50-for-50 interview: Heather Armstrong, ur-blogger

heather armstrong

Good writers make things readable; great writers dazzle you as they do so. But for my money, the outstanding writer is the one so skilled she makes the words disappear, leaving you to live inside the feeling. Heather Armstrong belongs firmly in that third camp. Certainly, you admire her prose; you can hardly help it (unless she’s making you laugh—something she does frequently, and well—in which case you must wait to catch your breath and regain your bearings to do the admiring.) But quickly, deftly, she pulls you in until the screen disappears and it’s just you and her and her slightly strange, completely normal life as a mom, a wife, a survivor, a woman. For a moment, you forget your own world as you experience hers. Until at some point you come back to yourself with the incredible, indelible feeling that you are not alone—that maybe it’s life that’s crazy, and maybe we’re all here to help each other get through, over, and down with it. Which is why Heather Armstrong is my favorite friend-I-haven’t-met-yet. And why I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling, either.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I dabbled a bit in college, and even using the word “dabble” is giving me too much credit. Stuff like underground student newspapers and music reviews for a local magazine. And then I went to London for the first semester of my senior year, and I’d write my roommates back home five-six page letters about what I was seeing and feeling, and I wanted them to laugh. When I got back they had kept all the letters and gave them to me in a really nice binder, like, do something with this.

Four years later when I started my website I had that same feeling. I wanted my friends around the country to read the stories about my life, see their own experiences in the stories, and laugh. And it’s history from there.

Who was your favorite teacher?

Mary Krause. My seventh-grade English teacher who was the first person to ever notice that I liked to write. She encouraged me. She mentored me. I dedicated my book to her, and it came out the month that she retired from teaching. I didn’t know this when I named my second daughter Marlo that Mrs. Krause’s first child is named Marlo. Awesome coincidence.

What do you love to write about?

I like to write about the things that go on in a hectic life that cause me a lot of stress and hair-pulling while it’s happening. But then at night when I climb into bed with my husband and we think about the chaos, when we think about those hectic moments, we laugh. I like to turn that chaos on its side and examine it in a humorous way so that getting on with life is easier.

In the last couple of years people have criticized me because of my success, they say that my lifestyle is now one they cannot relate to. And this doesn’t make sense to me because if anything, my success has only made the chaos that much more intense. Things go wrong much more spectacularly now. Things break on a much larger scale. And I’m still writing about dealing with it in a way that makes it so that people can laugh at me.

What has writing taught you?

There is always something new to learn.

How has writing made you stronger?

It’s the one thing I have practiced more than anything else. Hours and months and years I’ve dedicated to sitting at the keyboard to craft a sentence, a paragraph, a story. It’s taught me endurance.

It’s also taught me that those who read my words are approaching it with their own perspective, and while their perspective is valid, it usually has nothing to do with me. It’s hard, but I’ve learned not to take people’s reactions personally.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

The divorce is not your fault.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

DesignSponge I used to subscribe to six or seven shelter magazines and in the last few years almost all of them have closed shop. Grace Bonney now gives me my fix, daily. She runs one of the tightest ships in the online design community. You can always trust her taste.

Black Hockey Jesus Some of the best writing on the Internet, although, you never know where the truth has been blurred with fascinating fiction.

Maisie Dobbs, an eight-book series about a female detective in post WWI London. I eat that shit up.

Kottke He inspired me to start my blog by showing me that I could publish my own stuff. His blog has remained one of the most consistently interesting places online.

Pitchfork I’m on a constant hunt for good music. I crave it.

Named by Forbes Magazine as the Top 25 Web Celebrities and Top 30 Most Influential Women in media, Heather Armstrong has a Twitter following of 1.56 million people. Regularly featured in the national and international media including Better Homes and Gardens, Glamour Magazine, NY Times, The Today Show, CNN, GMA, Nightline, and Oprah. Heather also authored a NY Times Best Selling book and received Weblog of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award at SXSW. 

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