What it was like recording my life story with Natasha Lyonne.
“I know I’m not a writer but I was thinking I should add a line,” Natasha asked with a straight face before cracking up, “…’bitches be crazy.’ You’re welcome, you can use that.”
Hearing Natasha Lyonne laugh might be one of my favorite sounds on the planet. As soon as I heard it I knew I would keep the recording going throughout the project no matter how sidetracked we got.
I needed to document this once in a lifetime experience of laughing my ass off over and over again with Natasha in the middle of what had the potential to be an incredibly somber and depressing experience.
Natasha and I sat across from each other in the soundproof TV studio at Columbia University, alone with all lights out so no noises infiltrated the room. Just the light from the computer screen and a small lamp next to her lit up our faces as we got recorded. Being back at that campus was enough of a mind f*ck but being back with one of my childhood icons was insane.
When I was a senior at Columbia University I had to drop out after I terrifyingly found myself no longer able to read or write let alone get out of bed for classes anymore. I had unknowingly contracted advanced Lyme Disease as well as Co-infections Babesia and Bartonella from a tick bite I incurred while traveling with my band.
I fought with everything I had, being hospitalized in infectious disease wards off and on for a year until I was finally diagnosed. I spent over 3 years bedridden, for months on end unable to even walk or talk.
I underwent surgeries, had multiple tubes to my heart, was on 3 IVs a day and nearly 96 pills and drops of medications, and somehow I survived to write about it in the form of my memoir Lyme Light. And somehow Lyme Light ended up bringing me here.
I had no idea that the book would ever get far enough to create an audiobook, but when the idea of one came to mind, it was never a question to me, the right person, the only person, was Natasha Lyonne. When I was a kid, I saw Natasha in Slums of Beverly Hills and American Pie and got called out on our similarities – mostly our attitude but my untamed hair I’m sure didn’t help.
She was in the first lesbian movie I ever saw, But I’m a Cheerleader and I told myself back then as a kid, I’d have the chance work with her someday. I should also acknowledge that when I was sick and could no longer read, I would have been thrilled to listen to Natasha tell me a story for 4 or 5 hours, hell, I love that girl’s voice so much I probably would have been happy to listen to hear her read me the dictionary.
When I got the call that Natasha was available to record the audiobook, I was in San Diego, CA. Natasha was in NYC and had a few days free during a week break from shooting season 2 of Orange Is the New Black. I immediately told them yes. When it comes to opportunities like this in life, always say yes and figure out all the rest of the shit later. In this case, however, there was a lot of shit to figure out later.
I had no recording studio, no plane ticket, nowhere to stay, very little money, and a date to record my entire memoir with Natasha 3000 miles away in 5 days.
I packed up my car. I packed up my mac and Pro Tools, my good recording mic and stands, some clothes, my great white Pyrenees—Junior, and a ton of dog food.
As I drove I called recording studios in New York City, trying to find a place on short notice that would be affordable. Non-existent. I reached out to my former professor, Dr. Farah Griffen who got me in touch with the head of the student TV and Film studio at Columbia. They blocked out three days for me to use their soundproof room… for free!
The room I was set up in resembled something out of the Daily Show. My computer and Pro Tools were set up behind the ridiculous two-person newsroom desk, which sat in front of a giant green screen. I set up the microphone and stand in front of what appeared to be a “reading corner” with giant bookshelves filled with random books with strange titles. I thought it was hilarious to ask Natasha to read in front of it to which she took full advantage of.
“When we’re done do you mind if I read out loud the entire ‘No More Vietnams, the War and the Future of American Foreign Policy’?” Natasha asked pulling it off the shelf, “… I would strongly suggest attaching it to your book.”
I had met Natasha earlier that day on the street in front of a restaurant, she is a tiny little thing with just as much ballsy presence as you’d expect from the lifelong New Yorker and astrological Aries.
“How you feeling? You feeling better?” she asked straight off, finishing her cigarette and following me onto campus. We walked through the corridors both of us in aviator glasses and black jeans, our messy curls covering our faces. Me in a hoodie, her in a cardigan.
We read for 8 hours at a time, powering through with a slight obsessive note to keep going. She took breaks to smoke and I checked my phone. Once while Natasha was outside, I didn’t recognize the phone number of a new text.
Hey It’s Natasha, can I get you anything to drink at the deli?
Natasha never missed a beat in looking out for me while we worked together, so much so that I made an entire outtake section where she’s just offering me food.
And even through all the laughter, Natasha never missed an emotion that my memoir called for: grief, falling in love, being terrified by this overwhelming illness, the loneliness of disease, and of course the sarcasm and humor that got me through it all. It also didn’t hurt that she’s the only other person I know who curses as much as I do.