America's maiden of the memoir Elizabeth Wurtzel on the book that named a generation
I did not have a mobile phone in 1993. No one did, except the occasional banker or Hollywood star seeming smart, or the main character in American Psycho. In 1993, every day was “let’s get lost”. I could walk Greenwich Village for hours and not be found. But I had my close friends whom I spoke to everyday – had conversations with, not emails or texts – so I knew who I loved and who loved me. Life was more genuine and intimate. Of course, also more lonely. If I was upset and no one – no one – was at her desk or in his bedroom, I would say to my best friend’s secretary, “Let her know it’s an emergency.” Because it always was. Life was one long emergency.
In 1993 I was 25, a year of constant disaster. The only thing worse is being 26, and I turned 26 that July. Anyone that age should not wonder what is wrong, because it is a living hell. I found a boyfriend in a bar on Ludlow Street, on the Lower East Side, where a band I adored treated Mondays as a kind of bowling night with friends, and for hours would play whatever. Really whatever: the Sex Pistols, Merle Haggard, Arthur Alexander. When I met my one true love, his wife had just thrown him out, hours before. “That’s great,” I said. “You can move in with me.” And so we embarked on our first date.
I don't write because I feel like it or because I have something to say: I write because it is what I do.
In fairness to me, Chris was an amazing guitar player, the kind they only make in Texas, and was signed to the same label as Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday. I would never flatter myself by saying I was a groupie. I was nothing quite that awesome. I was just plain crazy. Chris drank Old Grand-Dad whiskey by the bottle and picked fights with the lamps in the living room. After a few months of boxing with all things illuminating, he blessedly moved on, and I cried night and day.
“I cannot believe he left me,” I sobbed to my best friend, Heather. “He was perfect.”
“I will never fall in love again,” I cried to my other best friend, Christine.
“I hate myself and I want to die,” I yelled at strangers on the subway, who looked away.
Somehow, I wrote a book and turned it in, as tears rolled by. I don’t write because I feel like it or have something to say: I write because it is what I do. I made Prozac Nation necessary reading because I write necessarily. I tell my story because it is about everyone else: in 1993, people took pills to relieve the pain just like they do now, but it scared them; it doesn’t any more, because talk is not cheap at all – it is tender. I fell in love at least 63 more times in the course of writing Prozac Nation. My heart was broken just as often. Every one-night stand I have ever had has been true love. In 1993, when only nerds consulted their computers for any reason besides work – maybe still? – the world was a place bullied by emotion.
What is the opposite of an emergency? I don't know. A party? A cruise?
All past human progress, no matter how miserable at first, has come to be beloved. To quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” If Steve Jobs had asked us what we wanted, we would have said happiness, which is not the same as iHappiness.
I am not a nostalgic person. I liked life before these innovations because I knew who mattered. They were the people I spoke to on the telephone every day, tethered to the coiled, slinky lines. Sometimes it was really annoying, like when someone would go on about some boring obsession and you could not hang up except by actually hanging up. If I’d had a choice to text them and be done with it, I would have. That is such an easy way out.
When there is no way out, when the doorjambs and window locks are stuck, we become the people we are meant to be. I am the same now as then, but all that was so difficult is instead great fun. What is the opposite of an emergency? A party? A cruise? It’s true: 45 is lovely. I had no idea this would happen to me. For reasons I cannot explain, I am very happy. And still wild.
I must’ve done something very wrong when I was young.
Elizabeth is doing a Reddit AMA on August 7th at 4pm GMT/11am EST