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Elizabeth Wurtzel

I met the prozac girl Elizabeth Wurtzel on her recent ten-city book tour. She is the celebrated author of PROZAC NATION and BITCH. People see in her a contemporary martyr and a poster girl for prozac. At the Huntington Hotel we met and ended up spending four hours making many long distance phone calls and ordering room service.

I spilled a soda on the carpet. It was a relaxed environment. Elizabeth complained about all the problems that she encountered on her tour. She told me about how she refused to read in Marietta, Georgia, home of Newt Gingrich. Things were doomed. She lost her checkbook in Denver.

Elizabeth grew up on the Upper West Side in New York. She now is 28, and lives in Greenwich Village with her cat, Zap. I got a chance to check out her FTW tattoo, her recent belly button piercing, while channel surfing the cable channels and talking about depression and all thing prozac.

So tell me about your problematic week.

Elizabeth Wurtzel: I went home for a few days. It was Yom Kippur so I was fasting. I was supposed to get on a flight to Denver before having to break my fast. The Pope arrived in Newark, so they shut down every road to the airport. The car that I was in couldn't get into the airport.

That was a bad week: Yom Kippur, The Pope and OJ Simpson all on the same day.

EW: That was weird. The OJ thing didn't effect me. Nobody asked me about it. That's all I wanted to talk about. I'm as ridiculous as everyone else. I missed my flight to Denver because of the Pope. I have to say if I ever go to Rome I want them shutting down the airport and all the roads when I arrive. It was so awful and I was fasting.

You're the Pope of your own mind?

EW: Or something. I was thinking let's do a condom drop on the Vatican at this point. I'm fasting and I'm stuck in this car. I got this hysterical cab driver. He's going out of his mind. You can't move or turn around. I couldn't move, and I have no food. I hadn't eaten in over twenty-four hours. I had to go back home, since there were no later flights, and I had go back to the airport in the morning.

When I got to the hotel in Denver there was no phone and no electricity. This is how it things went in almost every city. All these little logistical nightmares. I felt that at a certain point I wanted the publicity people to just say to me: Look, you're our goodwill ambassador to take care of these various accounts that no one wants to deal with. We want you to go to these stores to be nice although it's not the right place to be, but you would be doing us a great favor. In exchange, we'll be nice to you. If someone said this tour is an exercise in being a good sport, I would have said, Good, at least I know. But they did something insulting that made me hate touring. They took this away from me. I used to love touring. Part of the reason I like it is to see who is reading the book or how people are responding.

You seem very hyperactive. I wondered if you ever mellow out?

EW: Embarrassing enough I'm like a thirty-something before my time. I listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter. I was so excited when this sixteen year old girl who I signed a book for said "I liked all the musical references in your book." I said "Thank you I feel less old."

What other music do you listen to?

EW: But anyway, the other day I was talking about Hootie and the Blowfish to someone. I was telling him that it's a terrible album except for the song "I Only Want To Be With You." I think that song is great and my friends are scared. They are like, What has happened, Oh my God! They understand my listening to Mary Chapin-Carpenter and Lucinda Williams. I have loved Emmylou Harris from all the way back and I know that this Daniel Lanois thing is going to bring in pretenders to the throne. But I loved her last album. Her best record is Bluebird.

Hey, wait a minute! I thought that you had a Love Will Tear Us Apart poster in your bedroom during your junior year at Harvard. People who listen to Joy Division or The Velvet Underground wouldn't dare listen to Hootie and the Blowfish and Mary Chapin-Carpenter. They would freak out.

EW: I just liked the poster. I love The Velvet Underground. You don't understand. This is the mistake that these hipster types make, perhaps types like yourself, which is that intensity and rawness of emotion are not limited to people with choppy haircuts. Emmylou Harris is wonderful. When you get to be an old person like myself (laughter) you just need to know what's the best of anything.

What do you think about bookstore readings? Do you ever wonder why people show up to readings?

EW: I never know how people hear about it. I'm always amazed that people are there to see me. I always want to walk up to them and say, How did you know? It's always so mystifying. My readings always devolve into encounter sessions. In the past year I have been able to keep thing orderly. I really don't want a twelve-step meeting going on. I wish that I could stand for that. Anybody who is able to be articulate about this is what you must do to be happy and if you have a certain persuasive way about yourself, you're in business.

I don't drink. I don't like it. I do drugs, but I probably shouldn't be doing drugs either.

Have you had any recent drug experience of interest?

EW: Last year I took the redeye from Seattle to Minneapolis, spent the day there, took a plane to New York then took a plane to the Frankfurt Book Fair. When I arrived there I hadn't slept in like fifty hours. Two nights.

It happens that my German publisher has scheduled all these interviews. Someone had given me some speed before the tour and I was really glad that I had it because I would have keeled over and passed out. Sometimes you are tired but you could still do readings or interviews, but this time I would have passed out. The German publishers don't mind if you take drugs. If you can perform more efficiently by being on drugs they're happy to have you being on drugs. Their only concern is being on drugs and not being able to perform.

When I was in Sweden, and I had to do seventeen interviews in one day, I was snorting cocaine between interviews because I was just so bored! I was tired of saying the same things over and over again. At a certain point I was about to run out of cocaine and my publisher said Don't worry, we'll get you more. Whatever it takes. Sweden has a newspaper culture that we don't have here.

I never thought Cocaine was a good drug. I have never liked it.

EW: I have really decided that I don't know why I or anyone ever does cocaine. It's ultimately very unsatisfying. No matter how much you do you always want something more, you don't know what, so you think that you want more cocaine. You never achieve that level of satisfaction. It's very disappointing. I don't see why people get addicted to it.

Do you have any great ideas for our photo session? Maybe we should get a shot of your tattoo?

EW: It's been a while since I actually posed for photographs with my clothes on. (Silence) Just kidding. I did pose topless for GQ in England. I never got so much attention. It caused such a weird scandal. It was very strange.

What about you being a pioneer with the nose ring?

EW: I got it in 1988. It was an unusual move and rare. Not that Cambridge isn't a real liberal place, but it's not trendy. Now everyone has them everywhere. I have a nice nose ring: it's very flat and dainty. People are not like that, they want to have it look like they have got rings of snot coming out. It's really ugly. With the navel piercing I just got I was way behind the curve. I got it a few months ago. If Madonna has one, you know it's over. It seems right to have one because it goes with my stomach.

What gauge do you have down there?

EW: I went to The Gauntlet in New York. It's like entering another world. You walk in there, and I sat next to this gay couple. They had driven up from Baltimore to have their Prince Alberts done. They were telling me about their scrotum rings and I said You guys are going to get stuck to each other! They had so many loops. Then, there's this guy who came in to have a bigger gauge. Is this kind of a macho thing with gay men?

Haven't you seen that book Modern Primitives or Bob Flanagan Supermasochist?

EW: No, no, no! This is the thing that is very scary to me. I walk around in the East Village in New York and see these kids with holes in their eyebrows, holes in their cheeks.... I want to walk up to them and say Go home, clean up, get a life, get a job, get over this, it's awful! I feel like my mother. I walk around all the time feeling like someone's mother. It's the constant sense that I'm the only sensible person who is left and that's scary.

The scarier part is at The Gauntlet I had to sign a release form. The people behind the counter saw my name and said Are you the girl who wrote Prozac Nation? And they're so happy that it is me. This doesn't happen at Bergdorf Goodmans or Barney's, this happens at The Gauntlet. I just wonder why?

I guess that there's a little self-mutilation in my book. Those other people at department stores don't read.

So the interest for you in S/M isn't there? You don't have any interest in getting in touch with that "inner slave?"

EW: No. If I didn't have a really nice stomach I wouldn't have got it pierced. As far as I have any of that going on it's not manifested in jewelry.

Do you have any interest in getting spanked?

EW: I would be so embarrassed to ask anyone to do anything like that. I would just feel so silly. I would think Oh my God we're just playing roles. That's the main thing about pornography that is sort of hard to comprehend, it's so corny.

That's the sort of thing that goes on in San Francisco. People try to manifest some sort of sexuality on the surface so that we can read what they want right away. There are all these experts in sexuality and sexual behavior, what do you think of them?

EW: This is something that only happens in San Francisco. One thing that I experienced when I was here last year, that certain various women interviewed me, and all of them had something to do with Lisa Palac. This is really weird. To be a professional sex thinker kind of defeats the point. You should just have it or not have it. Thinking about it is nice and there's a certain amount of writing about it that one wants to do. It seems that there's all these women out here who are constantly thinking about what sex should or shouldn't be, and none of them are having sex.

Can you tell me about the next book?

EW: I allude to it vaguely in the introduction of Prozac Nation. It will be nonfiction. It's sort of a history of sexual manipulation. It's not so much about sex than women and power. It's going to be called Bitch, images of women who misbehaved. Nicole Brown. It will be about women and the trouble they get themselves into.

What do you think about this domestic violence problem as it was related to the OJ trial?

EW: It's great that Denise Brown has risen to the occasion and helped battered women, the fact is that battered women advocacy seems misplaced. Opening shelters is not a bad thing to do, but most women don't even want to go to a shelter. They just want to stay and fix things. The way you change things is to raise women not the way the Brown girls were raised, but as independent people who are not stuck with a man who beats you. The problem is complicated. If you haven't left after the first time a man beats you, you've entered a dance. No one says I deserve it but I love him anyway.

People are desperate.

Alexander Laurence is a writer who lives in New York City. He has interviewed over 100 novelists, many of which are accessible through the Internet. His book reviews have appeared in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, American Book Review, East Bay Express, LA Reader, Bay Guardian, and American Book Jam. He has been the editor of Cups magazine since 1993.