The Wendy McClure Interview

August 20, 2004

Today is the day to act mad and hope somebody notices.

Buy my book!

Luvvie Smalls can handle it: send her your romantic questions.

Today's interviewee helps prove a theorem I have been touting for years: there are a lot of kickass women on the web, and that includes here in Chicago. On the web, she is most well-known for her journal, Poundy, her collection of old Weight-Watchers cards, and her wrapups on Television Without Pity. Offline, she writes a column for Bust magazine and she has a book coming out next year from Riverhead Press based on her writings from her site (but it's not all from the site so you have to buy it.) Also, when she says she chews a lot of gum, she means it.

The Wendy McClure Interview: A Li'l Under Twenty Questions

What is the climate like at the Iowa Writers Workshop? Is it fun? Are you allowed to have fun?
I was in the poetry division, and it was a known fact that we were way funner than ficition people. You could get weepingly drunk, even during class, which may not sound like fun to non-literary types, but oh, it WAS.

Tell us how you came to collect the vintage Weight Watchers Cards.
They collected themselves! The full set was in my parents' basement, just like I said. However, I did buy an identical set on eBay a couple months ago, so I guess I am collecting collections now. And it was weird buying them-they were billed as The 1974 Recipe Cards Made Famous By The Internet.

Your site originally started out as a weight loss blog. Do you get your fair share of people who request or share too much information?
I must correct you: my site started out as a weight loss online journal. Online journals are the slightly retarded older cousins of blogs! But now you can't really tell that my site deals with weight loss at all unless you squint really hard, and that keeps away the people who might otherwise mistake me for some kind of Dear Miss Brave Inspiration To Us All advice column.

You work for a publishing company that deals with children's books. Have you noticed any new disturbing trends in kids' books other than that of the celebrity author?
See, not all celebrity authors are bad. Like Jamie Lee Curtis knows her stuff. Her books are just like non-celebrity-author children's books! So don't knock her. That said, I think there is a disturbing trend distinct from and even worse than celebrity-author children's books (meaning, really, the ones by non-Jamie-Lee-Curtis-celebrities) and that's the celebrity BOOK by the celebrity author, where the celebrity's persona is allowed to be part of the book, right down to really grotesque little pint-sized caricatures of Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno hamming it up and being all smartass in a way that appeals more to adults than to kids. Grow up and stay grown up, you poopy celebrities.

I'm Not the New Me focuses on body image. What're one book you love and one book you hate that focus on this topic?
One book I love is Appetites by Carolyn Knapp. You know when you wish a certain kind of book existed in the world and then you find it? Appetites is one of those. One I don't love is Passing For Thin, by Frances Kuffel, which is a memoir billed as the Autobiography of a Face for weight. I think what she had to say as a woman who'd lost a bunch of weight was compelling and even eloquent, but just too caustic and complicated for the kind of story the book was trying to be. It's one of those "serious" books on body image that trots out the most gruesome pathology in a person and then insists that anyone with a weight problem will surely be able to identify with it all. I don't buy that.

Why is it, do you think, that plus sized lines of clothes call themselves "Anne Taylor WOMAN" or "Liz Claiborn WOMAN"?
It is because the plus size woman is just so much woman that she BURSTS out of the brand name! The famous designer name alone might be enough to hold the thin women, but plus size WOMEN cannot be contained and are relegated to just beyond the name. Do you see? It is like concrete poetry! Or something.

Say, did you hear about this crazy blogging craze? Did this publicity do a lot for you and the site?
I'm pretty sure I got far more traffic from my recap of the Chicago Fox news segment than from the actual segment itself. I didn't think the segment was that awful, just a little incoherent. It wasn't until I started going through the segment slowly on my TiVo and transcribing it that I saw how goofy it was. I don't know-when the media does take blogs seriously they usually aren't talking about sites like mine, they're talking about political pundits or tech people or literary bloggers. So sometimes I can't help but wonder whether most of the press attention given to personal weblogs is just an attempt to undermine blogging by portraying it as a dippy hobby. If there's any truth to that, then I like to think I've struck back in my own dippy way.

How did you get your column in Bust?
There was a test. BUST makes all their columnists prove that they are savvy enough with the woman-friendly sex toys and DIY culture, so I had to knit a pair of legwarmers using two Hitachi Magic Wands instead of knitting needles. That was really hard. Then there was hazing.

When you're a columnist, do you ever have a problem coming up with topics to write about? Is it hard to stay current with a quarterly publication?
This week I'm trying to think of a topic, actually, so yes, damn you! And no, you can't write about the very latest popcult phenomenon with a quarterly schedule, but I've never considered that to be a bad thing-although it becomes whole new crisis when some stupid celebrity or show or trend simply won't go away. Like am I going to have to write about Jessica Simpson now just because nobody's managed to flick her away yet? I hope not.

So once you really decide it's time to make it big, are you going to move to New York?
I went there once. I need to go there again. I sort of wish I could say I had lived there, but I feel that I've reached a point in my life where the statute of limitations on Moving To New York Because It's The Thing To Do has quietly expired. Maybe not, though.

Do you think the blogging/internet scene is different here than in New York? The West Coast? Is there a particular style or voice for Chicago?
Thinking in terms of cities or coasts or regions is still a little new to me, actually, because the older online journals were often evasive about their location, and a lot of journallers seemed to favor communities (aka burbs) based on interests rather than a sense of place. I used to say only that I was from "the Midwest," which had less to with hiding than it did with this notion that where I lived didn't really matter. That really changed once I started meeting and reading bloggers here in Chicago. It seems like a major trait of the scene here is that no matter what you're doing with your blog you'll inevitably come to know (or at least know of) photobloggers and DIY/craft people and political bloggers and book folks and gay/lesbian bloggers. I think all this must happen in New York, too, though on a much larger scale-the difference there is that there's sort of an A-list there, and a kind of ambition that doesn't really play out here so much.

You like old music videos, don't you? I thought I did, but then I realized that anything pre-MTV is not likely to be good. It's more just video of the artist singing the damn song. Do you concur?
No way, I think some of the best videos ever are the ones that were made right before MTV launched, when people had only this vague idea of what videos were and were all like, "Say, let's make one of those nutty song-movies!" and they'd get their friend in art school to videotape some dude juggling scarves. There is, seriously, a Martha and the Muffins video that shows members of the band getting eye exams and then performing pantomimes in the park. And you have to love a video like "Rudi, A Message To You" by The Specials, because even though it just shows the band performing and some footage of all these ska fan kids on the street, it was made well over twenty years ago now, and you can see the clothes and this little bit of cultural history recorded for posterity. But the worst old videos EVER are the ones that were made to promote the soundtracks of movies nobody remembers. You just see all these little snippets of stock scenes-people fighting! kissing! exchanging meaningful looks!-which gives you this hazy idea of what the movie is about and maybe you vaguely recall when it came out, or you saw part of it on cable, and you can't remember what the premise was, and then you'll never know because it only exists on some crappy VHS tape now, and the video stores weeded it out long ago and what the hell happened to Lori Singer anyway?

You cover TV for "television without pity." With that and other parts of life, do you ever wish you could stop writing and commenting and just enjoy without concern?
I can't speak for other TWoP recappers, but I've never had all that much trouble turning that part off. It's like having Closed Captioning in my brain, only with fewer typos.

How do you handle people who still refer to 'surfing the web' with air quotes and can't conceive of meeting people online? Are you patient or do you just change the subject?
Wow, there are still people like that? I must be really good at shutting them out, then.

Now that people are embracing online personal ads, do you feel smug about finding a significant other online?
I'm dating another blogger, though typically I think it's really creepy when bloggers mate. I guess in this instance it's okay because he's not a real blogger; he just puts up photos that he didn't even take himself.

I saw you plug Do you read press/reviews about yourself? I try not to, but then I'm too vain, and then I feel stung when anybody says anything bad about me, which should teach me for being so vain.
Ha! I wasn't really "plugging" the other day so much as I was "pointing bemusedly at it as one might call attention to a curious object on the ground, such as a dirty, discarded bra." Actually, the only press I've really gotten so far has been of the curious-pointing type, too, where the story angle is, "Say, she done blog herself a book!" I can't say that stings any.

I like that we have both been to the American Girls store for tea with the dolls. Your experience was a little more real than mine, though. Did you get dirty looks at the store?
Amazingly, only one kid's mom gave us the stink-eye in the cafe, and nobody bothered us in the store at all. I think parents everywhere can be assured that their child can bring her very own skanky knockoff doll to American Girl Place.
To be honest, we were much more bashful than we'd originally intended to be. I think it's because the harp music in the cafe subdued us. Did you have the lady playing the harp when you went there? That was classy.

How does it feel to be the 103rd person interviewed for
Really, I feel like I'm outside of my body, just kind of watching myself almost, like I'm in a movie or something, except not, you know?