Interview with Caroline Leavitt

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Each week, 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.

Caroline Leavitt is an award-winning author. Her 9th novel, Pictures of You, will be published by Algonquin Books in January 2011. She is a book critic for The Boston Globe and People Magazine and she teaches novel writing at UCLA Writers Program online. She lives with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin and their son in Hoboken, NJ. Visit her at www.carolineleavitt.com or http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/

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

I was 15 and my French teacher took the class to a French restaurant in Harvard Square and we were each allowed a quarter glass of wine.  I had no tolerance and got tipsy, to my astonished delight.  I got very loud and giddy, but everyone thought I was just acting foolish and showing off! No one realized you could get drunk on that little! It was a kind of private joke to me, and I really loved it and felt very, very adult.

How did/does your family treat drinking?

Neither one of my parents drank, though my father used to bring home those tiny little samples of alcohol and stash them in his drawer.  When I was 17, I stole them and brought them to school to share. My mother and my sister both will have wine at dinner.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

I love a glass of wine with dinner every once in a while, but since my low tolerance for alcohol grew up with me, if I have the wine, I can’t work or do much of anything afterwards. So I usually don’t have it.

If you have kids, how is the subject of drinking handled? Do you drink in front of them? With them?

We have a son who is 14 now.  We’ve been doing the “don’t drink, don’t smoke” routine since he could understand speech, but now that he is older, we’ve told him that a glass of wine is sometimes nice at dinner and he can drink responsibly when he’s older.  We’ve offered him a sip of wine–he took it and didn’t like it.

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

Alcohol is like a stun-gun to my brain usually, so no.  I tend not to drink. If I’m stressed, I go for the Xanax rather than a drink.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

Red wine or sparkling white.  I don’t really like hard liqueur but wine somehow makes food taste better. Plus, it makes me feel like I am sophisticated for some reason!

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

Champagne at my wedding!  I was so happy!

What about the worst time?

I was in college and went out with a boyfriend to drink and dance. We weren’t getting along and I kept drinking way too much, and mixing up my drinks.  When we got back to his place, I fell asleep in his bed later, totally drunk, furiously writing in a notebook because I was too angry to talk to him.  I fell asleep and when I woke up, I had vomited all over myself and the notebook.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

I was engaged at one time to a man I adored who drank excessively.  It really bothered me, and I found myself drinking more just so there would be that much less in the wine bottle for him.  We had a lot of talks about this, and I kept saying, “I just want you to drink less so you won’t die.”  The tragedy was he did die very young, of a heart attack. My husband doesn’t drink, except for an occasional glass of wine like I do, and that makes me very relieved and happy.

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

I adore the movie “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nicholas Cage, where his wife and child have died and he is determined to drink himself to death. There’s no romanticism about it, and yet it’s a very romantic movie, because the whore he hires to help him, ends up falling in love with him.

What do you like most about drinking?

I love the taste of really good wine, even though I can only have a little. I also love that it relaxes me. But I don’t often do it.

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

I usually don’t because I can’t write if I have even the smallest sip.  But when I go out to lunch with friends, a glass of wine is sometimes really wonderful. And who can have Mexican food without a delicious margarita? Or pasta without a wonderful red wine?

How has alcoholism affected your life?

Only in terms of my fiance who drank. I believe he was a dry drunk because he never acted drunk, but he had to have four glasses of wine, filled to the top with lunch and dinner, and it really worried me and made me less accepting of drinking. I supposed I’m a wet blanket now in that I am not very tolerant of drunks.  Also, I live in Hoboken, NYC’s unofficial 6th borough, and every St. Paddy’s day, they have a drunkfest, where throngs of kids pour in and the bars open at ungodly time like six int he morning!  Lots of peeing and vomiting on the street, screaming, shouting, fighting, and some rapes. We always go out of town on that day, but I resent having to leave!

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