Life in the Late '80s

Shoulder pads, scrunchies, and sushi, oh, my...

In this edition of “Adventures in ‘Journalism’” we will be taking a little nostalgia trip back to the late ‘80s. But before we do: a word about this endeavor, and my preoccupation with some of the “bad” choices that dot my career path:

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It occurred to me after publishing the last edition that I might be giving the wrong impression as to how I feel about my career, and where I am now — that I might seem discontented and ungrateful, as if I were saying, “Woe is me, look at the mess I made, which I can’t get myself out of.”

That isn’t at all how I feel, or what I mean to say. I feel really happy and blessed to be where I am now. I love my job as Essays Editor at Longreads. I love teaching occasionally at Catapult, and am excited to soon teach a course in the MFA program at Bay Path University and truly honored to have been asked. I am thrilled that my anthologies, Goodbye to All That, and Never Can Say Goodbye, are still well received and continue to sell. I am one lucky duck.

I absolutely love my work and am so grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way, — *especially* in light of all the bad decisions I made in my 20s and 30s.

What I mean to convey in this newsletter is that I’m kind of astonished I’ve landed in a good place, given how many years I wandered aimlessly and misguidedly.

It wasn’t until my mid- to late-40s that I started to find my way again after kind of an auspicious start, a function mostly, I think, of finally tuning into who I really am and focusing on what matters to me, instead of grabbing at any vaguely writing-adjacent opportunity over and over, or people-pleasing, or doing what others recommended I do even if their recommendations didn’t resonate for me.

Don’t get me wrong; there are many goals I haven’t yet achieved. But I believe I’m still young enough to have plenty of road ahead of me, and I feel poised to achieve at least some of of my big goals in the near future. #StillEmerging, yada yada.

I guess I should be grateful to younger me for taking all those regrettable turns, because ultimately, they have brought me here, and, what’s more, provided me with stories to tell. (Thanks, younger me! 🙌) As I continue to regale you with examples of my ill-advised early career choices, know that I do so with a sense of great good fortune and gratitude for where they have led me. And if you’ve been wandering aimlessly and misguidedly for a long time (or even a short one), know that it’s still possible to find your way.

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^^^Now for that nostalgia trip I promised. Recently I was at my mom’s going through old photo albums, and I stumbled upon this picture of me at some rubber-chicken catering hall event in the summer of 1989.

This was taken about six months before I ended my first tenure (of like, five?) at Women’s Wear Daily and a handful of other publications at Fairchild. Finding this photo really took me back.

I thought I’d take you along with me on this nostalgia trip — especially those of you who either weren’t yet born yet in the late ‘80s, or were little kids — so you can get a glimpse of those very analog days.

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Let me first identify the period-markers in this photo. My ponytail is held together by a floral, imitation-silk scrunchie — an accessory that was ubiquitous back then, and which I hear is making a comeback. Some time in the late ‘90s I happily tossed all my scrunchies, but I am loathe to admit…they kind of look good to me again…? I did not see that coming.

More shocking to me is that the serious shoulder pads propping up the top edges of my double-breasted pinstripe blazer…don’t really bother me now…? I mean, they’re not ridiculous like the ones Cate Blanchett wore to the premiere of “Where’d You Go Bernadette” earlier this week. But mine definitely scream “power suit,” and I sincerely never thought I’d want to see or wear another one of those again, as long as I lived.

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From the New York Times, June 21, 1988 ^^^

I probably purchased that suit at one of the many sample sales I would regularly patronize on my lunch hour, often with my colleagues. Those fashion journalists in the know all had $32/year subscriptions to The S&B Report (the S and B stood for “sales and bargains”) a monthly newsletter that listed sample sales at showrooms in the garment district. I split my subscription with a fellow reporter. S&B wasn’t an online newsletter like this one, because…in the late ‘80s there was no such thing as online. You waited greedily each month for this little pamphlet to arrive in your snail mail box, so you could get the inside scoop on where all the best sample sales were. Then you’d engineer your entire appointment calendar around them.

Your “appointment calendar” was likely in a Filofax™, or Filofax knockoff. I received mine as a gift from the manufacturer after I included them in a round-up on planners, the new hot trend. It retailed for over $200, and I did not know until much later that I was not supposed to accept gifts worth more than $25. I worried for the rest of my time at WWD that someone would find me out. Meanwhile, some of the fashion editors were accepting designer handbags and whole outfits and other huge gifts that violated that rule.

I used my Filofax for years — decades! From the calendar inside, it looks as if I used it until about 2008. Every now and then I say to myself, “What did we do before Google Calendar???” This is what we did before Google Calendar.

My beat-up Filofax that I received as swag in 1988 or 1989. At some point the clasp broke and I crazy-glued glued carnelian and turquoise beads where the snap used to be.

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Most of the sample sales I went to were cash-only. I’d go to an ATM (they did have ATMS back then!), withdraw some money, and then…feel compelled to leave the sale with the least ugly thing I could possibly find in under an hour, while scavenging through piles of clothes that other people were rifling through at the same time. Many of the sales were utter bedlam, with women tripping over each other to get at the clothes or accessories or shoes they coveted.

The competition created a sense of urgency that led me to accumulate a lot of things which, once I got them home, I realized I didn’t love. Or…even like. I’d try to sell myself on them, and wear them once or twice, but…nope. Oops. No returns.

Eventually I realized I didn’t like most of what I bought at sample sales. So I stopped going.

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Some other old-fangled details of my life in 1988/89:

• When I applied for jobs, which I’d learn about in the New York Times (in print, obviously) I had to physically mail a resume, 100 of which I would get printed at a time, on off-white linen paper, at a print shop. I’d type a cover letter on matching paper, on my typewriter. I wouldn’t have a “home computer” for another three years.

• To freelance for newspapers and magazines, you had to mail them a typed-out pitch, plus physical Xeroxes of your clips, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope (S.A.S.E.) so they could get back to you on your dime.

• You’d wait for a call on your land line to hear whether you got a job or a freelance gig. There were answering machines then, so you didn’t have to be home. But there wasn’t yet call-waiting, so if you were home and on the phone, or someone else you lived with was on the phone, you could miss your one shot.

• If you were out “in the market,” aka the garment district, on assignment, and needed to reach the office, you had to call in from a pay phone, with quarters. Cell phones wouldn’t come out until many years later.

• Because reporters would be unreachable while out on appointments, we had to check out of the office in an appointment book, indicating when we left and when we expected to be back. Most of the time we just wrote “ITM,” which meant “in the market,” aka the garment district.

• It was suddenly a new food world. Before then, I had never eaten nor heard of sun-dried tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, pesto, tapenade, broccoli rabe, and sushi, and now they were everywhere.

I remember having a dinner date with an old friends so he could introduce me to sushi — his treat because it was expensive and he was in advertising and made a lot more money — and it was a big deal. He was going to shepherd me into the scary world of raw fish. Like, I thought I could die. I also worried I’d hate it, and my friend would have spent all this money on something I didn’t want to eat. Spoiler: I survived, and sushi is now my third-favorite food (bested only by 1. steamers [only belly clams will do] and 2. lobster). Now you can get packaged sushi at Duane Reade.

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Decisions, Decisions

Behold, a few particularly bad ones.

As a 50something Libra, I am somewhat decision-making-impaired, especially when it comes to significant life choices. I’m so afraid of making a wrong move that I weigh all the alternatives from every possible angle until my instincts are completely bollixed up and I have no clue what I actually want.

Maybe my astrological sign isn’t entirely to blame (and anyway, I can never decide whether I fully believe astrology is real). I think it’s also a reaction to having made many poor, impulsive decisions when I was younger.

Among the first: leaving my job at Women’s Wear Daily at the end of 1989, 18 months after I’d started.

That was my first departure; eventually I’d come and go from Fairchild Publications (which published WWD in those days) four or five times between 1988 and 1996, writing for several of their titles. This is where my career path started to really zig-zag.

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Let me back up, though, and tell you about a poor life decision I made long before that, because it informed so many of my others:

Beginning sophomore year of college, I made a difficult-to-hold-onto young man the center of my universe. And before him, from the middle of high school through freshman year of college, I revolved my life around a different intermittently-interested boy.

I was largely mismatched with both, which attests to the embarrassing later-in-life revelation that, within certain parameters, either of them could have been almost anybody. I had the deep-seated idea that I needed a man to complete me, and to that end, I cleaved myself, pathologically, to the first two who came along.

Throughout my childhood I’d heard my mother and her friends joke that their sole purpose for attending college was to earn an MRS. While enrolled at Albany from fall, ‘83 through spring, ‘87, I never allowed myself to notice I was essentially doing the same thing. Now I cringe recalling the ways in which I made hanging onto one and then the other of those men my primary objective in life.

Maybe another Libran trait is partly to blame: the love of love, the predispositions for being in a relationship and fostering harmony. (I’m remarried now, happily, for 14 years, but this relationship is one that affords me a lot of space and freedom to pursue my career and interests, and to travel.) But I’m also a product of the culture, and of my upbringing — of being the daughter of pre-boomer, pre-second-wave feminism parents who tacked this coda onto my bedtime stories: “And the prince and the princess finished college, then got married and had children...”

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^^^ Zig-zag

I won’t bore you with my litany of lousy decisions in college.

Instead I’ll bring you to the period just after graduation, when I severely limited my career options because I wasn’t willing to live anywhere other than the New York metropolitan area, where the difficult-to-hold-onto man, whom I hoped would propose (all our other friends married just out of school), was now living.

After collecting bylines at my Newsday summer internship, then spending a year freelancing for the Albany Times-Union and other publications, it’s conceivable I might have been able to land a job at a small paper somewhere else in the country, or in another country, and eventually make my way back to New York, or to a bigger paper in an other major city. But I didn’t apply to any.

If I had, I might have benefitted from the experience of living somewhere else and broadening my horizons beyond my monocultural Long Island upbringing. I might have followed a clearer career trajectory as a journalist and editor. If I’d taken just a little time away from constantly being in an all-consuming relationship beginning at 15, I’d have also had the time and energy for the creative writing I wanted to pursue. (I might never stop kicking myself for hindering myself back then.)

An editor at The Berkshire Eagle reached out to me — after reading some my work in the Times-Union and Metroland, and meeting me at events I covered — to see whether I’d be interested in writing on their arts desk. The job offered $12K — $5.5K less than what I’d go on to earn in my first position at a trade, Body Fashions/Intimate Apparel. But in 1987 you could live pretty inexpensively in Pittsfield and the other small surrounding western Massachusetts towns. I loved the Berkshires. The arts scene was, and remains, very rich.

Taking the Eagle’s offer would have been a good career move at 22. But I wasn’t making career moves. I was pursuing the validation that came with being chosen by a difficult-to-hold-onto man, seeking to fulfill my married, suburban destiny.

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It worked; in a matter of months, he chose me. Reader, I married him — at the ripe age of 23-and-change. That’s not a wrong choice for everyone, but it was for me. The marriage would last three years, and in that time, I’d engineer all my other choices to support it.

One of those was leaving WWD after 18 months so that I didn’t have to commute from my home town on Long Island, where we’d moved after the wedding.

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Okay, that wasn’t the only reason I left.

I had quickly become dissatisfied with my job on the accessories beat at WWD. Occasionally I got to report on things that felt as if they held significance beyond the hollow world of manufacturing and retail. But most of what I covered seemed insignificant and boring to me.

I longed to write for the paper’s arts and gossip section, called “Eye”; for its sister publication, the consumer title, W; and for Scene, the new gossip and nightlife magazine Fairchild had recently launched to compete with the original, pre-Conde Nast Details and Forbes’s short-lived Egg.

It wasn’t that I loved what they were publishing. I just saw it as a route out of trade journalism, which bored me, and did not allow me to shine. Goddamnit, I wanted to shine. After my early career experiences, I was spoiled. I worried that the longer I wrote for trades, the more entrenched I’d become, and the harder it would be to switch to consumer publications. And I was too young and shallow to recognize the quiet respectability in well executed trade journalism at a long-established paper.

But the reporters and editors who worked on the arts and gossip beats were part of a kind of exclusive club, and I couldn’t find a natural way in. They were from moneyed families, and had gone to fancy colleges and prep schools. The women were tall and modelesque, the men were preppy and well-connected. Some were from families that had connections to the Park Avenue socialites WWD and W covered. I didn’t stand a chance.

But I was also to blame. As much as I wanted a chance, it didn’t help my cause that I wasn’t interested in assignments later in the evening when they came up, because that would take me away from you-know-who.

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Women’s Wear was a difficult place for me to work in those days, on a number of levels.

It was clique-y. Some of the top editors were notoriously bitchy. Just before I left, Spy magazine ran a damning profile of one, a cruel modelizer, alleging, among other sins, that he liked to punk guests by offering them wine glasses filled with his urine.

^^^ Illustration from the December, 1989 issue of Spy by Anita Kunz

It was also a hard place to maintain any kind of healthy body image, or sense of yourself, physically. I’d struggled with anorexia as a teen (I mean, who in my age group didn’t?), and was still progressing in my recovery. There were days I felt okay — better than okay — about how I looked. Then I’d go to the women’s room, which doubled as a dressing room for the photo studio, and there would be Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Naomi Campbell — or a gaggle of willowy teens newly arrived from the South or the Midwest or eastern Europe — dressing and undressing for a shoot, a foot taller than me, and flawless. I might never fully recover from the embarrassment of needing to gargle after wisdom tooth extraction beside Cindy Crawford, as she fixed her makeup.

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I impulsively took the first out I could find.

As I was approaching a year-and-a-half at WWD, a friend of the family got in touch to say he was launching a news weekly on Long Island. Did I want to be the “People Editor”? It entailed writing and editing human interest stories. This job would solve multiple problems: I’d no longer have to commute to the city, and I’d have a path out of trade journalism.

I was ecstatic — so ecstatic that I didn’t ask enough questions about what the publication would be like.

I had no idea that I was leaving a coveted position at a respected news organization to work at a shitty Penny Saver, one that would fold six months later.

Laura Lippman Made Me Do It

I have zero regrets.

Recently someone asked why I was writing this newsletter, and why I’d chosen the topic of my erratic career trajectory. I explained that more than anything I'm writing this for myself, a) because it is fun, and b) to make sense of my experiences and career choices and what they’ve so far added up to — to understand it all from the vantage point of my early-mid-50s.

After we spoke I realized there was more to it:

I’m also writing this to lay claim to my experiences and career choices — and, ahem, my accomplishments — in response to naysayers I’ve encountered along the way, whose voices have been echoing in my head for far too long.

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For instance, there’s my first boyfriend, who I went out with in the second half of high school and the beginning of college. We’d been broken up a year when I interned at Newsday. Ostensibly still hurt that I’d moved on to someone else (mind you after he’d suggested we see other people while far apart at other schools), he called me after the first few articles with my byline had appeared in the paper, with the express purpose of insulting me.

“I don’t know. It seems like all you do is string together people’s quotes,” he said. “FYI, that’s not journalism.”

For decades, every time I have described myself as a journalist or writer, my brain has replayed his nasty naysaying, turning it into a subconscious mantra of self-doubt. Never mind the many bylines that would come later in the New York Times, assorted trade and consumer publications, women’s magazines, MTV News… A (spurned) dude told me my work amounted to nothing, that I was doing it wrong, and goddamnit, I believed him.

Well, not anymore, dude. I’ve got this here newsletter, so you and your naysaying are history.

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Speaking of getting men’s voices out of our heads, on Longreads this week I published “Whole 60,” an essay by novelist Laura Lippman in our Fine Lines series. It’s about her decision, at 60, to stop worrying about whether men deem her fuckable. She ditches dieting, buys herself a two-piece bathing suit, and chooses to love her body and her looks on her own terms.

OMG. What a revelation.

(Laura Lippman’s new book, Lady in the Lake, comes out next Tuesday, July 23rd. Pre-order it by Monday night and you could win a beautiful Betty Cooke pin.)

Working on Laura’s piece was exhilarating. I’ve been struggling all my life to disregard comments men have made about my body. I’m a hair under 5 feet with diet-and-obsessive-exercise-proof curves — lord knows I’ve tried, to the point of needing professional treatment in my teens and early 20s.

Just about everyone from my father and grandfather, to my first husband and random men on the street, has felt entitled to lob insults or lascivious comments at me about it. Their words have reverberated through my mind every single day. I have tried so hard to turn that noise off. And there was Laura, just doing it.

Could I just do it, too? Could I decide to forget that on my honeymoon, my first husband brought me to see a statue of a squat fertility goddess in Rodin’s sculpture garden in Paris that he said reminded him of my figure? Or that he often said I’d be perfect if I were seven inches taller? I’d long ago stopped caring about him. Shouldn’t I be able to stop caring about his evaluation of my body and looks too? Not to mention the evaluations from all the other men? Maybe I could…

^^^ Me at 23 in June, 1989, doing my best to smile as I pose with the fertility goddess my first husband said was built like me.

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After I was done formatting Laura’s essay in WordPress, I was so inspired, I clicked over to ModCloth to order myself a two-piece Esther Williams bikini (which in real life is red with white polka dots, but for you, dear reader, I made my drawing of it up top more colorful).

I haven’t worn a two-piece in at least 10 years, since a DaVinci Robotic Hysterectomy at 43 for adenomyosis left me with four incision scars on my abdomen, in addition to the scar I already had on my navel from a laparoscopy at 18 to diagnose my endometriosis. Fortunately, this swim suit style has a high-waisted bottom that covers all that business.

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I wore my new suit to Kingston Point Beach last weekend. In the water, another woman swam up to me to tell me she admired it, and how I looked in it. I took in her words. They felt so good. I celebrated afterward with ice cream.

A Little Service Journalism for You

Even though I swore that off, years ago.

Greetings from America, by which I mean a fairly seedy motel two blocks off the main drag in Lake George Village, a town where there’s an awful lot of red, white, and blue — and where, this morning, a guy at the motel pool randomly went off to Brian and me (the only other people present) about how crazy Democrats are, and how it’s not the 1%’s job to pay taxes; it’s their job to make jobs, so their employees can pay taxes. (Which frankly sounded crazy to me.)

We’re staying here because it’s what we can afford right now while we continue to work on our house — about $350 total for 3 nights, including taxes — and also because it’s a compromise: Brian would have preferred to go to Dippikill Wilderness Retreat, a campground with cabins that my alma mater, SUNY at Albany, owns, which would have cost less than half what we’re paying in Lake George. But a) we didn’t plan our trip soon enough to snag a cabin and b) whew, because I was not up for roughing it and us shopping for/cooking/cleaning up after every single meal. Now and then I can get on board with that kind of experience. (When I was single in my 20s and 30s, and stuck in my protracted, super-low-maintenance-girlfriend Cowboys Are My Weakness phase, I would have gone along with it even if I dreaded the thought.) But this time I needed a chance to really relax for a few days. So here we are.

I’m not going to mention the name of the motel because the owners seem very nice. (Also, we have two more nights here!) The place has definitely seen better days. It’s pretty dilapidated in places, especially the unsafe decking you have no choice but to traverse — upstairs, downstairs, to the pool, to the office, to your car. Our room is kind of ugly and depressing. The bed is hard. Good thing we brought our own pillows.

I’m still having a nice time — swimming in the lake, eating surprisingly good gluten-free pizza, playing Skee-Ball, drawing, reading (and writing to you!) in our crappy little room while it rains, enjoying the company of my sweetheart, as I always do.

But here’s what I’ve learned in the past 24 hours (*this is the Service Journalism part!): If you’re in serious need of a vacation, it might not the best idea to stay at a place that is significantly less nice than your own home. (You’re welcome.)

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Okay, let me be just a little more servicey…

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of meeting and chatting publicly (at Kingston’s wonderful Rough Draft Bar & Books) with Lauren Mechling, author of How Could She, and also the person behind one of my favorite Instagram accounts, The Clog Life.

I am hereby recommending all three things I’ve linked to in the graph just above ^^^, especially Lauren’s book, a sharply observed novel (a book blurb cliche, but I mean it sincerely) about the joys and challenges of friendship among women. It’s so smart and absorbing that I read it in two days, and I’m a slow reader. The three main characters — Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel — are drawn very differently, but I related to aspects of each. And I very much identified with how tricky it can be to maintain friendships, especially when you and your friends work in the same field and can’t help but feel competitive with one another.

During our chat I told a story about a very tenuous friendship with another writer, which was at one point disrupted by a fight over clogs: I’d admired my friend’s new pair and inquired as to where she got them. She told me, and a few months later, I got the same ones, but in a different color. We don’t even live in the same city, but I was photographed wearing them at a lit event, prompting my friend to go off on me, and to stop talking to me for a while. There were other reasons, I’m sure. The clogs were just the last straw — or maybe just an easier matter to point to than the other more subtle tensions between us.

(^^^Not even all my clogs.)

Most of my associations with clogs are much happier than that, though. I’ve collected many pairs over my 53 years — beginning in 1977, when I was in junior high and I promised my mom I’d do my best not to turn my ankle in the tan pair of Olof Daughters with a braid across the top that she bought me at Posture Line Shoes, the orthopedically-minded store we went to in Rockville Centre. These days I tend to buy most of my clogs used, on eBay.

Up top is a drawing I just now did of my favorite pair of Sven clogs. I wore them the day before my chat with Lauren, at her other nearby event with Colu Henry at Nina Z. Clogs in Hudson, NY. In real life, my clogs are silver, but in my motel room I don’t have a silver colored pencil. (Also, obviously I still don’t know how to really draw.)

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Look at me, someone who swore off Service Journalism 10 or 12 years ago, writing a linky post recommending gluten-free pizza, books, bookstores, clogs, instagram accounts and more!

There’s nothing wrong with Service Journalism. It just wasn’t for me. I did it way too frequently, for too long, before I realized that. What I wanted to be writing was features, and even more than that, personal essays.

It would take me decades to realize I needed to re-direct myself, to stop collecting the wrong kinds of clips, to stop wasting my time doing anything and everything only vaguely adjacent to what I really wanted to be doing. More on that in another installment…

Of Dollars Per Word, and Words Per Minute

Who and what determine the value of our work?

Literary Twitter went berserk last week when one writer revealed she demands — and gets — $4/word for celebrity profiles and reported pieces. Things got ugly, and I had very mixed feelings about all of it.

On the one hand, I want to celebrate a woman writer who has the chutzpah to ask for what she deserves, especially in a field where a particular man famously doesn’t get out of bed for less than $10/word. I want to be inspired by her boldness, to feel encouraged to be bold in negotiations myself. Honestly, when you figure in all the work and thought that goes into one of her pieces, $4/word isn’t even really enough. And I do believe that as you accrue experience and develop your talent, you deserve to be compensated at a higher rate.

On the other hand, it brought up issues of elitism, popularity, selective access, and cliquishness — things which, as something of a perennial outsider, I have always had a distaste for. Surely other writers with similar promise never get those chances. And when one person is paid so much, it leaves less for those others.

What’s more, as the conversation progressed, I witnessed too many younger writers and writers of colors getting shot down for raising the legitimate issue of pay disparity industry-wide, and it upset me. Various established writers and editors scolded them, and told them their problem was that they just didn’t measure up — as if publishing were any kind of meritocracy. It made me realize that in late-stage capitalism, as with pretty much every field, publishing is woefully top-heavy. How does any industry not collapse under that?

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Four-dollar-rate-gate reminded me of a rant I’d started writing a dozen years ago, toward the end of 2007, about how women’s magazines were still paying the same lousy $2/word as they had been when I graduated from college 20 years before, in 1987, and it was never enough to cover all the time spent reporting, writing, going through rounds and rounds and rounds of sometimes circuitous, fruitless editing and fact-checking.

Of course I abandoned that rant when the 2008 recession hit and the glossy women’s magazine for which I frequently wrote health articles cut my rate to $1/word. A year or two later, the magazine brought me back up to $2/word, but I stopped writing for them soon thereafter because I suspected some of the weight loss regimens and beauty treatments they wanted me to cover (favorably) were likely harmful to women. (See: irreversibly nuking the glands in your armpits to avoid getting sweat stains on your couture.)

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Shall we rewind to 1988, where we our last installment left off?

Actually, let’s drop back just a little further, and revisit the period in 1987 when I was trying out for secretarial jobs in publishing, taking typing tests every goddamn week, shooting for 60 words-per-minute but never quite hitting it.

I took those tests on actual typewriters. IBM Selectrics. Typewriters were all I wrote on in those days, other than first drafts of personal essays on legal pads. I typed every single paper in college on an electric Smith-Corona, correcting my (many) errors with liquid WiteOut. I worked on clunky desktop computers at my internships at the I ❤️ NY campaign and Newsday, and at my claims processing job at Blue Cross/Blue Shield I used a Mac Classic. But computers were still a rarity in my world outside of offices. In those days, no one I knew had a computer of their own.

Senior year I met one guy who had a word-processor, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I asked my parents if they would chip in and get me one for graduation, but they said it was too expensive. I didn’t have a “home computer” of my own until 1991, when I was 26.

Okay, but we’re not up to 1991.

We’re back in March, 1988, I’m about 22-and-a-half, and I’ve just landed at my second post-college editorial job, at WWD, as an assistant editor on the accessories beat — covering the wonderful world of costume jewelry, handbags, small leather goods (wallets and whatnot), belts, hats, scarves, etc.

My business card. ^^^

I was so excited for my new job at a trade publication that was taken seriously — and more importantly, which also seemed to contain within it possible routes out of trade journalism.

I was also thrilled that I’d now be working in the Village, as opposed to midtown, where my job at Body Fashions/Intimate Apparel had been. Fairchild Publications was located at 7 East 12th Street in those days, between Fifth Avenue and University Place, across the street from Gotham Bar & Grill, which provided great socialite- and celebrity-watching.

I was given a desk in the front row of the 3rd floor newsroom, right across from the receptionist, Lee, who chain-smoked cigarettes all the livelong day. Lee smoked so much her teeth were falling out; she looked like a public service ad for why you should quitting smoking. Smoldering cigarette butts overflowed from the ashtray on her desk. I have never smoked a single cigarette in my life, but I worry all the time that about the second-hand smoke I took in while working across from her.

Obviously this was before smoking was banned inside office buildings and restaurants. There were even smoking cars on the LIRR, which I rode in to work from Long Beach, NY, where I’m from.

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At Women’s Wear, we had to share computers. There was one desktop PC for every two reporters, balanced on the edges of our adjacent desks, with a monitor on something like a lazy susan so it could be easily swung to face whichever reporter was using it. I shared mine with an accessories fashion editor, who did less writing and more styling of photo shoots, so it was rarely a problem. If your computer was occupied, you looked for another vacant one at someone else’s desk. At super busy times, you just had to wait. There were also typewriters scattered around the newsroom, which we used to write letters to people in the industries we covered.

After working at a monthly publication, it was exhilarating to get back to the pace of a daily. I went out into “the market” a few days a week to visit accessories manufacturers and retailers, to get the scoop on the latest trends and happenings. I’d often return with samples that I then had to bring to the art department at the back of the newsroom so one of the fashion illustrators, brilliant artists like Steven Stipelman and Robert Passantino, could draw renderings of them.

Fashion illustration by Robert Passantino ^^^

Then I’d write my articles and send them to my editor, who’d do one round of tightening and tweaking. From there my pieces were sent on to either the city editor or the managing editor, two older men, depending on who was free. This is where the hard lessons were learned.

Those men went through your work with a fine tooth comb. You had to sit beside them on the hot seat and answer questions about every aspect of the article, from angle to structure to word choice. They were not at all friendly about it, and sometimes when I was done getting the third degree, I’d run to the bathroom and cry. Many reporters did.

Still, I learned so much from those two men. They made me a better writer, and also taught me how to be an editor. I incorporate much of what I learned from them in my job every day. (However, I make a point of being kind.)

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Every day, flowers arrived for WWD reporters, sent by the manufacturers and retailers who were covered in that day’s paper — as long as they liked what was published. If you didn’t get flowers, you knew they were pissed.

When I received my first bouquet, the managing editor came over to my desk. “Don’t ever think that has anything to do with you,” he said, rather brusquely. “But also don’t take it personally when they don’t send them. It has absolutely nothing to do with you, your work, or your worth.”

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