“I’m a lot stronger than the girl they used to call Barfin’ Arfin back in 1991,” Lesley Arfin writes in her new book, Dear Diary. The memoir, spawned from Arfin’s Vice Magazine column, is the writer’s attempt to reach out to teenage girls who â€“ like the author â€“ may find themselves with equally nasty nicknames, frienemies and habitual drug habits. Arfin’s story is not a unique one, as she mockingly points out in the books conclusion: “A 14-year-old girl feels insecure? Stop the presses!” Still, the story is somewhat universal, if not intellectual, and offers teens a realistic account of their own troubles from an older, wiser and sober sort of Auntie Cool. Plus, the kids seem to dig it, at least according to Arfin’s MySpace messages.
“Self indulgence. Yeah, I’m sure that has remained a constant and I’m still like, pay attention to me!”
Format: Dear Diary started as a column for Vice Magazine. How did you decide to turn the column into a book?
Arfin: I had thought the column would make a great book for a while. Then, Vice made a deal with MTV to start publishing books, and about a year later we got the publishing deal and they just asked me â€˜do you want to do the book?
Format: Your work, up to this point, has been mainly magazine work. How challenging was writing the book in comparison with the column?
Arfin: I actually felt much more comfortable writing the book. I’m trained in fiction and non-fiction writing, so that was kind of what felt right.
Format: Basically, you let the world read your entire teen diary. Were there any particular moments in the book that embarrass you more than others?
Arfin: Yes, oh my god, yes! It’s all so embarrassing. I hesitated many times, especially while I was writing the column. Because the column, you know, I used real names, and that was the first time I had written something so personal like that for the world to read. I didn’t think a lot of people were reading it. But you know what, the more embarrassing it is, the more I knew I had to put it in there.
Format: Anything you kept out of the book because it was too mortifying?
Arfin: There were things that were cut out of this book, because it was a little too long, but it was more just the stuff that we thought might be boring that ended up getting cut. All the most embarrassing stuff to write, yeah, that all got in.
“…the more embarrassing it is, the more I knew I had to put it in there.”
Format: You dedicate the novel to your parents, and ask them “please don’t read it.” Have they?
Arfin: You know, they tell me that they haven’t, but I was talking to the mother of one of my friends, and she was like, â€˜You know, I’m going to tell you this, as a mom â€“ they’ve read it.â€™ But as long as they don’t tell me they read it, that’s fine with me.
Format: Were there any people who you interviewed who were immensely uncomfortable with being interviewed?
Arfin: When I told them I was changing their names, they were fine with it. But some people just wouldn’t call me back, they just didn’t want to be involved in it. Andy McDaris, this kid I had a crush on, I wrote about him in the book, but yeah he definitely didn’t want to do it.
Format: Did you explain the kind of book you were writing when you called these people from your past?
Arfin: Yes. I had a routine I would go through. Like “I’m writing a book, based on my diary, and I’m interviewing people from my past. Can I interview you?”
Format: So you didn’t go into how graphic it was going to be?
Arfin: No, I guess not.
Format: Do you think this affected the quality of your interviews?
Arfin: Probably yes, but â€“ I really don’t know. That’s a good question. Maybe.
Format: Were there any people you felt like were acting a little, trying to wriggle out of looking like an asshole in print?
Arfin: Maybe. I forgot his name in the book. I think his name was Brian? And that girl, who was my friend, her name is Lydia in the book. I felt like she was actually full of shit in the interview. Just saying â€˜No, I always loved you!â€™ Blah, blah, blah, yeah, whatever.
Format: When you started writing the book, what audience did you expect to reach?
Arfin: Teenage girls.
Format: Do you think you’ve been successful in finding an audience amongst teen girls?
Arfin: I think so, I really do. The book’s only been out like a month and a half, so there’s still a lot more people it can reach, but my MySpace messages are flooded with teenage girls.
Format: Do you feel like writing all that happened, especially in regard to drug addiction, was a step in overcoming it?
Arfin: As far as the drugs, I think I overcame all that before the book. I’ve been clean and sober for about five years and I really don’t think I could have written the book if I wasn’t. About all the sex and insecurity stuff, I don’t think anybody ever overcomes all of that. I mean, it’s not how it was when I was 14 or 17, but it still bites me in the ass now and again.
“…my MySpace messages are flooded with teenage girls.”
Format: You had Chloe Sevigny write the intro to the book. Why?
Arfin: When I met her, she came up to me at this place called the Hole, and was like â€˜Oh my god you write Dear Diary, we have such a similar past,â€™ and then I became really good friends with her. She’s my only friend who’s really a celebrity and when we were looking for someone to write the intro, the publishers needed a name and she’s just so beautiful and has gone through a similar lifestyle. You know it shows that â€“ it’s cool how that shows, you know, it wasn’t just me, we all go through this, even celebrities like Chloe.
Format: There’s a particularly creepy illustration of you and your track marks, looking like hell on a sofa that got the vibe of your heroin chapters across quite well. Who did the illustrations for the book?
Arfin: Her name is Vanessa Davis. She’s great, isn’t she? Gavin [McInnes, one of three founders of Vice Magazine] and I went through a whole bunch of cartoonists and I just thought she was perfect.
“It’s so sad how much time I wasted on hating myself, it made me feel so upset. I do not live like that today.”
Format: You change a great deal throughout the book: bouncing from one scene, drug, friend and boyfriend to the next. What do you think has remained a constant in your personality?
Arfin: Self indulgence. Yeah, I’m sure that has remained a constant and I’m still like, pay attention to me! Look at me! Oh, and I also think when I get a crush on a guy or I fall for a guy, I fall so hard. No matter how old I am, I still feel like a 13-year-old when I have a crush.
Format: Female insecurity seems to be a theme that holds up from start to finish. Do you see this more in yourself now that you have written a book documenting it?
Arfin: Do I see myself as a very insecure person? That’s one thing I think I have sort of surpassed. I realized that when I was writing the book. It’s so sad how much time I wasted on hating myself, it made me feel so upset. I do not live like that today. I do get insecure moments, yeah, but I don’t hate myself. I felt like I lived in those moments so steadily my whole life. It got really emotional for me while I was working on it, to read how I just didn’t like myself then. I was like, no wonder no one liked me, I was a fucking mess. I didn’t even like myself, no wonder everyone hated me.