Books, comic books, and more books! That was what my boyfriend bought me for Christmas last year. They were all individually wrapped and given to me in the middle of the month, giving my willpower an ultimate test as I resisted the temptation to rip them apart and make it snow with little bits of metallic red paper. When I opened them I was filled with pure childlike glee that comes with opening up Christmas presents – Futurama comic books, a book on the Philosophy of Watchmen, and Elf Girl, which thematically fit the situation perfectly. I breezed through the comics like my grandmother’s holiday cookies, read and tried to understand the philosophy behind the comic behemoth Watchmen to the best of my abilities, and told myself that the next book on my list would be the lighthearted Elf Girl – ’tis the season and all that.
However, for a while the book sat on my shelf, assuredly making my boyfriend think that I hated his gift and that I would never read it, propelling him to feel self-conscious even though he knows I love both weird things and funny things. It was a matter to getting around to enjoying it. The past few month, my reading list has been either thoroughly weird, thoroughly depressing, thoroughly aggravating, or a disturbing mixture of the three (I’m looking at you, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. At least the combination was surreally awesome). Laughter and lightheartedness just did not fit into the equation of feeling horribly depressed when the last paragraph is read and the book is closed – I was sticking with a theme, obviously.
I’m in the middle of the fantastic novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and enjoying it in the way a sweets lover falls into hysterics over a sheet of freshly baked cookies. However, when I woke up yesterday I really wanted to read something funny – it was a weird urge, like if I didn’t read something that made me laugh, I was going to sink further into the bad version of Funkytown, because my funks are notorious and seedy, sort of like Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels. Turning over in my bed, my eyes fell onto the chartreuse spine of Elf Girl, the curled elfin shoes pointing me in the direction that I suddenly knew I needed to go.
I engulfed it. I’m a pretty fast reader, but I absorbed this book like it was made of sunshine, before I knew it I was grinning ear-to-ear. Offbeat and a willing queen in the kingdom of uncool, Rev Jen presents her trippy memoir in a semi-cohesive line of vignettes, writing about her bizarre escapades and attempts to be famous with her different brand of art. It’s crazy and weird, and I’ve never read anything quite like it – it almost doesn’t feel real, like she either lives in a land of make believe and all the stories are hallucinations, or she has a mind in the form of an LSD trip… but real? I had my doubts.
And then it slowly dawns on you. Every story in the book, every bleary-eyed and drunken elf employed by Bloomingdales during Christmas, every unopened can of Budweiser shoved into her purse, every romantic sentiment devoted to the aforementioned macrobrew, every hit of acid, every psychotic love interest that would make your own lurid dating past seem like a walk in the non-restraining order papered park, every phallic shape waved around in someone’s face, and every conga line through New York City, it’s all so utterly strange and surreal that it has to be real. It’s all so consistently peculiar that you can’t help but fall into it and wonder what goes on inside her head – after all, anyone who creates a rap-opera (hip hopera?) about rats in the style of Cats or regularly dresses up like Doo-Doo, the forgotten and alcoholic Teletubby, is either the weirdest person you’ll ever meet or the best troll society has ever seen (the later has some validity, just look at her Troll Museum).
Rev Jen presents a memoir that isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny, sure, but it’s always entertaining and always cosmically hilarious. Getting a glimpse into her fringe life is a trek in itself, an exercise in being a free spirit, doing what you love even if people think you’re a lunatic for doing it, and embracing your weird (sometimes very weird) quirks. Being someone who abides to the doctrine of Huey Lewis and the News, reading about Reverend Jen’s exploits was like getting a little peek into a lifestyle that I would never choose to experience and I really appreciate it for that. Her attitude towards life is candid, enchanting, and filled with heart. Where I may have started the book thinking her to be trying to be the weirdest, elf-ear wearing woman in the room, by page 5 that idea was eradicated. Though a little strange for everyone’s taste (you can’t please everyone, anyway), she’s sincere, kind, and wacky – she doesn’t, and never has, pretended to be anyone other than herself.
Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that you can be yourself and nothing bad will happen. Rev Jen has a perspective on art that I think translates to her life – she doesn’t believe that art should be reduced to a numeral, she finds it shocking that anyone would voluntarily subject themselves to the process (73). Who can blame her? It’s so obvious that she lives her life without thinking about the numerical approval and, even if I’m not entirely sure I would “get” her skits, I commend her flipping the bird to the artistic mold and never losing sight of who she is. We all can learn from Rev Jen.