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Caroline Knapp's "Drinking: A Love Story"
January 26, 2012 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Drinking: A Love Story, Chapter Six: Sex - by Caroline Knapp
posted by Trurl (36 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
God, Knapp's writing was always so... luminous. I loved her, she is really missed.
posted by 8dot3 at 8:17 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have to admit I have read neither link but damn, sold!
posted by eriko at 8:25 PM on January 26, 2012


Wow. Incredible writing.
posted by zarq at 8:35 PM on January 26, 2012


Skimmed, planning to order the book. Thanks, Trurl!
posted by neuromodulator at 8:36 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good post.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:37 PM on January 26, 2012


If you haven't read everything Caroline Knapp ever wrote, get on it. It's all incredible.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:44 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


My only beef with Knapp is that she used too many colons. Which is to say, she's fantastic. Great post.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:07 PM on January 26, 2012


God, I miss Caroline Knapp so fucking much.

Appetites: What Women Want was the first really feminist book I read (although judging from that collection of reviews, maybe not as strikingly original as I remembered) and I remember it being the first really challenging book I read, too. I had to sit somewhere quietly and just focus on it as hard as I could and think about it. I wonder if it would be friendlier now that I'm older and maybe a little smarter. But I remember just wanting to- well, to devour it. I feel about Knapp the way other women feel about Didion.

From one of those reviews: It's as if she's trying to describe a yard behind a tall fence, a scene she can only catch glimpses of by jumping as high as she can. There's a flash of the other side here, and again there, but often she's just telling us about the fence. Yet you can't help but think that Knapp almost made it over that barrier, and that if she had been given a few more years she would have arrived in full.

Fuck, she was really something.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:20 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Excellent read though I admit I couldn't get through it all.
posted by d1rge at 9:32 PM on January 26, 2012


Emotionally, it’s another country, one we hope to visit rarely. And so, when we do arrive on its shore, we’re foolishly amazed to learn that some literary idol like Didion or C.S. Lewis has been there, too, and can describe it so exactly. In better times, we give their memoirs to bereaved friends because these books can provide them with a kind of companionship that we, for all our sympathy, can only offer from afar.

Wow, that puts a finger right on it. Lovely.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:34 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd like to live in that magical world where drinking could get me some sex.
posted by planet at 10:02 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Go back and finish it. You find out whether Roger is an asshole.
posted by axiom at 10:16 PM on January 26, 2012


I’m a terrible book fan. I really liked "Drinking" but I never knew she wrote anything else, or that she died.
posted by bongo_x at 10:33 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes. My adult life up until a few months ago.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:47 PM on January 26, 2012


I'd like to live in that magical world where drinking could get me some sex.

Sit at a bar alone.

Every now and then make a comment to someone by you. Not everyone. Just every now and then. Ask what they're drinking. Make a comment on the TV. If they respond, keep talking. If they don't, leave 'em alone.

It'll happen.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:48 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Anyway, I read that book many years ago but I should probably read it again. It means a lot to me. I wasn't aware Caroline had died though.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:57 PM on January 26, 2012


Yeah, it happens. Waking up, sheets half torn off the bed, still wearing one sock and a condom, some strange person you vaguely remember next to you. You walk them to the door, take their number so it doesn't seem so bald faced, but you don't know thier name, oh well what can you do. I went through and deleted all those numbers recently, ones I got in bars with names like "mnelfff" because I was too drunk to operate my phone keypad , deleted pictures I took with strangers where I was bleary eyed, with my shirt half untucked, liquor spilled down the front of my white shirt. I threw out all the stuff people left in my house, hair scrunchies, orpahned single earrings. It isn't that fun if you don't really remember much, just a pounding headache and a vague sense you are a jackass.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:09 PM on January 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


My Caroline Knapp story: I interned at the Boston Phoenix for a little while in 1991 or 1992. I remember that she was grouchy. The end.
posted by not_on_display at 11:13 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hadn't read anything by her before, but I enjoyed this. I think her basic point about sex and alcohol is true for people who drink a lot less, or who have a lot less of a problem with alcohol, than she did. People use it as an enabler of all kinds of decisions, some of them good and some of them bad, and then they have to live with it in the sober light of the morning. I've certainly been there, and it isn't much fun.
posted by Forktine at 11:24 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember reading this book in early sobriety and at times it left me gasping for breath at the shock of recognition I found in its pages. I re-read it every few years, it's a good reminder of what it was like for me and now my life is so good, it's easy to forget sometimes how bad it really was. Caroline Knapp said it better than my memory ever could.
posted by essexjan at 12:12 AM on January 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Joining in to say this book is great, and I recommend it.
posted by Shebear at 4:33 AM on January 27, 2012


Whether you abstain, drink moderately, or drink alcoholically there is much in this book for anyone. It is the story of life, and she tells it well.

(If you drink a lot, but not alcoholically, this book may especially be for you.)
posted by caddis at 4:40 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a great book.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:53 AM on January 27, 2012


I love writers like this, who convey complexity and nuance with simple syntax and vocabulary.

Regarding the subject, alcohol tastes so poisonous to me I can hardly force myself to drink it in any form. This can make some social situations slightly strained, but man, what blessing, really.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 5:43 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Terribly depressing! This must be the kind of literature that monks and nuns read, when they're thinking about giving up and playing for the other team.

I'm very pleased that other commenters seem to be made of sterner stuff (in that they do not seem to be bothered by it), but this sort of material makes any other lifestyle than intentional celibacy sound like the product of a mental disorder that people are happy to have.
posted by Poppa Bear at 6:05 AM on January 27, 2012


Not bothered by it? Life is full of complexity, of decisions that you consciously or unconsciously make at every moment. Drinking doesn't necessarily remove the choice factor, it just changes the trajectory.

Poppa Bear, if you think there's any non-celibate lifestyle that's not full of regrets and a plethora of decisions and a spectrum of interactions with others that lead you to question your particular path (or a celibate lifestyle, as well) then I'm all for hearing about it.
posted by mikeh at 7:29 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


...but this sort of material makes any other lifestyle than intentional celibacy sound like the product of a mental disorder that people are happy to have.

When using drinking to help lose your inhibitions with inviting a certain level of (loaded, and I don't mean in the alcohol sense) intimacy into your life, you're basically gambling, aren't you? You're rolling the dice that one of these times it will pay off - that there will be a lightning bolt of connection to another person. That's exhilarating and frightening; and most times it doesn't work - you feel cheap, used, shameful, guilty... and drinking makes it easier to get over those feelings to do it again. When it doesn't work, it is indeed depressing and disillusioning. But when it does pay off, and you experience that connection in some way, it's very profound and satisfying like almost nothing else in life is; even if that intimacy is fleeting, you learn from it; it's life-affirming.

The craving inside to connect with others is loud and primal - and very human; very messy and sometimes overwhelming. I'm sure there's much safer ways to handle it, but maybe because they're often less emotionally driven and not... fatalistic, I guess - they seem less likely to work. I wouldn't want to go back to those days - they were a rollercoaster of some good mixed with a lot of mistakes - but I don't see how they could've happened any other way to have ended up where I am; I don't think it would be better now to have not had those experiences, to have not had the chance to learn from them. And I wouldn't have met my partner if I hadn't been in that mindset; the idea of missing out on our relationship is one I don't even want to contemplate.
posted by flex at 7:30 AM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've never read Knapp, but I really enjoyed this, and found a fair amount in the excerpt to which I could relate. I love alcohol and drink regularly, but I avoid actually getting drunk because being drunk makes the company of jerks and assholes not only tolerable, but in a way even enjoyable.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got drunk and danced, something I never did sober ... the alcohol flipped some switch and flick! - worked its familiar magic, turned me into someone who laughed and danced and felt sexual. ... The yes grew louder than the no. ... we found sex compelling and terrifying and foreign, and drank to deal with it, just drank our way through.

Something in the whole thing just screams sexual repression on a massive scale. The alcohol lets you feel OK to laugh or dance in public or feel sexual, but it IS possible to learn to feel that way without alcohol. You just have to learn how to say "yes" and feel OK with it without having to black yourself out.

You're rolling the dice that one of these times it will pay off - that there will be a lightning bolt of connection to another person.

I'd say it's more like you think you are supposed to feel bad about wanting casual sex and drink to forget about that.

It's not that simple, of course; alcohol is complicated, but it seems like its biggest use sexually is to help us forget all the negative social perceptions of "casual sex."

I drink plenty too, but now it just gives me a headache and impairs performance. Fucking old age.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:37 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I actually never felt that bad about casual sex (free-love hippie inclinations & a dose of "better to regret the things you do instead of the things you didn't do") and was rather thrown when I realized quite late in the game that I was supposed to (and that the guys you slept with, in particular, would so easily look down on you for sleeping with them casually). I can understand where the writer is coming from, however, and I think she described it quite well how it can be.

But personally, using alcohol (or pot) is often more about getting outside of my own head so I can actually experience something without overthinking or analyzing it too much, and getting past my own (sometimes crippling) self-consciousness - not just sexually, but in being social, in dealing with other people, or dealing with my emotions. Seeking intimacy (which may include sex, but is not a euphemism for sex) makes you vulnerable, it exposes you to rejection; it's hard to do.
posted by flex at 12:14 PM on January 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


This:
"should I attach myself to someone who seemed farther ahead of me, someone smarter and more ambitious than me, who'd be sure to carry me along into the version of adulthood I thought I should be striving for?"

Followed by This:
"These were tough questions, complicated feelings, but I never addressed them with David, not once. I drank instead and the questions running through the back of my mind faded away, just faded out of consciousness."

Cut to the core. I think "I drank instead and questions running through the back of my mind faded away, just faded" describes how it looked when I finally got a clear head and looked back on all those confused years when I felt like I was just floundering and suddenly go, Duh, that's what you've been doing.

She's is saying a lot of the things I never had the right words for and I just ordered the book. I'm dreading and looking forward to more insights.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 1:16 PM on January 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


In recovery and (roughly) in Knapp's generation, I wanted to read this book. Thanks to MeFi, I got to read the sex chapter first and, I gotta say it, I'm no longer so interested. Maybe it's because I was a late starter and got to go through all the sexual uncertainties and emotional messiness without (much) alcohol, but somehow there's a disconnect in her account. It feels distanced from its subject, even though her subject is herself. It reminds me of a lot of the stories I hear at meetings and they always tell you about meetings, don't tell everything, it can come back to bite you.
posted by kemrocken at 3:51 PM on January 27, 2012


Sitting here with a tequila or two, that's a great read. Thanks Trurl!
posted by anadem at 9:19 PM on January 27, 2012


Some parts of this make me feel as though I could have written it. Powerful stuff.
posted by likeatoaster at 10:31 PM on January 27, 2012


>My Caroline Knapp story: I interned at the Boston Phoenix for a little while in 1991 or 1992. I remember that she was grouchy. The end.

Her father died in April 1992, 18 months after having been diagnosed with brain cancer. And Knapp was still drinking (she didn't stop until 1994). Either one of those circumstances wouldn't make someone easy to be around.

>Something in the whole thing just screams sexual repression on a massive scale. The alcohol lets you feel OK to laugh or dance in public or feel sexual, but it IS possible to learn to feel that way without alcohol. You just have to learn how to say "yes" and feel OK with it without having to black yourself out.

This chapter doesn't touch on Knapp's fairly severe anorexia, which predated her alcoholism. (If I remember correctly, when she stopped being obsessed with food and started going out drinking with friends or boyfriends, "the drinking felt like progress" because it wasn't as isolating.) Anyway, it's safe to say that someone whose knees were bigger around than her thighs -- true of Knapp at the age of 21 -- is not comfortable with her body and would not find joy or pleasure in being sexual.
posted by virago at 6:49 PM on January 28, 2012


Because of this post, I just reread Drinking. I'd forgotten mine was inscribed -- she must have signed it when I heard her read from Pack of Two, though I have no memory of that.

It was kind of rough, rereading the bits where she tries to quit smoking, or the section where her mother tells her to quit drinking, that it's even worse than the smoking.
posted by endless_forms at 10:05 AM on January 30, 2012


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