Today I chat with our man A.J. Daulerio of The Small Bow – the addiction and recovery focused newsletter that I love to read and not use to change anything necessary about my own life – about how tough the holidays can be for people with drinking problems and other disorders.
It's about family he said. "Either too much of it, or too little. Resentments become unavoidable and more urgent. Couple that with a looming new year, one that may be full of dramatic changes in how substances are used, and it can quickly become overwhelming."
He also tells me his top 5 Soundgarden songs.
Then down below I catch up with journalist and friend of the newsletter Eoin Higgins to talk about the book he's working on about tech billionaires "disrupting" the media and the ostensibly left wing pundits and writers who have followed them toward the right. We also talk about Biden chunking it and why Twitter is sadly still the place to be for news and he tells me his top 5 Jane's Addiction songs. You'll have to be a paid subscriber to read that talk.
"The fact that we're already doing the vote scolding thing eleven months out? That's not good," Higgins said. "First of all it just doesn’t work. But second of all, if that's all that you have to try to get people… These are people who are gettable voters who are wavering. These are people who are in your coalition who are telling you that they are rejecting your message. That should be a klaxon in the White House. But they don't seem to care."
Before that let me just complain about the news real quick.
I made the mistake a couple of times this week of getting into it with Blue MAGA types online about how badly Biden is fucking this all up. Signing off every day on the furtherance of the genocide of Palestinians yes but also everything else domestically.
I'm not sure why I would do that to myself either. Perhaps a lifetime of deeply entrenched Catholic guilt that tells me I do not deserve anything good.
Then after I went to all that pointless posting effort Chuck Schumer came right out and made my entire case for me. When asked about Trump's recent comments that immigrants are "poisoning the blood" of America – something even a number of Republicans (lying) felt the need to go "come on man" about – Schumer had this to say:
In other words yes Trump is Hitler 2 but you have to admit he does make some good points.
Ladies and gentlemen... The Democrats.
Even now many in the polite and respectable world of politics and law and media are saying that the decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to strike Trump from the state's ballot – citing the 14th amendment's insurrection clause – is a bridge too far. Evidence of anti-democratic behavior from the Democrats. Despite the very obvious insurrection he tried to foment.
Now look we all fucking hate Donald Fucking Trump the first bad president. But what I want to know and what I have been saying this entire time is if he's as bad as we all know he is then shouldn't Democrats be going to extraordinary lengths to stop him from regaining power? Not just kind of shrugging and going ah well we're not as bad as him.
Here's this post I just read that I think gets to the point:
"I've got news for you: if Trump is New Hitler, and let's be honest, he does say some things that, you know, hint that this is a possibility, then availing oneself of a novel constitutional argument in the courts is pretty far down on the list of 'permissible and necessary moral acts.'"
This is from a couple weeks ago but I want to reiterate it. Is this an existential crisis for democracy or not? Why aren't Biden and the Democrats doing more? Not just to stymie Trump but to materially help people and therefore help themselves? Are they bullshitting us about this extreme threat to democracy itself in America or are they just that dead set against doing things that would galvanize an untapped potential voter base because they would rather lose than give an inch to the left?
So many of the people who I have been arguing with say shit like well uh Biden respects the law and Trump doesn't and that's why he's better. Who gives a shit about playing by the rules! If Trump is Hitler 2 and his election represents the end of American democracy you won’t even fight tooth and nail – or even dirty – to prevent that? For what? Decorum? Ok good luck man! Good luck to us all.
Here's what I said the other day:
Is the president an all powerful figure who can do whatever he wants as in the hypothetical second Trump term or is he just a little guy who is trying his best but everything is really hard like Democrats say when Biden is president?
This way shit works has always been Republicans will break the rules to gain and wield power and the Democrats answer is: And that is why we have to follow the rules even harder!
Meanwhile Biden simply will not get off his ass to save one single Palestinian life. Here's Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday:
And what is striking to me is that even as, again, we hear many countries urging the end to this conflict, which we would all like to see, I hear virtually no one saying – demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender. This is over tomorrow if Hamas does that. This would have been over a month ago, six weeks ago, if Hamas had done that. And how could it – how can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim.
So it would be good if there was a strong international voice pressing Hamas to do what’s necessary to end this. And again, that could be tomorrow.
Probably shouldn't say what I think about Blinken in here.
As cynical as I have been about this I did think that there would come a number of dead where Biden would say alright Jack that's enough. Maybe there really isn't such a number after all.
I really do not understand why everyone in the Israeli leadership and media can go online or on TV every day and say yes our goal is to crush the bugs and seize their land and we all have to pretend in the U.S. that this is anything besides genocide?
Look at this shit from one of the IDF's main e-girl influencer thirst trap monsters. (Yes those exist. They actually have a lot of those.)
"They don't even deserve it fr [crying eyes]"
Abrupt Marc Maron podcast ad read tone change: I'll tell you something everyone does deserve though and that's my book! (30% off right now!) Please do not let your child or dog read it they'll catch existential dread.
You also should listen to this new Eve 6 cover of Len's Steal My Sunshine. It is sincerely so much fun. You might call me a Max-ist Len-inist. (Sorry).
Ok here's me and A.J. from The Small Bow. I wrote for his site about my whole deal here not too long ago.
And here is the link to all The Small Bow meetings including the new ones running over the holidays through January 6.
You mentioned something to me the other day about how the holidays are tough for people in recovery. Talk a little bit about that, because that is something you hear a lot. What is it about this time of year that makes things more difficult for so many people?
Family. Either too much of it, or too little. Resentments become unavoidable and more urgent. Couple that with a looming new year, one that may be full of dramatic changes in how substances are used, and it can quickly become overwhelming.
Both my family and my in-laws have plenty of alcoholism going on, but at my own family’s Christmas it’s more fraught a bit, probably because of the mix of politics and drinking, whereas at my in-laws it’s much more peaceful, usually, because no one is holiday drinking.
I suppose holidays also are about gluttony in a way in America, be it food or drink.
It’s about gluttony every day in America. But for me – and other fellow drink/drug/bad-brain sufferers – the emotional torment is extreme. During the holidays my mind races more, I’m filled with more regrets and memories of me being rotten to people, and I’m also lonelier. Even with a houseful of kids and dogs and a wife who thinks I’m pretty awesome, I still get lonely during the holidays because I feel isolated away from other friends and family.
You wanted to get the word out a bit more about your meetings for people who might be going through that sort of thing right now? What are the meetings all about?
They’re essentially a support group, but not just for alcoholics or drug addicts. And they’re not a 12-step group, although we do say in the preamble we “rip off most of their format,” simply because they last an hour and people share. We’ve got one or two available every day of the week through December and the first week in January.
I didn’t start the meetings as a replacement for AA – I’m very active in AA and Al-Anon and those programs help me immeasurably – but I also recognize that some people are unwilling to step into those rooms for whatever reason. Plus, we allow the space to cover every type of struggle, including food, sex, debt, family stuff, parenting stuff. “Whatever is bringing you down” is what we say. Usually 10-20 people are in the meetings, depending on the day. People can either spill their guts and tears or keep their cameras off the whole time. I sometimes show up to those meetings just to lurk and listen, so it’s acceptable to do that.
What sorts of things do you notice about how people with different issues relate to one another or support one another or have different insights to offer one another?
There is always someone who comes into the room who feels unqualified for whatever reason, like their trauma isn’t severe enough to actually participate in this sort of thing. Mostly they feel guilty about calling whatever it is that’s broken inside them “trauma.” That’s totally normal and I still get in my own head about it. Like, am I faking this pain and confusion for attention? Am I just a total weak-minded fool who can’t handle shit? (This type of insecurity makes a perfect qualification for our meeting btw.)
That’s a big thing right? I do it too. Well I’m not as bad as that guy, so I’m not that bad… Or else it night be, well, I’m not as bad as that guy, so I am less qualified to share my pain….
Oh man this times a million. Even with all my healthy behaviors and therapy, I’m going to always find a way to make myself feel unworthy or unlovable. My therapist is a wonderful 75-year-old man who loves to interrupt me when I get this way just to say, “You’re allowed to heal.”
I just completed this therapy group for men with eating disorders, which is a pretty rare thing to find. I gather it took my therapists some doing to organize. Maybe you do this too, but I couldn’t help but be a journalist the entire time. Well not the entire time, I was also engaging as a person with my issues and trying to be a good member of the group, but I just found it so fascinating that there were so many different genres and flavors of the condition. Twenty something to seventy somethings guys, some problematic binge eaters who were still skinny and hated themselves, some who were fat and hated themselves about it, some of various ages who have my thing, the exercise compulsion and overeating and that whole cycle. My point I guess is related to what I asked about your group, in that it sort of enabled a lot of the guys to empathize with people with wildly divergent circumstances that all go back to a similar kind of root cause.
Similar vibe. We lean very heavily into the cross-talk format, which allows everyone there to comment directly on someone else’s share. All the regulars go out of their way to carry the newest person, the shyest person, and not make them feel dumb or left out, especially if they’re having a truly awful day – a fresh relapse, a divorce, a health scare, job loss. I just encourage everyone suffering from some across-the-board inadequacy to give our meeting a shot – maybe it’ll help make more sense for you. We welcome your biggest messes.
You just shared your most popular story of the year. It was the one about you entering a jiu-jitsu tournament. You were surprised that was the one people liked the most?
Yes, completely surprised. Considering how relatable that death-of-parent experience is to so many people, I thought the essays I wrote about my father would be at the top. They were still fairly popular but this BJJ thing had the most (please forgive me) engagement. *Smashes face through glass window*
I told you this a while ago but your dead dad stuff was very moving.
Thank you. I genuinely feel like by writing about it as openly as I did I managed to get that elusive peace that I’ve heard so much about. The hype is real!
You’ve been doing the newsletter for a few years now, and we talk about this on the side from time to time, but do you think you’ve figured it out yet, because I don’t think I have. I have no idea what these people want.
Substack makes it easy to figure it out. As much as I complain about them and get spooked by their culture and its inevitable transformation into a Medium-esque platform, it’s the only place where I can make a decent living doing this newsletter. I had TSB on Patreon, MailChimp, and Squarespace, but the audience plateaued, and I had to make the leap. So here’s what I’ve figured out: I need other creative outlets besides my Substack. I don’t need to be obsessive about growth or playing on Notes or check marks: I can just stick to my publishing schedule (3 posts per week) and the audience will grow. But I also have an escape hatch in place in case Substack becomes more of a headache than it's worth.
If only Substack didn’t have all those Nazis.
Well, yes. I also hate to feel the pressure to write something formally declaring “I am against Nazis writing newsletters!” But, for the record and exclusively for Hell World, I wish all the Nazis were dead. Very polarizing, I know.
This newsletter era is different from the golden era blogging days right? I felt like back then we sort of knew what we were doing.
I guess it depends on what you consider the golden era. I would say between 2000 and 2009 I was more focused on having people I admired like my work. I think I’m finally over trying to win the online popularity contest. Blackbird Spyplane will never give a shit about what I’m doing, and I’m okay with that.
I don’t even know what that is.
Well, now, I just want to become a better writer. I’m much more focused on technique and style than ever before.
I think you read my talk with David Roth the other day. What do you think about what’s become of the state of the media, so to speak, like he and I were talking about?
I know now is supposed to be uniquely terrible, but I feel like it’s always been this way. Every year I’ve worked in media, I’ve had friends and colleagues laid off. Every year there has been a beloved publication that went away or was eaten alive by some money-hungry death star that cares more about profits than art. The only way to achieve some (temporary) stability might be to build your own thing.
I’ve asked you to chime in on all of the Top 5 Songs series, but you didn’t like any of the bands enough. If I was going to do the one that lights you up with excitement, what band would it be, and what are the 5?
2. Slaves and Bulldozers
3. My Wave
4. No Attention
5. Big Dumb Sex
I am so fucking stoked. I’m listening to Outshined right now. I'm doing pushups and my luxurious hair is falling in my face.
Ok here's mine off the dome.
2. Fell On Black Days
3. Birth Ritual
4. Jesus Christ Pose
5. Rusty Cage (Black Hole Sun really though)
I'm thinking about the lyrics to Jesus Christ Post right now. Guess I should probably share this piece I wrote when Chris died.
Now here's me and Eoin Higgins bullshitting about the news.
Subscribe to keep reading. Otherwise see you later buddy.