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16 articles I’m proud of writing this year

26 Dec

I hardly ever post in this blog anymore, mostly because I’m too busy writing actual articles for work. But in the interest of reflecting on 2015 — and being needlessly self-indulgent — I decided to share the work I’m most proud of this year. These are the stories I spent months reporting and writing. (Along with some I threw together over the course of one productive day.) In many ways they define my year, and while that might sound a little depressing — surely there’s more to life than work! — I have to remind myself that writing is my passion, and I only really write about things I truly love. It’s been a joy covering film, television, and theater: I get to celebrate the art and artists I admire, all while furthering my subversive queer feminist agenda. If I have one regret about the work I did this year, it’s that I didn’t do more of it (hello, poor time management skills). One of my major goals for 2016 is to be more on top of everything so I can produce more. And maybe, every once in a while, get a decent night’s sleep.

1. Eli Roth Thinks Women Will Love His Latest Movie. This year I went to Sundance for the first time, and it was an incredible experience. I saw a lot I loved — and plenty that I hated. Knock Knock fell into the latter category, so it was a pleasure talking to Eli Roth about what I considered a deeply misogynistic film. I was proud of myself for not letting my bias show, because I knew the key here was letting Roth speak for himself.
2. Jeremy Jordan Has Learned From The Mistakes Of Smash. At this point in the year, I had no idea I’d go on to co-create a Smash podcast. I only knew that I wasn’t done talking about my favorite misguided musical drama. With that in mind, I interviewed Jeremy Jordan about The Last Five Years (which I loved), and I got him to be remarkably candid about one of my least favorite TV characters ever.
3. Daniel Franzese Is Still Breaking New Ground 10 Years After Mean GirlsLooking is a series that I feel never got its due, which is why I wrote about it so often. One of my other major passions is writing about size discrimination and fatphobia in the gay male community. I fell in love with Daniel Franzese’s character Eddie, and it was a thrill chatting with Franzese about issues like body positivity and fat acceptance.
4. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Musical Is Not Your Average Disney Production. This year I also expanded my theater coverage. The writing I do on theater never goes as viral as anything I write about film or television — and that’s OK. It remains one of my greatest joys. And as I toy with the idea of leaving Los Angeles for New York, I realize how important this work is to me.
5. The Definitive Ranking Of The Friday The 13th Movies. Another subject I can’t ever seem to write about enough? Horror. (Look for more in-depth pieces on the genre in the coming year.) I love revisiting films that often get overlooked — mediocre horror sequels, for example — and finding a new way to talk about them. And yes, that means I’ve watched a ton of shit, but dissecting garbage is one of the best things about my job.
6. Why Stephen Sondheim Is A Genius, According To The Broadway Stars Who Love Him. This was a project that required very little writing on my part, but it’s something I’m still immensely proud of. Reaching out to icons like Patti and Liza and Barbra, and getting gorgeous responses, was a great reminder to always make that effort, no matter how impossible it seems. And I received a lovely note from Sondheim, which I treasure.
7. What The Heidi Chronicles Gets Right About Feminism And Gay Men. Basically no one read this piece, which was a bummer, but hey, all the more reason to share it again. I was able to get more political than I usually can in my work by articulating it in terms of a play. I can’t be as public with my beliefs as I once was, but if I can remind gay men to be better feminist allies and write about theater, I’m satisfied.
8. Inside The Mind Behind The Most Disgusting Franchise Of All Time. Like Eli Roth, Tom Six is basically a troll. Again, I’m including this because I’m proud of how I’ve grown as an interviewer. When you’re talking to someone as performative as Six, you have to use a lot of restraint and ultimately let him reveal more than he intends to. Given how much I hated this movie, I was delighted by how good the piece came out.
9. Half Of the Team That Changed Horror Is Now Flying Solo. Leigh Whannell, on the other hand, is a horror filmmaker who actually has something to say. This was another one of those interviews that reminded me why I’m so passionate about the genre. I love the ability to analyze something so few people take seriously, and Whannell’s astute observations gave me a lot of hope for the future of horror.
10. The Definitive Ranking Of Walt Disney Animation Studios Films. This was a beast to get through, and I think that shows in the finished product. Rewatching every Disney animated film was a daunting task, to say the least, but what made it worthwhile was being able to engage critically with the films I grew up on. I never want to ruin anyone’s childhood, but I do want to encourage people to rethink their treasured classics.
11. How Catfish Helped Max Joseph Make His Major Film Debut. I wish more people had seen We Are Your Friends, which I liked so much more than I thought I would. I also wish more people that I interviewed were as insightful and honest as Max Joseph. This was me stepping outside of my comfort zone, which is so rewarding. I never thought I’d want to analyze “bro culture,” but here we are.
12. Olivia Wilde Is Taking On A More Active Role To Support Women In Film. You know who is fucking great? Olivia Wilde. This was another one of those interviews I did that made me feel excited about the direction film is headed. It was truly inspiring, and I was so honored to be able to pass Wilde’s message along. If I could just talk to brilliant women in film all the time, I would. It’s such a thrill.
13. The Movie That Taught A Generation Of Misfits To Let Their Freak Flags Fly. Like Drop Dead Gorgeous, another film I wrote an oral history of, Camp was pivotal to my development. This story took me months to get done, and toward the end I pretty much just wanted it to be over. But this is easily the story I’m proudest of writing this year. I wanted to capture a movie that changed my life, and I think I succeeded.
14. All 78 “Treehouse Of Horror” Segments Ranked From Worst To Best. OK, I’ll be honest: I’m mostly including this here because I’m proud of my time management skills on this one. I busted it out in a few days, because I decided I wanted to do it right before Halloween. Anyway, it was a blast and, once again, allowed me to revisit my childhood in a new way. Writing this much about The Simpsons falls under “dream job” territory.
15. How To Be A Broadway Diva, Or At Least How To Fake It. I love writing about people who just aren’t getting that much coverage otherwise. Lesli Margherita is a big name in theater, but not so much to those outside of the community. I was blown away by her humor and sincerity, and I relished the opportunity to share that with a wider audience. I’m going to continue working to force non-theater fans to give a shit.
16. The 18 Best Plays And Musicals Of 2015. And to that end, this is the first list BuzzFeed has done of the best theater of the year. It’s the culmination of my work to broaden our theater coverage, and while it’s still nowhere near my most widely read story this year, I think it’s a major step in the right direction. I can’t wait to return to New York so that I can continue to remind people that Broadway is more relevant than ever.

12 longform BuzzFeed pieces you should read

18 May

BuzzFeed: it’s not just cat GIFs, jackass. That’s not our slogan, but sometimes I think it should be.

At this point, people who read BuzzFeed know that it’s not just a site for cute animal pictures and personality quizzes. I mean, it is those things, yes — but it’s also home to some of the best investigative reporting and longform writing on the internet. I’ve worked at BuzzFeed long enough to not be surprised when people don’t get it, and I no longer feel the need to get overly defensive about it. I’m proud of the work I do, and I’m proud of the work my colleagues do, and I feel like the work speaks for itself.

But given that it’s Sunday evening, and Sunday evening is the ideal time to read long articles you’ve been putting off all week, I’m going to share several of my favorite longform BuzzFeed pieces. This is not to discount the lists and quizzes that also populate the site — because believe it or not, those take a shit-ton of work to put together, too. (Seriously, I have spent so many hours perfecting quizzes. Unless you’ve done it, you have no idea.) But in the interest of celebrating the kind of work people still seem surprised to find on BuzzFeed, I’m focusing on essays, reported pieces, and other longform features.

Some of them are recent. Some are older. You’ve probably read a few already. And I’m leaving out dozens and dozens of pieces I love so as not to make this too overwhelming. With that in mind, I’ll probably end up doing another installment of this in the future. Anyway.

1. “The Secret History of Britney Spears’ Lost Album” by Hunter Schwarz. Hardcore Britney stans may have already known about Britney’s lost album Original Doll. I was not one of those people. Hunter did some impressive reporting on this piece, which not only covers Original Doll, but also offers insight into the psyche of one of the most confounding figures in pop music. On a personal note, it was exciting watching Hunter dig deep into a subject he doesn’t usually get to write about. The results were equally thrilling.
2. “How Smash Became TV’s Biggest Train Wreck” by Kate Aurthur. I loved Smash so, so much. I miss it more often than I’d like to admit. Kate didn’t set out to write a takedown of creator Theresa Rebeck — and that’s not what this piece is, regardless of how Rebeck may feel about it. It’s revelatory and occasionally damning, but it’s also very fair. You can tell there’s no agenda here past trying to understand where Smash went wrong, and for a fan of the show — and a fan of television in general — that’s incredibly important.
3. “The Summer I Tried to Save Memphis” by Saeed Jones. Saeed started at BuzzFeed shortly after I did, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him expand the LGBT section, combining great reporting with some of the most stunning personal essays I’ve ever read. And Saeed, aside from his skills as an editor, is an exceptional writer. This piece is undeniably powerful, but what I really love about it is its specificity. He writes with such gorgeous detail about an intensely personal experience — with, yes, larger cultural implications.
4. “‘Something Terrible Has Happened Here’: The Crazy Story of How Clue Went From Forgotten Flop to Cult Triumph” by Adam B. Vary. We’re not huge fans of the term “oral history” at BuzzFeed, and with good reason. As a format, it’s a little played out, and very hit or miss. So while Adam could have done an oral history of Clue — which would have been great, too, I’m sure! — he turned his interviews into this excellent written-through feature instead. It’s just as fascinating, and even more fun to read.
5. “‘That Dead Girl’: A Family and a Town After a Cyberbullied 12-Year-Old’s Suicide” by Ryan Broderick. We hear awful stories on the internet all the time, and more often than not, we don’t follow up. Following up is what this heartbreaking piece does. It’s the perfect example of BuzzFeed going deeper — not simply reporting the surface story, but diving into the hard truths of a suicide and its aftermath. Ryan’s unique understanding of the internet also really helps here, adding valuable context to the story.
6. “How Melissa Leo Became an Overnight Sensation in Just 30 Years” by Doree Shafrir. I’ve been lucky enough to have Doree edit my work — she completely changed the way I felt about the editing process. But Doree does so much at BuzzFeed that she rarely gets to publish her own pieces. When she does, they’re always a treat. I love this interview feature on Melissa Leo, which, again, could have made an interesting enough Q&A. As a feature, though, it’s far more memorable. Worth noting that the photos are pretty wonderful, too.
7. “Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500” by Drew Philp. In addition to having a staff of some incredibly talented writers, BuzzFeed also recruits great freelancers. This piece, which you’ve probably seen since it went mega-viral, is by a contributor. Plenty has been written about Detroit over the past few years, but this is a different story and perspective, which I think is why it shared so well. Again, it’s specificity that speaks to the larger issues at hand. Also, how cool is it that longform writing can go viral? (Very.)
8. “Jennifer Lawrence and the History of Cool Girls” by Anne Helen Petersen. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot of Jennifer Lawrence-centric content on BuzzFeed. People love her, clearly, and if you need more proof of that, note that this piece also went viral. Page views aside, it’s such a great essay, placing Jennifer Lawrence in a historical context that most of us probably hadn’t considered. Celebrity culture is easy to deride, but it’s so much more interesting to analyze, and this feature does that brilliantly.
9. “It Gets Better, Unless You’re Fat” by Louis Peitzman. Am I seriously including one of my own pieces on this list of articles you should read? I’m an asshole. But listen. When people ask me about writing I’m proud of, this is the piece that most often springs to mind. It took a lot out of me to write. And even though it’s not very long, I think it packs a punch. While I feel a little guilty self-promoting, I’m including it because I’m so grateful that BuzzFeed gave me the freedom and encouragement to share this little piece of my soul.
10. “My Father, All That Jazz, the 1980 Oscars — and Me” by Kate Aurthur. Yes, another article by Kate. I was reluctant to double up, but I just had to share this one. Kate’s personal essay was one of the first I read on BuzzFeed, and it was so exciting to know that this kind of writing was something we could do. It’s a moving, bittersweet piece that completely subverts expectations of a first-person account of attending the Oscars. And like so much of Kate’s work, both before and at BuzzFeed, it’s been a big influence on me.
11. “36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump” by McKay Coppins. The controversy this piece brought about — especially the glorious freak-out from professional troll Donald Trump — was fucking delightful to watch. But let’s not ignore the fact that the article itself is truly great. I’ll admit I don’t read much political reporting, though I certainly admire my coworkers who write it. This goes beyond simple reporting, however: It’s a completely riveting character study. And sorry, Donald, I believe every word of it.
12. “Why I Stay Closeted in Asia” by Connor Ke Muo. Before Coming Out Week at BuzzFeed, I felt about coming out essays the same way I feel about coming out films: enough already. But Saeed made a point to collect personal essays that weren’t like anything people had read before. This one, in particular, has stuck with me over the past seven months. It’s honest and it’s painful, the kind of piece I felt immediately compelled to share with gushing praise across all my social networks. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself the favor.

Sometimes the TV is like a lover

6 Sep

“If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it.”

This seems like common sense to most, but whenever I hear it, I roll my eyes. (Or I think about rolling my eyes. I can’t always be bothered to make the effort.) That’s because it always comes as a comment on my TV reviews. No, I don’t particularly like Glee or True Blood or any number of other popular series that I continue to watch. Why should I write about them instead of about all the shows I do enjoy? And why am I writing reviews of these series when other, more loyal fans could probably provide a less hateful perspective?

It’s not just to piss people off, though I won’t deny there’s a pleasure in riling up the masses. In criticism, it’s important to get different points of view. If there weren’t any negative reviews, all reviews would be meaningless—you can heap praise on whatever you like, but if everyone likes everything, there’s really no point in talking about it, is there? “If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it” sounds sensible: it follows the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” line of thinking. But being a critic often means delving into entertainment that isn’t your first choice.

I was a TV fan before I was a TV critic, so I understand the passion with which livid commenters respond to my pieces. Do I think I should be fired for my takedown of Glee? No (I’ll admit I’m biased), but I can at least appreciate where the rage is coming from. We develop close relationships to the series we watch, and reading another person’s attack can feel very personal. I think there’s another dimension in a culture that has become hypersensitive to bullying, a legitimate problem we’ve turned into a meaningless buzz word. I have indeed been labeled a bully, because to some people, all criticism is damaging—pointing out a show’s faults is the same as picking on it. And if corporations are people, hey, maybe TV shows are, too.

I find this reaction ridiculous, and it bugs the shit out of me. But accusations of bullying aside, the anger over negative TV reviews speaks to the special relationship we have with “our stories.” It also reflects an unfortunate trend in TV journalism—the movement from analysis and response to “scoops” and “breaking news.” There are sites that break stories far more often than I do (which is never), but their reviews are so mild, I hesitate to call them that. It’s not that I reject all positive criticism—it’s more that these pieces are devoid of opinion entirely. They are fluff, designed to attract readers who know what they like and seek validation. Wasn’t last night’s True Blood amazing? Let’s OMG together.

The problem with “reviews” like these—well, there are several, but let’s narrow it down—is that they create an unrealistic standard by which legitimate TV journalism is judged. When one site blindly praises every episode of a series, another site’s complaints might come across as unfair or forced. It’s easy to dismiss the actual critic as a “hater,” another useless designation commenters love to throw around on the internet.

I guess what really bugs me is something I’ve mentioned before, this bizarre suggestion that the internet is a limited space. There is, in fact, infinite room for scathing reviews and fluff pieces, and everything in between. And yet, I still read comments that say “this is the kind of review that ruins television,” as though the mere utterance of a negative thought undermines someone else’s positivity. I assure you that my feelings about Glee have no bearing on its success—nor do my articles take up valuable space from those that would give it a weekly two thumbs up.

You know what seems common sense to me? “Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.” I can criticize your show, and yes, you can criticize my review! The key is not denying anyone the right to criticize. It’s hard when the focus of the criticism is something near and dear to you. Because yes, when I hear people shit on a series I love, it feels a little like someone attacking a lover. (Particularly if they’re talking about Breaking Bad, featuring my boyfriend Jesse Pinkman.) So while I understand the source of your anger at my reviews, I resent the implication that I am somehow “speaking out of turn.”

I’d end this post with a pithy, “If you don’t like my blog, don’t read it,” but I don’t even want to joke about you not reading my blog.

Attack the block

11 Jul

A post about writer’s block? Seriously? Look, I know it’s not exactly original, but I’m at a loss here and I haven’t done a real blog post in, like, a week. Do you understand the self-imposed stress I’m under? Blogging is supposed to be this fun thing I do on the side—and it is fun, but naturally I find a way to get anxious about it. I’ve written about this before: the short version is that when writing is both a job and a hobby, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish work and pleasure.

And while yammering on about writer’s block doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post, it is the only way I know how to get past it. Writing is what I do when I don’t feel like writing. It’s kind of like exercising, except I actually get back in the habit of writing when I say I’m going to. (Let’s have a go at the stationary bike today, self! That is a thing that could actually happen, right?!) This is mostly just me trying to force myself into regular blogging—at least until Comic-Con happens and all my time is compromised. You don’t even have to read it, if you don’t want to. I’m not writing this for YOU.

(Please never leave me.)

I actually keep a list of blog ideas. It’s on the same Stickie note as my, um, ready-to-post tweets. Judge if you must, but I pre-write shit for exactly this reason. There are times when I just can’t think of anything to say, and while most people might accept that as a consequence of being a human with limited creativity and brain capacity, I consider it a serious failing. One of my biggest fears is suddenly losing the ability to write, which is kind of absurd. It’s really unlikely that I’m going to wake up one day without a means of articulating my thoughts—or worse, without thoughts at all. (Or worse yet, without a sense of humor.) Yet despite the ridiculousness of this panic spiral, I am actually a little twitchy just talking about it!

I write through the block, not because I truly need to blog today, but because I need to remind myself that I can. It’s a really simple way to assuage those concerns that I’ve forgotten how to string words together. (Though I may have forgotten how to be entertaining, which is a separate problem I’m going to ignore for the time being.) Writing is a great hobby in that it requires very few tools: you could theoretically do it with a pencil and paper, if you wanted to be all old-timey about it. And for someone like me, who often gets moody and feels overwhelmed with simple tasks, it’s nice that I can just sit down and do it. No preparation. No assembly required. No goddamn stretching.

Of course, making a point is far more difficult. To be honest, lots of my blog posts are unprepared, and I think it shows. I’m not saying it never works, but if they feel unfocused, that’s because they are. This one in particular has no beginning or end: I’m just writing to write. And now that I’ve forced myself back into blogging, I guess I can just stop whenever.

(Now, even.)

You can say “no”

2 Jul

Do you want to read my script? It’s not finished yet. I mean, the first draft is, but it’s very much a draft, and I’ve been half-assedly revising it for the past two months. It’s not great—I’m not even sure it’s any good, but there are actual words on the page, and some of them might make you smile. I’ve never written a script before, unless you count the modern take on Frankenstein I wrote in middle school. (The Undiscovered Prometheus. Now there’s a title people will flock to see!) Anyway, I could use some feedback—lots of feedback. So, do you want to read my script?

You can say “no.” I’d totally understand. And I realize this is maybe one of the most frustrating requests, because it’s pretty hard to deny. Saying “no” is an option in theory, but what does that really mean? No, I don’t care about your writing? No, I can’t take the time to read your work? The latter makes sense to me, logically. I am consistently bogged down with too much to read, and sometimes adding just one more piece to the pile is too daunting. But there is a weird obligation to say “yes,” right? There’s an expectation that if you offer to share your writing with someone, he or she is going to accept. And maybe not read it right away (or ever), but at least pretend to be interested. Not that you have to do that. You can say “no,” really!

I’m not even sure I want you to say “yes.” If you do actually want to read it, there’s probably an expectation that you’ll like it. Why would you offer to read something if you expect to hate it? (Unless you totally hate me, and you have a boner for criticizing your enemies. I get that.) I’m not just worried that you’re not going to like it—I’m worried that your disappointment will change your opinion of me forever. You thought I was funny. You thought I was a good writer. But this script, it’s shit. How can you read that and still hold the same opinion of me? I mean, if it’s really bad, you might even resent me for inflicting it on you. There’s a chance things will never be the same between us. So, yeah, I’m not even sure I want you to say “yes.”

If you do have constructive criticism, please be gentle. Like, really gentle. I know that’s a lot to ask, but I’m already anxious about what you have to say. I might break down if you tell me there’s a misplaced comma. Wow, that puts a lot of pressure on you! Now you don’t want to say anything at all. No, it’s OK, I can take it. I have to learn to take it. If I want to continue my career as a professional writer, I must accept criticism. It doesn’t help anyone if I never hear it—I have to learn from it and get better. It stings, though, no matter who says it and how. I feel insecure about most everything, but I am confident in myself as a writer. And then I hear that unkind word, and suddenly I’m not sure of anything. I’m going to deal with it. I’ll get over the anxiety. But that’s what I mean when I say “please be gentle.”

I’ve made things awkward. Damn it. Maybe you did want to read my script and you were prepared to offer some kind, constructive criticism, and I would have learned a lot from it and revised my work. Your input would have been invaluable. But now you’ve decided I’m too much drama. I don’t blame you. There are a whole lot of neuroses exposed in this word vomit. Please understand, though, that this is how I work through my issues. I have to put them down and explain it all or they will never go away. Writing is the first step to dealing. Still. Ugh. I’ve made things awkward.

So, do you want to read my script? You can say “no.”


14 Jun

“I love what I do—I just wish I could do more of it.” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that, I probably wouldn’t care that I don’t earn as much as I’d like to. There are plenty of benefits to being a freelance writer, particularly the freedom to choose assignments and sleep in, but I’ve been craving some sort of stability for years. Of course, my fluid schedule is a luxury I’m still clutching for dear life. It’s not even that I want lazy mornings—I’ve learned to wake up at a reasonable hour with ample caffeine. I just fear too much structure. Well, that and I only like running errands when everyone else is at work. Have you gone to the grocery store at peak hours? It is the stuff of night terrors.

Lately I’ve been picking up more assignments and forcing myself to take on additional personal projects. (This blog is one of them!) It’s nice to be writing a significant amount on a daily basis, even though it does require breaks from Supernatural marathons. (I review TV, so that counts as work, too. Haters to the left.) But I’ve reached a point where I don’t know how much more to take on. I write for four separate publications—or five, I guess, now that I’m blogging a bit for the Huffington Post. Full disclosure: I’ll be crossposting some of these blogs there, so it doesn’t require any more effort, really. But please don’t spread that around. Everyone has been really impressed! Still, four publications, two Twitter accounts, and a personal blog are a lot to juggle. I’ve never missed a deadline, but I have felt my brain protest with extreme writer’s block and nonconsensual naps.

Does it sound like I’m complaining about having too much work? It probably sounds like I’m complaining most of the time. The truth is, I’m delighted to have more outlets for my writing, and I’m thrilled with the response I’ve been getting. (Yes, even the people who think I’m some sort of monster!) I just feel like I have too much to sort through mentally: a diverse to-do list of personal and professional responsibilities, various looming deadlines, and Supernatural is getting really stressful, you guys. (Lest you think I’m wasting time here, I need to catch up on the series before attending Comic-Con next month.) I seldom find myself in that middle ground between over- and underwhelmed. I’m either not working enough, not impressed with what I’m putting out, or I’ve got too much to get done, with a shrill voice in the back of my head screaming, “YOU SHOULD BE WRITING SOMETHING ELSE.”

I’m not sure what the solution to this is. Would a regular, salaried job put my mind at ease, or would I continue to vacillate between “too much” and “not enough”? I will say that being a freelance writer often reminds me of high school and college, times during which there was always something else to do. Moments of relaxation were, well, frequent, but always tinged with the knowledge that I could have (nay, should have!) been working on something for school. Now, as I sit here blogging for the sake of blogging, I’m faced with the same internal reminders that I have actual work to get done. It’s possible that one solid, well-defined gig would help on that level.

Or maybe I’d feel creatively stifled and miss my free-flowing days as a freelancer. I’m pretty sure the best thing for me to do, at least for the time being, is to enjoy this feeling of mild stress. Yeah, I have a lot to do. I can’t just dick around online all day. (Well, I can. I just have to have Microsoft Word open, too.) I’m overwhelmed by the amount I have to accomplish, but I’m also excited! LET’S DO THIS. I can write for my four publications and maybe take on another column elsewhere and blog for myself/the Huffington Post and catch up on TV shows in preparation for Comic-Con and revise my pilot script and write jokes for Twitter and clean my apartment. No problem. I just need a really good organizer.

Happy anniversary

18 May

It’s May 18, 2011, my three-year anniversary of graduating from Berkeley. I’m not gonna lie—I kind of thought I’d be way more successful by now. I think we all did. I won’t lament the economy I graduated into, because, you know, that’s been done to death. Obviously things would have been easier if I’d finished school at a time when jobs were more readily available. Or hey, some time before print journalism became obsolete. JK, you guys, but seriously, dying industry.

I’m not necessarily dissatisfied with where I am in my career right now, because I’m lucky enough to write regularly and have my writing published by some awesome publications I really admire. (Humblebrag? Brag brag?) It would be nice to have even more regular work (or a salary or benefits), but it’s kind of my b for choosing a notoriously tough-to-break-into career. Being a journalist was always hard. Being a journalist in this day and age is a suicide mission.

I’m not even sure what I expected exactly, aside from vague delusions of fame and fortune. (They’re not that vague. I’ve already got some memoir titles lined up. Holler at me, publishers.) And I definitely haven’t given up hope yet, despite my penchant for cynicism. But there is something disconcerting about the date—I can’t not get a little mopey on my three-year graduation anniversary. And that’s only on the career end. We won’t even talk about the personal side of things. (Did you know some of the people I graduated with are getting married and having babies? Guh-ross.)

Whatever. It’s just another day, right? It’s not like tomorrow my aspirations will be any different than they are today, or that I’ll suddenly feel either more professionally secure or professionally anxious. My graduation itself wasn’t all that special—an archaic, overly long symbolic ceremony that didn’t make me feel like any more of an adult. (Weirdly, moving my tassel did rush me through puberty!) So why should the anniversary of melting in my black robe and listening to an exceedingly boring commencement speech mean anything?

I guess the worst part is thinking about where I’ll be a year from now. (If I’m blogging here to lament my four-year anniversary, please convince me to make something of my life. Thanks!) My career path could change a lot over the next several months, or maybe not at all. Such is the excitement of being a freelancer. I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities, but they don’t always present themselves. And while I’ve mulled over taking on new writing jobs, I’m reluctant to give up what I have now.

Good thing today is the first day of the rest of my life! That always makes me feel like I have plenty of time to figure this shit out. I’m going to be 25 this year, and while that seemed really, really old to me at some point, it now strikes me as distinctly young. When I think about how much time I have ahead of me, I feel something resembling hope. But when I reluctantly turn my mind back to 2008, it’s hard to convince myself much has changed.

Maybe I should just be celebrating. I’ll take myself out to a nice dinner, celebrate my BA in English. You can put a lei on me and tell me how great I am. I’ll let you take my picture. And I’ll focus on everything I’ve done, instead of how quickly time passes and how much I still have to do. Besides, the world is ending Saturday.

Will write for sandwiches

11 May

Do you want to hire me to write for you? Seriously, you can. You do have to pay me, though. I know a lot of people these days are willing to write for free, but I do that enough on my own, and I kind of like earning money for my work. I’m super old-fashioned like that.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, which in my mind is kind of cool. I never went through a fireman or astronaut stage, probably because I’ve always been afraid of fire and space travel, respectively. But it’s nice to have a passion at an early age and to stick with it. I’ve never had doubts about writing—doubts about the quality of my work, sure, and doubts about the form it would take, but never about what I wanted to do with my time. Even when I’ve flirted with other career options, I’ve always assumed I’d be able to work on a book on the side. Adorably naïve, right?

Right now, I’m a freelancer, meaning I write whenever someone is willing to publish me. As much as I love what I do, it’s getting to a point where I feel like I need to step things up to the next level. The flexibility of freelance writing is great, but it’s not always regular work, and a worrier like me needs some level of consistency. I’ve never had a salary or job security—these are terms that are actually kind of foreign to me. And sometimes that’s OK: I write for the love of writing, not the big dollars. But I’m turning 25 in a few months, and that seems like an age at which I should have some of this stuff sorted out, whether or not my generation is aimless by definition.

So what are my options? The idea of getting a day job and writing on the side is not an attractive one, though I understand it may be a necessity. Writing might not seem like hard work—and it generally doesn’t feel difficult while I’m doing it—but it does require a lot of mental energy and discipline. These are qualities that, while tough to quantify, are often in short supply after eight hours in an office. I worry that a day job wouldn’t leave me with the time or energy to do the writing I want to be doing. But if it came down to an absolute need? If I had to get a day job to keep writing? That would be an easy (albeit whine-worthy) choice to make.

Obviously writing full-time is my ultimate goal, and I’m still not really sure how unrealistic it is. Right now I have four freelance jobs at varying levels of consistency:, the SF Bay Guardian, io9, and the SF Chronicle. (Yep, two honest-to-blog newspapers!) I write jokes on Twitter every day. I blog about three times a week. (Like I’m doing right now. So meta.) I have one pilot written, but it needs to be heavily revised. I have one short story written, but it needs to be heavily revised. And I’m not sure where all of this leaves me. I’m enthusiastic and (mostly) proud about my work. Added up, however, it doesn’t equal a career.

I think I’m good at what I do. I think I get better every day. I also think that journalism has taken a hit over the past decade (not exactly a controversial opinion) and that making it as a writer as harder than ever. I’m not anywhere near giving up, but I may need to at least reevaluate my ambitions. Unless of course you just want to hire me to write for you. Which would solve my problems and also get me stop bitching. It’s win-win, anonymous reader.


5 May

I get to interview a lot of people for work. I like doing it. When I was in high school, I dreaded interviews, because they were never with celebrities but with city officials or, worse, other students. “What do you think of the new block scheduling?” High school, man. I started the entertainment section of our paper when I was 16, and I quickly set up an interview series. Naturally I didn’t get to do any of the interviews.

College was a different story. When I worked at the Daily Californian, I was able to interview lots of people I actually wanted to talk to, some with Oscars and Wikipedia pages, even. The first major interview I did was a press junket in L.A. for The Ice Harvest and Brokeback Mountain. Don’t worry, no one remembers The Ice Harvest. The interviews were press conference style, which intimidated the shit out of me. You had to get up and say your name and outlet—I can barely order a sandwich without fumbling. I sat in the front row, but I didn’t open my mouth during the first press conference. Once Jake Gyllenhaal and Ang Lee arrived for Brokeback Mountain, I decided I needed to ask something, if only so that Jake could be tricked into looking at me. (Totally worked.)

When people ask me now if I still get starstruck, I’m always a bit taken aback. It’s just not really an issue anymore. I get excited about talking to big names or people I personally admire, but I’m never anxious. I guess that’s because doing interviews became work—work that I enjoy, but work nonetheless. When I went to my first junket, I felt like I’d just won a contest. (Actually, I had. My editor at the time made us all submit reasons why we should be picked. She ended up choosing me because, “I figured you wouldn’t flail over Jake Gyllenhaal.”) But as I did more and more interviews, I came to understand it as my job, and that took a lot of the pressure off. You have to kind of distance yourself from the fanboy mentality. There is nothing wrong with being a fanboy—it’s just not appropriate in that context.

Being starstruck isn’t something you can consciously control, and no, telling myself that celebrities are people, too  has never really helped either. If I don’t feel it, it’s because my focus is on getting the job done, and that mental energy is enough to suppress the feelings of, “Oh my God, Ewan McGregor is touching me.” I try to have fun during my interviews, but I do take it very seriously, and I’m always disappointed by other journalists who don’t. Asinine questions aside, the easiest way to piss me off during a press conference or roundtable interview is to bring a pile of DVDs to have signed. It’s not Comic-Con, OK? (But if it is Comic-Con, different rules apply. We’ll talk about it in July.) I don’t pretend that the people I interview are my friends, and I don’t treat them like golden gods either. You have to find the middle ground: they’re talking, you’re listening, you’ll use what they’ve said to write an article—I think that makes you colleagues.

It’s funny how much of it is about context, though. I went to a festival screening last night and Parker Posey was waiting in line outside. You guys, I lost my shit. Internally, but still. Because she’s Parker Posey, and I didn’t expect to see her there. I wanted to go up and say something, tell her how much I love her in well, everything, but that seemed lame. By which I mean, I couldn’t work up the courage. Part of it was not wanting to bother someone when she was off the clock, but there was more to it than that. When I’m straddling that line between journalist and fan, I want to make sure I don’t slip too far to one side.

That having been said, if you’re Parker Posey, and you’re reading this, I would love to interview you.