By Lori Welch Brown
The JoJo Effect
My husband, XXL, is to blame. He’s the one who got me hooked. First, let me say that, God bless XXL, he watches HGTV like most men watch ESPN. I’m a reader by nature. XXL is not. Most evenings you’ll find me with my face buried in a book (color me an introvert). That’s my idea of relaxing and unwinding. Authors are like friends to me and I love spending time with them. XXL, on the other hand, has become friends with the stars of HGTV. He would rather be kicked up on the couch surfing real estate with his friends on Beachfront Bargain Hunt or tearing down walls with Chip Gaines of Fixer Upper fame. For some reason, most of his reality TV friends stress me out. They make me feel like I’m a lazy, unproductive sloth. How can XXL lie there relaxing when we should be renovating our master bath and doing some extreme landscaping? How can he be content knowing that we will never fit into a tiny house? I’d have to divorce XXL, put our fur babies up for adoption and lose 90 lbs right after I sell all our worldly possessions (minus one Ikea end table and a salad plate) just to make it through the door. Thirty minutes of HGTV begs the question “what are you doing with your life and/or why are you living so large?” What have I been doing the last five decades? I don’t have one design blog not to mention a line of furniture or cookware to show for it.
All of that changed, however, when I met JoJo Gaines. At first I thought it was just another one of my girl crushes. I’ve had many. Stevie Nicks, Misty Copeland, Michele Obama, Elizabeth Gilbert, just to name a few. After a recent Fixer Upper marathon, it occurred to me that this may be beyond a silly infatuation. JoJo has subconsciously slipped into my brain and assumed a virtual role model position. When I find myself losing patience or reacting negatively, I think, “what would JoJo do?” Yes, maybe I should be thinking what would Jesus or Eleanor Roosevelt do, but that just feels too elevated for me in my day to day life. JoJo is a little more relatable, even though we don’t have that much in common. She has a nationally recognized brand and is the mother of four. I don’t have a blog, TV show or gazillion dollar home flipping business and no children beyond two fur babies. She lives in Waco. I live in Alexandria. What we do share is a passion for making others happy and living with purpose.
Part of my appreciation for all things JoJo is her relationship with her husband, the ever quirky, Chip, and the life they’ve created which feels like my idea of Small Town, USA. First, what is not to love about a man whose mantra is “what Momma wants, Momma gets.” I love watching their fun banter. I haven’t felt this way since George and Gracie. No, I’m not an octogenarian; I just happen to be an old soul. Second, I am caught up in a fantasy world where neighbors join together for county fairs and pie bakes. I want to live in a world where sweet tea is the norm and pie is a part of daily life. Maybe I’m not trying to embody JoJo, but a simpler life. A “Southern” life. It all feels too good to be true, but that’s the cynical, snarky side of myself. I’m almost waiting for TMZ to report that Chip and Caitlyn were seen kissing outside a Dallas strip club or show a video of JoJo cursing a local antique store owning grandma.
Maybe I’m drawn to JoJo’s Magnolia universe because in real life things have felt not so simple. I’ve been to a couple of funerals recently for women who have been silently suffering. Both were good women with gentle spirits. Both were trying to fill BIG voids with gambling, shopping, cigarettes, alcohol, prescription pills, etc. From the outside looking in, you would have never known there was anything wrong. On the inside, everything was wrong. Both had husbands who loved them and great kids. I am saddened and confused. Their lives feel complicated, and I want it to be simpler, with clean, clear answers. I’m asking myself what is different in our wiring? When they felt sad, why couldn’t they find comfort and solace anywhere? Clearly, a book or an HGTV actor wouldn’t have helped—but what could have? The right pastor? A better childhood? More of a connection to God? How am I able to get an hour’s worth of enjoyment from a sappy reality show and come out the other side feeling a bit brighter with a deeper commitment to living my purpose and yet these women couldn’t get a moment’s peace from their demons? I find myself feeling awkwardly spoiled that I take that reality for granted.
My comfort usually comes from books—the black and white reality on the page – but post-election and funerals, I find myself searching out JoJo. I need to see something dated and ugly transformed into something welcoming and beautiful. I need to hear some fun, playful banter. Each month, my publisher sends an email with the theme for the upcoming issue. December’s focus is on all things ‘holiday’. Visions of a Walton family Christmas or a snowy Norman Rockwell scene come to mind, but this year my holiday wish is for us all to find a way to make our respective communities a little more beautiful, a little brighter. Maybe I’ll invite a friend out for some sweet tea and pie, look deeply into their eyes and ask “how are you doing?” and really listen. This, I think, is what will continue to make America great.