Talking to Anne Helen Petersen About Leaving Academia for Buzzfeed

Did I hear this headline correctly? 

YES: I’m leaving academia. And second: I’m leaving it for BuzzFeed—more specifically, to be a full-time features writer at BuzzFeed.

[8 minutes of screaming redacted] Well, I am chock full of emotions but this talk is resolutely not going to be about how much the Hairpin is going to miss you, so let me first ask: how are you feeling right now, and how long has this been in the works?

I am feeling totally excited and totally terrified. I’ve known for some time that my work, and the sort of audience I love writing for, is not a very good fit for academia, but I thought that I could wedge/force/hipcheck my way into a position that would reconcile the type of work that I wanted to do with the teaching that I love. But as a friend of mine said amidst her time on the market, “academia is drunk”—not belligerent or irresponsible so much single-sightedly focused on things that may or may not ultimately matter.

In other words, no one wanted to hire me! I want to be super explicit about that because I think people will assume that because of all the writing I do, both on and off the internet, that I somehow had some cornucopia of choices and was like “show me the money.” OH MAN I WISH. I get so much satisfaction from teaching, but there was no way to keep doing so—and continue the writing I find fulfilling—and make a sustainable salary. BuzzFeed gives me the platform and support to do the type of writing (and reach the type of audiences) that I love, but can also provide me with a living wage.

Romy White and Michele Weinberger Are 45

This is part of a week-long series celebrating the 45th birthdays of characters from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

After a year of steadily increasing sales at Romy & Michele, Romy and Michele paid Sandy back. Their store was such a success that he suggested they open another location, but the two thought a second store would affect their ability to provide personalized service to their customers. One store was enough, they thought. One store was good.

In 2000 they moved out of their apartment in Venice and found two adjacent units in West Hollywood. It took some time for them to adjust to being neighbors and not roommates, but eventually they were happy in their new homes. Romy’s decor was mostly shades of red. Michele’s was mostly shades of turquoise. Apart from the colors, their furniture and overall decor was almost identical. To this day they say it wasn’t planned. “We have the same taste!”

The Freelancers’ Cookbook

HONEY IS A FOOD

Put it on toast. Put it on a spoon. Put it on your mouth. Just don’t get it on your computer because sticky keys are not conducive to productivity and rouse visions of sex, which will distract from productivity. Sex is not a food. Sex is exercise for the graveyard shift.

JAM IS ALSO A FOOD

Straight from the jar!!!!!

COFFEE IS A FOOD

It is no longer a food if you let it become cold. It is then a poison.

HARD-BOILED EGG, UNSALTED

If you even have the patience to crack this thing, which you don’t. Call your landlord and nervously cry, “I’m locked out of my house!” When he comes by an hour later, explain that your house is an egg and you need him to help you break in. There. A naked egg. Share the spoils with your landlord: “Are you a freelance landlord?”

A $32-DOLLAR THAI ORDER, YOU SIGNED THE BILL WITH A SHARPIE

The neighborhood Thai delivery man looks at you in your old lacrosse pinny, it’s from 2004.

“Do you still play lacrosse?” he’ll ask you. Here are three options for retort:

1. “Lax? Me? Nah. I just stare at a screen all day wondering when the keys will start typing without my assistance.”

2. “Lax? Me? Nah. I was good back in ’04, but I got a yellow card in one game for yelling obscenities in the locker room. At a computer screen. With no one around. In my sleep.”

3. “Lax? Me? Nah. Sports require my leg muscles to not have atrophied. Only three more years until my bedsores heal, though.”

Snatch the delivery bag, shove every edible part of the order into your gob, and enjoy none of it. Whoops, you ate the lime whole. Lax 4 lyfe.

The Wall: Lessons From a Family Lawyer

Darlene was a pretty, blond 19-year-old with a 10-month-old baby girl whom she wheeled into my office in a ragged umbrella stroller. Darlene, the baby, and the baby’s father, Keith, had been living with Keith’s parents in a row house in northeast Philly. Keith and Darlene apparently argued a lot, and one day, during a fight about Darlene’s wanting Keith to watch the baby so she could go out with her girlfriends, Keith put his hands around Darlene’s neck and tried to choke her. Darlene had filed in court for and received a protection order to keep Keith away from her and the baby. Keith, in response, had turned around and filed for custody of the baby, alleging that Darlene was a drug addict.

At this time I was about five years out of law school and working for a nonprofit legal center. Darlene’s was one of my first custody cases. Like Darlene, I had a 10-month-old daughter. I worked three days a week and stayed home with my baby and four-year-old the rest of the time. I was still immersed in that mothering cocoon that descended upon me after the birth of each of my daughters, venturing out to do battle in a world of conflict and aggression that was my legal life and retreating back into the sweet, cozy routine of trips to story hour at the library and long afternoons of play groups and coffee with my friends and their babies.

Darlene’s case really got to me. Her baby became my baby in my mind as I transitioned between my two worlds. I felt pure outrage that this abusive young thug was trying to take a precious little baby away from her mother—my client!—and incredible fear that it could happen on my watch. I felt sick as a mother and terrified as a professional, and I wasn’t sure which was which.

Interview With My Mom, Who Never Had a Single Moms Club

I rarely have visceral reactions to movie previews, let alone previews for Tyler Perry movies that I am never, ever going to see, but I gaped through a two-minute trailer for The Single Moms Club. Gathered on a broad porch, drinking rosé and sharing laughs, are five single moms, none exhibiting a single dark eye-circle or a frenzied need to get somewhere they’ve forgotten. They look like they smell nice and eat well. They’re laughing. They’re talking about men, ho ho, how can we lock them down?

My mother, who divorced my father in England in 1995 when I was eight and my brother was nine, and moved us across the ocean to America, never looked like those women. She did her best to hide it, but she was often harried and panicked, shuttling us from school to activities while pursuing her master’s degree, then her doctorate, all with a lower middle-class income and mounting debt. She moved us to a new country with little to nothing and continued to support us through years of fighting, ungratefulness, and trial. When I was home last week, she and I reclined on my bed and talked about her experience as a single mother operating under precarious and challenging circumstances.

When you were living in England and you wanted to get a divorce, did you have apprehension because you knew you were going to have to raise us by yourself?

Yeah, just like anybody would. Previously, before things started to go badly in our marriage, I wasn’t worrying about things like money and security and your future. It wasn’t a concern of mine until I knew I was going to be on my own.

Again, the situation is unique because once I decided I wanted to get a divorce, I knew that I wanted to go back to America. So that was the driving impetus. I didn’t want to stay in England, and your dad wanted me to stay there. At one point I even suggested that we go back together, and he didn’t want to do that.

Romy And Michele Are 45. So Is Heather Mooney.

This is part of a week-long series celebrating the 45th birthdays of characters from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

Heather never told the Cowboy about the abortion. As he slept, she sat up and listened to the hotel’s air conditioner turn off and on until morning. She knew immediately, but didn’t make an appointment for two months. There’s a dull pain of something like regret but mostly like sadness that resurfaces at night, just before bed, but it’s never enough to keep her awake. It’s just there. A decision. A memory. She should have told him. All she would have done differently is make a phone call, but she never contacted him again after that night. He was weird, though so was she. He didn’t speak much, though neither did she. These little hypocrisies that ended most of her relationships before they began were the same ones that eventually led to her biggest ideas.

Wanting to quit smoking without actually quitting smoking led her to invest in a Chinese company that perfected smokeless nicotine delivery devices called “electronic cigarettes.” In 2006 she decided to cease production of regular Lady Fair cigarettes and go all-electronic. “All the flavor and none of the fuss for the gal who says no.” It was a risky move, especially then, but when it came to business, Heather’s instincts were unmatched. Her customers quickly embraced the change and Lady Fair still remains the #1 e-cig brand in the world. (That includes, of course, their more masculine line: The Cowboy.)

The All-Healing Chickpea-Chorizo Frittata

Last week, my daughter transformed into a miniature Darth Vader: her breathing was dangerously raspy and uneven. Her eyes drooped. She ran high fevers. We spent whole days on the couch, wrapped in blankets. At night, I became an anxious new mama again, leaning over her while she slept to make sure she was still breathing.

Slowly the fevers subsided, and I started to take breaks away from our couch-cocoon. It was cold outside, the cupboards were full, and we probably wouldn’t leave the house ‘til spring. So, I cooked. One of the best things I made was this chickpea frittata, inspired by a wonderful recipe from Food52. I mean, COME ON: chickpeas in a frittata? What took me so long?! I made some modifications—I like a bigger frittata, I think yogurt helps even out the consistency, and I must say, the sweet potato-chorizo combination is pretty terrific, too.

Thank goodness for all that cooking, because suddenly it’s my turn to be sick. I keep thinking I should want soup, because isn’t that the classic accompaniment for Dayquil and Nyquil and tissues and cold weather? But instead, I’ve been helping myself to another slice of this frittata. It’s spicy and sweet and nutty and colorful, and just filling enough. If you need rescuing anytime soon, I hope a chickpea frittata will be there for you, too.

Everyone Needs an Inexpensive Hobby, Here Is Ours: A ‘True Detective’ Emoji Puzzle

Previously: “I think we can do the whole show in emoji

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Villa Tunari

A man in hiking boots was setting up a tent in the courtyard of the hostel when I came back. Hola, I said. Are you sleeping here?

He was. The hostel owner told him that there weren’t open rooms, so he asked to camp. Where are you from? He asked. He was from Colombia and finishing his trip through Bolivia on his motorcycle. Was he handsome? I couldn’t tell in the dim light.

I had been lonely in Cochabamba, a city that reminded me of California, with wide streets and shiny malls. Earlier I stood waiting for the traffic light to change, and someone had thrown an orange at me. It hit my upper arm, a blunt pain and the scent of citrus. I heard laughter as the car drove away. Maybe they hadn’t liked my hat. Another time I got on a bus to get to the central plaza, but instead the bus was headed for el campo, the countryside. When I realized, I was too embarrassed to ask the driver to stop, on a desolate street that couldn’t have been anyone’s destination.

The hostel had a lovely garden, with white metal swings and pink flowers. One morning I did yoga barefoot on the grass. But there were no other travelers here, and I was eager for my luck to change.

Word Search

When I moved to New York from Germany, I didn’t have words. I had written for prominent papers in Hamburg, but in New York my German faded quickly and English was slow to take its place. After a few months here I found myself close to aphasic. All I had now was a hasty, unhappy marriage and an apartment in Bushwick that was cheap and hot. Through the window bars I could see glimpses of a trash-filled backyard and an alley cat with kittens. During the day I could hear the termites in the backyard destroying the wooden benches that were built by the old German winemaker who owned the building at the turn of the century. I could see the neighbors in their cemented yard dancing to reggaeton. Voiceless, I listened to unfamiliar sounds. Everything around me was falling apart: my marriage, the benches, my brain, my language. I decided to take in the cat and her kittens.

As my first, desolate New York summer was thrust away by fall, the outdoor music subsided. The sound of the termites was replaced by that of the mice making their winter nests in my walls.

“Neighborhood was bad when Germans lived here,” my old Puerto Rican neighbor Mira told me one day when I was finally able to ask her whether she, too, could hear the mice in the walls and the termites in the benches. Our short conversations were guessing games. Our English was rudimentary.

“We Must Do Better”: In Praise of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When I first discovered the existence of Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album this past December, I dissolved into a fit of grateful, relief-filled screams usually reserved for for grad school admissions letters. That is to say, I reacted like most people did. And when I saw the words, “Feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche,” I screamed again. (Never mind that her name is actually spelled “Adichie.”) By now, you’re likely familiar with the snippet of Adichie’s Ted Talk, “We Should all be Feminists,” that ‘Yonce sampled:

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.’…Feminist: The person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

This quote is far from the most interesting thing Adichie has said. To begin and end your explorations of Chimamanda with Beyoncé, I’d argue, is to miss out on some of the best work that contemporary literature has to offer—especially outside of the tired perspective of the white male American novelist. Adichie is a feminist writer, as her famous TED Talk confirms, but she also takes down cultural and social norms without catering to the expectations of “global” literature, educating readers swiftly and expecting a lot of us, guaranteeing that we come away with a different set of perspectives and opinions than when we first cracked open the spine of her book.

Adichie was born in 1977 in Enugu, Nigeria. The child of two Igbo intellectuals, she was raised in the academic environment of Nsukka’s University of Nigeria. At 19, she came to the States to complete her undergraduate degree, a move that would forge her previously overlooked Nigerian, or even African, personal identity. Adichie, who “didn’t consciously identify as African” until her arrival in the U.S., speaks of the embarrassing assumptions her uninformed but well-meaning classmates had about the “country” of Africa and its inhabitants—that everyone had AIDS; that machete-wielding tribal warfare was rampant; that it was up to white people to step in and save the day.

Welcome to Subaru Roadside Assistance

Thank you for calling Subaru roadside assistance and empowerment. This call may be monitored for quality assurance.

Before we start, we’d like to ask you a few questions so that we can provide you with better service. If this is a life-threatening emergency, or if you have tickets to a WNBA game that starts in fewer than 30 minutes, please hang up and dial 911.

—Let’s begin.

We have identified you using your phone number. According to our records, your Preferred Gender Pronoun is

SHE

Is that still accurate?

—Great. We have located you using your phone’s GPS. Please be aware, wait times may vary depending on your proximity to a Herstory Archive.

Please say or enter the number of cats and/or rescued pit bulls in the car.

—Okay. Would you describe your current state as “in crisis”?