The latest round of raves for Mary-Louise Parker is not for her acting, but for her writing.
Parker’s Dear Mr. You, a collection of lyrical and often emotional essays about men addressed to everyone from former (and unnamed) lovers to family members, NASA and a Sept. 11 firefighter, has been highly praised by critics. Essayist Leslie Jamison, memoir writer Mary Karr and poet Kevin Young are among those who have appeared with her during her promotional tour.
Drinking coffee at a Brooklyn cafe on a warm winter morning, the 51-year-old Parker clearly favors talking about writing over the discussion of acting, or, especially, her personal life. (She lives in Brooklyn with her two children, one of whom she had with the actor Billy Crudup). While a Golden Globe winner for the TV series Weeds and HBO film Angels in America and a Tony winner for Proof, she has for years been contributing essays to Esquire, The Riveter and other magazines.
Here are highlights from the interview.
On writing and privacy: “I am apparently hard to read — not to people I know — but I hear the same comments often through my life. I guess I feel I can’t ignore them — ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘Are you upset?’ — when I am not upset at all.
“When I do open up, I really open up and am very thorough about what I choose to reveal. … It also seems very free to know I was the architect of it, and I won’t be misrepresented. I can be as truthful as I want to be. I’m saying it in the way I choose to present it.”
On submitting her work to publishers without her name on it: “I was terrified, but when it seemed like people were favorable toward it I felt validated in a way I hadn’t really felt before. … People get a little more emotional when it comes to actors and this (book) had none of that behind it. I felt almost as if nothing else happened at least I had that moment people found it interesting and valuable.
On a near-death emergency and hospitalization, described in her essay “Dear Doctor”: “It’s not that I saw God, necessarily, but I was in another space. I was not fully conscious. I was hallucinating. I was speaking gibberish. I was in shock, septic shock, and the question is, ‘Where do you go? Where does your consciousness go when that happens?’ ”
On the sense of gratitude in many of her essays: “When you’re reading my book, I’m putting my thoughts in your head and why would I want to put in something negative? Not that there isn’t some immense pain. … But I didn’t want there to be an indictment of anyone, or try to elicit sympathy for me in any way. It’s a bunch of thank-you notes. That’s all there is — just a bunch of thank-you notes.”