You might recognize the name Periel Aschenbrand as belonging to the designer behind those buzzy Dubya-era t-shirts proclaiming "the only bush i trust is my own" and the author of the very funny memoir of the same name. Or you might be familiar with her work as Creative Director of online concept boutique House of Exposure. Through her various projects Aschenbrand has developed a reputation as a writer and a designer who's not afraid to "go there," whether that means antagonizing Republicans (she once protested in her underwear outside the Republican National Convention and PAPER named her a 'Radical Woman' back in 2005) or candidly discussing her genital grooming habits in her newest memoir, On My Knees.
Out this week via Harper Collins, On My Knees centers on Aschenbrand's post-break-up malaise, in which she holes up (or, rather, squats) in her late-grandmother's apartment following the end of a 10-year relationship. During this time, she has a skin-crawly one-night stand with a hirsute Canadian, gets fed cherries by Philip Roth and obsesses over her dental hygienist who may or may not be a murderer. She also, ultimately, meets her future husband while on a trip visiting family in Israel. Below, we talk with Aschenbrand about her new memoir, American vs. Israeli men and her most unexpected project yet.
Your memoir is very...intimate. Did any of your friends or family members ever object to things you wrote about them?
I think everybody is sort of amenable to the idea [of being written about] on the front end. I think there is some romantic vision of being written about, which I am happy to encourage, until you're actually written about and you're like, "Oh that wasn't what I had in mind." A couple of people who are in the book have not read it yet.
Has your husband read it?
My husband hasn't read it. And the reason is that English isn't his first language so I am hoping he won't understand a lot of it! [Laughs]
I'm picturing one scene in particular where he tries to call you out for your body hair grooming habits -- or lack thereof...
I don't think he has anything to be embarrassed about -- I'm most revealing about myself. [Considering] the things that are in there, my family members should be on their hands and knees, kissing my ass for the shit that I didn't put in! It's pretty tame in comparison to some of the stories that were omitted. I also feel like if they don't act like that, then I have nothing to write about, you know? So if you don't act like a crazy person you have nothing to worry about.
My thing is that my first and foremost loyalty is to the work. I would never repeat anything that a friend told me in confidence. But everything else is pretty much fair game. You know what you're signing up for.
When did you start writing On My Knees?
I started writing it way before I met [my husband] Guy. I had no idea how it would end. I actually wrote another book that was about 500 pages that I pretty much set on fire in the end.
When you started the memoir did you have a clear story? Did you think you were going to be writing a "single girl problems" memoir initially?
I never really know where the work is going to end up. I'm sort of at the mercy of it. I'm not one of those people who outlines and stuff. By the time I met Guy, it was clear there was a specific beginning, middle, and end, which is why I was able to write it quickly because I have to have a sense intuitively of where it's going.
New York gets a bad rap when it comes to dating. Have you found that to be an accurate reputation?
Um, no, I don't. I never found that. I think that all that shit is primarily psychological. Or maybe I was just super slutty and I never had trouble getting laid... It [also] depends on who you are. I think that all of that Internet stuff is problematic.
I mean, I never did the Internet thing. I'm way too paranoid. I think [online dating] is a very contrived way of trying to find that perfect somebody. And I have friends who met their boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends online -- I'm not morally opposed to it. But I do think that people go online looking for a certain kind of a person with a certain kind of characteristic and I don't think the world works like that. You never know what's going to happen. And if you leave yourself open to a multitude of possibilities, probably [when] you least expect it is when the most interesting and exciting thing happens...I know a lot of girls who are on these sites and it seems like a constant disappointment to them because these guys are assholes. I really think your most important relationship is with yourself. And who gives a shit about a relationship with some jerk that you met on like, Match.com or JDate.
And as for you, you met your future husband in Israel. What's your take on American vs. Israeli men?
Oh my god, Israeli men are a nightmare!
But you ended up marrying one!
I did but I have my hands full with him, believe me. Israeli men are Mediterranean and they sort of have that Italian passion and fire. Which can be wonderful and a nightmare. I think they're more straightforward and much less reserved than Americans. There's no bullshit. If we're [getting into] general personality traits as a culture, then at any moment the entire [Israeli] culture can blow up so there's very little time for nonsense. You know what you're getting. Plus, they have to go to the army, too, so they see really crazy shit at a very young age.
They're also pretty good-looking, I have to say that. Also super family-oriented. You get married, you have kids. It's very loose [socially]. [In America] you never roll up to a dinner party and bring three friends. It's so fucking out of the question. But there, it's super casual. It's also a culture where people are butting their nose into your business. There are no fucking boundaries! You'll bump into somebody you barely know -- actually this happened to me and Guy when were dating -- and they were like, "So when are guys getting married? When's the wedding?" And then when they were like, "Are you having babies?" I actually said to someone, "I just had an abortion," which wasn't true but it made me so livid that the person had the audacity to ask me that. I have much stricter boundaries, which is funny considering my book...
Don't tell me you're reserved in person...
No, I'm not reserved at all. I mean, it's different when you're having a conservation with someone you have a relationship with than when it's with a complete stranger. Plus, when I'm writing or I'm talking, I'm the one calling the shots. Maybe that has something to do with it.
What's coming up next for you?
[Designing for] House of Exposure is my day job. I'm also interested in turning [On My Knees] into a TV series.
Is it going to be a reality show or a sitcom?
God, no, not a reality show. I mean, RuPaul is the god that I pray to -- I think he's changed the course of history. But reality TV in general is not what I'm interested in. I see my show as a little bit of Louis C.K., Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls -- very episodic.
I assume if it's based off your memoir, the show will have to be on HBO or Showtime.
Oh, yeah. I don't think network cable is coming anywhere near me. And I am totally comfortable with that.
And, in an interesting turn of events, I'm also eight months pregnant!
Congratulations! Do you know what you're having?
I'm having a boy. If all goes well he'll be gay.
On My Knees is out now and you can buy it HERE
Photo of Periel by Mark Seliger