I have emails that reference Jezebel dot com, dating back to 2007 when the site first launched under Gawker Media. On a weekly basis, my college friend Katie and I would share blogs from this very site, trading media gossip that we were not yet privy to while scavenging Whisper Jobs on Ed2010.
Gmail is a time machine like that. I can travel into the past before the age of Twitter and relive my discovery of things in real-time.
I was right, it was interesting.
New York media was foreign and elusive to me then, at 23. Gawker was, for me, a place that exposed lies and where I figured bloggers sat in coffee shops all day and got paid per pageview, which turned out to be true. Jezebel was a site I loved from the beginning when Anna Holmes began curating a group of writers who’d become legends. Back then, I would search out Dodai Stewart, Tracie Egan Morrissey, and Pot Psychology and refresh Jezebel’s homepage to catch the latest Photoshop fails and celebrity fuck-ups. They were criticizing the same things I resented about media and women’s magazines and, like me, they were pushing those places to be better. I adored Jezebel and became critical of the site, too, whenever I noticed it had lost its sheen.
But it’s not like I ever pictured myself here.
The last time I freelanced full-time was 2005 after studying journalism at NYU. I had transferred there from Temple on a whim post-freshman year. I recall that process started with me wanting to just “see if I could get into NYU...” That was all. I got accepted, so I went. It was months after 9/11, so maybe something was pulling me back to my home in New York. As my friends know, one of my favorite mottos is one borne of anxiety and cynicism: We’ll see.
My plan was to study Music Business at NYU. I loved R&B. I loved rap. I wanted to be a recording engineer, working behind the boards to create sound. I felt like I had an ear for music or, at the least, a sense of what made for good vibrations. A few months into my freshman year at Temple, I chose something like “Digital Engineering” as my major and minored in something along the lines of “Media Studies” because I was curious about media. How did it work? Lol. I didn’t know.
When I finally transferred to NYU, I shifted to Journalism as a major. But if I’m being honest—as I am forced to do a lot through my writing—I only chose Journalism because the Music program at NYU involved an “audition” process beforehand, and I couldn’t play any instruments or sing well or anything. I probably could have learned an instrument in two weeks because I believe in myself, but why would I do that? I decided to bypass that entire thing and just do Journalism so that I could get accepted into the program and try switching to something music-related once I got there. Is this boring? Too bad, it’s my story.
Journalism turned out to be the wave. It was also too troublesome to switch majors so I abandoned that whole plan. I figured this thing had chosen me. As someone who went into college Undecided, it was fitting that it was so unplanned. I was curious and indecisive. I didn’t know what I wanted to do—I liked space, sociology, anthropology, music. I knew I wanted to do a little of everything. Most of all, I wanted to learn how things worked. So maybe I could write for a living because enough people had told me I was good at it that I started getting the idea that I could do it professionally. After all, I’d been writing those stupid poems.
I had my nose buried in books all the time and fell in love with magazines ’cause I was quiet and because stories published on paper took me places. I only dreamed of seeing my byline in glossies as a teen when the internet was but a social experiment. I became an early adopter of Napster and Kazaa, a music-obsessed mp3-sharer who would drop into AOL chat rooms that had racist titles to spar with stupid people under the screenname luvballxx (as in, basketball), which unbeknownst to me was an ill-advised screenname. That was my early experience with the internet before I got paid to be on it.
When I became a music journalist and got a chance to intern and then work on staff at Vibe as an editor—I’m going to be simple here, but it was one of the best experiences of my lifetime. Billboard and XXL were a dream, too. I was surrounded by brave, smart editors in love with music, and I felt way too underqualified to be an editor myself. I had barely edited anything. There were long hours and disagreements over creative decisions at those places, but I loved putting together a magazine and being part of shaping culture. I wanted to be like Joan Morgan and dream hampton and Danyel Smith and Kim Osorio and Aliya S. King.
In 2011, I worked up the nerve to reach out to Dodai for a meeting to “pick her brain,” as young journalists are wont to do.
When I got to Jezebel in 2014, it was another fantasy fulfilled. I’d heard that Jezebel had a new editor-in-chief, Emma Carmichael, who reached out to me just as I was reaching out to the site’s then Managing Editor Erin Gloria Ryan about applying for a job as a staff writer. I’m sure I cried reading the introduction blog welcoming Jia Tolentino, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, and myself.
Upon my hiring, my first brush with the Jezebel staff was a meetup on the rooftop of Gawker’s Elizabeth Street office, where I felt intimidated to be around names I had known from afar. There was Dodai, and there was Kate Dries wearing some really cool Nike sweatpants she would blog about one day. I was so excited about this job that I wrote my first Jez post before my start date: a piece about Teairra Mari as the new villain of Love & Hip-Hop.
Just as Vibe was a place that felt like it was for me—a community of young writers and editors, predominantly of color, who loved hip-hop—Jezebel spoke to me, a preternaturally rude young lady who spoke in whispers and saw the world through a skeptical lens. I expected to write about music here, but over nearly six years, they let me do so many absurd things. A blog about screaming Lynxes. A What Would Jezebel Do? column for The Walking Dead. My own version of the ending of Girls. An investigation of what movie Chrissy Teigen watched on an airplane. Album reviews for Jazmine Sullivan and Mary J. Blige. Reported pieces on racial tensions at Yale and Iggy Azalea. A piece on Black Girl Magic. An essay on celebrity profiles. I cried the morning after That Election while writing about the latent threat of white women. I got to write about writing reviews and wrote a couple of pieces around Lemonade that played a role in my getting to write for the artist herself. Basically, whatever I wanted to cover, I got to do it without airbrushing. It was the freedom I needed.
Here, I got to work with people who were the best, funniest, and silliest at what they did. I’ve become great friends with my blog moms Emma Carmichael, the most effortlessly cool and clever person I know, and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, who is both the most knowledgable and exciting woman on the planet and the one who cultivated my best culture stories at Jez. Megan Reynolds is a storyteller and future novelist, though she’ll probably reject that, and Stassa Edwards is so incisive as an editor that if I had to write an essay to get me into fictional Heaven at the end of all this, I would send the draft to Stassa. As a culture editor, I got to help bring other people’s ideas to life. Rich Juzwiak has an inspiring amount of critical curiosity, Hazel is Jezebel’s angel in disguise, and I swear Kelly Faircloth was a wizard in a past life.
The former Jez freaks I met are thankfully still in my life: Katie McDonough, Kate Dries, Kara Brown, Jia, Joanna Rothkopf, Ellie Shechet, Anna Merlan, Madeleine Davies, Bobby Finger, Kelly Stout, Koa Beck, Prachi Gupta. One of the best things about this place is the proximity to great minds. It’s been a blessing to follow the new generation of Jezebels who are sort of like X-Men: First Class, except not bad. I’m joking because I haven’t seen First Class but it sounded like a good reference to use here. Ashley Reese has a wild amount of guts and heart in her writing. Joan Summers has a brave blogger’s spirit that hearkens back to the early days of Jezebel. Esther Wang is subtle and sharp with her daggers, Maria Sherman has a steady hand and a music library in her brain, and Shannon Melero is so courageous in thought that it frightens me. Molly Osberg got me to watch John Wick, and I’ll miss Jennifer Perry popping into my Slack DMs with random Housewives and other goss. Tracy Clark-Flory, Alexis Sobel Fitts, Lisa Fischer, Makeda Sandford, and all the characters past and present have made GMG what it is. And so does the union, which does the crucial and hard job of holding management accountable for continually failing its people. I’m glad I got to be part of starting the union in the first place.
I have a weird way of dreaming up things in my head, but I’m too anxious to ever expect the best, so I say, “We’ll see.” I have a book about women in hip-hop coming out in February 2021, The Motherlode, because I used to say, “I want to write a book one day. I think I’ll do it eventually...” I simply don’t believe it until I do. Until I see my name float by in the credits, I withhold celebration and that’s when I cry because I’ve stayed up late so many nights chasing words.
People have gotten mad at me here for everything from writing about racists to writing about tall girls. But I’m a better writer and editor because of this place. I’m going off to write independently for who knows how long. I’ll be a Contributing Editor at Pitchfork, where I’m excited to burrow back into my music roots. But I mean it when I say this is the hardest job to leave. When I thought about it, I didn’t know if it was a good time, but I knew it was my time. I’m saying again that I’ll see how it goes.