Let’s start big picture. How has your job changed over the last decade? What’s now in your job description that never would’ve been ten years ago?
There are some helpful, flexible media skills that I’ve developed, with the increasing and valuable help of outstanding support. When I started this job in 2008—and I think this surprises everyone except people who were blogging in large organizations at that time—I touched the code a great deal, to put in and size photos and stuff, and that was only five years ago. I never touch code now, ever, but I can do a lot more with photos and video. The tech teams here have worked like crazy to come up with systems that mortals can use easily, and they’re very, very good at it. So on the one hand, I do more myself, but on the other hand, I rely on other super-talented people to make it possible and easy for me to do my own production.
And social, of course. I mean, social media is your life if you do this kind of work. Social media is what makes you self-sufficient. The better established you are in social media, the less you have to ask other people to help you promote things, which in a large organization with lots of great content to promote, is an amazing and liberating thing. There are times when there’s not really a news-based urgency to something I’ve written, or when I’ve written something particularly weird, when I don’t really hit anybody up for promotion of a piece until I see how it does on Twitter. That helps me prioritize what to ask our editors to promote on the homepage or to the (huge) Facebook feed, or whatever. Because if it’s too weird for my Twitter feed, it’s probably too weird for the homepage.
While the herds fight over art and VIP access down at Art Basel Miami Beach, a reminder that some things never change.
This was it, the start of the Biennale proper: the onset of party-anxiety and invite-envy, the fear that there were better parties you’d not been invited to, a higher tier of pleasure that was forbidden to you…You could be at a tremendous party, full of fun people, surrounded by beautiful women, booze flowing, totally happy– but part of you would be in a state of torment because there was another party to which you’d not been invited. There was nothing to do about it.
–Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
During the time I had spent in Miami many people had mentioned, always as something extraordinary, something I should have seen if I wanted to understand Miami, the Surrounded Islands project executed in Biscayne Bay in 1983 by the Bulgarian artist Christo. Surrounded Islands…had been mentioned both by people who were knowledgeable about conceptual art and by people who had not before heard and then could not then recall the name of the man who had surrounded the islands. All had agreed. It seemed that the pink had shimmered in the water…. It seemed that this period when the pink was in the water had for many people exactly defined, as the backlit islands and fluorescent water and the voices at the table were that night defining for me, Miami.
-Joan Didion, Miami
I’m not, strictly speaking, a Molly. I had a Samantha and a Kirsten, and both of them spoke volumes about who I wanted to be (privileged, so well dressed, urban) and who I was (Scandinavian, solidly built, rural). Chiara Atik has already written the definitive statement on what your doll says about you, and I don’t disagree with her assessment of Molly-owners:
If you had Molly, you probably wanted Samantha instead, but contented yourself with Molly because you too wore glasses, liked books, were bad at math, and would concoct various schemes to get attention. (Oh, Molly.) If you were a Molly, and had a Molly (as opposed to being a Molly and aspirationally owning a Felicity), you were imbued, then and now, with an immutable sense of self. At least Molly could tap dance, which is frankly more talent than any of the other girls exhibited.
Truth: Molly was the least showy and, at least of the original, lily-white, middle-class American dolls, the only one with any sort of class consciousness. It was a consciousness enforced by the war, but still, the book’s renderings of thrift were my introduction, other than A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to what it meant to sacrifice, and how to substitute the feelings of resentment with those of purpose and solidarity.
It was, of course, propaganda—the sort of retrospective rendering of World War II and the role of the greatest generation, and their children, within it that allows us to continue allocating money towards the military industrial complex, etc. etc. But in comparison to the equally ideological and nationalistic tales of Felicity, Kirsten, and Samantha, Molly suggested, somewhat ironically for a doll that costed over $100, that the key to survival and family happiness wasn’t consumption, but the lack thereof.
This August, a garage in Old Monroe, Missouri burst into flames. There had been more than a dozen similar fires over the past year, a suspiciously high number for a town with a population of 265. When police reviewed security footage, they spotted a white Chevrolet Lumina parked outside the building minutes before it caught fire. They traced the car back to local volunteer firefighter Dustin Grigsby, the 19-year-old son of a fire district captain. Grigsby told police that he set the fires because he “needed a release.”
Every year, something like 100 firefighters are arrested for arson-related crimes. In one year, 1994, South Carolina alone charged 47 firefighter-arsonists, besting their 1993 record of 33 arrests. “It happens more than you think,” former federal agent Daniel Hebert told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Really, it goes on way more than anyone knows. We don’t know about most of them.”
One of the earliest recorded cases of firefighter arson took place in Shelford, an English village a few miles south of Cambridge. In 1828, a Shelford farmer’s haystack caught fire; then, six months later, Mr. Stacey’s haulm-stack burst into flames. Spectators lined up along Trumpington Road to watch local laborers work the hand-operated pump; water was brought in buckets from a nearby pond. In those days, fire trucks were owned and operated by insurance companies, which had a strong incentive to put the fire out and thus minimize insurance payouts. The fires were “the diabolical act of an incendiary,” the local paper guessed.
Over the next several years, barns, straw stacks, gig-houses, cart sheds, stables, and storerooms in Shelford caught on fire. In 1833, police finally arrested 33-year-old John Stallan, a part-time firefighter, who immediately tried to pin the fires on his wife. (According to a local historian, Mrs. Stallan was four feet tall and “rather deformed.”) During his trial, Stallan at first claimed that he was no more guilty of the crimes than “our blessed Saviour who perished for the wickedness of man” but later confessed to setting 11 fires. He was hanged for his crimes.
I don’t seem to want anything all that badly. Well, I do and I don’t… You talk about having a compelling vision for your life. Well, I can’t seem to come up with much of one. At best everything is fuzzy. I’ve always wanted one of those careers where you’re paid to be yourself—one where you can be funny and show off on a stage and make people laugh and be entertained. To be someone’s muse and inspiration rather than the service lackey I am now. Except I took acting classes and auditioned for plays and never got in. I’m not stereotypically good looking and female, plus in the end, I can’t really pull off portraying anyone but me. I suck at musical instruments, my voice is flat, and I have no flexibility so I can’t dance. The closest thing I can come up with to be a stage showoff is being one of those storytelling folks, like on The Moth or NPR. This sounds very nice to me and I am entertaining at it, though I used to be more excited at the idea than I’m feeling these days. On the very few occasions when I’ve gotten to talk at people or show off, I’ve felt like THIS IS MY THING. But I have maybe one opportunity a year to do that (teaching a class or having to do a speech at work), and this year’s opportunities to do that have come and gone and somehow I didn’t get as much buzz from it as I remember having in the past.
But then I start thinking of the practicalities. How I sucked at trying to run my own business in the past, plus it was boring as fuck and I like having a regular paycheck and health insurance that someone else takes care of. I don’t seem to be much of a self-starter/freelancer and I don’t get excited by having my work published by other people. It seems like a giant “who cares” to me now because back when I did that, nobody did care much. I don’t like social media and I don’t want to have to whore myself up on it. I have looked into the local theater opportunities in my small town and the programs here are either for kids or for the musical theater company. I can whine all day and tell you my stupid reasons why not that pretty much go on to infinity, but it boils down to, every time I think of the load of shit I’d have to do to start working on this, I lose all interest and feel inadequate to the task. I don’t have a compelling, burning desire or vision or goal to chase after to get me where I want to go and motivate me to do things, no matter how scary or boring. I don’t have folks I can rely on for much help in these things. My friends have lives and families and whatnot and you can only ask for so much from anyone anyway, plus it’s not like I know anyone who’s done or doing what I want to. I feel at sea as to how to do this thing. I can’t do it alone, but I have to do it alone, or else it won’t get done. But it’s not getting done anyway.
When I started writing on the internet, I found it so liberating: I could master WordPress; I could figure out how to post and promote, I was in control. Whenever even one more person happened onto my blog, I felt like the work I was doing was somehow worthwhile. When I moved from writing on my own blog to writing Scandals of Classic Hollywood (and, later, for other sites), the production changed, but so did the size of the audience. The gratification levels exploded accordingly.
But I was struck by how many readers assumed that I was just riffing on vast stores of pre-existing knowledge—like I sat down, typed for a few hours, and it naturally flowed onto the page. HAIRPINNERS, I WISH. It takes a lot of work, and it’s all “second shift” work—a term used to describe the domestic “shift” that women (and men) take on when they arrive home from their “first” shift at the workplace.
I have a full-time professor gig. I teach, I prep, I grade, and then I turn to my other job. It’s amazing and endlessly gratifying, but like the traditional “second shift” labor of cooking, cleaning, and parenting, it’s often discounted. And the more easy and nonchalant I make it seem, the more that labor effaces itself.
This interview series thus aims to make the “invisible labor” of web production visible. Over the next few months, I’ll be talking with a wide variety of content producers, exploring the dynamics of their own form of web production, how they mix that production with their “real” lives, and the various forms of gratification they receive from the work that they do. In short: how do you do what you do, and why do you do it? Talking about the realities of labor isn’t narcissistic. It’s political, it’s progressive, it’s feminist. It’s also totally fascinating.
What do you get the person that doesn’t need anything? Something they don’t need, of course! Here’s our annual holiday round-up of just terrific things for the rich person in your life. Where to even start!
Well what about… baby cashmere… for babies! It seems so obvious. There’s so many choices!
The best possible choice in kidwear is this “Porte Enfant Cuddly,” made from cashmere from the undercoat of baby goats and lined with rabbit fur. Just $5,125 at Loro Piana.
Tikker is a normal-enough looking digital watch. Nobody needs to know that every time you glance down to check the time, you’re also checking on your death. It’s “the watch that counts down your life.”
Unlike Tikker, ALARMclock has a sleek, faux-retro design, with simplistic LED display. Upon waking, the prototype tells you how much money and how many social network “friends” you have, along with how many days left you have to live based on fairly common demographic information. It’s “the stuff that matters the most to the most people,” according to designer Al Kelly.
Tikker received almost $100,000 in its Kickstarter funding that ended early this month—roughly four times its goal. ALARMclock, whose Kickstarter ends tomorrow, raised more than $25,000, despite having only a $7,000 target. Depending how much you subscribe to the whole the-free-market-reveals-preferences thing, this either demonstrates a deep cultural obsession with our own demise—or that there are at least 2,427 weirdos out there willing to give money for a digital representation of the obvious. Yes, we’re going to die.
Dear family, friends, and plus ones:
On our one-year wedding anniversary (what what!), Eric and I would like to officially thank you for helping make my special day so special. There were wayyyy too many of you to send individual cards so I thought this group email was perfect! It’s also an opportunity to share how all of your gifts have impacted our married life, and possibly remind some of you that there are still a few items available on our registries at Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdales, Crate and Barrel, Tiffany’s, and the British Museum. Thanks so much!!!
When Eric and I got married, it changed everything. We had been living together for three blissful years in our one-bedroom ninth-floor walk-up. Everything we needed we got from Target or as hand-me-downs from friends, and we were happy eating cereal for dinner. Then he finally put a ring on it! Our wedding was magical.
After dancing the night away in the banquet space behind Villa Maria’s, I turned to him and said, “The only thing that could make this day more perfect is things.” Now that we’re married, I literally can’t imagine a day when I don’t touch silver.
Last night, it was announced that Comedy Central has ordered a pilot of the long-running and much-beloved Chris Gethard Show. The pilot will be produced by Funny or Die, with executive producers Zach Galifianakis, Will Ferrell, Owen Burke, and Adam McKay alongside Gethard. Gethard made the announcement on the latest episode of his show, a special edition which was devoted to big announcements. Wearing a homemade t-shirt with the slogan “Find a Way,” Gethard welcomed a parade of recurring cast members and characters, each of whom had their own major announcement to make, ultimately culminating in Gethard’s big news for TCGS.
The Chris Gethard Show began as a stage show in November 2009 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. For the last two and half years, it’s aired live on Wednesday nights on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public access channel in New York. For the uninitiated, check out our primer on the show from back in 2011 and have a look at some of Gethard’s favorite moments from the first 100 episodes. Because we got the news a little early, I got the chance to talk to Gethard a couple days ago about moving the show onto a real set, potentially being the redheaded stepchild of Comedy Central’s late night, and why he thinks his show will surprise a lot of people.
How are you feeling?
We’re all obviously super thrilled about that. It feels pretty good. It feels like we pulled off something that we weren’t supposed to be able to pull off, or that maybe even we were feeling like the boat had passed us by. So I’m really psyched to see it happen and hopefully it goes well and we can bring this weird thing we’ve been doing to the next level.
I’m going kind of crazy right now.
A year ago, I quit this job that I mostly enjoyed and was good at after three years in the same position. I quit because I wanted a promotion and suddenly it felt masochistic to keep waiting for that to happen.
I want to emphasize this: I really, really wanted a promotion. I wanted a promotion because I was undeniably successful in my role. I wanted a promotion because I had a lot of ideas how we might do things better but I had absolutely no authority to implement those ideas. I wanted a promotion because I wanted the external validation of a fancier title and a bigger paycheck to confirm that I really was as good at my job as I felt in my head.
I wanted a promotion so badly that I kept working and working longer hours and taking on more and more projects until one day I realized that not only was I trying to win a race that had no finish line, there was no one else competing in this race but me, and I was running myself ragged for absolutely no reason. I mean, I had talked with my boss about my desire for a promotion. But there were no opportunities available, and though there was a lot of talk about maybe promoting me, after more than a year, nothing happened.
Jessica Mack is a women’s rights consultant living in Bangkok.
So: how did you get here?
In a nutshell, I’m in Bangkok because my life sort of fell apart. I ended a 7-year relationship and I moved out of my apartment, leaving my cat and car and all my stuff—and I was staying with a friend, and then I got into a bad bike accident. Mentally and emotionally and physically, I was just done.
So I kind of took the opportunity to stop working for awhile—with my arm in a cast it was hard to type. I gave myself permission to drop out of that part of my life for a few weeks, and I started thinking about Asia. I had been to Bangkok the year before to visit friends, and I felt like it was a good place for me, and maybe I needed to go. At the time I wasn’t sure what I needed except that I needed to go.
And I got my birth chart read, which is something I wouldn’t normally do, but I was totally collapsed and I was just looking for a way to understand my life in any way I could. In the aftermath, I saw a shaman, an astrocartographer, a life coach, a therapist.
Which was the most helpful?
Having really wonderful friends was the best thing of all. But with the astrocartographer, what they do is they read your birth chart and then identify places in the world that are better and worse for you, analyzing the meridians that are running all over. And I gave him places that were significant for me, and he told me that he’d found that southeast Asia was really good for me. “Don’t go to Nairobi, go to Bali.” So this plan started to form in my head to go to Asia by the end of the summer.
So he was confirming a feeling you’d already had. What was it about Bangkok that made you feel like it was a good match for you, previously?
Oh, this amazing combination of energy and chaos, but also lightness. People were just warm, laughing more. It’s hard to explain, but I loved it.
So then, serendipitously, I applied for and got a job in Bangkok.
The same sort of work you’d done before?
Yes. I was working with the UN on gender-based violence projects. So that happened in a week or two, and I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok leaving 9 days after I bought it. I just jumped off. I was there for a six-month contract consultancy, so I thought, okay, a few months.
I graduated high school in 1997 and I went to work at the Winn Dixie deli counter, which totally sucked. I was still living at home and that fall I enrolled at Tallahassee Community College. I was more unsure of my future than at any other point in my life before or since.
A friend from high school had recently been hired at Blockbuster, and he got me a job there too that fall. Blockbuster was a step up. Not only did we not have to handle foodstuffs, but we also got free video rentals—although we didn’t get health care, or vacation, or sick days.
But I cannot overstate the appeal of free video rentals. I moved out of my mom’s place shortly after I started working for minimum wage at Blockbuster. The majority of what little disposable income I had was already going to movie theaters. My friends and I would go to a movie nearly every night; theater-hopping stretched your ticket price a little further. This was well before high-speed Internet was widely available; one could not simply watch anything at any time one wanted. (I didn’t even have an email account yet.) Movies, in a small town with not much else to do, were eclipsed only by music, and only barely, as life-sustaining necessities. There was simply no joy to be found in a life without them. How simultaneously pathetic and distantly enviable that my satisfaction then was so simply attained by working for a company that let me get high on their supply.
I work in a co-working space in a small town with this guy that I will call Tom. Actually, I can’t call him Tom because Tom is the name of someone affable and easy-going, and this guy is neither. I suppose I can call him Norman. That is not quite right for what his name actually is, but it is close enough.
Norman is somewhere between 50 and 70. He dresses like a prep-school headmaster—khakis, cotton shirts, shoes halfway between outdoorsy and office-appropriate—who either knows he is about to get fired or whose school has a sagging endowment. There is perpetually a look of mild surprise on his not un-handsome face; I’m guessing it is a result of his discovering and forgetting, and then forgetting and discovering, that he is not the only person on Planet Earth. I don’t know exactly what Norman does. I have heard the word “webinar” thrown around, and when this happens I do what any self-respecting person does when the word webinar is thrown around: I duck.
Norman talks in a very loud voice. When I imagine him speaking, behind the thin door that separates him from me and the quiet, considerate people who share my office across the hall from his, I see his voice coming out of his mouth, being pumped full of air, and then projected through a cheerleader’s megaphone. His voice is loud the way Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes were violet, the way that Ian Curtis was depressed.
In his defense, nature happens. That said, I have a loud voice, and I have come to realize that the volume of that voice can be turned down.
Some people refer to this as Basic Human Awareness.