Alyssa Shelasky, APRON ANXIETY

Alyssa Shelasky, APRON ANXIETY

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alyssa. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Alyssa Shelasky: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I have so much to talk to you about. I don’t even where to start first. First of all, your book, Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen, was so good. I know you wrote this a while ago and you have lots of exciting stuff coming up and everything. I have to say I just loved it. It was so good. I just had to start with that.

Alyssa: That means a lot to me. The people who did read that book had a similar reaction. I would get emails from people saying, “I’m in the grocery store thinking about this scene. It brought me to my knees.” People had a really emotional reaction to the pages. It makes me really happy. It also makes me kind of emotional to talk about the book. It’s strange because it was a while ago. It was eight years ago that I wrote it and published it. It really stuck with me. I still have dreams and also even sort of nightmares about some of the stories in the book. It really defined a huge part of my life.

Zibby: You talked in the book about everything. It was like a coming of age. Also, your learning how to cook was a metaphor, I feel like, for so many other things. I also had to teach myself how to cook when I was about the same age. I feel like there were so many similarities in our lives. Going to LA, I also went to LA for part of the time. I also lost a dear friend on 9/11. There were all these things in both of our growing up that I was like, oh, my gosh, this girl should be my friend.

Alyssa: Thank you so much. It’s strange because I get that a lot even in the articles I write for New York magazine or The New York Times. I often hear from people that, you are me, or you know me, or you hear me, or whatever. I get it from people who are so different from me, so different from you. To me, it just speaks to the universal truths that we all want to love and be loved. Everybody hurts. Especially right now, everybody is struggling. Thank you. I can’t believe that I have one more reader. I didn’t do a really good job marketing that book. I just didn’t get it. I was happy that I wrote a book. I was so happy to be done with the book. I wanted to move to Italy and write my own Eat Pray Love the minute it was over. I didn’t really work on the marketing or the sales of it all. Now I know the business. I know what goes into actually selling a book. Not that many people read it. I do feel like this real closeness to people who now know all my secrets and who were on that journey with me.

Zibby: No time like the present. Let’s get this in people’s hands. Also, it’s so timeless. It doesn’t matter that it came out eight years ago versus today. Aside from the global pandemic, there’s nothing that you can’t relate to now. There’s nothing that a twenty-three-year-old going through the same things today — not that you have to be twenty-three. It could’ve been at any time, really. You had a very successful blog at the time, Apron Anxiety. How did this become a book from the blog?

Alyssa: It feels like many lifetimes ago. I was engaged to a celebrity chef. I don’t know if he’s quite a celebrity anymore. At the time, he was kind of the “it” chef. He was on Top Chef. It was supposed to be a very different book. We were really happy. We were young, dumb, and in love. I got a book deal with Clarkson Potter. It was a food memoir with recipes. It was supposed to have a happy ending. No spoiler alerts, but like most relationships with sexy, hot, young chefs, it did not go as planned. Right when I started writing it, after I got my book deal, we broke up. Again, that doesn’t ruin — you could google me. I have two kids with a totally — I have a totally different life now, so you know I didn’t end up with a chef. After we broke up, my world fell apart. On top of everything, I assumed I had lost my book deal, which was really the greatest love of my life. The thing that mattered more than any of it was as a writer, to have a book. I assumed I lost that on top of everything else. I called my editor at Clarkson Potter. I said, “It’s over. I’m not going to be a chef’s wife anymore. I’m moving back to New York alone. I doubt I’ll be cooking for anybody ever again.”

She said, “Are you crazy? Write through the pain. First of all, as someone who cares about you, write through that pain. It will save you. Second of all, what a better story. Who needs another happy ending? What a better story that you went through this. You lived it. You survived. You lived to tell about it. At some point, you will be able to laugh and celebrate the mistakes you made.” She was right. That was what turned out to be the book. It was a totally different type of book in the end. It was much more of a memoir than a cookbook. I think part of the reason the minute the book came out I just left for Italy is that it was a really intimate story to tell and very, very hard to retell over and over. I was very much heartbroken and thirty-four and starting to really become scared about my future and wondering if I had really fucked things up for the long term. The last thing I wanted to do was keep retelling this story of immense pain and regret. I did some press. I did what I could because I was very proud of the book, but I mostly wanted to literally turn the page. That’s why I moved to Italy and started a whole new trajectory of messed up relationships and difficult men and just romantic disasters that I couldn’t seem to escape. Luckily, there’s going to be a second book to talk about.

Zibby: Wait, can I just ask a PS to Apron Anxiety, are you still in touch with the chef? Do you have a relationship with him now?

Alyssa: No, not really at all. This is not just some cheap line. I only have beautiful, warm, loving feelings for him. Number one, he let me write that book with no drama. I remember the editor and the lawyer saying, “We have to send this book to him to approve every single page.” I wanted that too. I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with it. Within half a day, he wrote back, “You write whatever you want. I support you.” He was so kind and generous. I loved him for a long time. Then I stopped loving him. We moved on. I think he had a child right around when I had my first child. At the time, the thought of that, your ex having a baby with somebody else who they’re madly in love with sounds like, how would you ever deal with that? At the time, I was nothing but joyful for him and psyched for the two of us. We did it. We found our happy places. We found our people. We found our babies. It’s all good. No, I don’t really know anything about him. I’m not one of those people that googles her exes. I think that is so toxic. I don’t want to know. He kind of has a public name, so every now and then people will be like, I heard he is opening in — I don’t want to know. I don’t. Nothing good comes from that. Why? So I can miss him a little bit? So I can cry a little tear? I don’t want it. I don’t know what he’s up to. We’re not in touch, but I love him and I hope all good things.

Zibby: Aw, that’s amazing. I did find myself sometimes rooting for you guys to make it work knowing that it was almost impossible. I knew it didn’t because I’ve read your more recent stuff. You know how you can suspend disbelief when you’re reading? I’m like, maybe. I don’t know. Who knows?

Alyssa: I know. Then you just tell yourself what you need to at the end of books so that you can sleep at night. That happened with Normal People. I was like, oh, they took a year — I assume you read it or at least saw the show.

Zibby: I saw the show.

Alyssa: They took a year or two off, but they totally found each other in the end and they’re totally together. I had to tell myself that just to be able to put the book away.

Zibby: So you went to Italy. You were a single mom for a while. Then you fell in love. Now you have another child with someone you call your baby daddy and your partner and whatever else.

Alyssa: God, I really need to rebrand the term for whatever we are. I know a lot of non-married couple also don’t know how to deal with this. I’ll rewind. I went to Italy. I fell in love with literally the first human being I spoke to. We were inseparable for the next year. I was like, okay, this is how my story ends. This is interesting. I have a Brooklyn/Roman life. We go back and forth. I became a travel writer for Condé Nast Traveller. I was the Rome correspondent. The optics of it were very, very glamorous, but he was very dark. I clearly have a type. He was a little bit dark and brooding, super sexy. He, after a year together, told me that he wanted to ride off on his motorcycle through India smoking hash in yurts alone.

Zibby: Ugh.

Alyssa: I know. Ugh. That’s exactly — and I didn’t see it coming. I moved back to New York the next day. By then, I was romantically dead. I was just dead. It was like, how many heartbreaks can one person go through before they are officially broken? I was a little bit broken. My inner spirit was not herself. I didn’t know what to do. I let myself be sad for a few months, but it’s really not my style. I can’t stay sad for long. I rose above. I remember one night I looked in the mirror in my little Ditmas Park apartment in Brooklyn. I was crying. I said, what do you want, Alyssa? What is it? What will make you happy? You are capable of anything. You can handle anything. What do you want? The answer was motherhood. I was like, okay, I’m doing this. I’m going to be a mom. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. It wasn’t like an aha. It was like, it is time. By then, I was thirty-seven. I knew — and not all women know this. I can only speak for myself. I knew I wasn’t going to have a happy life if I didn’t have kids. That was just my truth.

I only knew one other person who was having a baby on her own. That’s a mutual friend, Amanda. She was a little ahead of me. I’ve quoted her in stories. She knows that she’s sort of the hero of this story. I did exactly what she told me to do. She knows her shit. She knew the best doctors. She knew the best sperm bank. She’s so cool. I really relied on her to get me through this. I’m telling you, Zibby, from the minute I made that decision, I’m going to have a baby on my own, I’ve never felt scared. I was never nervous. It felt so right and so natural and so obvious. What took me so long? It worked. I got pregnant quite easily. I chose a sperm donor who I knew the minute I saw his profile that he was the one. I had my daughter, Hazel. While I was pregnant, I dated a little bit because why not? I felt sexy. My boobs were amazing. I felt more alive than I ever had. I stopped dating, obviously, when it became uncomfortable to button my little wrap dresses and stuff. I had a little bit of a romance while I was pregnant which was nice because I had a person to call after my appointments. It was a magical time.

Then I had my daughter. I should say I wasn’t totally alone. I have an incredibly supportive family. We all live nearby. I had an emergency c-section. My dad was there with me. He was the first person to hold my daughter. It was a beautiful lovefest. I never felt bad for myself. I never worried about how I would pull it off. I don’t have a lot of money. I don’t come from a lot of money. A lot of people were concerned, how would I support a child? I knew it would work out. It did. A few months after I had Hazel, I was bored. I was nursing around the clock. I had watched every show. I had binged every housewife. I had nothing left to do at three o’clock in the morning, so I joined Tinder. I put in my profile, single mom with a very uncomplicated situation. In other words, no crazy ex. It was weird to have a five-month-old. I had to sort of explain, but I didn’t say too much. I just said it’s all good. I got a good situation here. I’m single. I kind of just want somebody to have a glass of wine with. I was not looking for a husband. I was not looking for a father for my daughter. I just wanted a little bit of flirtation. One of the first people I met was this guy Sam. He said he was from Maine. He was a documentary filmmaker and all the things that always lured me in, the sexy, artsy thing.

I could tell within a minute of talking to him he was more than that. He was a family man. He came from a big family. He was grounded. He was stable and steady, all of those missing pieces from before. We had a first date. My mom watched my daughter. We had bloody marys at Vinegar Hill House. Hazel came with us on every single date from that point on. We became a family really quickly. It’s a fairytale. It really is a fairytale. He’s wonderful. She said daddy before she said mommy. We just had another baby together. I’m forty-two. I just had a second baby. It wasn’t that hard. It’s a lot of miraculous, hopeful things. I do often hear, it all worked out. It did, but also, we would’ve been okay. I don’t really love the message that we needed a man for it to all work out. It worked out the minute I had a healthy baby. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s not a beautiful story just because we found the prince charming. That’s just a nice handsome cherry on top. That’s the story. It didn’t come without a lot of pain and a lot of hard choices. I tell my stories and I always cry because they’re beautiful stories, but there was so much heartbreak and so much struggle that went into this. There will be more heartbreak. There will be more struggle for all of us. That’s what it is to be alive. That’s why I can’t wait to write this next book. I have so much to say about this stuff.

Zibby: Wait, so tell me about your next book. Congratulations on your book deal. It’s so exciting. Tell everybody the name and what it’s about and all the rest of it.

Alyssa: I’m so glad I can announce it on your podcast.

Zibby: Yay!

Alyssa: It just happened like a second ago. We’re calling it This Might Be Too Personal. It’s a series of essays on my own private stories of love and pain as tied to my career as a love, sex, and celebrity writer. So many of my relationships and hardships happened because of where I was with work or my career or my ambition or my successes or my failure, and mostly my failures. It’s all in there together sort of like Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which I’m listening to right now and loving. They’re personal stories, but in relation to my really unique work life. I’m so excited to do it. There’s nothing I’m not going to talk about. I’m scared, but I’m really excited.

Zibby: I can’t wait. Before, you were saying you have high hopes it’s going to be a masterpiece, which is the greatest thing to hear from a writer. I love it. No doubt it’s going to be amazing. I cannot wait.

Alyssa: I don’t suffer from that. I’m not one of those neurotic self-hating writers.

Zibby: Thank goodness.

Alyssa: I think I’m a great writer.

Zibby: That’s it. Own it. Why not? It’s awesome. Your recent articles in The New York Times have been so amazing. I particularly appreciated your article when you let every married couple off the hook from having sex in the pandemic. That was very kind of you. Thanks for that.

Alyssa: I was really surprised that so many people were like, thank you so much. I’m like, isn’t this what you talk about with your friends? All we talk about is how we don’t want to have sex. It’s like, hi, did you want to get a latte? Did you have to have sex last night? That’s it. Like I said in the story, we will all get our sex lives back, but oh god, not now.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I am so excited to have gotten this sneak peek of your new book. I loved all your articles, being a single mom and then how you just told it now and how you wrote about in The Times and your recent article in The Times and your book and all your other zillion articles and essays and everything. You’re a fantastic writer. I love that you just share your voice so openly. You are who you are. It’s refreshing and awesome. I am so rooting for you at every step, as I was just even reading the book, just holding my breath and rooting for you. Now I feel this sense of ridiculous pride even though I just am meeting you having gone through your memoir to see where you are now and all you’ve been through. I can’t wait to keep following you. It’s amazing.

Alyssa: Seriously, it’s super meaningful to talk about the new book with you for the first time because I feel really safe with you and really close to you through our mutual friends. I think that you’re awesome. I think you are so good for women and writers. I’m lucky you’re part of my tribe.

Zibby: Aw. Anything I can do to help with this new book. I mean it. I know it’s going to be amazing, just like you do. I still think we should try to resurrect Apron Anxiety and get it back out there and not let it just sit undiscovered because it’s so good. I’m in your corner. I’m glad we connected.

Alyssa: Thank you. Good luck with everything you guys are going through.

Zibby: Thank you. You too. Bye.

Alyssa: Big kiss. Bye.

Alyssa Shelasky, APRON ANXIETY