For most of us, when our lives seem to be in a rut -- unchallenging job, passion-free relationship -- the suggestion to pick up a hobby is an innocuous enough way to shake up our routines. For Jessica Dorfman Jones, however, a friend’s offhand suggestion she take a few guitar lessons would turn her life upside down. On the cusp of thirty, Jones was happily, if unexcitingly, married to her college boyfriend, gainfully employed at an Internet company, and living the life of an Upper East Side good girl when a guitarist she calls Gideon rang her doorbell, guitar in hand, for their first lesson. Faster than you can change an errant string, Jones was sneaking around with Gideon, lying to her husband, and embracing her alter-ego as a leather pants-wearing, cocaine snorting, all-night-partying bad girl. In her new memoir, “Klonopin Lunch,” she writes about her lost years of drugs, sex, rock, and adultery.
While you were going through this period in your life, did you have any sense it would make a book someday?
No. I don’t think I had much sense that anything was happening other than getting from moment one to moment two.
So at what point did you decide to write a memoir?
About ten minutes after it was really over. I got my own place, I broke up with the boyfriend in question. A month or two later I started writing notes, and I knew what I was writing would someday be something, but it was so raw and angry and nutsy it wasn’t suitable for anything public. That was nine years ago. Then my first book (“The Art of Cheating”) came out in 2007. I had a wonderful agent team up with me, and we were talking about subsequent projects, and I’d always known I wanted to write about this. He said, "You’re not ready. This is such an emotional project." I thought, "I hear him, but I’m going to try anyway," so I wrote something and sent it to him. I felt raw enough to know I had told the truth.
Were you nervous about telling this story?
My primary emotion was relief at getting it out. For me, memoir is a catharsis, you have some sort of demon you have to exorcise. After the final corrected second pass went to the publisher, that’s when I got under the bed and stayed there for three days and thought, "Oh my God, what am I going to do."
There have been strong positive and negative reactions to the book. Have any reactions surprised you?
I always knew that the book would be polarizing. I had a wonderful assistant when I was writing who was one of my readers and she loved it. She said, "This is going to get a lot of attention. It’s going to be a love it or hate it." I realized she was right, and that another of my missions for my book is to talk about things that exist that people don’t talk about. To have an open conversation about women’s sexuality is important. One of the things I found out in writing my first book was that women have affairs as frequently as men do, and no women were writing books about their affairs. I’m in my early forties; a lot of people are getting divorced, and having affairs, and no one is talking about it, not even to their girlfriends. Back to your question, people who love it really get that it’s not a book about "Look at what a bad girl I am!" It’s about what happens when you don’t make the right life choices. People who don’t get it are derailed by the medium, which is, I had an affair and I did drugs. Of course it hurts, because people aren’t responding to the book, they’re responding to me, as a human being. I try to remember I wrote this to start a conversation, and that’s what a conversation is. A lot of women have come to me privately to say they had the exact same experience.
What advice do you give them? Is it the same as the advice you’d give your younger self?
I would say to a young woman, don’t get married until you really know who you are. I feel like, once they hit thirty, women start to understand who they are and are able to look at their foibles and strengths. And if you are in the situation I was in, don’t hurt other people -- have the mettle to say, "I need a time out. This isn’t working for me." Sublimating who you are will kill you, so better to get it out while you’re a free agent. I don’t regret what I did, because I am a happier person in the long run. I have the great fortune that my ex-husband is still my best friend. We were in a bad marriage. He’s in a great marriage now. We both wound up with better lives. We’re lucky.
One book this really reminded me of was “Cleaving,” by Julie Powell, who also wrote “Julie and Julia.” She got some pretty scathing reviews for writing about an affair she had. Do you think women are judged more harshly for writing about affairs than men are?
Absolutely. Men having affairs is part of the ongoing conversation about what is male sexuality. Is it an affair if its online, if it’s porn, all of that has been discussed to death. So I don’t think any book about a man having affair is going to ruffle feathers. I mean, think about “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s not really about sex, it’s not that titillating, but it has allowed women who would not normally speak to one another about sex to do so. It’s created a national book club. It starts this conversation about what real sex is. If that book is so incendiary it has women falling out of their chairs and covering the cover, and I wrote a book about enjoying sex, and yes, there is a sodomy scene, and a real power struggle, and still I didn’t regret it, still I had moments of enjoying it. How could that not be challenging to that society?