Friday Reads: How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived, by Leslie Jordan

I listened to Leslie Jordan’s How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived, shortly after the 67-year-old actor’s October 24th death. Jordan was well known for his roles in “Will & Grace” and “American Horror Story,” but his profile shot through the roof during the pandemic. Stuck at home, he started making regular posts to Instagram to keep himself entertained. The posts were short and silly but obviously resonated, because before he knew it he had five and a half million followers and a book contract!

When describing his Instagram posting philosophy Jordan states: “On my Instagram page, I usually follow the old rule of not discussing politics and religion in company. I don’t know what I don’t know, and who would want to hear about what I don’t know? All I know is comedy and my sweet self.” And therein lies the appeal of listening to Jordan narrate the audiobook edition of How Y’all Doing? – it is a chance to spend four hours and 14 minutes in his sweet, hilarious company, listening to him tell stories in his delightful Tennessee accent.

Jordan writes about how much fun he’s had with Instagram, crediting the need to tell a story in around a minute with improving his comedic delivery: “Get to the point. Cut to the chase. No meandering around.” But he also celebrates the comedic freedom he experienced writing this book: “Who knew that writing for the printed page could send an artist soaring? To be able to tell not only the story but the backstory as well. And the story that led up to the backstory.”

Jordan’s memoir doesn’t have to be read in any particular order, since its chronology isn’t linear. Instead, most chapters are structured around a theme on which Jordan riffs, sharing stories from his life that are in some way related to that theme. In “The Bride Doll,” for instance, he talks about everything from the negative connotations attached to being a boy who loved playing with dolls, to being a man who, due to work he did in recovery programs, could walk into an American Girl doll store without shame and purchase one as a gift. “[I]t was a milestone moment,” Jordan writes. “Not one with trumpets blaring and angels singing, but a nice quiet realization that I had changed.”

It’s not until the chapter’s end that he tells the story of the bride doll he asked Santa to bring him back in 1958, when he was three. Initially, his father, “a man’s man” who died in 1967 when Jordan was 11, told his mother there was no way he was buying his son a bride doll. But on Christmas Eve, confronted with his son’s exuberant anticipation and unwilling to be the cause of his crushing disappointment the next morning, his father snuck out and procured one. “Thank you, Daddy. For having enough love for your son to buy him a doll,” Jordan writes in his conclusion. “And thank you, Don Norman [Jordan’s recovery advisor]. For helping me live a joyful, shame-free life.”

And that’s how most of the chapters unfold, including the final one, poignantly titled “”Until We Meet Again.” Jordan starts out reminiscing about the Florida vacations his family took each summer, and how bereft he felt when they ended: “It was then I realized how hard goodbyes can be.” He then pivots to the fact that even though the book is ending, it won’t really be the end because he has an endless supply of stories to tell. Knowing of his recent death, it was impossible not to choke up at his optimistic concluding words, which promise something that will now never come to pass:

So, to all my dear new friends, this is not goodbye forever. It is only goodbye for now. Goodbye till I get revved up and ready to launch into a whole bunch of new stories.

See you then.

Jordan, Leslie. How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived. Read by the author. Harperaudio, 2021. Audiobook, 4 hr., 14 min.

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