Meet Emily Rems

Photo credit Jes Baker

Photo credit Jes Baker

Rum Punch Press: Emily, this story has it all: sin, gluttony, humor, vice (all of our favorites here at Rum Punch Press); what would you say is the driving inspiration or motivation behind this story?

Emily: At first, I was inspired to write a story with an unlikable and possibly unreliable female narrator because so much of the pop culture I consume seems obsessed with making women come across as either comforting or sexy or adorable. Ultimately, I ended up liking the narrator anyway, so in that regard I failed. But the overall effort created a character I was very interested in.

RP: “The Addict” begins with a woman being denied agency by society–in the form of her doctor– because of her body, and though she seeks help, first at OA and then at AA, she overcomes her disempowerment (for a time, anyway) by subverting the 12-step recovery process. The way she transgresses against the system is surprising and interesting; can you give us some insight as to what set the protagonist on her unusual path?

E: I think because larger women are the butt of the joke in this society so much of the time, they (and I, as a large woman) are forced to develop ingenious ways of finding agency outside the conventional paths. The narrator’s gaming of the system is a somewhat twisted nod to the mutant powers big girls need to develop to survive.

RP: There is a lot of great humor in this story. It’s arch and daring and painful. One of my favorite moments, because it says so much about our culture, is this:

“The weird thing, however, was that most of the folks sitting around me didn’t feel the heat at all, since they ranged in size from average, to thin, to “OMG are you a model?” to Auschwitz. My heart slowly sank when I realized that OA was a catch-all group for everyone with weird food issues. And since this was a meeting in the middle of a weekday in New York City, the self-lacerating observations of struggling actresses, tortured dancers, and fashion industry refugees dominated the testimonials. I was intimidated. I was annoyed.”

First, I loved that she dared to be annoyed. That was great. Is there another passage in the story where you feel the humor gets at something particularly true and urgent?

E: The section below where the narrator decides to switch over to AA meetings seemed necessary because it refers to a certain hierarchy of coolness that exists in regard to compulsivity. Drug addicts and alcoholics and sex addicts may be on the same highway to hell as food addicts, but most people actually want to hear their tales from the dark side. Movies and TV shows and books and music are full of those kinds of stories, because they are wild and freaky and tragic and cool. Nobody wants to hear a true confession about a sad night spent alone with two boxes of Triscuits and a block of aged NY cheddar.

“If every 12-step program was just an offshoot of AA, then why not go right to the source? At least that’s what I was prepared to tell anyone who tried to bar my admittance to the late night meeting I crashed at the Lower East Side AA clubhouse two days later. But nobody gave me any static. I just walked in, took a seat, and immediately could tell by looking around that I liked this crowd much better. Instead of snug cardigans drawn protectively over shivering anorexic shoulders, the fashions scattered around this dingy, linoleum-tiled former schoolroom tended toward elaborate hoodies, band T-shirts with cutoff sleeves, and jagged tattoos. And then when the sharing started, I was instantly transported by the dramatic tale of that night’s guest speaker—a gay man with regal faded features whose days of rent boy debauch came to an abrupt end after a horrific traffic accident.”

RP: The editors here at Rum Punch are big fans of food in literature (we also use ‘cocktail’ as a verb, but we digress). There are many excellent descriptions of food throughout the story, but this one is a standout:

Other times, I would give the group culinary assignments to help them in their recovery. “Before you order your meal today,” I suggested one afternoon in an inspired moment, “I want you to imagine something that your mother once made for you to eat that made you feel especially cared for and safe. Close your eyes. Picture it in your mind. Taste it with your memory. Now open your eyes and try to find the item that most closely approximates that meal on the menu and order it. They have a pretty large selection here so it shouldn’t be too hard.” When the waitress came to take our orders that day, she seemed a little unnerved by the veil of tears that encircled the table as my fellows ordered matzoh ball soup and lasagna and pancakes and grilled cheese as if they were begging for their lives. When our food arrived that day, we didn’t dive in with our customary greedy carelessness. We reverently bit into our edible time capsules, held each morsel on our tongues, and then swallowed and swallowed and swallowed until we had never felt more full.

This passage ties so much of the story together and offers great insight both into the character and beyond. As you were writing this scene, what did you most urgently want to convey?

E: The primary goal of that scene was to convey, for anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves, what it feels like to use food as a drug. People who don’t do that often laugh at the notion that food can be intoxicating. That it can take you out of yourself. But if that’s the way you’re wired, it can be a very tough drug to put down, partially because there’s something so innocent about it that ties us to our most basic childhood cravings to be nourished and cared for.

RP: Another concept that you do really interesting things with throughout this story is anonymity. First, there’s the idea of anonymity for a character who has been so publicly judged, but she also taps into this really compelling part of herself as part of these anonymous groups. As a writer, what was it that interested you about playing with this concept of anonymity as you wrote the story?

E: As a writer, it was very tempting to explore what a character with very few scruples might do when handed the gift of anonymity. Ideally, a compulsive person would avail herself of that opportunity to be completely honest in a safe environment. But the other side of that coin is that the people attending meetings with the main character know nothing about her other than what she tells them, so she uses that lack of context to create a different reality for herself.

RP: Where can we read more of your work?
E: My writing appears in every issue of the feminist pop-culture magazine BUST where I’m the managing editor, and my other nonfiction writing has been included in the anthologies Cassette from my Ex and Zinester’s Guide to NYC. As for fiction, “The Addict” is my first published short story (thank you Rum Punch!) but more are on the way. My short story “The Apartment” will be published by Lumen in September, my short story “All You Can Eat” will appear in Prose ‘N Cons Mystery Magazine in October, and my short story “Andy” will appear in PoemMemoirStory in 2016. I’m also hard at work on a novel called Fat Camp Confidential and am active on Twitter @emilyrems.