M.F.A. vs. J.O.B.

It wasn't bad enough that I was desperate to break out of trade journalism into consumer. I had to go and get (re-)bitten by the creative writing bug.

Hello, new subscribers (and old ones). My last installment reeled a bunch of you in and I feel it’s only fair to inform you that it was…kind of an anomaly? Generally speaking, this is not a newsletter full of pointed blind items.

Although, maybe it should be. The conversation that incited that angry post forced me to confront some aspects of my experience as a (short, average-looking, non-WASPy, ambitious, awkward) woman in media that I’d at least partially blocked out.

It reminded me of ways in which I was diminished and mistreated at some places where I worked in the ‘80s and ‘90s — painful recollections I’m now re-examining through an updated lens. It was hardly just me. Even the tall, conventionally pretty, WASPy, less ambitious, non-awkward women suffered, to varying degrees. It was all so normalized, we barely knew whether or how to question it. We knew we were better off than women working in media in the 60s and 70s, and worried we’d be seen as asking for too much if we spoke up.

In time, I might share more about that. But for now, I’ll keep reflecting on highlights and lowlights (mostly lowlights) from my past, mostly in chronological order. (Scroll back here if you are curious about earlier stories way.)

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Alright — onward to the next stop on my wayward career path. Where did I leave off? I think it was 1992. (The same year “A League of Our Own” came out.)

Holy hat — that was 27 years ago. Half my life ago, now that I’m 54.

It was the beginning of my first “Saturn return,” to use astrologyspeak, just as the psychic I visited for the first time that year did. She said it would likely be a time of painful upheaval, during which people and situations in my life that didn’t truly suit me would fall away, but it would all be for the best.

She was right. It was the year my first marriage ended, prompting me to leave the suffocating familiarity of my suburban hometown and return to New York City. These changes and others were excruciating — I went through my daily life feeling emotionally raw, and lost — but also necessary.

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I’d just returned to Fairchild Publications for my second tenure (of four-ish, ultimately), this time to Home Furnishings Network, or HFN, where I worked on three beats: decorative pillows, luxury linens, and…personal alarms, these small plastic and metal devices you could keep in your purse and set off if you were being attacked. I know — what a strange assortment of topics to be covering. It was so weird. A couple of years later, Tonya Harding would make news scaring away an assailant in a parking long after setting off a personal alarm of her own.

I was not excited about working at HFN, but it seemed the lesser of two evils, the other being the most embarrassing position of my life, as editor-in-chief at Fashion Jewelry Plus!. After working at Fashion Jewelry Plus! for a year-and-a-half, I couldn’t take another minute, so I impatiently sought the first Fairchild post available.

My day-to-day job was the trade publication standard: a slog of manufacturer and retailer round-ups about consumer trends, and trips to boring trade shows. At the sprawling Housewares Show in Chicago, I met a guy who was famous for his regular stints on a popular morning news show where he would showcase kitchen gadgets. He was more than a decade older than me and very much not my type, but I felt like I had to say “yes” when he asked me out. Back in New York he took me out for a couple of expensive dinners, but I was not the least bit interested.

I made the mistake of telling my dad about it. He was so excited about the prospect of his daughter dating someone a) Jewish and b) famous — and so disappointed that I didn’t want to keep going out with the guy. He bugged me about it for years. Well, until the guy was busted for possession of a massive amount of coke in 1999. I sent my dad an email with a link to an article about it. Subject line: Your son inlaw, the Gadget Guru.

Gosh, I hated trade shows. More generally, I hated my job. But least HFN was an actual journalistic publication, not thinly-veiled advertorial for a jewelry trade show company. HFN was situated in the Fairchild newsroom on 34th Street — a real newsroom, which it shared with WWD and W.

I had the idea that if I could aim myself back toward WWD, where I’d started four years earlier, I could regain the footing I’d had before I left hastily, at the end of 1989. Maybe I’d eventually be poised to wend my way out of trade publishing altogether, into consumer.

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But that wasn’t all I wanted. Now I had additional goals. The year before, I’d taken a personal essay writing workshop at NYU, and it reignited my passion for creative writing, making my arts-journalism dreams pale in comparison. I’d enjoyed studying both creative writing and journalism in college, and it seemed there were elements of both in personal essays. I’d written them before, starting all the way back in fourth grade. (I won the school-wide essay contest that year and the next. Yay, grade school me!)

^^^This right here is the winner of Francis X. Hegarty Elementary’s winner of the school-wide essay-writing contest, in both 1974 and 1975.

I had also started writing fiction that year. Like, out of nowhere, for fun, with no real goal. A story was born in my head about a character named Julia Rosenbloom, a woman similar to me but not exactly the same. She was both worse and better than me. Meeker at first, more courageous in the end, willing to do and say things I never would. When I sat down to try and get it down on the clunky Mac Powerbook I’d just bought second-hand (pictured above), I felt as if I were just following a thread, rather than making it all up.

I knew that publishing any of my creative writing was going to be much harder than breaking back into consumer journalism. Now I had two difficult ladders to climb. I needed to allow myself time, and also study more.

An other reporter in the Fairchild newsroom attended Sarah Lawrence’s MFA program. I started applying to programs, submitting chapters of my novel-in-progress. I was pleasantly surprised when I got into several, including Sarah Lawrence.

More on that next installment…

The Patron Saint of Canceled Men Hereby Resigns

No more Mr. Nice Girl

Dear _______,

Regarding your recent request that I use my position and connections and good name to help garner positive reception of your forthcoming book, now that the tide of public opinion has largely turned against you:

I regret to inform you that, upon further consideration, you are shit out of luck.

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Oh, _______. How dare you even ask? Don’t answer; I know. You are accustomed to women volunteering to aid you, free of charge, for the mere pleasure of finding ourselves in your good graces, if only momentarily. And it is only ever momentary. The charm offensive and attention never last. I know this well.

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Years ago, you summarily dropped me as a friend, despite the ways in which I consistently helped you — come to think of it, probably because of the ways I helped you.

It happened right after the last time you leaned on me. Weeks later, just like that, you received the next of many plum rewards for your boyish, affable averageness, a coronation so prominent it seemed advisable for you to cut ties with anyone below your station; anyone who knew that you were more manners and style than substance; anyone who had once been tasked with holding your hand as you effortlessly ascended a ladder we were not welcome to climb, no matter how talented or hard working we were.

I was not alone, _______. There were several of us who got left behind — women who’d willingly stood over your shoulder again and again, feeding you words and sentences and assurances as you struggled anxiously with your writing. We never asked the same of you because, frankly, we didn’t need your help. We were better trained; more capable. We had more than earned our places. Nothing had been handed to us straight out of the gate because of family connections. We knew that to even tenuously hold onto our rungs of the ladder, we had to work twice as hard, had to sometimes do both our work and yours, had to act like your personal secretary, phoning people to cancel lunches for you at the last minute despite our technically being your peers, and older than you.

We had to muffle our anger, sublimating it into smiling agreeability. There was no vernacular back then for the gendered differences in how we were treated, or at least no forum, and no support for those who might dare to speak out.

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All those years ago, _______, you sat on my threadbare couch in my East Village hovel, fresh off the Concorde, begging me (a struggling freelancer and ghostwriter!) to help you (a well-compensated editor!) assemble the latest of many articles you were insecure about writing, free of charge. This was for a publication I’d left years before, after being treated unfairly; no, badly. Okay, not entirely free of charge; in exchange for my help, you tossed out a promise that if I finished my memoir, you’d feature it in said publication, despite one of the top brass (your tireless champion, my bully) shunning me.

Here we are, two decades later, and look at that: you effortlessly landed a publishing contract for a splashy book of your own (I’d like to know who stood over your shoulder and helped you write it), and I am out here trying to find a deal for my quiet little memoir in essays.

______, you might never know what it is like to live in a world where for decades, every time you pursue something, the first answer is predictably “No,” where you have to constantly labor to get across to gatekeepers why your voice and ideas are worth amplifying. Perhaps, after years of hearing only the word, “Yes,” you are now first finding out.

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On the phone, you asked me about my book, “And You May Find Yourself…” the proposal for which my agent is now shopping. I told you it’s about being a late-blooming Gen X lady who has zig-zagged haphazardly through life while battling a case of impostor syndrome borne of trying to be who I thought people (mostly men) wanted me to be instead of who I actually was. The irony is that on our call, I slipped right into being who I thought you wanted me to be — an instantly all-forgiving, sympathetic, helpful, spineless pal, even though you never once asked for my forgiveness, or acknowledged having ditched me.

I regret the enthusiasm with which I received your call, my knee-jerk cheerful agreement to help you out, and my openness about how hard it was for me where we worked, back in the day. I wasn’t lying, though — it was good to hear your voice. I’d missed you since you dropped me! We’d had some nice times together. I’d felt a kind of kinship with you. There was also a very old part of me that was energized by once again feeling “seen” by the likes of you, an anointed arbiter of the straight, white, male gaze.

All those feelings tripped me up and took me off course, away from myself and my best interests. But after the call, words you’d said reminded me: “I’m glad you were willing to take my call…” Right. There are reasons I might not have been willing, perhaps should not have been. Since then, I’ve been feeling pretty triggered.

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I hope you appreciate my blurring your identity here, _______. When I obliquely tweeted about this, women I respect suggested I name you. You are the beneficiary of my great conflictedness, part consideration of your humanity, part distaste for the over-simplicity and brutality of cancel culture, part deep patriarchal conditioning toward pleasing and protecting charming men.

Honestly, it ultimately doesn’t matter who you are. There are so many others just like you. You aren’t even the first essentially canceled man to turn to me for sympathy and assistance. (You might be happy to know that one of the other guys is a lot more canceled.)

I’ve worried it might hurt for you to see this, but considering that you hadn’t been sufficiently curious to even google me before reaching out on your book publicist’s suggestion (you said you knew nothing of the anthologies I’ve published or my other recent work as a writer, editor, and teacher), it’s quite possible you’ll never come across this, anyway.

Then again, I did briefly mention this newsletter to you. I told you I was writing about my wayward career path, but hadn’t yet gotten to the part where we worked together. “Now, be nice!” you chided me in a paternalistic tone. But niceness in the face of shittiness is false and self-abandoning. And I am writing a goddamned book about no longer being false and self-abandoning (goddess help me if you get to publish a book and I do not), so I need to live by my word. Sorry, dude. In the words of one of my feminist idols, the late, great Maggie Estep: No more Mr. Nice Girl.

I can’t help you, _______. Probably no one can, but good luck in your search. Meanwhile, I hereby tender my resignation as the Patron Saint of Canceled Men.

Sincerely,

Sari Botton

I Have Zero Chill on My Birthday...

(...or ever, about anything, tbh)

Hellooooo…after longer than I meant to go between editions of my newsletter!

Forgive me — I have been running around a lot. Speaking of which, last week I was in NYC for the Longreads 10th Anniversary Celebration, an incredible reading/performance at Housing Works Bookstore in Soho, featuring Morgan Jerkins, Laura Lippman, Choire Sicha, Anne Theriault, and Elisabet Velaquez, which you can listen to here.

^^^ OMG, have you ever experienced poet/writer Elisabet Velasquez reading her work? Her writing, and her delivery of it, are amazing.

Also tripping me up was an internal debate over whether to weigh here in on the furor over Natalie Beach’s essay in The Cut about her friendship Caroline Calloway.

I wasn’t 100% sure whether I wanted to go there, or instead just bring you along to the next stop on my wayward career path, in the early 90s. (I’m sure you are all DYING to know about my life on the decorative pillows and personal alarms beats, and covering home furnishing trade shows for Fairchild’s HFN 😂, but you’ll have to wait until the next installment. )

For now, suffice it to say that I liked the Calloway piece, and I defend Beach’s right to publish it, although there are aspects of it that give me pause. (I have a long history of defending essays and memoir, especially those written by women.) I might eventually write more about this, but for now, I’ll point you to a smart piece by Shannon Keating on the matter that made me consider it from new angles.

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Today is my birthday! My 54th!

I bought myself those kooky crayons you see in the photo at the top! I might also buy myself some drawing classes so that I can feel more confident drawing here again. A bigger present I got myself: sage green frames from Sol Moscot, in the “Lemtosh” style I’ve been crushing on forever.

^^^ Lemtosh glasses by Sol Moscot. (Too-shiny complexion by Sephardic genes, plus Egyptian Magic and NOW Solutions Vitamin C and Sea buckthorn moisturizer, which I mix together and smush all over my face to keep it from wrinkling too badly.)

Each year I vow that come the next, I will be chill about my birthday and turning a year older; almost halfway through my sixth decade (WHAT?!), I can confirm I am incapable of that.

I have a love/hate relationship with birthdays. Being born at the beginning of the school year and the middle of the Jewish new year — specifically on Shabbat T’Shuvah, the sabbath of return and repentance, which falls in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — placed a fair amount of pressure on the day.

I mean, I got saddled with a birthday on which you are supposed to — commanded to — be reflective about your choices. It is probably no wonder I have raised “reflective about your choices” to an art form. “Reflective about your choices” is my resting state. It all gets ratcheted up quite a bit each year around October 2nd. I obsess even more than usual, along these lines:

Have I made the right choices? Have I made enough corrective choices to counteract some of the early bad ones? Have I achieved the goals I set out to? (*So much “no” to that one.) Will there be more chances to achieve my goals? When will it be too late to achieve them? Will I ever publish a book of 100% my own writing? Can I keep convincing myself it’s never too late? That there’s no such thing?

This anxiety is tempered with something resembling optimism. Here’s a new beginning! Maybe this is the year you’ll finally get it all right! Which is…more pressure. But it somehow makes me want to celebrate my birthday — with my husband, with my family, with my friends. Most years I throw myself no fewer than three parties. The impetus comes from a place in me that is equal parts PLEASE DISTRACT ME WITH ATTENTION SO THAT I CAN GET THROUGH MY ANXIETY ABOUT AGING WITHOUT YET HAVING DONE ALL THAT I’VE MEANT TO DO, and HOORAY FOR BIRTHDAYS AND PRESENTS AND BIRTHDAY CAAAAAAAKE!!!

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In our culture, it’s only acceptable to be excited about birthdays when you are a kid. I’ve decided (literally right this second) that it’s kind of radical to be excited about birthdays as a grownup, especially as you start getting really older. Like, say, your mid-50s. (Also, maybe Alana Massey is right that chill is not a virtue to aspire to, anyway? I have no chill about anything, ever, so I am sold on this idea.)

This is terribly cliche, but go easy on me for my birthday: Living longer is something to be grateful for.

Not everyone does live longer! Both my grandmothers died around my age, one at 53, the other at 55. Just before my 50th, I led a writing workshop for women with metastatic breast cancer, and one of them commented on how much she hates when women bitch about getting older. She was 47, and several of her friends were approaching their 50th birthdays with dread. “I will probably not live to be 50,” she would tell them. “I will probably die while my children are still relatively young.” She passed away the following year, at 48.

So, sorry, I’m going to just keep being me on my birthday — a mix of anxious and excited, and probably telling everyone I come in contact with (including all of you).

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Every birthday since my 50th I have thought of that woman with metastatic breast cancer. (Honestly, I think about her and others who’ve passed all the time. My obsession with/aversion toward planning for death persists!)

In addition, this year I’m thinking about Pauline Uchmanowicz, a friend and colleague who died suddenly and unexpectedly in June, at just 61. She was fierce, and youthful, and vital. And then she was just…gone. (I think where ever she is now, she’d grant me permission to be ridiculous about my birthday.) Kingston Writers’ Studio will honor Pauline this Sunday, 10/5, from 5-7 with a reading of her work, plus other pieces, at the wonderful Rough Draft Bar & Books.

Today I’m also thinking about Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered by MBS and his henchmen on this day in 2018. Like Pauline, he was just seven years older than me; on Oct 13, he would have been 61, too.

I’ve made a donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in Khashoggi’s name. Journalists and journalism have never been more endangered. I’d love it if some of you who were able to felt inclined to donate as well.

Fiftysomething

I was once a Hope, then a Nancy, but I might forever be a Melissa.

A month from today I will turn 54. That number boggles my mind, but so has just about every number associated with my age since I was a tween.

For much of my life I haven’t felt aligned with my age or my age group. These days I struggle to feel like a true grownup, while people from my childhood are grandparents several times over. When I was in my 20s it was the opposite; I was kind of precocious. I married young (and divorced young). I got started as a freelance journalist while still in college. Then, in a hurry to establish myself, I made a series of hasty choices which I then compounded with worse ones.

I mentioned in a prior installment that 30 years ago, when I was 24, I foolishly left my job as a reporter/market editor at Women’s Wear Daily to become the “People Editor” at This Week, which turned out to be a glorified PennySaver. The idea had been to get myself off the trade journalism track into consumer journalism, but from the first day, I knew this wouldn’t take me there. I had made a huge mistake.

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This Week’s “newsroom” was only a few blocks away from Newsday’s, in Melville, Long Island, where five years earlier I’d gotten my start as an intern the arts desk. In those days, Newsday was highly venerated. I hoped desperately to be hired there for real. I kept in touch with my editors, but they told me positions on the arts desk (and other desks) arose very rarely, and were reserved for reporters who had done their time at smaller papers around the country. It was a kind of guild, they said, encouraging me to move somewhere else and work my way up the ranks. But I had prioritized the validation of landing an intermittently interested man over developing my chops, paying my dues, and building my career.

I wrote the word “newsroom” in quotations above because the space This Week’s reporters and editors were situated in looked more like an elementary school classroom. The walls were cinderblock. We sat around big tables, rather than at individual desks. We had to take turns using a handful of office telephones (it was 1990 — no cell phones), and a small number of Mac Classics, on which we had to not only write and edit, but also lay out our own pieces, using photos we had taken and gotten printed ourselves, with our own point-and-shoot cameras.

Each week I would drive around the island interviewing a couple of subjects — everyone from local “celebrities” to the parents of a child with a life-threatening disease called Prader Willi Syndrome — then write 750-word profiles of them. I’d also edit profiles by other reporters and editors.

My job at This Week was interesting for about…actually, it was never interesting.

Good thing it was over within less than a year after I started. The publisher unloaded the lame free weekly and laid off the entire editorial staff.

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While on unemployment I freelanced and applied for jobs (at consumer publications only!) which I circled in the New York Times classifieds. I sent my resume to Conde Nast and Hearst, landed a few interviews, and never got the jobs. I was only 24, but I was sure my career was over.

I did not apply for jobs at trade publications — not until after my unemployment ran out. That’s when I got hired as the editor-in-chief of a monthly trade called Fashion Jewelry Plus! — the exclamation point included in the title.

Reader, I took my house apart today trying to find a copy of Fashion Jewelry Plus! so I could show it to you, and you could appreciate how amateurish and embarrassing it was.

Some time last year when I was moving I came across a copy. I cringed hardest at my monthly editors’ letter, accompanied by a very serious photo of the 24-year-old editor-in-chief, in another of those power suits with the big should pads.

The magazine was published by a family-owned trade show company based in Newton Mass. I was based in their New York office, on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, but I had to fly to Newton each month for meetings and fashion shoots. At Fashion Jewelry Plus! the EIC did pretty much everything. I wrote all the articles (many of which were little more than coverage of the company’s own trade shows, and the manufacturers who spent money on booths and ads), styled the shoots, wrote the editorials.

The magazine was hideous. It wasn’t a real magazine — by and large it was a trade show directory. I was mortified by my association with it. The worst thing was running into to my former colleagues from WWD out in “the market.” I didn’t want to tell them where I was working. I didn’t want them to see that stupid rag. More than that, I didn’t want them to know how much I regretted leaving WWD, how far I’d set myself back by trying to move forward too quickly, without thinking things through.

Eventually, though, after about two years, I admitted it to my former boss. I begged her to take me back. She said there weren’t any jobs at WWD, but that there might be some at other Fairchild titles. She suggested I get in touch with HR, which I did.

Next stop on the trade magazine trade: Home Furnishings Daily, aka HFD (which then became Home Furnishings Network, or HFN), one of WWD’s sister publications.

At HFD, I would simultaneously hold the titles of “Luxury Linens Editor,” “Decorative Pillows Editor,” and…“Personal Alarms Editor.”

(There was a moment in the early 90s when women were carrying personal alarms. How they wound up being covered by a home furnishings publication escapes me.)

^^^ The remaining swag from my days as “Decorative Pillows Editor” at HFD.

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I was working at HFD when my “starter” marriage collapsed. There were so many reasons, and I’m really now glad I got out when I did, but at the time it was very hard.

When we were together, my first husband and I religiously watched thirtysomething every week. In our 20s, we sort of aspired to be like the characters on the show, most of all the lead characters, Michael and Hope — one of those annoyingly perfect couples. As we were separating, though, we became more like Elliott and Nancy, the couple whose marriage was falling apart.

Once I moved out, I started to identify more with the character of Melissa, the artsy-funky perpetually single photographer, who dressed kooky and lived in a cool loft and dated unavailable men like Gary, the hot, roguish English professor.

After my marriage was over, I’d go on to waste a lot of time with several unavailable men (including one whom I described to friends as “a Gary”) before meeting my current husband when I was 38.

Now, on the brink of 54, despite being long married, I still feel kind of Melissa-ish — in a sort of ageless, weirdo, good way. I hope I always will.

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, a few months before my 24th birthday.

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. (I wore suits back then! All the time! Me, a person who, in my 50s, still defaults sartorially to ‘70s'-camp-counselor-chic.)

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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 most-affordable-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, although most of it wasn’t really very desirable.

But the cash in my pocket felt as if was already spent, and not using it felt disappointing. That combined with the competition at the sales created a sense of urgency, and it 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 friend 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 from it. 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 pre-packaged sushi at Duane Reade.

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