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Air date: September 22, 2011
[00:01:56] All right, folks. Here we go again. This is it. This is Otherppl. I’m your host, Brad Listi. Right now as I sit here talking into the microphone, it’s late afternoon in Los Angeles, California. The sun is sinking toward the Pacific Ocean. Some standard orders of business here at the outset: First of all, you can subscribe to this podcast for free at iTunes. Free of charge. Subscribe. It’ll automatically download to your iTunes. You can then put it on your phone, your iPod, your iPad, whatever.
[00:02:23] You can listen to it for free. If you like it, give us a good rating, as that will help other people find out about it, and then maybe they too will subscribe. This show has an official website: www.otherpplpod.com. We’ve got a Facebook page, and you can follow us on Twitter: @otherpplpod. Please do that. If you want to email me for whatever reason, the address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:02:49] Tell me what you think of the show. Tell me about your life. That kind of thing. As for my life, I’m about to go mall-walking here in a little bit. That’s right. I’m gonna go mall-walking. I’m gonna walk around a shopping mall. The reason I’m gonna do this, and it’s something that I do with a fair degree of frequency, it’s because I have a daughter. I have a one year old. And what I’ve found is that when you have a one year old, and you’re the father, and it’s your turn to take care of her, take her out, entertain her, you live in a city, one of the things you can do is go mall walking.
[00:03:23] You put her in a stroller. You walk around a shopping mall. There’s visual stimulation. There’s stuff happening. You’re moving. She’s entertained. There aren’t any meltdowns. Or there aren’t as many meltdowns. So I go mall-walking. Friends of mine here in Los Angeles will, on occasion, receive an invitation from me to accompany me mall-walking. So, the other day I was mall-walking, and when I go mall-walking, I often wind up at the bookstore, and it’s usually Barnes & Noble because Barnes & Noble is the kind of bookstore that lives in a big shopping mall.
[00:03:54] And so the other day, I go into Barnes & Noble. I’m strollering my daughter. I’m under the fluorescent lights, and I approach the self-improvement section, and I look at it, and I think to myself, “Maybe I should stop there. Maybe I should go into the self-improvement section. Maybe there’s a book waiting in the self-improvement section containing within its pages wisdom that I am currently lacking, wisdom that I could benefit from right now in a major way.”
[00:04:22] And as these thoughts went through my head, I paused briefly, and then I kept walking, and I passed it right up. I did not stop. I didn’t have the courage. I realized then and there that I don’t have the courage. I was aware of the fact that this is a somewhat common experience for me in bookstores, where I will see the self-improvement section. I will contemplate whether or not I would like to peruse that particular aisle, and I will never do it.
[00:04:49] I don’t do it. I don’t have what it takes. I can’t bring myself to stand there and advertise the fact that I have a giant hole to fill, that I have issues, that I want to improve. I don’t know what it is. It’s a weird ego thing. I think at the time that I was in Barnes & Noble, and I was having all of these deliberations, there was maybe one person standing there doing that: thumbing through a book with a giant placard above their head that said “self-improvement.” That takes a kind of courage that I guess I just couldn’t muster.
[00:05:10] And then I started thinking, “Well, this has got to be pretty common. I can’t be the only person who goes through this.” And then I started thinking, “Well, you know, self-help books really…they sell copies. People like these things. They buy them.” And I wonder how many of them actually sell from physical bookstores. I have to believe that the self-improvement section is the least visited section in a physical bookstore. Am I wrong on this? I could be totally wrong. Maybe people have much greater courage than I do, but I have it in my head that most of these books are selling online, where there’s anonymity, where you can buy them without the general public witnessing you standing there with a sign above you that says “self-improvement.”
[00:06:04] Am I right? Am I wrong? Does anybody know the answer to this? Anyway, I kept going. I walked over to the music section to cleanse my palate, to like let people know that I like music, or something like that. It was sort of weird. It was an interesting experience. It occurred during my mall-walking adventure. Uh, what else? Today’s show. Our guest: Melissa Febos. My guest: Melissa Febos.
[00:06:29] A very talented writer. She wrote a memoir called Whip Smart. It’s about the time she spent working as a dominatrix and living as a heroin addict while she was attending college. This is a sophisticated girl. She was living in New York. She was living this pretty extreme lifestyle, and she wrote a beautiful book about it. What I find interesting is that I went into this thinking, “Okay, this is gonna be heavy. This girl’s gonna be dark. She’s gonna be edgy.” I had gleaned this information off of my computer screen.
[00:07:01] I had seen her social media feed and her website. She’s a contributor at The Nervous Breakdown, my online culture magazine and literary community. I’ve always been impressed with her stuff, and I was a little intimidated. I was thinking, “I’m gonna talk to her, and it’s gonna be dark,” and it wasn’t. She was an absolute delight. She defied my expectations. You know, I’m not saying she’s like June Cleaver or anything. I don’t want to reduce her that way.
[00:07:27] I’m just saying that sometimes we have these thoughts about people that we know digitally, and it turns out that we’re wrong, and it’s interesting. I guess this is how we live now. We kind of “know” people, and I put “know” in quotes, via what we think, you know, who we think they are by how they present themselves online or what they’ve written or whatever it is, and Melissa could not be a nicer person, and she’s really candid and entertaining. And I think you’re gonna like the show.
* * *
[00:08:00] Melissa Febos: I’m really embarrassed to say that I have not read any of your work.
BL: You know, you’re not missing much.
MF: But I’m slammed, for other reasons. Don’t be bashful. I’m sure it’s great. I’m sure it’s great.
BL: You know, I get very…I’m like very self-conscious about the book. You know, I think some of the stuff that I’ve written online I can tolerate, like most recently, but I’m one of those people who…I have like a 24-hour window where…
MF: No, me too! Me too!
BL: Yeah, I like what I write for 24 hours, and then after that it’s just a horrifying embarrassment.
[00:08:30] MF: Yeah, I don’t just like it for 24 hours. I think that it’s the best thing I’ve ever written in my life for about 24 hours.
MF: And then immediately it switches to the other pole.
BL: Yeah, that’s how I am.
MF: It’s the worst thing, and then I never want to look at it again.
BL: Well, I should stop and mention that I’m talking to Melissa Febos, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Whip Smart, and that’s St. Martin’s Thomas Dunne? Am I getting that right?
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thomas Dunne of St. Martin’s.
[00:09:01] BL: Okay, I get it all confused, but Thomas Dunne of St. Martin’s published, and the paperback version available as of July 19, 2011, so that’s coming out, and you’ve probably got a little bit of a push going on with that. You’ve gotta get out there and do some more publicity? Is that correct?
MF: Yeah, “get out there,” meaning get back behind my computer and send some more fucking emails. Yeah.
[00:09:30] BL: [laughs] So…
MF: Yep! Get out there and do it!
BL: Now this is the thing, though, ‘cause I run this micro-press now with The Nervous Breakdown, and I’m talking to authors that we’re publishing. You know, so much of it is just trying to solicit interviews and trying to get into conversations with the various literary magazines that are online. I mean is that what you’re doing, or are there other things that I don’t know about?
MF: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m doing.
[00:09:56] I mean..um…I don’t know. I’m not doing…I really sort of went all out with the hardcover because I was so afraid of being swallowed into a black hole of silence to never emerge again…
BL: Oh sure.
MF: …you know, as I think most of us are. And I also had a lot of energy, and I was super excited, and like sent a million emails and like actually had a really good publicist, and they didn’t put any money behind it, but they did put energy behind it.
[00:10:27] BL: You’re talking an in-house publicist at the publisher?
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, so I did all that stuff, but I was so burned out after doing all of that that now it’s only been about a year. Like I feel like I just stopped doing publicity for the hardcover like a few months ago…
MF: …because that’s true.
BL: And now it begins again. And now it happens again.
MF: And now they’re like, “Why don’t you re-fill out your author questionnaire?” and like I cannot think of anything that makes me want to just stick a pencil in my ear more than filling out another author questionnaire.
[00:11:04] And I actually like…like I’m kind of into networking and talking to people and making connections and answering questions and talking about myself. Like I could get really into that stuff, but oh my god, enough is enough.
MF: But so, yeah, I am now…I mean mostly, what I also figured out the first time around is that, you know, I love doing events sort of, but they don’t actually sell any books, and sort of publishing stuff sells books. Like, just publishing-related articles sells books.
[00:11:35] So, I’ve got a couple of like playlists coming out for different websites that I think people will actually read a little bit. ANd I’m trying to see if I can get…
BL: What do you mean? Like musical playlists? Like your favorite songs?
MF: Yeah, for some reason those keep coming my way, which I’m not complaining about at all because I’ve been obsessed with making mixes forever, and getting to combine that with writing is so fun, and I always listen to music when I write too, so it makes sense.
[00:11:59] But yeah, like little essays where I create a mix and do a little paragraph on every song. So, I’m doing a couple of those, and…what else am I doing? I don’t know. I’m trying to get the—I had a ton of radio interviews the first time around, and I’m trying to get people to re-run those…
[00:12:22] Or to do new ones.
BL: Well, I mean, it’s the kind of book that lends itself well to a media tour, and like getting people to talk to you about—I mean it’s like…you’ve had kind of, you know, a really crazy, interesting life, you know, at least compared to mine.
MF: Yeah, people are very curious. People are very curious, and I think I was just tremendously lucky, I think, to sort of have that on my side because I didn’t…I don’t know. I didn’t do any of the experiences that I wrote about in order to write about them.
[00:12:50] It just happened to then present itself to me as really the best story I had to tell. You know? And I went through sort of the biggest personal change of my life in conjunction with like, you know, dressing up in fishnets and shoving food up people’s asses.
MF: So, it’s like this interesting combination of like [laughs] very titillating and curious subject with like really earnest personal, pretty traditional like transformation and trajectory in a story, you know?
[00:13:19] BL: Well, it’s fascinating ‘cause like, you know…
MF: But yeah, I feel pretty lucky about that.
BL: Well, knowing what I know about you, which isn’t a ton, but it’s what I’ve seen on the web. You know and it’s like this book and your years as a dominatrix and this amazing story, these years that you went through right out of college, and then the photos, you’re like this really striking-looking woman with the tattoos, and then I talk to you on the phone, and you sound just like…I kind of was expecting like darker.
BL: Like you would be like, you know…I don’t know what.
MF: I know. I think people are often expecting that. I’m actually not really dark at all.
[00:13:50] I probably laugh more than anyone I hang out with, and the people I hang out with laugh a lot—like, I laugh a lot, and I crack all the jokes, and I just like ridiculous shit. You know? Like I love ridiculous, funny shit. And maybe it’s because I get all the dark stuff out in my writing. You know?
BL: Well, that’s a good point. That’s a good point.
MF: Or maybe I’m like dark inside, and that’s why I need to like be lighter in my life, but like I love people, and I’m a total people pleaser.
[00:14:20] I want everybody to like me. Like I’m…you know…people are usually surprised. My students, for instance, are always really surprised.
BL: Well yeah, you have students, and then, you know, I’m curious to know because like this book comes out—I’m always…I’m fascinated by how people react, especially how men react. Like did you notice like a certain set of behaviors that were pretty common, or was it all over the map, or what happened when, you know, you come out and you tell this story?
MF: You mean how like men that I knew previous and then published the book?
[00:14:50] Like did our dynamic change, or just in general? Do you mean like at readings, or like on the street or whatever?
BL: I guess I’m thinking more of like readings in the street because, you know, obviously you’re talking pretty frankly about sexual stuff, and it’s this dominatrix stuff.
MF: Yeah, yeah.
BL: You know, for a lot of people, it’s out of their wheelhouse, or it’s something that if it’s in their wheelhouse, they might not be comfortable talking about it. And you know, it’s sexual subject matter. How do people respond?
MF: You know, people respond much more bashfully, I think, than I anticipated.
[00:15:22] I was totally prepared for people to, people in general, to have…I was just…to be more vocal about their adverse reactions to it or creepier, and like all of that negative shit. I just expected a lot more of it than I actually got, and what I did get came from completely unexpected directions. But in terms of men, you know, like I definitely have had some readings where there’s like some…not to stereotype, but some guy who doesn’t look particularly literary…[laughs]
[00:15:58] BL: [laughs]
MF: ….who’s like heard me on NPR and has a nice suit and totally shady eyes. You know, like those guys show up, but, you know, nobody really threatening and nobody inappropriate or trying to like…I don’t know…
BL: Nothing pervy.
MF: …embarrass me.
BL: Nothing like super pervy.
MF: No! Like nothing really pervy. No, you know, really much more often I’ll get guys who are clearly submissive, and so they’re not pervy actually at all.
[00:16:27] They’re totally submissive. [laughs] You know? So they’ll just be…they’ll like ask a lot of questions, but they’ll totally like not even really make eye contact and be really sweet, and like…they’re like the most benign of my clients. Like I see more of those guys, but overall there aren’t that many.
BL: All right, well…
MF: Actually, the kind of guys that bother me more are the guys that are literary guys who want to ask a million questions about writing but actually emit this totally creepy vibe. You know?
[00:16:58] BL: [laughs]
MF: You know, t’s like a front. Like those creepy yoga guys, you know…
BL: Yeah, yeah.
MF: …who wear sweatpants and no underwear and wanna hug. Like the literary version of that.
BL: And just like, they sustain eye contact for an uncomfortable amount of time.
MF: [laughs] Totally. Totally.
BL: Yeah. So now, you know, this is a world that’s fascinating to me. It’s like totally outside of my realm. Like I think I’m just like a square. You know, I just don’t have any experience with it. I feel like I read this stuff. I read about this stuff, and I start to like self-criticize.
[00:17:27] I’m like…I’m so boring. I’m a traditionalist.
BL: I have no imagination. I’m terrible in bed. Whatever it is.
BL: Like people who want fruit jammed into their anal cavity…like this kind of stuff just never occurs to me.
BL: And so, I’m curious…
MF: You know, it didn’t occur to me. It had to be suggested. You know?
BL: Okay, okay. So, like, give me the breakdown. Like they’re submissives? I kind of get that.
BL: You get guys who want to be whipped. That’s something, right?
[00:17:53] MF: Yeah, yeah. Totally. Well there’s a difference between—you know, I had a lot of clients, and some of them are genuine submissives, which means that they really get off—like in an erotic way and in a psychological way and maybe…I mean, definitely they would say in a spiritual way—on just being told what to do and being of service to whoever their dominant is. You know?
[00:18:16] And then there’s…you know, at least half of the people I saw as a dominatrix are people who just have a fantasy in which they play a submissive role, which means that they don’t just get off on doing whatever you want. Like they want you to wear the very important embroidered knickers and corset and, use, “no, that paddle,” [sic] and “please, that rope chaise,” and they can be really annoying.
[00:18:43] BL: So, where, but where does this come from? Like where does this specificity of fantasy come from?
BL: Like this is what I want to know. What’s the origin? Do you have any sense of that having been with a lot of these people?
MF: That’s what everybody wants to know, and it’s not…I mean…unfortunately, like most human behaviors, I don’t think it’s easily reduced to any sort of origin, any one origin.
[00:19:07] I think that it almost always goes back—if you can really sort of factor it down to something simplistic, it’s that in some formative time in a person’s life, they had a profound experience of being either disempowered or empowered to a really extreme degree, and so then like that experience, or the opposite of that experience, gets sort of fixated on, you know?
[00:19:39] And then, I think, you know, just, you know, our culture and maybe even our species tend to eroticize the things that we fixate on a lot, and so that’s sort of how it happens. You know?
BL: That’s a good answer.
MF: But I’ve done a lot of reenact—thank you. I’ve had some practice…
BL: I was gonna say.
MF:…but that might have been the best. That might have been the best of boiling it down though.
MF: But it’s…I had a little break in answering that question…
[00:20:04] But I did a lot of reenactment of child abuse and trauma and bullying and…you know…invasive medical procedures?
BL: Christ. Now, do people get…do people get like real transcendance out of this? Do you feel like there was ever an actual…
MF: Oh my god, yeah!
BL: Yeah. So it’s…
MF: They completely do! They completely do. Like I…And I even have this experience, and I think it’s like somewhat vicariously through them?
[00:20:32] And somewhat it’s also like…at the time, I sort of got off on putting myself in incredibly extreme experiences and being like, “Oh my…okay, this is like the craziest possible thing. If you can walk through this and do this and come out the other side of it, like, and have maintained your composure,” like that was a total high for me.
BL: It’s like Nam. It’s like war.
MF: And it was different for them. Yeah, like I was pretty disassociated from it in an emotional way for a lot of the experi—
[00:21:02] I mean, I was also a heroin addict, but not for all of it, but the clients, yeah, some of them would finish their session, and we will have spent like two hours like with me torturing them or pretending to be their mom and screaming at them or just, you know, wrapping them in saran wrap and locking them in a box or whatever. [laughs] And at the end of it, they would be glowing like they had been to the spa or had like a really, really productive therapy session, and just, you know, give you the most earnest thanks afterwards.
[00:21:36] Like it was really cathartic for them? Although, then, of course, those guys would be back the next week, you know, so I don’t really know how progressive of a therapy it was.
BL: Well, yeah, but I mean, satisfied customer, I guess, right? I mean, they’re coming back and they probably want to relive it.
BL: But, so, like, you know, this is…you’re gonna have to indulge my curiosity here. You know, I’m kind of a guy and have sort of an adolescent sense of humor, but like, somebody comes in and they want fruit [laughs] jammed into their ass…
[00:22:03] MF: Ha!
BL: This is…we’re talking like…can you give me a kind of fruit?
BL: Like we talking like a papaya or like…
MF: Totally! Totally! Oh my god. All right, you with your preface, that’s hilarious. Do you know how often I laughed in the dungeon? I laughed all the time.
MF: It’s totally hilarious.
BL: And they could hear you. They could hear you?
MF: A lot of the time it’s like—well, they want to be laughed at. It’s not called humiliation for nothing.
[00:22:28] But then there would also be these sessions that were like deadly serious, where the man wants the fruit ceremoniously shoved up his anus, and then like…this was always the case. If another woman I worked with came in, which would frequently be the case, she would visit the session, or it would be a like double session, and I would just laugh through the whole thing because it’s one of those things. You know, when you’re—it’s like if you’re alone and something absurd and disgusting happens, it’s just kind of tragic, but if someone else is there, it becomes immediately comedic?
[00:22:58] And so that was sort of true for basically everything I did at the dungeon. But, all right, back to the fruit. So, well when I said that I was thinking of this very specific session, where I had this guy who was like…like probably like Wall Street-type guy, but like really, really worked out…like…super fit, bulging muscles…like drinks thousand-calorie protein shakes type of guy?
BL: Oh my god.
MF: And he wanted to…he liked to be a dog.
[00:23:29] So, he would like run around really energetically on the floor. He looked very much like sort of an American Bulldog version of a man…
MF: …and he would wear a collar, and we would call him by a dog’s name that I can’t recall…
BL: [sighs] Ugh.
MF: …and we would like throw dildos and make him fetch them and bring them back, and this was all pretty like de rigueur. This was like really normal stuff.
BL: [laughs] This was a day at the office.
MF: But then…it totally was.
MF: Like anything involving like fetching and laughing and humiliating and peeing was like serving coffee in a diner.
[00:24:01] And, but this guy—you know, you have to be in the room for an hour. It gets really boring. Not for them because it’s their fixation, so they just want to do it over and over again, but you have to get pretty creative with humiliation to not be bored out of your mind yourself, and so this guy—I don’t think it was actually his fetish, the fruit thing. Although, I have seen that, but with him I think we were just getting creative and were punchy and giggling, and we cut up a Granny Smith apple into like neat little slices, and then we lubed them and shoved them up his ass.
[00:24:34] BL: [sighs]
MF: And then we made him shit them out into a dish and eat them.
BL: Wow! [laughs] Oh my god!
MF: And! And! Here’s the good part: We lost one on that particular day. I remember ‘cause I was laughing so hard that I thought I was going to unintentionally pee.
BL: You mean he—basically it was lost into his body.
MF: Like we lost it in his body [laughs].
BL: Oh my god.
[00:24:59] MF: And I don’t think we got it out. Well, we couldn’t keep track ‘cause he was like releasing them and then eating them, and we were like, “Wait, wait, I think there was one missing, and I don’t know if it ever came out.”
BL: The missing wedge. Now, was this gross for you? I mean how—this is a question. Like, I’m imagining the scene.
BL: Are you like medically detached, and you’re just like down there with like a headlamp on inserting this stuff?
BL: Or are you kind of looking away and blindly…and you know…what’s the situation?
MF: Ahh, pretty much.
[00:24:26] Well, it’s…you can’t be totally mimical because you’re also playing a role. It’s also like a really involved acting job.
BL: Yeah! It’s theater.
MF: And you can’t just be totally detached. Like I have to play the role and pretend that I’m like an evil sadist or a sensual mistress or whatever it is that I am, you know, like…But in my own mind, yes, I’m pretty clinically detached from it.
[00:25:56] You know and like sometimes it was funny, and sometimes I would be completely disgusted. But most of the time, it was pretty clinical after I got used to it, you know. In the beginning…
BL: And these guys are good looking? Are they good looking? Are they tolerable looking? Are we talking like hairy…
MF: They’re totally normal! They’re totally—well, no, not all of them are totally normal at all, but like if you had to average their attractiveness, it would be a pretty accurate sampling of the male population in New York City.
BL: And what about like…
MF: Mostly they’re like attractive middle-aged guys.
[00:26:31] Not like super handsome, but most of them are married. They like could totally get a date, but they probably couldn’t get a date to shove apple wedges up their ass, you know.
BL: [laughs] Right, right. That’s a tougher find on Craigslist.
BL: Now what about, you know, what about the profession? Were there any common denominators? You mentioned a Wall Street guy. Like, you know, that makes sense to me, but was it all over—was it like teachers and, you know, mailmen and stuff?
MF: It was totally—there were a lot of like…I mean…you know, it helps to have money.
[00:27:04] And, you know, there was a pretty significant portion of our patronage were clients who, again, have those jobs where there was some imbalance of power. You know, so I would get, like, you know, for instance—I don’t remember this specifically—but the kind of thing where it’s like a postal worker who gets treated like crap and wants to reenact a scene where he gets his vengeance, you know.
[00:27:31] But most of the time, it’s more like a stockbroker who doesn’t really care what you do. Just wants you to boss him around because he’s like doling out shit to people all day, you know.
BL: And he needs the tables turned.
MF: So a lot of those guys—yeah, a lot of suits. But I totally had cops and bus drivers and firefighters and professors and doctors and dog breeders and like mafia-type guys.
[00:28:03] BL: And did you ever get involved—I mean, you befriend any of these people in a real way like outside of the office or, you know, the dungeon or whatever?
MF: Not, not…no…just once, really. Just once. You know, I mean, some people did. I was pretty…you know, I had my own sort of personal experience of the job that definitely transcended like “show up for work and leave work,” but I wasn’t involved in sort of the larger S&M scene in New York. I was very much a commercial dominatrix.
[00:28:30] And so, I was not interested in being friends. Most of the clients were so far outside of my social realm that that’s part of what made the job easy is that like I would never—they didn’t know any of the bands I listened to. I would never run into them on the street in any kind of social situation, so it was really easy to walk in and assume an invented persona because they weren’t gonna be like, “Really?” You know? Because I was coming from a totally strange place to them.
BL: So, what was the facility like? I mean are we talking like an office?
[00:29:00] MF: Oh no. No, no, no. It was in an office building, but it was like the second floor of a regular office building in Midtown near Bryant Park, and you would just ride the elevator up, and it was the whole floor, so it was really big. All the windows covered, and it was actually really gorgeous. It was like very David Lynch-y.
[00:28:26] Like all red-painted hallways with like dim wall sconces and red rugs and really high ceilings, and it was pretty vast. Like the rooms were huge, and there were three dungeons, three medical rooms, a cross-dressing room, a kitchen, a bunch of bathrooms, a dressing room, an office, like two different supply closets. It was like really immense.
[00:29:53] And really—you know, I was very impressed when I first walked in. It looked like some kind of cinematic opium den or something, and you know, it was only after a couple of years I realized that everything had a, you know, undetectable coating of lubricant on it.
BL: [laughs] Oh god. Now what about the other…
MF: I still can’t smell…I still can’t smell Lysol disinfectant spray ‘cause it reminds me so much. It’s like an olfactory flashback immediately.
BL: Oh my god, I can only imagine, and they have to keep that place clean.
[00:30:24] I mean, that’s part of the deal. Especially…
MF: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
BL: So, when somebody comes in, I mean, if you don’t mind me asking, like what kind of money were you making? You must have been making some pretty good money doing this, correct? I mean, was it…
MF: Not…I don’t—I never know how it’s going to sound to people because when I was 21, and I had been, you know, a barista or a boat scrubber or whatever I had done before that, all those other jobs, I made $75 an hour, and that seemed extravagant…
[00:30:51] …but $75 as a flat rate for doing everything from…you know…I mean just anything. You know, I mean, not anything, but anything I was willing to do. You didn’t get like more money for the more disgusting or rigorous sessions, and the clients paid $200, and we only got $75.
BL: And you only got $75.
MF: Plus tip. With no guarantee.
BL: Could you draw the line?
[00:31:16] Could you say to somebody, you know, “I’m not doing this. I am not gonna…”
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and I would definitely do that sometimes…
BL: So, where do you draw the line?
MF: …but you can’t do that too much, or you’re not gonna make any money. You know, like, if you weren’t willing to pee on people, you should just go home.
BL: So, you’re just hydrating before work. You’re making sure you’re ready in case.
MF: Totally. Totally. I used to have clients who could tell me like what I eat for lunch.
[00:31:43] BL: By what?
MF: By tasting my pee.
BL: Oh my god.
MF: God, I have such—god, I don’t even want to say diarrhea of the mouth, but it’s so funny. I always think, like, “Don’t give all the disgusting details in the interview. Like, you just got a new full-time job.”
BL: [laughs] Yeah.
MF: But I can’t. It always just comes out. It always comes out.
BL: Yeah, candor.
[00:32:06] MF: ‘Cause it’s totally what I would be wanting to know [laughs].
BL: That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to channel the mind of the listener and make sure that I ask all the questions that people want to know.
BL: Another thing that pops to mind is like, you know, you—I think, and maybe I’m wrong—are a little bit unorthodox in terms of how you came into this maybe, or what you were doing beforehand, and your childhood sounds like it was probably, you know, a little bit…you know, what’s the word for it? Unique.
BL: You know, daughter of a sea captain and a Buddhist psychotherapist.
[00:32:34] You know, that’s not the stuff of Middle America.
BL: But, when you go into becoming a dominatrix, you had graduated from New School, or you were still in New School?
MF: I was at—I was still there. I was like a junior, or I was about to be a senior. I think it was the summer before my senior year, and yeah, I have like a totally…that’s also…that’s like the first question is like, “Why would anybody want that?” and the second question is, “Why would you want to do that?”
[00:33:06] [laughs] Like basically, what did your parents do to you? And I totally had like a really happy, loving childhood. And I mean, some people would consider being raised vegetarian as child abuse, but I don’t.
MF: And…you know, I was totally employable. I had gotten like every job I’d ever interviewed for at that point, but I was also, you know, a high school dropout and a heroin addict, and I had this very sort of dichotomized life and personality.
[00:33:40] You know, I was sort of already living a double life at the time of a college student and like a pretty heavily addicted drug addict, and…
BL: Well, now how did you get into that? I mean, like what’s the backstory there? You were just like experimenting?
MF: Of the drugs?
BL: Yeah, what happened?
MF: Yeah, well honestly I think I just sort of like popped out of the womb a drug addict. I could get addicted to like any—right now I’m addicted to like sugar-free Jell-O and running and Cupcake Wars, you know.
[00:34:11] But it used to be heroin [laughs]. And so I think that was sort of always in my personality, and it was just a matter of being introduced to it, but I also think that, like a lot of my clients, I was really infatuated with sort of being in control and being…you know, doing drugs, as much as it’s perceived as a form of being out of control, I think that addicts’ impetus for doing it is a desire to control their own—the effect of the world on them. You know, to control their own emotions.
MF: And I know that that was true for me.
[00:34:48] So, yeah, you know, the usual ways: gateway drugs, derelict boyfriends.
BL: Shooting heroin or smoking it?
BL: Both. Okay. So you were just, you were all-in.
MF: Whatever you can think of! Yeah [laughs].
BL: [laughs] Okay.
MF: But my poison was definitely shooting speedballs. That was…that was…that was the worst.
[00:35:12] And that’s what I would have done every day if it wasn’t about to kill me, which it was. But, anyway…
BL: So, did you go to rehab?
MF: No, I never did. I was too proud, and it was too secret. Like I…you know, my story was always like, “If I’m a real drug addict, then my life is gonna fall apart like it does on TV.” And I was still getting straight As in college and pulling off my life as a dominatrix and all of this stuff.
[00:35:38] I had like, you know…
BL: You’re a prodigy.
MF: …internships. And I was a multitasker.
BL: [laughs] I mean, christ.
MF: And…but then, you know, I mean, for me, like sort of my, you know, turning point or moment of clarity was when I realized that that wasn’t gonna happen. You know? And I was gonna die as a straight A college student [laughs], and so…
BL: How did you get that? I mean how did you—what was the rock bottom or the moment where you were like, “Okay”? Was it some sort of crazy experience?
[00:36:07] MF: No, you know, well I mean, I think it’s more…I had had like a great bounty of crazy experiences and near-death experiences before that that didn’t make a dent in my, you know, denial, and I think that it has to do with sort of timing and maybe God? I don’t know. I can’t really say what the difference was, but I know that one night—and this is like a ridiculous situation that I had been in before where I was like—you know, I used in secret, and like I had people I used with, but mostly I used alone at the end, and I was alone in my room…
[00:36:40] And I used to hold the phone on my shoulder, kind of like I’m doing right now, and I would shoot up. Just in case I was about to die, maybe I could call 911 and get them there to revive me before it was too late. You know?
MF: And I would sit and sort of do that alone all night, and then very much have experiences where I felt like, “Oh!” ‘Cause I was never a drug user like, “Get a buzz and hang out at the party.”
[00:37:06] I like wanted to be at the brink of annihilation for as long as possible.
MF: So, anyway, so I was having a night like that, and there was one…I just had a moment of like heart racing, detachment from one’s body that went on for much longer than it should have, and I was like reciting multiplication tables or something to try to ground myself, and when it passed, you know, I just sort of realized that I was gonna die…
[00:37:34] …that like it wasn’t…that that was a reality.
BL: So what’d you do? Did you have to change environments, or did you just quit cold turkey?
MF: I had to change everything. I had to change everything. But, yeah, I did, I mean I quit cold turkey, and then I’d pick up again, and then I’d quit again, and then I picked up again, and it took a little while, but it stuck eventually. And…but yeah, I had to change everything.
[00:38:00] I had to move. I did not change working as a dominatrix, not for a couple years anyway, which was a surprise [laughs].
BL: Yeah, so those two activities were not related strangely. Like they were kind of separate.
MF: [mumbles agreement] No, I think they served similar functions, which actually, in terms of that, it makes sense that I actually got more into being a dominatrix after I quit the drugs, but you know, when you stop doing the drugs, it’s like, in order to not do drugs, you have to really like slap yourself in the face really, really hard and wake up to a lot of truths, and you can’t always pick what truths you wake up to.
[00:38:39] And so I woke up to a lot of things I didn’t really want to see, and one of those eventually ended up being that being a dominatrix was not in my destiny.
BL: It was not in your destiny. Now, did you go to therapy or anything? Did you have help from somebody, or was this all on your own?
MF: Oh my god, yeah! Yeah. I am like the poster girl for therapy.
BL: Okay, good.
MF: Yeah, I had a great therapist. She was very helpful.
BL: I was gonna be totally freaked out.
MF: I could not have written my memoir without my therapist.
BL: Okay, okay, I’m relieved to hear this, ‘cause if you told me that you had done all this on your own, and you had this like much understanding of your own like interior world, I was gonna be incredibly spooked.
[00:39:11] MF: [laughs] No, I had a wonderful, wonderful therapist and a lot of other help too, but I didn’t go to rehab, a fact that I now regret because what could be better than shuffling around in paper slippers and like drinking hot cocoa and talking about your feelings for a week, and you don’t have to do anything else?
MF: I’m sure that it’s miserable, but in retrospect, now that I have this like really busy, full, wonderful, demanding life, the idea of not having to do anything but not do drugs sounds awesome.
[00:39:42] BL: Now, I sometimes think about that with prison. I’m like, you know, “Prison—I’d get a lot of reading done.”
BL: You work out.
MF: I think that too. I would write so many books ‘cause what else are you gonna do? It’s like, you know, the first time I went to an artists’ colony, like beforehand I was like, “What is the point of that?” and then I went, and I was like, “Oh, no Internet.” Like you get stuck, and then you stare at the wall for a minute, and then you go back to work.
[00:40:07] And so, I know that this is like probably something I’m gonna feel really embarrassed when I hear myself say it on the Internet, but I also sometimes think that prison would be like a really hard-knock residency…
BL: You know, I mean I’ve had…
MF: …where I could just read and write and like become a better person.
BL: Well, I think that’s it. I that’s…I think it really is rooted—I mean, it’s sort of a joke, but it’s also rooted in the world of distractions that we live in, and it’s sort of this idealized vision…
BL: …of living in a place or having an existence that didn’t involve flickering lights and screens and constant ringing phones.
[00:40:42] MF: It’s true, well and we’ve chosen this life as writers that requires that we be able to ignore so much of that. It requires like this vast solitude of mind, which is like such a terrible thing to choose for yourself, [laughs] or such a difficult thing to choose for yourself…
BL: Yeah, it’s masochistic.
MF: …that I wish that it would be easier sometimes. Yeah, so it might sound masochistic to fantasize about going to prison, but, you know, yeah it’s not about the whole like rape and shanking thing.
[00:41:16] It’s definitely more about like less options.
BL: Less options and like reading the classics. You know, that’s what it’s about [laughs].
MF: Reading the classics, eating a piece of bread…
BL: Right [laughs].
MF: …with some mush.
BL: Going to the gym.
BL: It would be a perfect life. So, one more question about the whole dominatrix thing. And then I want to try to get into your childhood a little bit, but…
MF: [laughs] Okay.
BL: …you know, when you’re there, I have this—you know I’m starting to get this vision of you. I feel like I understand you better, and I can’t help but think that maybe you were a bit of an anomaly, you know, in the world of dominatrixes?
[00:41:52] Is that it? Domina—is that the plural?
MF: Yeah…um…I…sorry, I just thought I left something in the oven, but I didn’t. It’s cool. Don’t worry.
BL: All right.
MF: You know, I wasn’t so much—I mean, maybe I was. I don’t know. I felt like I was for sure, but I sort of felt like that everywhere in the like grandiose way of like 21-year-old drug addicts.
[00:42:18] But…I mean, you know, I’m gonna generalize here and say that out of sex industry fields, the commercial S&M world is highly populated with highly educated women who are often literary or, you know, artistic in some other way, and I think that partially that’s because it’s an acting job. It’s a pretty creative job.
[00:42:49] You have to be incredibly imaginative to be a good dominatrix. You have to—it’s basically improv acting, you know.
MF: And, you also don’t have sex with your clients, and so I think that—I’m gonna generalize in another probably horrible way here and say that a lot women or a lot of people are curious, you know, about sex work. You know, it’s so romanticized and vilified, and it’s just such an iconic experience in our culture.
[00:43:22] You know, like, I grew up watching Pretty Woman—and so I think that a lot of women who wouldn’t have sex with someone for money would try doing this? You know? And so, it tends to sort of filter in a certain way, and so I wasn’t as unique as you would think.
BL: No, that kind of makes sense. I could see…I mean, I guess when you think about it even…when you spend some time thinking about it, I can’t imagine that—I mean, not to sound too crude about it, but I can’t imagine that a really dumb woman would become a dominatrix, if that makes sense?
[00:43:56] MF: Oh no, they certainly do, but they don’t do very well. [laughs] You know?
MF: I mean like if you get someone—there would definitely be women who would become dominatrixes and would be willing to do more sexually than most of us, and they would get a bunch of sessions that would end really early, and then we would all bully them out, basically, because you could just go be an escort and do that, you know, and it made it more dangerous for us, too, legally.
[00:44:24] And also, it just…I don’t know. There were a lot of people—even though for me it was a job, and I wasn’t part of sort of the larger scene, everyone there sort of took a pride in what we did. Like we were all pretty proud dominatrixes, even if we were hiding it from the people in our lives, which I wasn’t really. But yeah, it’s partly also why we made less money than most other kinds of sex workers.
[00:44:46] BL: Well now, what about the people who ran the place? I mean, was this—you know, who were they? Who was the proprietor?
MF: Well, you never know what’s true and what’s not, but supposedly the place I worked was owned by a woman who used to be a professional dominatrix, but then it was managed by a man, who was not creepy, neurotic surely, who’s very upset about his depiction in the book.
[00:45:16] BL: Any lawsuits or anything weird like that?
BL: Any kind of lawsuits or any fear of that, or is he just sort of pissed off and sulking?
MF: You know, no. I mean, well first of all, I went through the whole book…you know, I feel totally confident that everything I said was true, or at least true to my memory, and then again, I went through it with the lawyer before it was published and changed every identifying characteristic that he could come up with.
[00:45:46] And…but, of course, everyone in it would recognize themselves, you know, and would recognize the other people in it probably, but also I’m kind of lucky. I got off the hook in that I’m writing about a world that most people don’t want to out themselves as being participants in, at least not in a public way.
MF: Especially not the people running it, you know, and so I wasn’t very worried about it. I was worried about people’s reactions, but I wasn’t really worried about things in a legal way, and I followed all the advice of the lawyer with St. Martin’s, so I figured they would pick up the tab if anything did transpire.
[00:46:22] BL: Well, sure. Now, what about movie stuff? I mean, this seems like a—this seems like something that we would see on TV or in the movies. Like have you gotten any interest there?
MF: That’s what people say! It’s…yeah! It’s actually has been optioned for TV.
BL: For what? Do you mind saying what channel or?
MF: Well, it’s not attached to a channel yet. It’s been optioned by a small production company, and we got an amazing writer to write a pilot. She co-wrote the movie Blue Valentine.
[00:46:58] BL: Ahh!
MF: So, she’s pretty amazing. Cami Delavigne. And it looks like, you know, it’s moving forward slowly but surely, and right now I think it’s in the process of basically being packaged to shop to the paid cable networks. So we’ll see what happens. You know, I mean, as one friend said to me, that business is not a dreammaker, it’s a dream incinerator, so it’s really lucky that I don’t have—you know, like, TV and film was never really part of my dream?
[00:47:32] So I don’t feel really attached to the outcome, and I generally assume that it’s probably not gonna happen, but at the same time, it’s exciting, and everyone who’s read it seems really excited about it, so we’ll see.
BL: Well, yeah. Who would you want to cast as yourself? Do you have any idea?
MF: People always ask me that. I would totally cast…oh wait, I thought of someone new the other day ‘cause people ask me this all the time. I swear I don’t sit around thinking about it, but for a long time I said Scarlett Johansson, and that’s not, you know, an empty answer.
[00:48:02] I really did think about it, and I thought that she was the right combination of sort of like, you know, innocent and not stupid seeming.
BL: Yeah, she’s…
MF: But I thought of someone the other day who I really like—oh, I like that Kristen Stewart.
BL: The girl from—have you seen Adventureland? That’s one of my—my wife wants to kill me…
BL: ‘cause I watch that movie every time…
MF: Yes! Everyone’s always like…I love that movie, and, you know, whenever I say her name, people are like, “Oh, from Twilight?” and I’m like, “No, from Adventureland!”
[00:48:31] BL: Right.
MF: And from The Runaways!
BL: Yes. Well, see, I love—that movie evokes such a nostalgia for me. It’s like the Dazed and Confused of the ‘80s is the way I always put it.
MF: Totally. Totally.
BL: It just captures—there’s so much relatable from my childhood, but see, I liked her in that. I think it’s kind of the material. You know?
MF: I thought she was great in that. I thought she was totally great in that. Yeah, I thought that that was not—yeah, not only in terms of like a period piece was that good, but I thought that that was a pretty well-written and well-acted movie too, and I have a thing, call it a fetish, for teen movies.
[00:49:05] I love teen movies, and I’m always on the hunt for like really good teen movies, and…
BL: That’s my wife too.
MF: …there are so few. [laughs] Really?
BL: Yeah, no, she—I mean loves…she reads teen books. I mean, it’s sort of troubling a little bit. I’m like always like, “You’re really reading another YA novel?” but, you know, she loves that stuff, and I gotta say, I do love—I mean like a sophisticated, well-written, funny teen movie is great. You know, like I love…
MF: It’s totally great.
BL: I think his name’s Greg Mottola directed Adventureland. He also did Superbad, which I thought was hilarious.
[00:49:40] MF: I thought Superbad was pretty hilarious.
BL: Yeah, and I liked, you know, from the ‘80s, like the John Hughes movies. Like those movies have real soul. You know, I think that that’s…
MF: I know.
BL: They stand up, and I think sometimes they get minimized because they’re written for a younger audience. That doesn’t mean they’re any less sophisticated or worthy.
MF: Yeah. No, totally, and I think it makes sense. At least I can say that this is true for me: that sort of like adolescence and the teenage years are so…are like the most vulnerable, transformative, awakening time, and like in a clichéd way, but in a way that doesn’t get acknowledged too, where I think that we’re all sort of like forever changed and traumatized and can feel and see more than we ever can maybe any other point in our lives during that time.
[00:50:23] You know and so…and when I was a kid, I looked forward to it, and as an adult, I definitely sort of have a thing about that period of time. I write about teenagers a lot, you know, ‘cause I’m always sort of trying to go for some kind of emotional jugular in my writing, and I feel like teenagers epitomize that.
MF: You like, they’re always in that. You know? They’re totally magical and hilarious and like in so much pain.
BL: Well yeah, and kind of just, you know, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and stuff, but you say that you’re writing about, you know, young people.
[00:50:57] Does this mean you’re working on some sort of YA novel or another memoir about your youth?
MF: It’s definitely not—no. I don’t have another memoir in me for a little while, I don’t think. I’m really done talking about myself, and it’s not a YA novel, but it does have teenagers in it. You know, it’s an adult novel, but it’s about these sort of two friends who—and follows them through three stages of their lives, and the first stage is adolescence, and the second stage is sort of their late teens, and then it goes into their 20s.
[00:51:35] But yeah, I mean I basically—you know, I had all these sort of like high-concept, cleverish, I thought, ideas about what kind of novel I was gonna write, and then I scratched them all because I sort of just ended up asking myself the question, I was like, “What was the book I want to read?” You know, “What’s the book I want to read?” and maybe also, “What’s the book that I would have wanted to read when I was younger and couldn’t really find?” You know?
[00:52:00] Which is maybe also the question of like, “What part of the human experience that I’ve known have I never seen translated into story form—written story form?” and so it turns out I’m writing a pretty conventional story. I mean, you know, it has a lot of like mental illness and rock and roll and art and stuff like that in it, but it’s not very experimental.
BL: How far along are you on it?
MF: I would say that I’m probably about halfway…
[00:52:32] BL: These kinds of questions suck. I hate being asked this stuff.
MF: …but who ever knows? [laughs]
BL: Like, “What’s your book about?” You know, and here I am asking you.
MF: Well, it’s like “What’s your book about?” is always like ugh! I feel like there should just be like a soundcheck sound that happens while I’m answering that question because I never know what to say.
BL: You know what I…
MF: I mean, I do, you know, but it’s always like theme or plot or wah. Like the elevator pitch is not my forte.
[00:52:56] BL: No, I have a good answer for you. Like, this is what I used to do. People would ask me like, “What’s your book about?” and I just came up—I finally got exasperated by it, and so I started just answering with like these really dark one-liners.
BL: Like I’d just look at people deadpan, and be like, “It’s about the death of hope.” [laughs] You know, or just something stupid like that.
BL: But I’d make them believe me for a second, and then tell them that I couldn’t explain it.
BL: That tends to work well.
MF: That’s totally good. I should totally do that. It’s like when people ask me about my tattoos, and they’re like, “Does that hurt?”
[00:53:28] BL: [laughs]
MF: And for a long time, I said, “Yes.” [laughs]
BL: Well, sure.
MF: Or, “Constantly. Always.”
MF: “It never stops hurting. I haven’t slept in five years.”
BL: Ugh. How many tattoos do you have?
MF: It’s kind of hard to differentiate them at this point ‘cause they’ve all sort of connected to each other. I mean, not all of them, but my arms are like—but I’ve been tattooed—I think I counted recently, it was like 17 or 18 times.
[00:53:57] BL: Okay, so I have a question for you then. This is another part of the human experience that eludes me, and I am totally open to getting a tattoo. I think like, based on who I am and my whole personality and whatever aesthetic I project into the world physically, like I think most people who know me would hear that and laugh. Just like the concept of me getting a tattoo….
BL: …is somehow laughable, but my problem is that psychologically or emotionally, I can’t decide what to get. Like I wouldn’t know. How do you…
MF: I know.
BL: How do you make that leap?
[00:54:28] MF: Well, I hate to break this to you, but first of all, that’s everybody’s problem ‘cause it’s gonna be there forever. It’s gonna be there in your grave if you choose to be buried, and I felt the same way, you know, when I was drunk in Montreal at the age of 14 and standing in the tattoo shop. Like, “It’s gonna be there forever.” And then I got it, and then afterward, suddenly that concern like held absolutely no water anymore, and I can’t really explain why, but you know, it’s like, once I did it, I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s gonna be there forever. Like big fuckin’ deal.”
[00:55:04] So are all of the scars from the million times I’ve skinned my knees. Like so is my chicken pox scar. Like so is that emotional wound. And then also you get such—well maybe you won’t because you don’t sound like an addict—but you get this really intense adrenaline, endorphin rush afterward, and so you immediately want to get another one, but I’m telling you, don’t do it, unless you’re prepared to get more ‘cause you don’t know what’s gonna happen once you break the seal.
[00:55:32] Once you break the seal, suddenly you’re open to things you didn’t know…
MF: …that you would ever do. And that’s true of most things in life.
BL: Well, it’s like, you know, you don’t know many people who have just one tattoo. It’s like once you get one, it typically escalates.
MF: Right? I know.
BL: Well, what did you get when you were 14. What was your—I mean, it had to have been a bad tattoo. You didn’t have good taste back then, did you?
MF: [Phone breaks up]
BL: Wait a minute. You’re breaking up.
MF: Can you hear me now?
BL: Yeah, go ahead.
[00:56:04] MF: Okay. I actually remember thinking to myself very instinctually, “What are you not gonna hate when you’re 21?” which was about as old as I could ever imagine myself being…
MF: …and so I picked this like pretty abstract…sort of looks like an angel, but it’s just like this black symbol, and I was into symmetry even then, so I also got it sort of on my spine on my lower back, so I could never really see it anyway. I just knew it was there.
[00:56:33] BL: That’s actually…
MF: So yeah, that was my first one.
BL: That’s a pretty…but see that strikes me as like a pretty well-adjusted, rational decision-making process compared to what I hear with, you know, first tattoo stories, especially, I mean, 14. Christ. You know?
MF: Yeah, yeah. I think I spent a lot of my life sort of very clear-headedly making really ill-advised decisions.
BL: [laughs] It’s a good way of putting it. So, you know, I want to get in a little bit to, you know, just your childhood: where you come from, you know, this daughter of a sea captain and a buddhist psychotherapist.
[00:57:06] You were raised on Cape Cod? Is that right?
MF: That’s right. That’s right. I was raised on Cape Cod, which is a really beautiful, magical place that I totally didn’t appreciate until I left it and then came back to visit as an adult. But yeah…I don’t know. What do you want to know? I swam a lot. I grew up sort of in the woods on a pond, and I like…I don’t know.
[00:57:37] I just remember my childhood being—I mean, it was kind of sad ‘cause my dad was a sea captain, so he was leaving a lot, but my parents were both really great, and I sort of learned to read on like therapy books, you know, so I had this like immense emotional vocabulary at the age of 10. You know, I was forever asking my friends to stop being passive-aggressive…
MF: …and informing them that they were just projecting. That was really how they felt, not how I felt, which always went over really well, as you can imagine.
[00:58:07] BL: On the playground.
MF: Yeah, yeah. But you know I was always…I never ever—I’ve never wanted to be anything but a writer, and so I was an obsessive, obsessive reader as a kid. I’ve said a lot of times that my first drug of choice was books because I would just…like my mom would drop me off at the library because I read so fast that she didn’t want to buy me books ‘cause they were like disposable, so she’d drop me off at the library, and I would just get a stack, and I would lock myself in my room and just like one after the other, one after the other…
[00:58:39] …and I played all these weird like story games, where I would like go out into the woods and like lie down in the grass and close my eyes and think of a story, like I fell out of the sky from another planet, and then I would open my eyes and pretend that I had just like woken up in this totally strange place, and then just walk around by myself like pretending I’d never seen a fern and, “What was that?” and like, “Oh my god, it’s my dog,” this crazy creature I’ve never seen before.
[00:59:06] BL: Sounds like when I took mushrooms in college.
MF: [laughs] It probably was. It probably was. It probably was. Yeah, so I was always big fantasy.
BL: Did you have any siblings?
MF: I did. I have a little brother. He’s actually here right now, eating frozen pizza in my kitchen. Yeah, I have a little brother, who I’m really close to, and I’ve always been really close to. He’s an artist too. He’s into building things out of recycled materials and ecological stuff.
[00:59:41] And he’s very cool. It’s fun. You know, I was just thinking today about how he and I were both these like very specific kids. Like he would go in his room with a roll of duct tape and some broken-down cardboard boxes and come out like five hours later with this like really intense structure that he had built. [laughs] And I would be in my room like writing a novel and like reading books, and we are totally the grownup versions of our child selves, despite all the like totally crazy things that have happened in between.
[01:00:17] It’s really comforting, actually.
BL: Now, are you a Buddhist? I mean your mother sounds like she was a practicing Buddhist, correct?
MF: She was a practicing Buddhist. Like we used to go play in the yard when she went to her like Dharma study group, and I saw her take her Bodhisattva vows, and that stuff, but no, I can’t say that I’m a Buddhist. Like I’m too lazy of a spiritual practitioner to really say that, but I meditate, and I’ve read a lot of Buddhist books, and I believe in most of it.
[01:00:51] So, kind of.
BL: Who do you read? Who do you like to read in that area?
MF: Oh, I’ve read a lot of…you know…Pema Chodron, who everybody loves, and I can’t pronounce it…Trungpa—her teacher guy.
BL: Rinpoche or whatever?
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, you know, Thich Nhat Hanh and the usual cast of characters.
[01:01:24] BL: All the usual suspects. I read a lot of that stuff too.
MF: Yeah, I read a ton of it when I was in college, and then I’ve gone back to it periodically. Although, now it’s taken on this—I was like very—wanted to be like an ascetic zen nun or whatever when I was in college because I was, you know, extreme and unrealistic about what I could do, and now it’s like got this much more self-help vibe. You know? [laughs]
[01:01:49] Like one of my favorite books of late is called Radical Acceptance, and it’s like a self-help, Buddhist-y therapy…it’s like a Buddhist therapist wrote it—you know, practicing Buddhist therapist.
BL: Sure. Is it Jon Kabat-Zinn? Is it Jon Kabat-Zinn who wrote it, or no, is that a different person?
MF: No, no, no, but, you know, I’ve never actually never read Jon Kabat-Zinn because he lives on Cape Cod, and so I was friends with his daughter when I was a kid, so it was just too weird.
[01:02:18] Like I don’t think I could take him seriously because he would be like her dad in the kitchen. You know?
BL: Right. Of course.
BL: Fascinating. Well, what’s next? I mean, you’re working on this novel. You’re living where? I mean, you live in Brooklyn. You’re a New Yorker, but I think you’re out in the boonies now, right, or something?
MF: I’m out in the boonies now. I still have a place in Brooklyn. My girlfriend and I have a room in a share in Prospect Heights that we use periodically, but mostly I’m upstate, like way upstate, about five hours north of the city in a little village called Clinton, which is extremely cute.
[01:02:57] BL: Isn’t that where—Chelsea Clinton didn’t get married in Clinton. That would be weird.
MF: I don’t think so [laughs].
BL: Yeah, okay.
MF: I think that she would probably avoid getting married in Clinton…
BL: Okay, yeah.
MF: ….’cause she’s a classy lady. That would be tacky. Right?
BL: You would think.
[01:03:16] MF: But it is a cute place. It’s a cute place. It wouldn’t be a bad place to get married. But yeah, I’m working on this novel, and I’m also working on a collection of essays. Although, maybe that’s a pipe dream ‘cause who publishes collections of essays? I don’t know. My fantasy is that the novel will be so good that whoever decides to publish it will have to also buy my book of essays.
BL: What are the essays about? Just like a wide range of…
MF: Yeah, yeah. Like some of them…some of the things…some of them are…sorry, I forgot how to talk suddenly. I’ve published some in The Nervous Breakdown.
[01:03:53] BL: Oh, okay.
MF: Like that style of stuff, which is much more like…you know…sort of like intense, but also funny and embarrassing.
BL: Well, see, I eat that stuff up. I love reading stuff like that. I mean, obviously. Obviously.
MF: Me too! Me too!
BL: But I can read essay collections all day long, especially if the person’s really…
MF: Yeah, I do too! I do too, but my agent like makes a sad face whenever I talk about it, so…
BL: [laughs] Exactly. I know that face. Or just that, like that pause on the phone. “Okay, you know, that’s nice for you.”
[01:04:24] MF: Yeah, yeah. I always get that pause! All the time. I have never gotten a resounding, “Awesome! That is gonna sell like hot cakes!” It’s always like, “Yeah, Native Americans aren’t really doing well right now.”
MF: You know?
BL: Zen Buddhist dominatrix. You know it’s just like…
MF: Or like, the hopeful question of like, “Is it sort of like Jodi Picoult with heroin?” No.
BL: [laughs] Uhh, It’s depressing, but it’s also funny. You know?
MF: [laughs] I know. It’s true.
[01:04:55] BL: Well, it’s been great to talk to you, you know, especially after reading you on TNB, you know, all this time. It’s always fun to put at least a voice with the person, and it’s just been, you know, enlightening and great to talk to you. I hope that we get a chance to cross paths at some point, and I hope that, you know, later on down the road, you know, you’ll come back on, and we can talk some more.
MF: I would love that. I would love that. This is totally fun, and you’re in LA, right?
[01:05:25] BL: I’m in LA. I am in LA right now. I guess that could change.
MF: I’m gonna be in LA in August. I’m doing an event at Book Soup on the 5th and something else at Stories in Echo Park, so, you know, it’ll be on Facebook.
BL: Well, yeah, let me know, you know, because we’re gonna do—like TNB turns five on July 5th, and we’re trying to schedule events, so if there’s any cross—if your time in LA crosses over with that, maybe we could have you read at our like five-year-old birthday party. I think we’re gonna have cake and cone hats and the whole thing.
[01:05:59] MF: That’s so sweet. That would be so nice.
BL: Okay, well listen, good luck with the paperback. Have a fun summer upstate in Clinton.
MF: Thank you [laughs].
BL: And we will talk to you again on the show hopefully before too long.
MF: Okay, thank you so much, Brad.
BL: Yep, take care. Bye bye.
* * *
[01:06:22] All right, folks. There you have it. That’s Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart. What a delightful girl. What a delightful—I don’t mean to reduce her by calling her a girl. What a delightful young woman. Melissa Febos, a ray of sunshine. A very nice person. Very candid person. Very open conversation, hopefully it was a good listen. Hopefully it was a bit illuminating.
[01:06:43] She had some very interesting things to say, I thought, about writing and whatnot. Obviously, the show itself, the interview itself was recorded a little while ago, while I have been fighting through the technological morass on my way to getting this show live, so, still relevant though. Great conversation. Great to have her on the show. Thank you for listening. Don’t forget to check out thenervousbreakdown.com. Check out our new book: My Dead Pets Are Interesting, a humor collection by the hilarious Lenore Zion.
[01:07:17] This is published on TNB Books, the official imprint, the official independent press of The Nervous Breakdown. Go and get it, available where books are sold online. While you’re at it, check out our other two titles that are currently out: Subversia, by D. R. Haney, and Paper Doll Orgy, a cartoon collection by Ted McCagg.
[01:07:43] Okay, I think that’s it. I don’t know what else to say after a conversation like that. Hopefully, this is enjoyable. I’m gonna go walk around a shopping mall. Think of me walking around a shopping mall, blinking under fluorescent lights. Think of me strollering a baby in a shopping mall.