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May 16, 2023

Jen Sookfong Lee: Superfan

Jen Sookfong Lee makes no apologies: she’s a superfan. That’s the name of her latest book, a deeply personal compilation of essays on how her life has been touched and affected by the likes of Anne of Green Gables, Princess Diana, Amy Tan, sensitive white boys like John Cusack, the Biebers, the Kardashians and, inevitably, Gwyneth. The truth is these icons resonate with all of us, even Wendy, who admits to knowing nothing about pop culture. Jen joins us to talk about all that, being Asian Canadian, a single mother, a more than decent writer, and an admitted weirdo.

Jen Sookfong Lee was born and raised in Vancouver’s East Side. Her books include the novels The End of East, The Better Mother and The Conjoined. Jen also works as an editor at ECW Press, and co-hosts the podcast Can’t Lit. Her memoir Superfan: How Pop Culture Broke My Heart is published by McLelland & Stewart

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Maureen Holloway 00:00:02

Wendy Mesley 00:00:02
Hey, Maureen. Hey. Hi.

Maureen Holloway 00:00:10
Hi. I have an idea for this particular episode.

Wendy Mesley 00:00:14
Well, what do you mean? We read Jen Suk Fong. Lee's book. The superfan book. We both loved it. And she's going to talk to us.

Maureen Holloway 00:00:22
Yeah, no, it's in keeping with that. I just thought we both enjoyed this book so much, and we were both so moved by how she connected moments in people and texts from popular culture to her life and revealed all these very personal experiences. And I was very inspired by that.

Wendy Mesley 00:00:42
It really is very personal. She talks about her dad who died of cancer. We kind of know about that. But we had kids. We weren't kids. She was a kid. She has a depressed mother. Has a depressed mother. Maybe. I don't know how much we want to talk about that, but it's pretty raw. And she's the youngest of five girls growing up in East Vancouver a few.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:01
Years ago when also, being a Chinese Canadian woman with everything that that entails and and becoming a single mother herself and just her whole life is spelled out through the lens of reading Anna Green Gables or Princess Diane. Anyway, so this is my idea. You want to hear it?

Wendy Mesley 00:01:19
Yeah. What is it?

Maureen Holloway 00:01:20
Okay. So I thought we'd bring up some of the pop culture people and moments that Jen touches on in her book and see how they resonated or mattered to us.

Wendy Mesley 00:01:29
Okay. So, like, to us? I don't know, much like you and me.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:34
You and me. I know you don't, which is why this is going to be hilarious. But you know more than you think you do, right?

Wendy Mesley 00:01:39
Well, I don't know. I mean, I grew up as a newsperson, so I always thought that you're a pop culture person. I'm a news person, so I never really read books and stuff. I have feelings.

Maureen Holloway 00:01:51
I know you do, but were you, like, a little newsperson that stood on a fake hill with a fake microphone? I mean, you obviously were exposed to probably more pop culture than you realize, so we're counting on that.

Wendy Mesley 00:02:03
And I'm semi retired now, so there's only so much that I can read about Ukraine and everything else. A few other things.

Maureen Holloway 00:02:11
So, Jen writes about Anna Green Gables, the TV painter guy, Bob Ross, whom you've never heard of. Princess Diana.

Wendy Mesley 00:02:18
Heard of her?

Maureen Holloway 00:02:19
Yes. Good. Evelyn Lau, Rihanna.

Wendy Mesley 00:02:23
Yeah. Gweneth Paltrow, all of these people, except for the painter guy. There's a few others.

Maureen Holloway 00:02:28
So I thought we would pick pick some of these texts ourselves and talk about how, like, Heidi was a big thing for me growing up when we can talk about that. Heidi made changed my life, and I'm not even kidding. So why don't we get started? Here she is. Here she's been the whole time.

Wendy Mesley 00:02:51

Maureen Holloway 00:02:52
Jen Sookfong Lee author superfan. Her latest novel. Congratulations on a novel collection of essays, I guess. Congratulations.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:02:59
Thank you. It's been great so far. Now I'm here talking to you two. What a great time we're having.

Maureen Holloway 00:03:07
Well, so far, we're enjoying ourselves. So where to start? How did you know where to start? You started with Anne? Anne of Green Gables. And you read all her books, all of the Anne books. I was more of an Emily girl myself, and I think that speaks volumes about the two different type of characters. Why did you start with that? Because did you think it would have a particular Canadian resonance?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:03:32
Yes, there's that it's the most Canadian thing other than maple syrup and, like, ice hockey.

Maureen Holloway 00:03:36

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:03:37
It's Anna Green Gables. And for me, I really wanted to start with my earliest sort of obsession that lasted a really long time. Like, I was obsessed with Princess Diana, too, but that didn't last forever. Anna of Green Gables for me, is like an evergreen thing that I love. And I wanted to start there partly because it was going to be a really good discussion on sort of my relationship with my family and particularly my dad, because those years that he was sick and then when he died are very nicely bookended by my experiences reading those books. And regular life is much messier than that, usually. And I'm like, well, this seems neat and bookended. So as a writer, I'm like, let's do the easiest thing first in terms of craft. So that's where that started, really.

Wendy Mesley 00:04:20
I don't know. Maybe I'm women of ill repute. I started out early as a political report. I'm, like, obsessed with the whole woman thing, but I'm not a person of color, and so I didn't feel like I had to fit in. I sought other ways. And so Anna Green Gables, she was sort of an exception. I mean, she ended up marrying that guy Gilbert or whatever. Yeah. So she kind of gave in to me at the end. There weren't very many women and there certainly weren't very many women of color who were strong women at the time. But I think you identified with Anne because she was an orphan, which the orphan even though you weren't.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:05:00
Yeah, even though, yeah, I still had my mom, but she was an orphan. And I think that that scene where Matthew dies in Adequate Gables, spoiler alert for people who don't know about Ada Green Gables, but when he dies, that scene resonated with me so deeply because he says to her, I would have rather had you than a dozen boys. And I think that that was something that my dad I used to joke about this, but I used to call my dad the first Chinese Canadian feminist because he had five daughters and he really didn't have a choice. If he wasn't a feminist, it would have been bad. And he would constantly, when I was little, anyway, reiterate to us that never trust a man. Don't rely on a man for your income. 10% of your paycheck in the bank. Always those things. And my sisters and I are very strong women. So in Anna Green Gables, that relationship she has with Matthew, who believes that she can do anything in the world, who believes in her so deeply, even when Marilla, his sister, doesn't resonated so, so deeply with me. And also the other thing about Anne is that she has, like, uncontrollable emotions. And I really, really connected with that because I had so many feelings when my dad was sick, like all the feelings. And I often felt like that wasn't seemly or well behaved to express those emotions. And she, at least when she's a child anyway, gets to express those emotions. She becomes very respectable later on in her life, which is when she lost me a little bit after that point.

Maureen Holloway 00:06:24
Yeah. And that's why I'm going to make my argument for Emily is that in her three books, emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs and Emily Climbs Down. I can't remember that. There were third one.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:06:36
I don't remember the title of that third one either.

Maureen Holloway 00:06:38
Oh, my God. But all she wants to be is a writer. And she does not compromise and she does not give up. So she takes Anne's and again, flashes of temper and pride and orphaned and with two aunts and an uncle instead of one. But yeah, she pulls herself up and she moves beyond the confines of her role. So I'm more of an Emily person. I want to read them again right now. And you do that?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:07:05
Yeah. I still reread Angry Gables, the whole thing, every year up until the last one, which is set in World War I. But I still do it because it's a comfort, I should say, about Emily. So I have this theory about Emily versus Anne. I also loved Emily as well. But Anna Green Gables was the book I think Ella Montgomery thought she was supposed to write. And then Emily became the books that she wanted to write. And I think also in her life she would have much rather have been an Emily. That's my thought.

Wendy Mesley 00:07:34
I was really fascinated by well, this might be saying too much about myself, but you said something about how which celebrity were you in love with? We were all in love with I was never really in love with celebrities, which is probably saying way too much about me. But you had all of these sort of crushes on people like John Kusak and these sort of sensitive white men. And then you write that he's kind of like a stalker. There's that famous movie where you'd know the name of it, the Window with a boombox. And she's like, what the fuck are you doing? Like, I am not at all interested in you. So I'm just I don't know. Is there such a thing as a sensitive white guy or have you given.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:08:15
Up on have I given up on it?

Maureen Holloway 00:08:19

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:08:20
My partner may be listening. No, I have not. But I will say that I think that so my partner now is like a sensitive white guy. Right. And I love him very dearly. But there are always when we're having conversations about, like we were talking about International Women's Day, which was yesterday, and talking about intersectional feminism and stuff, and there's always like a kind of not that I am teaching him about anything. That's not what I mean. But there's always another consideration that he hasn't considered yet. There's always something he hasn't considered yet because he walks through the light, his life, not having his identity or his body politicized. Right. It's not his fault. This is just who he is and how the world's been created. I haven't given up on that. But I also think that when I'm looking for a partner, it always has to be somebody who's willing to hear it and willing to process it and not immediately be defensive. And that is, I think, the best thing about my partner now, his name is Jeff, he very much is not defensive about it, which blesses heart. He just looks like he's thinking really hard when we have these conversations. He may not listen. He sometimes doesn't. It's like, it's fine. Don't listen to my stuff. Just read my goodreads reviews and tell me if they're good. That's all I need.

Maureen Holloway 00:09:41
You go back, as we all do. I joke with Wendy that if I ever write my own book, it's going to be called this Is Not About My Mother. Because of course it will be. Of course. And then this comes up again and again, and I had a very difficult relationship with my mother. She passed away a few years ago, and now it's worse because she's not around. And your mother pops up in almost everything that you write about and in a way, almost like you actually admire Kris Jenner to bring it back to the pop culture aspect of this, because she is a supportive mother.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:10:21
Yeah. At the end of the day, she is, whether that's financially motivated or whatever, still, she cares.

Maureen Holloway 00:10:28
Yeah. And I think she really does, too. I mean, sure, she makes a living about caring as a mother, but that is there, and yeah. Is your mother still alive?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:10:38
She is. She's 84. She's in really good health. She doesn't have any prescriptions. She just takes supplements. She's at the casino a lot. She's actually okay, because I wanted to say that my mom, she still gets the SADS, she still gets depressed, but she is so much softer than she used to be. And that sometimes happens with people as they get older. Right. So she's a good grandma, like the grandkids lover. She is. Generally these days, all she really wants to do is go for brunch and gossip and I'm like, that's fine, let's do that. Yeah. Much better now than she ever was before.

Maureen Holloway 00:11:14
So she has not read any of your books because she's not fluent in English and wouldn't probably read them anyway. She looked at the COVID of one of your books and went, oh, that looks good. And then that was that.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:11:25
She looked at the covers. She looks she always turns them over to look at the author photo, and then she'll judge the author photo. Some are passable, some are not, as far as she's concerned. But, no, she doesn't read English, which has actually been the greatest blessing of my life, honestly. But I would say she probably wouldn't read it anyway. That's not the kind of level of involvement, that's not the kind of mom she is. She's not going to be up in my business regardless.

Maureen Holloway 00:11:51
Wow, that's good.

Wendy Mesley 00:11:52
It's liberating about moms. I was really close to my mom, who raised me on her own because my dad was gay, and there was a whole complicated issue, and she raised me on her own, but she loved me. And I was so touched by your confrontation with your mum near the end of the book where you say, mom, you just never told any of us that you love us. And I just wonder, like, I'm, I'm sure a lot of it is trying to fit in as an Asian girl and wanting to be loved by your mom and whatever, but I wonder how much of your acknowledged obsession with pop culture is because your mom didn't love you. I can't even imagine.

Maureen Holloway 00:12:30
Dr mesley.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:12:31
Yeah, no, she's not that type of a person. Just in general, she is not somebody who wants deep emotional connections with anyone. I don't think. It's really just not who she is. She shows her affection for us in other ways. Like she'll make us food, or she brews these medicinal Chinese soups every week and she says, that's why I don't have wrinkles. Which may be true. I don't know. I do have good skin. Thanks, mom, for your medicinal soups. And I think she's just not that person. And where after many years of therapy, I've come to understand that her love for us is never going to be that kind of love that I would see, like your mom had for you, that I would see my other girlfriends have with their moms. Those relationships where you go wedding dress shopping with your mom. I never did that. I went wedding dress shopping with my girlfriends. My mom didn't show up to anything. And you get to the point where it's not about whether my mom loves me or not. It's about she's not capable of being that person. And that's okay. I hug my kid so much, it's probably too much for his liking. And I kiss him all the time. He's twelve years old. He does not want me kissing him, but I do it. And I do it in the morning when I wake him up because he's kind of half asleep, so he just is kind of lying there.

Maureen Holloway 00:13:51
Kiss him as much as you can. My son is turning 30. My youngest son is 24. And they come around again. But there's a good ten years where you don't get to hug and kiss them. Yeah, that's the reality.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:14:03
Still lets me at certain times of the day.

Maureen Holloway 00:14:06
Yeah, certain times of the day. We are actually podcasts aren't supposed to have any time, but as you mentioned, it was International Women's Day and we are coming up on the Oscars. And speaking of pop culture and Michelle Yeo put out a very provocative she retweeted something about the fact that maybe Kate Blanchett deserves the Oscar, but it would be a game changer for Michelle Yeo because she would be the first Asian actress to win the best actress Oscar. And a lot of people took issue with that, that you shouldn't be like Halle Berry, where it's not just that you are a great actor. It has to be pointed out you're the first African American actress. What are your thoughts on all this? Because you're very aware of how Asian people have been represented in movies, mostly movies and television. So some thoughts?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:14:58
Yeah, I mean, I think that there's a lot going on there. I think one thing I should say, everything everywhere, all at once is a wonderful cinematic experience. And Michelle Yo, I'm a really big fan of hers, have been since I was a child, and she was, like kicking butt in Hong Kong movies. Right. But the way it is with prize culture in general, so whether it's like the Oscars or a book prize or whatever, it's never always just about the performance. It's never really just about the book or just about the movie. It's often about so much that this particular person or the cultural asset brings to bear in sort of society what they say about the culture and all of those things. So when people are saying it should just be about the performance and not about sort of the background or the history of what it would mean for someone like a Michelle Yo to win is kind of disingenuous. Because, I mean, without all of that society or white supremacy propping up, an actress like Kate Blanchett, she wouldn't be where she is. So it's silly because everybody brings their own history to winning or not winning a prize. So I think it's kind of a silly, disingenuous question and doesn't really go deeper into what makes Kate Blanchett so successful versus they're just thinking about what made Michelle Yo stall in her career. Well, there's two conversations there that are actually connected. And I will say I'm a Michelle Yeo fan, and my biggest sort of like if I was going to stump for her to win an Oscar, it would be that in everything, everywhere, all at once, which is a deeply weird movie, wildly creative. A lot of people didn't understand it, which is fine. Everybody has a different relationship with it. But how refreshing it is to see Asian filmmakers getting the opportunity to be deeply weird, because we were given those opportunities before. If you're given the opportunity to be wildly creative, who cares if it's weird? That's great. I'm glad we get to do weird, fun things. That's all.

Voiceover 00:16:55
The women of ill repute.

Wendy Mesley 00:16:58
When you mentioned Ali Wong. So my one pop culture weakness, or one thing that I actually know anything about is comedy. And Ali Wong, I mean, she's just amazing. And it's what you say about it's not about trauma stories. Who gives a shit that she's, like she wants to have sex with her husband. She wants to make a joke. She wants to be funny.

Maureen Holloway 00:17:22

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:17:29
In fairness, her husband is pretty good looking.

Maureen Holloway 00:17:32
Yes, in fairness.

Wendy Mesley 00:17:35
So great that it's not like, who gives a shit, basically, that we can be there.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:17:42
Yeah. Finally, an Asian woman gets to joke about her vagina on, like, a Netflix special. Why not?

Maureen Holloway 00:17:48
Yeah, I know. And that's something that white women have had broken down those barriers for themselves. But now, I mean, if you're a person woman of color or transgender or so on, you're sort of like the next wave, because you haven't been allowed to be weird and be silly and take the same risks. So it's an exciting time, and we.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:18:08
Might fail, but that's okay.

Maureen Holloway 00:18:10
Yeah, that's okay.

Wendy Mesley 00:18:11
The mention that you made and we can talk about Gwyneth. Altro, you can do a whole show about I do.

Maureen Holloway 00:18:16
I want to talk about Gwyneth. I miss talking about Gwyneth.

Wendy Mesley 00:18:19
But I found it so interesting, Jen, that you said, and it's so obvious, but I hadn't thought of it. It's like, she's not for me. She recognizes that women, a lot of women want to be perfect, and that white women with means like me, like, I'm not interested in her vagina thing. I know where to go to get a massage, and I don't need her. But she has tapped into something. So there's something like you hate her. I hate her, probably for different reasons, but she's kind of like Madonna, who a lot of people hate. She's kind of, like, created this huge, successful thing, and I don't know, maybe that's admirable, but I still hate her.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:18:59
The thing about Gwyneth is that I think there are a lot of celebrities where people project their aspirations on this is, like, why we love perfect looking people, right? Like, we love them because we aspire to a certain thing. But I think my problem, and I think most people's problems with Gwyneth Paltrow is that she knows that and uses it and exploits it and monetizes that. That's the thing that I think the knowingness of it, I think, is really gross. It's, like, cold. It's cold. And she knows she's doing it because people are unhappy. She's monetizing people's sadness. And that, to me, is just really nice. It's not like empathetic. It's nothing that I ever want to be or want my children to be or anything like that. And I think that that's why we hate her. I think with Madonna, there's a little bit different there in the sense that she's been really successful, this one thing, but I don't think that she is trying to be aspirational for people. I think she's making a lot of money, she's looking a certain way, she's selling whatever she's selling, but I don't think she cares if anyone acts like her or takes her advice. So there's a bit of a I feel like a bit of a difference. And Madonna is like, I don't really love her either, but that's a whole.

Maureen Holloway 00:20:09
Other yeah, but for different reasons.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:20:11
Different reasons.

Maureen Holloway 00:20:12
That's so true about Gwyneth. That's so well put, because that's exactly what it is. She is capitalizing on people's unhappiness. Although I'm sure she would be absolutely shocked to be told that.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:20:25
Or do you think she knows?

Maureen Holloway 00:20:26
I think she's a little oblivious. I mean, to say things like in the interview where she was asked that.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:20:32
Writer whom I love, death or actor? Yeah.

Maureen Holloway 00:20:36
And said she said, Why do you think people hate you? And she said, Because of my discipline. I mean, come on.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:20:42
I know. Not because your parents were rich and famous, not because you look a certain way, not because you've had every advantage under the sun, really, discipline.

Maureen Holloway 00:20:54
But you know what I found? Because I've spent most of my career writing and talking about famous people and I actually don't care about famous people, what I discovered along the way was that judging them, which I did, reveals more about me and us than it does about them. And that's really why it's interesting that the people that move us either inspire us or cause us to hate them. It's all about well, I'm preaching to the choir here. It's all based on what you've been through yourself and why you relate. So I was telling Wendy before this, I was in love with Heidi growing up and I mean, growing up in Montreal. I don't know why I thought I should be living with my grandfather in the mountains of Switzerland. I really did. And with a goat herd. And I just thought that would so that's what I wanted to be so much. And I read the book over and over and over, and I wanted I was going to sound terrible. I wanted to be an orphan. I wanted my parents to be out of the picture so I could go and live with an old man.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:22:01
You know, what the heart wants what it wants.

Maureen Holloway 00:22:10

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:22:10
Oh, no. Do I need to stop saying it?

Maureen Holloway 00:22:13
Oh, no. But we can't necessarily pick the things that are going to resonate or we won't necessarily understand why, particularly when we're kids. I was in love with Mighty Mouse. Like, in love with Mighty Mouse.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:22:25
I wanted to have Mighty Mouse with Mighty Mouse. Gosh, wow.

Maureen Holloway 00:22:30
I didn't know what sex was, but I knew that it was very uncomfortable watching Mighty Mouse with my father.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:22:35
He did really stand with his chest puffed out, though. Like, that's a real masculine energy there. Yeah, I get it.

Maureen Holloway 00:22:42
I knew you would.

Wendy Mesley 00:22:45
I ever wanted to have sex with Mickey Mouse, but no, Mighty Mouse, please.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:22:58
Is gross.

Maureen Holloway 00:22:59
Mighty Mouse is hot.

Wendy Mesley 00:23:01
I was always obsessed with politics, and I wanted to be in news, and I yeah.

Maureen Holloway 00:23:04
So all that even when you were five or six?

Wendy Mesley 00:23:07
Yeah. No, I just I don't know. I just I i didn't spend a lot of time reading books or watching tele. I loved Lucille Ball because Lucille Ball me. She was a strong woman, and there weren't like now there are. There are lots like you're writing books. Michelle yo I hope will win the Oscar. There are strong women who are doing so, but there wasn't anything when we were growing up, so I don't know. I don't know whether I sort of gave up and moved on to other things. But even when I did interviews, like, I did an interview with Gore Downey, who got tragically hip.

Maureen Holloway 00:23:38
I think you heard of him.

Wendy Mesley 00:23:41
You had a crush on him, and he in a video. At some point, I was like, no, I'm way too busy. So I don't know. Everybody has their weird obsession.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:23:51
If you were into news and politics and stuff when you were young, then who did you look up to when you were younger? Who made your heart go, lucille Ball. Okay.

Wendy Mesley 00:24:01
They didn't want to have sex with her. That's another podcast, perhaps? No, but there wasn't yeah, well, Maureen wants to ask me. We had our first fight about so which politician would you like to fuck? Because she thought it was funny and I didn't get the joke because I'm a journalist.

Maureen Holloway 00:24:20
Like, make one up, Wendy. Make one up. Just relax. Again, she's like, no, I don't find any of them attractive. And I said, we'll say, like, Darcy McGee or Wilfred Laureate.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:24:30
John Deep and Baker. It's fine.

Wendy Mesley 00:24:36
With our watts.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:24:38

Wendy Mesley 00:24:39
Now, who should we follow who's like, Ali Wong for me and who else is there any hides of today?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:24:47
I think about celebrity a lot, like, all the time, but it's my comfort thoughts. When you're sitting there and you don't want to think about work or whatever, I'm like, Gosh, I wonder how Haley Bieber is doing. And then I'll look it up. Who do I love right now? I've been really into Pedro Pascal, which everybody is because of the Last and, like, the Mandalorian. So there's so many interviews with him on YouTube. And if you like handsome Chilean men, I highly recommend, because he's delightful. I've been really he's hilarious, too.

Maureen Holloway 00:25:22
I watched him on Saturday at Live and he just was completely there. Right. He didn't hold back and he was absolutely hilarious.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:25:29
Yeah, he's lovely and I love him. And I've been really into so Yellow Jacket season two is premiering in a couple of weeks, I think, and I've been very into all the women on that cast, like all the younger ones and the ones who are in their 40s. Christina Ricci is so deeply weird, and I really, really love her character. And I'm really curious to see my partner was saying to me, he's like, she's so weird in this show, and she's like, the weirdest one. I said, yeah, but they're going to flip it on its head. We're going to find out at some point. She's probably the most normal one because there's the ones you think are normal and they're also deeply weird and there could be a cult. I don't know what's going on. I'm like, great, I love this. I love not knowing, and I love when they scare me with weird stuff. So there you go.

Wendy Mesley 00:26:17
I mean, everybody looks at me and you're normal, and I get my hair highlighted and I'm a white, CIS, whatever woman, but I don't feel very normal, and I think that all my friends or all the interesting people are kind of weird. So I don't know.

Maureen Holloway 00:26:32
What is normal?

Wendy Mesley 00:26:33
What is weird normal, exactly? You're not exactly normal, Marine, which is no.

Maureen Holloway 00:26:41
And that was the thing that distressed me growing up as this lonely kid. I was in theater Jen, and I was also the only English speaking person in a French school and the only non Jewish kid in the theater school. So I was always on the outside and I thought all I wanted to do was be like everybody else, and I wasn't. And so books and movies were my friends. And then I found out later, as I think most of us involved people have, is that being different was the best thing. It's not what you want, but in the end, you're better off for being a weirdo, I think.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:27:19
Yeah, well, the thing is about being a weirdo for me was that I always felt like it was bad. We all feel this when we're young. It's bad. I shouldn't be this way, whatever. And I was talking about this with someone recently, a friend of mine, and I write about this in the book, like, this kind of restless I have a restless spirit. I have a lot of feelings, and it's difficult for me to not have the feelings or show the feelings. And sort of that restless spirit has led me to having this life and this career, and I'm really grateful for that. And in some ways, yeah, I made some bad decisions about, I don't know, real estate, maybe, or those types of decisions. As far as my mom is concerned, those are bad decisions. And. Not normal and all that other stuff, but would I have written this many books? Would I have been able to do the media that I do or whatever if I wasn't a little bit weird, if I didn't have this restlessness that drives me to always make the decision in service of that restlessness? We end up being weird, but then we also end up using our weirdness to our advantage. If we're lucky.

Maureen Holloway 00:28:25
If we're lucky.

Wendy Mesley 00:28:26
We never asked you about Diana, so there's a whole other conversation there. But we're back to the whole, like, she looked kind of normal and then you realized that she wasn't normal and you're saying that she probably if she were alive, she would look down and think that Meghan Markle was actually saying, yeah, you go, girl. I'm not a monarchist, so it's easy for me to make fun of the royals, and to me, Meghan Markle is just doing what the royals have been doing for forever. I'm sure there's another way of seeing this and that has been written about, but I don't know. It's a whole thing about everybody tries so hard to fit in. And do you feel now that you don't have to try as hard? Like, I'm I'm looking for you to say yes, but you can say I.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:29:13
Haven'T tried to fit in in ages. This is not like, probably since my mid 30s or something, is when I remember when I was younger, when my first books came out and I would go to these literary events and I'd be terrified, like I'd have panic attacks before I walked into these rooms, right? Because there's all these writers and they're all men and they're all white and they have their groupies and whatever. And I was just everyone always thought I was the server, which is fine. And I would have these panic attacks and I would try to fit in so much. Like, I would try to be able to have these conversations with these people who clearly didn't want to have conversations with me ever, almost never. And it wasn't really I guess I was in my 30s when I was, like, going to some literary event or whatever, and I'm like, who cares? I'm just going to bring my best girlfriend, who I've known since I was seven, and we're going to drink the free whiskey and eat the cheese, the sweaty cheese cubes that are on the platters, and we're going to have a great time. And everything was so much better once I decided I didn't need to impress those people. I was going to write my books, I was going to promote my books. And if they don't want to talk to me, that's cool. I don't want to talk to them either, then. And it did take quite a long time for that part. But no, I haven't tried to fit in. I am what I am now, right? This is it. I have a weird portrait of myself with my dog above my bed. This is the life I live. And I am not ashamed that everybody on Zoom gets to see it. It is what it is.

Maureen Holloway 00:30:36
But by the same token, I would say that Superfan, of all your books, connects you whether you care or not, or whether you want you or not, with so many people across so many planes and from so many divergent backgrounds. Because even if we didn't make a big fuss about it, we did and do care about a lot of the same things, maybe for different reasons, but we care. Well, Wendy not so much, but she's getting there.

Wendy Mesley 00:31:05
I'm trying to care more. I now have time more. Tell me more.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:31:08
It's fascinating to me how it resonates with so many different people from different communities and different backgrounds and whatever, because I didn't necessarily think that that was going to be the case. And you never really know who's going to pick up a book or who's going to connect with it. But it's so nice to see that people are it's resonating with people, and I think it's because there's always something that we love. Doesn't even have to be pop culture. There's always something that we love, that we're obsessed with, that we want to do all the time. That is our comfort thing. And I think that that sort of relationship with whatever that thing is is really, like, universal. And I really think that what Superfan asks people to do is to think more deeply about what we love and what we hate and to think about what that says about us. And I think that that sort of interrogation for people actually feels kind of good. People want to think about that stuff. And I'm like, great. I'm so glad it didn't cause you discomfort instead.

Maureen Holloway 00:32:04
Oh, a little bit. A little discomfort isn't a bad thing.

Wendy Mesley 00:32:08
Yeah, well, I think that's the best thing about us doing this podcast is we're still learning. And I hope that everybody keeps learning, because that's the only thing that really matters is, like, keep learning. Let's keep involved in the world. And I'm glad that you're not trying to fit in anymore, because you're just writing from the heart. I heard an interview with Margaret Atwood the other day, and she was saying, oh, give her the hoot.

Maureen Holloway 00:32:30
When you're Margaret Atwood, who does give a hoot?

Wendy Mesley 00:32:34
She doesn't have to.

Maureen Holloway 00:32:35
No, she really has nothing. You know what? I have a lot of hope for her. I think she's got a bright future.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:32:41
That scrappy Margaret Atwood her career. I hope it takes off someday.

Maureen Holloway 00:32:46
I hope it takes off. I hope it doesn't wait until she's gone. Just one question I want to ask you about your son. What's he into?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:32:53
Visual art. So he just got into this high school he's in high school next year, which is, like, crazy to me, but he just got into this independent directed learning situation, which means he is going to be pursuing his visual art, which is fantastic. Also, he will end up living with me forever. But whatever, it's fine.

Wendy Mesley 00:33:13
It's cool.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:33:17
That's what he's into and it's really lovely to see. He creates some really beautiful things and.

Wendy Mesley 00:33:22
Some scary things about him, about, I guess the lesson that you learn from your mom and from life and from everything is that something about him, I just want him. I may not be the greatest at this or that, but I'm a good mom because I've learned to respect him and let him be the person, the best person, best version of the person he wants to be, which is what we all want to be. We all want to be heard. And anyway, it was lovely. Lovely. We're obviously wrapping up.

Maureen Holloway 00:33:49
Super fan jen. Suk Fong.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:33:51

Maureen Holloway 00:33:51
How pop culture broke your heart. It didn't really break your heart, though, did it?

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:33:55
It did at times, but I'm loose some cracks in there. But my heart's okay right now.

Maureen Holloway 00:34:02
I'm glad to hear that. Thank you so much.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:34:05
Thank you so much for having me. Yeah.

Maureen Holloway 00:34:07
All right. Good luck with everything.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:34:09
Thank you.

Maureen Holloway 00:34:13
We could have just gone on and on and on. I wanted to talk about Rihanna. I wanted to talk about SIA. I wanted to talk about the Joy Luck Club. It's a never ending source of inspiration. And you did pretty well there. A little junior news, Missy.

Wendy Mesley 00:34:32
I know so much about pop culture. No, I am interested. I find the themes really interesting. And now that I've sort of semi retired or retired from CBC News anyway, I'm watching series, I'm interested. I've got time and reading her book. She's kind of amazing. And I think you had a really good idea. It's all about pop culture and all the other stuff gets woven in through it because it is. Whether it's politics or pop culture, it's all just about people, right? It's all just about ideas and people finding their way.

Maureen Holloway 00:35:05
Let me ask you a question. Do you know who Pedro Pascal is?

Wendy Mesley 00:35:09
I watched the mandalorian.

Maureen Holloway 00:35:14
Would you know him to see him on the street?

Wendy Mesley 00:35:16
I don't know. I don't know the name. Either he says was so fun. Or Rob. Rob. I can't remember. You know what?

Maureen Holloway 00:35:27
I envy you, Bob Ross. But no, don't worry about that. I envy you because you have such a world ahead of you, Wendy.

Wendy Mesley 00:35:36
Lots to learn.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:35:37

Wendy Mesley 00:35:37
I watched all the episodes of Veep and Arrested. They're like, great. I saw 30.

Maureen Holloway 00:35:41
Yeah. Thank God you're semi retired because you have a lot of work to do.

Wendy Mesley 00:35:45
Yeah. Well, I could tell you about Wilfred Laurier. He was like, great. In fact.

Jen Sookfong Lee 00:35:50

Maureen Holloway 00:35:56
Nice to see you.

Wendy Mesley 00:35:57
Nice to see you, too.

Voiceover 00:35:59
Women of Ill Repute was written and produced by Maureen Holloway and Wendy Mesley with the help from the team at the Sound off media company and producer Jet Belgraver.