FAIRFAX — Local psychologist Michelle Spaulding describes her recently published memoirs, Bliss is an Aisle of Soup Cans, as “twenty vignettes of me just making fun of myself.”
That’s not to denigrate the vividly detailed vignettes, which begin with Spaulding remembering her childhood method of Pop-Tart consumption: nibbling away the non-frosted portion before meticulous breaking the remainder into eighths.
“There really was only one way to savor the perfection of a Pop-Tart in the morning,” Spaulding wrote, in her book, “and I was just glad I was in the know.”
Instead, her “making fun of myself” summary speaks to Spaulding’s perspective on anxiety, the perspective that drives her book, just as Spaulding said anxiety has driven her life choices.
She’s fed up with the idea that anxiety is something we should shed.
“I’m extremely thankful for it, in a lot of ways,” Spaulding said. “It propels me in life. It motivates me. I wouldn’t have become a psychologist without it. I wouldn’t have written a book without it. My house wouldn’t be so clean without it.”
Spaulding said she counsels many adolescents and teens. And although she said readers her age might appreciate her book, especially those who, like her, have warm memories of growing up in the 1980s, Spaulding said she hopes her book reaches younger readers at the transitional point between child- and adulthoods, readers who might relate to her insecurity at that age.
“I work with a lot of adolescents who have anxiety who just want to get rid of it,” Spaulding said. “They’re just like, ‘This sucks. I want to get rid of it.’
“I kind of want to shift the dialogue a little, to be like, ‘It’s not all bad. It’s not all bad at all.’
“It’s like breaking a wild horse. That’s all it is. You have to get control of it. And once you can ... you can soar with it.”
That perspective is the open, friendly emotional core of her book, a collection of writing that treats neuroses as color and the small things as big things.
Spaulding said her counseling conversations gradually grew her impulse to write, as her counselees’ feelings reminded her of her own.
She said the book began five or six years ago with the memory of her devoutly Roman Catholic grandmother dropping an f-bomb.
Spaulding wrote her memories when she had time, which she said was not often as a mother of two young children. Sometimes she set aside her work for months.
But Spaulding said writing has always helped her process and organize her thoughts. And when those thoughts and memories neared book scale, Spaulding reorganized her time.
“When I got a little bit more serious about wanting to publish it, I’d get up at five o’clock in the morning, before anyone else,” she said, smiling at the memory, “and sit in the living room for an hour, with my laptop, with my coffee, with our fourteen-year-old yellow lab, who’d just sit there and lick her butt, the whole time. Just the two of us.”
Time seems to have helped Spaulding see the humor in her experiences.
“I can laugh at myself now being at the New Kids on the Block concert balling my eyes out,” she said.
“There’s a lot of making fun of myself in there. And other people in my family. With full permission.”
Spaulding now lives in Fairfax, but she grew up on Grand Avenue in Swanton.
As Spaulding described it in the book’s opening, “Everyone knew everyone, and obnoxiously loud Harley-Davidsons would always go by, rattling our windows and our father’s patience, drowning out the six o’clock news on TV, making him exclaim, ‘GodDAMN it! What did they say?’”
Bliss is an Aisle of Organized Soup Cans is available now at the Eloquent Page on North Main Street in St. Albans. It’s also available from Amazon.com in paperback or digital form.
Spaulding encourages people to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to visit her public Facebook page.