It's not simple

Talking stories, sex, and children with author Diana Joseph
By EMILY PARKHURST  |  June 3, 2009

diane main

Diana Joseph's new essay collection I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother and Friend to Man and Dog begins with an account of her father giving her the sex talk: "When a girl goes with this one, and then that one, and then that one over there ... what happens is people will start to talk. They'll say that girl is a pig. Don't be a pig." There ends the lesson.

Joseph amusingly and poignantly explores her relationships with the men in her life — her son (whom she refers to as "the Boy"), her ex-husband, her distant father, an alcoholic boss, and a highly-sexed, neurotic puppy. Throughout, she maintains the dry matter-of-factness of an office memo, while somehow being neither emotive nor distant.

The Phoenix checked in between stops on her book tour:

HOW'S THE BOY DOING? IS HE ENJOYING HIS NEWFOUND FAME AND GLORY, OR IS HE TOTALLY DISGUSTED? The stories I tell about my son take place when he is 10, 11, and 13 years old. The essays about him are like the naked baby pictures parents whip out of the family album to show to their child's prom date.

I didn't start worrying about how the Boy — or any of the other people I wrote about — would react to the book until after I'd written it. I'd be lying if I said such concerns never crossed my mind, but I figured it'd be best to save that particular worry for later. I didn't want to self-censor. I didn't want to make anyone — including me — better or worse than we are. That said, I think every one of the men I wrote about is in some way heroic but also human. I want each essay to be read as a thank-you note, a valentine, a love letter.

These days, the Boy has a girlfriend. He's failing physics, he eats a lot of pizza, he wore a snazzy white tux (with a lime green tie) to the prom. At age 17, he continues to be the most interesting and the most aggravating person I know. He'll always be my muse.

YOU'VE REDEFINED WHAT IT MEANS TO BE ALL THE THINGS YOU MENTION IN THE SUBTITLE, AND IN DOING SO MADE THOSE OF US WHO THOUGHT WE WERE THE ONLY WOMEN WHO ENJOYED GETTING DRUNK AND TELLING FART JOKES FEEL LESS ALONE. WAS THAT YOUR INTENTION? The first essay I ever wrote is in this book. It's the one about my son called "The Boy," and I had such a good time writing it that I immediately wrote "What's (Not) Simple," the one about his father.

Around that same time I read Joan Didion's essay "Why I Write." In it she says, "I write to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means." Through writing these essays, I realized the person I adored could also be the person who drove me cuckoo-bananas. I realized I dished out as much misery as I took, I gave as good as I got, and that my relationships with the people I loved weren't easy just because I loved them. I didn't intentionally sit down and say to myself, "I think I will write a book about the various men in my life and the influence they've had in the construction of my identity." A thought like that would have made me cringe.

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