Geoff Rickly’s second act | Huck
But the biggest questions the book poses aren’t about drugs or addiction. As the journey unfolds and Jeff spirals deeper into himself—following the path like a needle around a record—he reaches the center and, where you would expect to find himself, finds a hole and falls into it.
“In earlier drafts, I found myself wrapping it too neatly. I tried to put the bow on things all the time. So I thought, how do I get to the end and say: okay, he’s not in hell anymore, but he’s still going to play the record and be crazy,” Rikli tells me over black coffee after reading the book in London. “There is an idea in the book that there are certain feelings that bring a person to life. And you cannot cure this sensitivity. You can try to make their habits healthier, but deep down they will be who they are.”
As much as Someone who is not me it is a journey of recovery, ultimately a philosophical exploration of what it means to be human, who we really are and what it takes to survive.
So what happened between the trip home from the clinic in Mexico and the start of writing the book. What was going on in your head? Did it take a while or did you immediately think: should I post this?
Jeff Rickly: It was probably six months before I started writing. The time in between was like I need to make sure I have a therapist, I need to make sure I go to meetings every day, I need to find a sponsor. The book paints a fairly linear picture of recovery after [the clinic], but there were times when I bought a bunch of cocaine and thought, “Maybe I could make cocaine?” And then my therapist would call and say, “No, throw it away.” So it wasn’t like, “I feel better now.” It was more like, “Maybe I can get away with this? Maybe I’ll start drinking? It took me about six months to realize that I should probably just do it the way everyone says you should do it: no more drinking, no more that, no more. And it worked.
I was lucky enough to find a sponsor who is also an artist, but fortunately not in music, so there was not much to compare careers. It was more like, “You’ll work better and you’ll do more work, you’ll get paid more, you’ll just work better.” He told me about all the terrible ideas he had while sober, you know, and let me know that you will still have bad ideas. You’re not going to suddenly become Mr-got-his-shit and you’d have nothing to write about. You will have something to write about. You are still you.
At the reading, you said that you do not consider the role of art to be moralistic. That the point of the book isn’t that “heroin is bad,” though I suppose that’s self-evident. I wanted to talk about this a little more, because I think the book treats things quite to the point. As if Jeff is napping at the table, hiding supplies from his partner, pulling a bag of heroin from a public restroom and sniffing it from the floor. And that allows his humanity and reality to shine equally. Was it hard to do? And do you think it would read quite differently, like a regular memoir?
I don’t think I could do it as a memoir, because I feel like there’s some part of the memoir that reflects and comes to some kind of conclusion, and that’s just not what I think. I really don’t know if I can make decisions and tell people about them. Even in my role as a sponsor in [12-step] program, I just carry the message that is already there. I say, “Well, that’s what the Big Book tells us, and if you call five people, you’ll get five different answers, but that’s my experience of what I’ve been through.” It’s very hard for me to say, “If you’re doing this, it’s not cool because of X, Y, and Z, you should be doing it like this.” That’s not what interests me in life.
What I love about a novel is that you can watch someone live as a human and say, okay, let’s think about it. Some of the most interesting questions for me were not about morality or health, but what is the nature of time? What is the nature of someone’s relationship with you? What is the nature of your relationship with yourself? Are drugs inherently bad? Because some of it I got pretty good, you know what I mean?
Some people are quite capable of handling [drugs] and live a normal life and I lie to everyone I know and ruin myself. There is a difference, but I think it’s entirely possible that everything I’ve done wrong in my life, I could have done without heroin. Even when sober, I find myself venting unhealthy thoughts on other things. For example, now I have to start working on another program? Will I have to work in a codependency program? Food program? There is a passage in the Big Book that says that “instinct rebels” – these are all natural feelings. You want to feel good. You don’t want to hurt anymore. It’s clear. For example, who doesn’t want to stop getting sick?
In the flashback where Jeff takes heroin for the first time, I had this huge big scene where hits, You know? Then I realized that this is not quite right. It’s just realizing how much everything hurts, and then your pain goes away. AND This strong feeling. That’s why you don’t want to give up.
I recently read Flea’s memoirs, which is great, but they’re all about his childhood and youthful experiences, and they’re filtered through his current moral lens. For example, he will tell a story about drugs or how he treated someone, and then explain that he was an asshole back then or something like that. There were many course corrections. I think it would be very easy for a book like SWIM read so, and, in my opinion, much better than it is not.
I fully understand what you mean. It’s scary to stand in front of a crowd of people and say, “I don’t think art should be moralistic,” because it’s easy for people to interpret that as “he thinks being awake is bad.” This is wrong. I really think it reduces to the human experience. You can completely delineate what you don’t want to do because you want to be a good person, but no one will admit that the world isn’t always that way, and that sometimes it’s not even good or bad – it’s just is.
Even when people try to attract me to Martin Shkreli, it is very difficult for me. If I say anything other than that he’s a monster and I hate him and he’s always been a bad guy, they’ll think I’m in politics or standing up for him. It’s true that I really saw a lot of good things before that, and when all this happened, I called him and said: “What are you doing? does? And he completely confused me. I don’t have to stand up for him. He is idiot. He could not imagine a world that did not obey his will. His sister was the office manager at Collect Records, she was so traditional and so quiet, and she said, “Do you know what Martin does? I saw him on TV and he seemed strange to me…” He is only human and he may have gone off the rails, but no one can be as simple as good or bad. Good people can do really bad things, and bad people can do really good things.