Today I am excited to share an interview with Kim Korson, author of I Don’t Have a Happy Place.
When a trip to the therapist ends with the question “Can’t Kim be happy?” Kim Korson responds the way any normal person would—she makes fun of it. Because really, does everyone have to be happy?
Aside from her father wearing makeup and her mother not feeling well (a lot), Kim Korson’s 1970s suburban upbringing was typical. Sometimes she wished her brother were an arsonist just so she’d have a valid excuse to be unhappy. And when life moves along pretty decently–she breaks into show business, gets engaged in the secluded jungles of Mexico, and moves her family from Brooklyn to dreamy rural Vermont—the real despondency sets in. It’s a skill to find something wrong in just about every situation, but Kim has an exquisite talent for negativity. It is only after half a lifetime of finding kernels of unhappiness where others find joy that she begins to wonder if she is even capable of experiencing happiness.
In I Don’t Have a Happy Place, Kim Korson untangles what it means to be a true malcontent. Rife with evocative and nostalgic observations, unapologetic realism, and razor-sharp wit, I Don’t Have a Happy Place is told in humorous, autobiographical stories. This fresh-yet-dark voice is sure to make you laugh, nod your head in recognition, and ultimately understand what it truly means to be unhappy. Always.
A Discussion with Kim
on I DON’T HAVE A HAPPY PLACE
1. I Don’t Have A Happy Place explores some heavy subjects; mental illness, depression and complicated family relationships just to name a few. Did you find writing this collection of essays was therapeutic for you?
It wasn’t exactly a cathartic experience but it certainly was educational. I didn’t necessarily feel better or cured or ready to get off the couch, but I did gain a new understanding of myself, maybe even some acceptance. Unpacking all that luggage did make me feel raw for a long time but writing helped me fold and put away some of the ill-fitting clothes lingering in that suitcase.
2. Looking back as an adult now, do you find it ironic that you were once envious of your friend’s misfortunes, like an alcoholic father and dead babysitter?
Not so much ironic as mortifying. Growing up, I had this nagging desire to be somewhere other than my home. And it wasn’t really a grass-is-greener situation. In the way that some people feel they are simply in the wrong body, I felt that way about my family. There was technically nothing wrong with my house or family, but–like country music, or beets– they just weren’t for me. I used these extreme situations to highlight my yearning to be elsewhere, with a variety of people whose experiences were different than mine. And if their situations were rife with turmoil and negativity, well, that was just a bonus.
3. Have you learned anything new about yourself after writing about your life up to this point?
I’m pretty self-aware, to a fault, because I live in my head so much. But something I learned, which came from the actual writing process, was that I actually could have discipline. I often say the only thing in my life I’ve ever finished was childbirth. I have pages of novels in drawers all over the house, half-started photo albums, all kinds of ideas of things I’m going to do, but I never finish. It was thrilling to complete something. Especially something so important to me.
4. As a writer, what do you think are the benefits of breaking I Don’t Have A Happy Place up into individual essays instead of traditional chapters?
When I set out to write this book, it was with the intention of mining my history to see if indeed I experienced happiness, or was capable of feeling content. I chose some quintessential milestones to explore and when those ran out, I delved into some more obscure ones. I’ve heard many people say that happiness, or life, is about moments. Turns out, unhappiness is also about moments. I wanted to focus on these pockets of time, and felt that stand alone stories could achieve that.
5. When you were reflecting on your past, were there any moments that surprised you or that you saw differently years later?
I knew I always wanted to tell the story of my grandmother’s funeral. The players involved were in fine form, and I like to find the humor in tense or upsetting situations. My goal for that story was always to focus on my grandfather and I was surprised by how much I learned about my role in the family, how my family handled grief and each other, and it unlocked some feelings about my mother, some insight into her personality that I hadn’t expected.
6. There are some particularly poignant moments in I Don’t Have a Happy Place (especially in the essay “Good Grief”), was it difficult to share such intimate details of your life?
It wasn’t difficult as I was writing them. Now that they are in print, however, I kind of want to take to the bed.
7. In your essay “Letters to a Low Level Depressive,” you have a conversation with teenage you about what the journey to adulthood and beyond will be like. Was it entertaining to come up with responses from Teenage Kim?
I found that entire exercise entertaining. I like to worm out moments where I can twist the expectation. Normally, you see older people giving gentle advice to the younger set, it made me laugh to go the other way.
8. What comedians do you look up to and find inspiration from?
I often say I was raised by a 19” Zenith, and so television was my first love and inspiration. Norman Lear and James L. Brooks were everything to me. As I started to come into my own, I obviously gravitated toward the mentally unstable– Albert Brooks and Larry David and Woody Allen. And of course, Dorothy Parker and David Sedaris and Nora Ephron are perfection. My bookshelves are toppling over with the likes of Jonathon Tropper and Tom Perrotta, Maria Semple, AM Holmes–I love a comic novel.
9. As your book shows, you have lived in several different places. Which of these was your favorite? Is there anywhere else you would like to live in the future?
I have some lovely memories of Brooklyn, both before my kids were born and when they were babies there, but Vermont is my favorite. However, I loathe moving and have vowed to never to do so again. When I unpacked the very last box here, I announced that even if I hated it in Vermont, I was staying. I’m done.