In The New One (Grand Central, May), comedian, actor, director, and producer Mike Birbiglia explores his mixed feelings about becoming a parent. His confessional and observational prose passages are interspersed with lyrical interludes written by his wife, poet J. Hope Stein.
“This isn’t a guide to parenting,” Birbiglia says. “We don’t know how the fuck you’re supposed to parent. There’s literally a chapter of the book titled, ‘I Don’t Know Anything.’ ” (For a roundup of books addressing fatherhood, see “Pop Culture”.)
Mike, you’ve worked in many different mediums. What prompted you to write another book?
MB: I wrote Sleepwalk with Me and had sworn off writing another book because writing a book is so much harder than one could ever imagine. But then Jen and I had our daughter. I was writing in my journal about the experience, and Jen was writing poetry on similar themes. I [knew] this would be a show, but then I thought it could also be a book. One of the things about writing any piece of narrative fiction or nonfiction is that you need an ending and somewhere to land. And with this, it was when [our daughter] was 14 months, and I had seen the other side of what was a challenging 13 months.
What was it like to collaborate on this project?
JHS: Mike is a talker by nature and processes the world by talking, onstage usually. I’m the opposite. I am very secretive and private, and I don’t share anything. I process my thoughts by writing poetry. I think the book has that tension in it.
MB: So much of parenting and being in a marriage, and also so much of writing a book together, is negotiating your side of the story. There’s an underlying tension in every marriage: it’s two people witnessing the same events and remembering them in two completely different ways. We dive deep into that in the book.
How do you write about the ambivalence and the darkness of new parenting without turning off your readership?
MB: The humor, both in [the prose] and in the poetry, helps accomplish that. The book is about being reluctant to change and struggling with change and being hostile to it, and then coming around to see the other side. If there’s a hint of humor, then there’s a trust between the reader and the authors that there is some redemption out of the darkness in the future.
JHS: In his work, Mike talks about his faults a lot, and he makes fun of himself and puts himself out there. He puts his imperfections on the table. This makes me feel comfortable in our marriage, but also as a reader.