Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with James Robinson, Jr., author of I Injured My Foot Doing the Mashed Potato: Or...I Should Have Stuck With the Twist.
FQ: Your book recounts different encounters you have had in life. What inspired you to detail them in a humor book instead of a memoir?
ROBINSON: I prefer essays to a memoir because individual essays or anecdotes are much more flexible and lend themselves to different subjects and my style of writing. With an essay, I can tackle any subject and interject my own background and feelings into that subject if I wish. For instance, I talked about a poker game in hell, but that certainly wouldn’t be a part of a memoir.
Each essay tells its own story. I have three other books that are also in anecdotal style. A memoir wouldn’t me to put out that much material and would cramp my style.
FQ: You have literally allowed readers into your world by sharing both positive and negative events. What have kind of impact do you expect these episodes to have in their lives?
ROBINSON: My main goal is humor and I get a thrill when someone tells me that they laughed out loud at a particular chapter or phrase. So, if my words brighten up their day, I’m happy.
On the other hand, there are chapters that delve more deeply into my life than others. One chapter that I seem to have gotten more feedback on is “The Fragment” which goes all the way back to my grade-school days. This essay tells readers, in satirical fashion, the big deal that was made of a simple fragment I wrote in one of my grade-school papers, how my life was affected by the fragment, and how I have taken command of the world of punctuation. It’s ironic that one fragment has had that kind of effect on me.
Another chapter, “Reel to Real,” speaks of my journey into manhood from age 12 to age 13 by tying it into the world of movies and how much scrutiny I was under getting into a movie at age 12. I was “big for my age” trying to buy a child’s ticket but looking like a 15 year old.
My hope is that readers, as they chuckle, can relate my situations. While they may not have had the same experiences, hopefully they will relate on some level.
FQ: Your book is full of humor and readers most definitely find themselves bursting into laughter here and there. Do you have any experience in standup comedy or something similar?
ROBINSON: Thank you for the compliment. No, I don’t have any experience in the world of stand-up comedy although I have often thought of routines that I might use and what it might be like to get on stage. But I know how difficult it is getting on stage by yourself and trying to make people laugh. I have also come to realize that comics have a drive to be comedians and to get on stage any way they can early in life. Eddie Murphy called around to clubs and booked his own gigs at age 15. He was a regular on SNL at 18.
Famous comics such as Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, and David Letterman all flocked to the west coast at a young age simply because Johnny Carson was there. A spot on his show made their careers.
My sense of humor comes largely from Johnny Carson and Bill Cosby. I only hope Bill was behaving himself at the time I idolized him.
FQ: Were there any events that you were “on the fence” about including? If so, what was the final deciding factor to get you to write up that story?
ROBINSON: There was one chapter in the book that I fretted about putting in the book or not. The chapter, Things Change, deals with my mother agonizing over my son-in-law eating a plate of spaghetti on our couch. This is a woman whose favorite saying has always been, “There’s nothing Eternal About It.” Now suddenly at age 93, she’s bugging me about a 43-year-old man eating on the couch, a man who is very generous with his time, constantly doing little things for us around the house.
“It’s a new couch,” she keeps saying.
I kept telling her it’s not new and we got it at a discount furniture store. Let the guy eat where he wants.
“But, son, it’s spaghetti sauce,” she reiterates.
I was worried what she would think if she read it but, sadly, I realized that she doesn’t really read anymore due to senility so I left in.
FQ: Likewise, was there an event/life experience that, because of space, you had to leave out of the book? If so, would you briefly share it with our readers?
ROBINSON: I have written an essay that examines the phenomenon of people not wearing a coat in cold weather. I just don’t understand how I can be wearing a hoodie with a winter coat over it while someone else is wearing a short-sleeve shirt. It boggles my mind. Aren’t they cold? Don’t tell me you’re just going from the store parking lot to the store. It’s 30 degrees; it’s cold as hell going from the parking lot to the store.
This trend seems to be a new thing. Everyone wore a coat when I was growing up. I relate how, when I was younger, coat buying was a science. My mother bought my coats with the sleeves coming down to my fingertips so that I could “grow into it.” Unfortunately, this essay was just too long to put into this book.
FQ: I’ve heard it said many times that writing a humorous book is very difficult. Did you find this to be true, or did the words flow naturally to the paper, or more accurately, to the computer? If injecting humor did take some effort, what were some of the challenges you experienced?
ROBINSON: Actually, humor comes pretty easily to me, especially humor of the sarcastic, satiric ilk. I sketch out an idea with pencil and paper and the humorous ideas begin to come at his time. Then when I begin to flesh it out, I can sometimes hear the humor coming before I can it down. I’ll chuckle knowing what’s coming. However, writing isn’t like speaking; I can go back and punch up my lines and humorous touches as much as I want. Sometimes, if I haven’t seen a piece of work for a while, I’ll read it over, chuckle, and say, “that’s pretty funny.”
Then I’ll chastise myself. “You’re laughing at your own stuff.”
Then I’ll figure, “Well if I don’t laugh at it, who will?”
FQ: I feel that you are a very gifted humorist, and it would be great to read another similar work. Do you have any plans of doing another humor book or might you prefer to write another genre?
ROBINSON: Thank you. My wife probably wouldn’t agree. I am developing ideas for my next book; however, I have 3 books out now that are similar in nature to this one. Old Age Sucks was my last book. As the title indicates, it deals with the effects of old age and includes such chapters as: So Long Libido: It’s Been Good to Know Ya’, and Cortisone or Hell Yeah, I’ll Take a Shot. The book prior to that one was Jay Got Married which features 9 essays one of which a commentary on love and marriage in the 2020’s.
And my very first book, published in 2012, was Fighting the Effects of Gravity: A Bittersweet Journey Into Middle Life. All of these books are humorous and structured in much the same way as this one.
FQ: I am sorry for your foot condition. Did it affect you in any way while writing this book? If so, how?
ROBINSON: Thank you for your sympathies. No, my foot condition doesn’t affect me at all when I’m in a seated position, but boy when I walk down stairs or even just plain walk. I’d like to get a dog but I just couldn’t walk it.
And trying to find shoes for this right foot is crazy. My foot was a size 11 ½ in my prime of life, then it jumped to a 12 wide (which I documented in Fighting the Effects of Gravity), and now has spread out to a 14 4EEE which I pointed out in Old Age Sucks.
And I can’t try on shoes in a store. I have to order them online and play a game of send the shoes back and buy some more if they don’t fit.
FQ: What inspired you to look at your difficult moments positively?
ROBINSON: I think a lot of my positive thinking comes with age and maturity. If you’ve lived 70 years like I have and don’t have a sense of humor to be able laugh at the small stuff and the maturity to know that, as mother used to say: “There’s nothing eternal about it,” then you’re setting yourself up for an unhappy life. How are you going to handle the big issues that are inevitably going to come your way? When an every-day occurrence comes along that I’ve experienced before and that I know I worked out well in the past I simply say “this worked out well before, why get excited about it now?” Or as Abraham Lincoln was known to say: “This to shall pass.”
FQ: It is said that a positive perspective gives you an advantage in life. Your book offers a challenge to developing this crucial skill. What can you tell your readers that has not been suggested in your book about shifting their perception in order to stay satisfied and happy?
ROBINSON: Good question. I think I touched on this issue in part in question #9 but a lot of my so-called wisdom comes from the, been there, done that philosophy. I have often heard people say, “Now I’ve seen everything...or “If you live long enough you’ll see a lot of things you’ve never seen.” Well, I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot. And one thing that I tend to ask is, “What’s the worse that can happen?”
I won’t lie. While there are some serious events in life that can test your resolve, leave you physically and mentally broken, most things that happen are of the “s**t happens” variety. Why get all “bent out of shape” when you’re late for a doctor’s appointment when the worst that can happen is they turn you away. You make another appointment and when you look back on it you wonder why you got so worked up.
What’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes, it can be bad. But most times, what’s the worst that can happen?
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