The Soapbox: Some Friendly Advice For That 22-Year-Old Girl Who Wishes She Was Poorer
Some thoughts for Taylor Cotter (the 22-year-old girl who wrote about wishing she could be poorer on the Huffington Post):
Right now things kinda suck. I know. You wrote an oblivious-sounding piece about how you kind of wished you were getting the chance to be poor and scrappy in your 20s, like artistic people are supposed to be. Like the girls on “Girls,” which sometimes seems very realistic because Lena Dunham is the only young woman with any body fat on TV. And then the piece went up on HuffPo and then Gawker picked it up and now everyone is making fun of you.
My friend sent it to me. She was like “OMG this girl wishes she was poor!” and I was already worried about you.
I mean, maybe you’re totally OK and don’t even care. Maybe you’re laughing. But if you’re anything like me, I’m guessing you’re not. I’m guessing you’re more like, “Oh shit shit shit. No wait! I didn’t mean it that way! Wait, guys! I’m not that bad! I swear. I said that in a funny way. I was trying to make this point, and I was trying to illustrate it, and the piece is more about how we’re taught that being poor is cool when you’re an artist than about how I actually really wish I was poor. The piece is really more about the images we’re given of artists. And how it can be awkward not to fit the image, even if that means being more stable than the image. You know? Seriously! I’m not a bad person!”
When I was a couple years younger, I wrote a piece for HuffPo that was supposed to be funny cultural commentary (because I am such a funny commentator on culture, I thought!), and then suddenly all of these people were furious at me. And they called me all sorts of names and talked about me in forums where the topic was “How stupid is this girl?” And I realized that I’d been stupid immediately, but also, I was trying to be clever and funny in the piece. And that hadn’t worked. And I wished that we could all talk about it nicely. But that, unfortunately, is not how the Internet works. So instead of talking nicely with nice people about how maybe I could have represented the topic in a different way, and how maybe I had a few points, but maybe I needed to give it a little more thought, I cried myself to sleep while strangers on the Internet continued to discuss the finer points of my offensive absurdity.
So I have some (albeit late and unsolicited) advice for you. Not about money and life. I’m sure you already feel like crap about all that. But about writing on the Internet:
When you first start writing stuff for the wide world of the web, don’t publish something without first sending it to someone who will give you an honest opinion. It’s so exciting to be on a major forum. It’s so exciting that once I wrote a piece that almost cost me my day job. Because someone wanted to publish it and I felt so good about that. When you’re a writer and someone wants to publish you, it is a big deal. It is really hard to resist. It is really hard not to write about topics that you know people will publish, so that you can get that rush. But try to think the topics over carefully first. I’m not trying to be condescending, here. Believe me, I know the feelings involved.
And OK, this is a little bit about money, but it needs to be said:
Don’t write about money unless you don’t have any and your parents don’t have any and no one you know can possibly give you any. Try not to write about money unless you are sleeping on a rat-infested mattress with springs sticking into your back and giving you tetanus and you will not be able to afford the ride to the ER. People are really sensitive about money because mostly, it’s incredibly hard to get, and when you don’t have it, things tend to suck more than when you do have it. One day, I hope that people can talk earnestly and openly about their salaries and about class differences and about how rich people are not all the same and middle class people are not all the same and poor people are not all the same. But we’re not there right now. So even if you think you’re going to say something groundbreaking, it might be better to think it over again, and then just try it out on a few friends before publishing anything.
Don’t worry, the people who are talking about you now will move on soon. They always do. And you will be able to write plenty of other things without them even remembering how they felt about this one. There will be some other girl who wrote some other thing about having sex or about being a mother or about how much she either loves or hates Carrie Bradshaw, and everyone will talk about that instead. In fact, that will probably start tomorrow.
Back to the advice: Write other things! It feels good. Seriously! Just write something else. Make it smart and clever and sharp and thoughtful. And then send THAT to HuffPo. Don’t ever stop writing, just because someone calls you out on something. Just because you offended some people. Just because you didn’t make a point in the right way, or in a way that people understood, or in a way that you could proudly stand by. That’s just part of the process. Making points in all the wrong ways is part of the process. So write another piece.
But before you do that, while you’re still in the phase where you want to die a little bit, maybe watch some old “Gossip Girl“ episodes. There’s an example of some TV girls who really, really don’t want to be poor at all, not even for a second. It counterbalances “Girls” a little, and the outfits are more elaborate, which is fun.
And have some ice cream. With some hot fudge. The great thing about having a job is that it enables you to get a lot of ice cream. And I think we can all agree that ice cream is a good thing to have, right? Right. There, see? Everyone’s getting along better already.