"I don't think I'm in any position to tell someone what they should or shouldn't do, what's cool or what's not. I don't fucking know. I don't even know for myself. I just do what I like to do unconditionally, and if somebody has a problem with that, then whatever." Lesley Arfin has done it all, wrote it down in her journal, and now she's revisiting it and the people she wrote about in her full-length debut Dear Diary. From her days as a young girl in Long Island, trying to navigate her way through social circles while discovering boys, punk rock, and drugs, to her increasing addiction that eventually leads her to rehab and then sobriety, Arfin remains honest in her appraisal of the past while making sure to interject just the right amount of humor to make the whole thing work.
There was a part of the book where you and a friend were getting someone to do coke, and you wrote, "It was starting to occur to me that I wasn't this innocent victim of bullies . . . and was in fact a self-centered and evil bitch who would like to fuck with people and then immediately forget it." How often did you come to those sorts of conclusions about yourself while writing this book?
I think that I put it pretty harshly there for the comedic factor, but even before I started the book I had taken responsibility of my part in all of the times that I felt like a bitch in my life. And I had looked at them pretty closely, and before I did any kind of interview, if there was any lingering resentment toward someone I was about to interview, I would kind of think about it, I would look at the situation, and I would think, "Well, what's the part that I played in this, so that I don't go into it coming from a place of resentment? So I go in coming from a place of forgiveness of the person and forgiveness of myself." With every interview, any time I felt like I had been dealt a raw hand, I would try to have those realizations. But not in such a harsh way. I wasn't telling myself I was an evil bitch. I just wrote that because it sounded funny.
What do you think of yourself now?
I'm pretty okay with myself. I think I'm great!
The interview that I found to be most surprising was with the guy who turned out to have later murdered his parents.
That was crazy, right?
When you were going to do these interviews, were you thinking, "Maybe one of these people is going to be a murderer?"
(Laughs) No. Well, I knew about that kid murdering his parents before the book. There weren't that many shocking revelations in terms of where people were in their lives, because most of the gruesome stories, like, "This kid's mom murdered his dad," and, "This kid murdered his parents," I already knew. I'm from Long Island. We love to gossip. That's what we do. So I knew about all this gossip, and I thought, "Well, I don't think a lot of people can say that they made out with a kid who killed his parents, so that's gotta go in the book."
Is that a bragging right for you?
In terms of being a storyteller, sure.
There was another part of the book where you said, "When I realize I'm incapable of turning a man into the kind of dude I want, he eventually becomes the dude that I want." What sort of dude do you want now, and how does that compare to the sort of dude that you wanted back then?
I had a very romantic ideal when I was growing up. Not to say that I don't today, but when I was younger it was pretty unrealistic, and I really thought I knew what I wanted, but I didn't. I didn't have any idea because I didn't have any experience. I based what I thought I wanted from what I saw in the movies and what I read in books, just like everybody else. But I'm in a relationship now, and the person who I'm with is really nice and really patient, and open-minded, and funny, and I think that all those things have so much value to me. I don't think when I was younger I considered all that to be very important, but as I'm sure probably you know, as you get older, you realize that maybe some of these little things, like being a nice person, actually really go a long way. I dated a bunch of assholes, and then I thought, "Well, I don't really like going out with somebody who's mean. It kind of hurts my feelings." And so I stopped doing that. And I feel like I've matured in terms of what I looked for in another person. And who knows? Maybe there's still more room for me to mature. I'm sure there is.
You were big into the Riot Grrrl scene, and that influenced your views for quite some time. What are your views on feminism now?
I guess I still consider myself a feminist, I just don't feel as angry about it as I used to. Kathleen Hanna had this way of sort of incorporating pop songs into her lyrics, and all of her music was kind of full of irony in a way that made you question a female's role in society, and mainstream culture and society itself. That I still question, and that I still appreciate her lyrics for. I guess I felt pretty comfortable when I was younger in terms of feminism and seeing myself, again, as a person who's a victim, and that's a role that I try to stay away from in all areas of my life today. And so while I do think I'm a feminist, I don't feel that I'm in any way shape or form a victim as a woman. At all. I certainly believe that, as a feminist, I can do whatever I want, regardless of how that seems to other feminists. One day I would love to be barefoot and pregnant and have lots of kids and maybe not work for a while, which I realize isn't standard feminist practice. But to me, owning that is.
How do you feel in terms of what young girls today have to deal with in terms of the media's perception of women as well as the sort of expectations American culture has of young girls?
I guess it's sad. It sucks. I can't say that it's so shocking. When I was younger, I think the equivalent was probably 90210, and everything was, "Get good grades, and be pretty, and be rich," and that was kind of like the 90210 attitude, and that was what was popular at the time. The good news is that there's always going to be people who reject that. There's always going to be kids who question it. And I think it's really important to have that sort of backlash, and to have that subculture going on. So if you want to buy into not eating and being really skinny and acting like Lindsay Lohan, if you want to buy that, then buy it. That's your responsibility. But if you as a teenager want to rebel against that, and think about it and question it, that's awesome. It's always going to exist. There's always going to be people who buy it. There's always going to be people who go against the grain. I guess it's the way of the world. I would encourage kids to make their own decisions about it rather than me tell them one-way or another what's good or what's bad.
If somebody's trying to be cool, then try to be cool. I tried to be cool, and I found out through my own series of mistakes that my own idea of cool didn't really work, until it did. It's your own adventure, it's your own experience, and it's your own trial and error. I don't think I'm in any position to tell someone what they should or shouldn't do, what's
cool or what's not. I don't fucking know. I don't even know for myself. I just do what I like to do unconditionally, and if somebody has a problem with that, then whatever. But it took me a long time to get to that point, and it should take anyone who's maybe fifteen years old a long time to get to that point. It's their life.
What would you say to someone that's interested in trying drugs?
I guess, just be careful. I'm not anti-anything, and I would never want to be the type of person who could tell somebody not to do anything. It's not my business if someone wants to experiment with whatever. I would just say to be smart about it. Be careful. But go for it, I guess. But what do I know?
What do you think it is that led you to try drugs? From the book it seemed like it was a combination of boredom and curiosity.
Yeah, I would say that that would be the two components that made me try drugs.
Do you think a hereditary predisposition contributed to your addiction?
I'm not sure about that. I think there was probably a little bit of both. There is a hereditary disposition. My grandfather was an alcoholic. Maybe it had something to do with my life experiences growing up, socially. But I really don't know. It's a question that I've often thought about, but the answer isn't really relevant.
So, when it comes to the whole nature versus nurture argument, where do you find yourself falling?
I really think I fall straight down the line. I think it's different for everybody. Some people are brought up in horrible situations in their life, and they're led to one thing or another. I think one part of what makes alcoholism hereditary is that when you have a parent that is an alcoholic or a drug addict and they act fucking crazy, you in turn are brought up in a crazy environment and then go and do drugs and drink. That's what makes it hereditary: not so much your genealogy, but how your parents bring you up. But I really don't know. I'd say for me it was probably more nature, but I go back and forth all the time.
What does it make you think when you see a person with a bloody nose on the cover of a book?
I guess what I love so much about the photo is that it's this really cute girl with a bloody nose, and you'd think at first, "Oh, that's gross, she's got a bloody nose," but she really is a beautiful girl in a non-conventional way, and she looks kind of like a scrapper. She looks like a tough little kid. So I think it's a really striking image. I don't feel sad looking at it. It doesn't seem to me like she's the kind of girl who got abused, it seems to me that she's the kind of girl who would fight back. And so I think it's kind of a fun cover, and I think it's pretty great.
If you hadn't been offered the opportunity to do the Dear Diary book, do you think at one point you would have just written a memoir on your own?
Maybe. Definitely not now. I still think that it's funny that I'm not even thirty, and I wrote about my life. Maybe I would have when I was a lot older.
Do you think this book came out too early in your life?
No. The format is very much geared toward young adults. It's called Dear Diary, and the typeface is red, and it's appropriate for what it is. But that's because it's Dear Diary. If it was in any other format, it would have been premature.
Have you been contacted by fifteen year olds telling you that this book very much affected them?
Yes. I get a lot of response on Myspace and emails and stuff from kids who tell me that they love Dear Diary, and that means a lot to me.
There's a part in the book where you suddenly announce your intention to be a writer, but you don't explore why. What was the impetus for this aspiration?
I think it had been because at that point, I was writing all the time in my diary, and it was the only thing that felt right and true to me. And it was where I felt most comfortable expressing myself. I always had an interest in painting and drawing and singing and dancing, basically the arts, but in writing I had really found my niche.
Did you try writing outside of your diary at that point?
Yeah, I think I probably tried writing poetry. I think I wrote a bunch of poems. And I don't remember how old I was when I wrote that. I took some poetry workshops for kids my age, and I took some fiction workshops, and I always wrote poetry and fiction, even in college. It was what I studied in college.
In terms of writing another book, do you think you would go the fiction route, the nonfiction route, or are you not sure?
I'm working on another book. It's nonfiction, but I can't say anything else about it.
What was your strangest "only in New York" moment?
Oh my God. This is one of my favorite stories. I was on the F train, and this homeless guy was asking for money so he can renew his prescription. He said he's addicted to opiates, and he had irritable bowel syndrome, and if he didn't take his opiates- meaning heroin or whatever- that he had irritable bowel syndrome. He then proceeded to pull down his pants to show the entire subway car that he was wearing a diaper, and I'm pretty sure that he started to go to the bathroom in the diaper on the train. The women next to me were crossing themselves and saying Hail Marys. You could hear a pin drop on the subway train. I've never experienced that. I was alone. It was a great moment.
What would you say your strangest moment was as a stylist?
I'd say a good moment was that I styled Justin Timberlake, and he was so nice, really easy to work with, really friendly, and at the time my sister was a huge Justin Timberlake fan. She still is. And I asked him if he would call her, and I gave him my phone, and he called her, and he left a message, and it was really nice. And she still has the message.
Which New Yorker would you say you most admire?
I think the New Yorker I most admire is Tina Fey. She's a really hard worker, and she's consistently funny, consistently doing great work. She's got a baby and a husband, and it seems to me to be the kind of life that I would like to have one day.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
I would make everybody's rent lower, including my own. That's something that offers a great deal of stress in my life, that my rent is so high. And I would stop people from building new condos. I think for ten/fifteen years, let's put a hiatus on contractors who are building condos, and refurbish old apartments. Unless it's crumbling, literally about to fall to pieces on the ground, people can fix it, but other than that, no more new condos. Also, let's fix the potholes in the street. What is the deal? They don't fix them and that angers me. So rent, pot holes, and no new buildings. That's how I would change New York right now.
Under what circumstances would you change New York?
I think I would leave New York if I got a better paying job someplace else, or if I were to have more than one child. I love New York, but it wouldn't take that much for me to leave, to be honest. I'm not a die hard, never-going-to-leave-New-York New Yorker. I fantasize often about living upstate or in L.A. or something like that, so I don't think it would take that much, to be honest.
What do you consider a perfect day of recreation in the city?
I'll just describe to you what my favorite day this summer was. It was pouring rain outside, I was home alone, and I read Harry Potter from cover to cover and chain-smoked and drank tea. And that was my most favorite recreational day.