I’m still not hating xoJane even though I think I’m supposed to. I really do think it’s a generational thing, even though I wish it wasn’t. Despite my developing morbid obsession with aging and attempts to counterbalance and stay open-minded and positive, I just don’t identify with most women under 30. And women under 30 seem to be dominating media. Will they age out and be replaced when they hit 35 or will this cohort just continue to rule? Or are they not even ruling and I’m that misguided?
I like reading about getting married at 38 and making gray hair a do (weirdly—or not—I was recently Facebook friended by this writer’s newish husband, who runs Mr. Skin. If I’m remembering correctly, he dated a zine penpal of mine in the ’90s, which would be the connection).
Initially, I had thought that women hated xoJane because it’s entrenched in that ‘90s confessional, first-person style, like the author was making the story about herself. I don’t think that’s quite it, though.
As an aside, earlier this week I was returning my copy of The Wilder Life to the library and in my typical, don’t talk to me, no nonsense fashion, ran in (literally, I was on my way to the gym, a block away and never like people seeing me in my stretchy pants sans makeup) dropped the book at the counter and had turned to run off when the short, 40-ish guy, with wire-rim glasses and long flat ‘70s hair who works circulation grabbed it and quietly interjected, “I hated it.” Did I hear that correctly? Oh, I should also engage with humans. I never read the Little House books, only watched the TV show and had no major interest in the subject matter, but I like the author, Wendy McClure (we’ve both had photos taken in front of Pa at Diamond Bar in Greenpoint, for one—me second from right) and wanted to see how she would write a memoir-ish book with a premise. Would it be gimmicky? What were readers going to get out of it? How do you make a personal story universal? These are things I’d like to learn. I’m not sure the conclusion was satisfying (conclusions are my weakness) but I enjoyed her story. But library guy (who totally reminds me of a library guy from my public library days that we’d called The Pumpkin because…I’m not actually sure why, he had long dirty blonde hair too, but a ruddy, bumpy face and I keep picturing him wearing overalls but I don’t think he ever did. His girlfriend, who was also ruddy and bumpy and worked in our department ,was the one who wore overalls) was serious about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the lore and the historic spots all over the Midwest and he didn’t like what he’d read because it was using “that girl blogger voice.” I’m totally fine with that voice, obvs. Amusing to me was that this gentleman has what I call a Baltimore voice, a twangy, nasally thing that you’ve probably heard at some point if you watched The Wire. The conversation turned to the commercialism in Amish country, $700 Sponge Bob blankets, my God. I don’t know people like this anymore. Sometimes I miss these kinds of conversations even though I'm not terribly critical of consumerism.
When I say no one likes xoJane I really only mean The Hairpin and Jezebel, as if those are the only two female-centric sites in the universe. It’s a cliché, but yes, Jezebel commenters are insufferable. Case in point, this recent reprint of a Julie Klausner piece about women acting like girls that was totally on point but loathed by the commenters. Frankly, the tone of that piece was more xoJane, not Jezebel or at least what Jezebel has turned into.
But The Hairpin has a totally different voice, female without rigidity, grounded and totally confident even when acting self-doubting. These are the foreign-to-me young women. This is a wild generalization, but I imagine the writers are the product of a Northeastern education if they weren’t also raised there. They probably have parents who didn’t birth them until after the age of 30 (one anomaly is that we’re both the product of Boomer parents. A good chunk had kids in the ‘70s, I guess the super-educated batch waited til the ‘80s). They don’t wear a lot of makeup, in fact they don’t even know how to apply it and are kind of proud of it, nor do they color their hair (you can't if you're gung ho on that no-shampoo thing) or have tattoos. They can wear four-inch heels, short shorts and flimsy dresses without bras, though. A product of another time and place.
I’m just now realizing that these were the teens who didn’t smoke or drink and loved life and their parents that started appearing at indie shows in my mid-20s and made me feel like an alien. I rarely go to shows anymore, but I did attend the NYC Popfest a few weekends ago, and wow, 21-year-old boys/men are just bizarre to interact with. I tried typical topics like job, neighborhood…but they don’t work and don’t pay their own rent. They’re kids. I may as well be their mom. Of course, people my age and older are still in bands and performing and they rule (listen to my friend Mario’s new band, Kids On a Crime Spree).
This certain enviable breed of young woman knows what to say and how to say it in a hilarious charming way that’s comedic in delivery, but refined and wise. Originally, this was an approach I saw as growing out of blogs. How could it possibly translate to long-form or traditional journalism? How do pithy, keen observers do “real” writing? Oh, then a New York Times Magazine column developed. Yeah, kind of bloggy but in print and more explanatory, though similar to what I’d expected.
But this week my mind was blown with a GQ celebrity cover story that was totally about the author, editor of The Hairpin (who I’m referring to obtusely here because I don’t like singling people out online. I do know her in the most minimal way, in that I wrote an article for her section when she was at Metromix and exchanged hellos at a brainstorm meeting. I'm a freak who remembers 99% of people I've met even only once, but I know this isn't the same for everyone). I mean, it was really fucking awesome and sums up 100-fold what I’ve been stumbling around articulating for the past few paragraphs. This is how young women who think they’re not young anymore (and I suppose are old enough to question young people music for even younger people) inject first-person into an article, a real article in a major national magazine, not an alt weekly or Bust or Jane or maybe Paper or Vice, you know, ‘90s options for breakout zine writers. Like you can do this sort of thing now. It’s how media works.
The tone? The antics? I’m analyzing and failing. Gen X in the same situation would be more literal and play up weird behavior they’d committed. They wouldn’t show any true weakness, i.e. admitting they were new to this celebrity profile thing. Glamour and aren’t I cool with a touch of slacky indifference. Guarded vs. earnest.
Gen Y makes getting black-out drunk seem charming and lady-like. Or should I say women in their 20s make being a mess seem interesting. Though I have a hard time imaging Gen Y at 40 being able to pull off such a feat. The tone is sweet, wholesome and unsure, exposing ineptness and inexperience and becoming more likeable in the process—because it all turned out and you’re reading it. Because it’s written by a confident person who knows her abilities even if feigning otherwise. They don’t fail so there’s no fear of failing. In some ways, they are like this. Meta.
This isn’t a bad way to be. I’m not grumbling. I’m totally fascinated. Like this is what aging is about, being self-aware and kind of scanning down and out like you’re standing on that frightening glass plank over the Grand Canyon and seeing all the busy generations floating below you. Maybe I’m confusing the wisdom of aging with the rapture or infants in purgatory.
I’m only feeling this now in my late 30s. I did not give teens behind me (I sort of contradict this above, but my point is that I wasn’t jealous—I thought the newcomers were weird and well-adjusted) nor my elders a second thought at 28, which is kind of the point. That’s when you’re just existing and self-absorbed and doing and maybe something great comes of it of maybe you chug along for another decade and realize no one gives you or your ilk a second thought. The gap will just grow and differences will become apparent and exaggerated from now until eternity.
I take a Spanish class with a woman in her 50s, one who just turned 60, same as my mom, and one who might be 70 but looks amazing because she’s a dancer. Do they think of each other this way? People lump everyone past 40 into a big middle-aged bucket, but a decade makes a difference. Growing up the 50s was not the same as in the 60s. I think once you have children and grandchildren differences cease mattering.
I have no conclusions because I have no ability to conclude, but if anything I don't want to end up being the grandparents in the "you’re more rocker than rocking chair" insurance ads (which I can't seem to find online–get with the social media, gramps. This insurance commercial, however, is hilarious). Born to Be Wild…Smells Like Teen Spirit…it's bound to happen eventually.