The thing about fame and celebrity is that the people at the center of it all represent something knowable and unknowable at the same time. We admire them for their talent, humor, good looks and personality. We project onto them the image and person that we would like to be, and they become dear to us in the same way as a close friend or relative, even when we only know them through the portal of a screen. Yet, in the same manner as a doomed relationship, they have all the control. They control what you hear and see and know about them and their lives. Often they do not tell you hardly anything about themselves — their personal struggles, doubts and fears — and instead simply stick to entertaining you in the hopes of making you feel better about whatever may be troubling you.
This is Hannah Hart to a tee. Or, at least it was until she released her memoir, Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded.
For years, I have watched Hannah drunk-cook and crack pun-jokes while also getting down and silly with her fellow Youtube friends. While I do not hold her as high up on a pedestal as I do with some celebrities (yes, I’ll admit it), she is definitely one that I’ve always thought of as cool, confident, intelligent, funny and unafraid to be herself. But the thing about Hannah is that she is one of the most honest and open people on Youtube. Even before the release of her memoir, she was open and honest about things she was feeling or her worries about herself and humanity in general. I’ve always felt a kinship to Hannah because many of her videos read simply as a person who is striving with all her might to make the world a better, happier and more optimistic place. She fills a void in a world where our angers or fears are often simply glazed over in the interest of basically laughing through the pain.
With Buffering, Hannah takes this openness to entirely new level. In her memoir, which was released in October, Hannah addresses some very painful moments in her life history when she had to grow up fast, take care of herself and try to figure out who she was in the midst of chaos. Through narrative essays and journal entries, Hannah shares the harsh realities of her experiences living with and trying to help her schizophrenic, single mom, balancing her family’s Jehovah Witness faith with the reality of her sexuality, working through mental illness and finding herself through comedy and Youtube.
Hannah has endured so much in her life that it is almost as if one is reading about a completely different person. And to a point that is true — much of the defining and formative moments shared in the novel happen prior to her presence on Youtube. She had done lots of soul searching and growing up in the years before sharing herself with the world of the Internet. However, it is a bit hard to reconcile my own personal image of Hannah (warm, loving, funny, optimistic and hopeful) with the one that we see growing up in the pages of the book (angry, confused, unsure, and very nearly hopeless in some cases). However, not only is Hannah’s book important in the interest of spreading awareness about various issues, it is also useful in helping us realize that the people we think of as close friends are much more complicated and nuanced, with almost unimaginable life histories, than we often care to realize.
There are some cases in the book where I found myself completely shocked by what was happening. I can’t imagine being ripped from my home and on my own in high school. I can’t imagine the constant struggle of denying who I am by turning to a fear-inducing religion. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to turn against a loved one when it is in their best interests. And I definitely can’t imagine doing all of that while working in a field where you present yourself as happy and carefree. Through several situations that would have shattered others, Hannah has worked and persevered to come out on the other side where she can be who she is, do what she wants and ultimately help people.
I’m sure this book was difficult for her to write. It’s hard to believe anyone could write about so many intense issues all at once without breaking down. But Hannah finds various moments for comic relief that remind us she is the same person she’s always been to fans. Her writing swings from sarcastic and self-deprecating humor to the more serious observations and realizations of the realities of her life as it progresses. The chapters do jump dramatically between subjects and I found myself wishing (as I always do with memoirs) for something a bit more linear, whether that was by time or by subject. However, this does not detract in anyway from the ultimate message and impact of the book as a whole. I often found myself nearly loosing my breath when I realized I had the same thoughts or feelings as she did in various aspects of her life, despite the fact that our lives were lived completely differently.
My favorite chapter by far was Fables. I also thoroughly enjoyed her essays about her insecurities in pursuing various creative pursuits, her friendships with other Youtubers and her relationship with her sisters.
I believe Hannah has written a marvelous and important piece of literature for our time: a time when, although more people than ever can be themselves and are encouraged to accept themselves, we continue to struggle with problems that we refuse to really fix. The most important of these is how we address mental illness. Buffering is a case study in how the lives of those whose loved ones suffer from mental illness are affected by the country’s ineffective interference, as well as the perception of people coping with such diseases.
If you have read Buffering (or after you read it), I recommend checking out the blog and Facebook page titled You Are in This World. Here, a woman documents her struggles in caring for and supporting her mother who also suffers from Schizophrenia, with the intent to de-stigmatize mental illness and point out problems in the system for getting help and treatment.
This is such an important conversation and one that requires much more attention than it gets. And I am grateful to both Hannah and Emily (the writer of the aforementioned blog) for putting their struggles out into the world to help mobilize change.
There is so much more I could say about Hannah and Buffering. Probably too much. But I will end on a note that I would send directly to Hannah if I could:
Thank you. Thank you for everything you do; for showing us who you are and how you got here; for showing us what it means to learn and grow; for showing us that our lives do not need to be defined by circumstance or pre-determined paths; for hugging us; for making us laugh; for teaching us that we are all works in progress; for teaching us how to be recklessly optimistic; and for showing us that we are never alone. Thank you.
What did you think of Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded? How do you think memoirs help both the person writing them and the people reading them? How can we change the mental health care system? What can we do to help those in need? Let’s talk.