Fiction Points: Elizabeth Ellen

EEinawesomejumpsuit
Elizabeth Ellen reads from Fast Machine

Elizabeth Ellen is a writer and editor who resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is the author of the story collections Before You She was a Pit Bull (2006) and Fast Machine (2012), an assemblage of her best work from the last decade. A chapbook of her flash fiction, entitled Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix, appears in Rose Metal Press’ A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (2008), and Ellen released a poetry collection, Bridget Fonda, in 2015. Her short story “Teen Culture” won a Pushcart Prize in 2012, and her work has been published online or in print by American Short FictionBOMBHTMLGiant, The GuardianLazy Fascist ReviewMcSweeney’s, MuuMuu House, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn among other venues. Ellen also co-edits the journal Hobart and oversees its book division, Short Flight/Long Drive Books.

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 tell them the same thing I tell everyone who asks that question: myself. Because I’m a narcissist and solipsistic. And the two nuns and the penguin don’t interest me half as much as I interest myself. LOL. Though I can’t imagine telling anyone in a bar I’m a writer. Read More »

Heroin: The Great Lie

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by guest blogger Liz Greene. Greene is a dog-loving, beard-envying history nerd from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.

Like so many of our modern “wonder drugs”, heroin was born of necessity. Unfortunately, the promise of a non-habit forming solution to morphine addiction turned out to be false, and a new national dependence was formed. This is the story of heroin.

Greene 1

In the 1800’s, opium use had taken a toll on the country. With doctors prescribing opium and its derivatives for everything from coughing to “women’s troubles,” many patients had become addicted to the much used cure-all, leaving doctors and pharmacists scrambling for an alternative.

Read More »

Fiction Points: Mira Gonzalez

miragonzalez
Mira  Gonzalez (credit: her Tumblr)

Mira Gonzalez is the author of the poetry collection i will never be beautiful enough to make us beautiful together (2013) and Selected Tweets (2015), a collaborative double-book with recent Fiction Points interviewee Tao Lin. Her work has appeared in Vice, Hobart, MuuMuu House, The Quietus, and elsewhere. Gonzalez’s poems, tweets, essays, and musings are also available for your reading pleasure on her Tumblr page, at Thought Catalog, and in the two drug-infused columns she writes for Broadly. In 2014, i will never be beautiful enough… made the shortlist for the Believer Poetry Award; Flavorwire named Gonzalez among its “23 People Who Will Make You Care About Poetry in 2013,” and her book has been reviewed by The RumpusNylon, Vice, and other publications. Gonzalez lives in Brooklyn and hails from Los Angeles.

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 probably be too confused by the penguin in a bar and concerned that my writing would offend the nuns to even tell them my name. I get worried about offending people. I want everybody to like me.
Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?
I mean, if drugs and alcohol are what they find most interesting then I guess they would be most interested in my drug and alcohol use, particularly my use of less common drugs such as DMT. Or, I guess what I’m saying is that if I were an alcohol and drug historian, I would be most interested in less common, particularly psychedelic drugs, such as DMT.

Read More »

“From Whence It Came”: Rethinking the Federal Role When Discussing the War on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Matthew June, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University. June’s current work studies the sources of federal power to prosecute national drug laws.

The United States has a massive prison problem. As more attention has been drawn to this stark reality, it has become equally clear that there are no simple solutions or easy explanations. Nonetheless, while many have cited the “war on drugs,” others have dismissed this as too small a part in the larger problem. Last summer a Washington Post Op-Ed argued, “ending the war on drugs would not end mass incarceration.” Taking these back of the envelope calculations a step further, Slate highlighted how reforming the federal system wouldn’t help the country’s 1.3 million state prisoners. This proposition has again come to the fore in debates over Hillary Clinton’s responsibility for the rise of mass incarceration. Arguing against such a conclusion, German Lopez of Vox recently insisted, “Federal policy is not the cause of mass incarceration” because “federal prisons house only 13 percent of the overall prison population.”

June 1

As there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics,” there are many ways to look at these numbers – especially the fact that over half of all federal prisoners are there for drug charges. While it is reasonable to note how this is only a small step for criminal justice reform, changes in federal drug sentencing could benefit nearly 1 out of 20 people under some form of local, state, or national supervision. Put another way, releasing every federal drug offender might not bring us out of the top spot for world incarceration rates, but even a five percent dent in our overall numbers cannot be dismissed. Just ask my students if they wouldn’t mind dropping from an “A-” to a “B+” and you will get a pretty good sense of how just a slim percent difference can seem mighty important to those directly affected. But this somewhat flippant re-examination of the statistics only belies a small sliver of the overall federal role in the “war on drugs” and its impact on mass incarceration. The 105,000 men and women behind bars for federal drug charges are just the most visible part of the federal role in the national “war on drugs.” And the causes and consequences of that role demand ongoing attention from scholars and others.

Read More »

Fiction Points: Sean H. Doyle

seandoyle
Sean H. Doyle

Sean H. Doyle is the author of This Must Be The Place (2015), a memoir in fragments. The book received praise from the Chicago TribuneVol. 1 Brooklyn, Gawker, and Poets & Writers. His work has appeared in MonkeybicyclePANKVol. 1 Brooklyn, WhiskeyPaper, and other venues, including on his own website, which offers a wonderfully overwhelming and oft-updated look into his brain. Doyle also makes music as shenxian. He lives in Brooklyn.

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?

Did the nuns ask me to confess some character flaw? I don’t normally tell people—or penguins—that I write. In my experience, folks who offer that up right away are usually welders or CEOs in disguise. I’d probably answer by telling them that I write about my inability to unsee the world and the things that happen around me or to me or inside of me.

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

Maybe the audience would find my work interesting because my work doesn’t apologize at all? Drugs and alcohol are a part of every life, even those lives seemingly free of imbibing. My life has not been perfect, will never be perfect, and my experiences with drugs and alcohol have been important to my understanding of my past/current/future self and how I fit into and out of the world around me.Read More »

Why did the FBI stop their investigation of Straight, Incorporated?

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome a post from Marcus Chatfield, who has spent years studying Straight, Inc. Chatfield is a recent graduate of Goddard College, where he received an Individualized Bachelor of Arts degree in the prevention of institutional child abuse. His undergraduate thesis, Institutionalized Persuasion, was self-published in December, 2014. He is a prospective grad student living in Florida. Enjoy!

straight-logo-300x300

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) recently arranged for the release of documents from the FBI’s investigation of Straight, Inc., a controversial teen treatment program. An initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the author in 2010 received no response and the collection was only released after subsequent requests and inquiries by the OGIS. After the FBI reviewed more than 1,224 pages in their possession, 970 were released with redactions and 254 pages were deleted, withheld by their Record/Information Dissemination Section. Almost all of these records were accumulated between 1992 and 1994 during a Grand Jury investigation that initiated in the Middle District of Florida. The investigation focused on fraudulent financial activities within the Straight, Inc. organization and the documents clearly state that federal authorities had evidence of criminal insurance fraud committed by Straight executives (p.55). Perhaps even more important, the documents seem to indicate that the FBI’s investigation was stopped before agents had a chance to review all of the evidence or explore all relevant leads (p.109-111).

Read More »

Fiction Points: Wendy C. Ortiz

WendyCOrtiznewWendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (2014), Hollywood Notebook (2015), and Bruja (forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in late 2016). Entropy Magazine put Hollywood Notebook not only on its Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 list but also on its list of Most Notable Books in the same year; Excavation was named among Large-Hearted Boy‘s best nonfiction books of 2014 and featured in Bustle‘s “11 Groundbreaking Books about Women Making History with Their Thinking, Activism, and Courage.”  Ortiz’s work has appeared in the New York TimesPalabraThe Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other venues. For the entirety of 2014, she wrote a monthly column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, “On the Trail of Mary Jane,” about Southern California’s medical-marijuana dispensary culture. Ortiz cofounded and, from 2001 until 2015, curated the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles, where she was born and raised and currently resides.

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?

Am I on LSD? Well, okay, two nuns and a penguin. I write about growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles; gestating into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest, and living in Los Angeles since 2001. More specifically? Adolescent sexual agency, sexuality, spirituality in its broadest sense, power dynamics in relationships, “relationships” and many of the things that fall under that umbrella, and what it’s like to live in this body at this time. Read More »

The Great White Hope: Can Hopelessness and Drug Abuse in White Communities Change the Drug War?

“Cocaine is an epidemic now.  White people are doing it.” – Richard Pryor

Heroin has a new face.  The new face of heroin elicits more sympathy, compassion, and OD. BY RACE.understanding.  The new face of heroin is, were told, less threatening.  Ninety percent of new heroin users are white.  From punishment to public health, local and national responses to heroin have been remarkably fluid over time.  In each case, our approach is animated by the esteem—or lack thereof—with which we hold using demographics.  As new heroin and opioid users are disproportionately white and often middle class, how we view the problem and options to address said problem have changed dramatically.  An ahistorical optimist might view our new vibrant discussion and consideration of public health approaches and harm reduction at the local and state level as clear markers of progress.  A drug historian might ask: how will approaches change when users change or new drugs with new using demographics emerge?  Those that prescribe to David Musto’s dictum of periods of tolerance and intolerance in United States drug control might rightly hold their breath for our next period of intolerance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the reason nonwhite populations have been less adversely effected by heroin’s rise is also steeped in racial prejudice.  The history of medicine has long revealed the ways in which various nonwhite ailments have been ignored or OD. Heroin. 2minimized by the medical profession.  In our present context, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a drug abuse expert argues that doctors are much more reluctant to prescribe painkillers to minority patients, worrying that they might sell them or become addicted.  Had practitioners viewed all of their patients with similar suspicion and caution the iatrogenic addiction of opioids leading to heroin may have been avoided.  In 2012, twelve states processed a volume of opioid prescriptions that outstripped their population.  In Alabama, the staggering ratio rested at 142.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 citizens.

I first wrote about this trend in 2014, after the Governor of Vermont dedicated his State of the State Address to the heroin problem.  As I argued then: Sound policy steeped in punishment—it turns out—makes much more sense when applied to 1970s Harlem rather than the land of maple syrup, autumn foliage, and good neighbors.  od. vermontWhen addressing the same drug with different users in decades past, punishment reigned.  The addict and the peddler–often doubling as the same shadowy figure–became cemented as cultural boogeymen.  Addicts, not society or disease, caused the problem and bore the threat to public safety.  In Vermont however, Governor Peter Shumlin transformed addicts as victims.  De-centering traditional narratives of crime and deviance, Shumlin painted a picture of heroin users as everyday people, victims caught in a downward spiral.  Schulman cited the conclusions of a local Pediatrician Dr. Fred Holmes: “These kids don’t look different, walk different, talk different.  It’s just the nature of the disease that’s different.  A relentless relapsing illness that is potentially fatal.”  A far cry from the “super-predators” of the Crack Era.  Read More »

Fiction Points: Rob Roberge

RobRoberge
Rob Roberge

Rob Roberge is the author of the memoir Liar (2016), three novels–The Cost of Living (2013), More Than They Could Chew (2005), and Drive (2001)–and the short-story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (2010). Liar has been excerpted by The Rumpus and praised in The LA Review of BooksPublisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus, and Roberge’s previous work earned him a spot on The Literary Review’s “Ten Writers Worth Knowing” list as well as the admiration of authors including Steve Almond, previous Fiction Points participant Stephen Elliott, Janet Fitch, and Cheryl Strayed. His work has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, The Nervous BreakdownPenthouse, The Rumpus, and  ZYZZYVA, among other venues. Roberge is also a musician, singing and playing guitar in the Los Angeles-based band The Urinals. He teaches in the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert’s MFA program and received his own MFA from Vermont College.

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?

Hmm. Well, I probably wouldn’t tell them I’m a writer unless they’d asked what I do, as I try not to force that info on people (and, I would suppose, Penguins). And I’m terrible (as many writers are) at answering the question of what I write about. Sometimes I say black humor, but that’s only an aspect of it—not the whole deal. I probably write the most about the quietly horrifying gap between who we know we are capable of being at our best, and who we actually are in our day to day lives.Read More »

Whitney Houston And The Enduring Stigma Of Crack

Popular perceptions of drugs and alcohol are fluid and in many cases highly volatile.  What we think about drugs and addiction, “very much depends on who is addicted.”  This whitney houston just say no.assertion leveled by David Courtwright is amongst drug scholars, a matter of consensus. The public and government response to crack, as well as the drug’s enduring stigma, have much to do with society’s fears and fantasies of poor nonwhites and urban districts.  It is telling that in her infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, singer Whitney Houston vociferously disavowed previous crack use.  When Sawyer read from a press clipping implying said use, Houston grew indignant reminding viewers that “crack is cheap”.  Continuing, Houston cited her wealth and status.  She “made too much money to smoke crack.”  In the same interview, Houston admitted to the abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs, and implied past struggles with eating disorders.  However, Houstonwhitney. crack is wack. haring mural
would not allow her public image to be stained by the triumvirate of blackness, poverty, and crack.  Borrowing from Keith Haring’s mural and a long-standing cultural meme, Houston concluded dismissively, “crack is wack.”

Houston’s denial was motivated by the class and racial politics of cocaine use. To put it another way, crack is wack because it’s perceived to be a drug dominated by poor, black users. News accounts portrayed it as an almost exclusively black drug, as opposed to its upscale chemical cousin, cocaine.  From the perspective of drug warriors like William Bennett, one might argue that Hoston’s interview represents the fruits of nearly two decades of anti-crack media assaults.  In this respect, the invisible hand of culture may appear to have done the good work of categorizing crack as a vice of disrepute.  The War on Drugs had succeeded in driving down demand for crack as the drug became increasingly stigmatized in popular culture and on the street corner.  But what of other drugs?  Might addicts and corner boys have turned to other less stigmatized drugs as a crutch?  If so, all Houston’s denial and the broader demise of crack represents is a another chapter in the grand saga of wack-a-mole drug enforcement. Read More »