The Points Interview: Michelle Drozdick

Editor’s Note: Today we interview the playwright and performer Michelle Drozdick, who is a self-described “comedian, improviser, performer, and cat lover moonlighting as a human being.” She is best known for her solo shows Message in a Bottle and The Gimmick and You. She’s performed at countless theaters across NYC, is on too many improv teams to keep track of, and would love for you to follow her on Twitter at @drozphallic. Message in a Bottle will have a three-run show at QED Theater in Astoria, Queens, from 8/18 to 8/20, all at 7pm. In anticipation of these performances, we talked to Drozdick about the mysteries of talking penguins, personifying objects, and what it’s like to love a bottle of vodka.

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Michelle Drozdick

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

First I’d chat with the penguin, because how often do you meet a talking penguin? I’d love to know how it came to talk, and if it’s the only one of its kind or if there’s more. If it’s the only one of its kind, is it lonely? Does it have trouble interacting with other penguins? If there are more, what kind of society do they have? Why is it hanging out with nuns? Is it because they’re both black and white, or is the penguin religious? Are there Catholic penguins? What is their view of the afterlife?

Once I got past the penguin thing, and apologized to the nuns for overlooking them, I’d tell them Message in a Bottle is a dark comedy/drama about alcoholism, portrayed as a romantic relationship between a woman and a self-aware bottle of vodka with googly eyes, plastic forks for arms, and a necktie. I’d warn the nuns that it can get a little adult at times, but nothing stronger than a PG-13 rating, tell them the show covers the first date all the way to what comes after the “end,” then offer them all comped tickets.

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

I love exploring the personification of objects in art, especially over time. It’s really interesting to see how we portray inanimate things that don’t actually have thoughts or personalities based on attributes of our own culture and society. I recently saw a great engraving by John Warner Barber from the 1820s called “King Alcohol, and his Prime Minister,” and there are lots of wonderful cartoons from the Prohibition-era (and the time leading up to it) that portray alcohol as an actual person wreaking havoc.

My show is a definitely inspired by this sort of art, and I spent a lot of time reading up on these older portrayals of alcohol, while trying to adapt it to a modern-day, personal story.

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Fiction Points: Jamie Beth Cohen

jamiebethcohenJamie Beth Cohen is the author of Wasted Pretty (Black Rose Writing 2019), a YA coming-of-age novel that explores growing up as a girl in a pre-#metoo era. Cohen earned a BFA in English from George Mason University and a master’s degree in higher education administration from City University of New York. Her work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, at Teen Vogue, in the anthology Crossing Limits: African Americans and American Jews, and elsewhere. She lives in Lancaster County, PA.  

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 probably quote my own bio and say, “I write about difficult things, but my friends think I’m funny!” Seems like a punchline to a joke, right? Hopefully they’d laugh, and if they let me expand, I’d explain that because I’m both a fiction writer and a non-fiction writer, I get to write about a wide range of topics I find interesting. My published non-fiction includes essays on parenting, feminism, Judaism, politics, end of life issues, and more. My published fiction generally centers on teens and twenty-somethings going through growing pains. My debut novel, Wasted Pretty, published by Black Rose Writing in April 2019, is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who is noticed for her appearance for the first time and all the things that are exciting, annoying and, in her case, dangerous about that moment.

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

Alice, the main character in Wasted Pretty, is not a big drinker, but her best friend Meredith is. Meredith experiments with diet pills and recreational drugs as well. But Chris Thompson, the college guy Alice has a crush on is sober. He crashed and burned during his freshman year, largely due to excessive drinking, so he’s working hard to put himself back together. The more time Alice spends with Chris the more her friend’s substance use bothers her.

Also, Alice’s dad is a gambling addict in the throes of his addiction. There are interesting parallels and counterpoints between what Chris went through as a teenage alcoholic and how he’s handling it and what Alice’s dad is going through as an adult who does not have a handle on his addiction.

Additionally, in one scene, Alice wants to make a “bad” choice. She knows it’s wrong, but she’s determined to do it anyway, so she gets drunk, as if to have some plausible deniability after the fact. However, she’s not prepared for the reality that her bad decision has unintended and far-reaching consequences. Continue reading →

The Points Interview: Chris Finan

chrisChris Finan is the author of the books Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior (Hill & Wang, 2002), From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America (Beacon Press, 2008), and Drunks: An American History (Beacon, 2017). He currently serves as Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Censorship and was previously President of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Finan received his PhD. in American History from Columbia University in 1992 and has been involved in anti-censorship efforts for the past 35 years. He lives in Brooklyn.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Actually, one of the first persons I described the book to was a bartender.  I was at a reception at book convention in Minneapolis, and he wandered over before it was time to start pouring drinks to talk about my book, which was on display.  He had been lucky enough to get sober in the “land of 1,000 rehabs.”  I told him that my book tells the stories of the people who have led the recovery movement since the colonial period and ultimately saved his life–and mine.
drunks

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Conference Summary: “I’ve Been to Dwight,” July 14-18, 2016, Dwight, IL

Editor’s Note: This conference summary is brought to you by David Korostyshevsky, a doctoral student in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He traveled to Dwight, Illinois, in mid-July to attend the ADHS off-year “I’ve Been to Dwight” conference, and has provided this account of his time there. Thanks David!

On July 14-18, 2016, a group of international alcohol and drug historians descended upon the village of Dwight, Illinois, for an ADHS off-year conference. Conference organizers selected Dwight because 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Keeley Institute.

Founded by Leslie E. Keeley in 1879 (and operating until 1966), the Keeley Institute offered treatment options to patients with addiction, usually alcoholism, including Keeley’s Gold Cure. “I’ve Been to Dwight,” the conference title, references “a catchphrase” former Keeley Institute patients “used to explain their sobriety.”

Keeley

To make it easier to read, this summary is organized thematically. You can see the full conference program here.

I live-tweeted the conference as @rndmhistorian under the hashtag #IBTD16. Also, Janet Olson, volunteer archivist at the Frances Willard Historical Association wrote a blog post about the conference.

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“Trading One Addiction For Another”: Alcoholism and Nutrition from the 1950s to Today

There are about a half-dozen Little Free Libraries in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood, where the “take a book, leave a book” ethos lives in elaborate little houses that people post in their front lawns. I love them, and examine each one closely as I pass by on the dog’s daily walks. It’s always interesting to see what shows up, which books languish for days or weeks, and which books call out to me, begging to be brought home.

A few weeks ago, while Bruno investigated some nearby grass, I came across a tattered paperback in the Little Free Library near an elementary school. Its cover was folded and its spine repeatedly creased, to the point where it was almost difficult to read the title. It was obviously, at one point at least, a well-loved book. But it was the title that stopped me and forced me to slip the book into my pocket: Eating Right to Live Sober, by Katherine Ketcham and L. Ann Mueller, M.D.

eating right to live soberEating Right to live Sober was published in 1983, during a moment that James R. Milam, Ph.D., author of Under the Influence (co-written with Ketcham) and cofounder of Milam Recovery Center, called a “turning point in the history of alcoholism.” It was in the early 1980s that Milam saw alcoholism shedding its skin as a purely psychiatric disease, when it was beginning to be understood as a mental and physical condition. This meant that new treatments, ones that were more holistically attuned, were necessary to treat its expanding definition. “Everyone who understands alcoholism as a disease also needs to know what to do about it,” Milam explained in his introduction. Ketcham and Mueller’s book was “valid core material to build on.”

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Alcoholism in Communist Yugoslavia

Former_Yugoslavia_Map

(Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by contributing editor Mat Savelli, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.)

Yugoslavia had a problem with alcoholism.

Or at the very least, that’s what the country’s psychiatrists generally thought. During the Communist era (from the end of the WWII through to the country’s collapse in 1991), leading Yugoslav physicians routinely warned about the population’s rapid descent into widespread alcoholism.

Year after year, the statistics on drinking seemed to grow. Yugoslavs were consuming more and were beginning to drink heavily at a younger age. Even more problematically, excessive drinking seemed to be spreading to new populations, with women and the country’s substantial Muslim population increasingly taking to booze.

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Finding “The Real Thing”: Mad Men Roundtable, Part II

Editor’s Note: Points is thrilled to present our final roundtable on the television series that has given drug and alcohol historians the most to discuss over the past seven years: Mad Men. Claire Clark, Amy Long and I present our thoughts on the series finale, which aired on Sunday, May 17, and its meaning and repercussions for ADHS scholars. 

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