Television writer Kristin Newman was celebrating a stranger’s mother’s birthday in Brazil when her friends back in Hollywood were picking out paint for their nurseries.
Driven by a desire for freedom from social constraints back home, Newman, who has written for “That 70’s Show,” “Chuck” and “How I Met Your Mother,” spent her time off traveling the world. During her 20s and 30s, she spent weeks at a time in foreign countries, living a wilder life than she would have had she stayed in L.A.
She chronicles her adventures in love and lust in her debut book, the memoir “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding” (Three Rivers Press, $14.99). She spoke by phone about the book, which she’ll be reading from and signing at Skylight Books Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
As a seasoned television writer, what was it like shifting gears and writing your memoir?
In TV and in movies, there’s structure. You have to hit certain plot points and certain pages and you have to have a certain number of jokes per page and the whole thing has to be a certain length.
My favorite thing to do is go off on little tangents and when you’re writing a book, you can just let it run. It was a joy. It was like having a storytelling session over lunch with a friend—but by myself.
Your story is unique in that your career as a television writer allotted you the time and freedom to travel around the world for long periods. What advice would you give single women who may not be ready to settle down, in order to help them hold onto their free spirits, like you managed to do?
Even if everyone can’t drop everything and go around the world, you can wake up in your house feeling a little bit lonely, and just grab a book and go to a restaurant. You can talk to your waiter and the people at the tables next to you and walk down the street all by yourself. If you’re brave, you can have a great adventure in your own town.
We as women sometimes feel uncomfortable doing those kinds of things alone and are afraid of what people think of us. I hope that women might be a little braver and not worry so much about what other people think about your life choices, you sitting alone at the table or you deciding to wait a little longer to settle down.
Also, I am really lucky that I have a job that gives me the time and lifestyle to go on these trips, but even when I was babysitting, I would get a tent and car and just go.
The truth of the matter is, when I spent three months living in an apartment in Buenos Aires, that was a cheaper three-month period than living in Los Angeles would have been. It can literally save you money to go there for a couple months.
Traveling allowed you to transform into this persona you call “Kristin-Adjacent.” What is it about traveling to a foreign country that allows you to transform into this alternate version of yourself?
Yes, I talk in the book about this “Kristen-Adjacent” creature who I am when I’m on the road—she’s less judgmental, more open, a little softer and a little sluttier. When you’re traveling alone, you’re desperate for company. And the secret about traveling alone is that you’re alone for about a minute.
Since you’re so open, you start chatting up the person next to you and suddenly you’re at their mother’s birthday party in Brazil. You would never do that here.
But you can! You can be open to chatting with people and just being happy that there’s someone being kind to you and inviting you someplace fun—instead of saying, “do I really like this person? Are they smart enough? Should I date them? Are they good enough for me? Is it a waste of my time?”
As you were going on these trips around the world, were you aware that you eventually wanted to write about them, or was that something you discovered afterward?
I would keep little journals throughout, but it felt so personal at the time and I didn’t really know what it was.
When I met my new husband and two children, I think a part of me knew it was over and wanted to write about it. Only at that point with it being over did I have the right perspective to understand that what I thought had just been a fun series of events, clearly had a big life lesson for me. Also, it had an ending. It had a place to go to as a story.
Plus I’m getting to the age where if I wrote it while I was in the middle of it, people would have said, “Oh dear God, you’re still doing this?” I do feel better that I was writing it from a more appropriate life point.
Is that why in your epilogue you mention that you don’t think you would have published this book if you were still single?
Yeah, and that’s too bad, right? I think there would have been a sense of not shame, but fear—fear of somebody I may have gone on a date with reading it and knowing so much about me before getting to know me. It might be too much information too soon.
There was something about being loved and supported completely that freed me up to feel confident about what I had done, and to feel like it was not a precursor to my life now, but it was my life. And I was proud of it.
I hope that after reading the book, women who may not want their every choice and move be a means to an end (like getting married and having children), can recognize that it’s OK. That living a different life just because they want to live a different life is not something to be embarrassed about and it doesn’t mean that they are wasting their time.
Traveling by myself changed the way I was at work and changed the way I was with my family and changed the way I was with my friends, because I came home from these trips feeling like I knew that I had the ability to take care of myself and connect with people and make choices that kept me safe. This sense of confidence is what I got out of it.
I hope that single girls will buy a plane ticket after reading this book and go travel by themselves. There’s something particularly unique about traveling alone that changes you—and I don’t think that trips with other people change you.