“A punk rock Scheherazade” (Margaret Cho) shares the zigzagging path that took her from harem member to PTA member…
In her younger years, Jillian Lauren was a college dropout, a drug addict, and an international concubine in the Prince of Brunei’s harem, an experience she immortalized in in her bestselling memoir, SOME GIRLS. In her thirties, Jillian's most radical act was learning the steadying power of love when she and her rock star husband adopt an Ethiopian child with special needs. After Jillian loses a close friend to drugs, she herself is saved by her fierce, bold love for her son as she fights to make him—and herself—feel safe and at home in the world.
Exploring complex ideas of identity and reinvention, Everything You Ever Wanted is a must-read for everyone, especially every mother, who has ever hoped for a second act in life.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED
JILLIAN LAUREN is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem and the novel Pretty. Some Girls has been translated into eighteen languages. Jillian has an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Magazine, Salon, Elle, and The Moth Anthology, among others. She is a regular storyteller with The Moth. Lauren blogs about motherhood and writing at www.jillianlauren.com. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Weezer bass player Scott Shriner, and their son.
“Lauren’s writing is brave and honest, and she calls out hypocrisy wherever she sees it.”
“Lauren proves she is a master storyteller.”
—Catherine Burns, artistic director of The Moth
“In this ferociously brave, funny, and heartwarming memoir, Jillian Lauren parses the challenges and rewards of motherhood with true grace and humility. No other parenting book has ever made me feel so validated about the big, messy, beautiful picture of what it means to care for another human being. I closed the cover in awe of both the author and of parenthood itself.”
—Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance
“With humor and poignancy, Lauren interweaves her struggle to become a mother with her own story of being adopted as an infant. It’s a love story—between Lauren and her rock star husband and also between a couple and their new son. Like all great love stories, the beauty is in the struggle.”
—Kristen Howerton, founder of Rage Against the Minivan
“A transformative, unflinching account of the creation of an adoptive family. Jillian and Scott and their son, Tariku, show us—painful, frustrating, and joyful step-by-step—how to attach, heal, listen, trust, and then let go. A testament to the fierce and fallible journey of any mother. Reads like a novel, moves you like any great story of survival would, to tears of joy and triumph.”
—Jamie Lee Curtis
Praise for Some Girls
“Riveting . . . [Lauren writes] with humor, candor, and a reporter’s gimlet eye.”
—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
“[Lauren] is a deft storyteller and not afraid to provide candid descriptions of her life.”
—The Miami Herald
“Lauren . . . imparts equal parts poignant reflection and wisdom into her enlightening book. A gritty, melancholy memoir leavened by the author’s amiable, engrossing narrative tenor.”
“Some Girls is a heart-stoppingly thrilling story told by a punk rock Scheherazade. Lauren writes with such lyrical ease—the book is almost musical, an enduring melody of what it is to be a woman.”
Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
Copyright © 2015 by Jillian Lauren
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Excerpt from “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman. Copyright © 1982 by Universal - Geffen Music, Trunksong Music, Ltd., and Menken Music. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Reprinted by permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.
Excerpt from “Good Morning Starshine” (from Hair), music by Galt MacDermot, words by James Rado and Gerome Ragni. Copyright © 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970 (copyrights renewed) by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDermot, Nat Shapiro, and EMI U Catalog Inc. All rights administered by EMI U Catalog Inc. (Publishing) and Alfred Music (Print). All rights reserved.
Cover design: Rachel Willey
Cover photograph courtesy of the author
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Everything you ever wanted : a memoir / Jillian Lauren.
1. Lauren, Jillian. 2. Women—California—Biography. 3. Identity (Psychology) 4. Women novelists, American—Biography. I. Title.
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THIS is a work of creative nonfiction. My son, Tariku, disagrees. He insists that this book couldn’t be nonfiction, because real nonfiction contains photographs of planets and lizards and stuff.
I have changed names and identifying characteristics at times, to protect the privacy of those involved. That said, to the best of my ability, planets and lizards aside, this book is the truth.
I’m his December bride.
He’s Father, he knows best.
Our kids watch Howdy Doody
As the sun sets in the West.
A picture out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine,
Far from Skid Row
I dream we’ll go
somewhere that’s green.
—Alan Irwin Menken and Howard Ashman, from Little Shop of Horrors
THERE are three kinds of daylight in Los Angeles.
There is the midday light—flat and relentless. Usually partnered with heat, it catches and suspends you, like a formaldehyde solution. It has weight, singes your lungs, would poison the rain if the rain ever fell. Makes you wish the bloody red sunset would hurry up and come already.
There is the light after a rare rainstorm—the cerulean blue sky that frames the Hollywood sign and breathes new life into a thousand impossible dreams. Shatters your heart into glistening David Hockney swimming-pool pieces. You feel rich. You want to be driving down Sunset Boulevard through Beverly Hills in a convertible. Forget that. You want to be driven down Sunset in a Bentley with tinted windows. Only tourists admit they want to be seen.
Finally there is the dawn—cool, pale, and still smudged with shadows from the night before. In Hollywood, for many people it still is the night before. But for those of us who wake with the dawn instinctively, it is forgiving. It is forgiveness. It is soft, from the humbler east, more understated than the garish twilight displays over the ocean. It yearns for something clean that never comes. No matter—it is the yearning that counts.
The dawn is my time. I always rise before everyone. More often than not, I dress quickly, have a few sips of tea, and walk out the door to exercise.
On the morning of my eighteen-month-old son Tariku’s final adoption hearing at the Children’s Court in Monterey Park, I wake at five. The hearing is a formality, but a significant one. After this, he will be irrevocably ours. My husband, Scott, and T are sleeping next to me. The pale predawn light seeps around the edges of the curtains. We don’t have to be there until ten. I slip out of bed and lace up my sneakers.
In our neighborhood in northeast L.A., there is a hill on the southern border. A road cuts over it, but the back side is undeveloped, with trails I’ve yet to explore. The road is steep and winding. A good hike, I think, and doable in time. If I walk at a brisk clip, I don’t even need the car.
I feel strong as I push toward the top. When I reach the crest, the trail looks clearly marked. I figure fifteen minutes to the bottom. Perfect. When I arrive home, Scott will have just woken up with T, the morning chores will be under way, and I will plunge in.
But now I’m headed down and something is wrong. I hike enough to be able to feel when a trail is going wrong—probably heading to a dead end. I go back to the last fork and take another trail, which also ends abruptly. Through the branches, I can see the back of what looks like a high school down below. I figure I can bushwhack my way through the brush, then walk through the campus and back out to the street. It won’t be far. After that my home is just over the next familiar hill.
It’s harder than I thought. Burrs invade my shoes; an errant twig scratches my face; another tears my favorite leggings. At the bottom, I remember that this isn’t the era I grew up in, of smoking pot and getting felt up in the woods behind the library. This is the era of high-security schools. A tall chain-link fence blocks my passage.
My chest seizes and I recoil. When I was a kid, a jagged end of chain link ripped my hand open. I still remember the pale blue T-shirt I was wearing, the smell of damp earth after I hit the ground.
It always takes me a minute to remember . . . this injury never actually happened to me. It happened to my father.
When I was little, I used to ask my dad over and over again to tell me how he got the thin white scar that bisected his palm and ran down his forearm nearly to his elbow. I heard the story so many times it became almost as much a part of my own body as it was his. In my dreams, it’s always me: stumbling, light-headed, nearly bleeding to death, trying to hold my torn skin together with my blood-soaked T-shirt.
I’m not delusional. If I think about it, I realize that of course that scar is my father’s scar. Still, the memory comes to me with a momentary stab of fear.
I’m chilly in the shady grove, my sweaty shirt cooling in the morning breeze.
It’s one of my greatest fears that my hurt will become Tariku’s, in spite of my best efforts to give him a whole new world. Maybe the legacy of our parents’ pain is unavoidable. Maybe these scars are not just psychological but somehow cellular. Maybe the darkest moments of my story are so deeply inscribed in my body, my voice, my very soul that I won’t be able to help transmitting them.
I steel myself, wedge my toe into the diamond of chain link, and pull myself over the top.
Maybe so, I think. But I can also transmit this: Even shaking with fear, you can still scale the fence.
~ Chapter 1
WHEN I meet Scott in September 2003, I am midway between the before picture and the after picture. The before picture is not one I’m eager to frame and put on the wall: addiction, depression, a past checkered with ill-advised intimacies and even-less-well-advised sources of income, including a short-lived career as an exotic dancer and an unlikely stint as a member of a harem in Southeast Asia (yes, really). But the after picture—ah, the after picture. I’m like the endearingly trashy character Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors: working in a flower shop, teetering around on too-high heels and dreaming of that tract house of her very own (before she gets noshed on by a carnivorous houseplant as comeuppance for such hubris). I imagine a sun-drenched vintage kitchen with tiny handprints smudged across the yellow cabinets, a vestibule scattered with pint-sized sneakers, a garden overflowing with heirloom . . . heirloom whatevers, just so long as they’re heirloom. I’m sure I’ll get there, if I just work very, very hard at being very, very good.
I first see Scott at a bowling party. He’s wearing his light brown hair slicked back, overdyed jeans cuffed at the ankle, worn but polished steel-toed boots. He is square at both the shoulder and the jaw and holds himself ramrod straight, like the former U.S. Marine he is. He is a force. I know from friends that he is a bass player for a popular band. I’ve heard he’s a heartbreaker. I resolve to be aloof.
“What do you do with your days?” he asks.
Not my favorite question, but I suppose it’s unavoidable. I should mention here that between the before picture and the after picture is a no-man’s-land I’ve been dwelling in called cosmetology school.
“I go to beauty school.”
“Beauty school is hot.”
“Beauty school is not hot. Anyone who thinks beauty school is hot is a pervert.” Scott is not deterred.
“Aw, come on,” he says. “How about I pick you up at beauty school and take you to Norm’s?”
Norm’s is a 1950s throwback diner, but not in a shiny, hip kind of way. It’s an L.A. institution, with cheap breakfast specials and grime worked into the linoleum floors. At Norm’s of West Hollywood, senior citizens share a counter with rock musicians looking for a nostalgic breakfast. The invitation to a date at Norm’s is a clever nod to Frankie Avalon’s version of beauty school.
Scott sees beauty school as some kind of holding pen for gum-cracking bad girls who wear lots of eyeliner and have dropped out of high school. The truth is less romantic. My story is, I’m a few months out of rehab and scrambling for some way to pay the bills.
Just a year before, I was hiding amid dust bunnies, syringe caps, and cigarette wrappers under a bed in a filthy flophouse in East L.A. while I hoped against hope that the men who had jimmied the lock and broken in looking for my dealer wouldn’t find me instead. As I held my breath and focused on the laces of their track shoes, I rediscovered the long-lost (like, since my bat mitzvah) value of prayer in my life and made a little bargain with God that if I lived through it, I’d walk my stupid, stupid self right into rehab. I miraculously emerged unscathed, and that’s exactly what I did. Every day, I’m still surprised to be alive and just as shocked that I’m nearly thirty years old. Chastened by the dangerous, Burroughsian roller coaster I have just exited, I stuff my artistic aspirations in the darkest corner of my furthest drawer and barely even take them out to look at them anymore. A job as a hairdresser seems fine. Not exciting, but haven’t I had my fill of exciting? Since childhood, I have romanticized the life of the artist, and all of my poetic aspirations have gotten me nowhere but teetering on the edge of an early grave. What was it I once dreamed of? To write something? A book even, one day? What comic naïveté.
So, no, beauty school is not hot. Beauty school is humiliating. Beauty school is penance. I definitely don’t want a cute guy popping by to see me doing roller sets on creepy doll heads in my white regulation smock. On the other hand, I’d be a fool to say no to the most interesting date offer I’ve had in a long while. A reputation as a heartbreaker should serve as a caution, but of course the exact opposite is true for me. I agree to go.
Our first date is on a balmy night in early fall. Scott arrives promptly at five and waits while I punch the time clock before he ushers me out the door and into his shiny green Ford Crown Victoria. I would once have avoided getting into that kind of a car, because I would have thought he was an undercover cop.
The start of the date is flawless. He opens every door for me, is inquisitive and polite. He is that rarest of things: a nice guy. Moreover, he’s my kind of nice guy—a working-class musician with icy-blue eyes, full sleeves of tattoos, and a gold tooth that glints when he smiles.
And me? What am I? I’m not sure yet. So I wear a flattering dress that I hope will compensate for my lack of redeeming qualities and I pray that the past won’t come up before he has the chance to get to know me a little bit.
We face each other across a two-top at Norm’s. At the counter, World War II veterans eat pancake dinners elbow-to-elbow with aging musicians whose careers on the Sunset Strip haven’t quite panned out. Years of wear have turned the rockers’ audaciously big hairdos into slack, thinning ponytails. Their worn black leather jackets are shot through with tan cracks.
I have to give it to him: Norm’s is a sweet choice for a first date. But we might as well be at Wendy’s, for all I notice of my surroundings. There’s an immediate, brain-tilted, toes-buzzing chemistry between Scott and me. An electrical charge shoots between our nearly touching knees, like the static shock before your hand touches a doorknob. Here is a door. I am reaching for it. I am duly shocked.
He leans in and puts his elbows on the square of Formica between us. I am grateful for its presence. If not for the tabletop I might fall right into his gravitational pull and get lost entirely.
“I want to tell you that I’m looking to start a family,” he says. “Soon. I’m not about fucking around. So if that’s not something that you want, you should probably tell me now.”
Here’s something that almost never happens: I am struck dumb.
Talking about babies on a first date is not generally recommended, at least according to about a thousand self-help books featuring lists of the rules on ensnaring a husband. But I have never much been one for rules. Or ensnaring.
So what’s the honest answer?
Do I? Yes, I do. I have always wanted kids, maybe even lots of them. At war with this desire are the sorority’s worth of voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough to take care of someone. That girls like me don’t deserve families. We might have our share of explosive romance, but we are ultimately slated only for loss and loneliness.
Across town, my closest friend, Jennifer, is sitting amid the debris of her drug addiction and shattered marriage, probably snorting OxyContin off her half of the wedding china. Every time I visit her, I fear I’m looking into a crystal ball. Girls like us are unworthy of happily-ever-afters. Like Audrey in Little Shop, girls like us may dream of somewhere green but always wind up getting sacrificed by the end of the show. If we’re lucky, we get to deliver one final zinger. This is the time bomb I have long suspected I carry inside of me. Things may look pretty snazzy at present, what with this delightful date and all, but all you have to do is listen carefully and you will hear the bomb’s unmistakable tick tock tick tock.
But I know better than to express these doubts to a man I’m trying to impress.
I say, “Yes. I want a family very much.”
He follows with, “So, I heard you were a slave in China. Is that true?”
Surprisingly, this is more comfortable territory for me. I already have a custom-made set of invisible armor for questions like this. I can don it instantaneously, anywhere, anytime.
“Where did you hear that?” I smile.
“My friend Dan saw it on some E! True Hollywood Story called ‘The Sultan and the Centerfold.’ He said they blurred out your eyes in the pictures but it was definitely you.”
His friend Dan is right. It is me in the pictures. Fifteen years ago, I spent a year and a half as the kept mistress of the titular Sultan’s younger brother Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei was, at the time, the richest man in the world. His wilder brother Jefri was known in the press as “the Playboy Prince,” due to his proclivity for jewel-draped, Chanel-clad international beauties, whom he mostly kept stashed away in one of his many palaces—his harem, after a fashion. It’s a hell of a past to have to explain right away.
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly use the word ‘slave,’” I say. “And it wasn’t China.”
And so, within the opening moments of our very first date, it all comes spilling out around the half-full salt and pepper shakers and the smudged steel napkin dispenser—my teenage years as a stripper in New York; my failure at acting, at college, at writing; the years spent in the harem; my subsequent heroin addiction that came on the heels of that life; my endless attempts to change; the car crashes; the rehabs.
I wait for his reaction. My experience is that men generally think a past like mine grants them permission to objectify me. The moment I catalog my indiscretions, I drop down a few pegs in class, brains, and general worth. Many times, I’ve watched the relief in men’s eyes as they realize that they aren’t obligated to summon all the sensitivity training from their freshman year at Wesleyan in an attempt to respect me.
Scott is different. He listens and nods. His eyes don’t drift—they definitely don’t drift downward.
He says, “You know, when I said beauty school was hot, I was just playing with you. I know that place is a crappy, mind-numbing bitch. And I think it’s great that you do it anyway. I think you’ve got guts for trying to change your life.”
He drives me home, after a first kiss on a park bench, lit swimmy blue-white by a low, full moon.
For the next two weeks, we spend nearly every night together, until I graduate from beauty school and we celebrate with a road trip through the American West. Our only rule is that there are no plans, no itinerary. We drink black-and-white milk shakes for breakfast before we leave, pull out the classic yellow Rand McNally Road Atlas, and choose a direction.
We keep moving through that whole first day. Darkness falls and still we drive, as the road climbs the spines of mountains and curls back down again. We can’t stop talking. I can’t stop touching him. We finally pause at a seedy motel on the outskirts of Sedona.
When I wake, I leave Scott sleeping in one of the twin beds that we have pushed together. I pull on my jeans and walk, bleary, out to the road, my hand shielding my eyes.
Wind kicks my hair back and forth, blows sand into my eyes. The sky is dead clear, the kind of blue that begs to frame a host of cherubim. It backs straight up to the deep pink orange earth and everything is set in high relief by the altitude and the shock of morning sunlight.
I have never seen the Southwestern desert. I have always wanted to. It is everything I hoped it would be. How corny. When does that ever happen?
I feel unnaturally still. I am going to marry this guy.
A year later Scott, with an enormous candy bar in his hand, walks into the hair salon where I work and says, “I thought you might be hungry. Also, how about you quit this job you hate, marry me, and go to graduate school?”
Straight out of the final scene of An Officer and a Gentleman.
I say yes. Duh. Of course I say yes. I go to graduate school to get my MFA in creative writing, like I always dreamed. And we live happily ever after.
~ Chapter 2
IN November 2006, I borrow a friend’s dress, and Scott and I skip town and get married alone, barefoot, on a deserted beach in Kauai, during a half-cloudy but still glorious sunset. I wear a floor-length veil—also borrowed—that tears on a jagged rock when the wind catches it. A jovial old Hawaiian guy and his smiling-eyed wife bear witness. Only the bouquet and the husband and the moment are truly mine. Waves of joy, ambivalence, hope, cynicism, anxiety, and calm crest and break in me, over and over. Part of me feels like I’m living a borrowed fantasy, something purer and more innocent than that to which I’m entitled. I smile for the pictures and hope that I’ll look at the photos later and see someone who fits perfectly. It is a beautiful wedding and true to where we are—not at a happy ending, but at a quiet and hopeful beginning.
As soon as that borrowed white dress is on the hanger, ready for dry cleaning, Scott and I are on a mission. An added dimension of intentionality infuses our lovemaking during each starry, guava-scented Kauai night. From that point on, each sexual encounter between us figures in my head into some future narrative. I construct the story as I live it, the awareness of the moment heightened by the tale I plan to tell our children. A portion of my consciousness is always reserved for documenting. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’m never fully present, but I have a purpose—a reason for weathering even the most grievous of life’s injustices. Material, I say to myself when things get shitty. Material. As if everything can be justified by art. As if everything is somehow redeemable.
When the honeymoon is over, we return home. My friends are getting pregnant in droves. This being Los Angeles, at every luncheon or shower or birthday party, phone numbers are traded for doulas, acupuncturists, custom baby slings, prenatal Kundalini yoga classes. Far from judging the privileged culture of bourgeois-hip maternity wear and celebrity midwives as I normally would, I want in. I want in on their invite-only message boards, their secret language, their knowing smiles. After my nights with Scott in the teak bed in Hawaii, I’m sure it will be mere weeks before I’m gently complaining about nausea. I think weight gain will be my biggest problem. Or maybe it’ll be whether we can fit one of those inflatable birthing tubs into our living room.
This is my second chance, my redemption story. My own childhood began as an unwanted pregnancy, my unwed birth mother stranded alone in a snow-blanketed Chicago, feeling terrified and foolish. Across the country, my soon-to-be mother cried herself to sleep in her West Orange, New Jersey, apartment every night, longing for a child. A deal was struck, a baby passed from one set of hands to another. I was adopted just barely before the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973.
To be so unwanted and so wanted at the same time can carve a fault line in you. I expect motherhood to finally unite this duality. It will settle the question of whether or not I’m needed. Motherhood (which is ultimately going to be my true calling, I am sure of it) is going to be the story that justifies my life, riddled with mistakes and missteps though it may have been.
I can’t tell you how many times I am absolutely certain that I’m pregnant, am sure that I hear the whisper of an angel telling me as much.
I am wrong every time.
With Project Baby inexplicably stalled and my MFA program letting me work independently, I join Scott’s band on tour. It seems like just the thing to take my mind off my growing sense of unease.
When we’re not touring, Scott and I live in a ratty, weird apartment with mirrored closet doors, curling linoleum, industrial gray carpeting, and Cottage White walls. We moved into it blinded by new love, with the thought that he’d mostly be on tour and we’d save money to buy a house. Every time Scott and I head out for another leg of the tour, we leave the crappy apartment full to bursting with the beginnings of a married life. Or rather the beginnings of the accumulation of stuff that I sometimes think signifies a married life. Each appliance testifies to my health and growth. I have a Cuisinart food processor. I am here. I am whole. I have monogrammed tea towels, therefore I am.
I also sometimes think, What the fuck is a tea towel anyway?
We’re both relieved every time we drag our bags out the door. As depicted in a thousand movies, the touring life is grueling and hard—the travel, the exhaustion, the repetition. Touring notoriously wreaks havoc on musicians and their families. But for Scott and me, life on the road is a kind of rolling meditation. We love living out of suitcases. We both feel less secure when we’re settled down than when we’re on the move. I am never more myself than when waking up, ordering room service, and poring over the map of a new city. I’m even happier if breakfast contains one or two things I can’t name. Scott and I both feel like we should have been born into a circus family.
And in a way, that’s what being in a band is—a dysfunctional, nomadic family, united by a common purpose and facing common obstacles, buoyed always by the electrical force of the music. There are perpetually shifting alliances. You become an old married couple, content to read next to each other at a café, not enmeshed but never exactly alone. Except you’re not a couple, you’re a group of ten. It’s easy to get lonely on tour, but you are never without a witness. Scott belongs on that stage and I belong with a notebook in my lap, perched on a flight case in the wings, and we both feel plugged in to this planetary organism in our exact right place at the right time.
I tour with him all summer and into the fall, curling up in the back lounges of the tour buses. I watch columns of light shoot up into the purple sky over the California desert, while the crowd boils and churns and clamors for guitar picks. I gossip for hours with the other wives and girlfriends. I watch Scott play grungy Dutch clubs and cavernous American hockey rinks, and, how bizarre, the site of the Nuremberg Rallies. I wake dazed in St. Louis, Toronto, London. Liam Gallagher offers me cocaine in a bathroom in Paris, which I don’t accept, but still. I step over passed-out, topless Scandinavians. I wander the 8th arrondissement, the red-light district of Hamburg, downtown Detroit, Walt Disney World. And even though it’s not my first time to this particular rodeo—I’ve been with my rock musician for years now—I still fall in love with Scott anew every time I watch him step onto a stage, into the persona he wore in his childhood dreams. It’s as if I can see my husband imagining himself into existence right there in front of me.
The jet lag clouds my vision. Gauzy threads connect everything, strings floating lazily in the air, though I can’t see exactly what they’re attached to. I am convinced I could grab the end of one and follow it back to a street my ancestors once lived on in Poland. Me, the book with too many themes, with no satisfactory conclusions. An American girl, probably Irish and Scottish by blood, adopted by Eastern European Jews, married to a blue-eyed German musician from Toledo, Ohio. In every city, I walk streets that are, for a heartbeat, somewhere I might belong. If you don’t quite fit in anywhere, you belong on a rock tour, where all frayed threads are hastily stapled into a makeshift hem in time to run for your next plane.
Traveling with the band, I’m a “Wife.” I sit in the other room with the Wives. Ride to the show with the Wives. Why don’t you see if the other Wives want to go shopping with you? Wives Allowed. No Wives Allowed.
I’m of two minds about the “wife” label. I like being a part of something—a couple, an institution. But I don’t like being merely an appendage of the artist, even though all I have to show for a career of my own is a stack of rejection letters for the earnest essays I’ve been unsuccessfully submitting to magazines and a pile of student loans for the graduate program that’s teaching me to write said earnest essays.
When you’re the wife of a musician, you can start to feel like Wife may be the best you’re going to do. Still, I pull out my journal, sit cross-legged in the corner of the first-class lounge, and scribble furiously. Because even if you’re a failure, even if you’re a fool, you still have to do what you do.
Nowhere is the drifting feeling of being on tour more profound and satisfying than in Japan. It’s not like traveling in Europe, where I’m pulled into a vague undertow of anxiety as I search for the right word buried somewhere deep in my high school French file, just out of reach. I stutter and stumble, as people’s eyes glaze over with impatience. In Japan, I harbor no illusion that I’ll ever say anything more complicated than “hello,” “excuse me,” “how much?” “thank you very much,” and “do you have that in a bigger size?” (I memorized that one.) Even the letters of the alphabet are nothing more than a set of hieroglyphs to me. The tour takes us on bullet trains from Osaka to Fukuoka to Nagoya to Tokyo. In each city, neat packs of schoolgirls in blue and white uniforms wait outside our hotel in the snow to ask for autographs. It is like meandering through an exquisite foreign film, but I am just an extra, free to observe as I please, not required to learn any lines or jump in on the action.
When we get to Tokyo, I go to the rock shows, write, and occasionally make deranged fashion choices, inspired by my shopping trips to Harejuku. The city of Tokyo is a pinball machine, a sci-fi movie set, a wonder. I spend my days drifting dazed under its massive television screens, its neon signs slashing through space in every direction. I wander the rolling streets of Shibuya, a neighborhood packed with love hotels and sex shops—some bizarre, some barren, some lit up like a rowdy bar and grill. I try to peek into doorways.
Red-light districts fascinate me. I look at the photographs of the rooms advertised in the love hotels and picture the lives inside them, as if one may offer a parallel life of my own. I’m time traveling and dropping in on a self I once was. These thoughts are like a bruise that I keep pressing on, just to see if it still hurts.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Everything You Ever Wanted:
“An irreverent, deeply honest love letter from a fascinating mother to an exceptional, inspiring child.”
Ayelet Waldman, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Mother
“Jillian Lauren’s writing will take your breath away. With heartbreaking clarity, she deftly unfurls a story of becoming an adoptive mother and coming terms with her own childhood with candor and grace.”
-Annabelle Gurwitch, author of I See You Made an Effort
Praise for Some Girls:
"SOME GIRLS would have been riveting even if Lauren had merely illuminated the murky world of high-class prostitution. The fact that she does so with humor, candor, and a reporter's gimlet eye is an added delight. But Lauren also reveals how and why a middle-class kid found herself in such a line of workand how she got out."—Jennifer Egan, author of Look at Me and The Keep
“A heart-stoppingly thrilling story told by a punk rock Scheherazade, Lauren writes with such lyrical ease - the book is almost musical, an enduring melody of what it is to be a woman."—Margaret Cho
“SOME GIRLS takes you into a world so dramatic, it seems almost too outrageous to be true. Lauren lifts the veil on harem life and shows us the gritty truth of life in fantasy-land.”—Lily Burana, author of Strip City
“Catfights, mad cash, priceless jewels welcome to the sultan’s harem. What starts out juicy quickly turns soulful in this elegantly crafted, multi-layered stunner of a memoir. A spell-binding tale of one woman’s exotic search for identity and true love.” Rachel Resnick, author of Love Junkie
“Lauren tells the story straight, without much moralizing, but the corruption of the aristocrats, the powerlessness of the women and the destitution of the life outside the harem speaks for itself.”—LA Times
“[Lauren] is a deft storyteller and not afraid to provide candid descriptions of her life. A tight, sleek narrative. What’s astounding is that Lauren writes without shame, confronting every hard truth. [Some Girls is] too good to read just once.”—Miami Herald
“Lauren’s story is not one of perpetual gullibility and woman done wrong incidents, but rather an entertaining…and hopeful tale about one young woman’s endless quest to find herself. A beautiful, sweeping epic.”—Bookslut
“Lauren is a gifted writer. Compelling.”—Library Journal
“Lauren is a natural storyteller. She has a gift for metaphor, an eye for the odd detail.”—LA Weekly
“Lauren lifts the veil off her secret harem life, sharing vivid and explosive details.”—The New York Post
Praise for PRETTY:
"Jillian Lauren writes with stunning, furious authenticity about self-destruction and the bitter road toward redemption. "Pretty" will knock the breath right out of you."—Janelle Brown, author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
“PRETTY is the real deal, a harrowing journey from darkness to light to real life. Bebe’s unflinching, street-level search for salvation absolutely floored me, and Jillian Lauren’s writing shimmers throughout with wit and authenticity.”—Antoine Wilson, author of The Interloper
“Pretty is the not-so-pretty, utterly riveting, non-stop frantic and compulsively readable saga of Bebe Baker, a heroine who knows her way around a serious binge. Jillian Lauren renders the taste and feel of wretched excess - be it sex, drugs, food, or Los Angeles - with a savage veracity and style all her own. The prose, at times, drives with such ferocious urgency that the words seem not so much written as willed onto the page. Pretty stands out as a triumph of survival testimony. The author, plainly, is lucky to have survived - but the reader is luckier. Jillian Lauren is the real deal.”—Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight
“BeBe Baker knows the ugliness of the world, yet finds plain truths in the multicultural pageantry of eastern Los Angeles. She is the kid you want to protect, the girl you’d definitely be friends with, the obliviously fetching female that all the boys love—an unlikely, unforgettable hero with a forever-searching soul. Pretty’s true beauty, however, is the author’s ability to lovingly capture life’s microscopic details—right down to the cuticles—and offer them back up to us as communion.”—Shawna Kenney, author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix and Imposters
Reading Group Guide
1. Despite some of the dramatic and serious scenarios depicted in the book, Jillian’s writing possesses a great deal of humor and lightheartedness. How does humor help get you through tough situations? What are some ways you incorporate it into everyday life?
2. After her experience with the Maori healers, Jillian has a moment of understanding, when she thinks, “…it’s funny-- all the bizarre things I’ve done in pursuit of motherhood. It’s human-- to be miserable at achieving non-attachment. And it’s worthy of compassion-- to try so hard and to fail.” Do you relate to this revelation? Why or why not?
3. When Jillian meets the other parents she will be traveling to Ethiopia with, she is surprised that even the families with traditional backgrounds are welcoming to her, tattoos and all, and she finds a sense of community among them. Have you ever had your expectations of someone upended? What happened as a result?
4. Jillian did not disclose her drug use to the adoption agency. Should she have been honest with them?
5. How did Jillian’s relationship with her parents affect her own parenting choices?
6. Jillian’s attempts to take Tariku out in public as a toddler are heart wrenching. Does her story change the way you look at parents dealing with a child having a tantrum in public?
7. What has been your biggest challenge as a parent? Has Jillian’s story made you rethink parenting at all? Whether it’s parenting your own children or judging how other people parent their children?
8. At one point in the memoir, Jillian recalls her grandmother saying to her, “It’s okay to hold two conflicting things at the same time, for a while.” How does this adage relate to Jillian’s attitude about parenting and relationships throughout the book?
9. How did reading EYEW affect your ideas about of PTSD and early childhood trauma?