Author Archives

Aaron Gilbreath
Aaron Gilbreath has written essays and articles for Harper's, The New York Times, Paris Review, Tin House, Kenyon Review, Vice, and The Morning News. Curbside Splendor published his essay collection, "Everything We Don't Know," in 2016. @AaronGilbreath

Sorry, But Drug-Induced Homicide Laws Aren’t Going to Solve Our Opioid Crisis

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation via AP

Prosecutors across the U.S. have revived old laws to prosecute the people who supply the drugs that lead to overdoses. Critics characterize this as another ineffective technique in the ineffective tough-on-crime approach to drug addiction. Instead of incarcerating the high-level drug traffickers the laws originally targeted, they treat family, friends, and small-time dealers as murderers. For The New Republic, Jack Shuler looks at a few recent cases of drug-induced homicide, explains this tactic’s origins, and it ineffectiveness.

While this trend began prior to Donald Trump’s election, it has accelerated since he assumed office. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, a federal agency, there was a 10 percent increase in 2017 in the number of people who received federal prison sentences for distributing drugs resulting in death or serious injury and a nearly 200 percent increase since 2013. Trump has made it clear that he favors an aggressive approach to the opioid crisis. “My take is you have to get really, really tough—really mean—with the drug pushers and the drug dealers,” Trump said in February, during a speech in Blue Ash, Ohio.

Trump has pushed this rhetoric to its logical conclusion, suggesting that drug dealers should face the death penalty, an idea he said he got from Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has also expressed admiration for President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for his violent approach to curbing drug trafficking. In March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to the 93 U.S. attorneys reminding them that they have the power to pursue capital punishment in certain drug-related cases.

This aggressive approach has filtered down to the local level. In Ohio, residents have ample reason to be frustrated with the bodies piling up in the state’s morgues; the strain on health care, police and emergency services, and the workforce—a cost of up to billions of dollars every year; and the emotional pain it’s causing families. Last summer in Middletown, Ohio, a city of 50,000 near Cincinnati, city council member Dan Picard proposed a three strikes policy for overdose rescues. Overdose victims would be required to perform community service to make up for the cost of treatment—and if a 911 dispatcher determined that someone who was overdosing had not performed community service, they would not dispatch emergency services. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to maintain our financial security, and this is just costing us too much money,” Picard told a local news station. First responders balked at the proposal, but the anger that bred it persists. Stickers that say SHOOT YOUR LOCAL HEROIN DEALER have started to appear on truck windows around the state. In Summit County, where the opioid crisis is so bad they have had to use refrigerated trailers as morgues, prosecutors have charged 49 people with manslaughter in connection to an overdose since 2014. And in Licking County, at least four people in addition to Tommy Kosto were charged for supplying drugs that led others to overdose between 2016 and 2017.

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How Offshore Banking Destroyed Everything

AP Photo/Sang Tan

Right after WWII, a group of governments put a global financial system in place that was meant to ensure economic growth and stability. Called the Bretton Woods System, it used gold-backed US dollars as an impartial international currency and controlled the exchange of currency between nations. That US currency wasn’t impartial, though, and the whole systems slowed British banking so much that bankers became more known for short work days and boozy lunches than for their work.

For The Guardian, Oliver Bullough explains how a banker named Ian Fraser helped upend that old system, which led to offshore banking and allowed for the unprecedented concentration of wealth we now see in a handfull of the world’s richest people. As Bullough points out, this is all like a real life version of Goldfinger, from the James Bond book. Too bad real life doesn’t have as happy an ending. Thanks a lot, Fraser!

Warburg’s new bond issue – these bonds became known as “eurobonds,” after the example set by eurodollars – was led by Ian Fraser, a Scottish war hero turned journalist turned banker. He and his colleague Peter Spira had to find ways to defang the taxes and controls designed to prevent hot money flowing across borders, and to find ways to pick and choose different aspects of different countries’ regulations for the various elements of their creation.

If the bonds had been issued in Britain, there would have been a 4% tax on them, so Fraser formally issued them at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands. If the interest were to be paid in Britain, it would have attracted another tax, so Fraser arranged for it to be paid in Luxembourg. He managed to persuade the London Stock Exchange to list the bonds, despite their not being issued or redeemed in Britain, and talked around the central banks of France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Britain, all of which were rightly concerned about the eurobonds’ impact on currency controls. The final trick was to pretend that the borrower was Autostrade – the Italian state motorway company – when really it was IRI, a state holding company. If IRI had been the borrower, it would have had to deduct tax at source, while Autostrade did not have to.

The cumulative effect of this game of jurisdictional Twister was that Fraser created a bond paying a good rate of interest, on which no one had to pay tax of any kind, and which could be turned back into cash anywhere. These were what are known as bearer bonds. Whoever possessed the bond owned them; there was no register of ownership or any obligation to record your holding, which was not written down anywhere.

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Arranging Your Body in Space: Talking Identity, Memoir, and Twins with Leah Dieterich

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“One-eighth of all natural pregnancies begin as twins,” Leah Dieterich writes in her memoir, “but early in pregnancy, one twin becomes less viable and is compressed against the wall of the uterus or absorbed by the other twin.”

This concept of a vanishing twin, a term coined in the year of Dieterich’s birth, frames the author’s fascinating exploration of love, identity, sexuality and relationships. Though she finds her complement in her husband Eric, the twinship that is their marriage starts to diminish, or ‘vanish,’ just as her body had as a ballet dancer in her youth. Dieterich tries to figure out what drives her to fuse so strongly with certain people, what it is about her that fears being alone, and how individuality vanishes in a union. Maybe she lost her twin? Like the great essayists, her probing mind struggles to understand itself, and she makes fascinating connections between a range of subjects from pop culture to psychology to literature to help figure out who she is and what she wants.

Vanishing Twins is a powerful, poetic memoir, both emotive and cerebral, that casts new light on the familiar issue of relationships, marriage and storytelling, and vividly articulates some of the most subtle aspects of human relationships in a way many readers will recognize in themselves.

When did you start writing about your relationship with your husband and your own identity?

I started writing Vanishing Twins about six years ago, but before that I’d explored some of the same themes of love, language, and identity in fiction. I’d also started a screenplay for a film about a couple trying to define their individual identities while maintaining their bond, who meet a set of identical twins who are trying to do the same. Sexual entanglements ensue. I was really only at the research phase for this film, interviewing a set of twins that my husband was friends with, and I got so into our correspondence and the other research I was doing about twins (and relationships and sexuality) that I realized I needed to pursue this topic in a more essayistic way.

When I tell people about your book, I emphasize not only the subject matter but the way you approached your story. To me, you turn the memoir on its head by staging the text in a poetic way on the page, and by alternating essayistic diversions with the larger narrative to explore related themes. How did you find your book’s inventive form?

I have writers like Maggie Nelson and Sarah Manguso and many others to thank for the form. I really love the numbered aphorisms in Bluets but knew that felt too academic for my project, though I have always loved the way Nelson can synthesize the ideas of great thinkers into her own personal narrative. I assume it means she’s a great teacher, though I’ve never studied with her. I was a private student of Sarah Manguso’s and learned a lot from her about concision and how it is possible to make something very weighty out of only a few words or paragraphs. I like the term “staging” that you use, as well, because I feel that my writing has been informed by my background as a ballet dancer. In dance, you are constantly arranging and rearranging your body in space. This is how I treated the various sections of the book. I moved them around until they seemed fluid like a dance.

You work in advertising, but did you ever formally study writing?

I haven’t formally studied writing in a degree program. I cobbled my writerly education together from a couple of UCLA extension classes, a week-long workshop in Mexico, and two long-term private student relationships, one with Chris Daley who leads Writing Workshops of Los Angeles with whom I met with weekly for two years while generating the first draft of Vanishing Twins, and the other with Sarah Manguso, who gave me notes on two drafts of the book over the course of the following two years.

How has your ad career informed your literary ventures?

Advertising writing requires a lot of concision, so it has very much informed my inclination toward brevity in my literary work. Being a copywriter and having my headlines or TV scripts rejected (and sometimes accepted, even lauded) by my boss on a daily basis prepared me well for the rejection I’d have to face on the way to publishing a book.

People often describe writing about our lives as “cathartic,” but that isn’t the point of a lot of personal writing. In your book, you’re searching for answers, for a deeper understanding. Do you feel that you’ve achieved a new perspective on your life now?

I definitely gained perspective on the period of my life that I’ve explored in Vanishing Twins. I always write to understand something, whether it’s something about myself or something about the world at large. It’s the way I process my thoughts. When I’m writing or revising with the intent to publish, I’m always doing so with David Foster Wallace’s intention—that the purpose of literature is to connect, challenge, and ultimately make us feel less alone. So while it’s true that writing about one’s life isn’t necessarily “cathartic,” there is a visceral element (connection with other humans) for both reader and writer when it is done successfully.

Sometimes the people who become characters in our stories feel betrayed or mischaracterized, or feel they get should an editorial say in the text. Has writing about the people in your life caused any tensions?

Of course. But these tensions were an important part of the project itself. I had to find a way to honor my autonomy and my individual voice as an artist, while simultaneously respecting the differing opinions, memories, and thoughts of someone I love deeply. In a lot of ways it’s a continuation of the journey begun by the self who narrates the book. Luckily my husband is an artist himself, and a lover of literature and philosophy, which made the process easier. Many of the events in this book happened more than a decade ago. To have the opportunity, though painful, to revisit them has helped us realize how far we have both come together and individually since that time.

The Deep, Confounding Joys of Music

Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Febreze/AP Images

What compels us to listen to music? To bob our heads and learn all the lyrics? To collect the records and lay around alone at home beside our listening devices, savoring every beat, melody, and bridge? For Aeon, professor Roger Mathew Grant looks back in history to the thinkers who have tried to make sense of the pleasure music gives us, from Aristotle to René Descartes to Leonard Meyer. Does music’s pleasure come from the melody, anticipation, or the challenge of deciphering a puzzle? It all gets very theoretical, a far cry from a simple “I dig it,” but in these philosophical inquiries, you might hear something that rings true for you.

Twining and Krause get us closer to the view that music is pleasurable not for its reproduction of objects or imitations of emotions, but for its opacity. In this view, it is the inability of musical tones to refer or represent that affords a certain pleasurable contemplation. This idea – which flips the earlier theories of imitation on their head – received its fullest elaboration in Eduard Hanslick’s The Beautiful in Music (1854), a screed against emotional interpretations of the art. Hanslick took direct aim against earlier theorists such as Mattheson, who had proposed systems for linking musical materials with the emotions. For Hanslick these efforts were sentimental and misguided, and they encouraged listeners to hear music in the same way that they might enjoy a warm bath. Deriving this sort of pleasure from music was, for Hanslick, both lazy and wasteful. To hear music thus was to misunderstand the true nature of the art, which, he suggested, is hidden in the details.

In Hanslick’s thinking, music consists of nothing but sounds and motions, which together create a play of forms. This formal play aims at the creation of the beautiful in music, and while the contemplation of this beauty might arouse various emotions, these are distinct from the beautiful as such. The pleasure of listening to music instead arises from the intellectual satisfaction that derives from attempting to follow the compositional design of a piece. This is a difficult, almost athletic task – not a soak in the tub. Led in unexpected ways from one moment to the next, the listener is sometimes rewarded and other times frustrated in the play of expectations. A particular kind of musical difficulty is prized in this system, which depends on our temporal encounter with varying degrees of musical familiarity and novelty. Hanslick described this as an ‘intellectual flux and reflux’, or a kind of ‘pondering of the imagination’ that is particular to music. The cultivation of this aesthetic listening strategy was, as he saw it, an art itself.

This is an extreme position on musical pleasure. It’s one that divorces music not only from the representation of emotions but also from the outside world. It posits the existence of ideal types of listener and composition, reifying a certain kind of play with formal conventions and expectations as the essence of musical composition. And although this type of thinking has been the subject of withering critique from countless critics and musicians, elements of it persist in our current thinking on musical pleasure.

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A Cover That Could Launch a Million Retweets

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Despite constant mischaracterizations that magazines are dead, print media endures, and as Beyoncé’s recent Vogue cover image proves, print issues can still create national conversations about celebrities, culture, and politics. But what is the function of a magazine cover now that we have Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter? At The Ringer, Alyssa Bereznak investigates the historical function of a magazine cover and how its design has evolved to adapt to the digital age. Because print issues no longer sell the way they did a decade ago, titles that haven’t ceased operation have made profound changes to their business and editorial teams to stay solvent. Many have also changed their approach to producing covers, hoping to not only grab attention, but to perform well on phones, tablets, and social media.

According to Allure editor-in-chief Michelle Lee, branding a compelling celebrity portrait is still an effective way to pique interest, especially when it’s designed to pop in multiple platforms. Since she took over the magazine in early 2016, she has worked with the magazine’s creative team to establish a clean feel to its covers by cutting back on coverlines, choosing “nontraditional, super-close-up photos,” and having multiple covers for monthly issues. Depending on the medium, her team might tweak the image so that there’s a simplified version for Instagram, or one that moves for YouTube.

“On social media, sharing a plain photo without a brand logo and without cover lines typically gets far less engagement than that same photo if it were put into a cover design,” she told me via email. “Our eyes are trained to assign value and worth to something that makes it to the cover. I think one of the reasons is that print is finite while the internet is infinite. You could keep writing digital stories forever. But there are only a certain number of pages in a magazine and only one story and one subject (in most cases) can make it to the cover. So it represents editorial decision-making. The editors have deemed this person and this subject most worthy of your attention.”

Editors measure a cover’s success from not just sales, but buzz. What’s especially interesting is what the cover reveals about this important moment in media history, which is populated by both traditional subscribers and digital natives.

But for magazines whose main revenue source still depends on a core group of older subscribers and newsstand readers, revamped covers risk siphoning off valuable revenue sources. While Vanity Fair’s April cover made an important statement about the magazine’s new direction, it sold only around 75,000 issues, according to one former editor familiar with the magazine’s newsstand sales. (A representative for Vanity Fair did not respond to a request for comment.) A June-July issue of the newly redesigned Glamour featuring Anne Hathaway reportedly sold only 20,000 copies on the newsstand; eight years ago monthly sales were around half a million, according to the New York Post. Goldberg said National Geographic’s gender issue drew “hundreds of millions of people” to the magazine’s content on various digital avenues. But it also resulted in the loss of about 10,000 print subscribers, either because they were upset by the content, or disappointed that the magazine addressed it poorly. According to Stone, Sports Illustrated’s subscribers sometimes write in to denounce the more forward-thinking coverage—say, its NBA style issue, or soccer coverage—that its online followers celebrate. “You can see the generational divide that exists there because what is popular online is sometimes less popular with our subscriber base, and vice versa,” he said. “What’s unpopular online is sometimes very popular with our readers.”

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The Africans Who Suffer in a Deportation Purgatory

AP Photo/Sunday Alamba

African immigrants are getting deported from the US with increasing frequency. After months in limbo inside detention centers where they suffer stress and abuse, the African countries the immigrants “return” to are neither familiar or welcoming. Everywhere deportees go, they suffer new traumas: racism, poverty and violence in the US; stigma, hostility and violence in Africa.

For Popula, Ashoka Mukpo details this threat to African immigrants in America and looks closely at two people who have suffered since 9/11: Nora Johnson, who is threatened with deportation to Liberia, and Claudia Smith who was sent to Sierra Leon. There, Mukpo writes, people drift “like ghosts in a halfway realm where they weren’t American anymore, but neither were they quite Liberian.” Some end up homeless, subsisting off of mud mixed with vegetable oil, begging on the streets. The author reminds us: “Some were once our neighbors in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Atlanta.”

“Deportees”—the colloquial word for people ejected from their lives abroad—are trapped in between these two ideas of America. The inadequacy that Liberians are made to feel by their country’s position in the global order can breed resentment toward those with American accents, made worse by disgust at the recklessness and arrogance that it’s assumed lies behind their blown chance at a better life. For those who arrive in Liberia on the heels of a criminal conviction or prison sentence, the reception is cold—even hostile.

“As bad as it sounds, someone told me that once a Liberian knows you a deportee, they will hate you for life,” said one Liberian man. He was deported from Minneapolis in 2010 for robbing a motel with a fake handgun when he was in his late 20s. “But secretly. They will never tell you. You only find out when you get broke, then they wait for it and say, you dirty dog. Look at you now.”

Francis Kollie, a Liberian prisoners’ rights advocate, once saw a crowd gather around a group of recent deportees to throw stones at them and hurl insults. “The mindset is, America is my heaven, so I will do everything I can to get there,” he said. “If you were deported from that safe haven, it means to some extent according to the cultural belief that you are useless.” Upon arrival, deportees are sequestered in lockup at immigration facilities until a relative or acquaintance can sign for them. Those who do not have those connections can be imprisoned indefinitely. If mental illness played a role in their path to deportation, there are few options and their conditions often worsen.

Some deportees have stories of people they arrived with who fell in with bad crowds and, in over their heads, were killed by their new “friends.” Others, defeated and alone, commit suicide. One deportee, speaking to a reporter for a Liberian daily in 2015, described experiences that would be familiar to many of her peers: “Nobody knows why I’m back nor what I’ve gained since being in America. All they care about is that I’m a deportee who messed up. It’s stigmatizing. I can’t get anything because I speak [American English]. We are so hated and divided and because of that, our lives are destroyed out here.”

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Russian Malware Is Really Killin’ It Lately

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Commerce and data are so interconnected now in our global, digital age that it doesn’t take much to upset the whole world’s supply chain. Russia revealed the world’s economic vulnerabilities and its own capabilities when it waged a cyberattack on Ukraine in 2017. As Andy Greenberg describes at Wired, sophisticated Russian malware named NotPetya spread from one Ukrainian software company’s servers to the many companies that used it, including pharmaceutical company Merck and Danish shipping conglomerate A.P. Møller-Maersk. Maersk manages 76 busy ports, from Spain to India, which make up a fifth of the world’s shipping capability. NotPetya disrupted 17 of those ports. Greenberg calls this under-reported global incident “the most devastating cyberattack since the invention of the internet.” So what does chaos look like in cyberwar? Take the shipping terminal in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for example:

At around 9 am New Jersey time, Fernández’s phone started buzzing with a succession of screaming calls from angry cargo owners. All of them had just heard from truck drivers that their vehicles were stuck outside Maersk’s Elizabeth terminal. “People were jumping up and down,” Fernández says. “They couldn’t get their containers in and out of the gate.”

That gate, a choke point to Maersk’s entire New Jersey terminal operation, was dead. The gate clerks had gone silent.

Soon, hundreds of 18-wheelers were backed up in a line that stretched for miles outside the terminal. One employee at another company’s nearby terminal at the same New Jersey port watched the trucks collect, bumper to bumper, farther than he could see. He’d seen gate systems go down for stretches of 15 minutes or half an hour before. But after a few hours, still with no word from Maersk, the Port Authority put out an alert that the company’s Elizabeth terminal would be closed for the rest of the day. “That’s when we started to realize,” the nearby terminal’s staffer remembers, “this was an attack.” Police began to approach drivers in their cabs, telling them to turn their massive loads around and clear out.

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Pair These Wines With Armageddon and Veal

Elias Funez/The Union via AP

Thousands of cases of unsold wine gather dust in the back room of the Renaissance Winery in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, northeast of Sacramento. These reds are some of the best the state ever produced, so why are they wallowing in boxes? For The San Francisco Chronicle, wine critic Esther Mobley visits Renaissance to examine the winery’s rise and fall, what distinguished its glory days from its early days, and to tell the story of the Fellowship of Friends cult, who settled on this land not for its fertility, but its isolation.

The ’70s were a ripe time in California for new belief systems. Contemporary to Burton, elsewhere in the Golden State, the charismatic leaders Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Franklin Jones and Sun Myung Moon were finding their own fervent followings. As Saron Rice, a former member of the Fellowship of Friends, describes that period: “If you couldn’t afford to climb a mountain in Tibet, you found a guru in California.”

What distinguished Burton’s Fellowship of Friends was its insistence that consciousness — the Fourth Way’s ultimate goal — could be achieved through rigorous study of the fine arts. So when Burton bought this sprawling, remote property in Oregon House in 1971, he christened it Apollo, dedicating it to high culture. He attracted a congregation of intellectuals and creative types. “Everyone was an artist, a poet, a psychologist or a sculptor,” says Gideon Beinstock, another former member who was to become Renaissance’s winemaker.

Visit Apollo today and you can still tell how this place once thrived. Funded by its members’ monthly tithes — 10 percent of their income — the Fellowship was, at least for some time, flush. It had its own opera company, theater troupe and ballet. Its museum housed an elaborate art collection; years later, its set of antique Chinese furniture would fetch $11.2 million at a Christie’s auction. At one point it had its own proper zoo.

This Xanadu lacked just one essential stately pleasure dome: a vineyard.

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The Scientist at the Center of a Heated Scientific Feud

AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

Many Americans learn in school that a giant asteroid crashed into the earth and destroyed three-quarters of Earth’s species, including the dinosaurs. Scientists even found the supposed site of impact down in Mexico. For The Atlantic, Bianca Bosker writes about Princeton paleontologist Gerta Keller, whose 30-plus years of research contradicts the asteroid scenario. Volcanic eruptions, Keller says, not a celestial body, altered the earth’s climate so severely that it destroyed most life on our planet. Keller’s research has upended a scientific institution, revealed the fundamental difficulties in discerning scientific facts, and caused its own massive eruptions that have spewed noxious gas within scientific history.

Keller’s resistance has put her at the core of one of the most rancorous and longest-running controversies in science. “It’s like the Thirty Years’ War,” says Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Impacters’ case-closed confidence belies decades of vicious infighting, with the two sides trading accusations of slander, sabotage, threats, discrimination, spurious data, and attempts to torpedo careers. “I’ve never come across anything that’s been so acrimonious,” Kerr says. “I’m almost speechless because of it.” Keller keeps a running list of insults that other scientists have hurled at her, either behind her back or to her face. She says she’s been called a “bitch” and “the most dangerous woman in the world,” who “should be stoned and burned at the stake.”

Understanding the cause of the mass extinction is not an esoteric academic endeavor. Dinosaurs are what paleontologists call “charismatic megafauna”: sexy, sympathetic beasts whose obliteration transfixes pretty much anyone with a pulse. The nature of their downfall, after 135 million years of good living, might offer clues for how we can prevent, or at least delay, our own end. “Without meaning to sound pessimistic,” the geophysicist Vincent Courtillot writes in his book Evolutionary Catastrophes, “I believe the ancient catastrophes whose traces geologists are now exhuming are worthy of our attention, not just for the sake of our culture or our understanding of the zigzaggy path that led to the emergence of our own species, but quite practically to understand how to keep from becoming extinct ourselves.”

This dispute illuminates the messy way that science progresses, and how this idealized process, ostensibly guided by objective reason and the search for truth, is shaped by ego, power, and politics. Keller has had to endure decades of ridicule to make scientists reconsider an idea they had confidently rejected. “Gerta had to fight very much to get into the position that she is in right now,” says Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, a collaborator of Keller’s from Heidelberg University. “It’s thanks to her that the case is not closed.”

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5 Questions for Kristi Coulter About Writing, Humor, and Getting Sober

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In the opening piece of her new memoir-in-essays Nothing Good Can Come from This, Kristi Coulter meanders through a Whole Foods stocked with displays of rosé and reckons with the demands of her new sobriety. The scene embodies the difficult journey she’s started. Alcohol is everywhere; on billboards, on ice cream, on coworkers’ desks, Worse yet, work meetings frequently involve drinks. Coulter finds ways to not only quit drinking, but to survive as a woman in a misogynistic culture soaked with booze, a culture where, as she describes it, “There’s no easy way to be a woman, because, as you may have noticed, there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing you are, then maybe some women drink a little. Or a lot.”

An erudite, reflective writer with a winning sense of humor, Coulter’s explorations move beyond drinking to examine feminism, sexism, privilege, happiness, and work. Many readers will see themselves in her, and the book will let those who have never had a substance abuse problem come to better understand friends and family who do—and maybe see the levity in the darker side of life.

When did you start writing about your life and recovery? And how was your experience of that initial process?

I started writing about my life and my recovery via a blog, Off-Dry, that I created in 2013 when I was about 60 days sober. At the time, my impulse wasn’t about writing so much as it was about being part of a community. There’s a vibrant sober blogosphere, and in those early days, I spent at least an hour a night reading posts from people who were far enough along in their sobriety to serve as a lantern for me. I wanted to start recording my own experience, both to process it and to help the newly sober. When I started the blog, I hadn’t written for the sake of writing (much less for art’s sake) in well over a decade. I’d gotten my MFA at 24, and when I had failed to magically become world-famous by 30, I sulkily turned my attention to other forms of achievement. It didn’t take long before I found myself using the blog not just as a way to test out my voice as a sober person, but to shape and experiment with my writing voice, too. I started writing fiction again at about six months sober, and once I’d come out publicly as sober on my second anniversary, I began writing the personal essays that ultimately led to Nothing Good Can Come From This.

What was it that moved you to switch from writing fiction to personal essays? Did coming out publically help you locate both your voice and material?

I think coming out publicly did help me to realize I’d stumbled onto some pretty rich material, yes. As I started to experiment with writing about sobriety — and the topics that float around it, like feminism and pleasure and willingness to live in permanent ambiguity — I found a voice emerging that was more direct and acerbic and edgy than either my fictional voice or my real-life one. Exercising that blunt voice worked for the topic — a lot of recovery writing is pretty earnest — and I wanted room to be funny and irreverent. It also somehow made me a happier, bolder person. Fiction writing is still important to me, but for now, I’m very glad my essay voice and I found each other.

What other essayists have influenced you?

So many! I read Nancy Mairs’s Plaintext in college and was taken by how matter-of-factly she wrote about her body and mental illness and sex. I was nowhere near ready to broach those kinds of subjects myself, but the permission I took from reading her stayed with me. I read David Sedaris for his mastery of tone, particularly the way he can have you giggling out loud and then just stick a knife in you. I read Claire Dederer’s Love and Trouble, which is a memoir but also a collection of essays, and it directly influenced how I approached topics of marriage and sex. Also, I don’t know if they are essayists per se, but I’m intensely interested in the work of writers like Sarah Manguso and Maggie Nelson, who write short, densely packed, aphoristic pieces that live somewhere between essay, prose poem, and memoir.

Between Roxane Gay, Megan Stielstra, Scaachi Koul, Angela Morales, Michelle Orange, Martha Grover, Alice Bolin and Meaghan O’Connell, we live in a golden age of female essayists. Many more commercial presses are publishing women’s essays, but book publishing is still a tough business. What was your experience like getting this book published in today’s market?

My publishing experience was pretty oddball. I had won a few prizes and published some short stories in literary quarterlies in the late 1990s, but my trail stopped there, e.g. I was basically a complete unknown as of 2016. What happened is that I self-published a version of “Girl Skulks Into a Room,” one of the essays in the book, on Medium, and it went very mildly viral. Daphne Durham, a former co-worker who had since become a literary agent, texted me even before she’d read the whole thing: “There’s a book in this.” I thought the notion of me writing a whole book about anything was wildly optimistic, but over a few coffee dates Daphne helped me to see what she saw, and we started working together on a book proposal. Daphne was an absolutely fantastic editor for my work, and in the process of editing me, she realized how much she enjoyed editing. So as we were getting close to having something ready to shop, she accepted an Executive Editor role at MCD/FSG, and after some time she and Sean McDonald spent working through their vision for the imprint, she ended up acquiring my book.

In the interim, another essay I self-published on Medium, “Enjoli,” went hugely viral, and that brought a lot of agent and editor attention my way. It was a life-changing experience. But when it came to finding a home for the book, I didn’t feel a need to play a bunch of angles to maximize that one moment. I knew I wanted to be with an influential but smaller house like FSG, where a debut author wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle, and where they would have an eye on my long-term potential. And I already knew I loved working with Daphne. So it was pretty much a no-brainer to go with FSG. The day I got the offer, I pulled a bunch of FSG books off my shelves — Joan Didion, Frederick Seidel, Ben Lerner, Laura van den Berg ─ and stacked them on my coffee table and just stared at them going “Holy fuck.” And two years later I’m still largely in that “holy fuck” place. So my experience was a bit of a fairy tale. I know how hard it is for even very good work to get recognized in this business, and that it’s on me to take a fairy-tale start and turn it into a sustainable career.

Joan Didion famously said, “Writers are always selling somebody out.” How have loved ones reacted to your book so far?

An advantage of having “Enjoli” go viral is that there are now strangers on literally every continent who have now read or heard me talk about drinking and sobriety. That’s fantastic desensitization therapy. I feel as matter-of-fact about that part of my life now as I do about having brown hair or growing up in Florida. And I’ve also heard countless addiction stories from other people in the last few years, so addiction feels very normal to me now, probably more standard than it actually is. I could hang out and chat about addiction with friends, family, or Dick Cheney (why did he come to mind? I don’t know) all day.

It’s the Other Stuff — about sex, adultery, being kind of a selfish jackass sometimes — that gives me palpitations. My husband, the only person whose permission I sought to tell some of these stories, is fully on board. He’s so on board that he has threatened to have the book cover airbrushed onto the side of his surf van, and to wear a t-shirt with “John” (in quotes) on it to events just so he gets full credit. Friends have also responded with astonishing enthusiasm and acceptance, even nonchalance. I’m only slightly disturbed that people don’t seem to find any of the revelations very surprising. My parents have yet to read the book, and I’ve actually requested they not, because I just don’t think anyone needs to know some of this stuff about their kid. (I was inspired to make that request by hearing Roxane Gay say she’d asked her parents not to read Hunger. “I didn’t know I could DO that!” I thought.) They might still choose to read it, but I’ve let them know I’m not available to process it with them from a content perspective. I’m not going to use the book as a vehicle to relitigate past history. (Same goes for ex-boyfriends, in case any are reading this!) The book is a memoir, yes, but both memoirs and their narrators are constructs. What readers are getting is one truthful view into my life, not a diary.

Your book is deeply reflective and probing, but it’s also hilarious. I laughed countless times, frequently in public. Can you talk about your ideas about the role of humor in personal nonfiction or literature in general?

I’m glad you found it funny! I’m fortunate to have a temperament that can find humor in nearly anything. When I first seriously contemplated getting sober, I had the misconception that it would require a depth of earnestness on my part that would crowd out humor, and that was not an appealing prospect. When I finally got unhappy enough to make the leap anyway, I quickly realized that getting and staying sober demanded seriousness of purpose, which is not the same thing as earnestness or reverence. In fact, I learned that if I couldn’t find humor in sobriety, I probably wouldn’t make it, because I’d be covering up my authentic self, not revealing it. So in writing this book I liked the idea of showing others that you can be dead serious about remaking your life without falling into groupthink or a cult of positivity. (Though I’ll add that, as Leslie Jamison discusses in The Recovering, groupthink can be very useful in its way, especially early on when it’s dawning on you that literally millions of people have been in your shoes and have things to teach you about finding new, better shoes.)

In terms of humor, in personal nonfiction or literature in general, there’s nothing more exhilarating than realizing an author finds the same weird things funny that you do. It’s a tiny but deep bonding moment, like when I meet someone who agrees with me that celery tastes like metal crossed with evil. But that humor has to be organic. I don’t use humor in my writing because I think it should be funny; I use humor because it’s one of my natural ways of coping with my own core desperation and terror and whatnot, so that comes through in my voice. Forced humor, which I can fall into as much as any writer, is just painful. I also think it’s important, at least in books, to be funny in a way that will age well. It’s one thing to make super timely, Shrek-type jokes about pop culture in a blog post or other ephemeral form, but a whole book full of one-liners about, like, This Is Us, or Scott Pruitt’s Ritz-Carlton hand lotion? That makes me feel tired now, and in five years it won’t even sound like English.