Announcement: Reading Cancelled

Apologies for coming at you twice in one week (although if your inbox looks anything like mine right now I’m sure it’s a welcome change from the desperate, angry emails from the DNC, the NRDC, the ACLU, et al.) but: The reading I told you about was cancelled. Apparently the club at which it was to be held suddenly closed forever a couple of days ago? I’m slightly relieved, honestly, because my hair has been looking a little weird this month so perhaps I’ll have that sorted out by the time it’s re-scheduled. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. About the reading, not my hair.

P.S. I went to see Liz Phair last night and I have to say, it was weird and interesting to be out in the world on the same day that Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court! I knew, of course, that there were going to be men at the show, but I still felt irritated by the fact that they were present in seemingly equal numbers and that they didn’t have the sense—ON YESTERDAY OF ALL DAYS—to gather quietly in the back of the venue. Instead there they were, standing obliviously in front of me despite being eight inches taller and having full bodily autonomy guaranteed forever, putting their hands in the air with their index fingers extended? Can you imagine? You know I’m mad because when she was singing “Polyester Bride” which is one of my favorite songs, I kept thinking, “Why do we have to hear what this guy Henry thinks?” Also her band was all men and I had heard somewhere that they were all extremely good-looking but big surprise, it was just the usual rounding up that average white men seem to enjoy in all things.

P.P.S. The Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center, aka the one where I both attended camp and worked as a counselor, was covered with swastikas (again?) early Saturday morning. Everything is FINE!

Stuck in High School

Twelve days ago, I returned to the New Hampshire campus of my old prep school to attend the annual “Leadership Weekend.” I went because I’d been pressured, at our last reunion, into a five-year term as class Vice President, with the explicit understanding that I wouldn’t have to actually do anything until the time came to plan our next reunion, a.k.a. now. (Yes, we continue to elect new class officers at regular intervals long after graduation. I assure you, I’m as surprised as anyone reasonably normal would be to find myself in this position, especially given that it comes two decades too late to serve as we used to refer to as “college suck.”)

I don’t have to tell you that spring 2014, when this agreement was made, was a very different time. Like everyone, I’ve changed a lot, and my centuries old alma mater has changed too: Several absurdly fancy new buildings, including a 63,000-square-foot Center for Theater and Dance, have been erected, even as certain less tangible structures have, perhaps, begun to crumble.

In 2016, the Academy admitted in a letter to alumni that a certain very long-standing former faculty member had, in fact, been “required to retire” and then “permanently barred from campus” a few years prior, after two separate women reported having had sexual relationships with him, as students, in the 1970s and 1980s. This admission—apparently motivated by a need to get out ahead of a then-forthcoming investigation into sexual abuse at New England boarding schools by the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team—prompted several more disclosures of the same kind; in August, the school released a pair of reports which accused eleven former staffers of abusing teenagers who’d been, one way or another, in their care.

Largely unaddressed were the many student-on-student assaults which (I think we can safely assume) have occurred on campus over the years. Although nobody has said as much, I think the school may feel that their responsibility for these more quotidian violations is… not as great? Perhaps rightly so: The teacher I mentioned above, in addition to having been vetted by the school, had more or less unfettered access to his victims—from what I’ve heard he lived in the same dorm as them and may have even been their advisor, meaning that he was the adult who was acting in loco parentis for those girls—whereas teen-on-teen assault is the kind of thing that can, and does, happen everywhere.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s perfectly obvious why this has been on my mind! The violent sexual behavior of overprivileged teenaged boys has been on pretty much everyone’s mind lately, to some degree, thanks to the fact that an apparently horrible example of the type is only a few votes away from getting to literally rule over all of us for the next several decades. As I am very far from being the first to point out, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that whoever takes that Supreme Court spot is probably going to be decisive in loads of bad judgements, so the fact that the GOP is going balls-out to ensure that the person who gets to deny a generation of women their right to bodily autonomy is someone who is widely believed to have real-world experience doing same is just… well, it’s putting it mildly to say that they’re adding insult to injury.

But there was something else that I was a bit more surprised to find myself thinking about during my visit to New Hampshire, even though I’m sure that it, too, is directly related to the current news and just to everything that’s been going on in this country over the last few years. As I walked around the campus, my beloved former home and the setting for, embarrassingly I suppose, some of the best years of my life, and as I sat through the Leadership Weekend Assembly and listened to speakers who described a variety of frankly amazing-sounding new classes and, of course, detailed the school’s copious fundraising needs, I thought: Is any of this really conscionable?

My particular prep school now charges boarders more than $50,000 a year, up (way up) from around $20,000 a year in the 1990s. Even if roughly half the students are receiving some kind of financial aid—and even if those whose parents make less than $75,000 annually are getting a full ride—is it in any way ethical to concentrate so many resources in the hands of so few?

Perhaps to combat this, the Academy prides itself on turning out good citizens; the school’s official motto is “Non Sibi,” or “not for oneself.” But when I think about what I’ve done with my life, and, frankly, what my classmates have done with theirs, I’m not sure it’s enough to justify all that we were given, when so many others go without. I’m not sure anything could be.

Anyway, my apologies, this edition is both a)not exactly related to the stated topic of this newsletter and b)kind of half-baked. But if any of you are thinking and working 100% efficiently in the midst of this slow-motion shit-show, this horrible period in which we are, all of us, to some degree stuck in high school, well, congratulations. Feel free to write back and tell me how.

P.S. In other news: I’m doing a reading next week! Please come to Wonders of Nature at 131 Grand Avenue in Brooklyn at 7 PM on October 10th to see me, Hossannah Asuncion, Yoojin Grace Wuertz, and musician Alice Danger at the season opener of the beloved Mixer Reading Series. I will probably read from my novel, so there will be more boarding school content, although ideally it will be better than this and also more fun!

P.P.S. I haven’t confirmed but I think my interview with Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, might be in the November issue of Elle UK. I loved talking to her so much, so if you are in England or thereabouts definitely pick it up (and send me a copy haha).

The Internships

Less than eighteen months before I was due to graduate from college, I still had next to no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I’d majored in English literature and was pretty sure that I wanted to be a writer, but not the sort of writer who spends all of her time working on something that might not ever be published, or read by more than a few hundred people if it was. I couldn’t see the point of that. If “bestselling novelist” had been the kind of job that you could apply for, I almost certainly would have. But I wasn’t, so I put the idea out of my head.

My cousin Jen had been on staff at Elle for a couple of years by then, but it didn’t occur to me to wonder whether she could help me snag a summer internship at the magazine until one of my roommates was offered an internship at French Vogue. Jealous, I called New York. Yes, my cousin confirmed, she could connect me to the assistant who was in charge of choosing interns. She couldn’t guarantee that I’d be picked—she wasn’t this woman’s boss—but Jen found it distinctly unlikely that the assistant would refuse to hire me, a fellow employee in good standing’s reasonably qualified relative. 

Nevertheless, having suddenly decided not quite at random that I wanted to work at a magazine, I figured I’d better cover my bases. I reached out to my mother’s best friend from high school, a journalist, and she agreed to put me in touch with the intern coordinator at her main outlet, Rolling Stone. Her level of pull wasn’t quite equal to Jen’s—even though she was more established in the industry, she was a freelancer—but it was enough. By the time summer rolled around, I’d made plans to spend Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at Elle, and Thursdays and Fridays at Rolling Stone

I’m sure it goes without saying that both of these positions were unpaid, unless you count the stacks of unopened CDs that one or another of the music magazine’s many twenty-something male editors sometimes gave me to sell at a used record store downtown. (You shouldn’t.) I’d saved up a bit of cash from my Charlottesville waitressing job, but mostly, for those ten weeks, I sponged off my parents, just as I did during the school year. They paid my rent—an outrageous $750 a month to share a tiny two-bedroom suite in the NYU dorms with three total strangers (the most memorable of which used to sit in our cramped, windowless common area plucking her leg hairs out with a pair of tweezers)—and gave me enough money to ensure that I didn’t starve to death, which in Manhattan, even back then, was kind of a lot. 

Prior to that summer, I’d spent just a few days in New York, not counting my infancy. (My family had lived in an allegedly cockroach-infested apartment off Washington Square the year I was born, while my father attended tax school.) And those days, the days immediately following my graduation from boarding school, had been spent wandering the city with almost a dozen other wide-eyed teenagers; nights, we slept side-by-side on the floor of my friend Blaine’s mother’s Upper East Side co-op. In retrospect, the apartment was beautiful, and rather sizeable for New York City. But at the time, even I—an extroverted middle child who required very little personal space—found it, and the city in general, to be a bit claustrophobic.

Upon my return, though, New York started to grow on me, mostly because I liked my jobs. Not that the work was especially exciting: The main thing I remember doing at Elle that summer was organizing and reorganizing the research library, which was actually more of a closet. (We also answered phones, wrote “letters to the editor”—they weren’t fake, exactly, because they reflected our true feelings about, say, E. Jean’s advice to a woman wondering whether she should enlist a matchmaker to help her find a wealthy husband—corresponded with publicists, and, as my friend and fellow intern Alyssa recently reminded me, occasionally typed stories into the computers that had been filed by fax.) At Rolling Stone, I did even less of substance; the magazine celebrated a version of summer Fridays that included free beer being distributed to the entire staff at around 3 PM.

Even so, I was taken in. At both magazines, I found it thrilling to see pages in process, prior to their publication and then again, in print, a few weeks later. At Rolling Stone, I loved visiting the gallery-like hallway on the opposite side of the floor that showcased poster-sized prints of every single cover, going all the way back to the magazine’s start in the late 1960s. And on my second or third Friday there, just before quitting time, an excited buzz went around the office: The celebrity photographer Mark Seliger was hosting a big party that night at his new west West Village studio, and everyone was invited, “even the interns.”

I called my college friend Sarah, who was working in Manhattan that summer but living with her brother and sister-in-law in Hoboken, and told her to get back on the bus. Rightly so: The guests included everyone from Vince Vaughn, still very “money” less than a year after the release of Swingers, to Jerry Seinfeld, who’d recently broken up with a girl more or less our age. But, starstruck though we were by them, we really only had eyes for Brad Pitt, who was there with a bodyguard and who for some reason permitted a group of us to babble at him for the better part of ten minutes. (At one point, Brad put a cigarette in his mouth and Sarah literally grabbed a Bic out of another guy’s hand in order to light it.) Giddy beyond reason, we interns stayed until the end of the party, long after almost everyone else had left. We’d probably still be there if our host hadn’t kicked us out.

No wonder, then, that by the end of the summer I was sure that I wanted to work in magazines, and, therefore, to live in New York. No wonder I became a culture writer, with an early focus on music, and a celebrity profiler. And no wonder that, even though I’m technically still a magazine writer, I somehow sort of miss it.

Note: I wrote pretty much all of the above before a Refinery29 piece that details the spending life of a (wealthy) summer intern went viral; nevertheless, because it’s 2018, I suppose I should explicitly acknowledge the captial-P privilege that allowed me to get my start in magazines. Which: That’s why I included those details! To be clear, my parents weren’t giving me anywhere near $4000 a month, and nobody I knew had a house in the Hamptons, with their own private chef. But I still couldn’t have held those jobs without significant financial support, and I very likely couldn’t have got them without the family connections that led to my rather thin resume landing at the tops of those piles. Clearly, this is not an ideal way to run things.

And, speaking of working for free: I have added a paid option to this newsletter. It’s early days so I’m not sure exactly what paying subscribers will get that freeloaders (meant affectionately!) won’t. But if you are dying to support my work, please do sign up.

Teen Age

One of my last really big-deal magazine stories (to date, anyway) was a profile of Anne Hathaway for Elle. I’d spoken to her a few times before, including twice for the cover of Teen Vogue, so in addition to the usual pre-interview preparations—googling “Anne Hathaway baby” and “Anne Hathaway husband”; finally watching Bride Wars, Love & Other Drugs, and The Dark Knight Rises—I dug up my transcripts from our earlier conversations.

For the most part, they were as I’d expected. But there was one moment at the end of our 2004 interview that shocked me: The actress, then 21, had answered the question, “Is there anything I should have asked you about that I haven’t?” with a rather verbose declaration that, contrary to how she may or may not have come across during the previous hour, “I’m not as serious as I seem… I don’t sit around thinking about, you know, my career… I really don’t take myself seriously in this job at all. Like, if there’s one thing to know about me, it’s that I consider myself, you know, extremely lucky that I’ve had what I’ve had… So, just that I’m very grateful for everything, and you know—” at which point I, then 27, cut her off. “Slow down,” I told her. “This isn’t the Oscars.”

From the vantage point of 2017, this seemed almost breathtakingly rude. How could I have spoken to Anne Hathaway like that? But, per my transcript, she’d taken it more or less in stride. “Stop it,” she’d responded, to which I, apparently pretending that I was accepting an Academy Award, had replied, “Thanks, Mom.” I thought about looking around for the original recording, which was on microcassette, simply to parse our respective tones, but I was due at my friend Sarah’s birthday dinner shortly thereafter, so I didn’t. Instead, when I got to the restaurant, I told everyone about my incredibly obnoxious comment and then I pretty much moved on.

Two days later, Anne and I met for lunch in Tribeca. After some initial chitchat about our young children, she asked me whether I was on staff at Elle, which was my cue to remind her that we’d met before. “You seemed familiar,” she told me. “When did you interview me?”

I told her, adding that we’d been at the Cupping Room, just a few blocks away.

“I remember that,” she said, “because, um. I do remember. Because, do you remember those enormous, like, basically they were bowls of coffee? I don’t know how many espresso shots they put into mine. But I was taking the subway home, and I couldn’t breathe, because it was like, probably, a poisonous amount of coffee. I had to get off the subway, and sit on a curb, and call my boyfriend to come pick me up.”

“That’s terrible!”

“It wasn’t you. But I do remember. It’s nice to see you again.”

At which point I, apparently feeling guilty, said, “Yeah, I was reading the transcript the other day and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m not the same person I was back then.’ Like, even just: knowledge lost. Because at one point you mentioned that you were getting ready to go to Calgary to film Brokeback Mountain, and I go, ‘Is that in Alberta?’ Now I can’t imagine having that information, or asking about it.”

“Oh, this is going to be fun,” she said, “to meet ourselves again and see how we have changed.” She might have even clapped her hands, although I wouldn’t swear to it. “Because knowing who I was back then, if I didn’t know the answer, when you said that, I probably would have run home and googled it.”

From there, we proceeded to have a perfectly normal, pleasant interview. If you want to be a completist about it, you can read the resulting story here. But I must have passed some kind of test, because at the end, as I was getting the check, she said, “I enjoyed this very much. I think it’s cool that we had history,” and then, after I’d produced copies of the issues in which she’d appeared (I have a very comprehensive collection of early Teen Vogues), she asked, “Were we at the Cupping Room, or were we at Candle 79?”

“Definitely the Cupping Room.”

“Because I remember, and I just wonder if it was you, but maybe I’m conflating it with a different memory, I just remember at the end of the interview the person saying, ‘Is there anything else you want to say, or…’”

“That sounds like me.”

What Anne couldn’t have known, and what (I now see) almost certainly contributed to my impatience with her rambling response, was that I used to end every interview by asking if there was anything else I should have asked about. The internet wasn’t as comprehensive, back then, and it wasn’t uncommon for the person I was profiling to answer by suddenly bringing up a just-wrapped indie movie or an allegedly-forthcoming debut album that I’d otherwise never have known about. But the question had not been designed, as young Anne had apparently perceived it, as a way to give my subject the last word.

“And then I started to thank my fans,” she said (that must have been where she’d been going when I cut her off), “and you said, ‘Okay, you’re not winning an Oscar.’”

“That was me,” I admitted. “I just re-read the transcript the other day, and I was like, ‘Did I really say that?’”

“You really said that. I’ve never forgotten it.”

“I can’t believe you remember that,” I said. Truly, I couldn’t. Someone like her, who’s been working at a really high level for more than a decade and a half, has to have had hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of faux-intimate coffees and lunches and drinks with journalists. I’ve done hundreds of interviews too, so I know what it’s like, and I’ve forgotten a ton; in fact, when I was working on the Elle story about Anne I realized that I had no specific recollection of our second big interview. (A search of my inbox jogged my memory: We’d met at midday in an emptied-out Los Angeles restaurant that later became famous as the setting for the reality show “Vanderpump Rules.”)

“I remember it. Because I was so embarrassed.”

“It was so rude…” I began lamely.

“I have no idea if it was rude,” she said, almost certainly lying. “It was a little harsh.”

“When I read the transcript, I was like, that’s obnoxious!”

“It was a little harsh.”

“Oh my god, I am so sorry. I read that and I couldn’t believe I’d have said it. It seems unthinkable to me now. It’s rude, it’s abrupt, it’s strange…I saw it in the transcript, and I was like, that does not sound like me. And it especially doesn’t sound like something I would say to a famous person.”

“I wasn’t that famous at the time,” she pointed out.

She was right, I realized. She’d been in The Princess Diaries, of course—the story was timed to promote that film’s sequel, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (written by Shonda Rhimes, BTW)—and a few other things, but there was no real indication that she’d go on to become, well, Anne Hathaway. Meanwhile, I was the Senior Writer at the premiere teen magazine in the world, according to me, a magazine so generally excellent that it had recently won the American Society of Magazine Editor’s Award for General Excellence.

So, I’m sure part of it was that she was already, even in that pre-Hathahate era, a bit of a drama-geeky try-hard; mere moments before I’d asked my go-to final question she’d listed the qualities she admired in the actresses Jodie Foster, Angelina Jolie, Audrey Hepburn, Katherine Hepburn, and Julie Andrews, and then concluded, earnestly, “Hopefully, a little bit of all of those will be Annie Hathaway.” (Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the statement she was trying to retroactively obliterate with all of her protestations of not really taking herself so seriously—she’d immediately added, “I know how bad that sounded,” and tried again: “Hopefully, if I’m lucky, my career will have elements of all of those wonderful ladies.”)

And part of it was also that I was, maybe, sort of an asshole? At least, at times? Which is bad enough.

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