“I’m so glad to find someone else who’s not planning on watching the Super Bowl!” With that bond established, I began our conversation about dogs, cats, Oprah, psychology, self-esteem, and, of course, Sascha Rothchild's new memoir How to Get Divorced by 30: My Misguided Attempt at a Starter Marriage. Rothchild, a Los Angeles based writer, is promoting her recent book chronicling the small steps leading to a failed marriage. One look at her biography reveals that the high-energy narrative voice of How to Get Divorced by 30 is not far off the mark. In addition to promoting her book, Rothchild also blogs for Psychology Today, performs in the comedy show Mortified, writes screenplays for film and television, and is progressing with negotiations to write a film version of How to Get Divorced by 30 for Universal Studios. All that, and she wants to be on Oprah, too.
The Oprah thing seemed like a good place to start. In doing background research prior to our interview, I found a series on the Penguin website. In one post, she discussed the thin, purple string bracelet given to her by a friend. The premise of the bracelet is simple: make a wish, and when the bracelet falls off, your wish will be granted. Rothchild’s wish is that of any author with half a desire to sell books – get on Oprah. However, as of the Penguin blog entry, the bracelet was demonstrating remarkable tenacity.
Q: So, the first question I have to ask is: What is the status of the purple bracelet? Are you a shoo-in for Oprah yet?
A: Slightly startled laugh — “Oh, the bracelet. Well, I guess there isn’t any reason why I can’t bring it up… The bracelet… On Thursday my publicist got a call – Oprah’s starting that new network, OWN, and they’re looking for possible new guests. Anyway, I got a call to talk about possibly being interviewed for the book. That day, the bracelet fell off… I don’t really believe in “The Secret” or anything, but I do believe that if you want something to happen and you put it out there and plan for it, sometimes the universe responds.”
Q: Obviously, the purple bracelet thing is a clue that you are a victim of internet stalking – I mean research. Between your memoir (How to Get Divorced by 30) and your “Mortified” appearances, you seem to be building a career from publicizing your personal life. How do you draw that line, and keep some part of yourself for yourself?
A: “It’s a strange thing. I guess for me, things that are so personal, like sex or relationships, particularly sex doesn’t seem so personal. I do have things that I try to keep for myself. Quieter thoughts or feelings that aren’t necessarily entertaining. I do want to feel like a person separate from Mortified, or from the book, or my articles. John [her father] is a writer, and he gave me the best advice. He told me that you have to put yourself on the line or there’s no point.”
Here Rothchild paused before leading neatly toward my next question. “I try to avoid crossing the line with my loved ones. Now, when I write articles or blog posts that involve my relationship with my boyfriend – I try not to cross that line.”
Q: And that brings me to my next question: I loved the reactions you printed of your family when you asked their permissions to name them in your memoir. But I have to ask, have you had responses from any of the other figures in the book?
A: “I have not heard from my ex-husband. Not at all. He has the book. But there’s been no reaction, which I guess is a reaction. But I heard from the ‘Cody’ character, the one who stole my migraine pills. He was quite pleased. He’s doing well; he’s sober and clean now. The ‘handsome stranger’ e-mailed me. He’s happy and thrilled with the book. The Devil is still devilish and thrilled with being called devil. My best friend that I called ‘Jennifer’ in the book …I heard from her parents, they thought it was touching. She’s so proud. The reactions have been pretty great so far. I think that people who are aware of themselves won’t have a problem.”
Q: It’s been a few years since the events of How to Get Divorced by 30; what is the sequel? How is life treating you these days? You have a boyfriend…
A: “Life is really great. After the divorce, I went through a year of craziness: dating, running around, not addressing the emotional implications. I decided that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life, so I started going to a therapist. I went back to the same therapist I had seen when I was twenty-one.” She caught my chuckle. “Yeah, the same one I lied to about cheating, but I started really talking and working.” “I have a new boyfriend. We’ve been together two and a half years. He’s open, communicative, emotionally available, mature… I was telling him recently that, even though I’ve been married, this is the most serious relationship I’ve ever been in. It’s hard – being honest with each other, talking – it takes work, closeness… I’ve tried to think about why the marriage didn’t work.”
Q: I was interested to find you blogging at Psychology Today and I particularly liked the title of your blog [“I’m No Expert, but…”]. How did that come about, and what has the reaction been from the “experts?”
A: “They were doing a feature article involving interviews on failures turning into successes, and I was interviewed for that because of the book. Then, based on that interview, they asked me to blog for them.” “One article I wrote, I talked about the book and not adhering to an arbitrary timetable, then at the end, I said sort of tongue-in-cheek, that my next book should be How to Get Remarried by 35. One woman commented, she gave it a lot of thought, that why should we believe anything I write since I’d just contradicted myself. I think she may have missed the tongue-in-cheek part.” “I’ve tried to have definitive opinions to get people to react. It’s been not as angry as I thought. …the lack of humor problem. But the experts haven’t given me too hard of a time. I’ve gotten off better than I expected.”
Q: Is it at all surreal to be so involved now – with book tours and interviews and such – with an event that you’ve already worked through in your actual life?
A: “It does. It seems… I feel very far away. I have this new, amazing relationship. I know so much more now. 3 years have passed. I’m 33 now, but because of the book, people think I’m 30. I’ve moved on in my life, but for my career – this is what’s happening now, so I have to focus on that, too.” “It’s strange, I’ll be at readings or book signings, and so many women…I’ve had women come up to me and say ‘I’m 29, and I’m trying to decide what to do…’ Feeling what I felt then, and helping others places me back. It is strange to be in a new relationship and dealing with the divorce.” “I was at a book signing, and this little old lady came up to me and said ‘Oh, are you the author.’ I said yes, and she asked if she bought a book, would I sign it. She saw the title and said, ‘I was divorced by 30.” Rothchild paused, almost as if delivering a punch-line. “She was divorced three times, so I’m not sure she learned.”
Q: I think I saw that How to Get Divorced by 30 has been optioned as a movie. How is that process going?
A: It’s that weird timing thing again. I wrote an article before I wrote the book [the book was expanded from the original article], and Universal Studios optioned the article. So there have been lots of stops and starts, but now with the book out, it’s really exciting. I’m supposed to be writing the script. We have a meeting next week, so it’s moving forward.”
Q: What writing project is next for you?
A: “I’m working on a feature film – it’s a spec script, a romantic comedy. I wrote a teen dramadey pilot for ABC Family– I just found out it’s not going to air. My next project is the movie version [of How to Get Divorced by 30]. And I’m going to continue to promote the book.
Q: Going back to differentiating between private and professional lives: do you find yourself either narrating your everyday activities, or mentally mining your personal life for writing material?
A: “I do. I’m trying…I do find myself doing that, and I try not to. I’m trying to live my life to live it and not to have material. But I do find myself doing that. I’m in a stable relationship – the material is very different. But if there’s an interesting point of view, no matter what happens you can skew it. I did an article on couples’ therapy. When my boyfriend and I first started, I thought ‘I don’t want to go, but if I do, it’ll be good material.’ It is a good way to force new experiences, but I do want to live my life…”
Q: What is your writing process like? From your book, you strike me as someone who would have trouble sitting still for long periods of time.
This got a laugh. “When I write…I’m truly an extrovert; I get my energy from other people. I do not like to be alone…But when I write, it’s the only time I can sit in a chair and stare at a computer, and I don’t feel alone. It’s just me and my words. I can write for long periods. But I have a 5 hour per day limit, then my head kind of shuts off…It’s the only time I like being alone. When I have a deadline, I’m very structured. I’ll get up and write for 3 hours then take a break and write for 2 hours more. When I have no deadline, there are fewer rules, I’ll wake up at 3 am and write. Of course, now I have a dog, so there’s more structure; he has to be fed and walked… When I was working on the book, I stayed in my apartment for 3 months, not changing my pajamas, eating out of cans of chickpeas. I wrote the book in 3 months.”
Q: Now, for a somewhat more serious question: By your own account, you had a pretty unconventional upbringing, yet in How to Get Divorced by 30 you describe a series of fairly common struggles with societal ideals regarding body image, marriage, etc. Does it seem to you that the expectations of others are an unavoidable influence?
A: “I think so, and especially in a town like Miami Beach, it’s such a looks-ist place. Maybe it depends a little on where you grow up. But there I was, a chubby 9 year old surrounded by all of these beautiful people…I took a seminar in college—it was a feminist seminar on body image and marketing, and they said that if you never looked at magazines and marketing, and just looked at the people around you, you’d feel pretty good about yourself. But, in Miami Beach, there are bikini models everywhere, and I still compared myself even at nine to the people around me. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t really get that reinforcement at home.”
“On the wanting to get married thing, that starts so early with fairy tales, and pre-school and princesses. Those tales – we’re inundated with them, the prince saving the princess. I thought I was escaping that by marrying a guy who was the opposite of romantic, but it still didn’t work.”
Q: How do you feel you’re dealing with those things now, has your grip on them improved?
A: “I definitely have a better grip on the idea that wanting to get married doesn’t solve anything. Getting married shouldn’t be a goal. Falling in love, ok, maybe that could be a goal, but getting married itself shouldn’t be.”
“Body image – I still struggle. I live in LA, all those size 00s. I intellectually understand that that’s not healthy, and that I’m at a healthy weight, but it’s hard not to have old voices pop out. I still struggle with it. I guess most women do.”
Q: This is one of those questions that I dread asking, with animals… but I have to know, how is Spork? [Rothchild’s cat features prominently in How to Get Divorced by 30
A: “Spork. Spork is so great. I was worried with the new dog. But I’ve catered to that cat’s every whim for 10 years. We got a trainer to come in for the first day, to make sure they got introduced correctly. For 2 weeks Spork hid and yelled at me…Now they’re totally friends; they sniff faces and get treats together…In life you can always add good things. It’s important not to be afraid to add good things because you’re worried they will take away from the good things you already have.”
Q: Do you have anything you’d like people to take away?
A: “I wish I had something awesome… I guess, I hope that people who read the book can be a little easier on themselves.”
With that answer, Sascha Rothchild revealed herself as an accomplished memoirist. The quality that distinguishes a good memoir from a more self-aggrandizing autobiography, is a spirit of generosity, a willingness by the author to reveal his/her weaknesses in the context of our shared humanity. One should feel, upon reading a memoir, that we all goof up, that joys and trials and humiliations are shared by all of us. It is the generosity of a memoirist that allows us to view our own lives through the window of someone else’s experience. That generosity was displayed by Rothchild throughout our interview, even at the closing “If you’re ever in LA, let me know.” Wouldn’t that be fun? But, in the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for more of Sascha Rothchild’s work.