Gays Reading

Julia Phillips (Bear)

July 09, 2024 Jason Blitman Season 2 Episode 63
Julia Phillips (Bear)
Gays Reading
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Gays Reading
Julia Phillips (Bear)
Jul 09, 2024 Season 2 Episode 63
Jason Blitman

Send us a Text Message.

Jason and Brett talk to Julia Phillips (Bear) about different sibling dynamics, the "bear" knocking on her door, and why she's wearing a snake in her wedding photos.

Julia Phillips is the bestselling author of the novel Disappearing Earth, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year. A 2024 Guggenheim fellow, she lives with her family in Brooklyn.

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BOOKS!
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page: https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading

MERCH!
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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Jason and Brett talk to Julia Phillips (Bear) about different sibling dynamics, the "bear" knocking on her door, and why she's wearing a snake in her wedding photos.

Julia Phillips is the bestselling author of the novel Disappearing Earth, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year. A 2024 Guggenheim fellow, she lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Gays Reading is sponsored by Audible. Get a FREE 30-day trial by visiting audibletrial.com/gaysreading

BOOKS!
Check out the list of books discussed on each episode on our Bookshop page: https://bookshop.org/shop/gaysreading

MERCH!
Purchase your Gays Reading podcast merchandise HERE!
https://gaysreading.myspreadshop.com/

FOLLOW!
@gaysreading | @jasonblitman | @bretts.book.stack

CONTACT!
gaysreading@gmail.com

Jason Blitman:

Hello!

Brett Benner:

Hi, hi, hi. Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi.

Jason Blitman:

Uh, so excited for today's episode. We have the wonderful Julia Phillips talking to us about her new book, Bear.

Brett Benner:

So good. So good.

Jason Blitman:

but first, shall we shout out some brand new bookies that come out today?

Brett Benner:

Yes. Um, first up is Anyone's Ghost by August Thompson, who was just on the podcast., now's your chance to get the book. Coin by Yasmin Zaher that comes out today.

Jason Blitman:

Navola by Paolo Bacigalupi comes out today, which I have said before, I'm curious to expand my fantasy horizons, and this sounds so great. I'm

Brett Benner:

I love the cover, that big eyeball.

Jason Blitman:

And we also love our, Irish girlies,

Brett Benner:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

and quickly while they still have horses is a story collection from Jan Carson that looks so good that I'm really excited to dive into. And a thousand times before by Asha Tonky I'm really excited for that too, and it's one of the Book of the Month picks,

Brett Benner:

Oh, I didn't know that.

Jason Blitman:

yeah, it's been on my radar for a minute, and it just, it looks so good, it's also a debut. Ramirez's Tell It to Me. Looks great. Again, beautiful cover. We love a beautiful cover. Cat Shook's Humor Me, which I have not read, but our friend of the pod, mattyandthebooks read it and I believe enjoyed it. A lot of great, great things coming out. Oh, and last week, J Courtney Sullivan's The Cliffs came out, which I'm excited to check out, which is now, uh, Risa's book club so many things hard to keep track.

Brett Benner:

Matteo Oscar pores, Matteo Oscar, of course, the great hemisphere also came out last week, which we missed. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

He's also, he's very handsome.

Brett Benner:

He's very handsome. Yes.

Jason Blitman:

So buy the book just to have, just to see his author photo. We're gaze reading. Um, speaking of we're gaze reading, if this is your first time with us, thank you for joining us. If you're coming back, thanks for coming back. We're happy to, happy to have you happy to be in your ears again.

Brett Benner:

Speaking of bears.

Jason Blitman:

If you like what you're, if you like what you're hearing, please share us with your friends. Follow us on social media, AkiisReading. Like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And leave us a review, because that is, it just helps other people find us, which is exciting. And on today's show, we have Julia Phillips, talking to us about her new book, Bear. Julia is the best selling author of the novel Disappearing Earth, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 best books of the year. A 2024 Guggenheim Fellow, she lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Brett Benner:

Awesome.

Jason Blitman:

Awesome. I'm Jason,

Brett Benner:

I'm Brett.

Jason Blitman:

and enjoy this grizzly episode of Gaze Reading. Hello. Are you there?

Julia Phillips:

I'm here. Hi guys. Hi.

Jason Blitman:

Can you hear me?

Julia Phillips:

I can hear

Jason Blitman:

hello. Are you there? here. Can you hear me?

Julia Phillips:

calling in the woods. I got you. I got you. You're good. You're really

Jason Blitman:

I was like a bear joke and a zoom joke. What?

Julia Phillips:

That's what it's all about in this day of contemporary literature. All jokes are zoom jokes.

Jason Blitman:

Unrelated to your book that I have to talk to you about before we start because I'm by before we start, we're recording. So obviously this is going to. The episode. But this could be a conversation that lasts the whole hour. So just in case it has to happen now, why the hell were you wearing a snake in your wedding photos?

Julia Phillips:

Okay. Okay. I will tell you, which is we got married at the city clerk's office. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn Bridge on a Friday afternoon, it turns out there were I feel like I've never seen this before or since, but it must be a thing that I've just missed all these years I've lived here. There were like snake handlers who for 20 bucks will put a snake on you and take a picture of you. Have you seen this?

Brett Benner:

Yeah, it's called a child's birthday party.

Julia Phillips:

So

Jason Blitman:

across the Brooklyn bridge a couple of times and

Julia Phillips:

I know.

Jason Blitman:

never

Julia Phillips:

That's how I felt, too. That's how I felt, too. But

Brett Benner:

You were almost conscripted into the circus, by the way.

Julia Phillips:

I was almost contributing to the circus. I had never seen this before, but I wasn't sure if it was just this sort of thing. I also have to say, on this afternoon where we got married, I'd never seen so many people getting married before. As we were walking around, I kept noticing there were all these other couples getting married, which I also realized, when I was pregnant, all of a sudden I looked around and I was like, everyone's pregnant at the same time? And it's just me noticing. I was also in a snake handling kind of mood because there were all these snake handlers on the bridge and my, sister in law's boyfriend at the time thought it would be very funny to pay these guys 20 bucks to put snakes around our necks. So they did. They paid them 20 bucks to put snakes around their necks. They were on our necks for about, 30 seconds or whatever. And then a picture was taken that made us then look so cool, so brave, so impressive.

Jason Blitman:

Yes. I was like, I can't talk to Julia because she's too cool for me. And she had a snake around her neck during her wedding pictures.

Brett Benner:

book is called snake.

Julia Phillips:

where I was working at the time, I had all sorts of like complicated wedding feelings going into it, which I didn't realize I had about, oh gosh, about like gender and being a bride and all sorts of stuff that kind of was coming up for me, which was weird. And so one of the ways it's manifested is that I was at work at the time where I worked at the time. I didn't tell anyone I was getting married, which like, whatever, I don't know why I made the decisions I made. So then I, when I went back to work on Monday, I was like, And they said, Hey, how was your weekend? And I said, Oh, I got married. And here's a picture of us with some snakes around our necks. And everyone there was so impressed by me. And it was like, probably the coolest thing I've ever done. Impressed that I could keep a secret and impressed that I look like I handle snakes all the time, which I don't. And I can't. So I don't know why I chose to give that impression at the time. Yes.

Jason Blitman:

time. I think I might have had a snake around my neck a la your wedding picture when I was a kid.

Julia Phillips:

Yes. Yeah, totally. Pound's birthday party? Pound's birthday.

Jason Blitman:

yeah, but I don't know, I've gotten a little more heebie jeebie as I've

Julia Phillips:

Oh, yeah.

Brett Benner:

Because you realize what it could do to you.

Jason Blitman:

Maybe, I think there's also something about like, when you are, as you get older, you're like, you know what, it's okay that I don't like this thing and I'm just gonna not like it, there's no, so yeah, I'm like, no, I don't. I don't like reptiles. So I don't have to

Brett Benner:

Do you remember that story that went around about the girl who had a pet boa and she let it sleep in the bed with her and she thought it was so cute because it would lay along her length?

Julia Phillips:

Wait, measuring her body?

Brett Benner:

yes. And the vet said, you have to stop this. It's measuring your body to eat you.

Julia Phillips:

Okay, I do think that this is a chain letter urban legend that

Brett Benner:

I think it probably is too, but I love it.

Jason Blitman:

Well, and thank God Brett sent it to 12 people

Brett Benner:

That's

Jason Blitman:

it didn't happen to

Julia Phillips:

Saved some lives on that day!

Jason Blitman:

Exactly.

Brett Benner:

I started that urban legend. I was like, tell Julia to put the snake back.

Jason Blitman:

funny. Oh

Brett Benner:

in the bed, not in the bed.

Julia Phillips:

It wasn't bad.

Jason Blitman:

But yeah, as I've gotten older, I'm like, I don't like this thing. I'm good. So I'm no longer. Going to try it ever again.

Julia Phillips:

I get that completely. I actually feel that way increasingly about sharing movies and also cliff jumping. Jumping off into water, I realized that? is,

Jason Blitman:

What do you, Oh

Julia Phillips:

time was worse and worse, and finally I had to realize of all the ways I would like to be adventurous, brave, and fun this ain't one, babe. I'm

Brett Benner:

because now you have people that depend on you. So it's a bigger deal.

Jason Blitman:

yeah.

Julia Phillips:

I depend on me. I'm not trying to,

Brett Benner:

Yeah. Yeah.

Julia Phillips:

to mess around with this. It was, but yeah, it feels like a fun rustic summertime activity that I would love to embrace and be cool. Not happening.

Jason Blitman:

What are ways that you like to be adventurous and fun then?

Julia Phillips:

Oh like I killed the bugs in my household.

Jason Blitman:

Oh, so do I.

Julia Phillips:

Doesn't it make you feel so cool?

Jason Blitman:

Sometimes. Yeah.

Julia Phillips:

Not so cool.

Jason Blitman:

It's gotten to the point where I'm like more annoyed that my husband like can't deal with it. I'm like, it is so small, just smush it.

Julia Phillips:

Sometimes they're so big. Sometimes, I don't know how many cockroaches you have in your home, but we have had more than one. What are your guys brave things that you do that you think, oh, I'm adventurous, oh, I'm fun?

Jason Blitman:

Very little for me.

Brett Benner:

Anyway, let's talk about your book.

Jason Blitman:

I'm very prone to injury. So I think I'm emotionally brave.

Julia Phillips:

Yes.

Brett Benner:

Mm. That's a good one. good.

Jason Blitman:

yeah. Like

Julia Phillips:

You can have conflicts, you can have tough conversations, you can,

Jason Blitman:

yeah, I think so.

Julia Phillips:

Yes. I'm so impressed. I'm honestly so impressed.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. Brett, what about you?

Brett Benner:

I got nothing. No, I'm really trying to think of what I've, because I'm more aware as I've gotten older of the fears of what can happen. with doing something. Even going skiing, like after 15 years, I'm just not doing it and like raising kids and then suddenly going back to it and being like, I remember going down for the first time. And first of all, hi, it hurts. Cause like you're older and it's hard. And it was harder to get up. Like when you're little in your center of gravity, so low, all of that changed. And I was like, wow, you could really have an accident. You can really smack your head. You could really do all these things that So I don't know. I think the only thing I've done in my life in terms of fearlessness is sometimes I've just gone ahead, even having kids. It's a thing like we're going to do this and not think about it because to think about it would give you a thousand reasons why you shouldn't do it versus just doing it. going ahead. So I feel like in that way, and I think I was the one who pushed my husband to really have kids, all of those kinds of things. I think I'm the one in that. So that's what I would probably say. There are points in life when I've been like, it's the fear, feel the fear and do it anyway. Isn't that the mantra,

Julia Phillips:

when I think about everyday bravery these days, I think very much about my interactions with my kids. I find that I, it's very terrifying going into it and it's very terrifying living it all the time. And I've been, noticing lately that I, um, my kid, my old big kid is getting more independent. He does things that freak me out and, but I don't want to curtail him or make him feel unfree. So he's like running down the block towards the intersection and he never has run into the street before. And I, but I'm like, okay, I'm gonna make the decision to trust that he's not going to run into the street, which is terrifying because it only takes one time. And I've noticed that instead of saying, Hey, stop, don't do that. I'll say, I'm really scared right now. I'm shouting at him I feel worried that you're going to run into the street, but you just keep going. Keep being brave. But I'm

Brett Benner:

that though. I love that way to say it though.

Julia Phillips:

so scared. But I think about his memories of his childhood. Will they be, will it be of him doing fun things while behind him? I'm just freaking about how scared I am.

Brett Benner:

That voice in his head.

Julia Phillips:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

perfect segue into talking about the book, though.

Julia Phillips:

Very scary stuff.

Jason Blitman:

Not just scary, but that's so much of what the book is about, right? It's you're, people just being scared for each other. And it's And it's not, a little bit is don't do that, but some of it is please don't do that because I'm worried about you.

Julia Phillips:

Yeah. And I

Brett Benner:

And what happens to us. What happens to us?

Jason Blitman:

what is your elevator pitch for bear?

Julia Phillips:

Okay. I've got a short elevator pitch, that's one sentence, and then I'll try on a longer one for size two, which is, this is a story about two sisters whose lives are changed when they meet a bear. The longer version of that, the longer version of that is that it's about these two sisters who live in this beautiful place called San Juan Island off the coast of Washington State. And this island is this stunning tourist destination, but these sisters are not having a dreamy experience there. They're having trouble making ends meet and they're dreaming of the day they're going to get away. And they have plans and visions for how that's going to happen, but all those plans and visions change when this wild animal shows up at their front door and sends them off in these ways they never anticipated they'd go.

Jason Blitman:

It's a modern fairy tale and a ferry F E R R Y tale.

Julia Phillips:

That's true.

Jason Blitman:

You're welcome.

Julia Phillips:

true.

Brett Benner:

Oh,

Julia Phillips:

love that. It is. It's a fairy tale in both ways that one of the sisters, the main character, Sam works concessions on the ferry F E R R Y that connects the mainland to their island. So she goes back and forth on this ferry all day long, but But can't ever seem to get off it to start the next thing that she's going to do.

Jason Blitman:

It's interesting when I saw that it was inspired by Snow White and Rose Red, the Grimm's fairy tale, like I said, a fairy tale popularized by Grimm, um, it's not one that you often hear about. I was like, Ooh, she pulled from the trunk, deep in the trunk.

Julia Phillips:

say it was a minor one, yeah, totally.

Brett Benner:

I did it in I did it in summer stock. Actually. I was the

Julia Phillips:

Are you kidding me? Really?

Brett Benner:

Yeah, we did summer stock. No, it was just summer stock and you would do, I was like in the junior company, which meant that like you weren't on the main stage show. So you toured around New Hampshire and all around the New England area. And we would do these series like the tired, like these kids, these grim fairy tales, but are like the tortoise and the hare. And I was, we did Snow White and Rose, Snow White and Rose Red.

Julia Phillips:

Okay, I'm so curious about this because this fairy tale, which is about two sisters meeting a bear, but in a very different way, a very different context, different kind of relationship. In me, the original fairy tale has an odd story. The story itself is not satisfying. And part of the effort of this book was trying to take those elements that I found really compelling, the sisters, the bear, the relationship, and shape them into a narrative that made more sense to me. And so I'm curious about the dramatization of the fairy tale. Like what, did it make sense? Was it

Brett Benner:

yeah, but you have to imagine it's distilled down because the original fairy tale is frankly, it's closer to Beauty and Beast, right? There's this creature that's this prince that's trapped in this bear's body. And so that's what it's still distilled down to because it was for little kids. So it was all about Oh, we're two sisters and we're living with our dying grandmother. But look, there's this bear and there's a, there's a a mean troll and so that really becomes the centerpiece and love sets everything free

Jason Blitman:

Hmm.

Julia Phillips:

yeah,

Brett Benner:

and this really pretty which you know it's and it's a weird too because for a Grimm's fairy tale it almost doesn't follow the pattern of what so many Grimm fairy tales are which are Frankly, grim. So this one's a much more kind of a soft landing. So interesting.

Julia Phillips:

for, except for our dwarf who gets

Jason Blitman:

just gonna say that, but it's right because you looked at it from a different perspective, but if you were, the dwarf's mother, then I think

Julia Phillips:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

see it as quite grim.

Brett Benner:

That's like wicked, right?

Julia Phillips:

Yes totally. These poor villainized creatures. And

Jason Blitman:

Yeah. So you have a brother, you don't have a sister. You wrote this sister story. Do you feel, did you, was this a little bit of a writing the sister you don't have?

Julia Phillips:

I think I was, to be honest, I think working on this book, I was writing a lot of the best friends I have had in that their relationship, the two sisters in this story are living together with their mom, who's sick, but they are now in their late twenties and they're firmly adults, although I think sometimes they feel like they've been in this place of arrested development. Because they've been waiting for the next stage to happen with their mom for a long time. And her illness has been a lot longer and more difficult than they anticipated. So they're sisters, but they're also roommates, and they're also friends, really old friends. And they have a dynamic that I think I've had in a lot of my friendships and that I wanted to explore here, which is when you know someone for a really long time, you're super close to them, and you feel like we know each other so well, we don't even have to, Talk about it. We, all these things can go unsaid. I have certain expectations, or certain things that I think you should do, or certain things I think friends should do, or certain ways we should be there for each other, and of course that's understood between us. Of course we don't need to get into it because we've had this relationship for so long, you get it. We understand each other. And then something happens that turns out that maybe you don't understand each other, and you don't know each other as well as you thought you did, and the feelings of loyalty and love and also expectation and disappointment and the heartbreak of that within a long term relationship is really what I wanted to write about here. My brother and I have not lived together in adulthood, so we have not had this particular dimension of our relationship, but certainly I have had very close girlfriends with whom these loyalties and disappointments have really shaped our relationship.

Brett Benner:

you're adding to that relationship, this claustrophobia that exists because not only. Do they, have they made these plans to get off the island? It's all kind of hinging on the passing of their mother who's sick, but they're also caretakers for her as well, which is its own stress and its own kind of dynamic that just levels it up even more to add this pressure, which is, it's so effective.

Julia Phillips:

I'm so glad. The dynamic they have, I think is definitely influenced by their sibling relationship there because the older sister has taken on more and more. Younger sister has taken on less in a way over time or the way that they've assigned themselves responsibilities have been obviously you're the responsible one. Obviously you're the one who, can handle this. I think that assigning those roles, especially in a kind of two sibling pair, can get it can happen really easily, really young, really foundationally, and then it's pretty hard to shake, and it sets up some tough times down the road for a four.

Jason Blitman:

Is your brother older or younger?

Julia Phillips:

He is older. I'm the younger sister

Jason Blitman:

Did you see him as the responsible one?

Julia Phillips:

I saw him as the, I think when we were very young, I saw him as the deciding one. So he was the one who picked the games. He said, here are the rules of the game. Here is how I win the game. He was four years older. So, so

Jason Blitman:

I'm also the older brother. I can relate to everything that you're

Julia Phillips:

You tell them what's what. You tell them what's what. And I think when you're really little as the younger sibling, that's a role that you embrace because you think how fantastic my parents or, are in a different generation, maybe a different world than I am. And my friends I don't live with, but the older sibling is such an instructor. They tell you what to do.

Brett Benner:

You, whether it's, it doesn't have to be physically take care of, but you feel taken care of. There's a safety in that.

Julia Phillips:

a huge safety in that. And and I think a comfort sometimes in being petulant in that. It's a nice thing to have the safety of that relationship to complain about or say oh, my older brother is so annoying, but of course he is the one who makes the world for me. I think as we got a little bit older, a dynamic between us that is definitely present in the book is that he was the more socially at ease one. He was the one who was, That are able to talk to grownups or played sports in high school or could make small talk with people. And I felt, maybe as a function of being younger, but also maybe as a, just my own personality, I felt a little weirder or more prickly or less able to integrate socially. And I think Sam definitely has that in the book, her older sister is, she feels it's like smoother in the world and able to talk to people more, which is a burden for the older one too, to have the responsibility of being the one who makes nice or the one who has to I don't know, you do all the smiling, you do all the handshaking and meanwhile your sibling gets to seemingly do whatever they want.

Jason Blitman:

And to that point, it's also the responsibility of being the responsible one.

Julia Phillips:

Yes, totally.

Jason Blitman:

And so I, as the older sibling, related so deeply to having an opportunity to break from that.

Julia Phillips:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

And I was like, I don't ever feel like I don't want to say I don't ever feel like I can be irresponsible, but it is important to me to be responsible,

Julia Phillips:

Yes.

Jason Blitman:

whether it's to set an example or because I want to be there for my two younger siblings or, I don't know exactly what it is, but like seeing Elena uh, sort of from her responsibility was um, alarming and also like freeing and exciting for her.

Julia Phillips:

Yes. Totally.

Brett Benner:

But back to what you said about Sam and it's so great, the kind of the prickliness, which I think Personally, I loved and I hated, but one of the things that I think works so well with the novel is because most of this is told through Sam's lens, right? Which heightens the kind of paranoia, which heightens this idea of losing grasp of, any sense of control that she might think she has, while also it screws with you a bit as the reader, I found, because you're watching what Elena's doing. And even though some of it, In regards to the bear, which we'll get to in a second, but in regards to the bear, but also just her own hopes and dreams, all of it makes sense, right? And even later, when a Madeline comes into the picture, and who seemingly would seem like she's doing her job, she works for the parks department corrector,

Julia Phillips:

Yes. Yes. Totally.

Brett Benner:

but through Sam's lens, because things are escalating, it starts to become, for lack of a better word, thriller esque, because you really start to wonder everything Sam's doing, wait, what are you doing and where are you headed? And what kind of reckless behavior are you going to get into because you're impulsive at this point? Slow down, girl. Yeah. Sure. Yeah.

Julia Phillips:

I know. Sam, it was so fun to write. For my first book, I moved around perspectives a lot. And for this book, it was such a thrill Be inside Sam because she as a very intense version of what I think all of us have sometimes, which is that she doesn't want to perceive reality such as it is, she, she wants to have an experience of her life that is confirming of her own thoughts and her own beliefs and validating to her and consistent with where she wants to be. For life to go. So her relationship with her sister, for example, that her sister is having a freeing, liberating experience is, yeah scary for her sister, but also wonderful. But for Sam, that she can't even reconcile with the idea that her sister wants to have that. Because she's saying you're gonna be free? What, free of me? You're gonna leave me? We're in this together, you don't, you want to leave me. And that itself is so horrifying. That she can't sit with that reality. She can't accept that. And every single time it keeps coming closer and closer to her, she pushes back on it harder. And it does make her desperate, and reckless, and frightened and ready to lash out. Which I think is Is the fun of a narrative and of an escalating drama, but oof, it's a tough mental state to be in for sure.

Jason Blitman:

the way that you're both talking sort is really articulating how I felt reading the book. There, there was this not dissimilar from a fairy tale. There was this repetition sort of throughout. The book. And for me, I felt like I was on like a teacups style ride that was like moving slowly. And then it like kept getting faster without me even realizing it. And I was like, on one hand, I was like, Oh, I feel like I'm hearing some of the same information again. But as you just said, it's escalating, or it's, building in some way. And I all of it. And then suddenly, I was like, Oh, my God, I'm gonna get thrown off the teacups. So But it but because, things repeat themselves in a fairytale, because that's part of the like moral way to learn. It was alarming and exciting. And, come the end, you're just like, Oh my God, get me off the ride.

Julia Phillips:

And who's been spinning this teacup this whole time? Has it been her sort of creating this how much has been outside of her and how much has been inside of her that is creating this wildness?

Jason Blitman:

Wildness, the bear, I

Julia Phillips:

Wildness.

Jason Blitman:

We don't need to talk. I don't, not to give anything away because we are spoiler free on Gay's Reading, but Throughout the whole book, I think the reader is thinking Is the bear real? Is the bear a metaphor? What is the bear? Is it a capital B? Is it a lowercase b? Like what's going on here? And there in turn is this like hum underneath the entire book of fear. And I think as humans, we can read this And the bear can be whatever we want it to be in our own life. I'm curious, what is your bear?

Julia Phillips:

Let's see. I, when I was working on this book, so that this bear in the book that comes and keeps coming closer and closer to them on this teacup ride and at each time it comes, things escalate. Um, this bear is this real animal, at least in my view

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Julia Phillips:

who shows up and it's reality, it like walks around and it. Poops and pees, and it scratches things, and it eats things. It's reality crashes into these sisters intense desire for a kind of metaphorical transformation. You know, One sister really wants freedom in one way, one sister really wants freedom in another way, and both of them see the bear as either representing that or representing the threat to that. So they throw all this symbolic weight onto it. When I was working on this book, especially I was also throwing symbolic weight onto the bear and I was throwing symbolic weight onto the bear. I started this book in the end of 2021. I had my first kid in June, 2020, which was a pretty negative experience. I would say having a baby a couple months into a lockdown was a bummer. And it resulted in a really challenging. First year of life for him and first Year Parenthood for us. Very challenging. I'm sure all of us had extremely challenging 2020s in different ways, but what the result was that I, by the end of 2021 I felt so intensely and had been feeling so intensely that the life I. Was not a life that I recognized at all. And to jump back to our earlier conversation, I had thought of myself as brave and adventurous and willing to try new things and pursuing of a life that was broad and varied and stimulating, and then. Over time, over this experience, I found myself clinging to safety and stability, and I didn't want to go out of my house, and I didn't want to ever get sick again, and I didn't want anyone to touch my child or be near me, and I just felt so constrained. I didn't recognize myself at all. And I started to, as this. Sense of this new sense of myself and what my life was and what potential or limitations that I had took over. I was also overtaken by an increasingly desperate desire to shake myself back to that other self that I recognized. I was like, I just need something to show up and change me. Or I just need like this, if I could just snap my fingers and be Me, again, the me that I recognize, I would do anything for y'all, but I didn't know how to get there. I didn't know how to cross this bridge from this sad and scared self to a self that, that I wished I could be. And I really wanted a bear at the door, I think, by which I mean, symbolically, I wanted. Something externally to show up that was brave and exciting and wild and free feeling and made me feel wild and free and was so shocking that it could get me outside, that it could get me stepping out of my own head or stepping out of my own one bedroom apartment. Like I needed that so badly and I couldn't find that strength in myself. I think that this story became that for me. When I started writing this book, it was so weird. It was different from any way I had ever written before. And it was I had gotten really deep down in, out of this desire for security and stability, I think I was like, I really want to write something that other people like, that other people approve of, that feels, like a known quantity that I would get an A plus and a gold star on. And this was so not that. This was just like, I don't know what people are going to like. I don't know what anyone does. I don't recognize myself or anything around me. So I'm just going to do what whatever weird impulses are coming out of me. I'm just going to follow those. The writing of this ended up feeling wild and free and liberating and kind of world shaking in exactly the way I needed. And it did end up feeling like a beast at the door and it did make me, um, brought me back to the person I wanted to be or the life that I wanted to live. The bear was the bear. In the end, you know, the book was the bear.

Jason Blitman:

Yes, but what you're talking about is I'm getting a little emotional because you, you just described yourself as Sam, the bear was ruining your life. It was COVID. It was not feeling like yourself. It was not wanting to go out into the world. And so you, turned it on its head and created the bear in the other direction to free yourself. And

Brett Benner:

To become Elena.

Jason Blitman:

yeah. And it's like such an empowering thought of what bogs us down? We can shift our perspective and harness it to push ourselves out there and be brave back to what we were talking about at the beginning.

Brett Benner:

There's two quotes, there's two things she said, and it pairs into exactly what. You're both talking about where it says in here. She's talking about Elena is talking to Sam about the bear and she said its presence had made Elena's ears keener. Her eyes sharper had shocked her senses into new sensitivity. It had looked right at her and taken her in. And it's almost like that. And then Alina says later, look, what's going on here isn't dangerous. It's magical. And it's the best thing that ever happened to us. So it's all tied into just what Jason is saying, what you're talking about, which is like the, you found the bear and the bear found you and it helped you

Julia Phillips:

I started this project wanting so badly to get myself out of these pandemic feelings, but though I now when I look at the project, I think oh, boy, I got, I see this because it's not a pandemic novel in that, it's about face masks or washing your hands for 30 seconds or, but it's so shaped by that feeling of stuckness and the desire for it. Like, this life can't really be real life like at any moment now we're going to go back to real life and the real life is going to be better at any moment now we'll break through to the better life that for me that feeling was so defining of COVID. I think Sam, but the sections that you just read that, I think Sam can get so lost in the fantasy of the future she thinks so much about how things are going to be better someday that she uses it as a way to get out of the present. The present is very unpleasant for her and hard for her. And it's been hard for a long time. And so she thinks about what else is out there in order to cope with what's going on. That is, I have to say, a coping mechanism I myself have shared many times. But Elena's talking about when she's talking about her ears being keener and her senses being activated and like she is present with the, she's saying the present right now has something in it that I don't want to run away from or fantasize away, this is, I'm here, we're here, this is it, this is our lives and, and there's actually something here that is beautiful, and unforgettable, and something that we should be paying all our attention to right now. Which is, I think, a beautiful way to live, although I'm not sure I would recommend Alina's method to achieving it.

Jason Blitman:

No, but I would maybe recommend yours.

Julia Phillips:

A little bit of, a little bit of fantasy on the page.

Jason Blitman:

yeah. So much of the book is about survival, obviously, and it means different things to different characters, and I think different people in real life and a huge driving force, especially for Sam, our protagonist is escaping where she lives. It's, it was the place her grandparents lived, where her mom grew up, where she grew up. The idea of needing to leave home in order to make something of your life. Is that, do you feel that way?

Julia Phillips:

I would say, yeah I live right now 15 miles from where I grew up, so maybe I don't feel that way. I also grew up in New Jersey, and if you ask me if I'm gonna ever go back to live in New Jersey, I would say, gosh, I hope not. My, my family

Brett Benner:

Montclair wasn't for you?

Julia Phillips:

It was not for me. It was not for me. Or maybe, my parents live, they're still in the town where I grew up, my brother lives 20 minutes away now with his family, um, many friends of mine moved back it is clearly a objectively wonderful place to live, but the, I don't have fond memories of the person that I was, and so it's hard for me to have fond memories of the place. And Sam is actually much warmer in the book toward the place that she grew up than I am. For me, where I grew up, I always felt, it's not even where, I don't know if this was your guys experience with kids, but I did not like being a kid. And I think about it sometimes with my kids, actually. Sometimes my big kid, who's our only fully verbal child right now. The other one's too little. He wants to do something, and we're like, No, you can't do that. No, you gotta go to bed. No, you have to, we we gotta go to camp right now. We gotta do this, we gotta do that. We have to keep a structure and a life for him. He has a limited amount of control. And sometimes, you click. Man, that sucks. That sucks for you. When I come home, if I want to eat cake and take a nap, I just eat cake and take a nap. I have an extraordinary amount of freedom in my life now. Perhaps an unusual amount, I think certainly unusual now, but I can almost all the time do what it is I want to do. And as a kid, I felt that very rarely very rarely. And and I often felt That my life was not in my control. I often felt stuck. I often felt so claustrophobic. So trapped. I think maybe by dint of, Being a child, and you're not necessarily in control of your own life. I think Sam really struggles with that claustrophobia, although she doesn't match it so much with the place of her childhood. The place of her childhood, I think, she regards as in fact, beautiful, and liberated, and free, and gorgeous, and wonderful. She doesn't like that. Living in the same house now for a third generation, waiting around, not in her own control, for the day that she can move on.

Jason Blitman:

Mhm.

Julia Phillips:

Did you guys feel that way when you were kids, or is this sort of an angsty New Jersey teen vibe?

Brett Benner:

think, I never felt it as a little kid, but I think again, I felt protected. I felt secure. It was going into teen years, like preteen, like the awkwardness and the realization that things were different and that you might be different. And when, when, begin to be set up in school and people are ostracizing other people and words begin to get attached and people stand out. That's when I couldn't wait to leave. I knew I couldn't wait to get out. I couldn't wait to get out.

Julia Phillips:

Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

What, when you're describing your childhood, at that point in your life, had you taken day trips to New York City? Had you done any sort of exploring?

Julia Phillips:

Yeah, my parents both worked in New York, and it was, it seemed very Seemed like the promise, I grew up in the New York City suburbs.

Jason Blitman:

Think where I grew up didn't really see that there was world outside. And so I think immediately when I saw the first phrase that comes to mind is greener pastures, but that's

Julia Phillips:

more concrete pastures, like,

Jason Blitman:

passion when I saw that there was when I saw that there was more, I was like, Oh, I want,

Julia Phillips:

yeah,

Jason Blitman:

and it was then that I started to feel a little stuck. Yeah, Julia, what were

Brett Benner:

also wonder, I think with Sam too, living on this island, which again is like an idyllic vacation spot. It's nature, it's beauty, it's water. But what that would be like to grow up in that and not Jason, what you're just talking about of what else is out there, what else is beyond this, somewhere that's green kind of world that exists beyond this ferry of going back and forth. Where does that road lead you to? think that would be such a huge

Jason Blitman:

say? I'm so curious

Julia Phillips:

I was just, I was thinking about how I love hearing you both, that young childhood was a safe and whole place. And actually, Brett, like what you were just saying about living on the island and thinking what else is out there. I remember when I, in the research for this book, coming a couple times across narratives where people talked about the experience of growing up on the San Juans, where Santa Elena lived. And the experience of realizing there was a mainland at a certain point in childhood. For a long time, you think like the island is the world, the island is the entire world. And I love that world. It is complete and it has everything that I want and everything that I could ever want. And if the edges, the boundaries of the world that, get bigger and start to encompass the idea of there being something else somewhere else. But I really, I love That moment in youth where you think this is the whole thing and the whole thing is by design. I am satisfied by this. This is everything I've ever known. And I can't imagine at this moment in my development, knowing anything else ever, or even wanting to know. The idea of wanting to know seems foreign.

Jason Blitman:

I don't know that I actually felt that way. I do wonder if I felt like there, there has to be more than this without understanding that's what I was thinking.

Julia Phillips:

Talk about Beauty and Beast. There must be more than this provincial life. Uh,

Jason Blitman:

like there must be like, there has to be. That's the funny thing about Florida. When you live in South Florida, you could drive for 10 hours and you're still in freaking Florida,

Brett Benner:

but I feel like that was also something and maybe that was like an East Coast thing too because I grew up in Pittsburgh. We didn't

Julia Phillips:

I was just there, Brett. It was so beautiful. Okay, so yeah, I

Brett Benner:

I haven't been like, I haven't since my mom passed, which was years ago. I haven't been, but

Jason Blitman:

They didn't drive anywhere, but, or you didn't fly anywhere, but still, if you drove five

Brett Benner:

no, that's what I'm saying. You drew, no, but that's what I'm saying. We drove to Ocean City, New Jersey or, but there was never any eventually my parents, we used to go to Colorado to ski. But that was a huge thing. Like getting on a flight the first time and getting on an airplane and being like, wow, we're going someplace. Like I, I didn't I didn't go to Europe until I was well into my relationship with chip. I was well into my thirties or late twenties before I even left the country. And for many people, they don't, they never will. And they never even will go out of their space. Do you know what I mean? And I may not have the desire to.

Julia Phillips:

It's so funny when I think about the experiences of space and more and elsewhere that I felt as a kid. Some of it was geographic, but also some of it as a very little kid was almost like habitual. My dad is very religious, so he raised my brother and I, Quaker. We grew up going to Quaker meeting every week. My mom is not. She was, they were both, both my parents were raised Catholic and my dad converted with the zeal of a convert in college. So she did not go to Quaker meeting with us. And I had negative experiences at Quaker meeting as a kid. I did not enjoy it. I was not a Quaker. I was brought to a Quaker meeting every week, and that was a part of our childhood, but I was not a Quaker. But my mom got to stay home every week, and I wanted to stay home every week, but it was not an option to stay home every week, when I was six or seven years old, because we were kids, we went with my dad to Quaker meeting. And my experience of the church was like, I want to do something. I want to do something. Do something else. I can see that there's something else here, and I don't want to do this. These are also like small things like I'm thinking about this these days because we just began our first season of day camp, but I did not like going to summer camp when I was a kid, which is like such a, I don't like the taste of this caviar or what, this is like such a privileged thing to complain about. but I didn't like it, but there was not another option, both my parents worked and that's what we did, but I didn't like it, I didn't like being there, I felt like a weirdo And so the idea of more was. was a feeling of more options. There must be a different option somewhere. I can see other people exercising different options. This might be, in fact my mom is self employed. She doesn't go to an office every day. She like works from home or travels or does, whatever. And I thought that's a pretty cool life. What? I can't hear I was six or seven years old. Why can't I do that? That sounds a lot nicer than doing, making these God's eyes at camp.

Jason Blitman:

Which circles right back to you talking about not wanting to be a kid, right? You like wanted to grow up very quickly. Okay. We cannot end on that note of I don't want to go to Quaker camp. So something.

Julia Phillips:

It's the most important. That's a big takeaway of this book. Yes.

Jason Blitman:

so us talking about Sam desperately wanting to escape among the things she does to make money is do online surveys. Are you an online survey doer?

Julia Phillips:

I am not an online survey doer, although I did some online surveys for this.

Jason Blitman:

did you make okay money?

Julia Phillips:

I did not make okay money. I got frustrated many times the website. I also had, I think Sam was a little more relaxed about her internet privacy than I am. I felt very uncomfortable entering my information to these websites in the way that they would need to redeem the points that you made for online surveys. I, I am what I am is an internet addict. Sam is also an internet addict. She's on her phone a lot, but she is on it in very specific ways. She's like on these quiz websites refreshing them and she spends a lot of time on her You know refreshing the screen and noting when she goes in and out of self service. I do the similar I've done a similar thing, but unfortunately most of my noting when I go in and out of service is because I'm on Instagram like a creep watching people like ice cakes on my explore page.

Jason Blitman:

yes.

Brett Benner:

succulent clippings.

Jason Blitman:

and ice skates.

Julia Phillips:

Do you watch people ice skating? Yeah.

Jason Blitman:

everyone does

Brett Benner:

Now it's all

Jason Blitman:

right now? It's gymnastics because it's summer Olympic

Julia Phillips:

I'm also getting a lot of gymnastics, but yeah it, which is also, of course, it all comes back to this notion of escapism.

Jason Blitman:

I was just just going to say it's escaping in a different way.

Julia Phillips:

yeah, she's escaping in this particular way. I also love an escape but in a particular way Simone Biles for routine is letting us all escape for

Brett Benner:

Amazing. Amazing. There's a lot to need to escape from. Not

Jason Blitman:

brave enough to do a flip or two, like Simone Biles. So bringing it back to bravery.

Brett Benner:

even a fucking somersault.

Julia Phillips:

No,

Jason Blitman:

my God. I'm literally sitting here wearing a knee brace. 100%.

Brett Benner:

Going to the orthopedist today. Yeah.

Julia Phillips:

This is us. This is adulthood. This is what I was so eager to get into. It's

Jason Blitman:

I know. Seriously. I'm like, wait a minute back to be, I need to be a kid again. What was I rushed?

Brett Benner:

San Juan, running through the trees.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Julia Phillips:

I know. It's so beautiful. I when I was there researching, I was looking at this the other day, but when I was there researching the manuscript, I. They have like little, there's a main harbor in the town, and they have these little poems on plaques written by elementary schoolers. And there was this one that I was looking at the other day again, that was just like, I love the island where my mother raised me. I love, you know, my beautiful like, just to live here in paradise, and I'm so happy. And I thought that's the best. That's the vibe, that's

Jason Blitman:

And you're you're sitting in the corner smoking a cigarette. You haven't seen the world, kid.

Julia Phillips:

Try New York City sometimes, bub. No, but really, that, that's it. there is no greener pasture. There is no greener pasture.

Jason Blitman:

It is the greenest pasture, but watch out

Julia Phillips:

the greenest pasture, yeah. But there is so much to be said for that. Fundamental feeling. Of safety and being taken care of and thinking like the world is whole, just as it is. And I think when we're lucky, that is a huge part of what it's like to be small and the kind of desperation or dissatisfaction that can take over us is. And exciting and thrilling and can take us very interesting places, but wow the beauty of just saying, I love the island where my mother raised me is there's something fundamental to that, that I hope and pure and I hope it's in this book buried foundationally and I hope it, Is something that all of us are able to access that purity and that like the solidness of that I'm safe. I'm home. I'm swaddled. I love it here.

Jason Blitman:

Yeah.

Brett Benner:

That's a perfect ending. And they lived happily ever after.

Julia Phillips:

they lived happily ever after.

Jason Blitman:

We've just Disney fied all of the fairy tales. Exactly. Congratulations on the book. We're so happy for you.

Julia Phillips:

Thank you so much for talking to me. This was by far the most fun way to spend an hour ever. I'm

Jason Blitman:

Terrific. Enjoy

Julia Phillips:

so grateful to you. Thank you.

Jason Blitman:

Ann Patchett a hug for us. Tell her friends at Kay's Reading say hello. She doesn't know us, but I want her to.

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Julia Phillips:

I I've never met her before and if I can get out a single word because I'm so starstruck, that is the word I will say, but I'm probably going to just pass out on the ground. I'm so excited. I'm so excited.

Jason Blitman:

And you're the Parnassus book club pick. Congrats.

Julia Phillips:

it means the whole world to me. Every single time I look at Parnass, internet presence and she's just holding a tiny dog. I'm just like, this is it for me.

Brett Benner:

And her new tiny dog, that's what's

Julia Phillips:

oh,

Brett Benner:

That was devastating. Killed me. Killed me.

Julia Phillips:

so, I know.

Brett Benner:

Just wept.

Jason Blitman:

Ann Patchett is your bear.

Julia Phillips:

She is, she, I'm gonna, let me tell you, all my senses are gonna be alive when I meet her. She's gonna take me in and I'm gonna love it.

Brett Benner:

You're delightful.

Jason Blitman:

you. I have a wonderful rest of your day. Everyone go

Julia Phillips:

a wonderful rest of your day.

Brett Benner:

Yes.

Julia Phillips:

Thank you guys so much. Apply some musk oil if you're so moved. And thank you. Thank you guys so much for this.

Jason Blitman:

Julia, have a wonderful rest of your day. Thank you for being here. Everyone, make sure to check out Bear, in our bookshop. org page. You could get a copy of the book, or wherever you buy your books. And we will see you next week. Bye.

I don't know. ANSWER ON SCREEN