It seems to me that out-of-the-closet atheists who are also entertainers or artists or authors have a little harder time. A large swathe of the public won’t resonate to some of their messages and possibly will ignore their work altogether. So when I see a fellow non-believer with new work, I like to take a look. I was happily pleased by Julia Sweeney’s new book , If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother.
Julia Sweeney is a public personality, known for her one-woman shows and for having been a comedienne on Saturday Night Live (1990-94). She’s also the author of books such as God Said, “Ha!” In the newest volume, she has compiled a batch of easy-to-read autobiographical essays, some quite poignant. They’re about her relationships with various men and the adoption from China of her daughter.
One highlight is a hilarious chapter about how she explained the facts of life to her daughter when she was nine. Her writing is down to earth, amusingly recounting experiences many of us have had, allowing us to see them in fresh light. Parenting, in particular, comes in for its share of the spotlight in many of the essays: both how she was parented by her mother, and how she now parents her daughter. Describing herself as a pleaser, Sweeney writes that her daughter is not, a fact which Sweeney figures will save her kid from some heartache in the future, while admitting it also drives her nuts.
In discussing how she came to apply the carrot-and-stick parenting approach, which she hated, with her child, she says she learned to substitute the words incentives and disincentives.
I was merely creating situations where my child was incentivized and disincentivized! I was doing what any person would do in an intensely interactive relationship that was constantly evolving, hierarchical, loaded, often claustrophobic and highly emotional. One in which I was temporarily bigger and smarter.
How refreshingly honest.
We get to read about Sweeney’s nanny problems, with a nice focus on how “terrible” a boss she feels she is.
She met her husband because she was an open atheist. (Her future brother-in-law had written to her after seeing her show Letting Go of God, saying that his brother’s matrimonial deal-breaker is that the woman cannot be religious.)
There’s a section about celebrating a secular Christmas with her daughter that contains this brilliant line: “It became so obvious to me that Santa was just a starter god.”
Sweeney writes frankly, and always engagingly, about such diverse subjects as public school and abortion.
Not sure why I missed reading or seeing Sweeney before, but she’s a kindred spirit: funny, rational, irreligious, and honest.
- Check out Julia’s site, which contains her blog and video clips.
- Buy her latest book If It’s Not One Thing….