Interview with Jancee Dunn, music journalist and author of “Why Is My Mother Getting A Tattoo?”

JanceeNewPhoto2Each Wednesday, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Jancee Dunn has written three books: But Enough About Me, a memoir, Don’t You Forget About Me, a novel, and Why Is My Mother Getting A Tattoo? She lives in Brooklyn.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Jancee Dunn: I was 16. Lauren Suraci’s parents were out of town and she had a huge party. I drank one of those hideous mixtures of liquor taken from some unsuspecting parents’ liquor cabinet. I remember it looked and tasted exactly like NyQuil, thanks to a healthy dose of vermouth and crème de menthe.

How did your family treat drinking?

Every night, my folks had a scotch (in the winter) or a gin and tonic (in the summer). Then maybe they’d have cheap wine with dinner. So it was casual and not very extreme, which was nice.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

A few months after college, I got a job at Rolling Stone, and I went out every single night and pretty much drank like Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas, as I went to bars and music clubs.  When I got promoted, I was astonished to find that I could sometimes expense my bar tab, because I was ‘on the job.’  Whoo!

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

These days I like room-temperature tap water, and, when I’m feeling nutty, chocolate milkshakes. I stopped drinking about ten years ago.images

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

I was sent to interview Kim Deal when she was in the Breeders and doing the Lollapalooza tour in Atlanta. It was for a ‘Women In Rock’ themed issue and she was not into it. She wouldn’t answer any of my questions—instead she just kept plying me with tequila. She got me so drunk that at one point I was yelling, “Answer my questions!” and she would laugh and holler “No!” Somehow we started wrestling on the lawn of the venue as the guy who wears diapers in P-Funk wandered by. Then she dragged me to the place where the Beastie Boys were playing and brought me up to the side of the stage, and we danced (terribly, I’m sure, because we were about ten sheets to the wind at that point). I got maybe three sentences of quotes and the piece was killed, but I had a great time. That Kim Deal is a lot of fun.

What about the worst time?

It was during the end of my run at Rolling Stone and I had gone to a party and had too much whiskey. I felt so awful the next day that I couldn’t stand upright. I used to get debilitating hangovers, even with two drinks, and when I was younger I would ignore them and still be able to function. Well, this time I couldn’t function – couldn’t go to work, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?

I love Kate Christensen’s In the Drink. Everyone I know was reading that book when it came out and it really captured how many of us were feeling at the time.

Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?

I really stopped because it made me feel so lousy. I’m not in any sort of program – I just quit. Now, even if I have half a glass of wine, I get a screaming headache the next day. It just isn’t worth it. My motivator is really a fear of hangovers. I have a toddler and I see how much my fellow parents live for that end-of-the-day glass of wine (and I see now why toddlers are often compared to drunks, with their slurred speech, wobbly gait, and quick tempers).  I wish I could join in, but I just can’t. I do feel better without alcohol, although it’s harder to go to events and parties without a little Dutch courage. Like many people, I’m a little shy, and it’s daunting sometimes to take a deep breath and walk into a room. But I do it, and I’m always glad I did.

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Shine a Light

bestfriendswhisperFor our buddy series, we have invited some of our contributors to share a drinking-related story–an incident, an experience, a conversation, a relationship–that has been memorable. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories as they appear each Monday.

by Becky Sherrick Harks

I guess I met Stef when I was thirteen or so, which would have made her twelve, but really, I felt like I’d known her forever. She was one of those people that the moment we met, we bonded instantly on some molecular level; like we were made of the very same stuff at the core. It’s rare that it happens, two people who simply know each other like that, two magnets pulling toward each other, instantly attached. But when it does, you can’t forget it.

And I didn’t.

Everyone loved Stef. She had this shine about her, something rare in a teenager, that made you want to be near her; like if you stood close enough, some of that sparkle, that inherent goodness that radiated from her would rub off on you, and for a while you would be better for knowing her.

I am better for knowing her.

Stef was one of the first people I knew who loved me for who I was. Even now, seventeen years later, I think she may be one of the only people who genuinely will ever love me. Maybe it’s because she understood me in a way that most people don’t. Maybe it’s because she was my first real friend. Maybe it’s because that was her gift; her shine. I don’t know.

She walked tall, confident in her shoes. While the rest of us awkward teenagers struggled to figure out who we were, Stef always knew who she was. I learned that from her.

When my boyfriend slept with my friend, she was the only one who chewed him a new asshole. I had never had a soul on my side before, but Stef was always firmly there–Team Becky all the way. She would have cut a bitch for me, no questions asked, because she was my friend and she loved me. Maybe other people had families who would do that for them, but I never had that. It had always been me against the world. I learned how to be a friend from Stef, too.tattoo

She was there when I got pregnant with my first son, holding my hand when his father, too, cheated on me. Again, she was the only one who stood up for me. I never told her how much that meant to me.

Shortly after my son was born, she got pregnant, too. Excited–we planned for this baby, a boy. When her son was born, her sparkle went out and was replaced by a sadness I couldn’t touch. Always a party girl, she took it to new levels, trying to drink away her pain.

No one knew what to do.

We tried to reach her, but nothing seemed to get through. She tried rehab, three times. She was hospitalized. Tried medication. In the end, she kept returning to the bottle, drowning her sorrows in vodka. The only friends she had left were the late-night sort, the ones who didn’t care about the Stef I loved so dearly, the ones who didn’t know my friend as she had been.

She left me a message at the end of December from a pay phone, having no phone of her own, just out of rehab again. Stef sounded good, optimistic, even, offering to get together for some coffee and a playdate with her two boys and mine, sometime in the near future.

That message came too late–two days after I buried my first real friend.

February 10, 2008–I got a call from Stef’s mom, telling me that Stef had died the night before, in her sleep. Liver failure.

Stef was 26 years old and left behind two young sons.

I’ve never been able to write about her, although I’ve tried hundreds of times. I’ve deleted thousands of words because they were simply not enough. There are no words eloquent enough, true enough, real enough to express the kind of person she was. And getting her wrong is not an option.

I loved her. I love her.

I miss her so much that my heart hurts some days. I’ll probably always feel like there’s a part of myself missing now that she’s gone. That magnet, the part of me that was connected to her is still looking for that other half and it’s gone forever. I’m lucky to have found someone like that in the first place.

Sometimes, in pictures captured when I am truly happy, I can see a certain expression on my own face that is pure Stef, and it makes me smile and laugh a little, because it reminds me of the e.e. cummings poem: i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart).

Her shine was warm, like the evening sun.

Becky Sherrick Harks is an overachieving nurse who retired from the profession after an admirable three months. She stays home now, writing, raising kids and making mischief. You can find an she wrote and a Q & A here at Drinking Diaries. She blogs at Mommy Wants Vodka pretty much every day that ends in “day.”

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The label says it all, sometimes.

Forgive_GiftAbout 10 years ago, my husband and I were invited to our friends for dinner. We stopped at a local liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine for our hosts, and one in particular caught my husband’s eye. In big, block letters, the label read, “CHEAP WHITE WINE.” Our friend hasn’t stopped talking about it since.

Now, it seems the people who once put out those Swanson TV dinners (how I enjoyed those when I was a kid and my parents went out for dinner!) have put their money into wine AND labels. Frozen food trays have thankfully morphed

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into Swanson Vineyards, makers of a fine, flavorful Cab-Merlot blend.

Developed by the winery’s creative director, with some help from Andy Spade (husband of Kate), the bottles have a unique sense of taste and style. While the wine inside each bottle is the same, the labels come with a message–“Mazel Tov,” “Lucky Night,” and “Merci,” just to name a few. So if you need a hostess gift, or just a reason to say, “Thrilled For You,” it may be worth checking out.

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Interview with Meredith Maran, author of a new memoir, “My Lie”

photo by Cori Wells Braun
photo by Cori Wells Braun

From time to time, we will post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Meredith Maran is an award-winning journalist, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and the author of several bestselling nonfiction books, including Class Dismissed and What It’s Like to Live Now. Her work appears regularly in anthologies, newspapers, and magazines including People, Salon.com, More magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her new book, My Lie: A True Story of False Memory, is just out from Wiley.

How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life? With equal measures of pleasure and ambivalence. I adore cocktails–the same way I adore baking, the alchemy of those ingredients coming together to make magic–and find “hard alcohol” anything but. And yet I’m such a control freak that as soon as I start looking forward to what I’m going to drink that night, and when, and how it’ll make me feel, I abstain for days or even weeks just to prove that I’VE got IT, and IT don’t got ME. And then, self-satisfied, I begin the cycle again.

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Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less? Every week I drink more or less. Always with lofty resolutions and eternal analysis about What It All Means. “I’m entitled to pleasure.” “I could learn so much by stopping drinking and noticing what I miss.” “I’ve had a hard week/month/hair day.” “I could have 200 calories of Ben & Jerry’s instead.” Etc. Etc. Etc.

What’s your drink of choice? Why? Yesterday: the glorious, understated, quietly superlative Hendricks martini. Today: the mysterious, smokily seductive Bulleit Manhattan, with the faintest hint of maraschino red dye #2. Hendricks makes me feel wealthier than I am. Bourbon makes me feel rougher and tougher than I am. I need to be both.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking? I’ve never had a best time drinking. I’ve had best times with my best girlfriends centered on the ritual of Mixmistressing The World’s Best Cocktails and then giggling over the conversations that flow, unimpeded by sobriety.

What about the worst time? I have been Too Drunk about three times in my life. Too Drunk for what, you ask? Too Drunk to make the room stop swirling. Fortunately, I drink only at night, when a swirling room has little impact on my productivity.

Has culture or religion influenced your drinking? Yes. I had an alcoholically disadvantaged childhood. My parents didn’t drink, so I had to seek out role models and learn to drink on my own. Poor, poor me.

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking? I can only assure you that it’s not “Margaritaville.”

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why? I’d be an icy, confident, elegant martini in my professional life, and an earthy, smoking hot Manhattan (I AM a Manhattan girl, by birth and by temperament) in love.

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If Quatar Hosts the Next World Cup, What About the Drinking?

womaninQuatarQatar wants to host the World Cup in 2022, but it’s a bit of a longshot. Why? Well–aside from the infrastructure problems (hotels and public transport), blistering temperatures and conservative dress customs for women, one of the main obstacles is—alcohol.

Quatar’s restrictive rules when it comes to alcohol, could, according to the Wall Street Journal online, “hurt prospective attendance at what would be the Middle East’s first World Cup.”

Quatar may be ready to pump millions of dollars into improving its hotels and transportation. They may have enough cash to create a state of the art cooling system so fans and players won’t sweat to death. But is this conservative Muslim country “with a strict dress code, even for Westerners, and where the sale of alcohol is prohibited other than in hotels,” ready for the “influx of thousands of football fans, some scantily dressed or prone to loud, drunken behavior”?

Stay tuned. We’ll find out on December 2, when FIFA will announce the winning bids. As always, alcohol will be a “presence” at the proverbial table.

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