Although technically a native Nashvillian, Mary Laura Philpott spent 17 years in Atlanta before moving back to Nashville with her family five years ago. “It was time for a change. That’s, in part, what I Miss You When I Blink is about,” Mary Laura said.
I Miss You When I Blink is Mary Laura’s memoir told through essays, and it hit shelves earlier this year. “It’s about reinvention on a small, recurrent scale,” she said. “A lot of the stories I tell in this book are about reconciling perfectionist tendencies with reality, trying to make the ‘right’ choices but somehow going wrong and the various decision points at which life offers a chance to start over.”
The title came from her son, who coined the phrase when he was 6 years old, doodling on a piece of paper. “In the moment, I thought the phrase was clever and adorable, but I never forgot it, and over time, it came to represent so much of what I was thinking about in my 30s: the acceleration of time, missing who I used to be, trying to figure out who I wanted to be next.”
Despite her busy schedule since the book was released, Mary Laura had a chat with us about being a writer, memories from childhood and her life back in Nashville. Make sure to pick up a copy of Mary Laura’s book at Parnassus Books, and join her at the Assistance League’s Author Luncheon on Sept. 5, where she will be this year's guest of honor and keynote speaker.
Name: Mary Laura Philpott
Zip code: 37215
Years in Nashville: 5 this time around
Number of essays in I Miss You When I Blink: 32
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? I probably should have known all along. (A sign: writing terrible knockoff fairy tales as a kid and asking my dad to “publish” them on the copying machine at work.) I was in my 20s by the time I realized there were jobs outside journalism where you could get paid to write — copywriting, advertising, etc. — and it was several more years until I started writing essays in my own voice. So I may have loved it from an early age, but I didn’t figure out how to do it for a living until much later.
What do you do when you have writer’s block? First, I rage and complain and check Twitter a dozen times. Then I force myself to sit down and write 500 words of something — anything. The only way around writer’s block is through it. Get something on the page now. Edit it later.
Which author has influenced you the most? David Sedaris? Cheryl Strayed? Nora Ephron? David Rakoff? They’ve all written books I’ve re-read multiple times, which is unusual for me. I’m not usually much of a re-reader.
If you were throwing a dinner party and could invite three people (alive or dead), who would you invite? I’d invite my maternal grandmother (and beg her to make a vat of her airy, buttery mashed potatoes) and both of my children, who didn’t get to know her. I think they’d all get a kick out of one another, and I’d love to witness it.
Where do you go to clear your head? Outside — hiking around one of Nashville’s parks if I have it in me or just walking around my neighborhood if I’m feeling lazy
What or who inspires you to write? My friends — a wonderfully eclectic assortment of people. I’m lucky enough to know some amazing women and men who aren’t afraid to talk about weird ideas, difficult feelings and all the tiny, hilarious indignities that make us human. Through their friendship, I experience the power of storytelling, listening and empathizing, and I want to do that for other people with the books I write.
What’s your favorite spot to curl up with a book? My screened porch with my family and my dogs, everybody reading quietly (except the dogs, who are capable of neither reading nor silence)
Who are your favorite authors? This is an impossible question to answer succinctly. One writer I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is Joan Didion. The Year of Magical Thinking stands alone, in my mind, as a near-perfect memoir. On the other end of the spectrum, mood-wise, I’ve also been thinking a lot about Allie Brosh, whose Hyperbole and a Half remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. In terms of fiction, one of my favorite novels of all time is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The characters in that book are desperately trying to prove their right to exist. Aren’t we all out to prove that to some degree? I could keep going forever, but I’ll stop at three.
Which Nashville spot inspires you the most? My backyard
What’s your favorite restaurant for a meal with the family? With the family, give me tacos all day long, especially at Baja Burrito or Taqueria del Sol. For a date night? For a husband date, we both love Chauhan Ale & Masala House. For a friend date, I like trying wherever’s new and has a good cocktail menu.
Where is your go-to spot for grabbing coffee or meeting up with a friend? The Perch on Richard Jones is awfully convenient, plus they make a great breakfast crêpe. But have you ever had Ellie’s Old Fashioned Doughnuts out of the truck at the Franklin Farmers Market? On a Saturday morning, that’s the way to go.
What do you hope never changes about Nashville? Nashville is so green, and I hope we don’t lose that as our city grows. No development is worth losing our grass, trees and animals.