S2E6 Blair Hopkins, East Village Widow

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

Author, podcaster, and cheerful nihilist Blair Hopkins navigates grief recovery against the booze-fueled backdrop of Manhattan's East Village. Listen as she wrestles with such universal themes as artistic insecurity (aka The Fraud Complex), dissociation in times of crisis, and the importance of empathy and humor.

Highlight Reel:

2:50 - Bar Widows of the East Village

8:52 - Comparison and imposter syndrome: the doom of all artists

11:30 - Stop collecting underpants (aka procrastinating)

12:57 - What it's like to be a widow magnet

14:46 - How 12 step culture taught Blair how NOT to tell a story

16:04 - What it was like to lose Shane (her partner who died)

24:40 - What denial really looks like

27:29 - The virtues of nihilism as a coping mechanism

28:20 - How tragedy amps up empathy

29:31 - Everyone is doing their best with the resources they have

37:14 - None of us are okay. And that's okay.

37:37 - The meaning of life

42:15 - An exercise to help you break through writer's block

Adrienne MacIain 0:40


Blair Hopkins 1:01

Hey everyone. I am here with Blair Hopkins today and I'm going to do something I rarely do: I'm going to read her entire bio, because I love it. Blair Hopkins is a travel writer and photo journalist based out of her beleaguered trooper of a Nissan Versa. She hosts the podcast "Blair Slept There," an exploration of life, culture and history relative to our shared spaces, and is the author of All In a Day's Sex Work, a multimedia investigation into the daily lives of the intriguing, often maligned, and dedicated professionals who occupy our fantasies and indulge our deepest erotic urges. Blair has contributed to a number of publications including Here magazine, Timeout, Food Fanatics, and Brooklyn Vegan. Currently, Blair is cobbling together a memoir, the grit of which we will be getting into here today. Does that about cover it, Blair?


Adrienne MacIain 2:02

Fantastic. So I've known Blair for a bit, and she's incredibly talented. And I'm really, really happy to have her here today because she's gonna do something super fucking brave today. Right Blair?

Blair Hopkins 2:16

Sure. Thank you for having me.

Adrienne MacIain 2:21

So, Blair, what are we going to be talking about today?

Blair Hopkins 2:24

So, you asked me about stories that I was stuck on. And outside of the realm of my normal I-have-to-procrastinate-and-I-don't-know-how-anything's-going-to-formulate-ever-until-the-very-last-second, the only story that has just been plaguing me from a logistical and structural level has been this memoir.

Adrienne MacIain 2:49


Blair Hopkins 2:50

So the memoir is about a period of time a few years ago where, within about a six month span, I and several of my friends, all kind of peripherally in the same friend group or bar scene, all lost our partners.

Adrienne MacIain 3:08


Blair Hopkins 3:09

Yeah. And all in pretty similar ways. We're all just kind of tangentially connected through the same bar scene in the East Village. So the the memoir's going to be called Bar Widows of the East Village. And I just have always been of the opinion that when you come up with a great title for something, you should write something to accompany it.

Adrienne MacIain 3:33


Blair Hopkins 3:35

Because often, the title is the hardest part.

Adrienne MacIain 3:38

Yeah, so true.

Blair Hopkins 3:39

So my goal has been I mean, I started trying to write about the death of my partner pretty shortly afterwards, mostly because I was drinking a lot.


And I write a lot when I'm drinking. But I found that everything that came out of me was just like, too sad to be good.

Adrienne MacIain 3:59

Right, it was too close.

Blair Hopkins 4:01

Right. And now with some time and perspective and some Zoloft and etc, etc, and a book under my belt now so I know I can do this.

Adrienne MacIain 4:13


Blair Hopkins 4:14

My goal has become to get it ready to start shopping by the five year anniversary, which is this coming August.

Adrienne MacIain 4:20

Okay. So where does this story begin for you?

Blair Hopkins 4:24

Hmmmm. Well, I've kind of settled on the story itself beginning about a year and a half afterwards. I had moved out of New York and moved to New Orleans, kind of hoping to get my head together and have a little change of pace and actually I moved down there to kind of dry out, which no one believes, but is true. [laughter] And, you know, basically I moved down there because I could be poor enough in Louisiana to get Medicaid, and I couldn't do that in New York and also stay afloat.

Adrienne MacIain 5:03

Got it.

Blair Hopkins 5:04

I made too much money there to get any kind of assistance but too little to afford any insurance. So I moved in with a friend in Louisiana, and just got really super fucking broke and got on Medicaid.

Adrienne MacIain 5:16


Blair Hopkins 5:17

Uh huh. Yeah, right, there we go, there's a larger narrative here about America, but--

Adrienne MacIain 5:24

Yup, yup.

Blair Hopkins 5:25

--it was the day that I was set to pick up my prescription for the first antidepressant that I tried, which was Prozac. And I couldn't leave the house. I had probably about a seven hour long panic attack that um... my panic attacks had been hospitalizing me leading up to that point, they'd gotten so bad. I was in a really, really, really dark place. And that particular day, I just couldn't leave the house. I was pacing the length of our shotgun back and forth like, clutching my epipen and just, you know, just losing my fucking mind. And I remember saying to my friend Sarah, who was one of the people that I would call when these things would hit me: "This is crazy. This is how crazy people behave. This is not correct. I can't fucking live like this."

Adrienne MacIain 6:19


Blair Hopkins 6:21

And so to me, that moment, in retrospect, became kind of that Dantean, you know, moment after he tries to run across the field to start climbing the peak and is driven back into the woods by the dark beasts, and the shade of Virgil appears to him and is like, "Let's... we're going to talk you through this. We have to go the long way." That's where I've kind of decided to begin the story. I think the story actually begins, you know, obviously, on the day that Shane died, that was my partner.

Adrienne MacIain 6:56

I imagine there'll be a lot have flashbacks here, this is sort of entry point, but then we're going to move backward from there to see...

Right. And that's been the structural challenge, right? Because I've been told, like, "You should just cobble together as many little vignettes or anecdotes as you can as they come to you, and you can make it fit later." And, *sigh*, it just doesn't seem to be working. And part of that, you know, may be my own procrastination, which is an enduring personality trait. But...

Well, and I can tell you, you know, as someone who has written very dark, difficult memoirs: it's much more emotionally draining than you expect it to be. Even when you have that distance on it, even when it's been, you know, for me decades. It's still... just writing about it brings it up, and you have to kind of relive it every time you write about that stuff. And so, be really nice to yourself.

Blair Hopkins 8:03

Well and you feel a tremendous amount of pressure to do it justice also.

Adrienne MacIain 8:09

Of course. Of course. Yeah. And I can see how the flashback structure does make it a little more just... complicated and difficult. So, I would really recommend that you keep the emotional through-line and worry less about timing and letting, you know... I think people will figure out, you know. You can have a pretty clear "tell" of like, okay, we're in the past, now we're in the present, even if you don't have exact dates for things. That was something that I got caught up on sometimes is like having to feel like I had to explain, you know, oh, when did this happen chronologically? It doesn't really matter to people as much as the emotional through-line.

Blair Hopkins 8:52

Right. Right. And I mean, you know, another obstacle that I have is that I intake a lot of really good media, right? So everything that I write is trite garbage. And when I'm comparing it to like, you know, Genevieve Jorgensen's The Disappearance or something and I'm like this isn't... that's not what you're writing! You're writing your story. So I'm like "Oh the flashback format is fucking trite, or the Dantean references are fuckin trite or starting it off at the very beginning... you know I tried starting it off at the hospital and you know that was trite garbage, and it's all just garbage. [laughter] And I love, like, you know, my mentor who died before he could know that he was my mentor is the late great David Rakoff who once said that writing is like reverse engineering a four star meal out of a pile of rotten garbage.

Adrienne MacIain 9:49

I love that.

Blair Hopkins 9:53

That's kind of where I come from emotionally when I look at my writing.

Adrienne MacIain 9:58

Yeah, I mean, of course comparison is the death of all artists, right? We cannot compare ourselves to other artists or we will just think we're garbage. You have to just find that authentic voice, and just tell your fucking story. That's all you can do. And, you know, I would say worry less about the structure of it right now. Try to just get as much as you can out. And then, you know, we can worry later about how to make it into a really cool, easily readable story for other people.

Blair Hopkins 10:31

I know, I keep thinking I'm like, you know what, I have these like really amazing techniques that I use, to you know, trick myself into thinking I'm getting organized, and really what I'm doing is putting shit off. So I'm like, "Well, what I need to do then, is I need to reread the Commedia, and I need to graph out all of the locations and timelines and characters and then I need to take my own experiences and I need to see how they fit into those paradigms. And that's where I'll start." I'm like, you know, what you're doing is you're fucking procrastinating. You're not... This is not... You're imposing structure, it's like writing out a to do list as an item on your to do list.

Adrienne MacIain 11:10

Right. And you're also being clever rather than being emotionally authentic.

Blair Hopkins 11:16


Adrienne MacIain 11:17

Which I know I'm super guilty of too. I fall in love with my clever little, you know, ways of doing things. And I get away from: What's the actual meat of this story?

What did we come here to do? So yeah, I think you're gonna be fine. You just need to stop collecting underpants.

Blair Hopkins 11:30


[laughter] But they're seven for $35! Who can turn that down?

Adrienne MacIain 11:46

Well, for those who don't know the reference here, that's from I believe, South Park and the underpants gnomes they have a three part structure which is: Step one, collect underpants. Step two is blank. And then step three: profit. So yeah, I have a bad habit, and I think we all have a bad habit, of collecting underpants endlessly, and never getting to whatever step two is supposed to be. So you know, you're there, you have everything you need. You have your story. That's all you really need. So we just need to get it out of you.

Blair Hopkins 12:19


Adrienne MacIain 12:20

And so then the next question of course is: what's been blocking you? We've talked a little bit about it. But I think, you know, the main thing that's really blocking you here is just, wow, what a hard story to tell. What a hard story to tell.

Blair Hopkins 12:34

Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of defense mechanisms, right? in place.

Adrienne MacIain 12:38

Of course there are!

Blair Hopkins 12:39

Because maybe the very things that help you cope with your traumas can be the things that you know, in your day to day life, can be the things that stop you from making any real therapeutic progress.

Adrienne MacIain 12:51

Yeah. Yeah. So what do you think needs to hear this story?

Blair Hopkins 12:57

One of the really fascinating Amazing things that has happened over the last four and a half years is that because I write really publicly, and about my experiences with grief, people have started referring young widows to me.

Adrienne MacIain 13:17


Blair Hopkins 13:18

Which is really, really great. I started calling this grouping the East Village Widows Club. And so we would have regular like kind of meetings, basically, we would just meet up at the bar and get drunk and hang out and sometimes the emotional stuff would come up, but it just became so nice to be in the presence of other people--not all young, actually, Phillip's quite a bit older--but to be in the presence of people who have had a similar and strange experience, and the specifics of... You know, everyone, all the deceased involved in this story, there were substances involved. So that is kind of a further stigmatizing or alienating thing. There's one very good friend of mine who said, she's like, "I don't even know how to define my husband's death. Like, was it a suicide? Was it an overdose? Was it...?" You know?

Adrienne MacIain 14:16

Yeah. Yeah.

Blair Hopkins 14:18

And so just just being able to be... and you know, also just like, holy shit, dating when you were widowed in your 20s is a whole other jam. So, you know, I guess, I feel that the goal of expression, for me has always been--or the catharsis of it--has always been to be relatable. And I was raised around 12 step culture, so that's ingrained in my storytelling.

Adrienne MacIain 14:48

That makes a lot of sense. How do you think it informed your writing?

Blair Hopkins 14:52

Spending a lot of time in the rooms as a kid, I definitely learned what was boring. [laughter] Like, fucking, Oh God just...

Adrienne MacIain 15:09

Keep your audience in mind. Please!

Blair Hopkins 15:10


Adrienne MacIain 15:11

Don't just go on and on about your pain.

Blair Hopkins 15:14

Yeah mind numbing, redundant, you know soliloquies about your story, your life... "...and then when I was two years old and this and that and Oh my God.

Adrienne MacIain 15:24

Right. Oh my God. Endless confession.

Blair Hopkins 15:28

Yeah, endless confession. So two principles that are huge in 12 step programs that I have carried really conscientiously into my own storytelling are A. We share in a general way. So that is you know not to say that you don't want to get specific about things but that you're trying to keep kind of a higher level consciousness present in your storytelling so people can relate to it.

Adrienne MacIain 15:54

Right. Keep your story relatable. Yeah.

Blair Hopkins 15:56

Right and then the other is the structure of: what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now?

Adrienne MacIain 16:04

Yeah. So what was it like?

Blair Hopkins 16:07

It was incredibly strange. It was incredibly strange. The day that Shane died, we woke up. He had gone out the night before, or *we* had gone out the night before, and we'd gone to a show. And I woke up before him, and I went out to move the car for alternate side for street cleaning. We lived in lower Manhattan. And I knew that he was going to be tremendously hung over and just awful. So, I took the opportunity to, instead of looking for parking... And I'd stayed sober the night before, I'd just been babysitting him, basically. And I took the opportunity to move the car and take a nap in the car, double parked instead of trying to find parking. And after that, I went and I got us coffee and I got him up and normally I would have given him a blowjob, but we were running late. So we got out and, by the way, thank God I didn't give him a blowjob, because it probably would have killed him, knowing what I know now. Which would be like, Wow!

Adrienne MacIain 17:19

And then you've got THAT on your conscience.

Blair Hopkins 17:20

More trauma!

Adrienne MacIain 17:22


Blair Hopkins 17:23

My God, can you imagine? I'm almost sad about that.

Adrienne MacIain 17:25

Yeah. Yeah. I get it. I get it.

Blair Hopkins 17:28

So, we get up, we just go through our like daily routine shit. And he had to work that night. He was a bartender. And so the plan was we were going to take him, he was going to go work out, and then we were going to make a quick stop at a wedding reception for a friend, so we needed to go get a card and that was a whole thing. He died owing me $12 for parking. And then he'd go to work and life would move on. So I dropped him off at the gym. And then I walked up Avenue A to Two Boots to get a slice of pizza and I was just going to enjoy my like hour of quiet because as much as I--we were pretty obsessive and codependent in our relationship and we just really enjoyed each other, and he was fucking hilarious, and and we just really meshed well--but man, when I could get an hour without him needing something (cuz he's very emotionally demanding)? I really enjoyed that. So I was like, I got an hour to myself that he's gonna be at the gym and I'm gonna have a slice of pizza, and it's gonna be awesome, and I'm gonna return some emails and he's not gonna need me to get him anything. And just as they were putting my pizza oven, he started texting me saying that he wasn't feeling well, and that he thought maybe he was having a panic attack, and could I come get him.

Adrienne MacIain 18:48

Now, had you been having panic attacks back then? Did you know what that felt like?

Blair Hopkins 18:53

I... No, not really. I mean, I hadn't... I dunno. I had a little bit of history with that in my teens, but he and I had talked extensively about it, and--

Adrienne MacIain 19:04

Was that a normal thing for him, or was this unusual?

Blair Hopkins 19:07

Yeah, he had pretty severe PTSD that was exacerbated by his... it was both medicated and exacerbated by his drinking.

Adrienne MacIain 19:14

As most things are.

Blair Hopkins 19:15

Right. Yeah. And he also, I mean, it was August and he had a tendency to get heat sick really easily.

Adrienne MacIain 19:23

Okay. Yeah.

Blair Hopkins 19:25

So I figured, all right, he's either feeling panicky, or he's a little overheated and dehydrated. I'll just go get the car. And so I just said, like, "Okay, I'll be there in a few minutes." And he kept texting me, and he sounded really frantic. And he called. And he's like, "Are you on your way, are you on your way??" And I'm like, "Yes, Shane. I'm on my way." Like, "I'm just walking to the car," or "I'm just getting my pizza." And so I pulled up around the block and parked in front of the gym. And I texted, "Hey, I'm here." And I waited maybe 30 seconds. And then I called, and I got no answer. And the last text that had sent to me was like, "Hurry, please hurry." And I just got this... I got this fucking feeling, you know, just like... Man. Somethin' is not... somethin's not good. Somethin's not right. And right as I was thinking, "I should pay for parking and go inside." I saw two police officers run into the building. And I knew.

Adrienne MacIain 20:21


Blair Hopkins 20:22

So I went inside, and I saw him on the ground. And there was like a woman standing off to the right, sobbing, and I think she was the one who had called 911. And they're trying to give him CPR. And I'm like... I immediately completely dissociated.

Adrienne MacIain 20:44


Blair Hopkins 20:45

I said two times: "Oh my God. Oh my God." And then I realized that that sounded... that was when I realized I was outside of my body, because I could hear what I was saying, and I could put it in the framework of like, "You're going to get hysterical if you don't ask somebody a question about what's going on."

Adrienne MacIain 21:04


Blair Hopkins 21:06

So I turned to the crime woman and I asked her, "What happened?" And then I established who I was and got his wallet and his phone. And they... And then I stepped away from it. I mean, I took in the scene, I looked at him, I looked at what was happen-- I thought maybe he'd fallen down the stairs? Because it was a concrete floor. And then I went outside and tried to remember his brother's name to call his brother from his phone. And so they rolled him out into the ambulance. The cops gathered me up, and I remember specifically saying to the police officers, I was like, "Am I going to get a parking ticket? Like, can I leave this here?"

Adrienne MacIain 21:48

Oh, my gosh, the things we focus on, right? In moments of trauma.

Blair Hopkins 21:54

I'm the fucking pit crew always. And they were like... I was like, "I only paid for an hour of parking; this is going to take more than an hour!" They're like "If you get a ticket, we can deal with that later. Just get in the car. Just get in the back of our car." And the whole way up to the hospital, I was cracking jokes with them about like, being in the back of a police car, you know, like just trying to, you know... It was so fucking weird, but I also was not inside of my own body for any of it. And when we got to the hospital, I stood maybe about 10 feet away while they were working on him and it was that same situation. Like, I'm not even in here. So that's what it was like, it was really surreal, and I was, even in the moment, both kind of impressed with myself for my crisis management acumen? But also had this feeling of like, this is gonna hit me really hard later.

Adrienne MacIain 22:53

Really hard.

Blair Hopkins 22:54

Like, what's happening right now is very bad.

Adrienne MacIain 22:56

Absolutely. Yeah. And when did it hit you?

Blair Hopkins 23:00

It took... Well, that night, after.... Hmmm. Well, there's two answers to that. In the immediate what happened was I called everybody, we went through the entire process of, you know, talking to the social worker, and I got his family there. And we did all that and, and signed up, you know, gave our numbers for the organ donation place to call and there's all these logistical things that have to happen. And there's actually a lot of really pretty funny stories that come out of that first few hours, but afterwards, I went to the bar that he worked at, which was just down the street. He died at Beth Israel, which is on 14th Street in Manhattan, and the bar that he worked at was on St. Mark's. And so I went down there and just kind of sat there shell shocked with everyone around me for a while and got just absolutely shithoused, and lost it somewhere around 4am. But I don't know that I would qualify that as it hitting me.

Adrienne MacIain 23:45

Mm hmm.

Blair Hopkins 24:15

Right? Because I wasn't I wasn't really there for that, it's just... It took about a year and a half for the panic attacks to start for the PTSD symptoms to kick.

Adrienne MacIain 24:31

Yeah. And I guess what I'm just realizing is: there is an interesting difference between when it hits you and when you can confront it.

Blair Hopkins 24:40

Right. Well, there's an interesting, like, functional thing that I learned, which is that I had always thought that denial was the kind of hysterical like, "No, they're not dead!" or "I don't believe it" or "I've kept their room the same" or whatever. Kind of breaks with reality that happen. And what I found was that for me, what denial was, was: I could not accept that something had happened to *me*.

Adrienne MacIain 25:12


Blair Hopkins 25:13

Right. I mean, I got off easy. He's dead. Something happened to *him*. And it wasn't until it got to the point that I was unable to function that it was like, "No, something has happened to you." And that took quite a while because, you know, I really know how to throw up the walls.

Adrienne MacIain 25:36

Yep. Yep. good, solid wall builder.

Blair Hopkins 25:40


Adrienne MacIain 25:41

So that brings me to my next question, which is: how did it change you?

Blair Hopkins 25:46

Well, I'd like to think it made me funnier, but [laughter] I don't necessarily know that...

Adrienne MacIain 25:53

Lot of material.

Blair Hopkins 25:54

Yeah. Oh, my God. There's... there are... some of the stories that I want to tell in this memoir that I think are important but there are things like the first time I tried to masturbate after he died

Or just you know, the ways in which your friends try to make you feel better, a lot of which are deeply inappropriate and terrible in a way

Adrienne MacIain 26:04


Oh boy.

Blair Hopkins 26:13

but so well guided and especially when you're talking about a lot of young people or even middle aged people who just don't have a lot of... you know and bar scene people, maybe people

Adrienne MacIain 26:23

Yeah, yeah,

Blair Hopkins 26:24

who struggle with rrrrrrrrrelationships anyway. And coping skills anyway. So, there's a lot of that, uh, how did it change me? It made me ultimately a lot more in tune with my... self, with my body.

Adrienne MacIain 26:44

Mm hmm.

Blair Hopkins 26:45

Because there was so much anxiety and fear around that I would also just suddenly one day have my heart stop for no fucking reason.

Adrienne MacIain 26:57


Blair Hopkins 26:57

Granted, I don't put down a handle of Jim Beam every day. But still and all. And once I was able to identify that, which only happened by virtue of the amount of support that I had, I was able to do things like go do a cardiac stress test and you know, just all this stuff to kind of regain a sense of control. And, and knowledge that would kind of sate that terror.

Adrienne MacIain 27:27

Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

Blair Hopkins 27:29

It also put me very deeply in touch with my own nihilism, which was another enduring character trait of mine, but in what I like to think is a positive way. Now. Right? It takes a lot, or it takes very specific things to make me upset. Because you know, we're all gonna die. [laughter] Like we're... like, who gives a shit? There was a time when it when, you know, I spent a lot of time, like oscillating wildly between being extremely needy and extremely attached to people and then alternately being very, very cold and detached.

Adrienne MacIain 28:18

Mmm. Mm hmm.

Blair Hopkins 28:20

And it took some time to reconcile those things, but it gave me a lot more perspective on the people I know who had really severe traumas and losses earlier in their life and their their behaviors too. So I honestly think the experience made me a more empathetic person.

Adrienne MacIain 28:38

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I saw a similar thing happened when my mom lost her second husband. She also lost her third, by the way.

Blair Hopkins 28:46


Adrienne MacIain 28:47

I know, poor Mom. And she... I think it's much harder to judge people. When you realize everybody's going through some shit. You may have no idea how deep that shit goes. And just having that sort of experience that really turns your whole world upside down, just makes you realize everybody you meet, you know, kind of be kind, because you don't know what they're dealing with.

Blair Hopkins 29:19

Yeah, and, you know, you also don't know what resources a person has to cope with going through the same things that we're all going through

Adrienne MacIain 29:30

Right, or lack thereof.

Blair Hopkins 29:31

Right? Exactly. Um, there is a writer, her name is Sarah Marshall. And I just absolutely love her and I quote this tweet all the time. But she said, not too long ago, "I absolutely believe everyone is doing their best with the resources that they have. And whether this is empirically true or not, which we could debate for the rest of our lives, this position allows me to live in compassion instead of anger and frustration."

Adrienne MacIain 29:57

Yeah, so true.

Blair Hopkins 29:59

It's really just about empathy. You don't have to cosign somebody's bullshit behavior, you don't have to continue to even have them in your life. But it does bring a lot of relief to me personally, to have the perspective or the ability to imagine why people behave the way that they behave. And a lot of that is drawn... I mean, that was something that I had before, I like to think, but it certainly is drawn from analyzing my own behaviors and reactions and whatever to this particular event.

Adrienne MacIain 30:33

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I have another question for you. What do you want people to walk away from this story with

Blair Hopkins 30:44

A copy of this book so that I can make a fucking living! [laughter] No, I'm kidding. I, you know, one of the... I think I mentioned Genevieve Jorgensen earlier and her incredible memoir The Disappearance. One of the things that was most striking about that was the ways in which she managed to keep her daughters alive. Like to humanize them. And that is, Shane has kind of a complicated memory because he was a really popular East Village bartender, kind of a party guy, and he was a local musician. And so there was definitely like this good time guy persona that was really pervasive. And I think a lot of people who are close to him have a complicated relationship with that persona and with the people that felt close to him because of it.

Adrienne MacIain 31:45


Blair Hopkins 31:50

But alternately, you know, people who are-- who were close to him, have a complicated relationship with talking about the real shit, too.

Adrienne MacIain 32:01


Blair Hopkins 32:02

Because you're protective of your loved ones. And, you know, by and large his brothers and I-- his parents have been gone for a long time-- and Shane was the oldest of five boys. So he had become kind of the--

Adrienne MacIain 32:19

The default parent.

Blair Hopkins 32:20

Yeah, the patriarch. By and large, we have had almost no conflict. It's been smooth sailing, dealing with all of the arrangements dealing with all of the after, the fallout, and we've mostly remained really close. But the only time that we've had any conflict was when one of them kind of was aggrieved at something that I said in a Facebook post. That was a little too real, I think. So...

Adrienne MacIain 32:50

And what was that?

Blair Hopkins 32:52

I referred to his death as something that he did. So one of his brothers was like, was pretty upset by that. And so we had to have a talk about it. You know, and I changed the wording of the post a little bit to make it a less maybe... pejorative? Which is a concession that I was willing to make because I love that person. I love his brother. I love Shane, you know, I definitely want to be respectful, but also, I'm entitled to my own anger.

Adrienne MacIain 33:36

Sure. Yeah.

Blair Hopkins 33:38

I would like to, I would like to have the goal of this be to present a full picture of who this person that I really love was. And I would like to present as full of picture as I can of... I'd like to push forward the idea that grief does not look like anything that you think it will. So there's some kind of stigmas that I would like to take some swings at.

Adrienne MacIain 34:17

Such as?

Blair Hopkins 34:19

Oh, boy. Well, I mean, anytime a widow has sex is she's fighting the patriarchy. So that's--

Adrienne MacIain 34:26

Hundred percent.

Blair Hopkins 34:27

That's important.. A substance abuse, substance misuse. There's a lot of stigma there. There's a lot of mental health stuff. There is a lot of just grief, grief and coping narratives that are pervasive in our culture that I think need to be continuously challenged. Like as though there's a right way to do it.

Adrienne MacIain 34:55

We're not very good at grief in this culture.

Blair Hopkins 34:58

No, we're really, we're denial-focused.

Adrienne MacIain 35:00

Yeah, we don't have a lot of training around it. We really don't know what to do with it. Like you said, there's a really strong push to like... yeah, okay, be sad for a little bit. But then: drop that, get back to life, get back on the horse...

Blair Hopkins 35:14

Positive thinking!

Adrienne MacIain 35:15

positive thinking! Yeah. And I think there's also you know, there's a huge stigma of course around suicide. And the whole question of does someone commit suicide or do they die by suicide? It's a big debate right now.

Blair Hopkins 35:33

Yeah, I've heard actually like the new term is "completed suicide," which I really like. But that, I think is an intentionality to me. You know, the, the point that his brother had made to me on the wording of that specific post was, I don't, he... he said something to the effect of "I don't know what was going through his head in those last moments, but I highly doubt it was some, you know, suicidal satisfaction." And it was like, well, we can't know. And I agree with you and, you know, somebody who very conscientiously drinks themselves to death, whether they want to die right now or not, I mean... but then of course you get into how much of a choice people have when they're in active addiction,

Adrienne MacIain 36:20

Right. They're just numbing their pain. And sometimes numbing that pain means taking it all away. And I don't think anyone ever, you know, sets out like, "You know what I'd really like to do...?" [laughter]

Blair Hopkins 36:34

That's what I want to do today, yeah. I just want to go the slow and uncomfortable and expensive way.

Adrienne MacIain 36:41

Yeah, I don't think anyone sets out to do that. I think there's just so much pain.

Blair Hopkins 36:46

Yeah, and also just so much need to get through the day, and you definitely get into a rhythm. Additionally, if he had better fucking healthcare, he would have probably caught that heart condition a little earlier.

Adrienne MacIain 37:00

Ya think?

Blair Hopkins 37:02

Yeah, it might have been, he might have made different choices, because he was a very, very smart person. So.

Adrienne MacIain 37:07

He sounds like it. Is there anything else that the audience needs to know about this story or about you?

Blair Hopkins 37:14

When I think about my desire to tell this story, one of the things that keeps coming up for me is making it clear that you were not born okay. You're not going to be okay. Like, you're never going to be okay. And it's fine.

Adrienne MacIain 37:36

And that's okay.

Blair Hopkins 37:36

We're all just in this together and it's going to like suck a lot, a lot of the time. And really the best that any of us can hope for, as far as finding meaning is to try and alleviate each other's suffering. It's really important to me to talk about the things that are, like to talk about the things that are funny, to rehash the good memories to juxtapose them to our less positive memories in a way that gives us perspective, like, just building understanding between people is the best way to alleviate each other's suffering. And that is the only meaning of life.

Adrienne MacIain 38:25

Yeah, I like that. That's why I'm really glad that you have these other widows that you are sharing with and that are a part of your story, because I think that is the kind of crux of your story is finding a way to deal with this.

Right. And it's funny I have Phillip, Phillip Giambri, who is an amazing writer as well and somebody I consider to be basically my mentor, but if you tell him that I will deny it. He and I used to do these shows where we would pick a theme. And they were at Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village, and we'd pick a theme and he would take submissions on that theme. And then we would host these like two three part part nights of readings, and they were so cool. I think one of them was like, on love, and one of them was on feeling like a loser and we just got the really cool shit. And so I came to him maybe... his wife died two weeks before Shane did.

Oh my gosh

Blair Hopkins 39:40


Adrienne MacIain 39:41


Blair Hopkins 39:41

And I was like, we should do one on grief. It was maybe six months later. And he was like, "Ahhhh, no." And I was like, come on, you know, you gotta, fuckin'... And I'm like, you know, I'm like this young--he's in his 70s--I'm this like, whippersnapper that's like "Come on, man, let's meet the challenge. We got to rise to this, we can do it. And he was like, "I... no." He just was like, "No, I'm not ready. I'm not ready." And I remember saying to him on another time when I brought it up like, "Well, you're gonna have to face this eventually." And he looked at me. He goes, "Why?" I thought, you know what? You're right. You're 75 years old. You don't actually have to fucking face this if you don't want to. You're, you can just like, relax. Enjoy your retirement. Have some drugs. Like, you can reasonably avoid this trauma of how your 40 year marriage ended for the next five or so years until you croak. Like and who the fu-- like maybe I should just let this go. And when you're ready to talk about it, we'll talk about it. If you ever are. So even that has been really informative. I mean, you know, the just... one of the great things about being around a lot of people or having cultivated a group of people who have similar experiences to me is that everyone's coping, there are similarities and differences in the ways that people cope. And that is really interesting and helpful to see.

Adrienne MacIain 41:25

Yeah, that does sound really interesting to me. And I'd be very interested to hear the different ways that you see people coping... things that work, things that don't. [laughter] And just, you know, I think because the question of who needs to hear this, it's really anyone who's grieving. Anyone who's you know, who needs a little bit of help on figuring out how the fuck do I do this grief thing? And I think you have a real opportunity to show in a fun kind of humorous way different people's way of dealing with the same sort of grief.

Blair Hopkins 42:02

Right. Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, we'll see I just I don't know. I mean, I don't know. Like, you're right in that I just need to be actively working on it and making it fit later. But...

Adrienne MacIain 42:15

Yeah. Just write what comes. And that will help you shape it. There's a great exercise that my old playwriting teacher Naomi Iizuka used to have us do, which is sort of a free writing exercise where you sit down and as soon as you get stuck, you write "What I really mean to say is," and then just see what comes.

Blair Hopkins 42:35

Oh, interesting.

Adrienne MacIain 42:36

Yeah. And you just keep writing. And it's amazing what will come up when you do that and write for, you know, three pages. We try to do three pages a day. And just get it out there. It won't be good. You know, that writing is like throwaway writing, but it will get you to the kernel, of what you really mean to say, it will get you to those gems of like, "Ah, this is what I actually want to talk about today."

Blair Hopkins 42:58

I feel like I've done free association writing and I give up after like, five or six sentences because I'm like, well, this isn't going anywhere. [laughter]

Adrienne MacIain 43:05

Right? And it's, it's not it's just getting you to something that will go somewhere.