August 2, 2017

Jessica Siskin, a.k.a. Misterkrisp, told us she isn’t a brilliant writer, but her no-bake crispy rice treats cookbook is a delight. Before gifting us a bagel and lox-shaped treat to-go, Jessica schooled us on how uncool being cool is, described the best party she’s ever been to (spoiler alert: her bat mitzvah), passionately shared her feminist stance, and impressed us with her multiple creative endeavors.

What is the story behind your name?

My name is Jessica Faith Siskin.

My mom was sure that I was going to be a boy, so she told my dad that he could name me if I was a girl. I was born in 1984, so, he picked Jessica, which is half of my best friends’ name, too.

My whole family has J names: my mom is Jane, my dad is Jeff, my sister is Jamie.

We were the original Kardashians.

I grew up not really liking my middle name. It’s the least Jewish middle name ever. F is for my dad’s mother Flora. I would rather have been Jessica Flora, but, hey, I am who I am.

I like my name. We see people coming up with names all the time, speaking of the Kardashians, and I appreciate that my name is actually a name.

How are you alike and different from your parents?

They’re both smart and funny, and I like to think that I’m those things. My mom is really creative. My dad is really social and has a lot of friends like I do. My parents are both family-oriented, which I am.

I’m different from my parents in a bunch of ways. My mom is really chill, really laid back. She’s the kind of person who will roll up to the airport right before her flight. I’m super on top of things. For her generation, my mom is someone who defied a lot of expectations, and I’d like to say that I do the same for myself, but in a different way.

My mom quit college. She decided she wanted to work in fashion and created a career for herself by working hard and being a creative, special person who really cared about what she was doing. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned from her is to be who you are and pursue what’s meaningful to you, then success will follow.

What advice would you give your teenage self?

Of course, work hard and do things well, but grades don’t matter, where you go to college doesn’t matter. Do what fulfills you. When I was in high school, I really cared about being cool.

Now, I don’t care about being cool at all. It’s the least important thing you can be.

I got swept up in academic competition. All my friends wanted to go to Ivy League schools, and I decided that’s what I was going to do. I was doing well in school, but it didn’t make me happy. It was all about external validation. I didn’t take art classes or explore my creative interests in a serious way. I was constantly making something when I was younger. Misterkrisp kind of happened to me, and now I feel like that’s what I’ve got to do every single day: craft.

How did Judaism play a role in your upbringing, if at all?

I grew up in Roslyn, Long Island. Everyone that I grew up with was Jewish. My family celebrates the holidays. I went to Hebrew School and I had a bat mitzvah. My two best friends did confirmation, so I kept going and loved it. That was the first time that I was participating in religious study by choice. The discussion in the class was about life. It wasn’t academic like everything else that I did, and I really enjoyed it.

Did you have a bat mitzvah party theme?

I did not. I was chill like that.

My bat mitzvah was the nicest party I’ve ever been to, hands down. It was the coolest thing that ever happened to me.

I had a party at an abandoned warehouse that was very hip, and I wore a brown gown. Why brown? I have no idea. It was the 90s. I had a chartreuse Kate Spade bag that was velvet. In all the pictures, the bag is busting open, because I had my glasses case in it. I had this crazy dessert display with tubes of raw cookie dough that were cut in half and tubs of icing with spoons in them and 20 cakes, which is funny, since I work with dessert. I loved my bat mitzvah.

Do you have a personal mantra?

Lately, it’s been, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” You can’t get anything done, you can’t take care of anyone else, if you don’t take care of yourself first. I’m getting a little better at saying no, being selfish, and being there for myself first.

What is an immediate turn off for you?

People who aren’t nice. People who don’t put a lot of effort into the way that they communicate.

Bad grammar is a really big turn-off.

With texting, I think that’s huge. It’s less about your education than it is about laziness. Having good grammar and being on time are two things that are about your respect for others.

What is something that makes you smile?

Dogs, for sure. I wish that one day I feel the way about any guy that I feel about every dog I see on the street.

I love the band Phish. I also listen to a lot of Broadway musicals. I love Spring Awakening. The Last Five Years is my favorite thing. Nobody else loves it the way I do. Hamilton, obviously. I used to listen to Rent, but I don’t listen to it anymore. It’s a part of my childhood, my past. Wicked is another good one. I listen when I’m in the kitchen.

What’s something you’re curious about?

I always want to be more well-read, especially in feminism. I’d like to go back and read the canon. For someone just getting started, I would read We Should All Be Feminists and Rebecca Solnit.

Why is feminism so important to you?

I didn’t know anybody who considered themselves a feminist until I started grad school, and it turns out that I was a feminist the whole time, I just didn’t have the language or framework to understand that.

When I started reading feminist literature, I thought, “Oh My God, this makes sense of so many things in my life.” The way that I have viewed romantic relationships – I’ve never felt comfortable assuming the classic girl role, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s totally okay if you’re comfortable in it, I’m just not. Now, I get it. I’m not okay letting someone else drive the car.

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?

Going to grad school to get my MFA.

I had been writing for a while, and I started taking non-credit classes. I kept taking the same classes over and over at The New School, and I realized I was interested in studying in a more serious way. I worked full-time, and that was not a possibility. Then, Misterkrisp happened, and I was able to. My mom said, “Do your Rice Krispie thing, go to school. You have something.” By the time I left two years later, I had a business, I’d met all these people who really changed my life, and I had learned about feminism in a way that really settled and oriented me.

What did you come out of your MFA program wanting to do?

Writing is my favorite thing to do and the thing that causes me the most despair. It’s really hard, and, when it’s good, when it’s going well, there’s no better feeling. When it’s not going well, it cuts at the core of my self worth.

I wish I could be a brilliant writer more than anything, but I know that I’m not.

I am really proud of having written my book. I can write really well, but I’m not the star writer. Maybe you have to wait for the story to come to you. Who knows what it is?

How does being Jewish fit into your everyday life now, if at all?

Being Jewish figures into everything that I do, because it’s my background, and it’s who I know. Being a part of a community of Jews is both the most incredible thing and also not so great sometimes. But, it’s the air I breathe.

The thing that is incredible is having this shared cultural base with a lot of people. People know one another and try to support one another. The majority of my first customers were Jewish, because that’s who I knew.

I would get 20 orders for Hanukkah, and nothing for Christmas.

But, it can be insular. When you are so comfortable in such a community, it’s hard to make friends who are not from that community. I’m used to sitting in a room with people who more or less agree with me or who have had really similar experiences, and that’s just not how it is with my friends from grad school. Everyone has totally different backgrounds, different perspectives. You don’t need to share a religious background with someone to feel connected to them.

Favorite Jewish holiday, and why?

Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur break fasts and shiva are my favorite meals. I like the process of depriving yourself and then really enjoying it. I also really like the repentance. It’s nice to take some time to forgive people, but also forgiving yourself, to take stock.

Favorite Jewish food? Least favorite Jewish food?

How am I supposed to pick? I love a good noodle kugel. I like bagels and lox and all that appetizing. I eat every food in the world, any culture. The one thing that I hate is gefilte fish. I love chopped liver, hate gefilte fish.

We’re taking back Jewish stereotypes. So, what’s the best bargain you’ve ever gotten?

My bed, and it’s not really a bargain so much as I got lucky. When I was moving into my first apartment, I was a junior in college. I got a little studio on 12th Street and was buying all this stuff. I remember my mom saying to me, “Jessica, this is not a free-for-all.” I needed a mattress, so I said, “All right, I’m going to buy the cheapest mattress I can find.” That is not where you skimp. You go to Ikea for a dresser and you buy a nice mattress. I still have that mattress 10 years later, and it’s the most comfortable bed in the world. I love it so much.

What do you want to tell me that I didn’t ask you?

I started a t-shirt line, Retouched.

I constantly found myself having conversations where I felt like I was being a feminist killjoy. Someone mentions The Little Mermaid, and I say,

“Oh, you like The Little Mermaid? She gives up her voice and her entire family just for a guy. Do you really like that movie?”

By the way, I love that movie. So, I wanted a t-shirt that said “Feminist Killjoy.”

I bought iron-on letters to put on a sweater. I actually didn’t have an iron at the time. I was using my curling iron to iron the letters on to the shirt, which is classic me. As I was gluing them on, I thought, “This would be so much better if I put the words ‘Feminist Killjoy’ over a Little Mermaid t-shirt.” I’ve been buying every single t-shirt I can find that says something that is sexist, misogynist, or otherwise patriarchy reinforcing that’s been ditched, because I refuse to buy anything new and support those messages. Then, I embroider over them with feminist messages.

Photos by Elena Mudd

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