Jasmin Singer

Jasmin Singer

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Jasmin Singer’s aptly titled debut, “Always Too Much and Never Enough,” could have been a weight-loss memoir, an outsider-childhood memoir, a political-activism memoir or a mother-daughter memoir. Instead, by being all of these at once, it is a coming-of-age memoir with some real dimension. The so-called “issues” in Singer’s life (the issues in a person’s life being what but the life itself?) are manifestations of her core way of being in the world, and her true concern in the book: what she calls “self-phobia.”

“Always Too Much” follows Singer into her mid-30s, later in life than we often think of coming-of-age stories. This is maybe in part a function of the much-worried extended adolescence of the generation Singer and I belong to. We have the luxury, not to mention the curse, of not needing to commit to our futures at a young age. But there’s more than just this going on in Singer’s book. The major theme of “Always Too Much” is that the process of self-discovery/self-invention is ongoing. Whether we convert to veganism, come out of the closet and get a sleeve of tattoos (as Singer does) or change jobs, move across the country and reassess our environmental responsibilities (as perhaps you have), we are always simultaneously at the end of the long path of our self-histories and setting course for unknown future selves. Singer makes explicit what is often implicit in memoir: that life is an ongoing process of self-cultivation; we achieve ourselves only now, never permanently.

Some of the specifics of Singer’s story are these: parents divorced when she was young; lived with her mother, brother and step-fathers; overweight from a young age; picked on throughout teen years; self-soothed with processed food; fell in with the theater crowd; became a vegetarian on a bit of a whim; obese into her twenties. When she took up veganism it was for ethical reasons after learning about the horrid conditions under which most of our food animals are kept. It wasn’t until she later started attending to her health and juicing regularly that she lost weight. Now, she and her wife, Mariann Sullivan, run Our Hen House, a nonprofit organization that produces multimedia content, including an eponymous podcast, aimed at reducing animal exploitation.

When I talked to Springer on the phone last week, she was on her book tour in Spokane, Wash. One of the things I asked her about was how she keeps from getting distraught when so many people refuse to pay attention to the well-being of animals. “I take the strategy of trying to be indefatigably positive and celebrating the small victories.”

And she sees the small victories mounting as vegan consciousness spreads. “I’ve been involved in the animal-rights movement for long enough to have seen a lot of shifts. The current trend is people and businesses becoming more vegan, maybe not 100 percent, but more. Their taste buds, their wallets, and their business models are all embracing veganism.

Singer’s concern for animals comes out of the marginalization she experienced growing up. “I was a former fat, bullied kid. I was always pushed aside as other or less than.” And she’s sensitive to that experience in animals as well as in other people. But just as the personal becomes political, the political turns back around to the personal for Singer: “I used to focus on just the political, but I realized unless I was properly advocating for myself I couldn’t effectively advocate for animals. Self-care is paramount to anyone working on social justice.”

That’s a bolder claim than it first appears. Most of the time we go to lengths to avoid knowing ourselves. As Singer put it to me: “We hide our truth behind a variety of bad habits and addictions to products, people, and ideas. And at the root of those untruths is fear. My story is about seeking personal authenticity, it’s not about finding it. This is not a concept that discriminates by age or anything else. I’m looking for my next truth just as much as kids are looking for theirs or a 90-year-old might be looking for hers. We can’t get to true authenticity unless we’re willing to struggle.”

Singer’s tour brings her Bozeman tonight, Friday, June 17. She’ll be at the Country Bookshelf at 7 p.m. There will also be a reading, signing and juice tasting at The Wheatgrass Saloon, 120 N. Main St., in Livingston, on Saturday, June 18, at 2 p.m.

Scott Parker is the books columnist for Get Out! and works on the Chronicle’s design desk. Send him an email at sparker@dailychronicle.com.

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Scott Parker is the books columnist for the Chronicle's Get Out section.

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