BY ANTHONY SEMENTILLI
From mourning the finale of a beloved television series to accidentally attending a pole dancing class intended for professional strippers, this collection captures life’s absurdities through the perspective of an every-woman. Alena Dillon invites readers to laugh along with her as she reflects on universal experiences including diet frustration, as well as situations uniquely Dillon’s own, such as pounding on the side of a moving Mister Softee truck. Her widely recognizable stories of love, rejection, body image, snarky baristas, bargain hunting, ill-timed snorting, and, of course, public urination, will leave you reeling.
This issue’s Portrait of an Author Series is a special one as it features a member of the SJC community. Meet Alena Dillon, author of I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean. You may have taken her Fiction Writing class (ENG 107), met with her for advisement, or attended her book talk hosted by the English Club this semester on (INSERT DATE HERE). If you’re curious about Saint Joseph’s funniest author and never had the pleasure of experiencing any of the above, then look no further.
Seriously, this was such a fun book. It was like I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, but it didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out. Each page contains at least one guaranteed chuckle. For those of you unfamiliar with the format, each “chapter” is a short essay featuring the life and times of Alena Dillon—and they’re all hysterical. Her musings range from Costco raids, DMV gripes, and, of course, the eponymous act of oceanic urination.
The cheery and fast-paced style of writing makes this the perfect read for the “stretched-too-thin” type inherent to all academic institutions. Everyone can use a pick-me-up. I always tried to squeeze in a story here and there, particularly during the lulls in my day, like just before bedtime (4:00 AM give or take) or between my (never successful) experiments at the lab.
If I were to sum it up in a sentence, it would be “if I’m going to laugh at today 10 years from now, why bother waiting?” Dillon the transforms awkwardness and bad days we all experience into candid yet light-hearted tales. That’s where the true beauty of it all lies—if there isn’t something inside those pages you’ve never experienced, you might just be a robot. I believe that everyone (at least on Lawn-Guyland) has endured the wrath of 347’s drivers, accidentally ventured onto a nude beach, or endured horrific babysitting sessions just inches beneath the When a Stranger Calls level on the sliding scale of toddler-induced nightmares—but reading a book like Pee in the Ocean makes our collective suffering worth it.
On a philosophical level, Pee in the Ocean is like a manual on how to handle life’s trials and tribulations. Considering the majority of “haha” moments are far from enjoyable in real time, it’s rather zen to have the ability to milk the ugly side of life for all that it’s worth and then some. If anything, I consider myself inspired. I’ve now made it a personal goal to document the “are you kidding me”s of everyday affairs in an effort to make the craptastic a little more fantastic. That, and I’ve discovered the wonder that is 24 thanks to Dillon’s work—I have evidence, too
You can’t make this up!
So, next time I accidentally venture onto a nude beach, I’ll be sure to have a notepad at the ready. In the meantime, check out the interview we had the honor of conducting with Dillon—and we hope you give Pee in the Ocean a try!
(Sementilli) Hi Alena! Thanks again for having this interview with us. To start things off, what was your journey into creative writing like?
I started writing my first novel on my dad’s clunky desktop when I was ten years old. That manuscript was lost in a teary accidental deletion. I’m only just getting over it.
I pursued writing more seriously in college and then in graduate school. I’ve shot for publication from every angle. I wrote two screenplays, a memoir, someone else’s memoir, and then a collection of essays (not Pee in the Ocean). Agents continued to conclude I didn’t have enough of a platform to sell nonfiction, so I thought, “Well, I guess I better try fiction.” So I wrote a novel, and finally secured an agent. Since then I’ve written another novel and the humorous essay collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean.
(S) Where did the inspiration for I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean come from?
I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean began as a series of blog entries. I’d started writing a novel, but I missed nonfiction, so I used my blog as an outlet for my native genre.
But more than that, the blog was a way to train myself to see life through a more amusing lens. There’s so much pain in the world; it’s important to laugh when you can. So that was my intention: to invite readers to laugh along with me while also encouraging them to view their lives with that same perspective. Don’t take yourself too seriously. When you think of misfortunes as a joke, you transform what might be an unpleasant memory into a good story.
(S) How long did it take to write your book?
The collection of blog posts spanned a year, and then I spent another six months or so revising and expanding them.
(S) If you had to pick, which of your stories is your favorite? Which did you enjoy writing the most?
I like “Eat Before the Clock Strikes Fast.” I’m a sucker for sharp wordplay, and that essay has one my favorites: “The devil is in the Doritos.” But I have to credit the title essay as well, because “Eat Before the Clock Strikes Fast” just wouldn’t cut it as the name of a book.
(S) What recommendations do you have for SJC’s budding writers?
That old adage: write what you know. I don’t necessarily mean that literally, like write what you know about being a college student in Long Island. But rather write what you’ve learned about the human condition. Write what you know about love, disappointment, regret, and joy.
(S) Do you have any fun and new drafts cooking on the front burner that you can share with us?
I just finished the first draft of a new novel, a historical fiction book about the Women Airforce Service Pilots who were called to fly military airplanes during World War II and then dismissed, cast aside when they were no longer needed.
And I’m continually writing humor essays when inspiration hits. I probably have about half a book’s worth at this point, and will continue to write more as I encounter mishaps or absurdity.
(S) Is there anything you want to share or say to your present/impending fans?
Everything in the book is true. Sometimes when I read other humor books, the events or dialogue are so outlandish, I think, “That can’t possibly have happened.” So I was mindful to avoid exaggeration to make the anecdotes and musings more relatable. I want readers to recognize my experiences as their own—to see themselves on the page.
(S) Serious question—if you had to live off Starbucks or Carvel for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Isn’t this question a little personal for an interview?
No, as much as I treasure a good vanilla soft serve cone with rainbow sprinkles, I have to choose Starbucks. Whenever I sit down to write, it’s with coffee—so much so that I’ve developed an association between coffee and creativity, and now I can’t write without it. My brain is like, “Well, you look like you want to write, and it feels like you want to write, but there’s no coffee so…. are we paying bills?” Plus, I’m pretty sure a diet of Carvel would send me into a diabetic coma.
But what a way to go.
Intrigued? Learn more about Alena Dillon and her writing athttp://alenadillon.com!
Check out her social media links, too!