January 29, 2020
#10 Jef Rouner – Author
I always describe this podcast as me talking to artists and performers “who live and work in party scenes”. This week, I talk to someone with a very different experience. Jef Rouner is an author and a journalist. We’ve known of each other for several years, but I did not know he was sober until he contacted me to write an article about this podcast for the Houston Chronicle. I might be biased, but I think it was the best headline ever written: “Stripping clown explores sobriety, one podcast at a time”.
Yup. That’s me!
Being an author isn’t typically associated with a party lifestyle, unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson (but that guy partied enough for everyone, ever). However, addiction is still an issue within that community. It is, as Jef called it, a creative isolationist culture. We discuss internet bullying, the science of dopamine, and fake love. I hope you enjoy it!
If you’d like more info on some of the stuff we discuss, here are the links:
- Wickedly Abled: an anthology featuring Jef’s short stories
- Stripping clown explores sobriety one podcast at a time
- Jef’s interview with Art Alexakis of Everclear
- Horses and other bizarre “treatments” for addiction
- Maternal Fetal Stress Transfer (cortisol and adrenal glands)
- This American Life #474 Back To School (cortisol and adrenaline production and its effects on children)
- Hemingway’s interview
- Clown, Interrupted on Instagram
- KiKi Maroon on Instagram
If you like the podcast, please consider signing up to my Patreon. Your donation helps with the operating cost and is the easiest way to say, “thanks for making this!”
KiKi Maroon: Welcome back! I hope you’re all doing well. First off, thank you so much for your messages about the last episode. Bobby was so kind and wonderful. I’m glad that even the non-clowns out there related to what he had to say. I’m doing pretty good. Well, no, no, no. I’m not. So here’s something I didn’t factor into sober dating – drunk texts! It’s been so long since I sent one, I forgot they exist! I’ve said several times, I don’t need to date a sober person. It’d be nice so they understand, but it’s not a requirement. I get that most people are normal and can, somehow, control their intake. But I forgot about drunk texts! Y’all gotta quit that shit, man!
I’m in a place where I mean what I say. So when I, theoretically, get a late-night text about how wonderful, and kind, and amazing I am. And “I’m falling so hard for you,” from a guy I’ve seen twice, my brain didn’t even register the possibility that this was a drunk text. I was like, “Oh damn. I thought we were just banging.” I spent all night trying to figure out how to reply, should I even reply, and how not to hurt anyone’s feelings, which then turned into, “Am I just running away from real connection? Maybe I should try to open up. He seems nice enough. Don’t fear being vulnerable. Be a grownup. Open your heart!” But the texts kept coming. And they got less and less sensical. Then I got a slurred phone call, and that’s when I realized, “This motherfucker is drunk!” I am two hours into an existential crisis, journaling about my commitment issues and spiraling into anxiety, and he was just partying! Which is fine. Have fun. That’s great. But not at the expense of my sanity. He doesn’t even know this happened, mostly because I just stopped talking to him, like I do. I have a thing about cutting people out of my life. Maybe we’ll get into that. I don’t know.
But my issues aside, nobody warned me about this. Texting is a major part of modern dating. So now every time I get a text from a guy – which is often, I’m dating a lot now. I’m very proud of that. A lot has changed from Season One! But now every time I get one, I have to look at what time it is, wonder if this is a peak bar hour, and question, “Is he opening up to me or is he just going to laugh this off tomorrow?” I don’t know.
Did y’all hear that? My stomach just growled. Huh. Maybe I’ll leave that in.
If any of y’all have experience with this, please message me. I don’t want to cut off 90% of the dating pool, but I also don’t know how to navigate this.
I don’t have an end to this rant. I am just sharing an unexpected plot twist. I honestly should have asked today’s guest about this because he makes plot twists for a living. I always described this podcast as, “me talking to artists and performers who live and work in party scenes.” But for this week’s episode, I talked to someone who had a way different experience. Jef Rouner is an author and journalist. We’ve known each other for several years, but I didn’t know he was sober until he reached out to me to write an article about this podcast.
It was really cool. I was the whole, full front page of the Houston Chronicle (entertainment section). And I might be biased, but I think it was the best headline ever written – “Stripping Clown Explores Sobriety, One Podcast at a Time.” Yep, that’s me! While being an author isn’t typically associated with the rockstar lifestyle, unless you’re Hunter S. Thompson, who partied enough for everyone ever. Addiction is still an issue within the community because it is, as Jef called it, “a creative isolationist culture.” We discuss internet bullying, the science of dopamine, and fake love, which I could do a whole separate episode on and probably will. I hope you enjoy it. Here’s me and Jef.
KiKi Maroon: This is usually the part where I tell my story to people so they understand this podcast is super casual and I explain what my thing is, but you know what my thing is. So this is a little bit different.
Jef Rouner: I know way more about you now than you probably know about me.
KiKi Maroon: Haha, yeah!
Jef Rouner: Stripping clown, flipped your truck, and now you’re wandering around through Houston, finding all the sober weirdos that you can to try to build something out of that. And I applaud you for it. I recommended you so much in group therapy.
KiKi Maroon: Really?! Oh, thank you!
Jef Rouner: And I had a lot of people that came up to me like, “Wow, she was really interesting!” as if you being boring was the thing that was going to come up!
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha! I mean, I get it. Because honestly, that’s why I started the podcast. I was looking at different recovery stuff and a lot of what I personally found was really slow, sad, and kindof boring. And it’s like, “Wow, y’all have a kind of made quitting sound like the worst.”
Jef Rouner: I come from a completely different thing, because my mom went through programs. I think about five years ago is when she went through it.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, okay.
Jef Rouner: I’m from East Houston, so everybody in her A.A. group is insane. As one of them puts it, “They put the ‘hot’ in ‘psychotic.’”
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha, oh God.
Jef Rouner: So she’ll come in like, “Oh God, I had this really weird meeting.” “Okay, what happened?” She’s like, “Well, there’s this one-armed dwarf and former pimp who had some things going down,” and I’m like, “Yeah, that sounds like the definition of ‘things going down.’”
KiKi Maroon: Ohh yeah. I once had a threesome with a one-armed girl.
Jef Rouner: Oh okay. But not a dwarf?
KiKi Maroon: No, not a dwarf. They got me by one. One characteristic away.
Jef Rouner: It’s important to have goals, KiKi. Now you have something to aim for.
KiKi Maroon: Thank you for suggesting the podcast. I keep saying that I’m going to make little cards and leave them at recovery centers. I just haven’t got around to it.
Jef Rouner: I think it would be helpful. It’s one of the things I really love about you, and also other people – like Art Alexakis from the band Everclear, who I’ve interviewed.
KiKi Maroon: That’s awesome!
Jef Rouner: He’s 30 years sober – this month, I think.
KiKi Maroon: God, that’s so cool.
Jef Rouner: So him, Eliza Dushku, people like that, you really start to find out that a lot of the cool people in the world are making an effort to not drink and to not use.
KiKi Maroon: Absolutely.
Jef Rouner: But they’re very quiet about it because they don’t want to make people who are still doing things feel bad.
KiKi Maroon: Exactly, or be perceived as judgy.
Jef Rouner: Or perceived as judgy. So that’s what I like about you, is that… it’s not that you’re making sobriety “cool”…
KiKi Maroon: Definitely not doing that!
Jef Rouner: But you’re shining a light on people. And I think it’s really good.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, thank you! I’m wanting to normalize it. Because when I wanted to quit drinking, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t drink. And I certainly didn’t know random celebrities and rock stars and all that stuff. My understanding was, “Of course everybody blacks out every day.” That’s just what you do. And if you’re cool, even more so. That was really interesting to me as I started to meet more people and started to read articles. I was like, “Oh, there are a lot of amazing, talented, smart, fucking cool-as-shit people who don’t drink.” It then became like, “Oh, duh,” because if you tend to have a lifestyle, perhaps, that is very interesting and crazy, you reach max capacity at some point. So yeah, I want to talk to people and make it okay and normal, and not weird that you don’t drink.
Jef Rouner: And one of the things I like about your show is you focus so much on the… you go out to a lot of places that are party atmospheres, you know. You’ve got the burlesque thing. You’ve got the comedy thing. I’m a writer, I’m home by myself.
KiKi Maroon: Okay. But it’s still a thing, isn’t it? Like the whole, “Write drunk, edit sober.”
Jef Rouner: Every drunken writer thinks they’re Ernest Hemingway.
KiKi Maroon: Exactly, it’s part of the culture – of course you’re tortured and have problems. Right?
Jef Rouner: Exactly, and I was a journalist too. So I’d go over to Houston Press and pick up my paycheck and come home with a bottle that they would just give me.
KiKi Maroon: I believe it.
Jef Rouner: So it’s very isolationist, which as you know as well – you can be surrounded by people and you can still feel very isolated. And so drinking can do that. But you know, once I was full-time and I was home all the time- nothing’s there to stop you but your willpower. And if a sufficient number of events occur that make you start drinking to get away from them, then… I mean, it’s just there and that’s all you are.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, it’s easy.
Jef Rouner: And it was easy to justify myself because I’ve written amazing things while completely plastered. I’ve literally won awards for articles that were not written sober. And that’s amazing and great, you know, but it’s like the old joke with people who say, “Oh, I smoke pot so that I’ll be like the Beatles.” You’re not going to toke up and bust out ‘Sergeant Pepper,’ y’all. So I mean, there was always a justification. It’s like, “Oh well, you know, I’ve done great writing while I’m drunk. So I should keep drinking to write.” But nah, I’ve done some horrible things too.
KiKi Maroon: And it’s just easy. It’s easier to believe that. Okay, so currently you’re at Houston Chronicle.
Jef Rouner: I am a freelance writer for Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, anybody who’ll really cut me a check.
KiKi Maroon: Got it!
Jef Rouner: And I am an author and a short story writer as well.
KiKi Maroon: How long have you been a writer?
Jef Rouner: I started writing about 11 or 12 years ago. I actually ran the only weekly Rocky Horror newsletter in the country.
KiKi Maroon: Okay… Haha.
Jef Rouner: That’s something that me and a girl who used to run the Rocky Horror Picture Show events down here in Houston decided we were going to do, to give out as a freebie. I published a newsletter and it was the only one in the country for a while. And then later in life, I kind of let it go as I started playing rock star. But when that stopped happening, I contacted the Houston Press to see if they wanted writers because I didn’t have money to go see Peter Murphy.
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha! So you were like, “Let me interview him”?
Jef Rouner: I said, “I’ll give you 500 words if you just let me go to the show for free.” And that is literally all I did to become a journalist.
KiKi Maroon: Shut up!
Jef Rouner: People are like, “Did you go to school for journalism?” It’s like, “Nope! Bullshitted my way in 110%!”
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God. Okay. So going back to the weekly Rocky Horror newsletter. How is there weekly news – – about Rocky Horror?! Because you’re talking about not that long ago.
Jef Rouner: I mean, you would sit there and you would write up like, “Oh, it’s Richard O’Brien’s (writer of the musical stage show The Rocky Horror Show in 1973) birthday. Here’s a thing about his life. Here’s some trivia about Rocky Horror. Here’s a review of some stuff…” It was just like a four-page thing.
KiKi Maroon: Four pages?! Weekly?! There are only so many birthdays a year!
Jef Rouner: KiKi, I am a person who once wrote a thousand words on “The Top Five Farts in Video Games.” Okay? I could make anything go.
KiKi Maroon: Wait, wait, wait. Sorry, this is very confusing for me because on one hand, I hate restroom humor so much. And I do not talk about restroom things. But I feel that I cannot leave that alone. What the fuck?!
Jef Rouner: For a while there, you know, because you’re freelance – everything you do is per article. And when you have a wife who’s going to nursing school, you’re providing all the money. So I would work full-time and I would write while I was doing it. And at one point, I was turning in 30 articles a week.
KiKi Maroon: Wow!
Jef Rouner: And when you do that, horrible ideas seem really great. So my editor went off on vacation, which meant I had no restrictions. So I just started turning stuff in and nobody would question me. When she came back, she said, “Video game farts, Jef? Really?!” I’m like, “Don’t even pretend you would not have approved that.”
KiKi Maroon: But, okay – why?
Jef Rouner: Just because I saw a funny fart video about a video game and I thought, “I could make money off of this.”
KiKi Maroon: Without going into details – from number five to number one.
Jef Rouner: Abe’s Odyssey, you could use farts to move key characters from one side of the screen to another.
KiKi Maroon: No details. Just the games.
Jef Rouner: Abe’s Odyssey, Smash Brothers – yeah, Wario farts in that.
KiKi Maroon: Okay.
Jef Rouner: And I forget the rest; it was a long time ago. I’ve written a lot of stupid articles.
KiKi Maroon: Jesus. Okay. Moving on. Weekly Rocky Horror writer… Hahaha.
Jef Rouner: So I did that. Then I become a real journalist and won awards and did investigative stuff. And now I mostly work on my books and stuff.
KiKi Maroon: Okay.
Jef Rouner: And occasionally I talk to stripping clowns!
KiKi Maroon: Yes! Haha. Oh, goodness. Sorry. This is just so much information flying at me right now. You have been freelance for how long?
Jef Rouner: About 11 years now.
KiKi Maroon: Oh wow, okay.
Jef Rouner: And I still get so nervous. When I did a phone interview earlier today, I had to sit on my hands because they shook so badly. I can’t take notes. I have to record everything and write it later on.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, really?
Jef Rouner: I never stop being nervous. I’m nervous talking to you and I’ve known you for about five years.
KiKi Maroon: Really? Oh no, don’t be nervous. That’s fine. We’re just talking. So you’ve been a writer for a long time. If you’re not in a party-party scene, you don’t have any comparison. How did you realize you had a problem then?
Jef Rouner: I mean, I realized I had a problem the way a lot of people do. The way a lot of quiet people who are at home do, and that’s… I hurt the people I love because I could not stop. The basic thing that happened was, I used to cover – and I still do a lot – I would cover the alt-right scene. The Gamergate people, all of this burgeoning neo-fascist movement in America. And as you get good at that, you get their attention. And what happened was Breitbart News came after me and came after my then seven-year-old daughter.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: So, I mean I went from getting about one death threat a day, which is pretty normal…
KiKi Maroon: Okay…
Jef Rouner: …for writing about neo-Nazis and stuff like that- I went from getting one a day to getting one a minute.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: They put my daughter’s face on the front of Breitbart.
KiKi Maroon: Shut up!
Jef Rouner: And I had to call the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to come out and let them know that they were probably gonna swat me. And they never did.
KiKi Maroon: What is “swatting”?
Jef Rouner: “Swatting” is when you call in a fake bomb threat or domestic situation so that they send the SWAT team and hopefully come in with all guns blazing. I’ve had friends whose dogs have been shot.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: There was one guy whose baby’s nose was blown off by a flash grenade. So I was terrified, you know, my daughter still can’t play outside because her picture’s been on the cover of this right-wing hate site.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: So all that happened.
KiKi Maroon: Didn’t a guy just go to jail for that? There were some gamers that kept calling SWAT teams on each other?
Jef Rouner: Yeah a couple. They’ve started taking some people to jail, but even in high profile cases like Anita Sarkeesian (founder of Feminist Frequency, a website that analyzes portrayals of women in popular culture) or Zoë Quinn (video game developer subjected to extensive harassment), people where the FBI got involved. I mean, it’s illegal, but you only get six months in jail. And most police departments won’t dedicate resources to it. So there’s no stopping it.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, wow.
Jef Rouner: Since then, me and a couple of other people have built up a network of how to deal with it. But emotionally, professionals aren’t prepared for it. When I was in the hospital in rehab, I walked out on three therapists who just could not seem to grasp that you can’t get the internet to forgive you.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah.
Jef Rouner: It’s this faceless thing that never ends. And so I became very scared. I developed some PTSD from it and I started drinking more and more during the day. And then, you know, at one point you realize you can’t stop.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, wow. I didn’t realize all that. That’s intense!
Jef Rouner: Yeah. And you know, it becomes the way you deal with it. And again, you’re alone all the time.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, and even more so, because you’re fucking scared to do anything!
Jef Rouner: Every time somebody would come up on the street and recognize me, because my picture’s on my byline, so they’re like, “Oh, you’re Jef Rouner from the Houston Press.” I flinch because, “Do they like me? Or are they going to start calling me a ‘cuck’ and telling me that they want Muslims to rape my daughter or something?”
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: So… why did I start drinking? Just because I thought it was normal. But why was I unable to stop? Because I went through emotional, severe trauma and didn’t have a way to deal with it.
KiKi Maroon: Wow. Soooo… one time, a very small group of people came after me because I posted an email from Comicpalooza (comic book convention in Houston). It was a very small group of people with multiple accounts, who started the hashtag #SluttyMcNobody
Jef Rouner: Oh, Lord.
KiKi Maroon: …to which my friend [Outlaw] Dave (legendary on-air personality) said, “You’re not a nobody!” Hahaha Completely not joking. I will never forgive him for, because it was fucking hilarious.
Jef Rouner: It’s nice to have defenders. Haha.
KiKi Maroon: That only lasted about a week, but it was a mindfuck. I didn’t want to work. I work online – I work on my computer, everything is marketing, social media, all that stuff. And I couldn’t work. I didn’t want to open up any of my things because it would just be hundreds of notifications from people calling me a whore and sharing things. I also gave them a little bit more power than they actually had, in my head, I was like, “What if they hack my computer and find things?” But they didn’t have the capability. They didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. But yeah, that was just one week of stuff and it fucked with me. So I can’t even imagine that, and with your daughter and everything.
Jef Rouner: It was absolutely terrifying. I’ve seen people in that same sphere who get targeted by these groups, the Chan boards (anonymous subculture boards, linked to alt-right controversies) and the Redditors (anonymous social news aggregation website) and everything like that. And a lot of them do have problems. A lot of them drank too much. Mental health professionals are not yet really equipped to deal with that sort of thing.
KiKi Maroon: They’re not caught up, honestly.
Jef Rouner: They’re not caught up. They don’t understand it. I mean, as Zoë Quinn said, “If you try to bring suit against these people, you’re lucky if you’ve got a judge who knows what ‘Twitter’ is.”
KiKi Maroon: Exactly, yeah.
Jef Rouner: So as you said, it’s all encompassing. I mean, I had to get an automated bot (software application) to start blocking people. My block list across social media is nearly 60,000 people.
KiKi Maroon: Wow! Is that just based on keywords, or how does that work?
Jef Rouner: It’s linked to hashtags. I don’t actually know howit works, a friend of mine developed it.
KiKi Maroon: Okay, that’s interesting.
Jef Rouner: And she was going to explain it to me, but I didn’t pay attention.
KiKi Maroon: Haha. It was like, “I don’t care. Just make it stop.”
Jef Rouner: Just make it stop. So yeah that’s how the drinking got out of hand. And then once it had a hold of me… You know, every alcoholic has that moment where you’ve crossed the line. Where you no longer have the control. And once you cross that line, there’s no getting back from it.
KiKi Maroon: What happened that made you realize that you had crossed that line?
Jef Rouner: I had a really good week where I thought I had beaten things and everything was brighter and I was stronger and I was so proud of myself. I was so proud of myself, that I lied when I said I was going to an A.A. meeting. I went and got a bottle of vodka and poured it into one of those giant 44 oz Coke Zeros you get from Whataburger. I came home, I got drunk, and I passed out. And when I woke up, my wife told me that I needed to go somewhere. And I gave up, you know? I think that there’s a reason the first step in the whole 12-step thing is “surrender.” It’s when you stop lying to yourself that you have any control over it. When I was in rehab, I saw all kinds of people like, “Oh, this is my second time through.” “Well, what happened the first time?” “Oh, I thought I could beat it for a while, and then went back.” And you know, I’m the Hermione Granger of rehab. So I was just sitting there, learning from everybody else’s mistakes, doing all the workbooks and stuff they gave me, and staying up late to finish homework. So, I mean, really all that happened was I just lost the illusion that I was ever going to beat it on my own, that I was ever going to be in control.
KiKi Maroon: Wow. I am starting over because… so I only recently got The Big Book (basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous) maybe four or five months ago. About halfway through, I reached out to somebody that I asked to be my sponsor and he said no. He said that I needed a female sponsor and explained to me why you have to have somebody who understands your point of view . And I was like, “Well I don’t trust anybody. So I guess I don’t have a sponsor.” And he said, “Well, I’ll be your sober buddy. First thing, start with step one.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no, you don’t understand. I’m already halfway through. I already got through all the steps and then the book keeps going and I’m just in that part.” And he’s like, “Go back to step one. Read that and we’re going to work on that.” And the defeat that I felt, where I was like, “I’m already on page 400,” or whatever it was and like, “I’m all the way over here!” But the reality was- I didn’t do any of it.
Jef Rouner: Right.
KiKi Maroon: I would just read, read, read, read, read – “Okay I’m fixed.” But I wasn’t working any of it. So I know that you’ve actively worked the steps, correct?
Jef Rouner: I got started while I was in rehab. And I do credit A.A. with getting me back on track. I did not complete the steps. I quit around step three.
KiKi Maroon: Haha, okay!
Jef Rouner: But I did work on it! I’ve still got a notebook at home full of everything I did about it. There’s a book called “Beyond Mystery: Simplifying & Demystifying Twelve Step Recovery” by E.M. James, which I would recommend you get, but it’s almost impossible to get. I just happened to stumble across it in a used bookstore, a signed copy from a hundred-print run of it. But the thing that I really got from that book, that I got more from than any of the A.A. material, was that A.A. is really bad at helping you deal with things that are not your fault. For dealing with things that are your fault, for the mistakes that you’ve made and continued to make, A.A. is great. And it’s an amazing journey that I think a lot of people should go on. But just as I had talked about how mental health professionals aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with certain problems, A.A. is not a replacement for therapy, which I think a lot of people use it for.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, absolutely. Which I think is good in some aspects. I will tell people that it’s free therapy because a lot of people cannot afford to get help. And so I’m like, “You have something. At least find a connection with other people.”
Jef Rouner: And that’s why it’s become what it is. That’s why you can get assigned to what is arguably a religious organization from the court. It’s not necessarily because A.A. is terribly effective. It’s yes and no, but it’s free. And nobody wants to put any money into fixing people with addiction problems. When I was in rehab – and that was really, really hard to do – you found all these people who had loss in their life. They had pain in their life. They had, you know, big aching bits. And we went through group therapy, solo therapy, and the A.A. stuff. All put together, it helps you rebuild yourself.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah.
Jef Rouner: But I understand why a lot of people just try to go to A.A. without that deep deprivation that I went through; why it doesn’t work for them.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. It’s definitely not for everybody. And that’s why I like to talk to people who’ve done different things on the podcast because I get that there are a million ways to get sober. And there is no one correct way to do the thing. I think that from what I’ve noticed, a lot of them boil down to you having to figure out why you have the problem. I mean, you know, it’s not just the problem, it’s- “Why did this seem like an acceptable way to live?” Figure that shit out and then we’ll work on the rest.
Jef Rouner: One of the things I did when I got out of the hospital was – as I said, I was the Hermione Granger of rehab – I got a lot of books about the history of alcoholism in America. I’m still reading this 500-page textbook about the history of substance abuse, in which you learn a lot of fun things. For instance, did you know that they tried to create a vaccine for alcoholism by getting horses drunk and then cutting them and then rubbing a cloth on the blood and then giving it to people?!
KiKi Maroon: Shut up! I did not know that.
Jef Rouner: Science is fun!
KiKi Maroon: I’m going to guess in the 40s?
Jef Rouner: Oh earlier! This is like 1910.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, okay. Damn, I was going to say 20s. But I thought, “No, that can’t be right.”
Jef Rouner: Reading the history of how we treat alcoholism and drug abuse, you see that it’s gone back and forth. Sometimes they thought alcoholism is a symptom; sometimes it is the underlying cause. And basically the consensus that science has come to is that it doesn’t really matter. You should treat underlying issues because people with deep trauma should get treatment regardless.
KiKi Maroon: Period. Yeah.
Jef Rouner: And you should treat the symptoms of alcoholism because not having drunk people killing themselves is also a good thing. So I mean, it’s the God question. Whether God exists or not is irrelevant to the impact that religion has. “This is just a symptom” – it doesn’t matter, you just have to fix the problem regardless.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, either way.
Jef Rouner: Exactly.
KiKi Maroon: Have you noticed if your writing has changed since you quit drinking? Was it hard at first because you were used to being drunk?
Jef Rouner: It’s gotten faster.
KiKi Maroon: But that’s now. When you first quit drinking, did you struggle with that? Or were you just instantly magical?
Jef Rouner: I was not any better or any worse as a writer. I was just somebody who was able to… how to put this? Drinking is for liars, and fiction is for liars as well.
KiKi Maroon: Hahahaha! Okay…
Jef Rouner: I was just as good one way or the other because I spent a long time of my life not necessarily being sober, but being the least-drunk person in a room all the time. I would go to parties all the time and I would leave at two o’clock because by two o’clock, everybody who was an adult had gone home.
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha. And that’s why I was there until 7:00 a.m.
Jef Rouner: And everybody else who was there, is just finding a reason to get more and more fucked up until the sun chases them away.
KiKi Maroon: Oh absolutely.
Jef Rouner: So I wouldn’t say that my art got better or worse one way or the other. I can still spin all kinds of tales. I just try to do it in a more constructive direction. Bizarre ideas don’t come to me as easily now. Like the novel I’m working on right now is about sentient mushrooms that grow in disused political biographies and they secretly run the world.
KiKi Maroon: Okay wait, say that sentence one more time.
Jef Rouner: It’s about sentient mushrooms.
KiKi Maroon: Okay, I got those words.
Jef Rouner: They grow in disused political biographies.
KiKi Maroon: That’s the part. “Disused Political biographies.” What does that mean?
Jef Rouner: Okay. You know how, around election time, you see everybody’s writing a book about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton… everybody’s got a book.
KiKi Maroon: Got it.
Jef Rouner: People buy those books, like political action groups buy them at a retail price.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, to up the sales count?
Jef Rouner: So they can say, “Oh, it’s the bestselling novel.”
KiKi Maroon: Oh, interesting.
Jef Rouner: And then in my view, they all go to a warehouse where nobody reads them. And then mushrooms grow in the wet pages, secretly learn everything about politics, and they secretly control us. Now I had that…
KiKi Maroon: Wait wait wait, how did they go from being mushrooms that ate books to controlling us?
Jef Rouner: Well, because they can send letters.
KiKi Maroon: Okay. So they’re controlling us. They’re still in the warehouse?
Jef Rouner: Still in the warehouse.
KiKi Maroon: And controlling us by sending letters?
Jef Rouner: Yes.
KiKi Maroon: Emails?
Jef Rouner: Emails, blog posts, you know, strongly-worded letters to important people.
KiKi Maroon: Do the people know that they’re mushrooms?
Jef Rouner: Not yet. Now I had that thought completely sober. So I can still create those things, but you know, bizarre ideas used to come a lot more easily to me. I have to work at it now, but the ideas I come up with now are better.
KiKi Maroon: Yes, because that is an interesting idea. Haha. You’re like, “It’s harder to come up with bizarre ideas, but there’s this one mushroom thing.” I believe that is because your brain is still processing not having things in it, and that the bizarre ideas are gonna flow more the longer that you are comfortable not having those things in you. I don’t know. What am I trying to say? I think that’s very common where people are like, “I used to be more creative,” or “These things just came to me out of nowhere.” Those things are always inside of you. It’s just muscle memory of- this, drinking or drugs, is how they happened. And so you slowly find the other triggers and learn how to open up those pathways in your brain naturally, without the outside things. And then you’re like, “That shit was always in there. I’m fucking bananas.” Those things are there, you just don’t have the pathways built to get to them easily right now.
Jef Rouner: Well, I mean, take yourself. I’m making an assumption here, but I feel pretty safe in this assumption that your career and the things that you’re most known for were not sober ideas.
KiKi Maroon: No, they were not sober ideas. But, I do think I was always a creative person. I think that drinking was a way that I could find the creative ideas easier because I was numb and spewing garbage out of my mouth and sometimes I would remember the garbage. And so when I quit, it was difficult at first. For example, with comedy, I found it very difficult to go onstage sober because I would get shaky and nervous. And I felt like everybody could see. The ideas, like you said, when I was writing, they weren’t as fucking bizarre. I have been told that some of my jokes are absurd, like how I want to fuck birds. This is not true. I always feel like I need to clarify because now my friends make jokes about how I have a bird fetish. I do not actually have a bird fetish, I just think it is a funny concept. But in the last year, I’m like, “Oh, now I feel like I’m far more creative.” I am so much better. It was harder to get to the ideas, but now the quality of the ideas is so much better and I’m figuring out how to just turn that thing on at-will now. But I just think that’s something you have to figure out because if the pathways aren’t made in your brain, you don’t know how to reach those things. They used to just “come to you.” It’s like, “No, they weren’t coming to you. You were fucking drunk.”
Jef Rouner: You know why I think that is? This came up a lot when I was in rehab – when you have SUD, Substance Use Disorder, what you’ve done is, you’ve trained your brain to only produce dopamine from your substance. And when you tell people that it produces dopamine, they say, “Oh, well that makes you feel good.” That’s not what dopamine does. In an evolutionary sense, dopamine tells you the jaguar has gone away and you can stop panicking now.
KiKi Maroon: Ohh.
Jef Rouner: That’s what dopamine does. It doesn’t create joy, it creates a lack of panic. Before I started drinking real heavily, I had an acid reflux condition and I would have these horrible attacks. I would go into my bedroom and wrap a blanket around my head and scream because I wanted to die. But at the end of that was a sudden cessation of pain. And that is a feeling that, if you’ve never experienced it before, you cannot explain to another person. If there is a heaven, that is what heaven feels like. It is the sudden cessation of all agony. And when you are addicted and you take that drink, or you do whatever you do, that’s the feeling that hits you. It’s not a feeling of pleasure. It’s a feeling of not panicking anymore.
KiKi Maroon: And that’s why it feels normal. You’re hitting what you think normal is supposed to feel like.
Jef Rouner: Exactly. So now that I can go outside, be with my family, exercise ,and do things that produce that dopamine in a healthy manner, I’m not panicked. And the idea of creating little dark, whimsical things to make people happy or scared comes a lot easier. So I imagine that’s what it is with you. You didn’t want to go on stage because you’d feel shaky, you’d feel panic, because your body is not used to producing the thing that makes you feel comfortable up there. But now, you go up there and you’re KiKi fucking Maroon, you know? Because I’m sure you’re like me – you get on stage and you feel at home there. You feel more normal up there than you feel at other places.
KiKi Maroon: Oh Absolutely.
Jef Rouner: Exactly. Alcohol and everything else takes that away from you and tells you, “No, no, no, no, you can’t feel good on stage. You gotta feel good here with this in you. That’s the only way you’re going to feel good.” And it will take the stage from you. It’ll take everything away from you, bit by bit, until all that’s left is the thing that makes that trigger. And then you die.
KiKi Maroon: I did not realize that that’s what dopamine was. I read this thing that said that when babies are in their mama’s bellies, that women who were in very difficult houses- stress, financial stress, physical stress, being with an abusive person, just general fear, usually having low income the constant feelings of “fight or flight,” that panic to survive – all of that is manifesting as chemicals being shot into the baby. And so they get chemically addicted. So then, the baby’s born and there is a higher likelihood of depression, anxiety, and all those issues, because on some level that’s what feels normal and comfortable. You got chemically addicted to that, whatever that adrenaline is, of things falling apart around you. It becomes like a spiral into generational situations because you’re not developing all the things that you need to be successful or even functioning. They’re not focusing on school because their brain is so busy pumping out this other kind of adrenaline and they’re not actually growing and developing as, you know, what we consider to be a healthy human being.
Jef Rouner: Normalcy itself is the problem, I think. As you said, it’s like, when you put babies in that stress situation, and then when they’re out, they’re still in that stress situation.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, exactly.
Jef Rouner: Because babies are actually much more annoying when they’re not inside a person.
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha
Jef Rouner: And I think you can become addicted to normalcy. It’s even more addictive than anything else. What I used to do is, every morning I would get up and I’d say, “I’m going to take the dog out.” And I would take the dog out, leave the dog in the little dog park area of my apartment complex, walk over to the bushes, and I would throw up. I’d do that every morning, it gets to the point that you’re almost looking forward to it. When I was in rehab everybody talked about how terrible their “normal” had become. It became almost a contest. Everyone would say, “I would go in the bathroom and I couldn’t look at myself. I couldn’t shave, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even brush my teeth.” That wasn’t me. I became addicted to watching the light die in my own eyes. I would just sit there and stare at myself for 15 minutes and just watch everything good rot away. You can become enamored with terrible, terrible things. I’m sure you’ve seen people in performances, people who go off on self-destructive tangents for no reason that you can think of.
KiKi Maroon: Oh yeah…
Jef Rouner: I used to be a Mexican wrestler way back in the day.
KiKi Maroon: Shut up! You were a luchador (Mexican wrestler)?!
Jef Rouner: I was in Lucha Libre AAA. I was “El Mimo Peligrosa” translation- The Dangerous Mime.
KiKi Maroon: Ohh, how funny!
Jef Rouner: Which, that joke doesn’t translate real well in Spanish, but I didn’t speak Spanish. So it was like, “I’ll be an evil mime and it’ll work out.”
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha. Oh my God!
Jef Rouner: And people said, “Well, why did you become a wrestler?” Honestly, it was masochism because I liked being slammed. I liked having control of the pain. And like I said, it’s just weird what normalcy can breed in you.
KiKi Maroon: Oh yeah.
Jef Rouner: That stress environment, people around you drinking, people around you using. Drinking wine made me think of my mom – who I love and thought was great, and didn’t have a problem. So there you go.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. When I heard about that study, it made so much sense to me because I could relate. My mom was under a lot of stress. She was a very young mom, not financially stable. We grew up in a trailer park, my dad was in and out all the time. And so there were constant financial and family stressors everywhere. It made me reevaluate my teenage years and going into 20’s. I was definitely, you know, that crazy girlfriend. I was with my first boyfriend for almost a decade. It was a really bad, abusive relationship. ButI will be very honest and say, “Yeah, he was a piece of shit, but I was awful too.” In hindsight, I was addicted to the adrenaline rush of the screaming and the fighting. I wanted all of the chaos around me. And then the make-up afterwards was so intense. And so, I was constantly creating chaos because – now, I understand – that felt normal to me. If things are “normal” and fine, I’m like, “Something’s wrong!” Even now, I’m having to tell myself that it’s okay for things to just be. That feels so weird to me. It feels like something’s wrong, when nothing is wrong.
Jef Rouner: Exactly. You have to come up with a balance and you have to find another way to be happy. You have to find quiet things and you have to find healthy ways to express yourself. The thing that they talked about a lot in rehab was the connection between physical fitness and not having an addiction is way higher than you think it is.
KiKi Maroon: Absolutely. We’re talking about the adrenaline – you have the “fight or flight” response in you – you have this built-up adrenaline that leads to anxiety and depression and everything else. If you don’t physically get it out, the thing in you saying, “Run away from the lion that’s chasing you!” if you never get that out, it’s just sitting in your brain. Your brain is in a fucking pool of this shit and you’re not physically releasing it.
Jef Rouner: Exactly.
KiKi Maroon: That’s why so many people, before they go on stage, you’ll see them do like a little jog or jump up and down, they’re trying to get that shit out so they can walk on stage and be normal.
Jef Rouner: Exactly.
KiKi Maroon: But we don’t talk about that because you don’t want to make people sound like they have anything to do with their depression. Not that… I mean, I get it; I understand there are issues and chemical imbalances and stuff, but there are things that you can do about it, to an extent.
Jef Rouner: Of course. It’s normalcy again, because what do you see? If somebody is all amped up backstage and they’re twitching and weird and crazy, what do you tell them? “Have a drink.”
KiKi Maroon: Oh yeah.
Jef Rouner: “You need a drink.” No, no, you don’t. You know what Kurt Cobain used to do whenever he was nervous before he went on stage? He would wrestle people.
KiKi Maroon: Really? Hahaha!
Jef Rouner: Yeah, backstage. That’s how he met Courtney Love! They started wrestling on the floor, like Greco-Roman wrestling!
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God!
Jef Rouner: And you know, that’s fine. And yes, Kurt had issues later. But you know, that’s fine. Go for a jog, jump up and down, play rock paper scissors. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to substitute quirkiness and strangeness for a glass of something or a shot of something or a smoke of something. You don’t have to do that. We’ve made it the go-to, and I think that it’s a big reason why a lot of us end up the way we do. You know?
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. I have to say, I am so glad that you are working through this and you seem to be in a much better place, and will continue to be, I’m sure.
Jef Rouner: But?
KiKi Maroon: No, no. No “but”, it’s an “and”, not a “but”.
And, in my head, I know I still struggle. I’m a workaholic, I know that. I have issues with sugar. I replaced a lot of things. And I see it, but I’m very much like, “Well, it’s still the lesser evil and I’ll work on that part when I get there.” I have difficulty just being, I have difficulty just enjoying myself. I feel that I always should be working or I’ll feel intense guilt. In my head, once I had a family, that would all go away, because I would want to, you know, have park days, and dinners, and things that I never make time for right now. And all of the issues would just disappear once I had a husband and child. And I’m starting to think… as I’m talking to someone with a family… that perhaps… I was incorrect. Haha.
Jef Rouner: My wife saved my life. I love my daughter with all my heart. They are my everything. Everything I do, I do for them. Actually, that’s not true. And you gotta stop lying to yourself about that. I do a lot of things for me, because it’s fucking fun. And I like being the crazy genius and that’s great. It is a great way to be, and you should always be yourself. But my family is a huge part of everything.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, of course.
Jef Rouner: But I see people all the time who have bad days with their kids. It’s like, “Oh, mommy needs wine.” And that’s again, that is insidious.
KiKi Maroon: Oh yes, the “mommy wine culture.”
Jef Rouner: It’ll creep in on you. And tell you it’s because your kids are going to be annoying until you or they die. “Your family is going to get on your nerves until you or they die. It is going to be forever.” The one thing I have learned from all of this is, none of your problems get easier when you’re drunk. Not a single one of them. I used to love when like, “It’s 9:30, my kid’s in bed. If they’re not asleep, at least they’re not bothering me. I’m going to sit here with my glass of wine and play my video game,” or whatever. “I’ve earned it, I’ve deserved it.” But that’s not the case. Most early alcoholism studies that were done on a lot of the people who were sent away to the early “drying out” places…. as I said, I was reading a lot of history. You’re talking family people, you’re talking a lot of housewives. The prohibition movement was started by women who were trying to get their husbands to stop drinking. These are people who were dependent on it. You know, Carrie Nation (member of the temperance movement, which opposed alcohol before Prohibition) did not go out and start hatcheting bars and things because she just didn’t like alcohol. She did it because women were, you know, being subjugated by men who could not control themselves. So, other people will not fix you.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. But see, that’s other people you’re talking about.
Jef Rouner: And you’re special. I’ve met you. Everything that happened to everybody else, that’s not going to happen to you. You’re clever and smart and pretty. And where will we keep all these unicorns?
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. Well, yet again… I feel that this podcast is just a constant smack in the face of things I already knew, but I didn’t want to know.But I knew. Haha.
Jef Rouner: Haha. When I was in rehab, everybody told the same story. I told this story. “Oh, I can’t be in here that long, man. They need me.”
KiKi Maroon: Meanwhile, they were functioning while you weren’t totally there.
Jef Rouner: They were functioning better. I mean, my wife doesn’t cook very well; there was a lot of pizza in the house. But other than that, you realize that you need to sit here and fix yourself and stop being part of the machine. You need to take some time, get zen, do some meditation, all of that stuff. A family’s not going to fix that.
KiKi Maroon: How old is your daughter again?
Jef Rouner: She will be 10 in August.
KiKi Maroon: Okay. Does she… I mean, have you talked to her about this? Did she know that you were getting into this space, that you’re different now?
Jef Rouner: Yes. She was completely aware. She’s like, “Death to alcohol!” now. She goes to the grocery store with me. And you have to walk through the wine aisle to get to the sodas and seltzers and stuff like that – I drink about a case of seltzer a day.
KiKi Maroon: Oh.
Jef Rouner: So what you said with the sugar – I ate three cookie sandwiches yesterday. The big chocolate chip cookies with the stuff in the middle.
KiKi Maroon: Ohh yeah. I never ate dessert before I quit drinking. I’ve heard this a lot, and then I’ve also heard that it’s a myth – I don’t believe it is though – that the alcohol turns into sugar in your blood. And so you have sugar cravings because your body’s like, “Where’s all that fucking sugar I used to get every day?”
Jef Rouner: It’s part of that, also artificial sweeteners partially break down into ethanol.
KiKi Maroon: Ohh!
Jef Rouner: Which explains why I was drinking a case of Coke Zero a day. Also, don’t do that.
KiKi Maroon: No, don’t do that. Yeah. That makes sense because, suddenly, I wasn’t getting who knows how many thousands of calories a day that I previously was getting from alcohol.
Jef Rouner: Exactly.
KiKi Maroon: So I wanted all the cakes. I didn’t think about the ethanol.
Jef Rouner: But yeah, my daughter was aware. She saw things I wish she had not seen. She came to visit me when I was in the hospital, it was extremely hard.
KiKi Maroon: Did you check yourself in or did something happen?
Jef Rouner: My wife just said I was going and I kind of had a moment of clarity where I said, “Okay.” So her and my mom picked me up and dropped me off at The Park on Gessner. It’s a place… Memorial Hermann Hospital calls it, “The Park.” They didn’t just drop me on a bench.
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha okay. Not like something in Old Yeller. Like, “Bye, boy.”
Jef Rouner: “No, he’s going up to a farm where he can play with all his writer friends.” That’s not what happened.
KiKi Maroon: It’s called The Park, but it’s a hospital. Was it a live-in facility?
Jef Rouner: Yeah, I was there for three weeks. And then I did about six weeks of outpatient. I went there for eight hours a day and then went there for about three hours a day.
KiKi Maroon: Got it.
Jef Rouner: And so she was aware and that’s in her memories now. The only thing I can keep reinforcing to her is, “You have an almost certain chance that if you start drinking, you’re going to end up like this eventually.” Because I drank like normal for 10 years. Again, I was always the most sober person at the party. So I try to drill that into her. And the really depressing thing about it is, I grew up going over to my aunt and uncle’s house and they were rampaging alcoholics that just beat the shit out of each other all the time.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, wow.
Jef Rouner: I remember they had a fight at a party and drug me and my cousins out. We were walking home and they kept making us get down in drainage ditches because they were afraid that my drunken uncle was going to drive by and find us.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: And I still thought, “No, I’m going to be special,” like you just said there. I thought it was like, “No, I’ve got a handle on it.” You ain’t got a handle on shit! You just haven’t had that one bad day.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. Oh yeah. Well I know that I don’t know your daughter, but I know people. I would imagine that there is far more power in her observing, up close, somebody overcome something. To see that and to be able to respect you, look up to you, and see that thing up close. And then you become the best version of yourself that you could be, I would think. I’m also not a psychologist. I don’t fucking know.
Jef Rouner: And we don’t lie to her about it. She asked me what “abortion” was the other day. And I explained it to her as best I could.
KiKi Maroon: “You would’ve had an older sister.” Sorry, sorry! Haha.
Jef Rouner: But you know, we don’t lie to her, she has seen things up close and personal. And I just really hope she’s taken from that. I hope I haven’t messed her up for life any more than was already guaranteed to. So, you know, we’ll see.
KiKi Maroon: I mean, we’re all fucked up.
Jef Rouner: Extremely so.
KiKi Maroon: I mean, she’s going to be. I’m sorry.
Jef Rouner: No, no, no. I feel good with it.
KiKi Maroon: But again, it’s so different to see somebody overcome something and become the best version of themselves that they can be. I think that’s far more powerful than that never having happened and you were this fucking, you know, TGIF sitcom, family. That’s not the real world. I feel like that kind of situation – actually, I don’t “feel”, I’ve seen this. I’m not going to name names. We’ll just say there’s an upper middle class, passive-aggressive, “We don’t talk about any of our problems,” situation. Everybody is just perfect, nobody talks about the reality of situations, and it’ll strangle you. You feel like you’re not allowed to talk about your problems, you’re not allowed to have problems, because everybody else around you is “perfect”.
Jef Rouner: Exactly.
KiKi Maroon: So “clearly, something’s wrong with me for having a problem”. And that’s not good.
Jef Rouner: What happens is, people start fanficing their lives. People start finding things that are wrong with them. I spend a lot of my time finding broken, beautiful weirdos in the city. That is my passion. That is my dream. I actually made a vow to a dying friend that that’s what I would do.
KiKi Maroon: Is that why you interviewed me?
Jef Rouner: Yes.
KiKi Maroon: Haha, I mean, I’m pretty broken.
Jef Rouner: You’re a broken, beautiful weirdo, but you do good with it. Going around, finding all these artists and all these people who create these amazing bits of music and arts and installations of performance like you do, it’s because they have opened themselves up to the world. They have observed around them and they have seen people overcome. If they haven’t themselves overcome something, then they have chosen to be hurt by what happens to others. But when you refuse to see other people’s hurts, you find reasons why you’re the hero of your damn, mediocre, story. They fanfic their own lives.
KiKi Maroon: I like that. “Fanfic their own lives.” That’s intense. I actually just started doing this thing. You know how you get into fights in your head with somebody, that don’t ever actually happen. You’re like, “And then I would say this, and they would say this, and I would say that.” That spiral you get into, confrontations that weren’t going to take place, but maaaaybe… You’re preparing yourself just in case they were. I’ve started like… like when you whack a dog on the nose with the newspaper. I’m doing that to myself. I’m forcing myself to snap out of it and saying, “If I’m going to have a fantasy, why am I having a negative fantasy?”
Jef Rouner: Yeah, exactly.
KiKi Maroon: Like, that’s all it is. I’m indulging in a fantasy right now. This conversation is never happening. So if I’m going to do that, let’s have the fucking red glitter convertible fantasy! No more, no bad fantasies, no negative fantasies. There’s nothing in there for me. And so I’m just trying to whack myself out of it… There’s been a lot of whacking throughout the day. Haha.
Jef Rouner: One of the things that I’ve heard in writing workshops is- if you’re sitting around, interviewing yourself after your amazing book comes out, you need to cut that shit out. You should just be writing. And of course when you’re addicted, you fantasize all the time. I would congratulate myself on my sobriety while I was drunk. I would sit there and think like, “Man, when I write about how I overcame this, it’s going to be so cool.” If time travel existed, I would punch myself so hard.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, God! Oh, that’s so funny. Haha. I feel like a lot of people are going to relate to that.
Jef Rouner: Fantasy is great. I mean, obviously I make my living off of it. You know, either I’m reporting on other people’s fantasies or I’m publishing my own. But the clarity is what is important. And once you have it, you can’t ever get rid of it, which is annoying. You’re sitting there, you’re eating a whole cake and you know you’re wrong. You know this. I know I’m wrong as I’m doing it.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, I was actually just having a talk with a friend of mine about love fantasy. So again, my first relationship lasted from when I was 15, 14, something like that. No, wait I was 13! I can go back and do the math. But yeah, my first relationship lasted almost a decade from when I was basically a child until I was 20 or 21. I thought, with everything inside of me, I truly believed that I would die without him. I think that is very common for puppy love. “I could not exist without him.” And he appeared to believe the same thing. Now, I am in a much different space. I am healthier, not “fixed”, but I’m healthier. I’m smarter. And I know that that’s not true. No matter how depressed I’ve gotten after breakups, I know that at some point, I’m going to be okay. I know “this too shall pass”. I know I’m not going to die, no matter how bad and sad it gets. I know I’m not going to die without any one person. And… part of me is sad about that. There’s a thing inside me that feels like that because it will never be that intense, that it’s not the purest form of love. It’s not as strong as it could be, you know? It’s like I fucking bit the apple. There is no going back to believing something that intensely, and that would make me sad. But only in this last week am I realizing that… that’s not real love. It’s not much different than taking a shot. You know? It’s this fake intensity. It’s a fake feeling, and it’s something that you can get addicted to, but it’s not real.
Jef Rouner: It’s like we were talking earlier about healthy lifestyles. Do you know what true love is? True love is cleaning out an infected spider bite on somebody’s back. Okay?
KiKi Maroon: Haha, yeah.
Jef Rouner: I mean, that’s what true love is. And it’s not flashy, but it produces way more dopamine than the flashy stuff ever did. My relationship with my wife is, in many ways, a fairytale. It has a great opening – I was 14 or 15 years old. I went and saw Rocky Horror where she was performing. I heckled her and she screamed until I cried. And you either have to never talk to that person again, or you have to marry them. Those are the rules, I didn’t make them. We’ve gone on adventures together and we’ve had all kinds of… we’ve had the kind of love that gets written about. I know, because I’ve written about it. And that’s great, but there’s also the nitty-gritty of it. There are also the daily things. There’s getting up, as I did last night, and holding her hair while she throws up, even though I’m extremely tired and only had two hours of sleep. “Did you really have to pick this day to get sick?” So, you know, it’s great to fantasize that you’re having this amazing adventure, but it’s no substitute for being able to, for instance, sit down at a coffee shop and have an intelligent adult conversation about a serious problem. I’ve been drunk onstage. You’ve been drunk onstage before. I’d much rather be where I am right now.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. I guess I’m in a place where I am able to… So before, I was in it and I didn’t see anything, because I was crazy and drunk and blind.
Jef Rouner: Yes. And stupid. We were all stupid.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, very stupid. So stupid. And now I’m in a place where I’m still making stupid choices, but I have the ability to step outside of myself and ask myself, “Well, wait, why did I do that stupid thing? What was going on here? Okay. How does this relate back to this?” And seeing how the codependency, and whatever other issues that I had that led to my alcoholism, how those things are affecting other parts of my life that I thought were unrelated. But it’s all connected.
Jef Rouner: Yeah.
KiKi Maroon: And I feel like that’s the step before being actually healthy. I’m like… I’m closer. I’m closer. I see the problems.
Jef Rouner: You can see it off in the distance.
KiKi Maroon: I see “healthy” in the distance and I’m questioning my actions versus just blindly doing them.
Jef Rouner: I always think of the healthy life, like Vegas. I went to Vegas on my honeymoon and we thought we could walk everywhere, because you can see everything. So you see Caesar’s Palace and everything out there. It’s like, “Oh, we’ll just walk there.” Then you’ve only gone half a mile you’re just like, “This was a terrible mistake and I regret everything.” But you know…
KiKi Maroon: Yes. That’s so good.
Jef Rouner: And then you get on the bus and you go there and it’s great, but you know…
KiKi Maroon: But it looked like it was just right there.
Jef Rouner: It looked like it was just right there. But you’re walking and you’re tired and you regret your shoe choices, you know? That’s the healthy life, but you gotta get the walking in. The walking matters and it is its own story. Do you know how many adventures I’ve had on a quarter mile stretch of a bad dirt road between my house and my daughter’s school? It’s a lot – like dead bodies and rescuing kittens and all kinds of things.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, geeze!
Jef Rouner: If you put the work in, just hiking into the unknown, you’d be surprised what you can find. I used to hike to rehab for my outpatient therapy. I walked down White Oak Bayou because I really will just wander off into the wilderness without telling anybody where I’m going.
KiKi Maroon: Jesus, don’t do that!
Jef Rouner: Don’t do that. But I found this abandoned chapel on the side of the bayou where this woman had been raped and murdered.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God.
Jef Rouner: And her family and coworkers had put together money to raise this giant white cross in the middle of the field. And there are benches with bible quotes and “we love yous” and everything.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, wow.
Jef Rouner: You’re never going to find it unless you just hike off into the wilderness like I did. It’s out behind somebody’s house. And to me, that is the kind of thing I never would have seen when I was using. I didn’t have any interest in walking any place, putting in the hours anywhere, because you just click on Facebook and you’re in the online world. But sometimes, when you have the space to go and experience these things, you find tragedy and beauty and life and loss. It’s all so much better than any sort of fantasy you’re going to tell yourself. That’s my little thing. It lives in my heart and nobody can ever take it away from me. And I fucking love it.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. I logically understand the beauty in that. Meanwhile, I hear, “raped and murdered,” and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s why I drank, because I didn’t want to see any of that.” I wanted… I don’t know if you know this but people create circuses to run away to because… they want to run away! But I can intellectualize, I understand the beauty in the human experience and the intensity of that thing.
Jef Rouner: Of course.
KiKi Maroon: I know that it’s beautiful and to focus on the love that built the cross afterwards. The notes and the inscriptions, to focus on that. I understand it. But I don’t want to. Haha.
Jef Rouner: You are choosing to be unhappy. And I don’t mean this in general, as in all of humanity.
KiKi Maroon: You mean me specifically.
Jef Rouner: I mean you specifically. You are choosing to be unhappy.
KiKi Maroon: The intensity of my emotions are stronger in general. I think that’s part of why I drank so much, was to numb all of them.
Jef Rouner: Yes. Of course.
KiKi Maroon: But yeah, with my happiness now, my highs are so much higher than they ever were before.
Jef Rouner: Because they’re real.
KiKi Maroon: Exactly, they’re real. Unfortunately, the lows are too. I just had a thing happen last week and I ended up reaching out to Andy Huggins. I talked to him, explained the whole thing to him and he was like, “Okay, but how’s your sobriety?” And I said, “Well, that’s fine. I’m not worried about that.” And he was like, “Okay, well, you ran into life.”
Jef Rouner: This.
KiKi Maroon: He’s very sweet and caring, but he’s like, “You know, I’m sorry, but you ran into life. Life happens. What’s important is that you didn’t think about drinking to run away from it. And now it’s time to process life.”
Jef Rouner: Exactly.
KiKi Maroon: And I was like, “Damn, you’re smart.”
Jef Rouner: It’s great when you don’t have this go-to to erase things. It’s great whenever you’re like, “Well, I’m just going to have to deal with it.” You find that you can internalize the parts that make you stronger and you can eliminate the parts that don’t hurt you.
KiKi Maroon: I think it just takes a while though, honestly. I don’t want to lie. I think it took a while to figure out how to do that. At first, it all fucking slams into your face and you’re like, “This is what reality is?!” And that sucks. But I think it’s worth it to figure it out.
Jef Rouner: And that’s one of the things that I think A.A. and rehab are good for, because you think your problems are great until you go in and you hear some other people. For example, I’ve never flipped a truck. My story is comparatively very small. I mean, I talk about the horrible things that happened to me that made me drink, but I never got a ticket for DUI. I never wrecked anything. I never lost a job. The only thing I did was I had a chance to write for Rolling Stone. And I was so happy for the opportunity, that I drank until I forgot what I was going to write about.
KiKi Maroon: Nooo!
Jef Rouner: So honestly, that’s the worst thing that happened, other than, you know, I broke my wife and daughter’s hearts multiple times.
KiKi Maroon: Well, I was going to say that.
Jef Rouner: I didn’t die. I’ve got all my limbs, you know, most of my brains. I’m not any stupider than I was before. So that happens and A.A. is great for that because it gives you perspective. But everybody’s bottom is their bottom, you know?
KiKi Maroon: Yeah.
Jef Rouner: And there are people who have got it worse than you. There are people who quit way higher than you did.
KiKi Maroon: Oh yeah, absolutely. Everybody has their story. That’s why I like doing this. Okay Jef, it’s time for the final question!
Jef Rouner: Final question!
KiKi Maroon: Final question! If you could snap your fingers and people around the world instantly believed two things – they believe it; it’s just fucking truth; it’s reality across the board – what would they be? One has to be good for humanity; the other one has to be completely selfish.
Jef Rouner: Okay. Completely selfish. Good for humanity, that’s fairly easy – vaccines work.
KiKi Maroon: Haha, okay!
Jef Rouner: They work and they don’t give you autism. Scientists can be assholes and pharmaceutical companies are vampires, but at least they are researching shit. So that’s my first, for humanity. The thing that I would snap my fingers and make people believe that would be completely selfish is that short stories are a good art.
KiKi Maroon: Aww!
Jef Rouner: It’s so hard to sell short stories these days because everybody’s like, “Nobody’s buying them.” And I fucking love short fiction. I grew up reading Harlan Ellison when I was 12, Stephen King, Joe Hill, Ray Bradbury, Del James, all of those people. That’s what I would change because I would personally benefit a tremendous amount, I would have more to read, and I would have more money. So, that’s the thing I would do.
KiKi Maroon: Haha. Yes! We’ll work on it. I think the pendulum is swinging. They talk about how everybody is taking in just Tweet-levels of information. But everything ends in excess and flips to the other side. So I think that longer form is going to be more attractive.
Jef Rouner: I’ve got a book coming out later this year that’s all short stories that are less than 500 words that are based around my “word of the day” calendar.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, I like that!
Jef Rouner: I’d get a word of the day and I’d write a really tiny… I was going to put them on postcards, but I am really fucking lazy, so I didn’t.
KiKi Maroon: Okay. So lazy that you’re writing a book. Haha. Got it.
Jef Rouner: One of us mentioned being a workaholic and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. Haha.
KiKi Maroon: I know, I’m working on it. We’ll see. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it.
Jef Rouner: Thank you for this project because it has honestly helped a lot of people. I have told them about it. I will continue to tell people about it. And if you had a stack of those business cards, I would throw them at them like Gambit from the fucking X-Men.
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha. Thank you so much.
Jef Rouner: Thank you.
[Theme song: “Last Call” provided by The Last Domino]
KiKi Maroon: That was Jef Rouner. He mentioned how every writer believes he is Hemingway, which made me want to look more into his famous quote, “Write drunk, edit sober.” I’ve heard comedians quote it as well. I think a lot of people use it as an excuse. This idea that you must lubricate the gears to get the creative juices flowing. It turns out that Hemingway never even said that! Not only is that a fake quote, he said the opposite in an interview. A journalist asked, “Is it true that you take a pitcher of martinis into the tower every morning when you go up to write?” Hemingway responded, “Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes. And I can tell right in the middle of the page when he’s had his first one.” Burn! How do you like those apples, Faulkner? Haha. I don’t even know who that is. But while researching this, I stumbled upon an interview with Charles Bukowski, who was also known for writing drunk. He said, “I used to always write while drinking and/or drunk. I never thought I could write without the bottle. But the last five or six months, I have had an illness that has limited my drinking. So I sat down and wrote without the bottle. And it all came out just the same. So it does not matter.” Now, these two are not the know-all, be-all of all arts, or even just all writing. But it does show that the “tortured artist” idea has been prevalent for generations, and it’s just not true. Your creativity comes from inside you, not from a beverage. If it seems hard at first, don’t give up! It’s not that you’re no longer creative, it’s that you are finding the natural and sustainable way to access it, I promise.
Speaking of beverages, I got a modeling gig last month where I didn’t find out until I got there that I would have liquor logos painted all over my body and have to hold a bottle of vodka for photos. Ugh. I had spent all day working on this podcast and then I walked into that garbage. I would loveto be able to say that I said, “No,” and walked out, but that gig was covering most of my bills that month. And it was booked by an agency who hires me often, so I would have lost six more months of bookings had I just walked out. It was a mindfuck, and one I don’t want to repeat. So if you enjoyed the podcast, please consider joining my Patreon so that I may cover the cost involved in a much less ironic way. There’s a link to more info on the Patreon in the show notes. There are also links to all my socials – @KiKiMaroon – and the Clown, Interrupted Instagram – @ClownPod. And of course, the theme song “Last Call” is graciously provided by The Last Domino. And don’t forget to rate the show on whatever podcast platform you’re listening to so more people can find it. Thanks for listening. And I will see you next week!
[Theme song: “Last Call” provided by The Last Domino]