Wednesday, April 10, 2013

who cares if it's satire?

I had to ask myself why, in retrospect, I had been so excited to see Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers. I guess because it combined the Korine sensibility (which I know mainly from 1995's compelling Kids) with themes of pop culture, debauchery, and the lives of young women. I guess I hoped it would be like a self-aware version of "Jersey Shore." But I must've looked at my watch 50 times during the movie, with its endlessly repetitive footage and dialogue. It is about four college girls who go to Florida for a boilerplate Spring Break experience of drinking and partying, but get mixed up with a repulsive thug named Alien (James Franco) and go on a murder spree with him.

The whole thing comes off as generally banal and feels like a juvenile attempt to shock. Ooh, violence! Ooh, senseless nihilism! Since Korine is considered an art-house filmmaker, critics have been trying to layer meaning on top of it, earnestly pondering whether it's "satire" or dumb sexploitation, with the implication that if it's "satire," it is intelligent and worthwhile. But I am really sick of satire as a device for young men who consider themselves badass to wallow in self-admiration. (Is Harmony Korine "young"? He was born the same year as me. I will be 40 in 10 days, and I just don't know what to do with that. Yes. We are young.)

With surprising frequency, news articles appear about college students (always, or almost always, male) who publish articles in their college paper that are meant to be "satire" of sensitive, "taboo" (oooh) topics like RACE and RAPE, but their skills are so poor and the essays so hamhanded that they wind up coming across instead as examples of the bigoted, toxic attitudes the pieces supposedly satirize. Then they cause a stir because they're so offensive and hurtful. One technique they use is to bombard readers with as many stereotypes as possible, thinking that this has the effect of "subverting" those stereotypes, which is subversive. This happens so regularly that it seems like a recreational ritual for college boys who like to consider themselves smart, politically incorrect troublemakers. It's like the intellectual equivalent of Spring Break. There should really be a component of Freshman English called "What Is and Is Not Satire."

So I really don't think it's interesting to contemplate whether "Spring Breakers" was satire. If it was, that basically means that Korine was indulging in his preferred film-school version of beer funneling. If we contemplate it, we are indulging him. I mean, I know he's not just some random college sophomore, he's a celebrated indie filmmaker with a track record, but I just wish everyone would stop assuming that the question "is it satire" is the same as the question "is it intelligent."

The main flaw of the movie is that it's boring and repetitive. Is it a "commentary" on the moral bankruptcy of Today's Youth? I don't care. If it is, it's a boring one. The "commentary" basically is, "Look how terrible they are!"

But there are a few interesting things about the movie anyway. Let's talk about those instead of the question of whether it's satire.

It's one of the rare films that explores the way girls try to be hard-core. One false stereotype about girls is that they don't gain status from being hard-core, that they get femininity points for being quiet and accommodating. That's never been my experience of girlhood, especially when I was in the stage of youth (late teens) that these girls are in. But it's interesting to watch the four protagonists occupy different places on the continuum of most to least hard-core, and what it implies for each of them.

Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), with matching beach-blonde dye jobs, have a limitless appetite for danger and sleaze. After they stage a robbery of a diner to get money for their Florida trip, terrorizing its patrons, they're just completely high on their own power to create mayhem, and have an unqualified enthusiasm for any amount of sex, drugs, guns, crime, and murder. By the end of the movie, they're the only two girls still partying.

Next is pink-haired Cotty (Rachel Korine, Harmony's wife), who's a bit more toned-down. She drives Brit and Candy to the diner and stays in the car while they commit the robbery. She takes a nap while Brit and Candy force Alien to fellate his own (loaded) automatic weapons, laughing all the way. When she gets shot in the arm, she decides she's not having fun anymore and boards the bus home.

But the most uptight party-pooper of all is Faith (Selena Gomez), the sweet, religious "good girl" of the bunch, who has undyed dark hair and says, "I don't like this, I don't feel comfortable" when Alien first takes the girls under his wing, taking a special, creepy liking to her, stroking her chin, seeming like he's about to give her a disgusting kiss, echoing the sex scenes with Telly in Kids where he has sex with very young virgins, tells them he cares about them, and unknowingly gives them HIV. Faith, unlike those girls, isn't convinced, and gets on the bus home right after that.

It's an obtuse, clich├ęd cop-out on Korine's part that he uses religiousness as the basis for Faith's lack of faith (funny how that works) that everything will work out OK if she and her friends go off with this leering dirtbag. It reduces her, more than is necessary, to Luann, the shrill, bible-thumping prude in that other movie about a foursome of girls on spring break, Shag. But the movie is unexpectedly good to Faith, and to girls like her. I spent more than my share of time as a teenager playing the role of the shaky-voiced girl who's like "I don't like this, I wanna go home," and that was never fun. But Korine validates that girl, oddly enough. It isn't religion that saves Faith--it's a healthy self-preservation instinct.

Much as pop culture claims that all the best social-status rewards are reserved for the girls-gone-wild, Brit and Candy don't get any of those rewards. They get to become murderers, and they get to have sex with a truly repellent guy, the kind of guy who's usually portrayed as going to prostitutes who pretend to like him as part of their job but really find him unbearable. It seems genuinely weird that Brit and Candy seem to really enjoy having sex with him, rather than pretending to enjoy it--isn't pretending what girls are usually rewarded for? Being--if I may invoke Ashley Benson's claim to fame--pretty little liars? I mean, the dude is not even sexy-ugly, like Vincent Gallo in Buffalo '66. Faith, and to a lesser extent Cotty, are spared.

Meanwhile, the process by which Candy and Brit devolve into complete miscreants is also worth looking at. At the beginning they're just ordinary thrill-seeking teenagers, but the diner robbery does something to them. They're so blinded by the adrenaline rush of risk-taking that they don't seem to notice that the things they're doing aren't even fun. It's like the queasy downer version of 21, that movie about a bunch of MIT students who figure out how to cheat Vegas casinos and are power-drunk on their own outlaw cleverness; I got caught up in the adrenaline when I saw that movie. I felt the thrill. Here I didn't.

And I guess that's what the problem is: I wanted a movie about hedonism to at least feel a little hedonistic, to offer a little pleasure, which would lend some much-needed tension to the girls' leap off the deep end into despair. If the "commentary" is just that there is no pleasure, it's all sheer stultifying emptiness, then I guess Harmony Korine truly isn't young anymore.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Reading Alex Williams' "Hipsturbia" article on the front of the Styles section of the Sunday Times, I winced unbearably. Not least because I have been doing the Hipsturbia dance longer and harder than just about anyone I've met, and it has slowed down in recent years, because I've realized its futility and fatuousness, and because I've become less interested, and because it's become less necessary (more on that later). But I know it all too well, and I winced both because the people described in the article are doing the very same things I used to do, and because the way Williams takes it apart is insultingly disingenuous.

I grew up in Westchester County, where Williams claims that "hipsters" in their 30s, with children, are settling down. I now live in Putnam County, even farther away from Brooklyn, and I never actually lived in NYC at all, even though I aspired to live there for quite some time, and my entire social life pretty much took place there from 1996 (when I got my first job out of college) to 2011 (when I had a baby and everything changed). The planets never aligned in such a way that a move to Brooklyn, or anywhere else in the city, would have been practical, so I stayed a suburbanite the whole time, even though I maintained (ew, I can't believe I'm typing this) a "sensibility" (I know, gross, I'm sorry) that was in line with what people like Williams like to think of as "Brooklyn." And I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, especially from, say, 2002 on. Before that it was the East Village, but same thing.

It would not be exaggerating to say that I had a complex. I yearned, ached, pined for the environs where I lived to sport trappings of That Lifestyle. Anytime an independently owned (I refuse to use the word "indie") coffee place opened up in one of the towns near me, I got excited, but with reservations, because when you went into that coffee place, there was usually a maximum of one bearded MacBook user sitting there. And the Live Music (very important!) that they had on Friday and Saturday nights (but not on Tuesday or Wednesday nights) always sounded a little too much like the Dave Matthews Band and not enough like The National to fully be what I wanted it to be.

The "artisanal vegan soap" shop mentioned in the article, in Dobbs Ferry, would have inspired a similar happy dance in me 10 years ago, not because I had any special need or desire for artisanal vegan soap, or found it so convenient to have it available nearby, but because of what it signified. And that's the same thing Nicole Miziolek, an acupuncturist who, with her artist husband, was somehow able to afford an $860,000 house in Hastings, was doing when she told Williams, "I saw some moms out in Hastings with their kids with tattoos. A little glimmer of Williamsburg!" Oh, that exclamation point.

In 1998 you felt better about yourself because there was a yoga studio in your town; now there's a yoga studio in every town. But the trouble is, getting excited about a yoga studio in your town can only take you so far, and then you have to join the yoga studio and start practicing yoga there, and before long, this exercise starts to be about the yoga, and about the real relationships you have with the people you meet there, rather than what the presence of the studio in your town signifies about the town, and what it signifies about you that you live there. Which is a different thing entirely from wanting to live near a yoga studio because you practice yoga.

Because it's not really REAL to worry about what you "are." Whether you "are" hip, or a hipster, or Brooklynish, or whatever. Yet that's what underlies this whole line of thinking about "Hipsturbia"--it's not simply about finding a place to live where you feel comfortable, where you fit in. That's a perfectly understandable and universal sentiment. It's about aspiring to a certain lifestyle and wanting to brand yourself a certain way and having status anxiety. And never, ever admitting it.

Not admitting it is the first offense of the "Hipsturbia" article. The New York Times is notorious for droooooling over anything that bears the stamp of "hip" or "cool" in this way that really grates. It has been known to GUSH over the fact that someone who lives in a loft IS A FILMMAKER!!!!! And what's so annoying is, they never come out and say explicitly just what is so super-fantastic about that, because it's supposed to be obvious that the super-fantasticness lies in the fact that filmmakers and lofts are cool in that aspirational way, they have high status in the cultural-capital competition and don't you wish you were just like them? This offense courses through the "Hipsturbia" article too, making all the people interviewed in it seem like pretentious douchebags even though in real life they might be perfectly nice people. I mean, the acupuncturist-artist couple afforded that house somehow. It's the Times' fault that the article doesn't mention how.

The language used in the article is so uncomfortably familiar. One recent Irvington transplant said that when she goes to restaurants that serve certain kinds of cocktails, she thinks, "This place gets it." That whole concept, of "getting it," is so thorny, and its thorniness goes totally unexplored (i.e. tacitly endorsed) in the article. For practically my entire 20s and 30s, I was obsessed with people and places who "got it," and making sure there were always some of those in my midst despite having the incorrect area code. But why did I want them? Why does my heart still sink when I go to a restaurant with Exposed Brick as part of its decor, and the chalkboard wine list advertises "Pino [sic] Grigio"? Does it mean that exposed brick is not enough, and I now need either mason jars or Edison bulbs? Why does my heart soar when the shop next door to that restaurant offers hand-printed dishtowels with oak-tag labels that feature an web address?

It's not because I don't have enough friends. If that were the reason, this would be legitimate, in the sense of, "I wish I could meet people who had things in common with me." It's about whether you deem your surroundings "good enough" to satisfy the snob in you. This strain of snobbery isn't exactly about money, but it's not exactly NOT about money either. It's about what it implies that you name your kids Denim and Bowie, as one couple in the article did.

And let's say you craft your lifestyle to be perfect, to curate your environment so that it includes ONLY people and things that "get it." Then what? Do you just stand there, as if posed for a photo? Well, you can do yoga, cook with locavore ingredients, make art or play music, but you could've anyway. Or maybe you couldn't. I don't know how to play the bass. But I could have learned, if the time I'd spent shopping for the perfect outfit to express my membership in that club had been spent learning bass instead.

Williams refers repeatedly to the concept of a certain kind of person. "We were the we'll-never-leave-Brooklyn types," Miziolek tells him. The "creative class" is mentioned, as is the "character of the river towns" and the "aesthetic" of people who move there. Type, class, character, aesthetic--just all these terms that allude to labels and brands. Which the article implies is a perfectly reasonable #1 reason to make all the life choices you make. In fact, that it should be your #1 reason. It really shouldn't.

There are also plenty of words about symbolism--"signs of creative ferment," "glimpses of 'Portlandia'"--that just highlight how ignored the non-symbolic, concrete aspects of life in this tableau are. How is the artisanal soap shop doing? I hope they're making a profit.

The second problem is he imbues these choices with much more meaning, or different meaning, than they really have.

It's true that the hipster parts of Brooklyn have become too expensive for most people in recent years, and that's why most former residents of those areas have decamped to areas less well known for their hipness. Five years ago, I saw friends who had previously lived in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Clinton Hill and Park Slope move to less expensive, less hipness-saturated neighborhoods like Gravesend, Richmond Hill, and Sunnyside.  It seemed that this happened because my friends were getting older, and their priorities were changing. Then when you have kids, priorities change even more, and certain everyday realities (like living in a third-floor walkup) become problems. Isn't it easier to strap your child into a car seat and drive somewhere than carry a stroller down the subway stairs? I don't envy the friends who are still in the city, now with kids, who are doing that.

But the article claims that this is a phenomenon mainly because the "artsy," "culturally attuned" people of hipster Brooklyn have been priced out of it, not because they've gotten older and their priorities have changed. I gotta tellya, when I was 26, in 1999, there was nowhere aimed at people my age living up here who "got it" in that sense; the closest I got was places aimed at college kids at Westchester colleges, who were 20 and would probably move to Brooklyn the day they graduated. All of twentysomething nightlife and culture was way more Snooki than Lena Dunham. (Think lots of half-price jello shots and no alt-comedy.) But these people, in the article, are all at least 30. And the twentysomething nightlife that exists in the suburbs is STILL just as Snooki and non–Lena Dunham as ever. Yet, there's pub trivia here now. There are summer concerts on the river featuring surf-rock bands in rockabilly outfits. There weren't, 5 years ago--it was all folk and classic rock.

So does this mean these people are just doing what every generation before them has done and moved to the suburbs in their 30s to have kids? Well, what's different about these people (which Williams is overawed by), according to the article, is that they're bringing their aesthetic with them from Brooklyn rather than settling for the chain stores and other trappings of unsophisticated suburbanness that their parents did.

That's such an offensive way to look at it. That aesthetic, while stereotypically associated with Brooklyn and very popular in Brooklyn, is not intrinsically OF Brooklyn. It does not sprout up in Hastings and Tarrytown because Brooklynites "bring it with them" when they move there. It is a cultural phenomenon of our time, as opposed to our parents' time. Just as there were hippies in the suburbs in 1969, there are these people here now.

It has to do with our generation. Generation X, who are now largely in their 30s and 40s, has a different approach to being in one's 30s and 40s than previous generations did. We are the first generation to hold onto aspects of youth culture through adulthood, even as we do conventional things like getting married and having kids and progressing in our careers. The whole twee-artisanal-locavore-hipster (whatever you want to call it) lifestyle that certain privileged, overeducated Gen X adults identify with is a generational phenomenon that applies to people our age and younger. Thus, when we turn 30 or 35 or 40, and have kids, and our priorities change, and the suburbs seem attractive for reasons not related to our personal identity mythology, that phenomenon will naturally emerge in the suburbs. In other words, it's not about Brooklyn. It's about people born in 1973 turning 40 this year. A subset of our age group has always leaned that way, culturally. It's just that when we were 26, people our age in New York almost uniformly lived in Brooklyn (or at least Astoria or the Lower East Side). Now, as we age, some of us in the city are leaving, but we're still the same people.

Meanwhile, Gen X tends not to "look old" in its presentation--the women have long, flowing hair and everyone wears jeans and t-shirts--the way older generations did at our age. So it makes it appear that "young people" are moving to the suburbs, when really we're just as old or older than our parents were. (My parents moved to Hartsdale from Queens when they were in their mid-20s and had me shortly thereafter.)

What's offensive about saying it's about Brooklyn is, that claim just lends credence to that annoying New York Times starry-eyedness about filmmakers living in lofts but-who-cares-what-the-films-are-about. The starry-eyedness continues as the Hipsturbia article lists various Westchester river towns and names one hipstery business in each town, trying to imply that the presence of that one business exemplifies the character of the town.

I'll have you know that while Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Irvington, and Tarrytown are all very beautiful and pleasant, and there are plenty of good restaurants that you would say "get it" if you were into saying such things, and they are "artsy" in a way that Scarsdale and Yorktown Heights are not, they hardly (not now, and not in 2003) feel like hipster Brooklyn. They feel the same way they always felt: Like moneyed suburbs full of middle-aged parents who are more into the arts than the average suburbanite. Now that there are more 35-year-olds moving there, that means that yes, there are going to be more stores selling moose heads made of felt, and fewer stores selling the kinds of "artsy" baby-boomer items, like huge black shapeless floor-length linen dresses that cost $200 and maybe have some subtle batik work going on there. (As Jessica Grose of Slate noted in her response to the article, Eileen Fisher is headquartered in Irvington).

It's genuinely weird that Williams chose Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Irvington and Garrison to profile for this article while ignoring Peekskill and Beacon, which have much more hipster activity than any of those towns. Tarrytown isn't that weird a choice, since not only Village Dog and the Music Hall are there, but also Coffee Labs, which totally "gets it" in terms of urban coffee culture. But Peekskill and Beacon aren't wealthy the way Dobbs Ferry, Hastings and Irvington are. And it's troubling to think that that's why the article profiles the towns that it does.

It brings up the perennial question, just what is a hipster? Since no one is allowed to call themselves a hipster, it is always problematic to write about them. But the aesthetic deemed "hipster" in this article is something that just about anyone my age who's been to college is familiar with. It's pretty widely known and practiced. The people pictured in the article all look like they could be just as at home on the Upper West Side as in Williamsburg. So does that mean a "hipster" just is anyone with some vaguely "alt" urban cultural sophistication?

It reminds me of the 2003 book A Field Guide to the Urban Hipster by Josh Aiello, the lesser-known cousin of Robert Lanham's of-the-same-time Hipster Handbook. Aiello's definition of "hipster" is extremely broad, encompassing not just the expected DJs and fashion types, but also ex–frat boys, outlaw bikers, and goths, to name a few categories that seemed not to belong there. I'm not exactly sure how he determined who was a hipster and who was not, but my best guess is, he thinks anyone who can loosely be defined as part of a "subculture" is a hipster. Or, anyone who goes to bars. Anyone other than the most staid McMansion-dwelling middle-management golfer.

And at the heart of the "Hipsturbia" article, the most disturbing (hipsturbing?) thing about it, is the assumption that "the suburbs" always means that staid golfer. That it's worth marveling that people with actual Taste! and Style! are deigning to live there (WE WERE ALWAYS HERE, in some form, but our generation brings with it different signifiers of that taste and style), so maybe it isn't the barren landscape that it was before.

But there is complicated truth and falseness to both sides of that argument. On the one hand, it is a barren landscape, with its Snooki nightlife, cafes with one person in them, Lite FM on restaurant sound systems, and other phenomena that just fail to measure up to the Brooklyn Ideal. As the article admits, the family in Hastings with the groovily-named kids are the youngest adults on their block. But on the other hand, there have been independent coffeehouses and yoga studios in the river towns ever since the 90s. There have always been artistically inclined families with college educations living here. It may not be twee nightlife central, but it's just not so black and white as all that. So you really have to start questioning, rather than lauding, the impulse to define yourself by whether you live in a place where enough people are tattooed (with the right kind of tattoos).

Indeed, the article relies on the laziest, most cliched signifiers. The worst one is in the cartoon that accompanies the article: A man walks down a street wearing a shirt with the word "irony" on it. I believe that using the words "irony" and "ironic" to humorously denote the presence of hipsters is just SO FAR GONE that you can't even do it anymore. They're like symbols of symbols of symbols, ultra-shorthand that has lost its meaning. Do you even remember what irony is, or just that the word "irony" is a synonym for "hipster"? This Thought Catalog piece on "the 25 best hipster buzzwords" used in the article gets at this problem. "Hipsturbia" is an article about people trying to apply buzzwords to themselves, and the New York Times congratulating them and encouraging them in that endeavor.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I made the opposite choices from Elizabeth Wurtzel--and I still understand what she's getting at

As insufferable as Elizabeth Wurtzel is, and she is, just the same way she's always been--I see what she's saying in this article, "Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night-Stand of a Life."

The article is about being 44 and having essentially the same unmoored life she had at 24 and instead of feeling energized by it all, she's sad and tired and even scared. It's about how she was successful starting at a very young age doing something very glamorous and fun in New York City, and just never traded in the lifestyle that came along with that for a more settled, less chaotic existence because she's never been willing to compromise. And now she feels this feeling of "enough." She writes, of dating, "I don’t think I really want to be going to the new P. T. Anderson movie and Mission Chinese with someone new when I’m 85." She never chose to "settle down" the way the majority of people do between 24 and 44. She is unmarried, has no kids, rents rather than owns, and lives in cold hard Manhattan, rather than the kinder, gentler boroughs. (I was closer to 30 than 40 when I stopped wanting to go out in Manhattan, much less live there, and started wanting to stick to Brooklyn and Queens.)

I see what she's saying because I know that feeling of "enough." That was in large part what drove me to choose as settled-down a life as I have. I don't know if I have the stomach for as much shit as Wurtzel has been through. Her article is structured around a traumatic incident that happened to her last year--the woman she was subletting from broke into her apartment repeatedly, threatened and harassed and stole from her, and the police refused to help her, taking the other woman's side. She had to leave her own home for safety. In the course of telling us this, she reveals that a friend of hers had already had the same problem with this woman. My thought was, and she still chose to live there, knowing that? Forget whether this makes her stupid. My point is, I would never enter into a relationship with a stranger if I already knew that about them, no matter how amazing the apartment was. Some people would, because the amazingness of the apartment is more important to them than a feeling of general safety. So I know how she is feeling now, needing safety all of a sudden. Because I have always needed it.

As romantic as it might be to always choose swooning love-at-first-sight passion over comfort and safety, I have always felt there is a limit to the romance of that life. Too often, it feels cold and empty. If there is no permanence to anything, it's just you out there, trying to get the attention of people who don't care about you, trying to forge connections in impersonal places, making yourself vulnerable to liars and thieves, numbing yourself with alcohol and drugs.

The other thing is everyone wonders about the road not taken, especially around this time of life when you feel so ensconced in whatever place you're in that it starts to be alarming how far away you are from any other options, even if you're happy. I settled down and had a baby, and of course I've wondered at times (more so a decade ago than today) what would have happened if I had stayed single through my 20s, and maybe 30s, and instead thrown myself wholly into the same sort of hard-partying literary career, full of one-night-stands and drugs and flirtations that flame out spectacularly, that Wurtzel had. New lovers all the time, but also breakups all the time, because staying with anyone less than perfect is "settling." So when she wonders "what if" about having chosen a life like mine, she's really doing the same thing. None of us can really know, can we? But we chose the way we chose because we are who we are.

So when Elizabeth Wurtzel says she is unhappily resigned to living out her days as a wild-eyed, uncompromising thrill-seeker, though now she realizes her unwillingness to compromise is "about feeling trapped when I am doing something I don’t like, and...probably more childish than anything else," I get it. Because that's who she is. Just like I know that I need some measure of stability and comfort in my life, or else I will feel absolutely debilitated and unable to create great works of art or enjoy intoxicating encounters with strangers at parties or whatever. That's my limitation. As I stare down my 40th birthday, I know that, and I've taken steps along the way to accommodate myself to that, just like Elizabeth knows her limitation and has tried to live within it, bearing whatever sacrifices she had to make along the way.

Because, as it turns out, you always have to make sacrifices. Even if you never compromise, you sacrifice the things you would have had if you had chosen the other path. All compromises are in the interest of getting something you want. We take imperfect jobs for the money, we keep going back to a guy who mistreats us because he's sexually thrilling. We wouldn't compromise if we didn't get something out of it. If you don't compromise, you lose those things.

For a while I've been of the belief that most people just make do as best they can with the resources available to them, and Elizabeth Wurtzel is no different from the rest of us in that regard, she just had different resources available to her. For instance, she had a successful writing career at a young age, something many of us strive for and never get, with much greater and longer-term effort than she ever had to expend. So, that plus a propensity for living life on the edge and never compromising = living alone in a romantic but disconnected and vulnerable way in a New York City sublet at age 44.

Sure, it's annoying that she seems so unaware of how her circumstances have shaped her point of view. Like, she doesn't think things would have turned out any different for her even if, say, she had met with some failure, some resistance, when she first tried to have a writing career based on spilling her deeply personal and emotional life onto the page, the way most people who try that end up doing. But the fact remains, early success is what happened to her, and other stuff didn't. She could stand to be less myopic about it, but what she did was really pretty universal: She took what life handed her and went with it. You could say the same thing about me, in a way.

I met my now-husband when I was only 24, an age that's considered extremely young in New York-ish circles. I've been with him, monogamously, for more than 15 years. You could say I "chose" monogamy, but what if I'd never met him? Maybe I'd still be dating now. Maybe I'd be the one living in that illegal Chelsea sub-basement. And Elizabeth Wurtzel says she's primally driven to bleed her truth onto the page as a way of life, but what if that way of life hadn't proven lucrative for her? Maybe she'd have some nice-girl publishing job that entails more of a suppression of self than a baring-all, just to pay her rent. Maybe she'd have gone to law school sooner and had a job making binders.

It's the same old stupid fatuous post-9/11 Elizabeth Wurtzel (who famously called the sight of people jumping from the World Trade Center "the most amazing sight") here who calls women who are supported by their husbands "prostitutes," so this declaration didn't really get anything more than an eyeroll from me, especially since she says in the same breath that it would "feel imprisoning" to "get through every day, through a job of staring at pencil marks in spreadsheets through glassy eyes"--when someone who didn't publish Prozac Nation at age 26, and yet refused to be supported by her husband, would probably be forced to do just that. It reminds me a lot of Amy Sohn's narrow-minded rejection of stay-at-home moms, in which she ignored the reality that most working women do not have access to a career that is lucrative, flexible, or interesting, so for those women, staying at home may be the better choice. It is my belief that when women become mothers, their choice to stay home or work depends mostly on that same thing I mentioned before--the specific circumstances of their life, and what makes the most sense at the time. What if Elizabeth Wurtzel had struggled for years to get one lousy personal essay published in some amateur zine, but met a wonderful guy she loved who had enough money to support them both? Would she have taken a job that involved staring at spreadsheets through glassy eyes just to avoid being a "prostitute"?

At the same time, calling them "prostitutes" just shows how little Wurtzel knows about relationships. A prostitute is a woman who a man pays to have sex with him, and maybe to pretend to like him. That isn't really the way marriage works, unless it's a very dysfunctional marriage. I would never want to be married to a man who saw me only as someone to have sex with, even if he supported me financially. I also would never marry a man I only pretended to like. That's a compromise I'd never make, while we're on the subject of compromise. But, based on this essay, it seems like Elizabeth would never "settle" for any romantic relationship that wasn't at least 75% about sex, so you have to consider that context.

But it is nice to finally know how she got that job as "music critic" at the New Yorker all those years ago. Toward the beginning of the time that I knew of Wurtzel--my first exposure to her was when I picked up a copy of Prozac Nation from a table at Barnes and Noble during my first summer out of college, 1995--I read that she had simply called up the New Yorker and asked them for that job and they gave it to her. It seemed inexplicable, when all she had was a college degree and a college journalism award. A lot of people have that stuff, and no one gets to write for the New Yorker just like that. But in this article, at long last, she reveals: During college, she had an internship at New York Magazine. Then, after college, she wrote about music for that magazine, an opportunity she likely had because of contacts she made during her internship. Only after that did she get to write about music for the New Yorker--and that makes a whole hell of a lot more sense.

Perhaps it is the perspective of middle age that has finally helped Wurtzel feel magnanimous enough to share that information--or maybe now is the first time she's realized it was relevant, that in the past she was indeed so naive as to believe that just cold-calling the New Yorker is the same thing as what really happened. I suppose if you leapfrog straight from New York intern to New York columnist to New Yorker columnist to the bestselling author of Prozac Nation, that level of naivete is possible.

But just like everyone, her lot in life is a combination of psychological tendencies, strategy, and luck. She made choices with certain goals in mind, and sometimes they turned out well (career-making book deal) and sometimes not so well (crazy landlady). The choices she made are ones that a minority of people would make, and that minority does not include me, but I think we all wonder what would have happened if we'd gone the other way. If we'd had different psychological tendencies, maybe, that led different choices to seem attractive. If we were a different person.

Which is exactly what she's saying. "Maybe I should have been wiser. But the only way I could have was to have been a completely different person," she writes. I feel the opposite but same way about my life: The commitments I made when I was younger are serving me very well now, but I didn't make them because of how well they would serve me in the future, I made them because I couldn't stand not to. If I had chosen the other thing--a studio apartment in the far East Village and maybe a coke habit and staying out every night and really devoting myself wholly and entirely to the edgy downtown writer thing--maybe my writing career would have progressed more than it did, but how could I have gotten there, when that kind of cold urban loneliness makes me cry? I've always known that it made me cry.

It's only just now making Elizabeth Wurtzel cry. It happens to people more easily the older they get. Maybe she'll change. I know I've changed. When I was 24, I would have loved nothing more than to publish a raw and revealing memoir along the lines of Prozac Nation. If I were 24 now, I might just do that on a Tumblr. But I don't want to anymore. I'm happy with my husband and kid and warm little house. Sure, having that kind of life sometimes means there are things I can't do, that I'd like to do. Just finding time to write this blog post was a major effort. I never get to see movies on opening night anymore. These things sometimes bug me, but overall, I think the sacrifices are worth it.