Writer Sam Lansky had an incredible 2015: He relocated from New York to LA. He was followed and then unfollowed on Twitter by Heidi Montag. He profiled Madonna, Nicki Minaj and even wrote Time Magazine’s now-iconic cover story profilng Adele’s slow-burning rise to cultural ubiquity.
2016, though, will likely trump all of that.
Last week, not even two weeks into the new year, Lansky released his memoir, The Gilded Razor, the true story of his double life as a student attending an elite New York City prep school with a penchant for pill-popping and nightlife.
Through stints at a wilderness boot camp in Utah, then a psych ward in New Orleans, Lansky was eventually able to get sober and face the life he had for so long resisted actively being present for.
Below, we chat with Lansky about the book, getting sober and, of course, Adele.
What is it like to get a response from writing that is by you/about you?
It’s really intense, gratifying and scary. I had a lot of anxiety because the book is so personal. I’ve been incredibly happy and heartened by how warm the reception has been. With material like this, it’s so easy to distill it down to its most sensational elements. In hearing from people I know and that I don’t know, they’re really responding to things besides the most salacious pieces of it.
For me, I didn’t write this book wanting it to be a pulpy memoir. My intention was to write a compelling, well told book with some literary merit. So people who are responding to the writing and the storytelling is phenomenally gratifying.
What made you want to release the book at this stage in your life and not hold the stories for a more conventional, later-in-life memoir?
Because I cleaned up my act and turned my life around when I was really young. Even though it’s crazy to be releasing a memoir at 27, having not lived that long, I’m writing about things that happened a full decade ago. It took me a while to feel like I had enough distance to tell the story in the way that I wanted to tell it, but I feel like I reached a point to look back on it, and be removed enough to do it justice.
Is there a chapter or a certain story in the book that you second guessed sharing?
I feel that way about most of the book. Anything that felt comfortable or revealing that I was scared about being exposed is the stuff I leaned into the hardest. There was a lot that was incredibly cringey to write about, but those were the things that were the most important things to write about, because you have to give up your reservations and allow yourself to be really, really vulnerable.
I did so many things that, for so many years, I felt a lot of shame about. But I think there’s something really empowering to crack open the windows and let some light into the dusty shadows of your personal history. I was genuinely afraid as I started to build a credible career as a journalist, that a people would find out where I came from and some of the things that I had done.
Having this dark history and working in spaces with high-profile people was something that I worried about sometimes. That anxiety nagged at me. But to be able to put the ugliest, darkest pieces of who I used to be out there in a public way was ultimately liberating for me.
How much of who are you now is still the same person we encounter in the book?
For me, it’s actually really binary. There’s ’then’ me and ’now’ me. Because I made this decision at 19 to abstain from drugs and alcohol, that was sort of an B.C. and A.D. effect. I remember the dates that I made those decisions, I know what happened before and what came after.
When I think about who I was then, I feel disconnected from it in terms of it being a through line in my identity. He’s definitely still in there, but I think one of the reasons that I didn’t write too much into what happened after I decided to get my shit together, is because I don’t feel like I have enough distance from the person who got sober, because I still am that person. Meanwhile, I felt much more disconnected enough from the old me, that I narrative distance.
Having this much time of your life spent sober, what are some of the things you say to LGBT people who are suffering from addiction?
The first thing I think that’s really important to say is that I’m so fortunate and benefited from so much privilege. In dealing with my addiction, I had exposure to treatment and was privileged in that I had family and friends looking out for me. It’s painful for me to think about how many people are struggling with that and don’t have access to some of the same resources that I had.
In thinking about that, I think it’s important to place addiction within the context of socioeconomic status. Other people don’t have the other experiences that I had, whereas I could pull myself out of it. I really did not know, or believe as a young gay man, that I could have a really cool life sober. After the first year or two that I quit using, I said “I have a really fulfilling life and I’m working really hard, but the fun is over.” I really would like to believe that I’m living, breathing proof that it is possible. I get to have so much fun and have really gratifying friendships and relationships and do really cool work.
And so for people out there who are struggling with substance abuse or chemical dependency, I think one of the things that keeps you trapped in that is you choose those good moments that you have drinking or getting high even when there’s an increasing amount of darkness around it. You think, “Well at least I have those few good times, and if I know that if I give this up I won’t have the good times will be over.” But they really won’t. Sobriety isn’t a charmed experience; I don’t beam positivity and light about the fact that I’m sober. In some respects, it’s challenging, but such is life.
Are there other LGBT memoirs that you have read that really affected you?
Edmund White, who wrote A Boy’s Own Story, is one of the best books about growing up and finding your sexuality that I’ve ever read. I think that it’s very strange that it has not been canonized a little bit better. When I talk to a lot of young gay people, they aren’t familiar with his work and they should be. He’s such a huge, trailblazing figure and his work really holds up and is a joy to read. I cite him frequently as one of my heroes.
I loved Ryan O’Connell’s I’m Special last summer. I thought it was hugely charming and so funny. He has a really nice way of taking things that are heavy and making them light and engaging. I have such admiration for that and wish I better at it.
Augusten Burroughs is a touchstone for a lot of people I think, as he should be. He’s a phenomenally gifted writer, and so funny. Running With Scissors and Dry were huge inspirations for me. One of the things that I’ve been talking about with people is how as the political climate changes and we’ve had so many incredible strides as a community, I think we’re going to start to see so many different kinds of stories from LGBT folks. I’m really excited to get into those and read them.
Lastly, and we can’t not ask this, what was it like to sit down with someone like Adele?
It was amazing. I put it all in the piece, I didn’t hold much back. When you talk to some people I feel like you’re searching for ways to be diplomatic or euphemistic about how wonderful they are, but that’s not the case with someone like Adele who is such a genuine delight as a person.
Purchase your copy of Sam Lansky’s The Gilded Razor here.