Sheltering: Nina Renata Aron on Desperate Love and Codependency
The Author of Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls
Talks to Maris Kreizman
On this episode of Sheltering, Nina Renata Aron speaks with Maris Kreizman about her new book, Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls, a memoir of codependency. They talk about the cultural history of love and its entanglement with suffering, particularly for women, and how hard it is to break out of this idea. Aron also talks about bad boys throughout pop culture, being baffled by her own choices, and wanting to write about something that doesn’t have an answer. Please purchase Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls online from your favorite bookstore, or through Bookshop.
From the episode:
Maris Kreizman: Welcome to Sheltering. Today’s guess is Nina Renata Aron. I am so happy to be talking to her from her home in Oakland. Hi! How are you?
Nina Renata Aron: Hi! I’m delighted to be here with you, Maris.
Maris: Thanks! Tell me a little bit about how you’re doing.
Nina: I’m doing well, all things considered. It’s been an obviously strange and challenging time. I feel bad for my kids because they’re eleven and eight, and they’re incredibly social critters, and they have big lives that are now quieted or taking place partially on Zoom. It’s hard to watch them adjust to this reality, but I do feel like we’ve been bonding. We’ve been doing a lot of projects. My daughter and I—I collect miniatures, and I’ve passed that obsession to her, so we’ve been working on a dollhouse, my dream to be doing with her. We’ve been hunkered down. I’ve had to let go of some of my book launch fantasies, which is hard, but I’m also feeling grateful for everyone’s health and well-being for now. There’s a lot of literary community that’s sprung up all of a sudden that’s incredible, so I feel really thrilled to be connecting with people that I didn’t know before and supporting writers whose work I might not have known about. That feels pretty powerful.
Maris: That’s really great. Tell me more about your kids. Are you involved in homeschooling or is it mostly via Zoom?
Nina: I’m involved. [laughs] It’s been a weird transition.
Maris: I can only imagine.
Nina: My son’s in fifth grade and my daughter’s in second grade, and they both have teachers who have adapted very quickly to these changing circumstances, so they have a lot of work. They have a lot of workbooks and things online to do. We try to maintain a little bit of a schedule, but we also just have a free reading hour. Last week I started teaching them French.
Maris: Ooh la la!
Nina: I know. That became our favorite part of the week, I think because they had my very engaged attention for a while, and it was fun and funny, and we giggled. So, it’s been okay. I feel like everyone’s flying by the seat of their pants. I cannot deny that especially with book launch stuff coming, there have been days where I’m just like, do some schoolwork if you can, I can’t really help that much right now. It’s a weird, weird experience.
Maris: Yeah, it is. Tell me a little bit more about your wonderful memoir. [holds up copy of Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls]
Nina: Thank you. My book is called Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls. It’s a memoir about codependency. It’s meant to be the first literary memoir about codependency. I was always looking for a book like this when I was growing up. It’s partly about my experience growing up in New Jersey with a family member suffering from addiction. I sampled Al Anon, which is the program for people like me, as a teenager and throughout my twenties. And then, the book is chiefly about this romantic relationship I had with an ex-boyfriend who came back into my life and was sober at the time but promptly fell into really hardcore drug addiction. That was when I realized that my issues were really out of control when it came to codependency. I was really baffled by some of my choices. I left my marriage as a young mom to be with him.
So, it’s about the dynamics that evolve when we’re in relationships with addicts and alcoholics, and how they can inform literally everything in our lives. There’s been so much conversation in the culture about addiction around the opioid epidemic, and I’ve always wondered why this is not a bigger part of the conversation. Not just because I want to foreground the suffering of codependents, which I do think is important, but also because it’s not a good dynamic for addicts either. These relationships are often part of the problem. In this book, I talk about my own experience, and it’s a little bit of a cultural history about love and the kinds of ideas about love and sacrifice that women grow up with, and how they might ultimately fuck us over.
Maris: I mean, I certainly grew up under that same impression, that love was something to suffer for. Is it in the marketing copy or the book that says that love is your drug? I relate.
Nina: I think it’s in the book itself. One of the things I always wondered about was how we’re supposed to receive all this messaging about love, that in my eighties childhood was in the all the John Hughes movies and all the pop songs, and then at some point we’re supposed to come to understand instinctually that you don’t actually put your energy there. At some point you’re supposed to grow out of that, and this book is about what happens if you take a really long time to grow out of it.
Maris: I even think of all of the bad boys that we loved on TV and in books.
Nina: Brenda and Dylan was such a formative template for me. In writing this book, I excavated so much of that stuff, all the pop culture stuff, all the literary stuff, all the soul songs. So much of the stuff that had formed my sensibility was all about this desperate love. It’s hard to let go of that idea. I have let go of it, but right now, I don’t know what replaces it for me.
Maris: Right. I couldn’t help but notice, and you mentioned this earlier, that so many of the books you refer to in the memoir are originally true self-help books. You get out of them mixed results, perhaps. Tell me about writing a literary version of this issue.
Nina: That’s a great question. I went to Al Anon on and off for many years. I read all the books I could find, which were almost exclusively self-help books. And some of them were incredibly helpful, like Women Who Help Too Much, which is an eighties self-help text. But there were a lot of pat answers in there, and tips and the sort of wisdom that just didn’t resonate that deeply with me. I really wanted to write something that didn’t have an answer. I didn’t want to write anything polemical, and I didn’t want to write something so neat. I really just wanted to assemble this weird archive and say this is all the stuff that made me me, and made me make these choices that I had to go through a lot of pain and anguish to figure out how to unmake. The memoirs that I love the most, especially in the addiction lit genre but broadly speaking, are about truly complicated, messy lives. And I think addiction, those stories also have this narrative arc that’s become very formulaic and predictable, but the best of those books don’t quite have that arc. They’re still really human and really weird. Lots of weird stuff happens. I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote one that, you know, it does have a happy ending because I survived and I’m here, but that didn’t feel so simplified.
Maris: You didn’t have a moment of truth and transformed your entire life.
Nina: Exactly. That would’ve been great. I would’ve loved that.
Maris: Tell me about Al Anon now. Have you done it remotely?
Nina: Yeah, I have. I am a member of AA and Al Anon, and I’ve been kind of amazed but not surprised that those communities have adapted really quickly. All their meetings are now online, which is really rad because I dip into meetings all over the place; I can go to New York City meetings which are great, and meetings wherever. I go to my regular meetings, and there are people—I went to one the other night, there were people from all over the world in it. It was really fascinating. I think the program’s probably changing a little bit around that. But yeah, my community is still active online. It’s a bit weird to go to meetings on the internet. Before I came out as a sober person, I was kind of afraid to go to AA. I had been before, and I was afraid to go back. So, for a while in the beginning of my sober time this time, I had this weird app, and I would go to online meetings and just not show my face. Just slip in, listen, and leave. This feels kind of like that, although I do show my face.
Maris: I can only imagine that sheltering in place can only make a messy situation much, much messier, I guess is the way to put that. Including domestic violence. I don’t know the facts and figures, but certainly it’s a concern.
Nina: Yeah, that’s one reason I was pleased that my book wasn’t held, that we decided not to wait to publish it. I do think every day about people in those situations, and I know a couple people in crisis situations at the moment. This is an incredibly difficult time to be living in a household where there’s active addiction or alcoholism or abuse, god knows. All of the people in those situations are on my mind, especially women who are also carrying the enormous burden of all the other labor we do—housework and child rearing. That’s a dark part of everything that’s happening right now.
Maris: To switch it up and make it a little lighter, what are you listening to now? You were a Riot Grrl kind of person, and I want to know how that’s evolved.
Nina: The past few days, I’m listening to the new Fiona Apple, with everyone. I’m loving the Fiona Apple internet. Everyone is just really into that album right now, as I am. I made so many playlists while I was writing this book that I actually will post in some capacity. It’s been really nice to retire those now that I’m done with this project. Some of those were gnarly sad music. But especially with my kids, we’ve been listening to a lot of reggae, and we’ve been listening to The Supremes a lot. The kids often tell me that I have music on that’s too sad for them, because there’ll be like post-Riot Grrl music on or shoegaze music, and they’re just like, that’s depressing Mommy music. So yesterday we listened The Bangles. I have to be like, I know happy music!
Maris: Gosh, I didn’t even think about that as part of it, in that I’ve always had my—I used to call it my angry-bitter-sad mix, and it would change over the years. Fiona was a constant.
Nina: Now that the kids are around all day, I’m like, this is what I listen to during the day when I’m working. I have to adjust slightly for them.
Maris: Nina, tell me a little bit about what your tour was going to look like.
Nina: We were going to have a launch event here at a bookstore in Oakland called East Bay Booksellers, which is great, which is doing a brisk online business now. I didn’t have a huge multi-city tour planned, but I had plans to go places where I know and love people, and where I would’ve really loved to read and see people and meet some of my internet-friend people. Like New York and LA, Portland, Philadelphia, where I lived and have a lot of friends, and possibly Baltimore. I was planning a little West Coast and then East Coast jaunt, and that’s a bummer. We are doing a launch event with Green Apple Books, which is a fabulous bookstore in San Francisco, that’s the pub day. I feel confident that I will have opportunities to meet people I know online and to be in bookstores again. My heart feels really heavy when I think about browsing in a used bookstore, and I wonder if that might not be a thing quite as much anymore. That’s too devastating to contemplate.
Maris: Oof, yeah.
Nina: It will be a thing, right?
Maris: I think it will. I think we’re doing what we can right now. I’ve been taking it day by day, which is maybe something you’re familiar with.
Nina: For real, that’s all we can do. Suddenly all those tools are incredibly useful, even more than we thought.
Maris: Thank you so much.
Nina: Thank you so much, Maris!