Eva 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.
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?
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.