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Jenny Lawson is a bestselling author of three irreverent memoirs, a candid and comedic blogger with 118,000 loyal followers on Instagram, an aspiring small business owner, a wife and mother.
But as the date of her 10-minute talk at TEDxSan Antonio nears, the writer well-known among her fans for deeply honest and personal posts about her struggles with depression and anxiety is considering carrying a table onto the stage to hide under.
Lawson, otherwise known as The Bloggess, will join a program of eight presenters for the daylong Nov. 9 event at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre.
TEDx San Antonio is a nonprofit event organized locally as part of the worldwide TEDx program created by the TED organization. TED began in 1984 as a conference on technology, entertainment, and design, and today covers almost all topics – from science to business to global issues – in more than 100 languages.
This year’s main event is San Antonio’s 10th consecutive year to host a TEDx program and will feature topics ranging from the gender of war to economic principles of risk.
The topic of Lawson’s talk, the importance of storytelling to mental health, is what has propelled her in recent weeks to overcome her anxiety, she said, and get dressed, leave her home in the far North Side, and drive downtown for rehearsal sessions.
“Practice is helpful, but I still have a lot of anxiety and this sort of multiplies it,” Lawson said in a recent phone conversation with the Rivard Report. “It’s extremely exhausting. … I have to recover from it and this will take my whole day.”
But sharing her personal experience with mental health, she said, is what helps her overcome her anxieties. And she wants it to help others.
“I’m basically … talking about how when we tell the story of our struggle, whether it’s about mental illness or abuse or domestic violence or disease or whatever, it’s not only healthy for us to help break the stigma, but it gives other people permission to tell their story,” she said. “And by sharing all those stories, we can get better … and we’re not hiding the way we were in the past.”
A San Angelo native and resident of San Antonio for the last five years, Lawson announced earlier this year she is making the leap from writer to bookseller by opening an independent bookstore and bar, Nowhere Bookshop, at 5154 Broadway. Construction delays in converting the space mean it won’t open until January, she said, but orders for T-shirts and merchandise with the store’s logo have come in by the “thousands.”
Since her first book, a memoir titled Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was published in 2012, public speaking requests have come often. “But I pretty much never do them,” Lawson admitted.
In fact, because her very first speaking engagement got out of hand, with audience members pretending to be zombies and her going barefoot, Lawson said, she thought she’d never be asked to speak publicly again. The experience became her second book, Furiously Happy.
The blog allows her to test new ideas, similar to the way a standup comedian tries new material on stage, she said. And that is how Lawson plans to approach the upcoming TEDx talk.
Other speakers for the event include Alex Bailey, executive director and founder of Black Outside Inc., who will talk about expanding opportunities for more people of color to experience the outdoors; Graham Conway, principal engineer at Southwest Research Institute, who will discuss the contradiction of battery-operated vehicles; and John Myers, a postdoctoral researcher at Baylor College of Medicine, who will discuss the rhythms of the brain.
“Each year, we aim to promote rich dialogue in our community by selecting ideas that inspire a desire for a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves,” said Angelica Cordero, TEDx San Antonio programming committee chairwoman, in an email.
“This year’s slate is no different. These speakers are dedicated to their unique perspectives. And a majority live here in San Antonio,” Cordero said. “It’s a true testament to the amazing things that are going on in our city.”
More information and tickets are available on the TEDx San Antonio website.