Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Goodbye to This Transparent Soul

It was going to end up like this, as it always does

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Little did I know how much trouble that keyboard would get me into.
Little did I know how much trouble that keyboard would get me into.
Photo: Joan Summers

The rain hits my window as the alarm rings. I’m already up, worried my new coworkers won’t like me very much. Blink. I open the draft I’d worked on the night before, which is a mess of drunken fragments. My deadline is in 10 minutes. Blink. I’m looking at comments, wondering how these strangers know me so well. Blink. I’m wide-eyed at JFK, marveling at the brand new skyline. Blink. I’m stumbling down a dark street in Brooklyn, worried the trail of holiday party-fatigued coworkers behind me might see my vomit on a stranger’s stoop. Blink. The wildfire smoke is choking my lungs, but my story about Ellen DeGeneres is late, so I’d better hurry.

Blink. Do I have enough time to run to the grocery store before the world ends? Blink. What are they going to do when I tell them I’m falling apart? Blink, and it’s already over.

An experiment at Jezebel is ending, in which the extremely talented and too good for this world Julianne Escobedo Shepherd plucked Joan Summers, a naive 23-year-old nobody, from the churning slop of the internet, and prodded her to evolve beyond her imagined self. Early results say it was a resounding—if at times taxing—success, although despite the promising results, these things must wrap themselves up eventually.

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Nearly three years have gone by since Julianne called me days before the New Year in 2018, wondering if I felt up to the task of writing about celebrity. Vacancies had opened in the roster, as it usually goes, and she’d heard about my podcast, on which I did approximately the same thing (albeit for free). Sure, I said, and began promptly on January 4, 2019. I’d just returned from a somber Christmas, my father-in-law having only just died. It felt good, those first few months, to channel the frustration and anxiety and anger into something that felt productive. Clicks went up as my horizons broadened on the site. By summer, I was freelancing full time, pretending in my mind that I actually worked here. Eventually, I was lucky enough to be hired.

The next two years happened in an instant. I revealed to a horde of strangers that I’d been raped by a familiar villain with a respectable jawline and clever personality. I blogged through not one, not two, but three whole wildfires. I huddled with shivering teenagers and aging anarchists at an anti-war protest. My mom even stopped speaking to me over a very good piece in which I said very nice things about her, mostly because I’d talked about communism and universal healthcare a lot. And I was lucky to be flown out to New York City twice, although I definitely caught coronavirus the second time, in the early days of an eventual global pandemic.

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Not even six months into my professional employment, California instituted the first stage of lockdown. My partner lost his job, we then lost our apartment, and our dueling addiction issues spiraled out of control. I kept it mostly composed at work, although the drinking shortened my temper and sped the sun up faster in the sky, until I was barely crawling into work on the best of days. But because Julianne is neither a normal person nor a normal boss, she asked me to take time off and get myself together. I did, because those sorts of chances don’t happen very often, but also because it would probably kill me otherwise.

When I returned, I’d loosened my grip on those early writing motivators: drugs, alcohol, anger, and a pain that sat in my chest, asking me to forget how to breathe. Who was I going to be now? I certainly felt less funny and more out of place than I ever had when I was papering over my various personality flaws. But I found my way, I think. Charting on that new course, I mined the depths of Ellen DeGeneres, whose constructed persona felt familiar to me. I spoke to women whose art I found challenging and difficult, and reminisced with the most fascinating celebrity photographers in the world about their rude interactions with Harrison Ford, or partying with Stevie Nicks, or the time Cher had babysat for them.

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I even conducted a lengthy investigation—one which kickstarted a minor rivalry—into why local Hot Topic employees Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly had climbed the roof of a club some time around midnight, a very necessary contribution to the public discourse about roof climbing and celebrity romance.

Here at Jezebel, I don’t know a better team of editors than Julianne, or Stassa Edwards, or Kelly Faircloth. I apologize for the mania you endured while I haunted your DMs and group chats and emails. You all made me the writer I am now. I also can’t forget Clover Hope, Katie McDonough, and Alexis Sobel Fitts. As for my fellow writers, well, you all know what a dumb sap I can be, so I’ll keep it short, promise. Harron Walker... I talk to you literally for an hour every day on the telephone. You already know all the things I’d want to say. Ashley Reese, we’ve known each other a decade at this point, so here’s to another 100 years. Hazel Cills, I apologize for my cursed memes. Megan Reynolds, Emily Alford, I’ve cried enough in front of the two of you, so we don’t have to do more of that here. Rich Juzwiak, Shannon Melero, Molly Osberg, Tracy Clark-Flory? You’re all so god damn talented, I can’t tell you enough.

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Elsewhere, freelancers and video producers and fellow writers: Lisa Fischer, Esther Wang, Claire Lower, Joyzel Acevedo, Riley MacLeod, Shoshana Wodinsky, Victoria Song, Whitney Kimball, Jennifer Perry, Makeda Sandford, Genetta Adams, Ethan Gach, Matthew Reyes, Monique Judge, Joel Kahn, Elena Scotti, Brandy Jensen, Marie Solis, Justice Namaste, and more.

I’ve also been lucky enough to serve as a chair of the GMG Union for what feels like a year now, although time works differently in union organizing. It’s a memory I will cherish forever. These sites are a collective effort, one that relies on countless unpaid hours of the organizing committees. We’ve fought for severance, and just pay, and trans-inclusive healthcare. A special shoutout goes to my eternal comrade Shannon Melero, who has seen me at my best and worst. And our organizers at the WGAE, without whom we couldn’t keep the fight going.

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What’s next? If I blink I’ll miss it, so let’s just say I’m going far away, and also very close. I’m moving home to Oakland after what felt like a century of purgatory this last year. I certainly won’t write again at the rate I was lucky enough to do here, as Jezebel will hold my heart forever. You can still find me in other places on the internet, god willing, but especially on my podcast, Eating For Free, which you can stream most places you hear these things.

One thing is certain, though. It’s time to go, as nothing good lasts very long, and those that do eventually sour. I’d prefer to leave with all my happy memories intact—even the sad ones are in that mix too. Goodbye, and also hello! I’ll see you all around.