Review: I Am Not Myself These Days

I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

I’m not usually interested in tell-all memoirs–something about getting all the sordid details of someone’s past straight from the horse’s mouth makes me uncomfortable. I can take it in a biography, but a person baring it all with a vengeance makes me want to cover my eyes. So why did I even bother to pick up I Am Not Myself These Days? Well, in my Internet travels, I stumbled across the personal website of Josh Kilmer-Purcell, who seemed like a lovely gentleman and looked quite fetching in his old photos from his drag queen days, from which he has since retired. I saw that he had written a memoir and I decided to give it a shot.

I Am Not Myself These Days is not really a memoir, in that it doesn’t cover all of Kilmer-Purcell’s life–instead, it covers his relationship with Jack and some of the best and worst times in his life. Working at an ad agency by day and as a drag queen by night, Kilmer-Purcell is an alcoholic living in a tiny apartment with a useless roommate. One night while working as Aqua, Kilmer-Purcell meets Jack, a great guy who turns out to be an extremely well-paid male escort and addicted to drugs. The two complete each other, but can the peace they’ve found together survive their vices?

I hesitate to use to the term explicit to describe I Am Not Myself These Days, since it’s not erotica and that’s not the focus, but Kilmer-Purcell is extremely frank about Jack’s work and their sex lives. It doesn’t come from a desire to shock and titillate, but rather a brutal frankness Kilmer-Purcell views that part of his life with. Early on, he brutally dissects the reasons why he prefers to party and drink rather than sleep and maintain a “normal” lifestyle–it’s a mix of a desire to impress the “cool kids” (Jack), make up for lost time as a closeted goody two-shoes, and live outrageously. At one point, Kilmer-Purcell describes jumping on the motorcycle of a man he barely knows in full drag and snarling at his inner child to shut up. That said, it’s not for the squeamish or prudish, especially as Jack descends further and further into drug use. Kilmer-Purcell is incredibly frank, and details dates gone wrong and one of the grossest stories I’ve ever heard.

The charm of I Am Not Myself These Days lies in the contentment Kilmer-Purcell finds with Jack in the midst of their crazy lifestyles. Kilmer-Purcell forms a very sweet friendship with Houdini, one of Jack’s regular clients, and they often call upon Mr. Beefeater, another client, to work as a server for parties–for which they make money. They spend Sundays reading The New York Times, Jack leaves little notes around their apartment, and they constantly call each other. It’s very sweet, so it’s hard to watch it all go to hell. The book opens with a lame attempt by Jack to murder Kilmer-Purcell, so we have that hanging over our heads. As Jack grows more addicted to drugs, Kilmer-Purcell grows more and more reckless, and both their lives unravel. Because I Am Not Myself These Days is dedicated to Kilmer-Purcell’s partner, I was hoping to see more of Kilmer-Purcell’s recovery, but that’s mentioned in the surreal last chapter about retiring from drag and cleaning up.

Part of my problem with I Am Not Myself These Days is coherency. Not because it’s difficult to understand (it’s actually quite a quick and painless read), but because there doesn’t feel like there’s an overall point besides the story of this relationship. This is probably a problem with the entire genre of tell-all memoirs rather than a specific problem with this memoir. They’re people with very wild lifestyles who connect and then disconnect. I assume Kilmer-Purcell quit drinking, but it’s covered in one word in the last chapter. All the introspection and reflection upon what this relationship has taught him is briefly covering in the last chapter, while the penultimate chapter is essentially an up yours that affirms Kilmer-Purcell’s lifestyle at the time. While people will probably find something shocking and interesting about their lifestyles, it is really just about the wonderfully ordinary love they had for each other… and not really about the aftereffects. Again, I’m not sure if this is a genre thing or a this book thing.

One final note–I’m sure if there are any other editions of this memoir, but the Harper Perennial edition has larger than normal spacing–it looks like a student trying to pretend her paper is longer than normal by fudging the spacing. It’s at least 1.5 in Microsoft Word (or your word processor of choice). The memoir is about 300 pages, but it could have easily shaved a few pages by decreasing the spacing. As a formatting thing, it just bothered me.

Bottom line: I Am Not Myself These Days is a memoir that focuses closely on a doomed relationship between an alcoholic drag queen and a drug-addicted male escort… and little else. The lessons learned are covered too briefly to have any true impact, and I think the memoir relies a bit too much on the shock factor of their lifestyles. If you’re interested, go for it; if not, you’re not missing much.

I rented this book from the public library.

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