Jon Lindsey is the author of the novel BODY HIGH (May 1, 2021, House of Vlad). He’s also my husband. We met at CalArts in 2009. We were both students in the MFA writing program. Jon was in the class above mine. The first time I saw him he was surrounded by friends, running through the rain in a hoodie yelling, “I’m a Ninja.” I felt attracted to him. Not long thereafter, we both attended the same birthday party at a shitty club in west Los Angeles. Jon wore a western shirt patterned with the silhouettes of wild horses, galloping against a setting sun. Again, I felt attracted to him. Also, wary. I sensed he was a player and at that particular point in my adult life (I was twenty-three and very worldly) I felt it was in my best interest to avoid players. But there was no one else to dance with, so I let Jon creep up behind me. I kept turning to face him, he kept turning me around so he could push up on my butt.
When the night was over, I gave him a ride back to the CalArts campus where his car was parked. He lingered, trying to hook up, but I kicked him out.
After I rejected him, Jon seemed more interested in me. A few weeks later, we had our first date, at the dog park, then a yoga class. A few days after that, he took up residence in my apartment. I kept expecting him to leave, but, basically, he never did.
At the time, Jon had just started writing the novel he intended to present for his MFA thesis. Everyone in his class was raving about it. He handed me pages like he was bestowing a great honor, by letting me read his work. Which, in retrospect, he was. But at the time, I thought the pages he shared were rough and spastically written. Still, I could picture every scene like a movie in the theater of my mind. And I was flattered when I read a description of the love-interest in the book, in which my partial heterochromia was also her partial heterochromia. “She has my eyes,” I reported to Jon, expecting a profession of his developing feelings for me. He said, “She’s a composite of every girl I’ve ever slept with.”
Jon has come a long way since then. So has his writing. So have I. In the past twelve years we’ve fallen in love, married, moved from Los Angeles to Texas and back again. Together, we’ve caretaken both our moms, both of whom died, mine from cancer, Jon’s from suicide. And all the while, Jon has brainstormed (in the shower), read (craft books, everything NY Tyrant, Emmanuel Carrère) and written a novel that is, indeed, a body: high and fast and hot and wild, complicated and true. To me, BODY HIGH is a living document of Jon’s growth as a writer and person, his tentative foray into his own emotional unconscious, which resembles a quiet ocean, glassy, beautiful, but sometimes cold. To get beneath the surface, I drove Jon to the hottest spot I could think of: a party hotel in Palm Springs, where I sat him in front of a camera and fed him tequila, several grams of cocaine, and at the end of the evening, a generous Ketamine nightcap. What follows is our conversation.
Jon Lindsey: You got me wasted tonight and now you’re gonna get some–
Allie Rowbottom: Sweet lovin’
AR: Want to hear my first question?
AR: Okay, this is the question: what scares you? Here’s why I ask. Because, when I think of BODY HIGH I think of an uninhibited fearless novel (I hate to say fearless because it seems really common in blurbs, but whatever). It’s also possibly a really fearful novel. And as I say that I’m thinking that maybe inhabiting both spaces (like, fearless and fearful) is what makes a novel great as opposed to just good. I think BODY HIGH is a great novel not just a good one. Anyway, I guess I’m wondering where you wrote it from, fear or fearlessness.
JL: I’m terrified of the book, to be honest. I think that the writing comes from a place of total fear. In early drafts, I tried to edge around what was scary about the book and then I realized I needed to write into the fear. Specifically, I needed to write into my family’s history of abuse and incest and my mom’s experience with that and how it fucked up her life and the ramifications her fuckedupness had on my life. Which, you know, writing the book I discovered things about myself and like why I am the way I am and that was fucking terrifying.
AR: Let’s talk about what’s cool.
JL: What’s cool?
AR: From the first time I met you, you were very confident in your ability to define what’s cool. So, what’s cool?
JL: As I get older I get further away from it.
AR: Doing cocaine with your wife in a hotel room at 9 o’ clock at night…
JL: That’s not cool.
AR: It’s not?
JL: But here I am–what’s cool to me pushes boundaries, pushes what’s acceptable to squares.
AR: Who is square?
JL: People who are scared.
AR: Do you have compassion for squares?
JL: Absolutely, yea I feel so bad for them.
AR: Are you afraid you’re a square?
JL: I feel like my fear of being square is the source of all my empathy for people. I am them. I am every idiot, every dork, every nerd. That’s me. I have just found a way to step outside myself and write the book anyway. Or do whatever it is that scares me. This goes back to how everybody is always like, fuck Jon you’re always going too far. And they’re right. I’m always going too far because I’m scared of being a square.
AR: Do you feel like that shoots you in the ass sometimes?
JL: Absolutely yea it totally blows up in my face, especially right now in our current climate where everyone’s parsing their words and afraid to say anything that’s going to upset anyone else. And I am too. I’m totally scared, I live in constant fear of making other people angry and upset. I don’t know why I care. It’s weird . Because I also want to piss people off but then I’m like, I don’t want anyone to feel bad.
AR: What happens when people feel bad?
JL: I feel responsible. I feel like I have to take care of them.
JL: It all goes back to my mom. Caretaking, that’s my cross.
AR: It’s kind of like–and I know you very well so I feel like I’m allowed to say this and this doesn’t have to go in the thing–there’s almost this deep fear of who you really are. And maybe that’s is true for everyone. But like, a deep fear of who you are just you…
JL: Who do you think I am and why I am afraid of that?
AR: I think there’s a lot of you that’s similar to your mom in that you are kind and you feel for other people and you care for other people. I think you’re sensitive and empathic and also very strong, extremely strong, like supernaturally strong. But I think, because you’ve seen how vulnerability can affect someone, you push it away in yourself. It sort of reminds me of mirror face.
(Mirror face, in this context, refers to the pursed expression Jon makes when he looks in the mirror).
Not saying you’re the only person with mirror face. I have many issues about looking in the mirror. But, like, in order to look in the mirror and see the person you want to see there, you have to put on a different face. Otherwise, you have to confront the vulnerable parts of your mom (and like, literally, see her resemblance in your reflection) that you don’t want to face.
JL: Growing up, my mom was always trying to save people and she was the one who needed saving. She was always having these weird relationships with homeless guys and deaf people and people who she wanted to be friends with, and these men always wanted more from her. I don’t know maybe she was leading them on.
AR: Interesting you say that about leading men on, because that’s the dynamic in BODY HIGH.
JL: How so?
AR: Well it’s like, Leland wants more from Jolene and maybe she’s leading him on and maybe she’s not and to what extent is she able to do any of that not just because she’s ostensibly a child but because she’s damaged in such a way.
JL: Yea the characters in BODY HIGH are severely damaged and they’re all trying to reach some sense of wholeness that, unfortunately, in their family plays out through incest. It plays out in this attempt to become whole through the integration of whatever is closest to yourself. Trying to integrate this person who reflects you because there’s something missing from you.
AR: Do you feel like that’s why we’re together?
JL: I feel like there’s a lot of aspects of you that are really complimentary to me and vice versa. But you know there are things about you that like remind me of my mom and there are aspects of you that are totally the antithesis of my mom and I constantly have to remind myself, Allie’s not my mom, Allie’s different from my mom, and there’s probably a reason that I love you the way I do because you’re familiar and you’re better.
AR: I could reciprocate and say here’s the ways you’re like my dad but I can’t even go there.
JL: I think I’m like your dad in some ways. This sort of male helplessness. I’d be fucked without you. I’d be a mess.
AR: I would be too.
JL: Yea you would be.
AR: No I wouldn’t be!
JL: Yea, you would.
AR: Okay, I would.
JL: We both would be. But, yea, I totally see how I’m similar to your dad. I also see how I’m different. I also see how I should be resentful when you compare me to your dad.
AR: Is there a difference between comparing and just saying, yo, I have scars in this department? Because as I’ve gotten older, I don’t feel like the scars are an excuse, they’re just a reality. Like, it’s not pleasant, it’s not cute, it’s just the way it is.
JL: And neither of us can escape it. I constantly have to remind myself Allie’s not my mom, Allie is able to overcome–
AR: I am very resilient, according to my therapist.
JL: My therapist too! Not to shine my own shoes.
AR: You know I was just thinking about Bert. We could conceivably run into Bert in in Palm Springs.
JL: I would love that. I would love to party with Bert.
AR: That would be a big mistake.
JL: I think it would be fun.
AR: Yea, for one night.
JL: Bert, Bert. We are going to do cocaine and Ketamine with Bert, my therapist.
(Jon has been direct-addressing the camera, repeating his therapist’s name, and gesturing with his cocktail glass)
AR: Next question: Why do you love the 99 Cent Store?
JL: The 99 Cent Store is a place where I can go, and where I’ve always been able to go, where I can have whatever I want. Anything in the store is mine if I want it.
AR: I just thought of this follow up: how does this factor into your orgy fantasies and have you ever fantasized about an orgy in the 99 Cent Store?
JL: That’s a recipe for horrible yeast infections. But yea, I mean, for sure there’s a deep-rooted fantasy I have of abundance. And boundarylessness, where there are no rules. Like you can have anything, you can afford anything, it’s all yours for the taking. It’s 99 cents.
Maybe it all goes back to growing up poor. The years my mom and I were on welfare.
(The screen goes black. When the video begins again, Jon is on the couch, playing the acoustic guitar that comes with the hotel room)
AR: He’s wasted folks
(Allie is by now, obviously wasted)
(Allie snorts in laughter)
JL: Or dare?
Our first date, 2009
AR: I have another question. This is what it says: The first time I read your writing I felt, this shit is wild, it’s almost unreadable. But I knew it was good. It was one of those things where it was like, hard to read on a sentence level but also good. If I thought it was bad I wouldn’t have continued to hang out with you, but I thought it was really good but very wild. I remember you gave me pages and I considered suggesting edits because I saw stuff on a line level, but then I didn’t because I didn’t want to offend you. I like, remember erasing
JL: Early on I was so enamored with the energy of my writing, and with facilitating the narrative drive that would carry a reader through. Then I realized you can’t have the drive without character development. Early on, my work was just fucking ing summaries pushing the plot. And that doesn’t really work. You have to switch gears, have moments of no ings at all, really restrained development of the people involved in the story. Then you can throw those ings into the sections of summary and keep the energy moving, even as you’re just taking care of expository business.
AR: I think you’re getting too drunk.
JL: I feel good! I feel very honest about this! I feel very true!
(Allie moves Jon’s tequila glass away from him)
AR: This is a boundary and you are going to push against it
JL: Whatever. (Jon picks up the glass, downs it)
AR: You’ve done all the cocaine and gotten drunk.
JL: I’m fine with wherever this is going.
AR: Okay I’m going to publish all this.
JL: Where was I?
AR: Ings, you were pontificating about ings.
JL: When I started writing, I was in love with ings. I was trying to do acrobatics. It was alienating to the reader.
AR: People still loved it.
JL: I think people tolerated it because they loved me. Only later did I understand how to restrain my voice in a way that allowed the reader to inhabit the story.
AR: Can you talk about going where your celebrated, rather than just tolerated? Do you want to tell the story of how you came to–
JL: I would love to tell the story of how I came across the infinite wisdom of going where you are celebrated not just tolerated. It was in the jungle of Mexico with a Shaman named Marco–
AR: Who I found on Yelp!
JL: Yes, who came very highly rated on Yelp, and who was massaging my groin and causing me to question my sexuality with his intimate oils.
AR: I can’t believe I was sitting right out in the waiting room while this was happening.
JL: You know it was in the aftermath of my mom’s death and Marco really touched a nerve. And I understand that this juxtaposition might be hard for people to accept. But as the jungle sounds surrounded me–the noise of the howler monkeys and feral dogs and roosters–Marco whispered, Go where you’re celebrated, not simply tolerated.
AR: And he said it to you again when you two came out and embraced in the lobby and he sent us on our way…
JL: I don’t know if anyone has ever said something so true. Since then, that’s how I’ve lived. And when I need to recenter myself, that’s where I go, back to the jungle.
AR: It’s pretty fucking incredible. That he read you like that, and knew what you needed to hear. Because, knowing you intimately, I don’t know if I could have thought of that as the life changing thing to say.
JL: It’s true for all of us, I think.
AR: I guess that’s probably why he said it.
JL: Yea he probably says it to every fucker who comes to his massage table. But whatever I love that guy and what he told me and every day since I’ve tried to live it. So far so good.
AR: Next question: What are you ever going to do with those get rich quick books you’ve been hoarding for the past six years? I don’t know where you got them. In a box outside a dumpster? And how do they relate to scam artists?
JL: One day these books are going to be the important cornerstones for a project about my dad. When I was growing up, he lived in an office on a landfill he was trying to develop into condos.. And my mom was like a scam artist with her illnesses in a way. She was a person in so much pain from childhood abuse. She learned manipulation as a survival mechanism early on, and she used it on me. We were so close, so intimate when I was a kid. She was my world and then I grew up and I became a man and that was really hard for her to reconcile. She figured out ways to continue to control me and my emotions.
AR: She capitalized on your unconditional love for her, which is the love all kids have for their parents. I guess parents are supposed to love their kids unconditionally, too? When they don’t, it creates a lot of pain…do you think that like, in some ways, you growing up and becoming a man with this power to abuse, meant your mom felt she needed to control or manipulate you all the more? To protect…I don’t know, herself, but other women, too?
JL: Early on when she was falling apart I thought a lot about how it would be different if I was a woman. And how it might be almost more acceptable for her to fall apart….
AR: As in, it’s more acceptable for women to take care of their moms? Or women to take care in general?
AR: Either way people love to sanctify caretaking, especially a child for their parent.
JL: That was the story of my life. For fifteen years I adopted the role of the good son. When my mom’s nurses or social workers would say I was a good son, it felt validating. It’s hard to let go of that to be honest. Like, after my mom killed herself, I was sort of like looking for another mom to care for. Or anyone, really. Now, I’m in a different place. Like, I spent fifteen years trying to keep my mom from killing herself and I failed and I don’t want to do that again. If someone wants to kill themselves, I don’t want them to, but I know I can’t stop them.
AR: I mean I wonder if you were actually really successful at what you were trying to do (keep your mom alive). But ultimately, she just really didn’t want to live.
JL: Did I do her any favors, trying as long as I did? I don’t know. Did I do myself favors by trying? Probably.
AR: This is a swerve. Can you talk to me a little about empathy?
JL: Well, it’s variable. At first when I started going to suicide survivor group I was like, oh your friend committed suicide? Fuck you I don’t need to listen to you, talk to me when it’s your parent, or kid. But over time I understood more about how suicide just leaves a hole in the people who survive. It’s just this gaping hole and it’s impossible to fill. All you can do is kind of like, reach out to people who have been through the same experience and join hands with them around the hole. To feel less alone.
AR: Do you think there’s a way that writing the book was a preparation for your mom’s death and the way she died?
JL: When I started the book my mom was alive. She had burned down her apartment and attempted suicide, but she was in a fairly stable place. In the book, the mother figure kills herself through a fire. I had to write about it. Writing for me has always been a way to understand myself above all else. I think a lot of that is from not feeling safe articulating my interests and my feelings to my parents, to friends, to whoever. So when I was writing BODY HIGH, it took a series of drafts to write into who I am in relationship to all this fucked up family history. Who I am in the center of all this and in relationship to all that’s swirling around that?
AR: Can we go down to the pool?
JL: Yea! I love this. I’m having fun talking about myself. I don’t know if it’s annoying.
AR: It’s not annoying. I’m very interested.
(The camera rolls on an empty couch as Allie and Jon move around the room. There’s the sound of someone peeing. There’s the sound of rustling clothes and luggage. Allie returns to the couch in a bikini, and cuts more lines of cocaine. Too many lines of cocaine. Jon joins her and eyes the lines hungrily)
JL: Let’s just do these.
AR: Just a little.
JL: No we’re going to do big ones to go to the pool.
AR: I don’t know I worry about you dying.
JL: No my heart is strong.
AR: Isn’t that what everyone says before they OD.
JL: Genealogically, my heart is very slow.
AR: And mine is floppy. Good thing your nostrils are leaky.
(Jon does several giant lines of cocaine)
AR: Okay whoa. Okay take a break. Whoa. Do you remember the first time you did cocaine?
JL: I was on acid I think.
AR: How old were you?
JL: Seventeen. This was when I was selling acid. And I dosed everybody I was hanging out with. At the end of the night we ended up at this house and there was nothing to do except more acid, cocaine and weed. So we put the coke on the weed. We called it cocoa puffs. But it doesn’t do anything, because you need to base the coke. At the time, I thought it felt good, but that was just psychosomatic. The house belonged to this dude Tommy. T-Bone. He lived right on the beach and in the morning, at dawn, we went out and surfed. It was majestic.
(The video cuts. We open at the hot tub. Jon and Allie bob around in front of the camera. In the background, splashing and the sound of other pool-goers.)
AR: My last question before we came down here was about the scams.
JL: Why I’ve hung onto the get rich quick books? I guess there’s like a deep-seated economic insecurity that runs through my entire life. From a young age, my mom made me aware of our economic insecurity, how my dad wasn’t paying the bills or child support. It had a weird effect on me where I simultaneously was super anxious about money but at the same time was like, Fuck it I’m not going to live my life under the thumb of creditors. It was a push-pull, figuring out how I fit into the money trap.
AR: Well it seems like growing up poor in Orange County would have something to do with it.
JL: We lived in an apartment across the street from the high school. All these crazy wealthy kids went to school with me. Sometimes I’d go to their houses. And they’d have elevators and fridges stacked with Naked juices. Unbelievable stuff. It felt super normal to me and like, super foreign at the same time. Like, my mom can never provide this. But she was trying so hard to give me everything she thought a kid needed, everything she hadn’t been given in her fucked-up childhood. It all gave me a skewed perspective.
AR: Just that you’ve seen both sides?
JL: And that I had had a taste of a world that was out of reach, at least as far as my parents were concerned.
AR: And then, like, you married me. My mother’s fridge was full of Naked juices. And your dad is now relatively wealthy in OC.
JL: My dad started making money when I was eighteen. Most of his time and money is spent on fishing. If I want to be a part of his life, then I have to do that stuff, water stuff. Which is fine, but it isn’t entirely me.
AR: You two don’t really share your feelings.
JL: About a month after my mom died, my dad and I went out to lunch, and I told him I was grieving. He was like, oh you’re still torn up about that? Your mom’s suicide is still affecting you? Then he took a forkful of food and bit his tongue and his mouth filled with blood. It was such a weird scene, the blood filling his mouth as he was trying to diminish my emotions about my mom’s suicide. And I was suddenly in this position of wanting to take care of him. I was like, Dad, you need stitches. But he wouldn’t listen.
AR: There’s a degree of comfort that comes when your parents confirm thing about themselves that you’ve always known but have also questioned. When you’re like, was it really that bad? And they show you it was, it’s a relief.
JL: Or like, when the metaphor and the reality overlap.
AR: Yes, like, he should have bit his tongue and held space for your feelings. But he didn’t, he said the wrong thing. And then he did bite his tongue. It’s interesting what you said about caretaking your dad, because generally, you’ve been better at boundaries with your family lately.
JL: Boundaries were really nebulous with my mom. It was like, there was no end to the amount of help that I needed to provide her. It was never going to be enough. And though I love her, I resent her for that.
AR: That’s true love. Complicated. It would be weird if you didn’t feel that for her.
JL: In some regards I feel lucky that I went through it as young as I did so that I now have the rest of my life to think about it. And to write about it. But also, I feel cheated out of fifteen years of my life when I should not have been taking care of my parent as if she were my child. That’s as real as I can say it.
AR: You said it really well. I think you’re right. it’s kind of incredible that you are as aware as you are with as little therapy as you’ve had.
JL: Therapy brings me closer to myself,when I’m not trying too hard to obfuscate. I have a super avoidant tendency. It’s a survival mechanism. A lot of people are in that position. But it’s sort of a death sentence for a writer.
AR: When we first started hanging out, I was surprised that you were willing to come to a yoga class with me because I considered it like, effeminate in some way. What I mean is that I couldn’t imagine any other guy I’d hung out with being cool with coming to yoga. It was similar with therapy, which is like, an even tougher sell. A lot of people would have had resistance to going into couple’s therapy in the first year of marriage. But I was like, let’s do this, and you were like, sure, and we just did it and it really helped us and our writing.
JL: I feel like I owe so much to you, for like, pushing me.
AR: I wasn’t setting you up to say that.
JL: No, I’m trying to be completely honest and not withholding. You have pushed me deeper into myself.
JL: And I’m so grateful for that.
AR: Me too.
JL: And I don’t think my writing would be anything without that.
AR: I think you would have found your way there. But I want to take credit for it. I want to be important. I mean, it would have been a tragedy if you hadn’t found your way and finished BODY HIGH.
JL: It would have taken me so much longer and so much more rejection to reach the point where I understood how to connect empathically with other people. And I thank you for that.
(Jon and Allie kiss. The camera turns off. We reopen back in the hotel room, on the couch, after Jon and Allie have each done a line of Ketamine. Their bodies slur into the cushions, and into each other. Allie looks at Jon, whose eyes are half-mast.)
AR: This is like a softball, but what do you hope to find in the jewelry cabinet at a thrift store?
JL: I’m always hoping there’s some piece of treasure for you, or for my mom, that I’m going to find. I’m going to beat out everyone else if I just stare long enough or hard enough. I never find anything.
AR: Can you speak more broadly about how you’ve grown personally over the course of writing BODY HIGH?
JL: When I started writing this book it was all plot. And I was sort of like underneath the plot. And then through all the drafts and revisions, I have brought myself more fully into the plot. Instead of writing around the thing, I’ve written into and become the thing. And the thing is (Jon goes quiet. He appears to be crying) God, there’s so much hurt in the thing.
(Allie gently strokes Jon’s chest)
AR: What does the thing look like?
JR: My mom. It looks like her trying, just trying to survive. Just trying every day to keep me alive, keep me supported. And she did that. And then she gave up. And I love her and I miss her but she was in so much pain. There’s nothing anybody can do for that pain. Just have to accept it. I miss her. I miss the way she was.
JL: When I was a kid. When I was a kid.
AR: I’m glad she was like that.
JL: Me too. She was the best.
AR: I bet she was. She was a really loving person. She was a special mom, really loving.
JL: Your mom too.
(There’s a long, quiet beat)
AR: What happened to you just then?
JL: I was deep. So deep..
AR: My last question is: how does love factor in to how you’ve changed? All kinds of love.
JL: Love offers a sort of completion. Like, you’re like held together by love. And from there you can go and venture out and explore. Which is hard to do if you don’t have that centering feeling of like, loving and being loved. It feels so important to know that you’re loved. And if you know that, it really opens up so many possibilities. There’s nowhere you can’t go, because you have love’s firm foundation. Once you have love it opens you to new possibilities and makes you willing to transcend the everyday grievances, because you have love behind you and you can move forward. The further you go the further you get into who you really are. I sound like I’m on drugs. And I am.
AR: Now I want to know what is it that you love. Across the spectrum of consciousness.
JL: I love being held by you. I love our dogs coming into the bedroom in the morning. I love surfing, and sitting in the ocean waiting for the right wave to come. Seeing it forming on the horizon and being in the right position to catch it. And not having to compete with other people to catch the wave. Because it’s my wave and it’s going to carry me all the way to the shore, as long as I want it to.
AR: I love hearing you talk about what you love.
JL: There’s this spot that I used to surf, 17th street in Newport Beach and it only breaks on a south swell. I’m lisping all over the place.
AR: No you’re not.
JL: 17th street in Newport Beach and it only breaks on a south swell and one of my most clear memories is of surfing 17th Street and the wind is blowing offshore which jacks the waves up another notch and my dad is there, far out in the lineup and I am too, and my friend Willy who, lives on a boat with his dad and rides a homemade surfboard, we’re all surfing together and when I look toward the shore, in the hills, the hills are on fire, Laguna Beach is on fire and you can see it burning as the wind blows and makes these incredible barrels we paddle into. And that is one of my most clear childhood memories.
AR: I wonder why we hang on to some memories, why we imprint some memories. That is a very dramatic memory, obviously.
JR: The water was so glassy. But the wind blew from the shore to the sea, which is rare. Only happens from September to November, really. But it makes for great waves. Fast, aggressive waves. Like nowhere else.
AR: It’s where you’re from.
JL: It’s where I’m from, yea.