The Points Interview: Lina Britto

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Dr. Lina Britto. Britto is a Colombian journalist and historian who teaches Latin American and Caribbean History at Northwestern University. She received a PhD in History from New York University, and was a postdoctoral and faculty fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, Harvard University. Her work was been published in the Hispanic American Historical Review, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, NACLA, and El Espectador (Colombia), among others. Her book Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia’s First Drug Paradise came out in spring 2020 with University of California Press. She’s currently working on her second book project on the role of medicine, science and technology in the violent transition that her hometown Medellin, Colombia, underwent during the second half of the twentieth century, when it became one of the murder capitals of the world.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

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Dr. Lina Britto

Having worked as a waitress in NYC before I went to graduate school, I know how incredibly hard is to get the full attention of your bartender. I think my best chance would be to mention the most recognized pop culture icons of global drug history, namely Pablo Escobar and Scarface. I’d say my book tells the story of the Colombian smugglers and American hippies who flooded the United States with marijuana a decade before suppliers like Escobar in Medellín and wholesalers like Scarface in Florida did the same with cocaine. It’s a forgotten story of how small-scale smugglers, during the golden years of the counterculture, paved the way for a more entrepreneurial and violent approach to the international commerce of drugs, and why such a transition wreaked havoc in the Americas.

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Points Interview: “Sacred Places, Sacred Plants, and Sacred People: Carving Out an Indigenous Right amid the Drug Wars,” with Alexander Dawson

Editor’s Note: We’re continuing our series of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, ADHS’s journal, published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Alexander Dawson. Dawson holds a PhD in Latin American History from SUNY Stony Brook, and is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Albany. Until 2017 he was Professor of History and International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of four books and numerous articles, and for most of his career has written about indigeneity and indigenous-state relations in Mexico.  His most recent book is titled The Peyote Effect: From the Inquisition to the War on Drugs, and was published by the University of California Press in 2018.

You can see Dawson’s article here for free for a limited time. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to any other article from SHAD’s history.

Tell readers a little bit about yourself.

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Dr. Alexander Dawson

I was trained as a historian of Mexico. I don’t always realize this as I am researching and writing, but my work invariably focuses on inequality. For many years that was inequality in Mexico, but in the past decade or so my focus has spread, as I have tried to link what I understand about Mexico to a larger concern about where we are heading as a planet.

What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?

I came to drugs (and especially peyote) inadvertently. I was working on a project comparing the experiences of indigenous peoples in Mexico and the US (the project was going to be about boarding schools) when I came across a file titled “peyote” in the US National Archives. As I read the file, I realized that I could do a much more interesting project on peyote than on the boarding schools, and began a decade long project that resulted in my 2018 book from the University of California Press. Along the way, I realized that the history of drugs represents a really important and fascinating window into the history of race, science, the law, and society more generally.

Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender won’t find boring.

I think you underestimate the average bartender. They tend to be very good listeners, and are extraordinarily good at not looking bored, even when they are. But if I were to attempt to explain it to someone who really did not care, I would say that there is this word, “sacred”, that we use a lot these days, especially in the context of environmental activism. We all think we know what it means, but if we really look closely at how we are using it, we might not be so comfortable with what we see. What we see has troubling implications both for how we think about environmentalism, and the way we place indigenous peoples into the environmentalist movement.

Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?

Screenshot 2020-06-10 11.06.45This is more like a loose end that I did not resolve in a larger book project that I just completed. Well, not just that. In the book I tell a number of stories about peyote and race, about the border and its history, but I never really got a chance to fully think through this particular theme. In writing a paper about it, I realized I had a little more to say.

My new project is a little different. It picks up on the environmentalist aspects of this work, as well as the transnational interest, but the book is about bike lanes. Specifically, the book is about the controversies that surround the creation of bike lanes, and what they can tell us for the nature of contemporary environmentalist practices.

Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?

Well, I think there are a lot of different frontiers in the field. Obviously, we are still in a moment where the connection between drug history and decriminalization is critical. This is especially from a Latin Americanist standpoint, as scholars working in these fields play a central role in reminding readers in the principle consumption markets of the costs associated with the Drug Wars. Social history makes the victims of these conflicts more visible.

More than this though, I think that those who work on psychedelics like peyote have an important role to play in re-centering these substances as a part of alternative therapeutic practices. The work being done by historians in these fields is critical in both de-stigmatizing these substances and in generating better understandings of how prohibitions came to be during the 20th century.

What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?

I am a bad person to answer this question. I don’t really like to talk to strangers, and when I do, especially if they are someone I want to impress, I am more likely to say something that makes me look like an idiot than I am to have a good time. I like to have dinner, I love to have dinner, with my teachers, in particular Paul Gootenberg, Barbara Weinstein, and Brooke Larson. I may look like an idiot talking to them too, but I trust that they won’t tell anyone.

Points New Year’s Eve Resolutions

Everyone here at Points wishes you a very happy new year and the best in 2020. This is a particularly intriguing holiday for drug and alcohol historians, since it’s by far the holiday that most heartily celebrates intoxication. We’ll be discussing that more in a bit, but today we want to focus on positive changes the entire Points staff is hoping to make in the new year. With that, I bring you the Points’ official list of New Year’s Resolutions. May 2020 be as good to you as we hope it will be to us!

David Guba: New Year’s Resolutions – My fiancée and I are doing a 1/12 resolution and attempting to go intoxicant free (no alcohol, coffee, or cannabis) from Jan 2- February 2, and I’d like to have a second book contract inked by jan 1 2021 (or at least a finished proposal and be fishing)

Stefano Tijerina: Stefano will be writing and running more and worrying less about the insignificant material world that surrounds us all. 

Sarah Siff: My resolution has to do with teaching. I tried a couple of changes in my demeanor over the past semester, and I want to make them permanent. Mostly, I want to look for opportunities to be kind and caring toward my students, to try to keep in mind that they often feel homesick and alienated. I think they miss their parents and the feeling of someone watching out for them and feeling fond of them. So I’m going to remember to do that more, along with generally being happier, more positive, in the classroom.

Jeremy Milloy: This year I plan to consume less, and thus waste less. I plan to spend less time looking at a screen. I also want to complete my book proposal, an article I’m writing about the British Columbia’s 1970s plan to coerce patients into compulsory abstinence treatment, and another article I’m looking at about Bon Accord, a very different type of therapeutic community/supported work experiment in 1960s Ontario. I also want to keep learning how to read the tarot and play Go. I wish everyone in the Points community a very happy and healthy 2020!

Jordan Mylet: 1) Commit to memory key cooking and baking fundamentals, as well as some fancy techniques.  2) Figure out a weekly research and writing schedule, 3) Stick to that schedule.

Robert Beach: I have a joke about how the only time I ever achieved a New Year’s Resolution was the year that I finally cancelled the $10 auto-withdraw from Planet Fitness…one of my many failed resolutions from the early 2010s. I don’t do well with Resolutions. But things are changing for me on a personal and professional level, and it’s time to be a bit more resolute from now on. So now, to void my 2019 Resolution (which was to renounce Resolutions once and for all), my 2020 Resolutions:

  • 1. Marry my fiancée, Amber Boothe.
  • 2. Finish and defend my dissertation.
  • 3. After some work-related delays in late 2019, start my podcast.
  • 4. Watch as New York finally legalizes marijuana.
  • 5. Convince as many people as possible to vote against Donald Trump in the 2020 election, thereby preventing or delaying the irrevocable decline of humanity on earth. 

It’s sure to be an interesting year.

Emily Dufton: I welcomed my second child on 12/27/19, so my resolution for 2020 is to keep two kids alive. That, and to work on the manuscript of my second book, the history of how medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder became a commercial industry, which is due to the University of Chicago Press in July 2021.

Happy New Year, Points Readers!

Holiday Break: See you next week!

Points will be taking this week off to celebrate the Christmas holiday, but join us on Tuesday, 12/31, for a final wrap-up post for 2019 and a discussion of what New Year’s Eve means for drug and alcohol historians. And, of course, we’ll continue to bring the history in 2020 and beyond.

Happy holidays to all our readers!

Fiction Points: Amy Long

 

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Amy Long is the author of Codependence: Essays (Cleveland State University Poetry Center 2019) and a founding member of the Points editorial board. She has worked for drug policy reform and free speech advocacy groups in California, D.C., and New York; as a bookseller at Bookpeople in Austin, TX; and as an English instructor at Virginia Tech and Northwest Florida State College. Her essays have appeared in Best American Experimental Writing 2015Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere, including as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2018. Codependence is her first book.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask what you write about, how do you answer?

“Myself. I find myself inherently interest–sorry, I’m maybe having a Topamax flashback. You’re sure that penguin’s really here?” And then I’d probably ask the bartender for a cup of water, down a Klonopin, and run like mad out of there.

Points is primarily a blog for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

The juxtaposition of medicinal and recreational opioid use would probably most interest drug historians, as would the descriptions of “doctor shopping” in 2003 versus 2012 and 2015. All the events in Codependence take place prior to implementation of the 2016 CDC guideline, and it’s harder now to find doctors who are willing to write opioids in doses high enough to actually control serious pain. My ex-boyfriend David, a major figure in the book, was a master doctor shopper back when it was still easy to get opioids from a doctor for any relatively believable pain complaint, and I doubt even he could get them now. I don’t give him credit for much, but watching him trick doctors into writing him pain pills taught me how to act in pain management offices and is likely a major reason I’m still able to treat my intractable headaches with opioids in today’s restrictive climate. It’s not that I’m lying; I wish I were! But he taught me how to present myself and that presentation matters.

I also hope literary historians like reading a drug memoir that doesn’t end in recovery or tie up in a neat bow. Feminist historians interested in relationships similar to the one I was in as an older teenager and college student might find something interesting about the emotionally abusive, codependent dynamic David and I share.

Scholars interested in gender disparities in medicine will hopefully appreciate reading about my experience as a pain patient with a “women’s problem.” I experiment with non-opioid headache medications, too, and depict my use of illicit drugs such as marijuana and LSD, which should interest historians who study medicine and pharmacology. I was also an early Suboxone adopter  (at one point in the book, I get off opioids entirely and stay off for a year, but I go back to them after I get dependent on Advil–Advil!), and I write a good bit about how quitting alcohol (it’s a migraine trigger) affects my social life, so there’s something for everyone!

Mostly, though, I’m writing about opioids and other drugs, pain, addiction, dependence, recovery, and mental health in ways that I’ve never seen represented in literature, so the essays work as a sort of case studies in what it’s been like to rely on opioids during the past 15-plus years.

 

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What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

I started Codependence in my MFA program. I always knew that I wanted to put these two kinds of drug-related experiences in conversation with each other, but I thought I’d write it as a novel until I took a creative nonfiction workshop with Matthew Vollmer in my second semester. That class totally changed the way I think about writing and even just being a person. I narrated my drug history in a medicine cabinet as my final project (if you’re ever at Virginia Tech, ask Matthew if you can see it; he’s its executor!) and used that as an outline for my thesis, which turned into this book. But drugs have been a big part of my life since I was 18, so I was always going to address it in some way. To me, Codependence is the book I had to write in order to ever write anything else. But my writing will probably always involve drugs in some way. I mean, I take three drugs right when I wake up; they’re hard to ignore!

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

Nearly every decision I made had something to do with drugs. I needed a way to wrap a coming-of-age story into one about a druggy relationship and a medical memoir without using chronology to connect the dots. There’s no way I could have left drugs out of the book. But I spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d use them. Codependence is an essay collection, but it’s also a non-linear memoir or memoir in essays; the essays touch on different parts of or events from my life, but they create a distinct arc when you read all of them together, so I had to decide when it was right to introduce certain elements. For example, the first essay centers on me telling my mom that I’m back on opioids, and the second kind of sums up my relationship with David, but neither refers to the events depicted in the other, and readers have to figure out as they go how those two strands connect. I didn’t want to spell it out, and there’s a degree to which I don’t know what it means that I used to take drugs for fun, and now I take them to treat chronic pain either, so building a sort of puzzle-like, incantatory narrative structure made up of essays that might not always seem related puts the reader in a position similar to mine, which is the other thing I most wanted to do: trap the audience in my body, my head, my pain so that the book mirrors both chronic pain and addiction and hopefully builds in some empathy (I know, I’m really great at selling this: “Let me trap you in my pain!”).

About half the essays use received forms (I’ve seen them called hermit-crab essays, but I call them “formally inventive”) such as a map or a series of glossary entries. One of my favorites is a set of six prescription-informatic-like essays that tell the story of my and David’s relationship. After I wrote it, a friend said, “You’ve found your form! You could write the whole book like that,” but I thought writing about drugs in a drug-label format would be too on the nose. I included the glossary in part because I wanted to catalog all the migraine and headache medications I’ve tried, but I also thought readers might need actual definitions of some things, especially since I can’t assume that all my readers have had the prodigious drug experiences I’ve had! So, decisions about how to write about drugs played an important role in shaping the narrative, its structure, and the meanings it can make.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

Mostly, I like that I blur the boundaries around medicinal and recreational drug use or abuse, and I’m interested in stories that don’t really resolve at the book’s end. In my next project, I’d like drugs to take something of a back seat to other themes, but I know what I want to write next, and I can’t do it without writing about drugs again! And I like writing about drugs. Maybe what most interests me is looking at how to live in a drug-dependent body without letting drugs structure every interaction, every thought, every relationship, even though there is a way in which they have to for me.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope [oh, we hope!] Codependence gets made into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

“Dance, Dance” by Castanets

Raymond Raposa, whose band is Castanets, and I are going on tour together this fall (we launch the book at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn on Sept. 14!), but I started thinking of that song as my “credits song” for a long time, way before I knew Ray and I were doing the tour (I have been thinking about this answer for literal years!). It just really captures the feelings and themes of the last essay and of the book as a whole. It’s evocative and paints this kind of bleak but beautiful picture in a way that’s similar to what the  book does.

Fiction Points: Eva Hagberg

betterdarkevaEva Hagberg, author of How to be Loved: A Memoir of Life-Saving Friendship (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019), holds degrees in architecture from UC Berkeley and Princeton and a PhD in Visual and Narrative Culture from Berkeley, from which she received fellowships and awards for her research and teaching. She has written and published two books on architecture, Dark Nostalgia: Faultlessly Stylish Interiors (Thames & Hudson 2009) and Nature Framed: At Home in the Landscape (The Monacelli Press 2011). Her literary work, architectural criticism, and other writings have appeared in Dwell, Guernica, the New York Times, Tin House, and Wired among other venues.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

Buildings and feelings.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Ideally its use as a future primary source document! Drugs and alcohol appear in the book both as plot points and also as mechanisms for understanding the particular cultural crisis we’re in (have always been in?). While my experience is of course only my own, I can see how a historian might look at how our intense capitalist culture has led to total alienation has led to a desire to connect has led to, for me, the drive to connect through using drugs. There’s a scene in the book in which I describe how cocaine gave me a sense of intimacy (false, of course!) that was all I craved. So a historian might wonder – why did I crave that intimacy? What about growing up in the eighties and nineties in the U.S., in the cultural milieu I grew up in, and living in NYC in the early 00’s, led to my feeling that cocaine and alcohol were the best ways to relate to people? Then again, I was at a party last night and saw the youth doing drugs, and it seemed almost like nothing had changed. Have things changed in the last twenty years? That’s for the historians.

What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

I wanted the protagonist of my narrative to have some sort of cathartic arc – if the conceit of the book is that friendship saved my life, and friendship profoundly saved me (and that IS the conceit of the book), then the question is, well, okay, why did my life need to be saved? Why did friendship impact me so deeply? And one of the reasons was that I’d been so desperate to connect but so afraid to connect that I’d turned to powdered friends and liquid friends. I needed to write about the way in which I relied on drugs and alcohol, and then stopped relying on drugs and alcohol and replaced the reliance with friendship – and so it was important to try, to the best of my ability, to describe that replacement.

howtobelovedHow would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

In the book, cocaine functions as a kind of alternative to the deep and profound friendship I experienced with Allison and Lauren, and a block to my earlier relationship with Leila. It’s the wedge between me and the rest of the world, but of course at the time I thought it was my solution. In terms of crafting a narrative, I wanted to avoid cliches – there are so many amazing alcohol / drug memoirs, and I wanted to bring a precision and a specificity to the way in which I described how drugs and alcohol impacted me – at various points in time / the plot. If I’d had to somehow elide any mention of drugs, I imagine that the narrative wouldn’t have worked as well – the reader would have wondered why I was so alienated from others, and what the locus of that alienation was.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

People often ask me why I’m a memoirist, and the short answer is that I am just compelled to use my own life experiences as a primary medium. Everything that I intellectually metabolize seems to get metabolized through using my own observations, experiences, stories, etc. So drugs work in my writing in a similar way to how everything else I’ve experienced works – they’re an available archive or series of pieces of evidence that I can use to build an argument. The argument of How to be Loved was that we have an inherently capitalist approach to illness – that with enough work, time, etc, we will get better – and that this capitalist approach towards recovery-as-progress actually leaves out a lot of the real growth / powerful experiences that I and many other extremely sick people experienced in the middle of being sick. So my experiences with drugs were just part of the available archive.

I will always write about myself and I will always have had experiences with drugs, so I imagine I will eventually write about my experiences with drugs again!

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that How to be Loved gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

I would love to see this as a major motion picture! I’ve been listening to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” a lot lately – and relating to how afraid I was to change anything in my life that wasn’t working for me. So many people told me to Wise Up, of course – but it took what it took. So it might be sort of ironically perfect.

Fiction Points: Tracy Auerbach

tracyTracy Auerbach‘s YA debut, The Sin Soldiers (Parliament House 2019), is the first novel in her Fragments series. She is the author of one novel for adults, The Human Cure (48Fourteen 2011), and her short stories have been published in venues such as Micro-horror, the Writing Disorder and (Dis)ability anthologies. Auerbach previously wrote and taught STEM curricula for the New York Department of Education, and her academic work has appeared in Language Magazine.


Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I would tell the nuns that I write about human nature. I use fantasy as a vehicle for describing and exploring the inner workings of our psyches. I would warn them that my new book deals with the seven deadly sins, so maybe they should say a little prayer or something before they open it up. I would tell the penguin that humans are ridiculous creatures and that if he wants to be both amused and horrified he should have someone read The Sin Soldiers to him, or at least have someone with opposable thumbs turn the pages.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

The Sin Soldiers is a post-apocalyptic story about a society that has figured out how to control soldiers by capitalizing on their addictions. These are scientists who have studied the role that drugs, alcohol, and other various addictive elements (food, rage, etc.) have played in our society, and they have weaponized it. Colored compounds have different effects on the soldiers in this world, but “blue compound” is the one that makes them literally unable to say no to their basest urges. The soldiers are also genetically engineered to be predisposed to addiction.

sinsoldiersWhat led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

In my experience, there are two kinds of people in the world: moderates and ‘more, more, more’ people. I fall into the second category. I will finish the entire box of cookies or binge the entire Netflix series. Every. Time. Drugs and alcohol, and other addictive things, aren’t usually good choices for me. And they aren’t good for others who fall into my category. I’m continually fascinated by the way two people can be exposed to the same thing and have such incredibly different reactions. Books that deal with addiction of any kind speak to me, and I always write about what speaks to me.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

I think that drugs can easily be substituted with anything that plays upon the pleasure center of the brain. But if human vice wasn’t in my writing arsenal, then I’d have a problem. I employ human (or non-human) vice in most of my narratives as a vehicle to drive character motivation.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

I think that the most interesting thing about drugs in my writing is how they provide an obstacle to the characters’ more altruistic instincts. The intrapersonal conflict they create is definitely something that I’d love to explore more in future projects.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that The Sin Soldiers gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

Yes, let’s hope! I would definitely love for Radioactive by Imagine Dragons to play while the credits roll. That song is totally appropriate for The Sin Soldiers, and I listened to it often while I was writing.

 

Fiction Points: Carla Sameth

carlasamethCarla Sameth is the author of the memoir-in-essays One Day on the Gold Line (Black Rose Writing 2019). She teaches creative writing at the Los Angeles Writing Project at California State University Los Angeles, with Southern New Hampshire University, and to incarcerated teens through WriteGirl. She has attended and received financial support from the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Writers’ Conference (2017-2019) and the Whidby Writers Workshop MFA Program, was selected for a PEN in the Community Teaching Artist Residency (2016), co-founded the Pasadena Writing Project, and has worked extensively to bring educational and career opportunities to underrepresented communities. Sameth earned an MFA in Creative Writing (Latin America) from Queens University of Charlotte. Her work can be found at Brevity, Mutha Magazine, the Nervous Breakdown and Narratively among other publications.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I’d say that I write about contemporary parenthood and “I see you are a blended family like ours.”

I’d want to know if they found any of it difficult since I thought it was easy at first then not so much. Our family eventually unblended. I’d tell them that I hope their family stays intact.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

I think that writing as a family member of those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction (both my wife and son are in recovery) provides a unique perspective. I write a lot about the process I went through understanding addiction as a disease, and looking at my own shit (including addictive behavior) and how I interacted with my son who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction in his teens.

Finding humor has been vital to my relationship with my son and my own survival. It’s not always possible to find funny in the midst of tragic. But I often did see the humor and irony in dealing with addiction, and that is part of my story. My memoir includes a mock chapter of “What to Expect When Your Expecting: The Teenage Years, When Molly is Not a Schoolgirl.” I once did a stand up set at a comedy club on dealing with addiction which included making fun of my own crazy, desperate behavior, as a mom. On the way to my son’s first rehab, he came up with a whole rehab playlist including “Cocaine, Mary Jane and Dispensary Girl.” When he was put on 5150 holds because of being a danger to himself due to drug overdose, he used to joke about rating the adolescent psych hospitals on Yelp.

I write about wanting to create safe sanctuary for our family. I thought my son having a lesbian mom, being African American and Jewish, being part of a blended family or even with a single mom would just make life richer for him but the reality was much harder. My memoir is about how I navigated life’s challenges including race, identity, police violence, and my teenage son’s struggle with addiction.

What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

My son began to use drugs and alcohol in his teens and became sober at 18. I went through several years in and out of ERs and Adolescent Psych Wards with him, hearing from medical professionals that he might die as a result of his using. Or become incarcerated. Or homeless. None of these were alternatives I could wrap my head around but they were in front of my face. Also my son is biracial, African American and Jewish and so is particularly vulnerable to police violence. I wrote about my experience but my son also encouraged me to write my book (which included some of his story, from my perspective). We felt that other families going through similar struggles would benefit from reading about our experience and feel less alone, even if the story doesn’t end tied up neatly in a bow.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

onedayonthegoldlineI read other addiction memoirs, by addicts, alcoholics and by their family members. I didn’t necessarily see my story, including the multi-racial, blended and single parent, queer mom parts. As the parent of a black son, my experience also included not wanting to take the recommended step at some point of calling the police since my son already stood a substantially higher risk of incarceration being African American.

Writing about drug addiction lent a certain urgency and reality to my story. I worried about things like lead when my son was young and we moved into an old house, but I didn’t think about the possibility that he might grow up and become addicted to drugs or alcohol. I don’t know if that was naïve or what. I might have suspected my son could be an addict since I almost had to take him to a 12-step program, “Nursing Anonymous” when he was young. There seemed to be no end in sight to his desire to nurse. I didn’t want to have a four-year-old boy saying, “wanna nurse, wanna nurse” or coming home as a teenager asking, “Hey mom, can I borrow the car and what about a quick suck of the tit.”

Seriously, I had multiple miscarriages before he was born and plenty else to write about but something about the drugs and alcohol added a new dimension to my writing and reading. I don’t think that I would reach the same audience I’m hoping to reach or be able to tell the same story without this experience. Also the transformative aspects of recovery for my son and I contributed to the narrative. I’m currently writing fiction where addiction to drugs and alcohol also figures into the family dynamic. I also write about addiction in my poetry (I write multi-genre).

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

I don’t think I’m completely done with writing about drugs and drug use. As a mother, you never get over the fear of your child’s relapse. I also think that I could use a little self-examination about my tendency to turn to alcohol or a pill to deal with anxiety and “take the edge off.” I have written about fantasizing about trying heroin because I’ve been told that it is like Demerol, which I have had during medical procedures. For someone so prone to anxiety, the relief Demerol offered was amazing, the sense that “everything will be ok.” If I didn’t think it might kill me and/or impact my son’s recovery and really complicate my life, I would want to try heroin. I’ve been asked to write more about thoughts on treatment, specifically 12-Step programs. I had a lot of issues with the whole emphasis on Christianity and God (though it is said to not be religious but spiritual). Also, as a mom, you don’t want to see your son hit bottom. I do go to Al-Anon (I’m outing myself). I agree with one author – it might have been William Cope Moyers (son of Bill Moyers) who wrote Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption and talked about the down side of anonymity. Because when I started talking about drugs and alcohol, more people came out and spoke about their own struggles. Resources and support might not be easily found if we remain silent. Parents of addicts often also feel a sense of shame—as in what might we have done to have caused this?

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that One Day on the Gold Line gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

I actually did a whole play list since music figures big in my life with my son. It’s on Spotify and it’s hard to decide which song would be the best fit, there are so many. May I name several?

A medley including:

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Nina Simone

“La Vida es un Carnaval” – Celia Cruz

“You Want it Darker” – Leonard Cohen

“Ohh Child” – The Five Stairsteps

“All I Really Need” – Raffi

“We Got to Get Out of This Place” – The Animals

“This Little Light of Mine” – Soweto Gospel Choir

“Here Comes the Sun” – Beatles

“Piel Canela” – Eydie Gorme y los Panchos

“Can’t Feel My Face” – The Weeknd

“Dear Mama” – Tupac

Dispensary Girl – Wax

To Zion – Ms. Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana

P.S. My first choice might have been “Hero” by Family of the Year but that’s been used in Boyhood. I also had “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon at the top of the list but given the recent movie (and book by this title by David Sheff) I left it off.

Fiction Points: Sarah Stone

stoneSarah Stone is the author of the novels The True Sources of the Nile (Doubleday 2002) and Hungry Ghost Theater (WTAW Press 2018). She co-edited with Ron Nyren, her spouse and writing partner, two instructional fiction-writing texts. Stone holds an MFA from the University of Michigan and teaches creative writing in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and Stanford Continuing Studies. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers’ conferences. Her writing has appeared in the Believer, the Millions, Ploughshares, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I love that these nuns and this penguin are out on the town. I want to hear all about them and how they got here. Once they tell me their story, if they insist on hearing about my work, I might tell them I write about family, about artists and activists, about people who want to save the world but get in their own and each others’ ways, about the construction of identity, about mental illness and addictions of various kinds. My newest novel, Hungry Ghost Theater, has four generations of a half-Jewish family wrestling with these questions. The book has multiple pieces that move around in time and place, from San Francisco to Seoul, from theater spaces to psychiatric hospitals, from Zanzibar to the Santa Cruz Mountains, and into and through a series of Sumerian and Tibetan hells. It’s the first book of a trilogy – I’m currently working back and forth between the other two books. I would love to talk to the nuns and the penguin about the ineffable and actual, animals and humans, and how they conceive of reality.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

The mixture of self-awareness and self-deception in addicts and alcoholics and in everyone around them. A lot of the psychological mechanisms of alcohol and drug addiction show up in my fiction among characters who know their own vulnerabilities but are also full of denial. They’re honest with each other and also deceptive and self-deceiving. They’re idealists, artists, activists, scientists – they wrestle with their addictions but aren’t defined by their addictions. There’s much more to them than their weaknesses. I’m especially interested in the predicaments of those who are self aware but vulnerable to the emergence of self-destructive selves, pleasure-or-oblivion-seeking selves. And therefore vulnerable to relapse, despite all their knowledge. 

What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

Family history, as with so many other writers. Addiction, both drug and alcohol, moves down through the generations in predictable and sometimes unpredictable patterns. The mechanisms of addiction and codependence feel so common, but every person, and every family, has their own story, their own particular ways of living this out. One of my characters, a mother, is so tired of being the enabler. In her next life, she thinks, she’s going to be the perpetrator.

hungryghosttheater

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

Although the language in my work tends to be clear and straightforward, the structures are often fragmented: a collage of different versions of the truth. Drugs and alcohol are only one manifestation of addictive living. Probably I wouldn’t see the world in this way if I came from a different family background. 

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

Hungry Ghost Theater moves among different kinds of addictive experience – the longing for drugs and resistance to those longings, the deceptive self-talk, the family member reassuring herself that she’s not looking at someone in the middle of a relapse. And it looks at the connection between altered experience and mental illness, from the way drug use can be self-medication for mental conditions to the long-term cognitive effects of substances. I especially like having a big range of perspectives. And there’s some question about the boundaries of reality and imagination. The book doesn’t completely vote on what’s real, what’s theater, what’s hallucination.

 

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Hungry Ghost Theater gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

The chapter I could most see as a movie is the one in which an affective neuroscientist and her lawyer/war historian husband go to Seoul to try to rescue their daughter from her newest meth relapse. It’s about the triangle between them, about what this episode (and all those that have come before) have done to their relationship, and about the difference between the lives we imagine for ourselves and those we actually live. Credits song: Björk’s “Human Behavior.”

Fiction Points: Sophia Shalmiyev

Sophia-Shalmiyev_c-Thomas-TealSophia Shalmiyev’s first book, Mother Winter (Simon & Schuster 2019), is a memoir of immigration and motherhood. She holds an MFA from Portland State University and a second master’s degree in creative arts therapy from the School of Visual Arts. Shalmiyev was born in the Soviet Union; emigrated from Leningrad to New York in 1990; and now resides in Portland, Oregon with her two children.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I write about feminism across genres because closets, gag orders, hangers, boys’ clubs, and a fear of jogging in the park at night are still weapons used against us. Also, inconsolable loss.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

That my mother was seen as a lost cause, especially because she was a woman with a familial history of alcohol abuse, and no one knew how to help her or have empathy for her plight. I have a line in my book where my father’s university professor back in the Soviet Union instructs him to steal me away from her and give up on his wife getting sober because of some made-up diagnosis called Stage II Severe Alcoholism in Woman. She was considered terminal. I am a product of that traumatic theft, but I also lived without the added chaos of addiction in my household. The violence, poverty, and emotional instability from my father was challenging enough.

What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

First of all—a drunk girl is the biggest target for violence. The men who willfully and casually misuse their power will find the sloppy girl with falling lids and swoop in (and there is nothing wrong with being that girl, yet we are judged way more harshly for losing control). What if even one woman ever thought in such a predatory way about men? Not that it has to be that bad, because men just interrupting our fun when we are out and following us around and acting creepy because they hope our defenses are down is scary and a real drag, to say the least. The irony of taking a substance to get loose and forget your troubles only to find more of the same trouble in the form of sexual violence or even a coerced or manipulated experience is my nightmare.mother-winter-9781501193088_lg

I spent my twenties trying to get closer to my estranged mother by taking drugs and drinking to black out. I didn’t know how to survive being motherless and wondered if I am doomed to be just like her–so much of what we are told about addiction is that it is genetic–and, yet, I came through mostly all right somehow. It wasn’t my cross to drag on my back, it turned out, though I do tend to have problematic drinking from time to time.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

I do write in a feverish way, but with a lens trained on reconstruction and a posed, theatrically bratty tone around serious issues–no one with money actually cares that much about studying women’s health. Hahahaha. So, let us die, I guess. Our holes of mystery are vast when it comes to estrogen, socialized subordination, and emotional labor women perform and how that folds into substance abuse and recovery. I have this great insight, through never having to reject my mother because I was taken away from her, the shamed and shunned alcoholic, that allows me empathy and nuance. I often say that a useless woman is a dead woman. That’s a mother under the influence. She must heal herself through community and self reflection, which requires the luxury of alone time and the grace of a collective, but we insist that she shut up and be nice and take care of us instead, dammit. A useless man is a man waited on and soothed; his self-destruction is stoic or romantic. We [women] are garbage if we fail at being clean and come clean as good worker bees and maternal influences.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs function in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

My interest in bringing to life discarded and desecrated bodies will keep being a thread in my next book, a novel called I Married the Butcher to Get to the Bone. Addiction is also about trying to mute the ringing bells of fight or flight so that one can feel peace and ease rather than an alarm going off at all times, screaming hold me. I am fragmented. I also see charm and sense of humor and the adventure my mother (and sometimes I) chased when drinking socially. I took drugs almost exclusively due to peer pressure–welcomed peer pressure. I wanted to bond at all costs, and I wanted to fall down a well in a pile of like-minded bodies with heads dangling.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Mother Winter gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

X-Ray Spex, “Germ Free Adolescents