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.

Wanted: Author for New Title on Contemporary Debates Surrounding Legal and Illegal Drug Use

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Kevin Hillstrom, the Senior Acquisitions Editor for Government, Politics, and Issues at the publishing house ABC-CLIO. He’s looking for an author to work on a factual book about the debates surrounding legal and illegal drug use. This could be a great opportunity for an early career historian looking to get some publishing experience, or a more established historian hoping to correct some of the misinformation that’s always floating around. Hillstrom’s contact info is at the bottom of this post if you have any questions.

The ABC-CLIO reference publishing company is seeking a qualified scholar to author a “fact-check” book on illegal and legal drug use in America, past and present.

For more than 60 years, ABC-CLIO and its Praeger and Greenwood Press imprints have delivered award-winning collections of digital and print resources for secondary education, higher education, and public libraries. Our mission is to support educators and librarians in their work to foster 21st-century skills, independent critical thinking, and genuine exploration and understanding of the complex issues of our world—past, present, and future.

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Fiction Points: Kristi Coulter

KristiKristi Coulter is the author of Nothing Good Can Come from This (MCD Books x FSG Originals 2018), a memoir in essays centered on her struggle to quit drinking alcohol. Coulter has published in New York Magazine/The CutParis ReviewLongreads, and elsewhere, including a forthcoming Amazon Original, “Yes, And,” on love, monogamy, and secrets. She is a former Ragdale Foundation fellow, National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts grant recipient, and Hugo House guest lecturer. Coulter holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan and resides in Seattle. Nothing Good Can Come from This 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 you what you write about, how do you answer?

“Do you guys realize your outfits all sort of match? No, it’s cute! It’s totally working for you.” 

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

Alcohol as a marker of liberation and equality has loomed large in feminist popular history/culture, from the flappers to Sex and the City to the more recent trend of booze-soaked play dates and wines with names like Mommyjuice. Which is all well and good if you aren’t an addict. I am *totally* an addict, and once I dug my way out of my own drunk-woman subculture (hard-driving urban professional), I started to realize the same white wine that had seemed like a feminist pleasure trophy had also kept me complacent about double standards and inequities in my career and daily life. I’d been fooled by marketing and pop culture and my own damn brain into believing I was ‘having it all,’ when really I was self-medicating in part to tolerate a life I hated. I’m not remotely suggesting that every woman who enjoys a drink is a tool of the patriarchy, or un-feminist. But I do think alcohol and drugs–like cigarettes before them–are often marketed as proof of liberation, when in reality there’s nothing *less* threatening to the status quo as a bunch of muddle-headed, hungover women who just want to make it through their daily chores to that next glass of mommy juice.

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

I had expected to find sobriety boring, but it turned out to be fascinating, and even more unexpectedly, funny. I mean, suddenly I was navigating familiar situations without the one coping tool I’d relied on for a decade. It may not *sound* like comedy gold, but I tend to find absurdist humor in a lot of unlikely places, and I realized it was a classic fish-out-of-water (or wine) setup. I started keeping a blog to capture some of those comic details–and the less-comic ones, too–and the blog led to essays, which led to me accidentally coming out as sober to the *entire globe* when one self-published essay, “Enjoli,” went mega-viral, which led to a book deal for Nothing Good Can Come from This, my memoir-in-essays about drinking and not drinking.

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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?

It took me a while to realize that I even wanted to write a book about my addiction and sobriety. There are so many addiction memoirs out there already, and often even the great ones follow a classic template where ever-escalating thrills and risks lead to a very hard, dramatic crash, which leads to rehab/AA…and then that’s kind of the end. But my own drinking and sobriety didn’t fit that narrative arc. I didn’t lose my job or my family to drinking. I didn’t get arrested. I quit because I was just (“just,” she says!) tired of thinking and worrying about drinking 24/7, tired that my life had narrowed to that one pinhole-sized focus. And when I stopped, it wasn’t through rehab or AA, just therapy and a lot of introspection and writing and the stubbornness to wait out the hard parts so the better days could come. And, as I mentioned above, I found sobriety to be not only comedy gold, but *much* more interesting than my drinking days–but I assumed readers would only want the gory drinking details, since most of the addiction classics focus on those.

Finally I thought “Hey dummeh [imagine I am saying this in the voice of Fred Sanford from Sanford and Son], maybe all these reasons not to write a book are why you *should* write a book.” I realized there was space in the canon or whatever for an irreverent, non-traditional, very specifically *female* addiction story–or sobriety story, really, since that’s what I chose to focus on. And I decided to be playful with the structure, because neither my addiction or sobriety has felt like an A-to-Z classic narrative journey. So I wrote NGCCFT with a prism in mind, or that Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”–examining exactly what the hell happened from a bunch of different angles and through different forms. Some essays in the collection are straightforward narrative but there’s also a quiz, a letter to a college friend, some instructions, etc. I could only tell my story prismatically because that’s how I lived it.

As far as having drugs in my writing arsenal, I can only say I might not be writing at all, or certainly not as consistently, without my longtime companion Effexor. It’s not a “fun” drug, but it’s a drug that makes fun a possibility for me.

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 realized halfway through writing NCGGFT that I was actually writing about my drunk and sober attempts to satisfy the eternal human craving for *something*–completeness, God, ecstasy–that for most of us will never be quite filled. I’m infinitely happier in sobriety than I was as a drinker, but I still crave completeness, ecstasy, etc. I still have deep wants. And I don’t feel a need to pathologize those cravings and wants. Often, they’re just the human condition. Since completing NGCCFT, I’ve published essays on sex and marriage and music, and I’m currently working on something about ambition, and the problem-slash-joy of want is at the heart of all of it. I find it both fascinating and feminist–women aren’t really supposed to want things for themselves, only for other people–so I imagine it can take me pretty far as a writer.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that Nothing Good Can Come from This gets made into a major motion picture. What song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

In a nod to the eternal craving described above, the epigraph to the book comes from the Replacements song “Unsatisfied”: “Look me in the eye and tell me that I’m satisfied.” It’s my way of telling the reader up front that this is not going to be a story of a wayward woman who ends up in a state of 24-7 gratitude and contentment just because she moved past addiction. So I’d have to end the film the same way. Plus, you know how some credits start out slowly, with one major name per screen, and then the roll starts for everyone else? Well, “Unsatisfied” has a long, spare guitar intro and then opens up into a full, driving melody, so it would work *perfectly* for that credit format. Can you tell I’ve given this some thought, down to who should dress me for the premiere? (Balenciaga.)

A Book Proposal in Drug History: Considering Audience

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Seth Blumenthal, contributing editor and lecturer at Boston University. Today, he explores what academics — especially those of us writing about timely topics like alcohol and drugs — should consider when thinking about their audience(s). Public or academic? How do we reach readers? How can we make our work matter? Read on and find out how Dr. Blumenthal considers these questions when analyzing his newest book project.

As I have written on this blog about my brush with marijuana politics, the suburban contest over legalization has exposed fascinating generational and cultural differences within these communities.  What accounts for this wide range of opinions about this issue? I propose to look at the role of public school education in shaping the many mythologies surrounding cannabis. Considering this project’s scope, three audiences—academic, policy and education experts or students, and the wider audience interested in marijuana history– emerge as the target readership for my proposed project,  Just Say No: A History of Drug Education in American Public Schools. Recently, historians have reconsidered the wider appeal of their scholarship and sparked a robust conversation about reaching a broader audience.[1] To be sure, the specific approaches each of these audiences require are not always compatible, but the topic of drug education provides a unique opportunity to reconcile the differences.

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