Ferriss: I have. I have spent time there.

Mary Karr: I used to have a joke, an unkind joke. I’d say, “If you’re not a virgin when you get here, you will be when you leave.” It was just, everybody was so damned nice. Oh, my God. I’d never seen such nice people in my life. Yeah. And still, I got there and I did extremely well for two years, and I won all these prizes. Then I dropped out, because I couldn’t handle the prosperity. I couldn’t handle the success. So it took me a while to finally start getting sober, I guess. I guess that was a lot of my problem.

Tim Ferriss: Which we will definitely talk about. I want to dig into that. And also I’m going to ask you, just to plant a seed, about how those mentors initially convinced you to go to therapy. But first I’m going to bounce around chronologically. Because from these origins, I’ve, in the process of doing my homework, read about your graduate seminar at Syracuse described as hyper-selective, and certainly a writer and poet of great note at this point, right? Lots of people know who you are. Lots of people love your work. Lots of people love you describing the craft and process that goes into your work. How do you select the students who make it into your graduate seminar? Or how did you?

Mary Karr: I mean, I do it. I wish they would just give me a wand and I got to pick all my people. But interestingly, I’ve been teaching there, gosh, 30 years, something like that. I only teach in the fall. I commute from New York City. So we do it based on the work. We do solely based on the writing. My colleague George Saunders has gotten so famous that he attracts a lot of people, and we have a lot of people who teach there. Arthur Flowers. Juno Diaz has taught there. We have gotten up to 1,200 applications for 12 positions.

Tim Ferriss: You end up with these 12 gems of assorted colors and kinds. What is day one, class one? What does that look like?

Mary Karr: Oh, you’re thinking when I teach my memoir class, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: That’s right.

Mary Karr: I used to do this thing. Yeah, that’s so funny. I used to do this thing where I would stage a fight in my class with someone who was opposite from me. And so let’s say like my colleague, George Saunders, who is just the sweetest guy, I can’t even tell you. I was in the car with him once and there was a bug on his shirt and I was like, “George, there’s a big beetle on your shirt.” And he’d be like, “Well, he has to be somewhere.” I’d be like, “Kill it.” And he’s like this Tibetan Buddhist with this amazing practice, just the sweetest guy. So George comes in and starts arguing with me that my classroom is in fact his classroom and—

Tim Ferriss: This is in front of all the students?

Mary Karr: In front of all the students. And it’s for them it’s the first day of school, and it’s like having their parents fight. And I script it so that I say only nice, conciliatory things. I back up, he walks forward. He’s bigger than I am. And then it ends with him throwing the papers up and telling me to go fuck myself or something. And/or telling me to go hang maybe, I don’t know if you can say the F-word, can you say the F-word?

Tim Ferriss: F-word is not only allowed, but endorsed—

Mary Karr: Okay, good.

Tim Ferriss: —since I grew up on Long Island, you’re in good company.

Mary Karr: I feel so much better! Just telling me to go fuck myself. And then we asked the students to write. So let’s say there are 17, 18 students in this class, or 20, somewhere between 15 and 22. And they’re all smart, and they’re all young. They were all incredibly juiced on adrenaline and cortisol because they were scared and it’s a public scene. And they don’t really know each other that well. And they don’t know us that well. So they’re all extremely alert. They’re hypervigilant. And we ask them to write down what happens. And everybody writes something just a little different.

Interestingly, people will describe me in very aggressive terms. Like even though I’m the one backing up and I’m saying, “Well, I can clear out during the break, George, but like, I don’t understand why you’re so upset.” And he’ll say, “You don’t understand why I’m so…” I mean, and he walks forward and I’m backing up and my head is down and I’m every conciliatory gesture I can think of. And people will say, “She stood her ground like a bulldog,” or “She had military strength, facing off against him.” And one year I did it with my student assistant, who was an undergraduate, just a beautiful young track star, Betsy. And Betsy just threw her papers up in the air and was screeching at me. Well, she’s this kid, and here I am, this professor with fancy clothes in a position of power.

So people would, in that class of undergraduates, assume that I had done horrible things to Betsy that had—in one class there was a young woman. One of the ruses I set up is that I leave my cell phone on so I can start to argue with George before he comes in and then ask the students, “How often did he call? How long between each call?” And ask them to guess things or remember things about time. And some people say, “He called three times.” Some people will say, “He called once.” Some people, “Four times.” So all those details are very influenced by who they are. The young woman with sickle cell anemia will have this enormous compassion for me, because I’ll say, “I have to leave my phone on, I’m waiting for medical results.” And she’ll assume I’m waiting to hear if I have some awful ailment.

And she sees George as a complete beast. And me as this woman, perhaps ill, who dragged herself to class, while everybody else in the class thinks, “What a diva, she’s answering her phone in the middle of class. She can’t wait an hour to get medical results? I mean, come on.” So there are always people in class who have eidetic, who have those perfect memories. I remember one kid—often they’re musicians—this kid was a jazz saxophone player who was very famous in Brooklyn for giving these amazing house parties. I think he made a living giving house parties for like, I don’t know, years. So this kid had this amazing memory. We had a script and he remembered the script exactly. He remembered what George had on. He remembered where we stood. He remembered that I’d backed up every step. And then when he wrote it, he wrote it exactly as it happened, he didn’t miss anything. And he said, “George was the aggressor, but I wonder what she’d done to make him act that way.”

I guess the purpose of the exercise is for you to realize that you remember through a filter of who you are. Memory is not a computer. It’s not a perfect storage system. Obviously we, even these fine minds of these young people, very alert and paying attention in their first class and wanting to get everything right, and do well, misremember. But what’s more, what I want them to think about is how they are not just perceiving things, but beaming the world, the landscape, into being with whoever they are inside. It’s important, as a writer of anything, to realize what kind of filters you’re strapping on that prevent you from seeing what’s going on.

Tim Ferriss: I would imagine that is an opening exercise that a lot of your students remember, speaking of memory, for a very, very long time. What other exercises or aspects of your teaching, it could be in any setting, do many of your students remember or have stick out for them, would you imagine?

Mary Karr: I think a lot of practice things, a lot of—I think it’s important as a writer, or as an anything, to develop habits. I mean, you talk about this in 4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Workweek, you’ve developed a lot of practices in your life to shape your life so that you’re kind of operating to constantly be growing and developing. And so things like keeping a commonplace book, just keeping a notebook where you write down beautiful pieces of language.

Tim Ferriss: What is a commonplace book? That is where you capture the sort of beautiful turns of phrase that you encounter?

Mary Karr: Yeah, things you read. So you might copy poems. You might copy, over here is something you overheard on the street. There was a guy standing on my street. This is like a couple of years ago when I first moved into this apartment, screaming “Murder or suicide?” at the top of his lungs. And everybody was walking around the street, walking around him. And it was early in the morning and I walked up to him and I said, “Excuse me, sir.” He was screaming, “Murder or suicide? Murder or suicide?” And I went up to him and said, “Sir, isn’t there like a third alternative? Like, isn’t there a door number three?” And that little encounter I wrote down, but things I overheard—

Tim Ferriss: Hold on, hold on. That’s too much of a cliffhanger. So what happened when you said that?

Mary Karr: Well you know what was beautiful, I was going in to get a pastry for a friend of mine who was visiting from London. I got him one. I thought I’d bring him a pastry when I came out. But when I walked into the bakery, he was looking at the sky with a curious look. He was thinking, like, “Isn’t there a door number three? Isn’t there another? Gosh, there might just be a door number three.” But mostly what I write down are pieces of language or things, poems that I read, paragraphs, anything, so that you’re just constantly copying in longhand. You can’t type it. You’re constantly copying things that are beautiful. You’re constantly guzzling beauty, you’re guzzling the beautiful language. So that you’re kind of steeped in it like a fruitcake in good brandy.

Tim Ferriss: Is the value of the commonplace book and using it this way in the writing down? Or do you have some approach to review or using that later?

Mary Karr: I mean, the great thing about them is that if you get on an airplane or you’re going along, you sort of know what you’re reading, but I’ve also been doing this. A poet named Stanley Kunitz, who was a Poet Laureate in like 1978 or something told me to do this. So I’ve been doing this since 1978. Also every time I give a lecture, I put the quotes I use in the lecture on index cards. And so I have like, I’ve been teaching for 40 years. I mean, I have 40 years of index cards with quotes on them. It’s oddly satisfying. I don’t know what it is. But it’s just like a sit-up you do. It’s like a push-up you do. It’s something you don’t really, I often don’t look back. I think it’s in the writing down. I think it’s in the practice. And it’s kind of, it’s like an altar. You’re making an altar for yourself every day.

Tim Ferriss: You know, I wanted to, might as well, use this as a segue: altar. Could you speak to the importance or utility of prayer in your life?

Mary Karr: Yeah. I mean, I’m a pray-er. I was an atheist my whole life and I got sober in 1989, and believe me, I drank my share. I did my part. I remember some guy I went to high school with telling me, my mother was still alive, I was home. And he says, “You don’t even drink anymore. You don’t even smoke pot.” I was like, “No, Jack Lantern, I don’t do that stuff anymore.” He’s like, “Why?” I was like, “Well, it just didn’t agree with me. It made me do things that I didn’t want to do.” And he says, “I just think you’re a quitter. I just think you’re a quitter. I just think you gave up. I mean, what is smoking pot going to do? You’re never going to rob anybody’s television or anything?” I said, “Well, that’s true. That’s true enough, Jack Lantern. But you have had this job pumping gas since the 11th grade.”

Tim Ferriss: Please tell me this guy’s name was actually Jack Lantern.

Mary Karr: His name was Jack. We call him Jack Lantern because of a sad tooth thing he had, and because we were not ones to stand on ceremony. And he said, I said, “You have had this job since the 11th grade. And you’re 50 years old and you have an ambition deficit disorder. So by my yardstick…” But he would say, Jack Lantern, he’d say, “Don’t call me that no more.” I’m like, “What do you want me to call you? Like that’s your name, dude. That’s been your name since you were 15. That’s your name.”

Tim Ferriss: What does prayer look like for you? What is praying?

Mary Karr: I think it started off, I think poems are my first prayers, the ones that I read. Like I said, I felt less lonely. So I started praying, not out of any virtue. I didn’t believe in God. I had no religious training whatsoever. When I was a little girl, people would say, would talk about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. I thought they were kidding. I thought, “They don’t really believe this horseshit.” I mean, I figured out pretty early on, by the time I was like six or seven, people were serious that they prayed when people weren’t looking at them. I couldn’t believe it. It was shocking to me. And Daddy would say, “Well, you know, folks are ignorant, you know, what you going to do?” And so I had not a religious bone in my body, but I did notice when I tried to stop drinking that I couldn’t, like that, I tried to stop drinking for two or three years. And I tried by myself and I tried drinking only beer. And I tried drinking only alone. I tried drinking only with other people. And I tried drinking only wine. I tried really with food. I tried drinking weekends.

I mean, I just, somehow I had crossed some line where I just couldn’t, I couldn’t stop drinking. And I went to get help. And I sat in church basements and I hated everybody I saw who was sober. I just hated them. They just seem like, the guy selling incense at the airport, I just didn’t like them. They just didn’t look fun. And I just—they were so nice, too. It was like getting to Minnesota, they go, “Hi! Welcome!” I’d be like, “Oh, God, I hate these people.” And finally the last time I drank, the last night I drank, I’d gotten together for like, it was the longest amount of time sober I’d had since I was 15. And I’d gotten together 90 days sober by going and sitting in church basements and talking to people who were sober. And I got a 90-day chip. And then I had to give this talk. I had to give a poetry reading at Harvard.

Tim Ferriss: Sorry to interrupt. Just since I don’t have much familiarity. When you say 90-day chip, is that some like literal token that you were given because it’s—

Mary Karr: It looks like a poker chip and so you get one the first day you go in, then you get one at 30 days and 60 days and 90 days. So this was for me an epic accomplishment. I mean, there was no time that I ever ran the hundred-yard dash, and that was as important to me as that 90-day chip. And I was happy that I was sober. I felt better. I was sleeping better. My kid was better, everything was better. And I had to give this poetry reading at Harvard College. And I was nervous. I’d never given a reading without drinking. The reading went okay. I was teaching at a bunch of places, including one class there. And I went out with some of my students. And the next thing I know it’s three o’clock in the morning and my car is spinning out on Storrow Drive in Boston and I’m going towards this concrete and I somehow didn’t crash the car and I somehow got home.

And so at that point everybody had been saying, “You’ve got to get on your knees and pray.” And there was this great heroin addict, a recovering heroin addict, Janice, at this halfway house where I did volunteer work. I drove people to meetings, basically. And I would pick people up and drive them to meetings, a lot of disabled people. And Janice said, “Just get on your knees.” And I’m like, “Janice, you know, I don’t—what kind of God wants me to grovel and go, ‘Oh, God, you’re so great, ooh?'” And she said, “You don’t do it for God, you asshole,” in that Boston accent. “You don’t do it for God, you asshole.” I’m like, “Well, who am I doing it for?”

She’s like, “You’re doing it for yourself. Just get on your knees. Just say, ‘Help me stay sober.’ In the morning, get on your knees and say, ‘Thank you for helping me to stay sober.'” And so I’d be like, “Okay.” So I get on my knees, “Help me stay sober.” At night I’d say, “Thank you for helping me stay sober.” Well some weird things started to happen. I mean, sometimes I would literally shoot the finger at the light fixture because I just thought, “I hate this.” And you know what’s terrifying about praying? Is the loneliness of it. I always tell people, young women I sponsor, “You show more faith praying when you have never prayed before then any nun.” To sit in that silence with all your fears and all your self-doubt is so scary and hard. If you have a big, loud head, like I do. And like I have a big, inner-life and my mind never has anything good to say. It thinks it can kill me and go on living without me.

Something started to happen. I would have these moments of quiet. And the only way I can describe it is it was south of my neck. It was like in the middle of my chest. If I was living my life with my head, like yammering at me like a chihuahua all day, “Do that, don’t that, stupid bitch. Put that down, pick that up, go over there.” I mean, it was just, “Eat this, don’t eat that. Call him. I hate him.” You know, like just these moments, like in the middle of my chest would be like this broad expanse of quiet. And I remember one particular day our little shitty car broke down. My kid was a toddler and he was, I had to pee. We were on the road. It didn’t break down, I had a flat, and didn’t have a spare, a working spare.

It was rush hour. We were on Memorial Drive, we’re trying to get home. And I just, in that moment, and what I normally would have done, I would have been there, throwing the jack around and trying to get the car jacked up and in a state of indignant fury that—I didn’t believe in God, but I believed that there was fate that had doomed me to misery and that the guy with the Jaguar would always get my parking place right before I pulled in. And I believed I had a head that had memorized the bad news and spewed it out all day. And I remember that day, it was the sun was setting. I just got out on the side of the road. I got Dev out of his car seat and the sun was going down and he was looking at me, afraid that I was going to be angry.

And I just sat there and he said, he was hungry, and I didn’t have anything to eat in the car. And I’m sitting there. And I said, “Let’s just look at the sunset a minute. And then we’ll go, we’ll walk and we’ll get some help.” And we were just sitting there looking at the sunset and this truck pulls up with these Goomba guys from this 12-step meeting. And they have ginger ale, they have a jack, they have a way to tow my car. They give Dev potato chips, and it was just like, all I have to do is just find some space in my body and just wait for a minute. And so I started to notice things happening when I wasn’t bent over the day like a dog over like a bone that was about to be stolen.

You know, like when I could just sit there for a moment. And so I began to get a space in my body and I began to get, I began to hear not the voice of God. I would call it, I would have some leanings. Like I would be thinking, “I should have just killed myself.” Like literally, this is what I’d be. “I should have killed myself. My husband would marry some nice girl who wore barrettes and my son would have this great mother and his life would be better if I weren’t there.” And I would hear this voice in my head that was like, “You need a sandwich. Why don’t you get a sandwich? Why don’t you make yourself the biggest sandwich you can make?” And I’d be like, “Ooh, great idea.”

I just started to have these small, good ideas that were not like anything I’d ever heard when I was afraid before. And yeah, then I had all these crazy spiritual experiences. And one of the things I had this great sponsor, Joan the Bone, God, I loved her, she was so great. She was a kind of girl who lived in Alaska and would go to the bar when it was like 50 below in a tutu. She was just like a bad-ass. Like she was just, and she was a Harvard social theorist too, I’ve got to tell you, she would just, all that—

Tim Ferriss: Joan the Bone?

Mary Karr: Joan, the Bone, all that and a bowl of biscuits, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Sounds like a mobster. What is the origin of the name? Do you have any idea?

Mary Karr: I just called her that, that was my nickname for her, Joan the Bone.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I see. I see, all right.

Mary Karr: Joan the Bone. And Joan would tell me things like, I was such an ingrate. She’d say, “You have to make a gratitude list.” And so she’d call me and say, “What’s on your gratitude list?” I would say, “I have all my limbs.” She’d say, “No. Okay. Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to make a gratitude list every day this month for every letter of the alphabet. And you’re going to call me and read it to me.” I said, “Shut the fuck up. I’m not going to do that.” She’s like, “Yes you are, or else I won’t talk to you anymore.” I’d be like, “Okay.” So I just started trying. I just started trying, instead of sitting there with my arms crossed and my lower lip stuck out and my baseball cap pulled down over my eyes, I just started trying shit that people who were happier than me suggested I should try. It was so simple.

And I started to get a sense. And so one of the things I said to her, she said, “You’ve got to pray for what you want. What are you praying for?” I said, “I pray to stand it. Not to kill myself, not to—”

Tim Ferriss: Just stand it.

Mary Karr: “Just stand it. Just to get through the fucking day. That’s what I’m praying for.” And she said, “Okay, well, you got to pray for what you want. What do you want?” I said, “I made $9,000 this year. I would like some money, please.” She said, “Well, why don’t you pray for money?” I’m like, “You can’t pray for that.” And she’s like, “Well, why not?” I said, “Okay.” So I would literally get on my knees in the morning and say, “Keep me sober, I would like some money.” I’m not even making this up. And I would get on my knees and say, “Thank you for keeping me sober. I would still like some money.”

Three weeks later after I started, this is a true story and you can look it up. I get a phone call from a guy who says he’s from this foundation. He’s giving me $35,000 that I’d never applied for, asked for, that somebody just put me up for. And I so thought it was, I thought it was my friend George playing a trick on me and say, “You know, fuck you, George.” And I hang the phone up and the guy calls back and he has me on the speaker phone, you can hear people laughing maniacally. So I’ve never gotten money from prayer again.

But then Joan the Bone says, “Well, you must believe that there’s some sort of God.” I was like, “No, because they were meeting to give me that prize before I had stopped drinking and started praying.” And she said, “Jesus Christ.” And I would also talk to her all the time. So I would say, “How can there be a God, because look at the Holocaust? How do…” She’s like, “God didn’t do the Holocaust, people did the Holocaust. What are you mad at God for? People did that. God didn’t do it. That has nothing to do with God.”

So that’s how my prayer life started. It’s a bizarre story.

Tim Ferriss: I like bizarre. So Ignatian exercises. Does that mean anything to you?

Mary Karr: Yes. Yes. I became a Catholic. I became a Catholic and I do something, I practice a kind of spirituality called Ignatian spirituality, which, when you become a Jesuit, you go away to the Jesuit place, or the Jesuit-making place. So you go to Jesuit school and then they give you these 30-day exercises. And the purpose of the exercises is to find God in all things. So like this election—just turned around to look at my screen to see if we had a new president. So this election, for instance.

Tim Ferriss: Just a side note, somebody just sent me a text before we started recording and said the entire country has electile dysfunction, which I thought was pretty clever.

Mary Karr: Oh, my god, Jesus Christ. Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, my God, it’s so great.

Tim Ferriss: That was a clever turn of phrase, yes.

Mary Karr: Oh, my God. No, it really is.

Tim Ferriss: So finding God in all things.

Mary Karr: Finding God in all things. So that means when the car breaks down, instead of thinking your cruel fate has come to hurt you, so what you do actually, Tim, is in the morning I do a prayer and meditation thing for 20 minutes. Before I do centering prayer for maybe I don’t know, five, six, seven minutes. And then I read a scripture and I meditate on the scripture and then I have a bunch of people I pray for. I have a list of people I pray for and things I pray for. And then at night I do something called the examination of conscience where you, it’s not like going over your day and making a list of good things that happened or whatever and then repenting for the bad things. It sounds like that, but it’s not that.

What it is, is you kind of press play on the recorder of your day. So you think, “I woke up and so what did I do? Where was I, what mindset was I in?” And you close your eyes and you try to review your day, literally like you’re watching a movie. And moments where you see moments of grace or luck or even something, a good sandwich, something yummy to eat, or you’re supposed to savor those moments and occupy those moments. And it’s a very body-oriented exercise. You’re supposed to smell. What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? How do your clothes feel? You’re supposed to really recreate that moment in a sensory way and thank God for the grace or the gift of that. And then you press play again and you see moments where you turned away from God or your best self didn’t act. And you say, “I want to do better next time.” Instead of snapping at Siri because she doesn’t understand me, “I love me for myself alone. Tomorrow, I’d like to be more patient. Help me to be more patient.”

So what it does is it made those moments of gratitude. And I also keep a list or a journal of those things and a prayer journal. I don’t keep a journal journal, but I keep a daily prayer journal. And, I just will highlight some of those things. Like for me, today, right now, Steve Kornacki’s haircut, which I know he does himself. I don’t know. The guy who delivers the big map thing on MSNBC. I just like the guy. I just like him. Every time I see him, I feel like I’m spending the night at my girlfriend’s house, and he’s her nerdy brother who’s like, secretly hot.

Tim Ferriss: I had this flash of panic because I was like, “Oh, fuck. Here’s somebody important.” I’m not saying he’s unimportant, but I’m just saying, “Oh, God, here’s another name that I have to pretend I know because I’m on the podcast.”

Mary Karr: No. He’s the guy who delivers the darn, what the electoral map says on MSNBC. So if you’re a liberal, you’re like a nut and you watch this the way other people watch other things. And yeah, so he’s this really nerdy math goop guy who wears khakis and a clip on tie and has this really bad haircut. And I just have a complete crush on him. I just crush on him. I don’t even like young men. I don’t. I really don’t. You have to have some hair coming out of your ears for me to want to date you, but this guy just does it for me. I just like him. I just like him.

Tim Ferriss: So wait a second. Tie that together for me. Does that have anything to do with the prayer journal?

Mary Karr: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Or were you just confessing that? Oh, okay.

Mary Karr: No, no. It’s I have a crush on this guy who’s on TV every night and it tickles me to see him. It’s kind of a little thrill. It’s a little thrill to see him. It really is. It’s so stupid, but it’s also, it makes me feel like a child. It makes me feel like I’m in junior high school. And so there’s something innocent and sweet about it. It’s also the fact that he’s so dorky I like. I just like that.

Tim Ferriss: So you have a prayer journal, you have the commonplace journal.

Mary Karr: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have any other journals?

Mary Karr: No, that’s it.

Tim Ferriss: Those are the two.

Mary Karr: The prayer journal, I only actually write and, it mostly looks like a list. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s mostly like a list of things. Like the lady at my drug store, my pharmacist, who, they were all out of the pneumonia vaccine. I get pneumonia a lot. And she went out of her way to call me and say, “I got you the pneumonia—if you can come in right now, we had a cancellation, I can do…” Just kindnesses, moments of kindness, but also moments of presence and awareness of God. A lot of people feel it in nature. I feel it a little bit in Central Park, which is all the nature I have. You’re out in—

Tim Ferriss: I am currently in Austin, Texas, which is home base for me.

Mary Karr: Shut the front door.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I’ve been here for three years. I live in the Republic of Austin/the Republic of Texas.

Mary Karr: Love it.

Tim Ferriss: One of my favorite t-shirts, not everyone’s going to get this but, is a shirt with the Texas flag, which says “Most likely to secede” on it, which I quite like. Yes, so I’m in Texas.

Mary Karr: How did you wind up down there?

Tim Ferriss: Although a lot of Texans would argue that I’m not in Texas, but—

Mary Karr: Yeah, I know, right? Listen, do you have a weapon? If you have a weapon, you belong.

Tim Ferriss: I do.

Mary Karr: Goddoggit, good for you. What do you have? Can I ask? Can we talk weapons for a minute?

Tim Ferriss: As far as weapons?

Mary Karr: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, sure. I have a 7mm Rem Mag hunting rifle. I have a Glock 34, which is a 9mm handgun.

Mary Karr: I know what it is. I know what a 9—you think I don’t know what a 9mm gun is?

Tim Ferriss: Oh, you know what it is, of course. I’m not explaining it for you. I’m explaining it, just like getting on your knees, not for God, it’s for you. I’m explaining to the listeners. So 9mm Glock 34. I have an M&P 45 and a few other firearms that I don’t use much.

Mary Karr: Do you hunt?

Tim Ferriss: I hunt, but infrequently. And that started in 2012. I always had a very negative association with hunting, just given my exposure to it.

Mary Karr: It’s kind of a great thing.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I had a very negative association because I saw very irresponsible hunting on Long Island.

Mary Karr: Of course you did. We’ve all seen it. Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then in the process of working on The 4-Hour Chef and learning to forage, I felt it was incumbent upon me to hunt if I were to consume animal protein, so I had my first deer hunt with an incredible hunter and conservationist named Steve Rinella. And that really completely shifted my lens on how ethical and responsible hunting could be. Now in Texas, you have the whole spectrum from responsible to machine gunning hogs from helicopters, which I do not partake in. Although people could argue it’s an invasive species, et cetera, et cetera. But yes. So I do hunt infrequently probably, let’s just call it once every year or two, I’ll hunt.

Mary Karr: You know those javelina hogs are fun to shoot. I’m sorry to say it. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I have shot a javelina hog. So, I’m anti-gun, but pro-hunting. So does that make sense?

Tim Ferriss: It does. I mean, I’m just imagining these backwood kiwis in New Zealand hunting hogs with knives, walking into the woods barefoot, which is a real thing. I know one guy who did that. So you can be pro-hunting while being anti-gun. I think that’s possible.

Mary Karr: No, but I mean if I were to hunt, I would hunt with a gun, but it’s funny. One of my best friends is a young writer named Phil LaMarche who’s one of those guys who kills, stocks his freezer with bow-and-arrow-killed venison. And he called me this week and said a very—he’d just killed a deer. And he said, “The longer I hunt, the only thing I hate about it is the killing.”

Tim Ferriss: I think there’s a lot of shared sentiment to that by a lot of hunters. Yeah. It’s—

Mary Karr: Yeah, so much reverence for the—I mean, the most reverent people I know about the natural world are practicing, many of them, are practicing hunters.

Tim Ferriss: True fact. Well, I want to use this to tie a bunch of things together in the most awkward fashion possible because I’ve been trying to force fit a segue somewhere, so I might as well do it here.

Mary Karr: Yeah, do it.

Tim Ferriss: And that is to hear your description or explanation of how some of your wordsmithing came to be, part of what I enjoy so much about your writing is that you have this—well as, let me get this right, Time critic Lev Grossman said in his review of Lit, “Karr seems to have been born with the inability to write a dishonest or boring sentence.” That’s high praise. Now—

Mary Karr: Love him.

Tim Ferriss: The least boring sentence is for me, and God, I wish I could remember it, but you take what seems like this sensitivity to language and poetry to create sentences using catshit sandwich metaphors, and so on, which also seems to me, and you tell me if this is warranted or not, but to be a very Texan thing, also. I mean, it makes me think of a trial lawyer in God-knows-where in Texas, right?

Who gets up and just demolishes some slick trial attorney from Los Angeles in a complete mismatch. Right? I mean, just dismantle someone with these really clever turns of phrase. Where does that come from, or how did that develop in you? Because I do think it is one of your superpowers.

Mary Karr: Well, I think growing up in Texas, it’s a storytelling culture. Texas idiom is poetry as far as I’m concerned. And I had two great practitioners. I’m a seventh generation Texan on my mother’s side and fifth generation on my daddy’s. So my daddy was a great barroom storyteller. I mean, he was a union organizer for the oil, chemical, and atomic workers, Local 1242. And he was just funny as a crutch and told these amazing tall tales, like out of Mark Twain, but he also spoke in poetry. Like he would say, like a woman with an ample behind, he’d say, “She has a butt like two bulldogs fighting in a bag.” And, for him, that was a compliment. There was nothing insulting about that. He used to call me, I’m a little skinny thing, he used to call me a Gimlet ass, “Pokey, you need some tallor on that ass. You got you a Gimlet ass.” I don’t even know what that is, but I knew it wasn’t good. A little flat butt.

Or he would say, “It’s rainin’ like a cow pissin’ on a flat rock.” You can scan that by the way, “It’s rainin’ like a cow pissin’ on flat rock.” It’s—

Tim Ferriss: Wait. What do you mean by scan, real quick?

Mary Karr: Well, I mean like Shakespeare is iambic pentameter, or my first love poem that was ever written to me. “I saw you on your horse today. Your eyes like eggs, your hair like hay.” That’s like iambic pentameter. It’s dah, dah, dah, dah. So, it doesn’t matter what it is, but you can hear it when I say it, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally.

Mary Karr: That, “It’s rainin’ like a cow pissin’ on a flat rock.” And that you hit that flat rock. For one thing, it creates a whole landscape in which cows piss on flat rocks and people stand around and marvel at it and go, “My goodness, looky at that.”

And then you attribute that to the rain. It’s a metaphor. It operates way beyond the bounds of propriety. It’s not how you talk in church. You’re not supposed to talk like this. So the minute you say this, and somebody laughs at it, you have them. They’re in your boat. They have transgressed, by laughing at your joke. Well, Daddy was just the master of a story, but he was also a poetic imagery. I mean, to me, that poetry, I grew up, I was steeped in it.

My mother, who was an enormous reader who read everything, Chinese history and Russian novels and philosophy and just read everything was just the master of—I remember when she was dying, she had all these old men who were always trying to marry her, which, why? But she’s dying. She’s actively dying. And one of these old boyfriends has come to see her at the hospital in Houston and the nurse bends over and says, “Miss Karr, your husband’s here to see you.” And she said, “Well, he must look like shit. He’s been dead 20 years.” And, I mean, she just can’t stop herself from saying the most horrible thing you’ve ever thought.

And so I think between the two of them and just growing up in Texas, the idiom, the language I grew up with is epically beautiful. And the need to not be boring when you speak. People will, “Imma stomp a mud hole in your ass.” That is so much better than, “I’m going to whip your ass.”

It’s just like, “Yeah right.” Or my friend Doonie got in a fight once with a guy in a bar and he told the greatest story about it. It was actually the guy he decided to stab. He went out in his truck and got a knife and came back with like, a Swiss Army knife. And he starts chasing this guy, who was a state congressman, by the way, I won’t tell you his name. But he starts chasing him around this bar. Well to brandish a weapon in a place where alcohol is served is a mandatory, I think, 10-year sentence, seven, 10, some big—it’s frowned upon. And he’s chasing this guy around and somebody says to Doonie, at one point, “That’s a little bitty ol’ knife you got there.” He said, “Well notice he don’t want to get stabbed by it.” And then he runs out. And then we hear the siren. So here it comes “Woowoowoo!” And he runs out. He gets in his truck.

And one of those mall cops, security guys runs out and Doonie says, “He stands in front of my truck, in front of my headlights, and he’s got a belt buckle that will pick up HBO,” and he holds his hands up and goes, “Halt! Halt!” And Doonie just puts it in first gear and hits the guy. I mean, he doesn’t hit him hard, but he knocks him down and then leaves and gets pulled over and is convinced he’s going to prison for brandishing this weapon, for trying to hit this guy. But anyway, it turns out he had to call the guy to apologize. The guy’s daddy knew Doonie’s daddy. And he said, “All he wants you to do is apologize,” and Doonie’s like “Apologize? I’ll blow the guy. Are you kidding? I don’t want to go to jail. Of course I’ll apologize.”

So, but here’s the punchline of the story, and this is what makes Doonie still my best friend since I was 15. So he calls the guy up and the guy answers and Doonie goes, “I am so sorry, man, about last night. I’m so sorry.” And the guy says, “You almost killed me.” And Doonie says, “Man, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know it was you.” Don’t you want to say that, though, the next time somebody—”I didn’t know it was you.” The next time you do some horrible thing.

Tim Ferriss: Next time I get in a really stupid argument with my girlfriend, that’s what I’m going to use.

Mary Karr: Don’t you want to say, “I didn’t know it was you, honey.” I don’t know. Only in the state of Texas do you have that story. It’s just got all the elements of a Texas story. How could I not love it down there? I mean, oh, my God.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s talk about revision.

Mary Karr: Okay, revision.

Tim Ferriss: Revision. This doesn’t have to be serious.

Mary Karr: I’m a big revisor. I’m a big revisor.

Tim Ferriss: You are a big revisor. But, so you have said, “Anyone who has read a rough draft of anything I write is just shocked at how bad it is.”

Mary Karr: It’s terrible.

Tim Ferriss: What does the process look like? I mean, I know this is a very—hopefully it doesn’t sound like a really naive question, because I know that there are many, many aspects to revision. So, I’ll lead with just a bit. This is from, but, Karr says she takes a hard look at every sentence she writes: “Can I make this sentence less boring? More interesting? Prettier? More colorful? More true?” So that’s a teaser. What does your revision process look like? Because I’ve read that you threw out something like 1,200 pages.

Mary Karr: Threw out 1,200 pages of Lit. Yeah. Finished pages too, that’s not draft. And that was written over about, I want to say, five or six years. And I remember when I threw it out, Tim, I was so upset. I had been—well, first off, they were about to hang me. I was so late. I was like seven years late on a contract. I mean they—and so I finally my agent called me and said, “You’re going to have to…” I said, “You know what? I will sell my apartment and give the damn money back if they don’t shut up and leave me alone. It’s just going to take me a minute.” So anyway, so I’d sent them, I don’t know, I’d sent them like 130, 140 pages. And my editor at the time estimated that I’d thrown out 1,200 pages.

And let me tell you, when she said that they sucked as bad as I thought they sucked, I mean, I knew they sucked when they sent them, which is why I didn’t want to send them. I wanted to keep working on them. So I just, I went to bed for like two days and I watched Dr. Phil reruns and a lot of cooking shows. And I ordered a lot of curry. I think I had a whole pizza at one point and slopped around in my bathrobe. And then I called Don DeLillo, who’s one of the people I call, it’s like the nuclear button, who’s just one of the great novelists, and who also happens to be a friend of mine. And I said, “Don, I think I’m writing a…” He’s like, “What are you crying about?” I said, “I think I’m writing a bad book.”

And he said, “Well, who doesn’t?” And I thought about that. And I thought, “God, he’s right. Tolstoy’s written bad,” but I mean, people I read, every writer I know has written a bad book. So, okay. So, okay. So maybe it’s just going to be a bad book, but it’s the book that standing in line to be written. And I think I became willing to fail to just say what happened. So basically what it looks like is just clawing through a line at a time or a sentence at a time.

I think one example I give in The Art of Memoir is that when my mother is driving me to college, and I think the sentence I started with was something like, “Mother drove me to college in her yellow station wagon. We stopped every night at the Holiday Inn and got drunk on screwdrivers.” I can’t remember. Might’ve said puking drunk on screwdrivers. And so I somehow was able to remember being in that car. The thing about my mother’s yellow station wagon was that it didn’t have an air conditioner. So at that time you could buy an air conditioner that strapped under the dashboard. Well, it would build up condensation. And when she turned right, and I was sitting in the shotgun, the water in the air conditioner would spill out onto my bare feet. And it was icy, icy cold water.

And I remembered that we had stopped and gotten a bushel of peaches in Arkansas, and she was drinking vodka. Driving, drinking vodka and orange juice, and eating these—watching her eat a peach. When you’re 17 years old, to watch your mother eat and show any desire for anything is just so horrifying. You just want to die. There’s just nothing uglier than watching your mother eat a peach when you’re 17. You just think, “My God, woman. Shut your mouth. Take a smaller bite. Jesus, it’s not going anywhere.” But the smell of the peaches and being in the—and suddenly I remembered that I had a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude that I had got, it was her book, but I had started reading, and she said, “Read it aloud to me.”

And I remembered reading that book and driving, and I remembered the—you grow up around these Texas dirt farms. I mean, there’s plenty of corporate farming in the state of Texas, but then you get to the Midwest and it’s just so organized. It’s just there aren’t the rusted cars in the yard and the refrigerator on the porch. It’s these rows and rows of corn and these big, cinnamon-colored silos. And I remember driving into that landscape up to that college and reading that book and thinking I could be a writer. I somehow was able to remember those details and occupy that body in space and time and remember how disgusted I was by my mother and how terrified I was that I wouldn’t do well at school, that I would fail.

I’d been such a screw up. I’d been arrested the year before with a bunch of kids and there was a bunch of dope and some of them went to jail and I didn’t because the judge was a guy who had known my mother when she was a reporter for the local newspaper. And I still remember sitting in—she came to pick me up wearing a leopard—she had leopard skin pajamas. It was July 4th. And she had on a beaver coat with a mink collar and those leopard skin pajamas on this hot night and Kountze County, Texas, and here sits this judge behind this—this liver-spotted judge with these palsied hands and every meal he’s ever eaten on his tie when she came to pick me up. And he said, “I remember your mother. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.” And she said, “Oh, you old fool.” I mean, I was just like, “Oh, my God, Mother, get me out of here. Sucking up is underrated.”

So anyway, yeah, I think it’s memory. I do an exercise with my—I just did it the other day for a colleague of mine, Dana Spiotta, wonderful young novelist I teach with. And she’s teaching an undergraduate class, there are 90 kids in the class. I said, “I want to do this writing exercise.” She said, “Well, the writing, it’s been uneven.” But I said, “Trust me, everyone will write well.” And you have them focus on a room they grew up in and to try to occupy the smell, to try to remember a room you were in where your mother’s cooking, your grandmother, wherever you had a good meal when you were little and try to close your eyes and smell that, because smell is the most primordial memory and the most emotional memory and it’s stored way back in that snake brain hypothalamus we have that is where all the trouble starts.

And you try to get in that memory and interrogate your body about what you can smell, taste, touch, and then finally what you want, what are you yearning for and what’s keeping you from getting it? Maybe it’s a bite of the brisket or some of the barbecue or daddy’s oysters coming up out of the fryer, or what’s going to keep you from getting it? It’s my big-footed sister, who, as Daddy said, “Nothing ever got between her and a bag of groceries. She’s going to get all the oysters and I won’t get any.” And so it’s really more about trying to occupy a former self, because I think as you know, just as in trauma, the body remembers. The body also remembers beauty. It also remembers pleasure and love and those other things, too.

Tim Ferriss: So the body keeps the score. And if you go excavating for these memories, sometimes there are costs associated with that.

Mary Karr: Total horrorshow.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve read that while you were working on The Liars’ Club that you’d suddenly fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon as if you’d driven all night and you had sobbed, you’d really suffer. What did you do to cope with that pain? And I should just say, you and I were chatting before the recording about trauma a bit. And I’ve recently described some of my childhood sexual abuse and the podcast that I did related to it didn’t seem to exact a horrifying toll, but the process years before of trying to write about it and getting a very, very rough draft brutalized me.

Mary Karr: Of course it did.

Tim Ferriss: And just left me paralytic for, for God more than six months in some ways.

Mary Karr: I’m so sorry.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, thank you for saying that. And I’m horrified by the experience and also fascinated by it in a way, because I don’t know why those two things should be so different. And I’d just love to hear you expand a bit on the price that you’ve paid, or your experience with dredging up a lot of these memories or recalling them, putting them down, and why writing seems, at least in my experience, to be so different from some other forms of expressing these things.

Mary Karr: Well, I mean, because you’re alone. You’re alone. I mean, that’s, for me, where the prayer and the God comes in. I do have a sense now that I didn’t have a back in the day. I mean, by the time I started writing Liars’ Club, how old was I? I don’t know, 35. I’d been in therapy for 16 years. And I’d also had a prayer practice for—a meditation and prayer practice for some years. I hadn’t converted, I wasn’t a Christian. I wasn’t Catholic, but I was about to become Catholic. And I was very active in recovery programs and I had a sponsor and, based on all of those efforts, I had done a lot of the processing and recovery.

I had flown down to Texas when I was 23 years old and got my mother drunk on margaritas and told her, “You tried to kill me with a butcher knife and it’s not because I was a bad kid, and it ruined my life. What the hell was wrong with you? What was going on?” I had a lot of that work and I tell people when they tell me they want to write a memoir about some horrible stretch of childhood or some awful period of trauma, maybe they don’t, maybe they don’t right now. When I was drinking, my idea of medicating myself or anesthetizing myself, that was all I knew how to do. That was what my parents told me to do, that was all they knew how to do, was try to drink it away. My daddy was in the Battle of the Bulge. I mean, he went in at Normandy and he came out at Buchenwald. That’s plenty of trauma, plus being married to my mother would have been simple. There was only one person with a weapon as opposed to the Nazis.

So I’m a big fan of a hot bath, I’m a big fan of nutritious food, I’m a big fan of cardio. Even now, I mean I’m 65, I don’t do five dance classes a week, but I get up in the morning and I walk four miles and then I do Pilates three or four times a week and I take a dance class a couple of times a week. All those things keep me in my body. When I’m in a lot of pain, I take care of myself. When I was drinking, I felt like I had this screaming baby that I was holding, and I was screaming at it all the time to shut up. I’m not dealing with anything like that. I’m so much happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m 65 years old, I’ve never been so happy in my life. I’ve never been less good looking, had less social power, had any of the things that you would think would make me happy, joyous, and free.

I wake up every day feeling lucky to be alive and feeling loved and not every day. I mean, I wake up plenty of days and I’m mad as an old stump piss ant but most of my days are pretty lit up and it’s a lifetime of practice. So I tell a lot of my students, my young students who want to write about sexual assault or trauma various kinds, “Well, why don’t you get some treatment for this first? Why don’t you treat your heart first, treat your body, treat yourself with a lot of care and see if this is what you want to write about right now. Something you can write about maybe five years from now or something.”

Tim Ferriss: What advice would you give yourself about therapy if you were talking to your 19- or 20-year-old self, and how were you first convinced to go to therapy? I remember you mentioning that long ago in this conversation.

Mary Karr: I didn’t have to be convinced. I mean, here’s the other thing. There weren’t a lot of people saying, “Gee, I wish you’d stopped drinking.” I mean, I led a pretty isolated existence, the way a lot of people who grew up the way I grew up do. I mean, my idea of telling somebody how I felt, I remember right before I stopped drinking, I remember I was teaching, well, all over the academic ghetto around Boston, but I remember specifically one day at Tufts, I was copying something for a class and I had dropped my kid off vomiting out the side of the car before I dropped him off at daycare. And then I drove to Tufts and I was xeroxing something and somebody said, “How are you doing, Mary?” And I was like, “I want to blow my fucking brains out.” And that was my idea of telling somebody how I felt, making a glib, socially awkward statement to somebody I hardly knew and I had been in therapy than for a while, but I was also drinking every day, everything I could get my mitts on.

Tim Ferriss: What is good therapy to you? Because therapy is a term that’s extremely broad, it’s like saying “medicine,” right?

Mary Karr: Yeah, exactly.

Tim Ferriss: There’s so many different specialties. What has proven to be good therapy for you?

Mary Karr: I think it totally depends on the person.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for you.

Mary Karr: I mean, for me, the difference in therapy and recovery, I think in therapy, I’m the baby and they’re the mommy and that model, especially when I first started, I just felt like I needed a lot of nurturing and I had great therapists. My first therapist, when I look back on things he said and did was insane, he would have been fired. He told me to go down after he’d been seeing me nine months and confront my homicidal, suicidal mother about all this horrible stuff she’d done to me. And I did it and he said, “I won’t see you until you do it.”

Tim Ferriss: Wow. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Mary Karr: I know. I look back on it, I was like, “He was crazy.” I had a great therapist when my son was a baby who was a psychologist, PhD psychologist, and who really helped me try to learn how to be a mother when I hadn’t had one and all the feelings that come up around what you didn’t get when you were a child when you have a child, the protection and stuff. I mean, it’s funny, my son watches me with his daughter now and it just gives me nothing but a stroke and I said, “Let me just tell you, I was not this good with you. I was crazy about you and I loved you, but I didn’t have what I have now that I have with her.” I don’t even break a sweat going in there. I babysit one or two days a week and I was in Prospect Park this week and I had taken her across the park in a stroller and a thunderstorm broke out, and I mean pouring rain. I have never shared DNA with somebody this good-natured as this baby. This baby coos, smiles, laughs, never cries.

I mean, sleeps, eats, is just the best-natured kid. I used to babysit in high school and college, so I’ve taken care of a lot of babies and she’s just the easiest kid. I get across the thing, it’s pouring rain, and she starts screaming, crying, like she’s being beaten. And I take her out of the stroller and I hold her and she calms down, I go to put her back in the stroller and she just starts screaming, crying again. Well, it’s two miles across a muddy field in the pouring rain and I’ve got a stroller and a bunch of crap and I’ve got this 27-pound screaming unit and I just had no problem doing it. And when I was 40 years old, 35 years old, it would have been like being beaten with a hose. And I just thought, you know what? Daddy was in the Battle of the Bulge; this is not that hard.

I just had the physical energy, even at my age, that I didn’t know I had to do it. And I got back to the house and I went to fold up the stroller, there was four inches of freezing water in the bottom of the stroller that I had been putting her in, and she was soaked through to her skin. Now I understand, I could have just emptied it out and put her in the stroller and wrapped her up in a blanket. But I didn’t know what it was, but I just thought, “Well, I’ll get her home and it’ll be fine.” I didn’t feel like, “Oh, my God, Oh, my God, I’m a terrible mother and I’m going to wind up trying to stab her with a butcher knife,” which is how I felt when my kid was that age. I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to be my mother, I didn’t know that. So scary.

Tim Ferriss: That is scary. Yeah. Super scary. And it sounds like, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but that you’ve learned in some form or fashion or maybe many forms and fashions to wear the world like a loose garment. I’d love to know if you agree or disagree with this.

Mary Karr: I wouldn’t say that.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. So at your first confession—

Mary Karr: Absolutely not, no. Uh-uh (negative).

Tim Ferriss: —the priest said to you, “Wear the world like a loose garment.” What does that mean?

Mary Karr: Well, I mean, I think the problem isn’t whatever your mind is telling you the problem is, the problem is the fear. And for me, the solution to fear is curiosity and presence. And I can’t be terrified and curious at the same time. And so, when I was walking the baby across the field, just all I was was physically uncomfortable. I mean, I was thinking, “Gee, can I shove this thing and get everything and get all this stuff…” And so, I went crossways across a mud field, so I’m shoving the stroller and carrying her. I didn’t know, physically, if I could do it. I was dubious, I thought, “Maybe I can’t do this.” But all I had to do was do it. I thought, “Well, if I get tired, I’ll sit down, it’ll rain on me a minute and then I’ll get up and go again. That’s what we’ll do.” But I don’t know. Here’s the way I put it. I tell people it’s like I have a trick knee.

It’s like most of the time I walk fine, I run fine, I can squat more than my body weight, and do advanced Pilates an hour and 10 minutes and I’m tough as a boot. But there are days that I don’t feel that way or there are moments where my knee goes out and I fall on the ground and all I have to do is honor those moments. And I have a heating pad, I have a weighted blanket, and my kids have a pit bull I’ll bring to stay with me, who, while an idiot, is my little comfort animal.

I call people, I still have a sponsor, I still have a therapist who I don’t talk to all the time, but I didn’t have to be convinced to go into therapy. I knew I needed it, but when I first started it, as you know, it was just so damn painful. And for those of your listeners out there, if you’re having a hard time, I just want to say, it’s like you lance a boil and the infection’s draining off, and if you can just get by that, it’s going to tell you that it’s endless, but it’s not endless. There’s a bottom to it. Did you ever smoke? You never did.

Tim Ferriss: I was never a smoker, no.

Mary Karr: Yeah, you’re just such a jock. You’re such a specimen. You’re such a specimen, Tim.

Tim Ferriss: Ah, well, we’re all specimens. It depends on how we look on the autopsy table.

Mary Karr: Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: But I was born premature, so I have respiratory issues in my left lung and that was part of it. So I had a lot of breathing issues growing up to begin with and secondly, sports saved me. So sports kept me out of a lot of trouble.

Mary Karr: Yeah. I was good at sports and then I quit and I’m much more of a jock now than I was then.

Tim Ferriss: Why did you ask about smoking?

Mary Karr: I was going to ask you about smoking because when you quit smoking there’s a phenomenon that happens, it’s also when you quit drinking, but somehow it’s more intense when you smoke. You’ll have a craving for a cigarette, and the craving is as intense as it was the first day you quit. It’s as overpowering, but if you just keep note of how long the craving lasts and how many of them there are there, they’re as intense but they’re not as long and as frequent. So it’s the same thing about suffering when you first start therapy or you first lance that boil and you’re unearthing some of the painful things you grew up with.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s [crosstalk 01:41:44].

Mary Karr: It’s as intense the first day and you just feel like, “Oh, my God, I’m in the burn ward and I just got snatched out of the fire and every ounce of me hurts and I want to run screaming down the street like my hair’s on fire.” And it just won’t last as long as it did the first time.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, excellent advice.

Mary Karr: And so, for your listeners, if you’re just looking at hard things that you grew up with, or you’re trying to quit smoking, trying to quit drinking, trying to recover from trauma, I promise you, I will send you money if this is not true, that it will get easier. It’s not linear and there will be those days when it’s as painful as the first day and you’ll think, “But I’m no better than I was,” but you are, it just doesn’t feel that way.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Excellent advice, and just a few more questions. I’m having so much fun, I could go forever.

Mary Karr: You got a lot to do dude.

Tim Ferriss: Do I? Do I, though? I don’t know.

Mary Karr: Where in Austin do you live?

Tim Ferriss: Well, I spend most of my time downtown for recording and then live in the burbs outside of that, but I love it. I love it in Austin.

Mary Karr: Beautiful.

Tim Ferriss: And expect to be here for quite some time. I wanted to move here right after college, I didn’t get the job.

Mary Karr: Those morons, they screwed up.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Possibly. I also think that that could have been in everyone’s best interest.

Mary Karr: Really?

Tim Ferriss: I think I make a quite terrible employee in most circumstances.

Mary Karr: Me, too.

Tim Ferriss: But at the time, and I didn’t expect this to lead here, but at the time that I was not given the green light to get an offer from Trilogy Software way back in the day, it seemed like a death blow, right? It seemed like the end of the world, because I had put a lot of eggs in that basket. I didn’t want to do anything that was recruiting on campus really otherwise, and I listened to and watched your Syracuse University commencement speech.

Mary Karr: Oh, that’s so nice of you.

Tim Ferriss: And then I read a transcript and I think this is from the speech, unless it was mis-transcribed, but here’s the paragraph. “Almost every time I was super afraid it was of the wrong thing and stuff that first looked like the worst, most humiliating thing that could ever happen almost always led me to something extraordinary and very fine.” So my question is, could you give us an example of that that comes to mind? It could be something humiliating, it could be a favorite failure, anything.

Mary Karr: Oh, I’ll tell you one. When I first did a moral inventory and recovery that they encourage you to do, I had a lot of resentments against God.

Tim Ferriss: When you say they, this is in a 12-step program?

Mary Karr: Yeah. And Joan the Bone …

Tim Ferriss: Joan the Bone, right.

Mary Karr: One of the things I really resented God for, my son who was just this little beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and a tank of a boy, a natural athlete, when he was little he was sick all the time. I mean, he would get a cold and he would get these sinus infections, his fever would go to 105, we’d rush him to a children’s hospital in Boston, it was terrifying. We were always rushing to emergency rooms because his fever was so bleeding high and just so terrifying. And so, I never slept, I never slept and I was depressed. I was probably postpartumly depressed and I was drinking. By then, I decided drinking would help me take care of a sick child. Great idea, Mare. it’s like the bad mom in the after-school special. And when it came time to do Ignation Spiritual Exercises, where you’re trying to find God in all things, where is God in that? Where is God in a sick baby? I’ll tell you a secret. When I actually looked at my life and the decisions I was making, I would have kept drinking.

If I had had one of those playboy babies that sleeps 12 hours a night and never is sick and just coos and cuddles, I would’ve kept drinking. If I had had my granddaughter, who’s the easiest, 12-hour-a-night sleeper, eats everything you give her, laughs at everything you do, I would’ve kept drinking. I could not physically drink the way a real alcoholic needs to drink and take care of a kid who was sick all the time, couldn’t do it and work and make a living. I couldn’t do all those things, it was too hard. And so, I don’t think God sent pathogens into my infant son’s body, I don’t know how any of this works, but when I ask where God is in this, my own physical discomfort forced me to get sober. So my sister died this summer very suddenly of pancreatic cancer in less than a week.

Tim Ferriss: I’m sorry.

Mary Karr: Yeah, I’m sorry too. And we were not in touch. We had a terrible childhood and we had not been really in touch for seven years and that was my choice. And I remember saying to my therapist, “Isn’t it going to be terrible when she dies?” She said, “Yeah, it’s going to be terrible anyway.” And although it’s horrible that she’s dead, I feel my love for her. I don’t have to defend myself against my love for her the way I did when we were estranged. I can cherish and remember all the times we were there for each other, all the ages we were in each other’s lives. And yeah, I would give anything for her to be alive, but I still think our not being in touch was the best thing for both of us, I don’t regret that. And there’s this amazing gift to me of being in touch now with her son and her husband and her stepchildren.

I would give anything if she were alive, but there are gifts in this suffering that are real, spiritual gifts. I practice, when things happen that I find very disappointing, my son had a film coming out, his first feature film coming out at Tribeca Film Festival, and it’s a global pandemic and so, there is no Tribeca Film Festival and he’s raised somehow all this money and put years worth of work in, and moved Heaven and Earth and you know what? The film’s being released, he’s got a great distribution deal, he just won best director at FrightFest, and it’s unfolding just the way it needs to unfold. It’s getting curious about where the light is just being curious about where the light is.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, getting curious about where the light is and the all-powerful reframe and it is really incredible what can happen as you said, when you really get curious in the face of fear.

Mary Karr: I have to say on air, Tim, because I have to say it. I have so many young people who come to me about sexual assault, so many young men who have come to me, my students, young writers, young poets, and your being open about this on this podcast has just been such a gift to all these young men.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you.

Mary Karr: So, good for you, so good for you. So a horrible thing that happened to you that’s being used to help give a lot of people hope and it’s going to prompt a lot of healing.

Tim Ferriss: I hope so. And I’ve seen a lot come out of the woodwork and it’s been simultaneously, and I know you’ve experienced this certainly, it’s been simultaneously appalling, rewarding, and brutal in a way. I mean, it’s all of those things. I mean, there’s a lot of pain and beauty in it. And I’ll just mention that of my closest male friends, and there really aren’t that many, I don’t collect friends like little porcelain tea cups or whatever people collect. I have a fairly small-ish circle and I would say 30 percent of my closest male friends reached out to me after that podcast to describe their own experiences with sexual abuse that I knew nothing about and these are people I’ve known for a very long time, so I hope there’s healing. I certainly hope so.

Mary Karr: Of course there is. We’re living. Look, we’re not curled up in the back wards of mental institutions and we both could be.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Very true, very true. Well, Mary, we’re going to talk again and I want to ask—

Mary Karr: Okay, honey bun.

Tim Ferriss: —one more question—

Mary Karr: Okie doke.

Tim Ferriss: —which sometimes is a dead end and I’ll own that if it is.

Mary Karr: Okay, then.

Tim Ferriss: But we’ll see where it goes. The question is, if you could put anything on a billboard, metaphorically speaking to reach billions of people, however many you want, a word, a phrase, a question, a quote, a poem, anything, what might you put on that billboard?

Mary Karr: Oh, my God, that’s so hardcore. Oh, my God.

Tim Ferriss: It’s aggressive, it’s aggressive, it’s aggressive.

Mary Karr: It’s hardcore, it really is. It’s a little javelina hog, there’s a pack of javelina hogs running out of the bushes at me. What would I put?

Tim Ferriss: And it doesn’t have to be the one and only. This could just be the first billboard.

Mary Karr: The first billboard. “Put down that gun; you need a sandwich.” “You need a sandwich and a hot bath.” No, I know what I would put. I would put “90 percent of what’s wrong with you could be cured with a hot bath.” That’s what I’d put.

Tim Ferriss: I love it. I love that. Well, Mary, this has been so much fun.

Mary Karr: It’s been a hoot.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve really, really enjoyed this. People can find you at your website, That’s Twitter @marykarrlit, L-I-T. Is there anything else you’d like to say, suggest, ask, request of the listeners?

Mary Karr: Let’s all heal, let’s all heal as a country, no matter how different we think we are. We’re all suffering souls, and we all want to heal this ribbon country of ours. So that’s what I’m wishing for all of us, I’m wishing everybody a lot of love and light today and a big, nice cigar.

Tim Ferriss: Hear, hear.

Mary Karr: Hear, hear.

Tim Ferriss: Get curious. Look for the light.

Mary Karr: Get curious

Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Mary.

Mary Karr: All right, you take care. You go do you.

Tim Ferriss: I will. And to everybody listening, we’ll link to everything that we’ve mentioned in the show notes at and until next time, thanks for listening.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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2 Replies to “The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Mary Karr — The Master of Memoir on Creative Process and Finding Gifts in the Suffering (#479)”

  1. Hello Tim and Team.
    Podcast guest suggestion: Confidence-Coach, Dr. Ivan Joseph. His TEDx Talk on The Skill of Self Confidence has 20+ Million Views, and was named by Forbes as one of the Top Talks About the Meaning of Life.
    [Moderator: YouTube link removed.]
    Thank you.
    – Sunny

  2. Thank you so much for providing these transcripts for free. I’m hearing impaired and blind and this format allows me to access wonderful interviews like this. What a wild ride – her answers were so random yet profound.