Lorna Landvik: Do we really "choose" our destinies—or are they written in the stars?

Stand-up and improvisational comedian, public speaker, and best-selling author

This is the first in a weekly series by Lorna Landvik.

It’s a true story I often tell, about knowing that I wanted to be a writer when I learned how to read in the first grade. 

“See Spot jump!” “See Puff jump!” 
Oh, the thrill to read words about that crazy duo! In the same pivotal school year, I decided I also wanted to be a baton twirler. It was the fringed boots more than the baton gymnastics that got me, but that particular career goal didn’t last long enough for me to ever prep for it (i.e., get a baton).

I have a December birthday and when I was in grade school, you didn’t have to be 5 before you entered kindergarten; all you had to do was share the same birth year as your classmates. So I always was one of the youngest, if not the youngest in my class as well as the youngest in my family. Just as I pick and choose what characteristics my astrological sign (Sagittarius) imbues me with, I’m also selective in those traits my birth order has affected. I tend to think birth-order studies are piffle when they say things like youngest children have a tendency to pout; but I believe they’re right on when they claim we youngest sometimes have to fight for attention and are often drawn to artistic or creative pursuits.

In writing about Candy, the main character in my novel Best to Laugh, I never considered her birth order (an only child) or astrological sign (Taurus—I just looked it up). She believes that while her own sense of humor was encouraged by her own funny mother, it was present at birth, as ingrained genetically as her hair and eye color. I share Candy’s belief, but an inherent sense of humor and the desire to perform on stage are not always partnered traits. The class clown who cracks up everyone in math class might be the kid who freezes during his debut in the fourth-grade Christmas play, and the shy, quiet kid might be the one who turns into Lily Tomlin in the school talent show. In my unscientific but observational study, I’d say the majority of comedians court laughter in real life, but there is a definite minority who reserve their jokes and laughs-getting for the stage.

My dad was funny in real life; he was a good storyteller who’d use voices for comic effect but he never, as far as I knew, had a desire to perform. My mom, who came from a musical family (really, they were like the Von Trapp Singers without the lederhosen) enjoyed public performance and not only lent her pretty alto to the Morris Park Mother Singers, but grabbed the comic roles. Seared into my memory is the picture of my mom wearing a suit of feathers and a beak and racing up the aisles of the auditorium, pecking at audience members as her fellow Mother Singers sang, ‘Yellow Bird.’

I am my mother’s child. If there’s a bird suit, I will happily step into it, will position the elastic-banded beak over my nose, ready to peck.



Lorna Landvik is the best-selling author of many novels, including Patty Jane’s House of Curl, Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons, Oh My Stars, and Mayor of the Universe (Minnesota, 2014). Her most recent novel, Best to Laugh, is now available from University of Minnesota Press. She has performed stand-up and improvisational comedy around the country and is also a public speaker, playwright, and actor, most recently seen in an all-improvised, one-woman show Party in the Rec Room. Check back next week for more memories from Landvik.

“Landvik’s novel (Best to Laugh) is happily filled with a double dose of nostalgia—the protagonist’s for the golden age of Hollywood and the author’s for a lovably gritty 1970s Los Angeles.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Best to Laugh is cheerfully outlandish, filled with ambition, love, adventure, kindness, swimming pools, nightclubs, and baked goods. Best of all, it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.”
—Julie Schumacher, author of
The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls

“One of the things that accounts for Lorna Landvik’s immense popularity is the essential good-heartedness she brings to her work. But as much as this is a celebration of a very special time and place, it is even more a celebration of character, desire, friendship, perseverance, and love—oh, and hamburger hot dish.”
—Elizabeth Berg, author of Tapestry of Fortunes and The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted

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