When it comes to music, I will forever be a tween. Bring on the Radio Disney. I was at a party last year where Miley Cyrus was the surprise guest and while everyone else was looking at each other like, why do we care about Miley Cyrus, I was furiously texting my friends about how I was two tables away from Miley Cyrus OMFG. Which brings us to two weeks ago Thursday, when I received an email that Pop-Tarts was sponsoring a “pop-up” (get it?) concert in Chicago on July 19 and if I swore on my journalistic honor that I wouldn’t print anything before they announced it, they’d let me in on the secret performers. When I found out one was Carly Rae Jepsen, and I could get two tickets, and be next to the stage for part of the time, I cleared my calendar and informed my boyfriend to do the same.
What I wasn’t expecting: that a concert with all tweens and their slightly older brethren, no alcohol and unlimited Pop-Tarts would be one of the best nights I’ve had so far this summer. In our twenties, we center nearly every social event around open bars, BYO restaurants, drink specials, day drinking. Even the Olympic opening ceremonies turns into a drinking game. But watching these high-schoolers hop around like carefree, well, high-schoolers (and hopping around like a high-schooler myself) reminded me how much fun I used to have under the influence of nothing but my friends and maybe a little sugar. At the end of the concert it started to storm—a misty, cooling, beautiful shower—and getting wet, watching the spotlights illuminate the sheets of rain, with my boyfriend’s arm around me, was pure magic. Magic that, thankfully, won’t be lost in a haze of $4.99 wine.
I got an email yesterday from an old friend telling me she moved back from Mexico in May, got engaged in June, got married in a small ceremony in July and is moving to Cape Cod to become a radio producer. This made me happy to the point where I texted my boyfriend, who has never met this person, to tell him the news, especially upon seeing the pictures and seeing how happy they looked just being two people in love, without all the white dress/church/reception hall hoopla. It also made me think about all the friendships I’ve valued over 27 years in five cities and how bad I am at maintaining these friendships when I move or when other people move. (Confession: I had no idea this friend was even dating someone, not to mention moving back to the U.S. and marrying him!) I have long-distance friends in Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, L.A., San Francisco, D.C., Milwaukee and Park City, Utah whom I think are amazing people and whom I should talk to on a more regular basis.
Still, I feel lucky that this friend still considers me close enough to send me photos from her family-only wedding. That my friend in San Francisco, after months of not talking, will send me an out-of-the-blue email telling me how much he enjoyed one of my recent blog posts. That I would feel fairly confident showing up at any of these people’s doors and being welcomed for a visit. Hopefully in another 27 years, I’ll feel the same.
Pledge for today: to write the newlywed a life update. Maybe email penpals is the way to go.
I realize it would be ludicrous to claim that I don’t have my quote-unquote “shit” together—I hold down a job in the field I want to be in, I pay my rent on time every month and I successfully haven’t touched any of the money my grandpa left to me, which is building interest and reserved for a down payment on a condo or house one day. (It’s going to need to build a lot more interest. But still.) Yet, this ecard struck a chord. 27 is five years out of college, creeping up on 30 years on this planet. I always thought that, by this point, I’d have written a book, or…well, written a book. That’s always been the goal.
I’m not sure why I put writing a book on such a pedestal. A quick walk through any bookstore is proof that hundreds upon hundreds of people have written books, and most of them have received no attention for it. Not that attention is everything, but then again, it kind of is…you want your book to impact people, or what’s the point? But like any deluded writer, I always think that when I write a book, people will care. Then my thoughts turn to: Why the hell haven’t I written one in the last five years? What have I been doing with my life?
After seeing a play with a friend on Monday night, we chatted about her summer—namely, how work and law school are going. “I’m restless,” she said. “I always thought that by this age, I would be doing something that impacted people.” This is coming from someone who is about to get her law degree, simultaneously excels at working part-time for a lawyer, and manages a volunteer group at a community garden to boot.
More and more, I think this is the overarching crisis of relatively privileged college grads in our late 20s: No matter how well we’re doing, we think we could—nay, we think we should—be doing better. Talking about this with someone who I consider successful already helped a lot. So did this quote, from Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive:
“I recently had the privilege of sitting in Carnegie Hall and watching the fabulous seventy-seven-year-old Gloria Steinem, an icon of the women’s movement, receive a Lifetime Achievement honor at Glamour’s Women of the Year Awards. ‘In my generation, people thought that if you weren’t married before you were thirty, you were a failure,’ she told the audience. ‘And now a lot of young women think that if they aren’t seriously successful before thirty, they’re a failure. So I want to say to you that there is life and dreams and surprises after thirty—and forty, and fifty, and sixty, and seventy-seven!’
I don’t see this quote as an excuse to rest on my laurels. But it’s a reminder that, when it comes down to it, 27 is still really freaking young.
Now excuse me while I go write the next great American (non-fiction) novel.
This is how I spent my 4th of July:
1) Sitting in an inflatable pool in a friend’s backyard drinking wine and Bulleit Rye whiskey (not together).
2) Eating barbecue in one of Chicago’s prettiest beer gardens.
3) Watching a fairly spectacular rogue fireworks show in Winnemac Park. This happens every year, and it consists of—no joke—a group of neighbors setting off full-blown fireworks for about two hours. Rumor has it that they’re a bunch of ex-cops and ex-fire fighters, so that’s how they get away with it without getting arrested.
I went to bed last night with the exact same thought I had after last year’s 4th of July, when two of my best friends and I drove out to Evanston, housed a week’s worth of food at our favorite wing place from college, and pitched a blanket to watch fireworks over Lake Michigan. And that thought was: Today was perfect.
The 4th is undeniably a family holiday, and one day it’ll be the kids—not me—in the inflatable pool. Our group of friends on blankets in the park will be joined by strollers, the night will end earlier and there will probably be less wine*. And that will be fun, too. But these totally selfish 4ths spent meandering with friends are something special. Also, I’m totally buying an inflatable pool.
*Okay, let’s be honest. There will probably be just as much wine.
I’m not too old to walk into Walgreens slightly drunk and make the single-college-girl purchase of a four-pack of miniature Sutter Home wine bottles, a half-gallon of milk and a single string cheese, which was a last-minute sub for the pack of chocolate-covered macaroons I was holding. PS: This all came to a grand total of $8.87.
Nora Ephron, one of my favorite writers in the world, died yesterday at age 71. One of her most stunning qualities was the ability to appeal to women of every generation; a twentysomething can laugh over, and identify with, and feel that unmatchable someone gets it feeling about Ephron’s work as much as a fortysomething, fiftysomething or sixtysomething. My earliest Nora Ephron memory was at age 20, sitting on my then boyfriend’s bed in our first shared apartment in Manhattan, reading a New Yorker article in which she justified the purchase of a crazy expensive apartment by dividing the price by the number of days she would presumably live in it and equating that to the price of her daily Starbucks run. As someone who often equated the price of jeans and shoes to a daily Starbucks soy chai extra foam, I thought this was brilliant that a professional writer—a published New Yorker writer—would have the same thought.
I’ve since stopped drinking soy chais, but I haven’t stopped reading Nora Ephron. I’ve been inspired by dozens of her stories/quotes/movie moments, from her line about 26-year-olds and bikinis to the famous New Year’s Eve monologue in When Harry Met Sally. Today, I have read approximately one billion and one posts mourning Ephron’s passing and rounding up her best work, and came across one piece I had never seen before but am convinced was written for me: “A Few Words About Breasts.”
Insecurity about my breasts pretty much defines my twenties (and teens…and third grade). A brief timeline:
Third grade: Katie S., a loud girl in my class, boasts about needing a bra for her “tail lights.” (Looking back, I think she meant headlights.) I assume I will need a bra one day as well.
Sixth grade: Still don’t need a bra. Embarrassed in gym locker room; rush in to be first one to change, or change in bathroom stall.
Eighth grade: Still don’t need a bra. Embarrassed to the point of getting one anyway. It is elastic and hideous.
Ninth grade: Do rudimentary research on family’s dial-up Internet. Convinced I’m simply a late bloomer.
Twelfth grade: Blooming—not happening. Tell mother I want breast implants. She is patient and kind in vetoing this.
College, sophomore year: Refuse to let first boyfriend take my shirt and bra off at same time. It’s one or other, I tell him. Doesn’t cross my mind he will eventually figure out I have no breasts. Or that he probably already knows.
College, junior year: Start running. Am pleased I don’t need to buy a sports bra.
College, senior year: Read that Jessica Simpson needs two sports bras to play volleyball. Even more pleased with myself.
Age 24: Have boyfriend who, in five months of having sex, never once takes my shirt off during it. Insecurities return.
Age 27: Upgraded from 32A to 30B by bra-fitting professional. This, despite what logic may tell you, makes my breasts look smaller under t-shirts; the tighter band prevents the cups from gapping out. Mentally enhanced (B cup!!) but physically diminished. Either way, it is nice to be wearing a bra that doesn’t reveal my nipples to anyone who happens to be a few inches taller than me and standing next to me while I’m wearing a V-neck shirt. Still no sports bra. Run in my bikini top because a) it’s 90 degrees; b) I’ll get better tan lines; and c) I can. Feeling good.
Last week: Try on unpadded American flag bikini at American Apparel; even after all these years, am slightly shocked at how flat I really am. Pretend I don’t care, then put bikini back.
This all is coupled with extreme fascination with anyone who has breasts, and what that’s like. I wish I could say that, by this point in my 20s, I’m comfortable, content and—heavens—even happy with my bust size 100% of the time. That would be a lie. But I can say that I’ve come so far buying clothes for this body, and have gotten so used to running in bikini tops, and have found such a wonderful boyfriend who loves me for me (and who is eager to take my shirt off), that I’m happy with what I’ve got 99% of the time. Well, maybe 98.7%.
And no one can phrase it as well as Nora: “If I had had them, I would have been a completely different person. I honestly believe that.”
Before serious boyfriend:
After serious boyfriend*:
*from boyfriend’s point of view
The second cartoon unfortunately doesn’t take into account Penny, the 30-pound ball of fur who shares our bed. She usually likes to wriggle into the peacekeeping zone while I’m brushing my teeth, which cramps my style of taking over 3/4 of the bed in hopes of forced snuggling. But she’s so cute, I’m getting used to it.
Like any human being, I love being on vacation and lingering in bed and eating everything in sight and not worrying if my running shoes go unworn for a day. But after about a week, or a particularly decadent weekend, I get antsy to return to my regularly scheduled morning routine. That involves getting up at 4:55, working out, eating a Greek yogurt with mix-in of the moment (right now: addicted to Trader Joe’s raw Trek mix), spending entirely too long plucking stray eyebrow hairs visible only via a 10x magnifying mirror, spending entirely too long luxuriating in the warmth of the shower and eventually realizing I’ve spent so much time plucking and luxuriating and working on freelance writing projects that even though I wake up 4.5 hours before I have to leave for work, and my job starts an hour later than most working people, I’m going to be late. I love these mornings. I go to bed looking forward to these mornings.
Waking up at 7:05, on the couch, still in the t-shirt and jeans I had been wearing the day before, with my shoes, jacket and contents of my purse in a pile on the floor next to me—and groaning, rolling over and sleeping until 9—is usually not part of the plan. This, of course, was the product of a very unplanned night; the kind of night you take for granted at 21 but, at 27, savor every minute of. The kind of night where even though it’s Tuesday and everyone has jobs to wake up for in the morning, a glass of sangria turns into a pitcher, and a pitcher turns into another pitcher, and another pitcher turns into a ridiculous plan to head to a faraway karaoke bar that someone heard was good.
That karaoke bar was called Alice’s, at Belmont and Central Park West in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago, enough off my beaten path that I just had to use Google to figure out that Avondale part. It was spectacular. We quickly won the heart of the grumpy karaoke man, bonded with the two other people there, sang every other song and did several rounds of shots with random groups after the bar got busy, which curiously didn’t start to happen until around 1am. Based on text messages to my karaoke companions proclaiming “love you!!!!!” I estimate I got home around 3.
Yes, this meant sacrificing my gym session and Greek yogurt and laughably long shower in favor of a 10-minute scramble to make myself decent and get out the door. But in the long run, I’m going to remember belting out Melissa Etheridge to a whopping crowd of five far longer than I’m going to remember eking out another sixty seconds of pullups.
When I was 20, on my first day as an intern at SELF magazine, a woman named Liz asked me to do a research project on eggs. A few weeks later, I asked Liz if we could grab a cup of coffee sometime and talk about how she built her career. Liz turned into the perfect mentor: honest about the frustrations of her job as well as the rewards; realistic that not everyone quote-unquote “makes it,” but encouraging that some do. She also took me to Conde Nast’s cafeteria and showed me the table that’s 24/7 reserved for Anna Wintour (even though AW never comes to the cafeteria) so I wouldn’t sit there and get yelled at.
Now, as an employed editor, I am the one interns are asking to coffee. Part of me wants to yell, “No, someone made a mistake! I’m barely more than an intern myself!” But then I remember this is my third journalism job out of college, I have a decent spot on the masthead of a major city magazine, and I’m 27, probably the age Liz was when she was doling out wisdom to me. So I channel her, and I give them advice. I tell them journalism is a hard business to get—and keep—a job in. I say they should be open to writing for blogs, or to writing for trade magazines, or to writing freelance while getting a steady paycheck from a non-journalism job. One thing I don’t tell them? That their writing sucks and they should never, ever be a writer. This Forbes piece is written from an absurdly high pedestal, one I’m surprised the author wasn’t knocked from when she penned this atrocious piece about how, as a twentysomething female looking for a job, it’s important to be pretty.
No, some people won’t succeed as (paid) writers. Others will. But absolutely no one—not Nora Ephron, not the 19-year-old girl writing madly in a journal in her bedroom, and not Susannah Breslin of Forbes—is entitled to speak to an audience of thousands of strangers, some of whom may be excellent writers, and tell them “what we can conclude from this is that the person we are talking about here who cannot write well is, in all likelihood, you.”
The interns I advise, I work with for three months, tops. They spend much of that time fact-checking, and doing research, and writing small roundup stories that are not a terrific gauge of their talent. So you know what? They might be better writers than me. Or they might end up applying for 18 journalism jobs, getting none of them, and finding something else that makes them happy. My role is to give them a balanced, realistic look at what’s ahead, and let them navigate the future as they see fit.
Susannah: I know controversy creates clicks, and your Forbes blog kicks my Tumblr’s ass in that respect. But please don’t tell me that I “should have picked something something [sic] else: something easier, something less complicated, something other than than [sic; I believe she meant ‘being’] a writer.”
I usually find the Vows section of the New York Times predictable and pretentious, and feel bad for anyone who thinks their crowning achievement in life is appearing in a 2x2” black-and-white newsprint photo above four to six lines of text about their pending nuptials. (I have nothing against brides who are happy about their Vows announcements. Just the bride who needs a Vows announcement to be happy.) But after reading Sunday’s Vows, I have new respect for writer Lois Smith Brady, who turned the 20th anniversary of the column into a moving reflection on marriage, divorce and the idea most newlyweds can’t contemplate: 20 years later, things are going to be different. She did this by tracking down six Vows couples from 1992—some still happily wed, others very messily separated. All had wise words (maybe there is something to the unofficial NYT mandate that at least one of the partners have an Ivy League alma mater to namedrop), but I found myself stuck on those of Sheldon Toney, now 46, whose pals’ pre-wedding gift to him was a bowling ball attached to a chain: “When my single friends would call and say, ‘We’re going to Mardi Gras, do you want to go?’ I looked at it like, ‘I have a wife and kids. I have what I want.’ The green-grass syndrome, you realize, it’s a mirage.”
Fittingly, I read this the morning after going to bed before midnight on a Saturday night with my own ball and chain (J: I kid!), ignoring invitations to a) drink on a patio; b) have one final hurrah in a friend’s apartment before his lease expired; and, later, c) dance to ’80s songs in the basement of a dive bar open until 5am. I could have done any of those things without raising an ounce of protest from my very easygoing boyfriend, who simply wasn’t feeling well and wanted his own person—not necessarily mine—to get a decent night’s sleep. And, 8-months-ago-me may have been horrified I chose d) stick around just in case boyfriend who isn’t feeling well needs anything. But ol’ Sheldon couldn’t have said it better: As I pushed my phone under my pillow, ignoring all texts, I realized I had just what I wanted. Well, except for a sandwich from Cheesie’s, the exclusively-grilled-cheese, alarmingly greasy restaurant down the block that I’m always craving on a Saturday night. But hey, life can’t be perfect.
Speaking of cheese, as I type this, I’m outside on a bench my boyfriend put together with an electric drill, in his cute little yard filled with trees and flowers, and I can’t help but be beat over the head with the metaphor. The grass here looks pretty green.