Advice To A Young Writer

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“If you’re really serious about writing, do something else for a living.”

This is the advice I dispensed recently to a young, aspiring writer who had emailed me seeking guidance. Specifically, this writer wanted to know whether she should stay in her entry level magazine job in order to keep a foothold in the publishing business, or do something else entirely. I get a lot of emails like this, most of which I don’t have time to respond to in any depth, let alone offer an in-person conversation. …


It’s Fran’s world; why can’t we all live in it?

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Fran Lebowitz and Diane von Furstenberg at a party in New York City, 2008. Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

After seven days of wallowing in the contaminated sludge of the news cycle, I finally found refuge last night. I spent hours in the company of a 69-year-old woman walking around New York City—unmasked, in the days just before Covid-19—holding forth about everything that annoys her: people stopping in the middle of the street to look at their phones, anything having to do with Times Square, anything having to do with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, anything having to do with the pleasures of smoking. It was a tonic, the best time I’ve had in ages.

Not that anyone lives like Fran Lebowitz does. When it comes to the fantasy of intellectual life in New York City, she is both an exemplar and a unicorn. A famous writer who barely writes — she is famous for barely writing — Lebowitz has, quite literally, survived by her wits. In her nearly 50-year career she has published exactly three books: two collections of satirical essays and a children’s book about two seven-year-olds who befriend a pair of giant pandas, one of whom is named “Don’t Panda To Public Taste.” That’s a sum total of 384 pages over a 43-year period. …


But the new year revealed this to be a phantom hope

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Have you felt the phantom hope of the new year? Or, maybe more precisely, did you feel it, past tense, if only for a moment?

This phantom hope was the opposite of a phantom pain. It was a false pleasure, a trick of endorphins. Sometime around late December, I started to let myself believe that things were about to change. I felt like a wide, slow turn had begun. …


Thank goodness I’m old enough to have missed this.

The consolations of aging have always been in the eye of the beholder.

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Virginia Woolf, at 50, wrote in her diaries of feeling “poised to shoot forth quite free straight and undeflected my bolts whatever they are.” She did not believe in aging, she said, but rather “forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.”

One needn’t contemplate the angle of the planets to find solace in aging. More prosaically (and perhaps also more poignantly) there are things like grandchildren and retirement and retreat from vanity. There’s the definace of fatuous social norms now popularly referred to as “not giving a fuck.” (I think Woolf may have been getting at something along those lines.) I am now the age Woolf was when she talked about altering her apsect to the sun. And while I don’t know enough about astrology to connect the dots of my memories to trail markers of the earth’s orbit, I’ve lately become aware of a sort of baseline visceral sensation hovering over my emotional life. Again and again, this sensation conjures the same sentiment: I’m glad I lived when I did. …


In honor of my retirement from “takes,” here are a few of my worst.

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Last week, in my final column for Medium’s GEN magazine, I made a big production of announcing that after 25 years writing opinion columns and “think pieces,” I am never, ever, ever, ever doing another one.

While the sentiment was sincere, the fanfare was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Just as I’ve long suspected that society was not holding its collective breath waiting for my “take” on the cultural kerfuffle du jour, I was pretty sure the earth would not dislodge itself from its axis upon hearing the news that my opinions would be out of regular circulation. What I didn’t count on was the number of people who responded with some version of: “Great! …


After 25 years, I’m retiring from ‘takes’

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Illustration: Mark Pernice

For roughly the last 25 years, I have lived in a constant state of trying to have an opinion. I’m not talking about opinions of the “I’m not much for art deco” or “I like this lasagna more than that lasagna” variety. I’m talking about opinions about politics and culture and, most of all, other opinions. I’m talking about opinions that need to be as original as possible and also adhere to any number of prescribed requirements when it comes to word length, tone, and timeliness. …


Hell Hath No Fury Like a Doctorate Holder Scorned

When I saw it trending, I thought, no! Not another “Doctorgate.”

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In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last weekend, essayist and former professor Joseph Epstein attempted to make a point about academic pomposity (as well as the proliferation of frivolous PhDs in some fields) by suggesting that, as first lady, Jill Biden should stop referring to herself as Dr. Biden, as she has since earning an Ed.D in Educational Leadership in 2007.

“Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo: a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter,” wrote Epstein, who is a former editor of The American Scholar. “Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr.’ before your name? ‘Dr. …


It’s soothing. And these days soothing is a service.

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The image you see above is the view outside my bedroom window at 4:16pm Sunday evening. If this photo had been taken at 6:16pm (or even — I’ll be generous — 5:16pm) I’d say “what a beautiful winter sunset!” Instead, the vista gave me a strange urge to lean far enough into the window that I sort of just rolled out, as if rolling off of a bed. (I do have a small balcony, but it’s designed for flowerpots, so this manuever is purely hypothetical.) What I’m saying is that the view made me sleepy. It made me want to knock off work call it a day. …


It’s not very good, but it’s not a “dumpster fire.”

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Glenn Close starring as Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy. Credit: Nick Graham for Journal-News

Presumably you’ve heard about film adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, which premiered on Netflix on November 24. Presumably you’ve heard that it’s the worst movie ever made.

At least you’ve heard this if you’re on Twitter. For at least two weeks before the film began streaming, the Twitterverse, propelled by a few early and scathing reviews, was busy signaling its derision for the film. The usual finely-tuned social media critiques were invoked: garbage, trash, yikes.

At that point, few if any of these would-be critics had actually seen the film. Scrolling through many of the tweets, it also appeared that few of them had read Vance’s book. Most of the antipathy appeared to be directed at Vance himself, whose personal story of overcoming massive family dysfunction (and not a little personal dysfunction) via the Marine Corps and then scholarships to Ohio State University and Yale Law School has been interpreted by some leftists as up-by-the-bootstraps conservative rhetoric. …


In lieu of coherent public guidelines, most of us resort to incoherent private rules

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A Thanksgiving traveler at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Riding the New York City subway recently, I noticed that just about every advertisement — at least all the ones directly in my sightline — seemed to be public service messages about Covid-19 safety. There were cartoon graphics showing how to properly wear a mask. There were earnest invocations to wash your hands, get tested, stop the spread, flatten the curve — if not for yourself, do it for your vulnerable loved ones. As I took it all in, I was hit with a wave of déjà vu. Back in the 1990s, during the AIDS crisis, the subway PSAs were heavy on ads about safer sex. Instead of masks, the messaging was about condoms. Instead of social distancing, it was monogamy, if not celibacy. …

About

Meghan Daum

Weekly blogger for Medium. Host of @TheUnspeakPod. Author of six books, including The Problem With Everything. www.theunspeakablepodcast.com www.meghandaum.com

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