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Duration:03:51
Uploaded:2019-03-19
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In which John finds himself talking with former First Lady Michelle Obama about marriage and memoir. You can find more discussion with Michelle Obama over at BookTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tBFW8nw8_o

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J: Good morning, Hank. It's Tuesday. Greetings from Austin, Texas, where I am surrounded by some very nice camera equipment and about to talk to Michelle Obama. You know what, I'm kind of uncomfortable here, let's just go to my basement for a second.

J (In his basement): Oh look, I'm back in my happy place! So I'm often asked about marriage advice and writing advice, two topics I am very reluctant to talk about, because I don't feel qualified. But I loved the way Michelle Obama wrote about marriage in her book, Becoming, and I also loved her approach to memoir in general. So I thought I would ask her to share some marriage and writing advice with me. Alright, back to Austin.

J: Hi.

Michelle: Hey.

J: It's very nice to see you. I thought the way you wrote about marriage in this book was absolutely astonishing, and brilliant, and it really resonated very deeply with me, uh, because when my book The Fault in Our Stars was published, my life became very different very suddenly. Not on a like- becoming president level-

M: [Laughs]

J: -but different. And so I wondered if you could talk about the challenge of that, and how you found a way to live with it.

M: Barack and I talk about how valuable it was that we were older in it. I chose to share so much about our marriage is because I think about young couples, and how little we know when we get married about what marriage is-

J: Yeah

-I mean, nobody is giving us a guidebook about how to do this thing called building a life with a whole other person. Marriage is inherently unequal, not just gender-wise, it just there's no way that you ever have 50-50. And we talk about it in those terms, like "you do half and I'll do half", life isn't that clean.

People think about me and Barack as "#relationshipgoals", and usually when you have couples like that all you see is the good stuff. You see the fist jabs, and the loving touches, and the, the moments that, you know, make people think, "oh, aren't they great". But to me I felt like, if I'm not telling you how hard it was, I'm not being honest with you about what you need to do to build this thing that we have.

J: Right. Right. And one of the things I really loved about Becoming was the resonant details, especially from your childhood, that reflected larger parts of your story. In second grade, you know, needing an advocate because you were in a class with a bad teacher who was in way over her head. I wanna know how you pick those resonant details, is there a secret?

M: Some of it is 'what do you remember?', and for me there's a reason why I remembered that second grade, why it stuck with me. Why at this age do I still remember that I didn't get a star-

J: [Laughs]

M: -the first time, because I didn't know the word white. It seems like a mundane story, but this is very telling, its, it's a truth about me that has been consistent since I was four or five years old.

J: Mhmm

M: Why did I carry those stories with me all the way to and through the white house. I don't worry about the stuff I don't remember, I try and find the value in what does stand out. We all remember maybe 10 good stories from our childhood and they all have meaning, we just have to value them enough to take time to nurture them and sit with them and understand- why did they stick with us?

J: Yeah. That's super helpful and thank you so much, and it's such a pleasure to meet you, and thank you again for your extraordinary book.

M: Thankyou, thanks so much

J: Great? Good?

M: We did it!

J: So we just finished our chat with Mrs Obama, and wow that was super cool, she was lovely of course, and very generous with her time, and very good at making anxious people feel comfortable which was appreciated.

J (In his basement): Because as you can probably tell I was extremely anxious. Hello, me from the future here.

I've read a lot of political memoirs and I really did think that Becoming was extraordinary because it managed to tell a very big story at a very human scale.

Hank, I'm off to think about the way my childhood memories may resonate with my adult self, I will see you on Friday.