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Rachel Bloom has never felt “normal.” In fact, even as a 12-year-old, she pondered the thought: “What is the so-called standard that we mold and fit ourselves [into], through an invisible corset, to be accepted in society all our life?” Now Bloom is further exploring the concept of “normalcy” in her debut book, I Want To Be Where the Normal People Are (Grand Central Publishing).
In her book, out Tuesday, Bloom shares a mix of essays and personal narratives that recount both comical and heartfelt stories from her childhood, school years and her professional career that led to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend stardom.
On the surface, expect Bloom’s signature humor, evidenced in a musical theater chapter with an accompanying musical available on her website, Harry Potter fan fiction and even a section written from the perspective of her dog, Wiley (and more). But Bloom also doesn’t shy from being vulnerable with readers as she depicts her experiences with bullies (even enduring some in a comedy writers room as an adult), her mental health journey — she dealt with an anxiety spiral while pitching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as detailed in this book excerpt — and traumatic events such as her daughter’s birth coinciding with the death of the songwriter and her close friend, Adam Schlesinger.
Though for four years she shared some of her personal stories with mental health through her Crazy Ex-Girlfriend character Rebecca Bunch, this time Bloom has put the spotlight on her own stories. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was personal, but Rebecca Bunch is not me. Our lives are very, very different. So I felt like there was a lot about my point of view that I wanted to share,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Throughout the volume’s 288 pages, Bloom details her personal metamorphosis from someone who has felt abnormal for most of her life to learning that true happiness comes with embracing being different. “Maybe there are people out there who are ‘normal.’ But I don’t need to be one of them. Not anymore,” Bloom writes.
Ahead of her book’s release, Bloom chatted with THR about the original plans for the title, why she had to take a step away from writing, her mental health journey and what she hopes readers take away from her story.
What inspired you to want to sit down and write this book?
Well, being on television, I got the obligatory book deal that a lot of people on TV get and, even before that, I had been toying around with writing some sort of book that was a lot like [this book’s] first couple of chapters, about adolescence and puberty, and doing it almost more in the form of a puberty book, like American Girl’s The Care and Keeping of You, but an adult version. The more I started to think about it, that felt very narrow because who’s the audience for that? For that, there’s only so much and maybe that might be a book I write someday.
[For this book] I’d had all these more personal stories that I wanted to share and I was doing a TV show that was not quite autobiographical. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was personal, but Rebecca Bunch is not me. Our lives are very, very different. So I felt like there was a lot about my point of view that I wanted to share. Over the past year and a half, after I got the book deal, I was jotting down ideas [and] thinking of structure. I sincerely worked on it starting in August of last year just as I got pregnant as a way partially to distract myself from morning sickness.
Can you describe your writing process in trying to pick and choose what specific moments you wanted to include and how you wanted to structure the book?
It started with stories that I’ve been telling at storytelling shows for the past eight years. I was like, “these are great stories [and] I want to put these in a book. [But] what else do I want to say about the world? How do I want to link these stories?” The bullying theme is what really started the book and that’s kind of the foundation of the book because that’s what I’d always really wanted to write about. I haven’t talked about the feeling of being an outcast and it was always going to be about feeling out of place and an exploration of all of the out-of-place things. But as I started to really dig into the bullying chapters and especially that story about my fifth-grade teacher saying, “normal kids don’t dress the way you do.” I realized that’s what the book should be. It’s about normalcy.
Fans are so used to seeing you as a character on television. What was something you hoped fans and readers would learn about you in your book?
I think the specific mental health journey I had that was not in the show at all. I don’t have borderline personality disorder; however, I’ve dealt with many other things that are incredibly personal to me that I think are important to share. I wrote a book that I want to read, especially if I were like a fan of myself, that’s ultimately [what] I imagined (laughs). I kind of always found the combination of what I thought would entertain people and then what was entertaining to write.
You convey your mental health journey in such a way that readers who maybe don’t struggle with an illness can understand versus those who do can connect with it because it outlines the realities of mental illness. What was it like explaining that in a novel form?
The root of mental health, regardless of what you call it, is: How are you feeling? Are you happy? Are you making the most out of your life? Are you enjoying your life? What can you do to make your life better? I think everyone should have to go in with a therapist at some point in their life. Because even if you don’t think “I have a mental illness,” we all have issues. We all have trauma. We all have stuff we’re dealing with. We’re imperfect, complicated people. I tried to just get rid of the othering of mental health. I’ll talk to a lot of people, especially of an older generation, [and] they’ll compliment me like, ”Oh my God, the stuff you’re doing for mental health is so great.” But I can tell that mental health is an other to them. That they think, “The things that she’s doing for other people are so wonderful.” They don’t realize, you probably need help or your kids need help. It’s this type of person who’s [like], “Well, it’s great for those people. What she’s doing for those people is great, but not my son. My son’s fine.” And I think that it’s almost thought of as this other thing. The healthier everyone can be is just admitting that we all have shit and it varies from person to person.
How did writing about your mental health journey and those experiences help you confront the emotions you had at the time?
A thing that felt cathartic is I hadn’t really talked much about that fifth grade story about the teacher saying I wasn’t normal [and] delving back into the bad I felt when I was 11. It was hard. It didn’t fuck me up too much, but it made me realize those emotions that I had when I was 11 are just as valid as emotions I have now. And I think that, especially as a parent, because I was writing that part when I was pregnant, it reminded me to not ever trivialize my soon-to-be child’s emotions because when you’re feeling those things and going through those things, they’re real. When I was working on the Jafar and the Wet Bandits chapter, I turned in that chapter a day before I was induced and the second I was induced, I started to have kind of those feelings again, intrusive thoughts. It just sometimes comes in when a big life event is about to happen… It’s the way my anxiety manifests itself. So it was weird, in a way. I had to step back from the book because I had suddenly been writing so much about this. It made me actually more in my head, which is always the slight danger about writing too much about one’s mental health. You start to overanalyze your mental health. And if you’re like me where the point is to not overanalyze, there is a little bit of a danger there. So I had to at times take a step back from writing about that part because I was dealing with that part of myself. But in dealing with that part of myself, I could then actually go back to that chapter and just remind myself, this is not a thing that’s gone for good. It’s just something that sometimes happens in my mind. That’s the way my brain is and that’s okay.
In your book, you also touch on your experiences of dealing with bullies and having endured that not just in school but also early in your career in a writers room. How much change and progress do you think has been made in the amplifying of voices and respect of women in the industry, whether it be in the writer’s room or comedy world when comparing to your journey?
Oh, I think a lot. I think that the cultural shift that we’ve gone through in the past, like 10 years, I mean, it’s whiplash. It’s astounding. There’s still so much work to be done. I say we have a lot of progress but on the flip side, I should say, I’m a straight white lady who for the past five years now was the boss. So I really should only compare it to my experience before I got Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I was writing on the show Robot Chicken [and] at the time I was hired, I was only the second woman to ever write for that show in like six seasons. And then by the time I left, when Crazy Ex happened, cause I was in the Robot Chicken writers’ room, there was one other woman in the room with me on that staff. They had hired at least one or two women every cycle. So I think there is a huge progression. I think that what we’re seeing now with what #MeToo started is we’re starting to have the conversations about what is a hostile environment, even when you’re not having your ass grabbed or when you’re not having someone be like “women aren’t funny.” What are the microaggressions we’re talking about for everybody? Even if you’re like a straight white dude, what are the microaggressions? What we’re talking about is obviously the patriarchy. Everyone is affected by and victimized by the patriarchy at some point, even if you are the straightest whitest person and I think that we’re having those necessary conversations now.
You detail moments that essentially helped shape who you are today. What was something that you maybe took away from writing your stories and learned about yourself?
I’m a lot happier than I used to be. I think just taking a trip back to some of the times I was unhappiest and remembering how it was just common for me to be very down. I think realizing that when I reset and go back to one, it’s a lot better than it used to be. And even in writing that afterword and dealing with when my daughter was in the NICU, that was so intense and bad. That was actually more intense and some parts of that were worse than anything I write about in the book, the feelings that I had. [Also] remembering that a version of that was how I felt a lot of the time. Part of what made it so hard was I haven’t felt those emotions in a while. I haven’t sunk to those depths in a while. It made me appreciate how far I’ve come.
At the end of the book, you write that you look forward to settling down in the new normal that’s better and brighter than it was before. What would be your ideal new, normal going forward?
My hope is there’s a huge reset that’s happening with COVID in so many ways. We’re all home and with our families more. I think a silver lining of it is realizing maybe we don’t have to be at work all the time. Maybe we don’t have to be at work and fight through being really sick. The number of times that I was on set at Crazy Ex and I, or someone else, was really sick and we just had to push through it. I had to do kissing scenes when either I was sick or somebody else was sick. I’m hoping that now there’s a valuing of physical health that we haven’t had before due to this. Then obviously, everything with George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, that all happening during this time. I think there’s a real reckoning. I want a culture of empathy. I’m excited for once we can be in a public space without a mask whenever that is for us to be more empathetic than we were before.
What do you hope readers and fans take away from your book?
That we’re all weird and if you’re going through a thing, even though it feels personal, know that other people have felt this misery or something like it. And there are people to talk to who can help you or find like-minded friends who love Harry Potter fan fiction. I hope that even if you aren’t a musical theater person, you understand the musical theater chapter. And I want to emphasize that when the book comes out, that whole musical chapter, you can listen to the musical on my website, along with reading it. So along with everything else, there is a full 15-minute musical that I recorded that goes along with this book.
I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is available now.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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