Writer and comedian Sara Benincasa is getting by with a little help from her friends (podcast + transcript)

Episode number 3 of the podcast pairs Parker with her friend Sara to chat about creativity and mental health.

  
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Parker Molloy: So, I was on your podcast, Well, This Isn't Normal, back in April of last year. And I think at the time I was still under this impression that this was all going to be somewhat temporary, in terms of pandemic-related stuff, that by the fall things would return to a sense of normalcy. And now more than a year later, it seems like we're just starting to get back to whatever normal is. So, I know that the pandemic hasn't exactly helped my mental health, but I'm doing my best to power through. It was wondering, how are you holding up these days?

Sara Benincasa: I am doing pretty well, but so much of that is not of my own doing. It's of my own doing in the sense that I've gotten help, I've asked for help and gotten help. But what I mean by that, is that it's not internally generated. I haven't done it all on my own. I am a member of a 12 step program, and I am a person who goes to therapy every week, talk therapy with somebody who specializes in addiction, and also does a lot of stuff with mindfulness, she's also a mindfulness meditation teacher. And then I see a psychiatrist once a month. And all of this happens online, although I did go to an in-person 12 step meeting, which was very cool. For the first time in a long time, that was very special to get to do that.

But I've also got family and friends who are engaged in their own self work, whether it's through the work of sobriety, through the work of talk therapy, through fitness for their mental health, whatever, and obviously physical health, too, whatever it may be. I've just started doing pilates, which is very helpful with breathing and just being in my body, which for a lot of people, I know it's hard if you were... Either if you're dealing with some difficult memories of trauma that caused you to disengage from being in the physical body, or if you simply are somebody who mostly has gotten positive feedback from stuff you do with your brain, which your body is your brain too, but you know what I mean. If you got all your pats, and love, and approval from say, getting good grades, maybe the physical aspect of health was not emphasized, or whatever. So what I'm saying is through teachers, facilitators, mentors, sponsors, things like that, that it is a village of humans who help me stay on point. But I also, Parker, cannot believe that was April of last year.

That's the thing, I had to look it up, and I was like, oh no. It has been so long, it's been a year and three months, I guess. So, time flies when you're living through a once-in-a-generation pandemic, I guess.

Time is different now. Time is absolutely, there's somebody who I met in person after talking to them for four months, and it was the first time we hung out, or maybe the second time we hung out. People said, "Oh, how long have you known each other?" And we said, "Oh, this is just our second time hanging out." And then we said, "Oh, but we talked to each other for four months online. We became friends," and then it made sense. And other people shared stories of the same. Emotional time is different from chronological, calendar time, isn't it?

Yeah, that's an interesting way to think about it. Because yeah, I'm trying to rework pre-internet days, or where I would make friends in the physical space, where it would be like, yeah, you hang out with someone once a week and then over the course of several months, yeah, you get to know them. But online, you could talk to someone every single day. It's almost like you have a coworker sort of relationship, it's like oh, going into the office today, and by the office I mean Twitter.

Yeah. And you have these almost old-fashioned, Victorian era, or pre-invention of the telephone, epistolary relationships. Like it's all going to be in a Ken Burns documentary in a sepia filter, but it's over emails and texts instead. So much of it is through words, where we don't get the visual cue. Right now, you and I are using video, which is great because I can see your visual cues and the movement of your face. But there are still some pieces of information that we could only pick up from each other by being in person. I don't know, like if there's a loud sound. To me, it's not going to sound the same as it does if I were in the room with you, and I could see how you react to that.

And I wouldn't intellectually be parsing that, but I would notice, oh, okay. That sound really startled Parker, maybe Parker really just doesn't like that kind of sound. Or maybe it would startle me too, like oh yeah, a bomb exploded down the block, nobody was hurt, in this theoretical example. I'm just pulling real-world experiences from shit the LAPD did recently, like blowing up a bunch of fireworks and horribly damaging things. But you know what I mean? There's some things, like what if I smell really bad to you? You don't know that right now, you could just think I'm great. And then in person you could be like, this is terrifying.

Be like, “oh my God, I can't believe I've been friends with her. She smells so bad, I'm so embarrassed.”

“I invited her to my wedding, or the baptism of my eighth child” or something. Or I told my family, "You're going to love her so much," and she smelled terrible.

“She's so great, and I bet she smells nice.” That was a weird assumption to make.

It is true though for dating, people have said to me multiple times, you have to see if you guys like the way the other person smells. Which I think that's so gross to say it like that, but I also think it's very true.

Yeah, that's probably true. Because if someone or something smells, that kind of throws off the entire vibe.

Yeah, and pheromones too. I think it might not even be... I might have a perfectly nice perfume or whatever, but there is something chemical that happens that we know about, where people just pick up on cues about each other, and you fit or you don't. And I think that can sort of, it's chemistry. You don't know if you have chemistry, chemistry of friendship, chemistry of romance. I have a friend with whom I have great creative chemistry, it's not a sexual chemistry. Although sexual chemistry is creative, but we get excited about pitching ideas back and forth. And it's fun, and it feels like, kids playing in a sandbox is what it feels like. Very pure delight.

And on that note, in terms of pitching ideas and stuff, what have you been working on? You're always working on something cool and different, and it's, oh, she's comedy, writer, on Twitter, and writing books and stuff like that. What have you been up to lately?

Thank you.

Any cool professional things, or just kind of-

Well, I did my buddy Chris Gethard's podcast, which is called New Jersey Is The World. And Chris was saying... First of all, I wish I had Chris's career. Chris's career is above and beyond what I have done in my opinion creatively, which I know we're not supposed to compare, but I'm just prefacing this. Chris said in the podcast, he was like, "I feel like you are a person who has a career that's really similar to mine, in that people are like, 'Are you a writer, a comedian, you act once in while? What do you do?'" We both are very, I think he would probably agree that we are very fortunate to have gotten to have careers like the respective ones that we've had.

And Chris is an incredible performer. I am much more of a writer, but I do enjoy performing once in a while. I have a day job, one of my books is called Real Artists Have Day Jobs. So I work in nonprofit digital marketing, which is really fun. And as a sober person, oh my God, what a change. It helped influence me to get sober, just because oh, suddenly my job wasn't showing up to make jokes at 10:00 PM in a club, And then getting wasted and getting paid with booze. It was like, oh, your job is to be on the phone at a very specific time of day, and figure out how to help out people in a certain way that they really need. That's real important. The nighttime stuff is cool too, but if you're hung over at 7:00 AM on that call, that call's not going to go great, and people will suffer. The people we serve through the nonprofit will suffer.

So, that was one of the... I still didn't get sober for another year and a half, but it was one of the things that made me go, maybe puking and having hangover diarrhea is not the best move, when I'm having a pretty important phone call. So that was very helpful. But also, a paycheck is great and health insurance. And also I find a lot of meaning in that work. And then I wrote on a couple of episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is super fun and exciting. Just joke, joke, joke, joke, joke, pitching. Like, oh wow, just being on Zoom for hours with 10 hilarious people, just pitching jokes for robot puppets and a human to say, so that was super duper fun.

And juggling that with a day job was obviously something else. But there is a benefit to being based on the East coast when you're interested in Hollywood type stuff, which is that if you can do it remotely, if you've got a normal times job on the East coast, chances are you can do your West coast work after hours. You know what I mean? Because of the time difference, sometimes it works out.

Yeah, sure. And see, then there's me in the middle in the Central time zone.

You're in the middle.

I'm just in the middle of everything. I'm close to nothing, but not too far from anything, if that makes any sense. It's like I can actually out West for two hours.

Yes, it's perfect And Gethard and I were talking about this on his podcast, New Jersey Is The World, on this most recent episode. Which I don't know when this podcast episode will come out, but this episode of his podcast dropped in, I guess July 17th, something like that, 2021. Anyway, we were talking about things that are Jersey-ish, because we're both from New Jersey and so are the other hosts, Mike and Nick on the show. And I said, Chicago is not the New Jersey of the Midwest. It's like the Manhattan, or the Paris, or the something. But there is an affinity that I often feel for people, this goes from Minneapolis too, but it's more for Chicago, because I think people from Chicago, or who have spent a significant amount of time there, tend to have a little more directness. They still have Midwest nice, but it's not Minnesota nice. You know what I mean?

Yeah, that makes sense.

It's a little more direct. And for whatever reason, I just tend to vibe with people who are from Chicagoland area or have spent a significant chunk of adult time there. They don't have to live there. And Chris was saying the same, and the other guys on the podcast seem to agree. I don't know what it is, there's something down to earth maybe? I don't know.

Yeah. I think a lot of it comes down to this not being New York, but still being a big city, that kind of attitude. Where it's just like, yeah, Chicago, it's gigantic and there are a few million people here, but we're not the big city that everyone talks about all the time. We don't appear in Marvel movies. That's how I judge things.

We don't get all of the attention that the other guys get, so we get to develop our own thing. Not in contrast to what is considered the standard, but in and of ourselves. And Jersey obviously is so much closer to New York, so Jersey is always the weird stepbrother to Philly, and then the definitely not as cool at all younger sibling to New York City somehow, like the forgotten one. And so, Jersey is full of people who have something to prove all the time, but then also are just really happy to be from Jersey. When where you're from gets shit on a lot, you probably defensively get some pride around it. But also Jersey, it's the most densely populated state, it is the third smallest state, it is so diverse. So diverse, so many languages, so many countries of origin, so many different areas.

Also, it's a blue state, but I grew up in a very red pocket. So, there are parts of Jersey that are extraordinarily progressive and parts of Jersey that are super, super conservative. And then you've got everything in between, although the state as a whole tends to vote Democrat. In general elections anyway, for the presidency.

Yeah. And it's kind of the same here in Illinois. I grew up in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago, in an area that was super red, but it's like you go an hour North to Chicago and suddenly everything is super blue. It's just a total flip. But I like it here, so I've lived here my whole life, and my big reason for staying in the Midwest has always been, well, if climate change destroys the coasts, we will be kings.

I think you're correct. I think that's what's going to happen. I think it's a hundred percent correct. I think California's worse, but New York's going to have its issues.

Yeah. And then I read a New York Times article recently that was like, "Oh yeah, B-T-dubs, Lake Michigan is going to destroy Chicago," and I'm like, God dammit. My plans fall out the window. I guess I have to care about this stuff.

Yeah. If you're near water, you're fucked, but if you're not near water you're also fucked. Part of my decision, I bought a place in Brooklyn, and part of my decision to do that, first of all had to do with the fact that I absolutely... There was no other time in my life where it would have been possible based on mortgage rates, and based on what homes were going for, also based on the fact that I have been sober for a few years now, so I started to make better decisions and undo some long-term damage and stuff. So I bought a tiny, tiny place compared to what somebody, honestly, from Chicago would be like, "Are you kidding?" And to me I'm like, it's a palace. I can reach out my hands on either side. This is glorious, and the person I bought it from-

“I can twirl!”

Yeah. And I think, I'm not sure, I don't want to speak for him, but I'm pretty sure the person I purchased from probably went to their other house, or their other, other house, or their other, other, other house. I don't know if this place was a rounding error, but they took an offer that was a lot lower than they needed to, and I'm very glad about that. But anyway, so I bought a place in part because fire season last year was so horrible, this year it's on track to be even worse. Between that, and having been so far from my family for a while, and a desire to see my nephews grow up, and to be closer to my family as my parents get older. I know that this place could very well be underwater, literally underwater, in 10 years. But it's probably not going to be on fire, knock on wood, at least from a wildfire. It could be on fire from something else.

But I'm not somebody who's like, "Fuck, get out of California. Everything else is better." But it was just like, all right, I love LA very, very much, but I'm waking up coughing and with my eyes swollen all the time, three months out of the year now, and I just don't like that. And my air filter is really good, but there's only so much it can do. So why don't I go home, buy a place that when I tell friends from other parts of the country what it costs, they have a heart attack, but when I tell other people in New York what it costs, they're like, "Oh my God, you're so lucky." Go into fucking real long-term debt, more debt than I've ever been in, but have something that, God forbid I expire prematurely, I can leave it to my nephews. Or if I expire right on time, I can leave it to my nephews.

And that was a real long discussion, I'm babbling a lot. But honestly, if I had tried to buy this place even a month later, I couldn't have done it. Because by then the mortgage rates were going up, and the housing values in this area were going up. I mean, New York lost one percent, not through death from COVID, they lost a lot of people death from COVID. But in the early months of the pandemic, they lost one percent of the population of people moving. And I don't even know how many more people left after. So, I feel very grateful, very fortunate, but also probably we should all move to Indiana.

Indiana.

I know that's an insane thing to say to somebody from Chicago.

It is.

Indiana is the New Jersey of Chicago.

That is either being way too mean to New Jersey or way too kind to Indiana. One of those two, probably a little of both. But yeah, similarly Kayla and I just moved to a new place in Chicago. Our rent kept going up, and up, and up, and we got to that point where we were like, a mortgage is cheaper.

Did you buy a place?

We did!

Don't tell me how much, because you wouldn't anyway, but how many square feet is it? So I can kill myself. Not really kill myself, jokes about suicide are not usually okay. I'm sorry.

It's fine. I think it's like... It's pretty small, it's like 1,500 square feet. [Edit: looked it up after the podcast, and I overestimated. -pm]

Excuse me, my place is 523 square feet.

Are you kidding me? How, how?

I am serious, 1,500 square feet! I'm screaming at the cat, the cat is asleep and doesn't care. God bless, that is so cool, oh my God.

It's so exciting. We just moved in, what was it, like two weeks ago? We just moved into this new place two weeks ago, and it's so great. We're still getting unpacked, as you can see. This is my office, I have an office.

You have an office? That's so amazing, I'm so happy for you guys. And you're in the city of Chicago?

In the city.

What an investment. That's awesome.

It's kind of funny. It's in the city, but it's like way on the edge. It's like, oh cool, we have a Chicago mailing address and Chicago taxes.

Yay. Still counts as Chicago.

But when it comes to getting to anywhere in the city that is fun, it is not exactly an easy trip. But yeah, so we did that. And then I also just, was it in June? I left my full-time job.

Wow.

I've just been floating around.

Bought a place, left the full-time job, living the dream. Not in a coastal city that either just had wild floods in some of the subways, or is on fire a lot of the year. You're making good choices.

I hope so. We'll see.

Look, if we're going to be indoors a lot of the time, which we still are sometimes where we want to have... Well, in Chicago first of all, of course you're going to be indoors. You will freeze for part of the year if you're outdoors.

If you're fortunate enough to, through various circumstances, be able to have a place, whether you're renting it or purchasing it, and my mortgage is considerably less than what I would pay in rent on this place, which is nuts. And if you're in a position where that happens, and you can make that happen, or people help you, or however it happens. For anybody who's listening, however it happens, feel blessed and happy about it. And don't do what I did, which is feel guilty that you were able to do a nice thing for yourself, and then potentially your family in the midst of a terrible thing. Because you know what people really hate? I think what people hate more than somebody celebrating their privilege, is people being like, "I feel so bad. I'm so lucky, I feel so bad." That's the most obnoxious thing you can do as a human.

Well, also when you remember that 20 years ago, houses were super, super cheap. So even if you got a great deal today, it's still not as good as it used to be. So, there is that.

Even buying this place from somebody who I think had three other houses, I don't know. But if he's listening, sir, I don't know if you have three other houses. But even though this person did very well for themself, chose a career where people make lots of money, a.k.a. not a writer, and just unloaded this place for, if you adjust, not much more than they bought it for many, many years ago... I was going somewhere with that. What I will say, is that my family is like, "Wait, that's what you got?" They like it, they're like, "Oh, it's so lovely," but I can feel them trying not to say like, "This is like you got a..." There's midweek hotel suites in Vegas that are three times the size of this, probably.

But it's also not just about that. It's like, are you in a place where you feel comfortable? I feel, one reason I wanted to move back to Brooklyn, I've lived in Brooklyn a few times over the past 15 years, and one of the reasons I wanted to move back was that I wanted to live in a neighborhood where when I go on the street, I see everybody from babies to grandmas. If it's a neighborhood where there are people starting families and where there are elders, where there are new people, where there are old people, people from... That sounds funny, it sounds like I'm saying young people are new people. But where you've got families that have been there for generations, you've got people who are starting families new there. I like that, where there's people putting time and energy into the community, that is a community that I would like to contribute to long-term.

Yeah, definitely. That makes total sense. I'm happy with how things are, and I think we're in similar situations as far as our housing setups are.

Yeah, we don't have the Delta variant yet, that we know of.

Fingers crossed.

Fingers crossed, knock on wood. It's really, and I know it's hitting the people who are hospitalized and dying from it are un-vaccinated overwhelmingly. I also know that some people who are vaccinated can get it, but they're suffering much, much less. And I feel fortunate that we're vaccinated, and I'm assuming both of us are vaxxed up?

Yeah, yeah. Oh, definitely. As soon as that was a possibility for me, I was running to the Walgreens to get it.

Jersey made it so easy. They were like, "Oh, do you smoke? Have you smoked?" Jersey was like, they made it the regulations so simple. The BMI is fucked up, it is grounded in not just fat shaming and fatphobia, but in racism and classism and so many different things. It doesn't make sense, it's not scientific, it's stupid. The one time I think anybody I know has benefited from the BMI's dumb ass existing, was that we all were like, "Oh, really? You ate a hamburger once? Time to go get that Rona shot." I was like, fuck it. Let's go. We were like, whatever we need to use as our quote unquote, excuse or reason. You looked at a cigarette once, come on, just go get it. And it makes life better. If you haven't gotten vaxxed up yet and you can, please go get that shit. I'm sure most of the people who listen to this podcast have, but if you can, go get it.

Do it, just do it.” It's so funny to think about just a few months back, you'd see people constantly being like, "Oh, someone jumped in line, and they got a shot before they were supposed to." And now, you can't really give them away. You're like, please, please go get vaccinated. It's for your sake, and for all of our sakes. Because yeah, there's the Delta variant now, but then-

There will be other shit.

If this shit's bouncing around, what if there's a really scary one down the line that the unvaccinated help create? So, don't be part of the problem. Be part of the solution.

My brother is in school, he used to be a nurse, he's in school to get his master's in public health. And I want to find, I'm going into the family group chat to find something he said, because I shared what's happening in Los Angeles County right now, which is really, really bad, with my family. Which is, "LA county hits 10,000 coronavirus cases in a week," this is from the LA Times newsletter. "LA county is now recording more than 10,000 coronavirus cases a week, a pace not seen since March, 2021, an alarming sign of the dangers the Delta variant poses to people who have not been vaccinated." Dot, dot, dot, "LA Times data analysis found LA County was recording 101 weekly coronavirus cases for every 100,000 residents, up from 12 per 100,000 residents for the same seven day period ending June 15th."

So, that's pretty bananas. So I shared that with my family, and my brother who's in school getting his master's in public health, said, "Shows how contagious new virus variant is. The so-called Spanish flu went away because of herd immunity, and it weakened. This thing isn't getting more deadly, but it isn't weakening. Only more transmissible. Mask life forever."

Well, because in LA they re-implemented the mask mandate, right?

They did. And my friend Alex Winter, who's a documentarian and he's an actor, he posted something on Twitter where he was like, basically, I'm paraphrasing. He said, "The only person who's happy that we're working from home again," and it was his cat, his family's cat. Because I know he has a documentary filmmaking company, and they were able to be in the office, and that's really cool for a little while. And my buddy Sam out in Colorado was like, I forget what he does but it's like a tech, web thing. He's like, "Well, we got a full week back in the office before somebody tested positive. So, now we're back at home again.”

It's so frustrating. Because at this point, at this point, so much of it is preventable. It's like, we can choose, if we collectively choose to not have it be this way, to not let the virus run free, we could get rid of it. But I guess we're all just doing the best we can, which is how I try to, in my mind, keep from having a rage blackout, thinking about people who make selfish decisions. It's like, well, they're trying the best they can.

Yeah. When I think about people who are... I have a friend who is Latinx, was like, "Sara, it's not just," I was ragging on white, con spirituality people, people who think crystals will heal it, or people who are obviously super right wing or whatever. And this friend who's Latino was like, "Listen, it's not just that. There's hesitancy in the Latinx and Black communities." And I was like, "I fully get that, of course I understand. As a white lady, it's a lot..." I didn't say it in so many words, but I was basically like, "I can hold space and understanding for communities that have been directly impacted by medical racism, by experimentation, by the US government, by being treated like shit at the doctor's office for a lot of different reasons."

And I'm not trying to be a condescending, white liberal or whatever. I'm just saying like, if you have people in a room and I'm like, "Eat this peanut butter sandwich," and one person's like, "Somebody forced fed my grandma a peanut butter sandwich and traumatized her forever," and somebody else was like, "Every time I go to the peanut butter store, somebody tells me I'm stupid," and then another person was like, "Oh yeah, peanut butter has never done anything wrong to me. I'm going to eat that sandwich." I'm looking at the person eating the peanut butter sandwich and going, "Yeah, that's cool." And if their cousin is like, "I won't eat it, it's full of poison." I'll be like, "What? Fuck you." Basically just white people being like, "Whatever, man. If we just all breathed..." Shut up, get out of here. Jesus is not going to help you with this.

And that's what gets me, it's like if there was some... Because I understand not wanting to be the first people to get-

Correct, I got that a hundred percent. See how it plays out over six months with these other people.

That's the thing when it was like, oh, well here's phase one, phase whatever, and the vaccines. I'm like, well, I don't qualify yet, but that's not bad. That's okay, I'll just kind of watch. And then a couple months passed or whatever, and I was able to get it, and that was great. And now, we've gotten to the point where there have been, I looked it up the other day, something like three billion doses of vaccine that have been administered. I think it's safe to say that it is safe, probably, hopefully.

Some people, you're going to always have with any kind of medication, you're always going to have some cases of bad reactions. I got the, back in the day they used to do the MMR, the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine for babies. I think it's called something else now. I got that, all the babies I know got it, all my baby friends.Got it. And if you look at a hundred thousand people taking anything, you're going to have a few who have a poor reaction, and unfortunately, sometimes it can result in death, but these are the risks we are taking. I know people who are allergic to penicillin.

My mom is.

Yeah, my dad's allergic to it. I know somebody who is allergic to latex. People have allergies that can be very inconvenient, and even life-threatening, nothing in life is a hundred percent safe. So, if the overwhelming chances are that you're going to be all right, go for it.

Yeah, the one thing that depresses me about just the collective response to COVID overall, has been just realizing that there are some people that given, they're watching relatives die, and friends die from this preventable thing, and they're, they're still digging their heels in saying, "No, I will not do," whatever small thing, whether it's wearing a mask or distancing or whatever, they will not do it. And I'm thinking to myself, how do we come together to fight these other problems that aren't as fast, and direct, and obvious to us, like with climate change? That's a whole frustrating thing to think about, is just the fact that there are people who when confronted with this thing that is affecting them extremely directly, they're saying no. It's like, how are we going to get so many people on board to take whatever actions necessary, whatever sacrifices are necessary to successfully combat climate change?

And that's why I have so much respect for people who work on climate change, or work in trying to find solutions to that. But it's hard to not just be really depressed thinking about it, thinking about how much of a challenge it is.

There are people who... My friend's grandma died of COVID, and there are people who read her post about her grandma dying, about a wonderful young man at the hospital, a hospital volunteer who learned her favorite old Mexican songs, Mexican popular songs from the forties and fifties, and learned how to play them for her, saw a post about her saying how the family said goodbye, and who still don't think COVID is real because they are the most selfish people in the world. And there are a lot of people who are real pieces of shit, who it could happen to their own Grandma, but what's more important to them is their ego. And so, I think that you can't cure selfish. That's what's hard, you can't cure selfish.

You can just keep presenting as many... You can penalize selfish. You can say, "Okay, you can't work here." I'm so glad that for a limited time at least, Hollywood productions are banning anybody from set who is not vaccinated. That's very important, because those are hotspots, and there were a lot of productions that had to shut down over time because of COVID outbreaks, and then come back. And so, I think workplaces where you got to be vaccinated to be there, good. Yeah, you can pick what you put in your body, but that doesn't mean that I have to accept it. If you show up to work drunk, I can send you home. If you show up to work unvaccinated, might make people sick and take down the workplace, I can send you home.

I think that there are things we can do with communication, with gentleness and compassion, but it doesn't have to mean tolerance always. Not tolerance of potentially harm. Yeah, you can go, "Oh, okay. I can see why you believe that way. You are a racist white person who was raised by racist, white people. You had a lot of early trauma in your life, and you're in pain, and you found a home on the internet among anti-vaxxers, and so that's what you're down for. Cool, cool. Still can't come to work. Go work on yourself, hope things turn out for you." I don't have to curse you out, I don't have to tell you you're dumb. I'll just go, "Oh, okay. See that in context, you're not welcome here."

That's why those... There are a few states that are implementing these laws where it's like, oh, you can't force someone to... Come on. If I walk into a business, or for example in Florida, they did that. And the cruise industry which, one, I cannot imagine taking a cruise right now.

It's gross.

Yeah. So, I took a cruise in December, 2019. It was the first and only cruise I've ever been on. Because my parents were like, "Yeah, we want to take a big family vacation while everyone's still around." And I was like, "That's great, sure." Wasn't thrilled about the cruise, because I'm really weird about germs generally, which has made this whole thing a really interesting time for me.

Yeah, because it's confirming all your fears, which is not always healthy.

Yeah. But we went on the cruise and it was fun. And I was like, oh, that was a great time. That was fun. But now, I cannot imagine doing that. Just because first off, COVID's still going around. But also in Florida, they're trying to fight to make it so cruise ships can't require passengers to be vaccinated, if they want. I could understand if a cruise company wanted to be like, "Hey, we're just going to be the free for all cruise where you can be vaccinated or not. We don't care." That would be fine, if that's the choice they want to make.

Oh, the sexy cruise, "We're the wild and sexy cruise."

Yeah, "We're, the virus cruise."

That's hot, let's do it. Hey, some people would be very into it for various reasons.

Yeah, yeah.

I just want to compliment you though. Parker. I know I'm moving around and making audio weird right now, but hey, guess what everybody? I'm plugging in a lamp, because my laptop was dying and now I'm reviving it. But I do want to just compliment you, as somebody with agoraphobia, for somebody who has, if you say weird about germs, I'm not making it a phobia. I'm just saying for somebody who has high anxiety around anything, to challenge that by doing something that's fun, is awesome, and I think you should be proud of yourself that you did that.

It was so difficult. For weeks leading up to it, I was in therapy really trying to prepare myself. I was like, "I know this thing will be fun, and it will probably be fine, and I'll survive and we'll get home. And I'll be like, 'That wasn't so bad.'" Because that's how I approach everything in life. I freak out leading up to it, and then every single time I'm like, "Oh, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." That's what happens with any time I agree to do a speaking gig. I don't know if I want to go, I don't want to take an airplane by myself, and I don't want to have to stay in a hotel, and I don't want to have to be in front of a big group of people. But then I get there, and I do the thing and it's fine.

And that's anticipatory anxiety. It's once you actually do it, you're fine. And I think that in some cases, not to endorse or recommend developing anticipatory anxiety, anybody, but... Not that you can really-

I would choose not to, if possible.

Yeah. You'd have to reverse A Clockwork Orange yourself, or something real weird and be like, "I'm going to make myself afraid of this." But I think sometimes there is more enjoyment as a result, because you're like, oh, I was so scared, and now this isn't so bad. And it helps you for the future. Every time you challenge, even a tiny bit challenge an anxiety thing…

Talia Lavin writes a lot about how she deals with agoraphobia right now, and I'm always saying to her privately, I don't think she would care if I said this publicly, "Holy shit, you're challenging it," because she posts about running and stuff, "You're [crosstalk 00:44:19]." When I was in my worst agoraphobia, I was afraid to leave my bedroom to go into the bathroom to pee. I was urinating in bowls. It's in my memoir, Agorafabulous! If that's your thing.

I like that book!

Thank you very much.

It's very good.

So I'm like, "Talia, you're running." Yes, at first it was just one route. She would show me the image of it, and it was just like back and forth across this block. Now it's expanding. Every single day that she runs outside her home, she's challenging a debilitating psychiatric disorder that she's also working on in other ways. And again, I would not share any of this if it wasn't stuff that was shared publicly already, of course. But even if she fucking walks outside for five minutes, that's like a really big deal. So, the fact that you went on a cruise?

I went on a cruise, stuck there for... See, I think the one benefit that I have in life, is that I'm married to an extremely amazing person, who completely understands and completely accepts all of my mental issues. And that's something that, I'm very lucky. Kayla is great, she is wonderful. And she helped me get through the issue with the cruise. She helped me the whole time, just making sure that things were okay. Didn't pressure me into doing the off the boat excursion type things, which was one of my fears. I stayed on the boat for a couple of those, which was still kind of fun. It's nice when everyone else is off the boat, and you're just like, "Ooh, I have the whole thing to myself."

If I ever go on a cruise, I might do what you just described. Because I'm listening through it, instantly whenever I hear about a cruise, my agoraphobia brain kicks in. So, it's not making me anxious, it's just I start thinking about it through that disordered lens. But because I have so many years of cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness and stuff, and medication, it still flares up but you get back on the horse, so to speak. And when I hear, I listened to it through that, and then I think oh, well, how could I make modifications so that I could enjoy it? And I never thought about that, but that would be a Night At The Museum, like an empty, magical place. That would be kind of cool.

It's like, I'm going to keep going to that soft serve ice cream machine, and no one's going to stop me. No one's going to be like, "You've had five."

I'd be like, "Well, I've had a Prozac and now I'm going to have other Prozac, which is what I call that machine inside my head." That's awesome, whoa. But probably, you will never go on a cruise again at least until you're older, considering the concerns about the Rona, Miss COVID.

It was a good time. By the end of it, I was actually so okay with the state of things that I just kind of like, "Maybe we should do this again." And then this hit.

Immediately it was like, maybe not.

Several steps backwards.

But maybe one day you will, when it's safer. And it will be safer eventually, we'll just be old as hell by that point.

Which those are the people who seem to have the cruises down the most, the elderly who end up on there. They're the ones with these little booklets, like, "This is my 20th cruise, that's all I do for my life now." Which that sounds awesome if that's what you're into, just traveling constantly.

Yeah. And the fact that whatever they've dealt with in their life, whatever they've been through, that now they get to enjoy the open sea, and they get to have fun. I do think that, I'm a bit older than you, I'm 40.

I'm 35.

Okay, so you can run for president now, thank God. So this might apply even more for you. For my generation, which is the same as... Well, you're a full millennial and I'm like a Zennial, on the cusp. But I was in high school when the hit major motion picture Titanic came out, and I think that it definitely made some people I know for into our twenties, I remember a few friends being like, "Yo, my grandma wants to go on a cruise, but I think about Titanic." And I feel like for some of us, it was burned into our minds. Maybe people who tend to be anxious anyway, we were like, "Oh my God. But what if that happens?" And then people seem to have gotten over that, but the indelible performance of a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Ms. Kate Winslet, it really did something for me.

It's still so awkward for me. I went and saw a Titanic with my mom, and I was like... I don't know.

You were in middle school maybe, you were little.

Yeah, like 12 when that came out. And it was just weird, because it was like, oh, and now he's going to sketch her naked. And I'm just like, this is fine, this is fine. Everything is cool.

Everything's normal. And then there's the part where they have sex, and you just see the hand up, and you're like, what's happening there?

Yeah, and I just have to just keep going, pretend nothing weird is happening on screen. As my mom is kind of, I could see her glancing at my brother and me, my brother was three years younger than me even. And I was just like, no, no, everything's cool.

It's cool. My buddy Jenette is in that movie, Jenette Goldstein, she's an actress and she owns my favorite lingerie shop, Jenette Bras. Which you can visit, they've got more than bras, you can visit them in many places in Los Angeles, but also in Atlanta now. But Jenette is an actress, and she's been in a bunch of James Cameron movies. She was John Connor's step-mom in a Terminator deux. And she was Vasquez in aliens, Private Vasquez who was hot and butch. And she was in, in a bit part in Titanic. I think she plays, it wouldn't have been an elderly person because her age wasn't right. But she plays a mom to dying children, where they're like, I think she's the one who's like, "Okay, kids," and puts them to bed and reads them a story as they all die.

Oh, God.

Yeah. That part, obviously I didn't know her back in my teens, but that part stands out to me. And the old people holding each other. But anyway, we don't have to worry about that so much as we have to worry about coronavirus.

Yeah, we just have to worry about the air that we breathe giving us an infection that kills us. Which is cool, that's cool that that's just floating around out there.

Yeah, it's a real different kind of bananas. I've noticed in New York City right now, a lot of people wearing masks on the street. Some people don't, but when you go into stores, some stores right now have signs up that say, "You have to wear a mask," other stores don't. We have indoor dining, we have outdoor dining. Some restaurants will say, "Please put on your mask when you go to the restroom," others don't.

I think it's going to get more restrictive, because I think that as with climate change, the first time around New York was the canary in the coal mine for this thing, that the rest of the country should have paid attention to and didn't. And LA got to horrific levels of suffering as a result, that were absolutely unnecessary. This time around as with climate change, I think California is the canary in the coal mine, because they got the Delta variant first, so they have gone back into... I think they still have indoor dining as of this recording, but you have to wear masks, and they have a stronger anti-mask contingent out there. They just do, and it's a problem. I don't know, I'm glad that we live in places also where it gets cold, because it's very comforting to have that mask on anyway, in the cold months.

Yeah. That's something that in the winter it's like, oh well, that's a cool idea anyway. I am more than okay wearing a mask, especially in the winter. The summer, I get it. I get that masks can be annoying.

Yeah, it can. You're schvitzing. I got one of those lighter ones, a restaurant that I went to in Manhattan, Balthazar, I ate outside and then I went in the bathroom, and they had all these free masks and free latex gloves, and anybody could take them and it was really cool. And they had the kind of mask that it looks a little bit like an accordion, and it's very lightweight, but it still does the job and it's not as heavy. And I took one, I wanted to take more, but I was like, no Sara, you can just buy them. Don't take them from the restaurant. And that one is so much more comfortable than the heavy cloth mask. Although I love a heavy cloth mask with a fashion moment for the wintertime, those light ones are really nice for the summer.

Yeah, just leaving the restaurant with a handful of masks and some ketchup packets or something.

“Hey, sorry, you're in the industry that arguably got hit the worst by this whole thing. Nice to see you surviving, let me steal your things.” People love that.

Yeah, “What else can I get for free?”

People really connect to that.

Yeah, that's their jam. But on that delightful note-

Don't steal masks.

Don't steal masks, that's going to be the lesson from this podcast. But Sara, thank you so much for stopping by and chatting with me.

Yeah, this was awesome. It's so rad to hang out with you.

Yeah, of course. We should speak more than once every 15 months or so.

On Twitter is cool, but it's also just nice to actually talk to you and see your face and stuff.

Yeah, definitely. And that's why we're recording this. I have it set up where it records what we say, but not what we see. Because I just like to be able to see people when I talk to them.

I like that too. And I think it helps with interviewing, and it also helps with our mental health. I haven't made a new episode of Well, This Isn't Normal in a few months, because I had to move and write jokes for robot puppets. But I could have made time, I just was very tired, but this is making me want to pick it up again. Because it is just so nice, and obviously it doesn't have, friendship talks should not be recorded most of the time. But it is really nice to just get to talk to your friends face to face through a screen.

And also this is Star Trek shit, I'm still impressed. My grandma told me she never got over, she passed away a few years ago, my grandma, Jean. And she always was still impressed by the technology that just automatically opens doors for you at the grocery store. And I therefore, still think it's cool. But I also think being able to talk to each other in real time through screen, it has absolutely, through my sober people meetings and stuff, that absolutely saved me. To be able to do that online is huge, and just to see friends and family was huge.

Yeah, definitely. I think that both of us have this sort of... Because we both are part of that sort of era of people who growing up, we didn't always have the internet. And then when we did, it was super slow and dial up and all of that. And even thinking back then, thinking oh yeah, I'll be able to talk to someone and see them super clear, and there will be no lag and it'll be perfect. It's still amazing to me. I just love thinking about technology as it advances, and try to ignore the creepy aspects of it.

Yeah. And sometimes, obviously, we can't. Because we get harassment and different things. But overall, I really like Cal Newport's book, Digital Minimalism. I don't abide by all its principles, but the idea that you don't have to kick it all out the door, you figure out how to maximize your enjoyment. You do a cost-benefit analysis in your own life, which is what I wish more people would do with vaccines. What is the risk here, and what is the reward for not just me, but potentially the humans with whom I interact? And then you make a call based on that. And so, something like this I think is really lovely. Well, thanks so much.

Yeah, of course. Let's do it again sometime, without the recording for a podcast.

Yay!

Friendship!