Work in Progress

March 2010.
March 2010.

In the spring of 2010, I was finishing my last year of college. I had turned in my thesis paper, and thus had two empty months to fill before graduation. I wasn’t taking classes because I’d fulfilled all my credits and not doing so saved a cool several thousand dollars, and because—despite the fact that I’d spent the many years before matriculating at my university putting most of my energy into being an extremely dedicated student—my education had taught me one important lesson, which was that I really just wanted a job. That goal in mind aside, I had not gotten an internship that would help me figure out what my career would be, as was my general plan. Instead, I had committed to a lot of hours working at the cafe in the basement of the library, a place in which I “made coffee” for the first and last time in my life and sat around playing Hall & Oates’ greatest hits, in return receiving meager tips from thankful librarians and bleary-eyed students.


I don’t remember doing a ton else during those weeks, save for hanging out with my friends and starting a blog. I have a vague memory of learning what Jezebel was around the time it launched, right around when the unphotoshopped Faith Hill cover was released, coming across it as I clicked from website to website during a slow summer job, and thinking something along the lines of “whoa.” To say I was just reading this stuff is probably an understatement—I had become addicted to my Google Reader in the way a person who was actually paid to work online is, and I was constantly sending my friends and family links to things. The screenshot at the top of this post is from a conversation had with my best friend at the start of that slow period before I graduated and finally decided that yes, I was going to try to blog professionally. Making the leap from just consuming to making seemed incredibly daunting. I knew I had ideas, but who was I to think they were valuable enough to share with anyone who didn’t already love me? And the step further, the one I was so anxious about I could barely consider it: who was I to even think that I could be allowed to get paid to do something so fun?

It’s hard to say when that feeling ever left, or if it did. A few years later I started actually working for Jezebel, after emailing Jessica Coen at apparently exactly the right time, a moment that felt like a dream then and I remember as such now. I can still recall her teasing me for showing up to the meeting where she offered me the job with a bag holding a new pair of Keds because I had been nervous shopping beforehand. (They’re disgusting now, though I do still have them, and upon writing this am making a mental note to throw them out.) But to pin down more of what I felt then would be overreaching; to go from being the ultimate fan of something to being a part of it yourself is an uncanny thing. What once felt like the truth that you, from the outside looking in, had decided on, is replaced by your new truth as you become a part of the thing you desired.

After over four years here, I can go back and read posts I don’t remember writing, watch my tone shift and ebb as I figured out in front of millions what I wanted to be doing. It’s increasingly less rare these days to have a document of your past self laid bare for the world to see, perhaps slightly more so to have that document be one that strangers do, sometimes painfully, comment on. More special still is the chance to see for yourself from the inside how much whatever it is you’re creating is a living, breathing organism, constantly evolving and changing, in a way the audience you were once a part of can never fully be a witness to. The most uncommon of all is to have it happen at a place that is unapologetic and honest about that fact, embracing the transparency of that process, sometimes to the point of anguish. This is not the final word, this job and the people doing it always seemed to be saying to me, no matter what the topic was; this is a part of the conversation we all exist in.

My inclusion in the work was something I always pondered, probably because it’s an angle I love to parse when looking at the work of others. From the beginning, I could feel how much I was fine with my opinions, but not my actual life, being the subject of people’s analysis. It was a thrill to meet the writers I had admired for years (a few weeks into getting hired at Jezebel, I attended Dodai Stewart’s birthday party and hanging out at her house with her, Tracie Egan Morrissey and the rest of the staff involved a lot of trying, and I’m sure failing, to figure out something funny to say), whose work had at times been deeply personal, but I knew that would never be what I could bring to the table. Early on too I sensed that I didn’t get that thrill from seeing my byline and my reporting and my thoughts the way I did looking at it all from above; if anything, it provoked in me at times a deep anxiety I was unwilling to confront unless deeply committed to whatever the issue was at hand. I felt then, as I feel now, that my life was not that interesting, my words were not the smartest, my prose not the most slippery. None of it should be what is heard the most.

I don’t say that to be self-deprecating. I say it because it is what has guided me as I’ve become an editor, that the stories other people tell are usually more engrossing than the stories I have told myself thousands of times, and that there are usually people better equipped to put them out there. What I love is to listen to those stories, to discuss them, and to escort them to others so that they can do the same. Writers are often labeled the self-involved ones in the writer-editor dynamic, but isn’t it deeply selfish to spend your days feeling pleasure from other people’s labors? There have been few things that have made me feel more lucky than the chance to do this with you—the you who have been the deeply talented people I have worked alongside, and the you who have allowed us to do this work. Even at the darkest times, it mostly always seemed worth it, and feels particularly so as I leave.

Lately I’ve had a lot people who are less involved in media ask me about what I think about “fake news” (a term I hate because of its a-historicism, genesis amongst people who do not believe in any truths other than the ones they tell themselves, and ubiquity), a.k.a the proliferation of information that is not real that seems to be shaping very real attitudes about the world. I don’t like to make predictions, because what do I know, save for what I attempt to do every day: to try to help people understand, process, and enjoy their lives. But much as I endeavor to, I will never be able look from the outside at my own life; I am here, always ensconced within it. What we each achieve can be hard to pin down for sure, even when what we most want is clarity. After all, if there is any takeaway, this was always a work in progress.


Baba Yaga is Too Witches for you

You got asked to be in next year’s carp calendar, didn’t you. Well, congrats.

In all seriousness, I have loved the interviews you did (the one with Caitlin Doughty was my fave), they were always so insightful, and your gifts series was great. Go forth and write prolifically. We’ll miss you, Dries.