Art as self-authorization


I spent most of January in an escapist headspace, burrowing down into several subjects, my fascination with which have taken me by surprise.

1) Richard Yates. I read Revolutionary Road in 2008 when the movie came out because my tween brain imprinted on Titanic-era Kate and Leo in 1997 and I’m pretty much subconsciously committed to following them in a space ship to Mars if they were featured as star-crossed lovers in its alien-infested bowels.

But. I never watched Revolutionary Road the movie for some reason? Probably because I read the book first and it was devastating; too devastating to see on screen right afterward. Fast forward almost 13 years later, the movie’s on HBO Max and with all this quarantine time on my hands, I gave it a crinoline-skirted whirl and… god damn. Devastating, yes indeed, but I was surprised at how differently I thought of the characters and the plot with some years as an adult under my belt. (APRIL, I KNOW, IT SUCKS YOU CAN’T SELF ACTUALIZE BECAUSE OF THINGS OUTSIDE YOUR CONTROL, BUT YOU LUCKY BITCH, JUST ENJOY YOUR HOUSE AND WORK-FREE LIFE OMFG.)

Perhaps my bleak outlook is quarantine related. Or could it be because the movie is different from the book? I bought a three-book tome of Richard Yates’ work and decided to find out. This turned out to be the biggest January 2021 gift of all! What a cynical, destructive, brutal, little worm Revolutionary Road is. 😍 Like the girl-smirking-at-house-fire meme in book form. I love it, and I find such unrepentant catharsis in how slowly but surely Yates dismantles each character with the kind of rage-eyed honesty no one wants to be in front of but, if you see the people the way he does, feels so rewarding and relieving to watch.

And how he does it is startling. Funny almost. You can’t even see it coming. Example: The following savory paragraph about how the children can sleep comfortably now that their parents have stopped fighting (because mom and dad are high on their unrealistic self-deluded fantasy that will eventually kill someone but we’ll get there soon enough!).

“They could lie drowsing now under the sound of kindly voices in the living room, a sound whose intricately rhythmic rise and fall would slowly turn into the shape of their dreams. And if they came awake later to turn over and reach with their toes for new cool places in the sheets, they knew the sound would still be there—one voice very deep and the other soft and pretty, talking and talking, as substantial and soothing as a blue range of mountains seen from far away.”

Then, next paragraph, like a slap in the face from a surly sugar plum fairy:

“This whole country’s rotten with sentimentality,” Frank said one night…

HA!


2) Dennis Rodman. I know, girl! I don’t know! Whyyy?

This minor obsession was inspired by another thing we finally watched: The Last Dance docu-series, which chronicles the 1990s Chicago Bulls as they went for their sixth and final title. At first I was really grooving on Scottie Pippen, learning about his playing style, often relegated to the second paragraph (rightfully so) behind Michael Jordan (GOAT). Then I met Dennis “The Worm” Rodman. Like, basketball Dennis Rodman. I’m so compelled by him! I’m trying to figure out why? I love the way he played basketball, I know that much. Gutter ball go-getter, beast hunter of the rankest of rebounds, trash-talking trash man king of the trash can people…


3) Art as self-authorization. That both of the angry, broken-hearted people listed above struggled with addiction issues all their lives, is the only thing not surprising to me.

I’m interested in people who have channeled extraordinary pain into something else and then turned that “something else” into a brand new something else. Something only they could do or make or be. And if it’s got a little dash of rebellious, self-supporting stank on it, even better. Dennis Rodman became his own performance art piece on the basketball court after accepting that the love/loyalty he thought existed in the world did not, in fact, exist; turning into Dennis Rodman as we now know and (I) love him was the alternative to suicide. For Yates, writing about loneliness, hopelessness, and self-dishonesty the way he did throbs with recognition; this is someone who lived most of their life feeling like a balloon within a balloon, disconnected from others and bumbling about in the void.

Maybe what’s appealing to me about Yates and Rodman right now relates to the third thing I thought about a lot this past month: the idea that being an artist is simply a matter of self-authorization—authorizing yourself to see what you see and express it however you see fit, then move on. I dig that. Feel inspired by it. Even when it comes from deeply flawed sources. Especially when it comes from deeply flawed sources (who have tried and failed to redeem themselves over and over). For those artists I am “rotten with sentimentality.”

Related: Below are some videos I made for my gallery’s Instagram stories this month. I ~authorized~ myself to learn how to animate my work and post it even if I don’t think it’s perfect yet. Can’t wait to see what February brings. Stay healthy, friends.

Mom Genes


Memphis


New Playground


Yo Yo Mama


Zero Proof: The Boatbuilder


In the new episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I talk about “The Boatbuilder” by Daniel Gumbiner. 🛶It’s a novel about, in part, recovery from opioids. We discuss developing an appreciation for nature and being off the grid in recovery, the many benefits of working with your hands, and our own varying experiences with drugs vs. alcohol. 🛶

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.


Pairs well with:

  • Cardamom Peach Shrub

We thought a shrub would be fun to drink with this week’s book pick, as “The Boatbuilder” stars California’s rugged trees and forests. To make this Cardamom Peach Shrub, chop up four ripe peaches and bring them to a simmer with one cup water, 3/4 cup sugar, five cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick. This part smells SO GOOD. Simmer over low for at least 15 minutes, then strain out the liquid and mix with one cup apple cider vinegar. Chill. When you’re ready to serve, pour over ice and top with sparkling water. 🍑🍑🍑 

About “The Boatbuilder”

What to expect: A fictional, meditative journey of a young man struggling to overcome an opioid addiction

From the book jacket:

“At 28 years old, Eli ‘Berg’ Koenigsberg has never encountered a challenge he couldn’t push through, until a head injury leaves him with lingering headaches and a weakness for opiates. Berg moves to a remote Northern California town, seeking space and time to recover, but soon finds himself breaking into homes in search of pills. 

Addled by addiction and chronic pain, Berg meets Alejandro, a reclusive, master boatbuilder, and begins to see a path forward. Alejandro offers Berg honest labor, but more than this, he offers him a new approach to his suffering, a template for survival amid intense pain. Nurtured by his friendship with Alejandro and aided, too, by the comradeship of many in Talinas, Berg begins to return to himself. Written in gleaming prose, this is a story about resilience, community, and what it takes to win back your soul.

“The Boatbuilder”

Zero Proof: Nothing Good Can Come From This


In the new episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I talk about “Nothing Good Can Come From This” by Kristi Coulter. We discuss the drinking triggers that are everywhere in the summer and how you can signal you’re still cool after you stop drinking.

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.


Pairs well with:

  • Carrot Ginger Turmeric + lemon sparkling water + fresh orange juice

Paired with our new episode, a carrot-ginger juice (we love Knudsen’s Carrot Ginger Turmeric) mixed with lemon sparkling water and some fresh squeezed orange juice. 


About Nothing Good Can Come From This

What to expect: A frank, funny, and feminist essay collection (dare we say, beach read?) by a keen-eyed observer no longer numbed into complacency

From the book jacket:

“When Kristi stopped drinking, she started noticing things. Like when you give up a debilitating habit, it leaves a space, one that can’t easily be filled by mocktails or ice cream or sex or crafting. And when you cancel Rosé Season for yourself, you’re left with just Summer, and that’s when you notice that the women around you are tankedthat alcohol is the oil in the motors that keeps them purring when they could be making other kinds of noise.

In her sharp, incisive debut essay collection, Coulter reveals a portrait of a life in transition. By turns hilarious and heartrending, Nothing Good Can Come from This introduces a fierce new voice to fans of Sloane Crosley, David Sedaris, and Cheryl Strayed―perfect for anyone who has ever stood in the middle of a so-called perfect life and looked for an escape hatch.

— Nothing Good Can Come from This

Zero Proof: Sober Curious

In the new episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I weigh in on the hottest sobriety book of the moment: Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington. We talk about Warrington’s sometimes confusing terminology and also applaud her for starting to change the conversation surrounding sobriety.

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.


Pairs well with:

  • 🦄Unicorn shots 🦄

This week we’re sipping on UNICORN SHOTS! In the book, Ruby writes, “I served these at a Club SODA NYC booze-free brunch, and you couldn’t get people off the dance floor.

Here’s how you whip them up (makes 18 shots): 4 cups almond milk, 1 ripe banana, 3 tablespoons raw cacao powder, 2 tablespoons kava powder, 2 tablespoons honey, handful ice, rainbow cupcake sprinkles. Blitz all the ingredients except the sprinkles in a high-speed blender and divide among shot glasses. Top with sprinkles and serve immediately.” Fun! Tastes like a yummy chocolate milkshake. 


About Sober Curious

What to expect: A contemporary treatise for more mindful drinking and all the benefits to be reaped as a result

From the book jacket:

“It’s the nagging question more and more of us are finding harder to ignore, whether we have a ‘problem’ with alcohol or not. After all, we yoga. We green juice. We meditate. We self-care. And yet, come the end of a long work day, the start of a weekend, an awkward social situation, we drink. One glass of wine turns into two turns into a bottle. In the face of how we care for ourselves otherwise, it’s hard to avoid how alcohol really makes us feel… terrible.

How different would our lives be if we stopped drinking on autopilot? If we stopped drinking altogether? Really different, it turns out. Really better. Sober Curious is a bold guide to choosing to live hangover-free, from Ruby Warrington, one of the leading voices of the new sobriety movement.

Drawing on research, expert interviews, and personal narrative, Sober Curious is a radical take down of the myths that keep so many of us drinking. Inspiring, timely, and blame-free, Sober Curious is both conversation starter and handbook—essential reading that empowers readers to transform their relationship with alcohol, so we can lead our most fulfilling lives.”

— Sober Curious

Zero Proof: Judgment Detox


In the latest episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I discuss popular spiritual junkie Gabrielle Bernstein’s self-help book Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back From Living a Better Life.

We tried following the six steps of the Judgment Detox process in an effort to become better, less judgmental people. Our results vary. 😝 We talk about why we judge other people who continue to binge drink, learning to forgive ourselves for being judgmental, judging our past selves, and more.

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.


Pairs well with…

  • Watermelon juice mocktail

Since our new podcast dropped on Fourth of July week, we’re pairing this book with a watermelon spritzer, made with fresh watermelon juice, seltzer water, and fresh berries.

To make the watermelon juice, throw watermelon chunks into the blender and pulse until smooth. Pour watermelon purée through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl, using a rubber spatula to squeeze out all the juice. Fill a glass with ice, strawberries, and blueberries, then fill halfway with watermelon juice and top off with your choice of sparkling water. Squeeze in a little lime juice if you have it! 🍉🍓🍉🍓


About Judgment Detox

What to expect: A six-step guide to letting go of petty judgements (for self and others) and tapping (sometimes literally) into a self that can release painful feelings without having to turn to booze for relief

From the book jacket:

“From #1 New York Times bestselling author Gabrielle Bernstein comes a clear, proactive, step-by-step process to release the beliefs that hold you back from living a better life.

This six-step practice offers many promises. Petty resentments will disappear, compassion will replace attack, the energy of resistance will transform into freedom, and you’ll feel more peace and happiness than you’ve ever known. I can testify to these results because I’ve lived them. I’ve never felt more freedom and joy than I have when writing and practicing these steps.

My commitment to healing my own relationship to judgment has changed my life in profound ways. My awareness of my judgment has helped me become a more mindful and conscious person. My willingness to heal these perceptions has set me free. I have been able to let go of resentments and jealousies, I can face pain with curiosity and love, and I forgive others and myself much more easily. Best of all, I have a healthy relationship to judgment so that I can witness when it shows up and I can use these steps to quickly return to love.

The Judgment Detox is an interactive six-step process that calls on spiritual principles from the text A Course in Miracles, Kundalini yoga, the Emotional Freedom Technique (aka Tapping), meditation, prayer and metaphysical teachings. I’ve demystified these principles to make them easy to commit to and apply in your daily life. Each lesson builds upon the next to support true healing. When you commit to following the process and become willing to let go, judgment, pain, and suffering will begin to dissolve.

And the miracles will keep coming. Once you begin to feel better you start to release your resistance to love. The more you practice these steps, the more love enters into your consciousness and into your energetic vibration. When you’re in harmony with love, you receive more of what you want. Your energy attracts its likeness. So when you shift your energy from defensive judgment to free-flowing love your life gets awesome. You’ll attract exactly what you need, your relationships will heal, your health will improve and you’ll feel safer and more secure. One loving thought at a time creates a miracle. Follow these steps to clear all blocks, spread more love and live a miraculous life.”

— Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs that Hold You Back


Zero Proof: Dry


In the latest episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I discuss the famous #quitlit memoir Dry by Augusten Burroughs (who you might recognize from “Running With Scissors” fame/ hilarity/ tragedy).

Our book club convo covers rehab, 12 step programs, relapse, and, most importantly, the notion of being a “dry drunk,” a term that Shelley balks at but that I found particularly helpful when trying to understand why I was struggling with similarly impulsive behavior patterns after the pink cloud of early sobriety lifted. See also: using humor in addiction writing, how men talk about addiction compared to how women talk about it, and how hard it must have been to seek recovery before the internet (yikes, hello, embarrassing hotlines).

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.


Pairs well with…

In “Dry,” Burroughs has a bit about ordering a seltzer and lime soon after leaving rehab. As he waits for it to arrive, he reflects, “Suddenly I can feel how depressing alcoholism really is. Basements and prayers. It lacks the swank factor.” We happen to disagree, and we happen to love drinking seltzer and lime. To pair with our podcast discussion of “Dry,” we’re drinking seltzer water, lime, and a splash of Seedlip Herbal nonalcoholic spirit to up the swank factor. 


About Dry

What to expect: A hilarious, heartbreaking tale of recovery after rehab by one of the best in the memoir biz

From the book jacket:

“You may not know it, but you’ve met Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary.

But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers.

But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click and that’s when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life―and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that’s as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is true. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power.”

— Dry: A Memoir

My list of books to read this month


A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Reading about the lives of conservative Arab women living in America does not sound like an entertaining time to me (the conservative descriptor is what feels most like a snooze, to be clear). However, I’ve read nothing but good things about this new, debut novel by Etaf Rum—part addictive page-turner, part family portrait with secrets waiting in the shadows.

Deya is a Brooklyn gal who is 18 and being pursued by suitors selected by her grandparents. Yikes enough as is, certainly, but the situation is underlined by a black line that traces back to the story of Deya’s mother, Isra, who left Palestine as a teen to marry her heart’s desire, not her parents’. Isra supposedly died in a car accident. A secret note, mysterious woman, and gut feeling say otherwise.


There There by Tommy Orange

This book was published last year and the Chicago literati looooved it. Devoted Chicago literati follower that I am, I put this on my to-read list. They’ve never led me astray with a bad book recco yet, and There There has further confirmed my faith in their Book Gods status (see also: “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Really Is That Good” by the New York Times).

Each chapter follows a different character in a very large cast of Native Americans in Oakland, all of whom are making their way to a fateful powwow that ends in a ~very American~ tragedy. The story wields language, grief, and first-person narrative like a knife sharpened on the too-long-ignored, unquiet bones of a true-life genocide.

The title is a reference to a misunderstood (whitewashed) Gertrude Stein quote about Oakland that Orange brilliantly weaves into one character’s scene. The phrase also comes up in another place, referencing the Radiohead song by the same name, demonstrating how contemporary and historically intertwined this novel is, symbolic of Native American experience and life in Oakland. Those cross-generational twines can continue to choke a whole community, or the rest of us can help them become untangled and pull everyone up with the rope.

I would like Tommy Orange to publish a new book immediately.


No Walls and the Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco

My bff in college loved the singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco. She played me Ani’s “Not A Pretty Girl” one day our freshmen year, likely when it was spring and I was sweaty and sitting on the floor of her dorm room and licking cheese fry sauce off my fingers. And feeling righteous in the pit of my stomach or something similarly ravenous somewhere that no food hall cheese fry could ever satisfy.

Ani’s songs made sense to me, and they made me feel better. Not, like, better in the moment of listening, but holistically, lifelong, better. Finding her (along with Fiona Apple and The Distillers) was like finding the handle for the pressure valve release of my confused spirit. I never knew I needed someone to voice what Ani does until I heard Ani do it.

I am not a pretty girl
I don’t really want to be a pretty girl
I wanna be more than a pretty girl

I am not an angry girl
But it seems like I’ve got everyone fooled
Every time I say something they find hard to hear
They chalk it up to my anger
And never to their own fear

Imagine you’re a girl, just trying to finally come clean
Knowing full well they’d prefer you were dirty
And smiling, and I am sorry

But I am not a maiden fair
And I am not a kitten
Stuck up a tree somewhere

Ani’s music helped inform my understanding of the world, of myself, and of the experience of being and becoming a woman. When her voice cracks but she keeps singing her truth, she told the rest of us we could and should do the same.

I’m really excited to read her debut memoir, in which she tracks her totally underrated journey to DIY superstardom (she released her first album at 18, rejected the mainstream recording industry and created her own successful label, Righteous Babe Records), navigating the music industry in the 1990s and 2000s, getting an abortion, becoming a mother, speaking as a social activist, being a creative entrepreneur, and so much more.

Ani in Chicago at a discussion to celebrate the launch of her new book, presented by Women and Children First Book Store.
My superfan friend and companion for the evening doing the homework early.
Samantha Irby (of Bitches Gotta Eat and Shrill fame)!!! She was there as an audience member, but, of course, as soon as she was spotted, she was asked to intro Ani and it was perfect and hilarious, just like her.

#SundaySentence: Fake lyrics


For David Abrams’ Sunday Sentence project, readers share the best sentence they’ve read during the past week, “out of context and without commentary.”


(Bookmark of baby Kurt Vonnegut courtesy the American Writers Museum!)

I’ll run into the darkness or the fire/ I won’t run forever/ but I’ll run a long time/ Force me into a fight/ I’ll come at you like the sunlight hits the water/ I won’t fight forever/ but I’ll fight with my life

From The Boatbuilder, a novel by Daniel Gumbiner

Zero Proof: The Gifts of Imperfection


In the latest episode of Zero Proof Book Club, Shelley and I discuss Brené Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” We share our own struggles with perfectionism, I talk authenticity, and Shelley shares how her perfectionism manifests itself in the form of birthday cakes and many unfinished essays. 

Listen to the new episode here, at ZeroProofBookClub.com, and follow us on Instagram at @zeroproofbookclub.


Pairs well with…

  • Zero Proof Pina Colada

The inspiration for these Pina Colada-ish cocktails came from a trip Shelley took to Puerto Rico, where her Airbnb rentals came stocked with tiny cans of pineapple juice and cream of coconut. Stir equal parts pineapple juice with cream of coconut and pour over ice. Can you tell we’re ~so~ ready for this cold rain to stop?


About The Gifts of Imperfection

What to expect: Rather than your average self-help book, a motivational and inspiring guide to wholehearted living, as explored by today’s chief expert in the power of vulnerability

From the book jacket:

“When our embarrassments and fears lie, we often listen to them anyway. They thwart our gratitude, acceptance, and compassion—our goodness. They insist, ‘I am not worthy.’ But we are worthy—of self-discovery, personal growth, and boundless love. With Brené Brown’s game-changing New York Times bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection—which has sold more than two million copies in more than 30 different languages, and Forbes recently named one of the ‘Five Books That Will Actually Change Your Outlook On Life’—we find courage to overcome paralyzing fear and self-consciousness, strengthening our connection to the world.

With this groundbreaking work, Brené Brown, Ph.D., bolsters the self-esteem and personal development process through her characteristic heartfelt, honest storytelling. With original research and plenty of encouragement, she explores the psychology of releasing our definitions of an ‘imperfect’ life and embracing living authentically. Brown’s ‘ten guideposts’  are benchmarks for authenticity that can help anyone establish a practice for a life of honest beauty—a perfectly imperfect life.

Now, more than ever, we all need to cultivate feelings of self-worth, as well as acceptance and love for ourselves. In a world where insults, criticisms, and fears are spread too generously alongside messages of unrealistic beauty, attainment, and expectation, we look for ways to ‘dig deep’ and find truth and gratitude in our lives. A new way forward means we can’t hold on too tightly to our own self-defeating thoughts or the displaced pain in our world. Instead, we can embrace the imperfection.”

— The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
Shelley talks about this cake on the episode. I love it. And her. And Lisa.

My list of books to read this month


Normal People by Sally Rooney

“Normal People” is a not normal, very good book of literary fiction by author Sally Rooney. The story of back-and-forth lovers Connell and Marianne unfolds over the course of 2011, when the two are in their senior year of high school, and 2015, when college graduation looms.

Rooney is a maestro of character explorations and she’s at the top of her game with this one (and the top of the writing field, according to the British Book Awards, which recently awarded “Normal People” its coveted Book of the Year accolade). Rooney’s writing is mostly very subtle, purposefully juvenile, practically meditative to read in its simplicity, but that belies all the masterful skill she’s deftly weaving underneath.

“But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.”

And then she’ll body slam you with a perfectly astute description of depression or fleeting moments of joy or the spiritually injurious albatross of abusive relationships (between lovers, families, social classes) and the damage that results—damage that can be, if not erased, at least lifted by an irregular kind of love.

The George Eliot epigraph in “Normal People.”

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter

I’m reading this for a future episode of Zero Proof Book Club. I don’t usually include those books in my monthly blog roundups, but I think this series of essays by Kristi Coulter is something anyone could enjoy, not just sober or sober-curious somebodies.

Frank, feminist, fucking funny. All the most delicious f-words apply to Coulter’s trash talk about being trashed and life before, during, and after the fact. Hermit crab essays, narrative essays, and other smart takes on the form abound. It’s interesting to read work on a theme and learning the writer’s story that way, rather than through a traditional memoir format. That Coulter’s life feels eerily familiar to women of a certain headstrong, willful ilk by emotionally chaotic childhood design is a bonus.