What Killed the Metrosexual?

When was the last time you considered the metrosexual? If you are a reasonable person—not this guy—it’s been about ten years. Or at least I thought so, until, after a decade of silence, three people mentioned metrosexuals to me in the same week. Perhaps because it’s the twentieth anniversary of its coining and the tenth(ish) anniversary of Queer Eye.

In reconsidering the metrosexual, we must first distinguish between the metrosexual’s imagined and actual properties. Like hipsterism, metrosexuality is an insult more readily slung than substantiated. According to canon, David Beckham is the ur-metro. Although Beckham initially goes unmentioned in the word’s first printing (in 1994), the word’s progenitor, Mark Simpson, introduced American readers to metrosexuality through the British football star in 2002, when he called Beckham a “screaming, shrieking, flaming, freaking metrosexual…famous for wearing sarongs and pink nail polish and panties…and posing naked and oiled up on the cover of Esquire.” Other icons of metrosexuality of the time included Mark Wahlberg and P. Diddy. This was somewhat shocking to me, since I associate metrosexuality with men who resemble heterosexual twinks—your Zac Efrons, your Ryan Seacrests. Hair that swoops, cheeks that apple.


Keeping Your Childlike Enthusiasm Alive with Janet Varney

Janet Varney’s positive and generous attitude might be best exemplified by her Nerdist podcast The JV Club; in it the actress, producer, and writer interviews women in entertainment (and this summer, men) about their experiences growing up and how their formative teenage years influence their work and who they are today. In her often funny and sometimes emotional conversations Varney exudes warmth and an earnest curiosity to understand and share her guest’s stories with her audience.

As a comedic actress Varney has made a variety of guest appearances in shows and movies like Kroll Show, How I Met Your Mother, and Key and Peele, but she might be best known to alt comedy fans for her work on Burning Love, in which she played the disinterested lesbian love interest of Ken Marino’s pompous bachelor.

Varney also founded SF SketchFest with Owen David and Cole Stratton. The festival celebrated its thirteenth year in February with shows at nearly two dozen Bay Area venues.

This summer Varney has appeared on the relationship comedy You’re the Worst and stars in the animated adventure series The Legend of Korra, which released its third season finale online on Friday.

I recently talked with Varney about The JV Club, Korra, SF SketchFest, and interacting with fans.


The Time I Worked at That Celebrity Bakery

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, Becca Laurie tells us more about some famous people who enjoy eating cupcakes.

@katespencer i worked at a bakery that a lot of celebs liked. i still remember who treated me well (and tipped more than a few pennies)

— Becca Laurie (@imbeccable) August 12, 2014

Becca! So what happened here?

A decade ago, I applied for a bakery job on a whim. I had no experience, and I’d never been to this specific bakery before. I was out to dinner with friends, and we stopped in for dessert. I filled out an application and started training the next week. 

The bakery was having a moment: It was featured on a TV show, and that meant a ton of tourists and a handful of celebrities. I worked there for two consecutive summers. By the end of the second year, the hype started to die down, and so did the frequency of famous customers. My memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but here’s who I remember:


Q&A with Amy Shearn: A Grandmother’s Trashed Novella Comes Back To Life

Amy Shearn’s grandmother, Frances “Peggy” Schutze, was always writing: She worked for awhile as a gossip columnist in Kansas, she wrote radio plays, and she hand-made dozens of picture books for her children and grandchildren. “Everyone who knew her understood that she had missed her true calling,” Amy writes of her grandmother. “She was meant to be a writer.” Although Peggy submitted many short stories to women’s magazines, her fiction was never published in her lifetime. She died in 2002.

At some point in her life — no one is sure when — Peggy wrote a funny, energetic novella set in a St. Louis New Deal public housing project in the 1940s; the plot features a phantom pregnancy and some wild political intrigue, and she titled it “The Little Bastard.” Amy recently assembled the scattered pages, added an introduction, and her own mother designed the cover and contributed an illustration. “The Little Bastard” will be published as a chapbook this fall by the Louisiana small press Anchor & Plume. (You can pre-order it now.)

Amy is the author of two novels, “How Far Is the Ocean From Here,” about a surrogate mother on the lam, and “The Mermaid of Brooklyn,” in which a mythological figure disrupts a young mother’s life in Park Slope. She and I worked together at Domino magazine in the late ‘00s, and we chatted recently about the novella, writing about motherhood without being nauseating, and her grandmother’s genius tricks for faking the appearance of housekeeping.

Amy! Can you start by telling me how the manuscript was discovered? It’s an amazing story.

It really is! After my grandmother died, 12 years ago, my aunt was cleaning out her room at the nursing home and realized that my grandfather had dumped tons of papers, photos, letters, even just emptied drawers into these 30-gallon Hefty bags. My grandfather himself was ill (and not known for being sentimental) and my aunt guessed it was all too much to cope with at the time. She peeked into the bags and realized that the pages of typed onionskin paper were Peggy’s writing, thought, “How sad,” and pulled them out. But so much was happening that no one sorted through or read them right away. … It wasn’t until pretty recently that I found myself with the patience to retype the whole thing into a single Word doc, which I think was when I realized how really, really great it is.

So, your grandmother sounds fascinating: She went to journalism school, she eloped, she rode her bike barefoot. She was also a lifelong correspondent of fabulous international journalist and Hemingway wife Martha Gellhorn, which you have written about. In your introduction, you quote your uncle saying she was “crazy but also shrewd and ruthless in a Kansas kind of way.” What do think he meant?

Just the title “The Little Bastard” reveals how she liked to shock people. She really was an artist at heart, and had her own, slightly detached-from-reality way of experiencing the world. But she was also very practical, and I think that’s what my uncle means by calling her “shrewd and ruthless.” … I think the family consensus is that while she was always on the surface almost bizarrely self-deprecating and deferential to her husband, she knew how to get what she wanted. She wanted time to write during the day but also wanted it to look like she’d been doing housework, so she’d sauté onions to make it smell like cooking, and then before my grandfather got home she’d quickly run the vacuum over the rug so it left stripes.


Journalism Funded

The Huffington Post asks:

What happens in Ferguson and the St. Louis metro area the day after everybody leaves?

I’m not sure.

We plan to be there as it all unfolds.

Great. I feel better knowing that AOL, a large, profitable media company, supports the Huffington Post’s real, on-the-ground reporting.

For The Huffington Post, this’ll involve a first-of-its-kind collaboration with readers, the local community and the Beacon Reader to create what we’re calling the Ferguson Fellowship.

Oh wow, I love it when the community gets involved.

Local resident Mariah Stewart has been covering the Ferguson protests as a citizen journalist with the support of readers through Beacon’s platform. With HuffPost readers’ support, we can make sure Stewart can continue her work.

I’m happy to support her! What do I retweet?


Polly Asks: New York Magazine Wants Me to Write Ask Polly For Them. Should I Tell Them to Piss Off?

Dear Readers,

I need to tell you a story. That means this will be just like every other Ask Polly column, except this story is a little longer than usual, and at first, when you read it, you’ll ask, “Where’s the tepid dude of the week?” Just bear with me.

In September of 2012, after reading and admiring The Awl for years, and writing a few short humor pieces for them, I sent Choire Sicha an email.

Subject: Existential advice column That’s what I should be writing for The Awl.

Come on, pay me a tiny bit and it’s yours! Just enough $ so my husband doesn’t roll his eyes and spit whenever he hears the word “Awl.”

Choire’s one-word reply was:


Two days later, I sent in my first column and The Awl published it, and thus began one of the best gigs of my career. My first editor, Carrie Frye, let the term “pious fuckwinder’ run in my second column. My second editor, Choire, was even more tolerant of dubious strings of adjectives. (He also once forgot to pay me for five months, but when I responded with a three-thousand-word screed on the madness of freelance writing, he sent me a check and published my screed and paid me for that, too.) My third editor, Matt Buchanan, let the term “dickweasel” run. In a world full of pious fuckwinders and dickweasels, in other words, The Awl is an island of sanity, and originality, and humility. I had hoped to never leave.


An Important Conversation about Choices and Business

Meredith: Yay, a chat!

Michelle: I think this is a really great idea for our first day!

Meredith: Heartily cosign. The world needs more us talking to each other.

Michelle: Seriously. So we just had a really important business meeting last Wednesday to discuss big editorial things for this week…and I’m trying to remember everything we talked about because rosé…

Meredith: We definitely talked a bunch of rosé, but I’m pretty sure we also touched on important business topics, like boys, what the problem with boys was, how we could fix the problem with boys…

Michelle: Yeah, I’m really surprised more hot babes weren’t hitting on us at the Belgian wine bar/small plates bistro we met at while discussing Millennial dudes and their emotions

Meredith: I don’t remember our waiter or waitress but I am pretty sure he and or she found us delightful? It was probably the screeching that clinched it. And the lying about how we would order food but then just ordering rosé and taking up a table. But I know at one point I said, “that’s a good idea, write that down!” and then drunkenly spilled some wine.

Michelle: OMG yes we wrote things down!! Ok [opens up iphone notes]…Ok. I wrote down “Reality Bites – Meredith doesn’t like Ethan Hawke, but I feel weird for liking Ben Stiller cause I love that he plays the reggae version of “Baby, I Love Your Way” as make out music.” Also I wrote down “Summer turtlenecks” ??!!


The Cover Job

Peter Mendelsund is associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf Books, which makes him perhaps the preeminent expert among those who judge books by their covers. He’s designed covers for everything from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to classics by Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Joyce, and De Beauvoir. Last week, he published two books: What We See When We Read, an incisive exploration of the phenomenology of reading, and Cover, a monograph of his best work, which includes his thoughts on designing and several short essays from authors.

I talked to Peter the other day about his work as a cover designer, which began eleven years ago, after a past life as a classical pianist.

So, you were a classical pianist for many, many years, and you mention in Cover that that you still self-identify as such. Is the pleasure you get out of designing at all different than the one you get playing?

Oh yeah, it’s different in kind and degree. The joy I get out of playing piano—there are very, very few things in life that match that particular form of communion. Of course, it’s also hard work, but when it’s going well it’s just one of the great feelings a person can have. If one is playing great music, if you’re playing Bach or Beethoven, and you’re playing it in a way where things are working properly, then your self dissolves, and it’s absolutely a transcendent experience. And nothing, nothing, in design matches that.

It’s not like I’m sitting in front of my InDesign documents swooning. I wish I did. Designing evokes a much narrower range of emotions; that range is somewhere between cool, which is one response, and oh, that’s pretty.

You say in Cover that with book design “clever” and “pretty” are the main benchmarks of quality—that design doesn’t need to deal in profundity. Is that really true, though? Looking at some of your covers, I find profundity. Is that incidental, or do you aim for that?

Well, what you’re trying to do is make something that structurally maps the text. So if there is some unintentional profundity, it has to do with the way the author has written the book and the way the reader has read the book. You’re gonna bring your own experience and feelings to bear on it. I don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I’ve said or felt, “this cover is really profound.” It’s really profundity by association—if it’s a great text, Dostoevsky or whatever, then you connect the experience of reading with the paratext.


Six Months, One Week, and Four Days With Zelda

I pulled out my first gray hair today at 9:32 a.m. It wasn’t the first gray hair I’ve had, just the first one I’ve pulled out. I didn’t pull it out with a sense of purpose; it just came out with the rest of its classmates. No one tells you—well, no one told me, until I’d already noticed—that after you have a baby, all that lustrous, glorious pregnancy hair sheds quickly, replaced by your former, less exciting and less beautiful hair.

I examined this gray hair momentarily. (Time is of the essence, I only have a moment.) I deemed it not much coarser than my regular hair, and looked up at myself in the mirror. There was the wrinkle in the middle of my forehead, just like my mother’s, which appeared when I was around twenty and only shows itself when I am thinking.

Am I thinking? Is this wrinkle deeper?

I looked at myself and realized that my hair was longer now than it’s been in at least twenty years. Twenty years ago I was seventeen. I’m thirty-six. No, thirty-seven. I forgot to get a haircut for a year.

I heard the baby stir. (My moment was up.) I left the bathroom, went into her room, and was greeted by her smiling face. It was 9:36 a.m. Right on schedule.

Two and a half hours later, she was sleeping again and I needed to scan my passport. My unused passport, issued last August, when I was two months pregnant. My hair was at least six or seven inches shorter, my face a little thinner. “Wow, I do not look happy in this photo,” I thought to myself. “Are there any photos where I look happy?”


How I Learned to Love Investing

Originally published July 15th, 2013

“Only four more days until I get to calculate my net worth,” I told a friend last week. Nothing gets me more excited than rebalancing my portfolio. On June 30, 2013, my savings and investments totaled $310,000.

This is not where I thought I’d be when I graduated college 11 years ago. At that point, I was $9,000 in debt, a combination of loans and credit cards. While that’s nothing compared to the hefty student loans many graduates have today, I wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t how I thought things were supposed to be.

Though my parents made a low-to-average income, my grandparents were rich. When I was a few months old, they gave me a few shares of 3M stock, which my parents said was for college. Growing up, I read the glossy, colorful stockholder reports (I’ve always been an obsessive reader). “Blue-chip” stocks—stocks of big, well-established, financially sound companies—like 3M were supposed to be the path to riches. 3M worked out pretty well for one of my dad’s cousins, who was able to leave the corporate world in his forties to start a small-scale amusement park.

When I got a paper route, I had to put half of my earnings into savings bonds. Again, it was for college. Between the savings bonds, the stock, the money I knew my parents were putting away, and scholarships, I figured my college tuition was set. We’d done everything right.

The summer before my senior year, my parents sold the 3M stock and the savings bonds. As it turned out, the stock hadn’t done that well. We’d held it for eighteen years, but it had grown only modestly. And the savings bonds provided only a tiny contribution to my huge college tuition. Investing, I thought, just wasn’t worth it.