For 10 years, Liz Spikol wrote The Trouble With Spikol — a plucky, often-humorous, first-person newspaper column/blog documenting the trials and tribulations of coping with mental illness — for the Philadelphia Weekly. Her writing has garnered numerous awards from the Society for Professional Journalists and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, as well as the Mental Health America and the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society. She received an Access Achievement Award from the Mayor’s Commission on People With Disabilities for her efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness. She has been featured on National Public Radio and the Discovery Channel, and in the New York Times. She currently blogs for Philadelphia magazine’s Philly Post and edits Tek Lado, a technology and pop culture blog. She will be reading at First Person Festival’s Stripped Stories — “a night of sex-themed stories, games and live music” — along with Kent Dwyer, 10 PM tonight and tomorrow night at the Painted Bride.
PHAWKER: Given that the first person is a risky strategy — when it works, it’s home run, but often people just mistake it for self-aggrandizment or self-absorption and react with hostility and contempt — when is first person appropriate and when is it not?
LIZ SPIKOL: In order for first-person to work, you have to either 1. have something really interesting to say or 2. have a really unique way of saying something. If you can write beautifully and poignantly and with great style about eating your cereal, have at it. Or if you’ve just come back from Afghanistan and you’re not much of a writer but you want to share your experiences because they have larger meaning, go for it. A combination of the two is ideal.
PHAWKER: You are probably the most fearlessly confessional writer in the city. Have you ever regretted revealing something? If so, what and please go on in excruciating detail about it.
LIZ SPIKOL: Only once, believe it or not. I wrote about a break-up in a way that really hurt my soon-to-be-ex. It was patently wrong; it wasn’t even borderline. It’s just … the material was so good, you know? About two seconds after the paper went to press, I knew I’d made a horrible mistake. Writers can be ruthless sometimes.
PHAWKER: True or false: As long as you are willing to make fun of yourself, you can can get away with just about anything.
LIZ SPIKOL: True, unless you’re Jerry Sandusky.
PHAWKER: Any thoughts on the whole Occupy thingee?
LIZ SPIKOL: I was actually involved with Occupy Philly as part of the Medic Committee at the beginning. I think the movement as a whole is incredible. I think if you see it through a historical lens, it fits right in with significant protest movements around times of economic disparity, including those during the Great Depression. I don’t care that people aren’t dressed perfectly or aren’t grown-up enough for the grownups; it’s spurring conversation about marginalized people. I was on Cape Cod a few weeks ago with a couple friends from Italy. They were so excited about Occupy. It reminds them a lot of protest movements in Europe and even in the Middle East. From their point of view, it’s something for Americans to be proud of. I am proud of it, even if every day I watch the news and think, “Holy crap, what a giant clusterfuck.”
PHAWKER: So you are reading tonight at the First Person Festival tonight and the theme is sex. I am guessing you have a few disaster stories up your sleeve that you plan to milk for maximum comedic effect. Can you give us a taste?
LIZ SPIKOL: I’m going to talk about why I’m still a virgin.