Jennette McCurdy, author of the memoir and New York Times Best Seller “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” spoke to the student body Wednesday as Brown Lecture Board’s first speaker of the academic year. From the stage of the Salomon Center's DECI Auditorium, she detailed the process of writing her memoir and offered advice on regaining self-control.
Previously well-known for her breakthrough role as the brash Sam Puckett in “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat,” McCurdy’s bestselling memoir recently established her name in the world of writing.
Released in August, McCurdy’s memoir depicts her struggles with being thrust into the world of child acting while simultaneously facing abuse from her mother. McCurdy’s writing discusses the hardships of eating disorders, addiction and overbearing parenting.
During the talk, McCurdy noted that it was surprising to see her book resonate instantly with so many people. “I didn’t expect this type of response and it is meaningful and fulfilling,” she said. “It suggests a lot of parental abuse (is) out there. It gives me hope because I feel it is opening up some conversations that have been long overdue.”
McCurdy added that her surprise stemmed from the initial rejections she received when sending the proposal for her memoir out. “You can’t call a book this. You can’t talk about subject matter like this with humor. It is too graphic. What if we make it more” young adult, McCurdy recounted publishers telling her. “People kept trying to change it.”
She said that the distinct writing style of her memoir came from her desire to be authentic, showcasing each childhood experience from the point of view she had at that age. Throughout the editorial process, McCurdy said she insisted on keeping some sentences entirely capitalized or adding ellipses in grammatically incorrect places to recreate her childhood perspective.
McCurdy said that her experiences with an eating disorder were directly related to her experiences navigating control in her childhood. Her mother monitored her weight every day, measured her thighs and imposed upon her the ideal of staying young, she said.
But McCurdy noted that she now has a healthier relationship with control. “I want control professionally. I want control creatively,” she explained. “That is the area I have been able to channel it the most effectively and in the most helpful way. It is nice to have it as an outlet.”
She said that working as a child actor made her fear growing old — and that she still feels nervous about aging from time to time, such as when she recently turned 30. “Youth is very romanticized, especially in the entertainment industry — it is idolized (and) it is difficult to make sense of that when you’re young,” she said.
“I only feel a sense of more freedom as I age. There is no part of me that wants to go back to your age,” she told the student audience.
Regarding relationships and long-lasting friendships, McCurdy emphasized mutual respect and the importance of growth as a common value. For individuals who feel that they have less influence in a relationship, she recommended setting boundaries.
“Mental, emotional and physical boundaries have been difficult for me to make sense of,” she said. “When I was first told about boundaries, I did not know (what they were). There was nothing tangible to grasp onto. … It all starts with yourself. Self-boundaries bleed into boundaries with others.”
McCurdy also focused on the process of character writing in her memoir. “I write characters to try and understand people, usually the people that I have lived with (or) known (in) an attempt to know them deeper,” she said. When writing herself as a character in her memoir, she did so to find closure and make sense of things through writing.
After releasing her memoir, McCurdy starred in a one-person show of the same name in Los Angeles. “The performing part of the one-person show was very difficult,” she said.
McCurdy quit acting years ago because of her negative childhood experiences. Returning to acting through the one-person show was so stressful she considered canceling the project altogether, she said. But with the help of therapy, she eventually overcame her performance anxiety and put on more than 20 shows, she added, meeting her own personal goals.
McCurdy offered additional advice during the student question and answer portion of the talk. When asked what advice she would give the Brown student body and other college students, she said that “the people you surround yourself with matter and make a big difference.”
“People who see when you are your best version and people who call you out when you are your worst version” are important to have in your life, she added.
She said that if a relationship or project is not a “hell yes,” it is a no. “It’s not sustainable, lacks passion, lacks enthusiasm — and people can really tell if it lacks enthusiasm,” she said.
Finally, McCurdy said that the most important step in escaping her mother’s control was acceptance. “In a weird way, it is almost the opposite of control. The more I have accepted uncomfortable aspects of my life, the faster I was at finding recovery, health or healing,” she recalled. “The more I didn’t face acceptance, the more I struggled.”
Toward the end of the talk, McCurdy also revealed that she had just closed a deal on a debut novel, of which she said she had written almost 20,000 words. “It’s at the place where I go to bed thinking about it and I wake up thinking about it, and I love that state of the project,” she said.
McCurdy ended the talk by speaking about what makes her hopeful.
“I have a really good support system,” McCurdy said. “I have amazing friends and they all make me feel hopeful.”
“And you guys,” she said to the audience.