“I fell for her completely. How could I not? My boss was wicked. Sharp. Hilarious. Quick-witted. Irreverent. Also: kind, responsible, ethical, serious. Direct. A meritocrat. She loved people who made her laugh or think. She followed rules carefully and broke them knowingly. She loved wielding her power. She wasn’t afraid.”
– Why We Need Older Women in the Workplace, New York Magazine
This is one of the things I’m afraid of. The agonies, the mad midnight moments, must, in the course of nature, die away. But what will follow? Just this apathy, this dead flatness? Will there come a time when I no longer ask why the world is like a mean street, because I shall take the squalor as normal? Does grief finally subside into boredom tinged by faint nausea? – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I’ve heard it said that Hemingway (and many other writers, for that matter), sat down, without fail, to write every single day. Most weeks, it feels like a lot to just sit down on Sunday and offer something to this blog.
Last weekend, I simply couldn’t. I had watched something horrific unfold, and it shook me to my depths. I walked through that day, that week, in a haze. On Sunday, I thought that I should write something, but I sat in front of my computer and just felt sadness and fear and rage.
I woke up every day that week, trying to understand how I should feel next and what I should do. Some part of me thought I should quiet my reaction—time has taught me to see reactionaries as ignorant, uncouth, ridiculous. Other moments, I chastised myself for not being reactionary enough. Where was the petition I could sign? The think-piece I could hold up as some articulate declaration for change? No matter how many I read, I was not soothed, they did not correctly confirm my rage.
And so I was left to sit with myself.
I turned off the TV.
I closed my Twitter feed.
Then I mourned.
Then I realized this tiny piece of me would not be quieted. Ever.
I don’t have the answer to what happens next. There are motivated people and organizations who have been chipping away at this problem for a long time. For now, I’m just trying to find my own way to chip away at the problem too.
I don’t know what I imagined 31, or 41, or 51 would look like. When you’re young—really young—you just imagine that you will always be exactly as you are then. Or at least I did. And maybe that’s why I’m not surprised by 31. I really had no expectations about what it would, or could, be.
Probably around 23, I began to understand what aging meant. That my metabolism would slow to a crawl. That sleep would become more crucial. That one day I would inevitably take on the characteristics of the other women in my family. This is the same moment when you start to realize they didn’t always look like they do now—and that soon I wouldn’t either. Little wrinkles have begun to emerge.
31, in many ways, is miraculous. To feel accomplished and productive. To have carved out a place for myself. To have built a home on my own time and with my own rules.
I’m better at spotting inauthenticity. I’m wary of people and projects that wear me down without filling me up. I’m cautious, but not jaded. I still want to do the most good.
I don’t know what 31 was supposed to look like, but from where I sit, 31 feels just fine.
Do you ever have those days where you just feel completely raw? Where a slight or a wrong look leave you feeling sensitive and exposed? That was today. Hell, that was this week.
So, I did what any good person would do and I retreated. I downloaded the Medium and This. apps and spent some quality time reading. I cleaned out whole sections of my Feedly account. I scanned Twitter as myself, not as one of my clients. I finished off this book, and made my way further into this and this.
In the midst of my great hibernation, I came across some very good things.
I like literary magazines, especially when they’re digital. Say hello to The Offing. Speaking of literary magazines, my beloved Esquire has been home to some of our generation’s most prolific writers. That’s why I’m absolutely giddy to see that they’ve re-released their classics all.in.one.place.
It was painfully recognizable to hear Lena Dunham describe the pressures she felt to just get the proposal. Despite feeling pretty certain I would never play into soul-crushing traditions, I still found myself sucked into the wedding industrial complex. I’m licking my wounds by reading about Wonder Woman and utopian feminism. Also, laughing because this dude only ate food marketed to women for two weeks, and guess what? He was still hungry. Like, all of the time.
This NYT article about urban aging is a fucking gut punch. It’s time to get to know my neighbors.
I’m giving myself some time to mentally prepare for next week, by listening to this guided meditation on repeat: “Those bitches can’t get under your skin. Breathe in strength, breathe out bullshit.”
For a little while, I’ve felt a bit out of the grasp of those sneaky marketers. I haven’t been part of the MTV generation for awhile. I’m not quite AARP-status.
I knew something was changing, however, what with the Honda mini-van commercials using Weezer to remind me I was quickly approaching a new demographic.
But then they had to go and do it, friends. Nick-at-Night, once home to shows my parents loved, now plays reruns of TGIF shows—shows of my youth. Even Hulu now features Seinfeld, Ally McBeal and Clarissa Explains It All.
It’s painful, this knowledge. As painful as seeing those tiny crows-feet appear out of nowhere.
I’ve long had a rule that it’s not a good idea to revisit things you’ve loved as a child—they almost never hold up to whatever pedestal you put them on once upon a time (see: Neverending Story).
Still, the nostalgia crept in—hard.
Before I knew it, I found myself watching the pilot episode of Clarissa, then Ally. I stopped both before I reached the end. It just wasn’t right.
Then I clicked “play” on the first episode of Felicity.
Friends, in so many ways Felicity is a product of a by-gone era. It’s a reflection of those terrible years when grunge and prep had battled it out, and something much more bland and baggy took its place.
I was in middle school and high school during its broadcast, a hopeless romantic thriving on some unknown element of teenage hormones. I was ardently #TeamNoel—his only competition being Dawson. I fell deep and hard for nerds, and romantic nerds at that, and he came to represent so much of the “nice guy” I wanted in a boyfriend.
I didn’t have my own television, so I watched the show in our living room with my mom, making my teenage longings for the boy on the TV squishy and uncomfortable. I dreamed of college, of attending a school like NYU, of studying literature and having sophisticated, complicated friends.
Watching Felicity as an adult has been interesting. It’s directed and co-created by J.J. Abrams, who would later gain fame as the co-creator of Lost (among many other things). The show’s portrayal of relationships and friendships is sweet, but rife with unnecessary drama. It’s depiction of college is largely unrealistic—including the massive dorm rooms with full-size beds—though they get a lot of credit for having hard conversations about money, credit cards and loans. At least three of the characters have jobs to help pay for college. It lacks any real diversity beyond a token black character, from a feminist lens, the show hardly passes the Bechdel test.
My issue with Felicity is the central relationships between Ben, Noel and Felicity. As David points out, Noel exists to whine, his neediness is unbearable. Ben’s insecurities and blatant stupidity make him uninteresting; he doesn’t fall into these problems so much as dive in, head first.
And Felicity? Well, I have to admit I find her rather vanilla.
Yet, in the end there is something I still find comforting in their stories. When I was 13, the idea of college was as foreign as a place called Northern Virginia. I was a girl growing up in a world that felt all wrong for my aspirations, and Felicity was a window to the future, a future where I could be as quietly ambitious as its main character.
As I finish out the first season, I’m grateful for this little window back in time. To remember what it felt like to be a young girl, hopelessly optimistic about the future, untethered by heartbreak, expectant that with hard work and enough luck, my world could look like theirs one day. And to be an adult who would learn that all of those things were true.
I never saw the last season of Felicity, and I don’t plan to watch it now, either. I remember at some point the story fell flat and I lost interest, replacing it with whatever new show was on the CW that week. I never learned if she went for Ben or Noel; teenage me would have surely hoped for the latter. But adult me? Adult me hopes that maybe, instead, she found that being with herself was exactly enough.
I haven’t been feeling well lately. I’ve been dizzy, light-headed, sluggish. Walking up stairs makes me out of breath. Sometimes it seemed like my heart was about to leap out of my chest.
I thought it might be dehydration—I’ve hated drinking water since I was a kid and I’ve often flirted with some unknown hydration tipping point. Knowing this, no alternative drink has gone untested: I’ve become a regular savant at trying out flavored water, bubbly water, coconut water and tea of every kind. Still, after another particularly rough day, I decided to go to the doctor.
“It’s white-girl-in-the-city disease,” she told me. Stress, working too much, drinking too much coffee instead of water. Slight anemia. Low blood pressure. She cavalierly suggested some Poweraid, a daily dose of salty chips and some sleep.
I reveled in seeing through my treatment plan, but despite the sports drinks and potato chips, I haven’t been able to tip the balance back to zero. It seems this time I had really emptied out the reserves.
I needed a vacation.
We needed a vacation. We both love our jobs. We both work long hours. It isn’t easy committing to time off for either of us. Yet one night, I found myself shouting desperately at David to pick a date on the calendar.
So this week we’re off Vermont to spend some time doing nothing. I have bottles of Pedialyte that are traveling with me in the hope that electrolytes and fresh air will help me combat this “white girl disease.” We’re taking the train, a 12-hour ride that promises to be the antidote to my usual flight-induced terror. I’m sorry to say I already have hours of work lined up during our trip. I’m trying to think about my decision to allow this work to infiltrate my vacation and why I made it and what it means.
But more than anything I hope that this trip is the reset button I need to get back to good. That and Pedialyte.
Today I was sitting beside a young woman who was managing social media for the conference I was attending. I looked at her for a bit, furiously typing away, hitting the keys so hard they echoed off our galley seats. She rapidly clicked between windows, her brow furrowed, looking for the next retweet.
For years, I was this girl—live-tweeting with a secret self-importance, oozing with purpose: I am the voice of [brand/org/God] at this event; I control the little hits of dopamine folks will get when their phone pings with a favorite, reply or retweet.
The girl was young—perhaps in college—and I wondered what they had taught her about social media. Was it anything like the meticulous directions I received on writing press releases?
I was there when Facebook became a thing. I remember every single second of creating my account on that hot summer day in 2004. I remember telling my friend, in 2008, that I wasn’t sure I understood Twitter, that as a blogger these micro-messages seemed awfully sparse. I would later loudly declare that, in my opinion, Twitter was the greatest invention of our generation, a virtual town square where my ability to connect with people of note is never more than a few clicks away.
I had—still have, I hope—a valuable skill. I was a millennial (eep). I was an early adopter. I knew and understood what digital marketing could look like. I had recognized, early, how the landscape had shifted in a way that would come to define my career. At the time, my bosses and managers couldn’t understand why anyone would share so much about themselves. They couldn’t understand why someone would want to be “friends” with a brand. They handed over the keys to their organizational profiles and believed that I would care for them in good faith. I certainly hope I did.
My work became about evangelizing these new mediums. Setting up the first social accounts for organizations. Giving them voices. Translating and identifying customer service opportunities. Discovering meaningful metrics. Listening. Capturing. Training others to do the same. I loved it then and still do now, even though most of what I do daily has changed significantly.
On Wednesday, I sat beside an incredibly hip, impeccably dressed Middle Eastern student. He told me he was on vacation to San Diego. Did I know much about the weather there, he asked. It’s warm and lovely, I told him.
We eventually settled into silence, him scrolling through Snapchats, me realizing it was another platform I had tried and failed to initially find meaning in. This time, however, my ambivalence felt different. I realized that in many ways, I was no longer the audience for this product—but that didn’t matter. It was one of those moments—like signing up for this Facebook thing and knowing it’s about to change the way we connect—when you know that everything after it is different.
I’m still constantly thinking about the landscape and patterns of the future: what happens if we suddenly value privacy again? Will written words begin to matter less as we translate more ideas into videos and photos? What happens to all of our digital detritus?
I love having the opportunity to write posts and plan campaigns—for me, there is something so naturally reflexive in this task—but more and more my interests are shifting from platforms to people.
At the conference, I watched the young social media manager pull out an extension cord; she held it up high like a winning trophy, as I had done so many times before. Folks around me began rushing to plug into it. As I leaned over to plug in as well she looked at me and snipped, “This is for people who do social media.”
I paused, gave her a sweet smile, then pushed my plug the rest of the way in. “I know.”
“I felt as a young woman who wasn’t a homework-doer or note-taker, but still had drive and passion about politics and art and ideas, there was nowhere for me to go. Love other women. The world wants you to find extraordinary women threatening. Undo that training. When you feel threatened, it’s a great sign that you have just found an ally who will bring you new energy and insight and together you will rise. Never stop growing your crew. There is always room for another homie if you find someone special enough. Give them everything and they will give back in return. Have faith in the women in your life and you will be ok out there.
Also, HR departments work for your company, not you. You can’t tell on patriarchy to dad. Brace yourself for things to be exactly as bad as they say it is, and go out in the world anyway. If your work is good, you will always land on your feet.”
– Rachel Rosenfelt, founder and publisher of The New Inquiry
I am so moved by this.