Friday, November 1, 2013


How My Obsession With Furnishing A Future Put Me Nearly $40,000 In Debt

In April of 2009, I was 22, debt-free, and a month away from graduating from an expensive, private liberal arts school whose primary focus, beyond education, was the careful comfort of its 2,000 students. This was a place where free cocoa was dispensed in the library lobby beginning at midnight, where students could invent and design their own major, and where parents—from their darkened dens—could elect to send ‘Spoil ‘em Long Distance’ care packages from the college’s online bookstore; they were delicate wicker baskets containing pucks of brie and water crackers. My parents—a pharmaceutical chemist and French teacher who’d fallen in love on that same campus—had paid my tuition in-full, an average of $48,000 a year, insisting there was no need to apply for student loans or even federal aid. It was a gift, they told me simply—something they could easily afford, and would.

“Our contribution,” they said often, though in truth, it was one of many.

What I didn’t know then—what I would learn several years later—is that the month following my graduation marked the highest rate of unemployment in the ongoing economic crisis, and while the majority of my peers faced unpaid internships or regression in the form of moving back in with their parents, somehow—and against what I perceived to be all odds—I’d been offered admission into the prestigious University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, and offered a full-ride to do so. I would teach my own undergraduate class, the director told me, and design my own assignments. The fellowship not only made my move across the country and my subsequent enrollment possible, but also provided a monthly stipend that could, if I lived frugally, offset the cost of bills and rent, a tank of gas and a few trunk loads of groceries. I believed my future bright and it seemed nothing—most especially finances—could keep me from my dream.

Flash-forward four years: I am now nearly $40,000 in debt.

It started small, as these things do: in this particular case, with a 4’ x 8’ cargo trailer rented with money I’d saved from nannying—from tying shoes and making lunches and designing intricate scavenger hunts with clues I’d hide around the house.

Find me where Daisy-Dog dreams and sleeps!

I’m hiding in a spot the postman feeds!

I was ecstatic, to put it simply: pleased with the universe and pleased with possibility and pleased, most of all, with myself—for finding a way out of Pennsylvania and the dusty riverbed trailer parks and one-lane bridges and gravel dead-end drives I’d long called home. Iowa was a place not altogether different from Pennsylvania, but still everything about it seemed sexier: the fields of yellow corn stretching outwards to touch a blue-green sky, tall men standing in prairie grass, children in denim overalls with wide-mouthed Kool-Aid grins and white blond hair. Never mind the critical insight and self-awareness that would present itself shortly thereafter and with unparalleled intensity: how I’d been privileged from the start, how I’d long had an upper-hand, how the position where I now found myself had about as much to do with me as it did cosmology, or Reiki energy. I’d been lucky, plain and simple, and advantaged from the start.

Still, in August I loaded that U-Haul with what little possessions I owned, crossing one state line and then another. Months earlier, I’d found an apartment on Craigslist for a mere $700 a month, which was still a good $150 more than I’d budgeted, but it was serene and beautiful, with hundred-year-old Murphy Oiled hardwood and floor-to-ceiling windows that I liked most especially for their rumored morning light. I knew from my conversations with the landlord that the building was occupied primarily by young professionals, and I liked to imagine my carefree days, writing thoughtful and inspired essays, and my nights spent on the building’s stoop, where I’d grill shrimp and trade books for books.

“Raymond Carver is talented as fuck,” I’d say, and some man eight or ten years older would laugh in a way I’d later think about in bed.

And yet when I arrived to my new town and my slightly over-budget apartment, it was not awe but bewilderment that pronounced itself nearly immediately. My colleagues were baffled by my indulgence, by my lack of hesitation or anxiety. Their own apartments cost between $450 and $525 a month—this is the beauty of Iowa City—or else more and they took on a roommate. Most had partners or they were married or they freelanced often or they worked part-time. Every penny counted, they reminded me, every dollar one less I’d have to earn when the summer months interrupted our monthly stipend. 

“You live carefully enough around here,” they said, “and you can keep that time for yourself, carve out a good four months where you can write exclusively.”

Why did I not listen? These were the brilliant minds with which I shared my time, and they were on a full-ride, too. Like me, several were, thus far, free of the shackles of student loans, but still I disregarded any and all warnings. My apartment seemed a necessary indulgence, a quiet space in which I’d work and read without the concern of a noisy roommate. So what if I took on a few student loans? Where was the shame in having a little extra money thrown my way? If anything, it seemed smart; unlike the majority of my colleagues who’d been out of school for many years, I had no savings cushion, no chunk of change I could withdraw if I had a flat tire or an emergency. My scholarship granted me an annual salary of $11,416 in addition to a $2,600 award—which is fine money when you live in Iowa—but what if a disaster presented itself? What if an opportunity arose? I was 22 and wanted everything; to know the world, when I’m being honest—to see and experience and learn existence as much as I possibly could.

It was naïve, of course. I know that. But there was an urgency—a feeling deep within me that I have a hard time, even now, explaining. I wanted to avail myself to everything, to whatever life could possibly throw my way, and so I excused myself when that first semester, I took out the maximum amount possible: $8,500. But then I took to worrying about my too-high rent, about the cost of groceries and car insurance, the many unknowable and unanticipated expenditures that adult life might entail, so I took out the same amount the following spring. And then that fall. And then that spring.

I wanted, frankly, to share a life. And because I did not yet have that—because I’d moved a thousand miles away from my family and my longtime boyfriend and the only home I’d ever known—I thought money could keep me company.

It quickly became a pattern. I had friends—many of them, really—but I felt isolated and alone and hungry for a lifestyle I did not yet have. Everyone around me was in love, and I wanted to be in love, as well. I wanted a partner, someone with whom I might share my work and my time and my space, my from-scratch cookies and my roasted duck. I wanted, frankly, to share a life. And because I did not yet have that—because I’d moved a thousand miles away from my family and my longtime boyfriend and the only home I’d ever known—I thought money could keep me company. I thought through purchases, I could usher in a more fulfilling life.

At the risk of full-disclosure, I have been accused, on many occasions, of thinking via catalogues. Consider my brain like a Pinterest board. It has always been this way, though it was further perpetuated by my first boyfriend and our pseudo-adult materialistic lifestyle, celebrated in graduate school by my mentor who said he admired it above all else about my prose, and what I’ve otherwise been told by boyfriends is both ‘problematic’ and ‘rather charming.’ Ask me about the future and I’ll tell you what I want via color-coordinated sleepwear and tents with roll-away, screened-in skylights.

Ask about the children and I’ll tell you all about my plans for headboard bunting.

Anonymous faces on the Internet have, on occasion, criticized my writing—and as it’s a reflection of the self, of course me, too—for this careful cataloguing of objects as indicative of the deepest sort of immaturity, but on the contrary, it’s precisely these images that stand in for the deepest meaning: within the tent is intimate fun and family. In the sleepwear, the face of love.

Objects signify for me what is otherwise inexpressible; because love itself is so abstract, I reroute my emotions to the concrete, and in the case of my three years in Iowa, I rerouted them specifically via my credit card. My classes—those I took and taught—were always scheduled for the evening, so each morning, I woke early to get in my car and explore the area’s home goods stores. There were the ones I was most familiar with, Kohl’s and Home Goods and Target, and the new Midwestern stores, including Von Maur and Stuff and Gordman’s. I’d walk up and down their careful aisles and peruse end tables in vintage cherry. I bought artwork I deemed professional. I bought a $350 kitchen table and my first-ever flat-screen TV, a shower curtain in pleated lavender, and five throw pillows for $40 each. I bought a decorative glass mixing-bowl set, a milk frother, a Bodum clear glass teakettle and a—I kid you not—crème brûlée water bath.

I took to assembling a certain lifestyle, the kind I imagined enjoyed by my contemporaries, and I fit these items into my apartment the way I began to fit them into my life.

There was even a faux tree—one that stands now in a box in my parents’ basement—and this I remember distinctly for the phone call I made just before its purchase.

“Is $120 too much for a faux tree,” I asked a colleague, a man for whom I’d long harbored a crush, “if it really compliments the space?”

“Yes,” he said.

Of course.

Still, I could not be stopped, most especially by criticism. I was young, much younger than most of my peers, and I wanted to feel through physicality what I felt inside the classroom: that we were equal, more or less. That my youngness was not necessarily an impediment to my thoughts or my impressions or my criticism of a colleague’s work. I wanted to be taken seriously, and I didn’t know how else to do that except through a general “chameleoning” of goods. I’d outgrown my former apartment—the one I’d rented in Pennsylvania, complete with neon swivel standing lights and a cheap poster of Van Gogh’s “Café Terrace on the Place du Forum,” which I owned only so that I could say I’d seen the site for myself in the French town of Arles.

“Look,” I’d say, exuberant, removing from a nearby photo album the picture of my tiny, twenty-something hand, bitten-down nails and chipped polish alike, holding up a postcard-sized version and, beyond it, the inspiration, the canopy still a deep goldenrod and drooping in a way that suggested a need to nap.

I wasn’t altogether oblivious. I knew even then that the choices I was making would not come without proper consequence, but the hope was always that it would all work out: I’d sell a book or acquire a lucrative job offer or otherwise find a stable salary upon graduation, and amazingly, that proved true; two weeks before graduation, I was awarded a writing fellowship at Colgate University, which carried with it a $35,000 salary. And yet I was $38,866 in debt. And while Colgate was located in an inexpensive, rural town where I could live comfortably for, say, $700 a month, I again made an unprecedentedly indulgent decision in the form of a 100-year-old farmhouse located on 380 acres of pristine, rural New York countryside. It was idyllic, or so it seemed, with sloping shutters and a sleepy exterior, a red-stained porch and a big back yard. In the side lawn, under a giant tree, was an all-glass table and some patio chairs and a view of Scottish Highland cows grazing under a soft pink moon.

The monthly rent alone should’ve been enough to dissuade me, but it wasn’t, nor was the additional expense of the monthly oil delivery—necessary from October until the end of April—as the house took kerosene, a characteristic I’d—however naively—initially deemed “romantic.”

You know what I’m going to say, here—how I pictured a man reading books to me aloud on a lazy Sunday, his feet propped up in shearling slippers, his reading glasses crooked in a way meant to invoke from me lighthearted laughter.

The cost of both combined—the oil and the farmhouse’s rent—was unequivocally outrageous, consuming nearly all of my monthly pay, and this time, for the first time ever, there was no loans available to back me up. This, at 25, was the first time in my life in which I had to live from careful paycheck to careful paycheck, and always it seemed surprising to see how quickly they disappeared.

“Oh my god,” my friends would coo at night from their couches a thousand miles away. “You’re living a life like in a movie.”

“Sure,” I’d say, “totally.” But I was aware even as I said it how steeped in privilege my life now was, how unnecessarily indulgent and self-serving, how wasting money now seemed engrained. It wasn’t until late winter, until a night in which it snowed so hard I worried aloud about the ceiling caving, that I realized my own reality: I was alone, utterly alone, in a nightmare of my own making. I was surrounded by my purchases, insulated teapots and ticket stubs alike, but there was no one—not even one—who would sit beside me and invoke their use. No amount of money could ever manifest another person, or a sense of serene security, or prolonged, grounded contentment.

Nearly a full year later and 300 miles from that old farmhouse, I recognize now to myself that there was more to my story than that; this was more than a case of excessive nesting. I was sad, and right to be. I had been taught—my whole life—that the combination of hard work and determination yielded an earnest, honest love, the admiration of a good man. Above all, I believed it protected you from the worst of what life offered.

But in that same month in which I’d been granted admission to Iowa—that same night, if you can believe it—another story was unfolding, this one of a friend who suffered psychosis and unprecedentedly murdered a 19-year-old girl. This is not about that—something that makes its way into my writing so very often—but it is about one’s sense of safety, the way grief can interrupt your normal processes, the health functioning of heart and mind.

No one, in this life, is safe from the vast and deep unknowable, and it made me desperate for security—if not a man in embodiment, then a home that was clean and nicely scented.

This, I realize now, had everything to do with what I did—not his actions, necessarily, but how they forced within me an awful awareness that no act of kindness or compassion could protect you or the ones you loved. No one, in this life, is safe from the vast and deep unknowable, and it made me desperate for security—if not a man in embodiment, then a home that was clean and nicely scented.

In furnishing my home—in spending nearly 40,000 dollars of students loans on linen curtains and homemade granola—I hoped to usher in a catalogue lifestyle, complete with dog and friends and family. A home so nicely furnished it seemed antithetical to violent crime.

In May, that fellowship ended, and the student loan bill I pay each month is high, of which only approximately $50 directly applies to paying down my loans. The rest cover the accrued interest. And yet when I’m truly honest with myself—as I’ve been known to often self-deceive—the fact is I don’t regret my indulgent and repeatedly foolish decisions. Often, I feel guilt, or shame, or vanity at my own materialism, but I’m forgiving of my own mistakes because I think I have to be. Because I think they were necessary. Only in spinning wildly out of control (or, the wildest one can within the confines of a home goods store) did I learn the truth about myself, my internal processes, my need for help. I can joke about it now, but in truth, I “retail therapied” my way into therapy. It took monthly statements of all that I owed to realize what I’d been seeking all along; those loans and all that debt—they caused me to finally deal with the tragic and violent thing that long ago happened. And so when one day I do finally have a family—or, at least, a partner who knows all of me, the good and bad alike—the silver lining, I think, is this: at least I’ll have a healthy space that’s warm and ready.


Photo via paulidin/flickr.

Amy Butcher is an essayist whose work appears in Tin House, Salon, Gawker, The Kenyon Review, The Rumpus: Funny Women, and Brevity, among others. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program and serves as editor of Defunct. More at amyebutcher.com.

188 Comments / Post A Comment

honey cowl

Wow. I love this.


@honey cowl Me too! Beautifully written.

honey cowl

I feel very awkward about this being the first comment with all that went on below; really, I did love this. I loved the writing, even when I didn't love the sentiment.


My fears realized.


This piece is so fantastic!! Your writing is clear and... I don't know how to say it's full of beautiful descriptions of objects and how they act as wells of longing.

This line resonated brutally with me: "But I was aware even as I said it how steeped in privilege my life now was, how unnecessarily indulgent and self-serving, how wasting money now seemed engrained" Fuuuuuuck how I resemble this comment. Even today at lunch I bought an unnecessary magazine while tearing up over my insane VISA statement. Stop it!

Any advice on sating that lust for objects, people?


@Pompis Everything you just said and probably a little more. I could not articulate it, but yes, me too.


@Pompis Hopping in this thread just to see if anyone comes up with a great answer for the object-lust, because boy howdy, do I have it.

Oh, squiggles

Sating object lust is something I have spent quite a lot of time working on. This article is great, it really does describe the way it feels. That heady longing you get from the promise of a life that an object implies. Except it doesn't really happen. If you get that one expensive dress that flatters you so well, maybe you do get a boost whenever you wear it, but it doesn't transform you into a perfect person who never has another issue with confidence or self-image. And the comforter set doesn't scare away nightmares, doesn't convince you to get to bed at a proper hour, doesn't soothe mind when insomnia rages. And so on, ect. ect.

One of things I do is wait a bit before making any purchases. If my desire to purchase something is driven by something else, another feeling I'm trying to deal with, then if I wait a bit on my purchase, sometimes the lust for the object fades and I realized I didn't need that thing to begin with. It's much easier to just keep a tab open on my computer than to actually buy the thing, and realize a week later that I don't really need it. If I wait for a couple of days, and I still want it, still see a real reason for needing it (good winter shoes for example) then I will go ahead and get it. But I also have become really discriminating with my objects. I don't let myself settle for things that are only partially what I had in mind. It helps to only order things from places with good return policies. It's about being picky because you are trying to treat yourself well, by only getting the things that are truly right for you.

It does also help to try and parse the reasons behind some of the purchases. If you are getting something because you imagine a friend coming over and remarking on it, maybe you actually just need to spend some quality time with a good friend.

Anyway, that's just some of the ways I try to deal with my own materialism/object lust/retail therapy.

Hellion of Troy

@Oh, squiggles I'm also going to reply to you up here, because reading this I think I get where you're coming from. I'm not angry at the concept of a post about object lust and how it hurts people, just the execution. What you just wrote is already miles better.


This is really beautiful and wrenches my heart in a way I didn't expect. I really identify with the longing and impulse to buy the catalogue lifestyle, so to speak, though not in such an extreme way.
But I live alone in a nice apartment on which I spend an embarrassing 50% of my take-home pay, and I like nice things like manicures and Le Creuset dutch ovens and beautiful undergarments. I understand that I want a beautiful environment not just for myself, but to ensconce my loved ones in, and I feel the loneliness of this quote especially:

I had friends—many of them, really—but I felt isolated and alone and hungry for a lifestyle I did not yet have. Everyone around me was in love, and I wanted to be in love, as well. I wanted a partner, someone with whom I might share my work and my time and my space, my from-scratch cookies and my roasted duck. I wanted, frankly, to share a life.

I think there's something in my eye..

@planforamiracle See, I love what you describe, even though the woman in this piece makes my eyes roll all over. Because this, what you wrote: "But I live alone in a nice apartment on which I spend an embarrassing 50% of my take-home pay, and I like nice things like manicures and Le Creuset dutch ovens and beautiful undergarments. I understand that I want a beautiful environment not just for myself, but to ensconce my loved ones in, and I feel the loneliness of this quote especially..."

I love that. And that is reasonable. But it also seems like you're saying "hey, priorities," and not "hey, I have no idea how lavish my lifestyle is." And you're working and making your money and not using money earmarked for student living expenses to bankroll a Pottery Barn fantasy.


@S. Elizabeth Those things are true. I have a job with a salary +benefits, and I budget and contribute to my retirement fund. I know I'm not extravagant, it just sometimes feels... empty to do these things without a partner. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that I CAN and SHOULD do them for myself.

Thanks for validating me/my desires—I'm starting to realize I have some issues around giving myself permission to do the things I want to do.

@planforamiracle Oh wow, hitting close to home. My partner (who I wrote about here on Friday Open Threads as "Ladyfriend") died in September. I've honestly been nesting in a really positive and good-for-me way to gain some control and ownership over my life after a really shitty couple of months. I devoted so much time to taking care of her (she had ovarian cancer, tragic death, young age, untimely, oncologists said it never happens, etc), that it was sort of nice and really therapeutic to give myself a job in which the only goal was to feel nice in my surroundings.

I painted my room. I painted the living room with my roommates (I live with 3 other people), and it looks gorgeous -- light dusty purple with gold stencil because we couldn't afford the wallpaper we wanted. I bought a cheap but adorable dresser on Craigslist. I set up an old table as a vanity. I've been taking such good care of myself through taking care of my space.

But what I'm doing and what this chick were doing are pretty different. I'm trying to rebuild a life after my partner/fiance/love of my life died and left me to have to re-imagine my future without her.

@S. Elizabeth (and yeah, the Hairpin rejected my piece about my partner's cancer a year ago and I'm still a little miffed that shit like this gets published instead.)


@S. Elizabeth Wow. I'm so sorry for your loss and glad that you are able to heal yourself via improving your space. Thanks for sharing your experience with me here. <3 <3 <3


@S. Elizabeth
Probably commenting too late, but...woah. Sorry man. I'm not a Hairpin regular. Just wanted to say, I too am dealing with a young(ish) partner with serious cancer(s). Fekking sucks, eh? It's just another fucking universe you enter. Hospital world.

@Legal FUCKING SUCKS, INDEED. Hospital world. My partner had 1(c) ovarian diagnosed in July 2012, NED in February 2013, and then was diagnosed with stage IV really unexpectedly in May. She died September 28. It sucks a lot.

I know that everyone is different, but it really helped me to seek grief counseling before the death happened (I started going in August). Hospital social workers tend to have good resources, and the social worker we had through palliative care was phenomenal.

Ugh, I'm so sorry. It just blows, and it's shitty, and I know how much it is The Worst Ever.


@S. Elizabeth Sorry for your loss, S. Elizabeth, but I'm so glad you're healing and seeking solace through slamming other people in Internet forums for what you deem a less substantial loss. Must make you feel sooo much better and it's not like the author probably experiences, pain, right? Totally.


@S. Elizabeth Oh no, I'm so sorry about your partner. I remember hearing you talk about her in the open threads. Take care of yourself.

Queen of Pickles

@S. Elizabeth

I remember hearing you talk about her in the open threads, too. I have no idea what you must be going through.

I remember you talking about her with such love and devotion. It's been a while, since I'm not on the 'Pin much anymore (since everyone left) but I remember that.

(Don't mind @Scar892 above, they are working through a certain phase of existence where they do not comprehend grief properly. I hope they never have to.)

honey cowl

@S. Elizabeth I am so sorry for your loss. It seems like yesterday you were talking about her. Take good care of yourself.


@S. Elizabeth So sorry for your loss, S. Elizabeth. My ex's mom repainted the house when her husband died, and she said that it made a big difference for her. Odd how therapeutic a can of paint can be sometimes, but thank (insert name of something you find comfort in) that little things like that exist.


@Scar892 Jesus Christ - what the fuck is wrong with you?


@S. Elizabeth Lady, I am so, so sorry for your loss.


@Scar892 Wow, do you enjoy being one of the Worst People Ever? Because seriously. there is a time for Shutting The Fuck Up, and that was it.

E. Lazarus

It's written decently and surely nothing I'm about to say is in conflict with what the author is aware of but man-oh-man does it bring tears to my eyes to read this while thinking about the 90k in loans that I have, in spite of going weeks at a time subsisting on next to nothing in terms of food in a shared room in SF. I paid $650 a month to rent a bedroom here and barricaded my door at night to keep the cocaine addict in the adjacent room from coming in and harassing me.

I just can't even picture a life you're describing, even as a fellow writer with an overly romantic view of the world.


Your writing is really beautiful, and I feel for you. I have a tendency to 'nest,' as my mom calls it, though I've so far limited it to splurging on the fancier hand soaps at Target.

But I also couldn't help yelling in my head, halfway through this piece, OH MY GOD JUST GET A CAT!!

@han Seriously with the cat thing.


I love this too. It's beautiful and I think describes a very common feeling, even if we don't all take it so far. Retail therapy was one of my fondest indulgences when I was homeless, and I so very much looked forward to saving up enough for just one tiny thing to make myself feel better. It matters. It so very much does.

I'm glad it's here, and not on the Billfold, because the comments would just be reaming her for her choices.


Wonderfully written.

Hellion of Troy

What the hell.

Hellion of Troy

@Hellion of Troy What I mean to say is, the Patricia Bateman thing doesn't play if the murderer is only an acquaintance of the soulless consumer.


This article resonates with me so much that it hurts. It's so very true and I think a more common reaction (among accomplished women in particular) than we would all like to admit. Thank you for being authentic


God, can I relate to this. I spent my Monday going from home goods store to home goods store full well knowing in the back of my head that obsessively decorating my home without actually needing anything is simply a way for me attempt to fill my sadness.

Alexandra Naughton@facebook

tl;dr spoiled little rich girl whose parents paid her entire tuition discovers she doesn't know how to budget, finds herself 40k in debt, then whines about it in 3,000 words

@Alexandra Naughton@facebook *WILD APPLAUSE*


@Alexandra Naughton@facebook *throws panties on stage*

Joel Palmer@facebook

A writer who can't tell the difference between "compliments" and "complements"? you have larger problems than money

Most murders are "unprecedented" unless it's a serial murderer and it's not the first job.

Overall, I respect that this was published by the Hairpin because I think this website does a great job of telling women's stories and showcasing work that would otherwise not be published for many reasons -- often having to do with women's stories.

That said, I find this person -- as a writer, as a scholar, as a person -- pretty insufferable. I'm sorry, but you *what* now? You thought that at 22 you were entitled to a perfect little apartment with fancy cooking stuff and then a farmhouse on multiple acres as a grad student? I'm sorry, but on what planet are you living? Because my upbringing and undergrad and whatever experiences were similar, up until that point where I felt like my 22-year old self thought I deserved to live in a Pottery Barn catalog just because.

I get that there was some psych stuff in here, and I'm glad you're getting help with that, but I'm just rolling my eyes so hard at this. Liz Lemon's eyeroll is put to shame by what is happening on my face right now.

I went to another one of those fancy colleges with the hot cocoa every night and the gorgeous old furniture in perfect common rooms, and sweet pea, you are not the norm -- while everyone agreed that we lived basically at Hogwarts, nobody I knew decided they were entitled to bankroll its replication once we were spat out into the harsh world.

Hellion of Troy

@S. Elizabeth I actually find it even more appalling that she had an excellent education and paid writing opportunities handed to her on a silver platter over and over again, and yet she chooses to fill her head with Pottery Barn images and write this drivel. Who cares about 40k, what a waste of a life. I never thought I'd say this, but I think writing might be toxic for this person, so in love with images and dead to herself.

@Hellion of Troy I wrote a whole response along the lines of "I think creating a great living space can be a valuable and lovely thing" but then I deleted it because... you're right. And I get that you can be a great/smart/kickass/professional/awesome lady and still love Pottery Barn (because if you think this diploma-carrying J.D. over here doesn't read design blogs every night, you are MISTAKEN), but yeah... this chick, I just cannot.

And I don't think her writing is that great, and it makes me so angry -- SO ANGRY -- that there are people hungry to write and think and read and live the life she could have had who have to do things like work minimum wage jobs slinging coffee and waiting tables. And this is not an anger that is because the piece is so moving that it made me feel emotion, it is the kind of eye-rolling anger that comes from seeing your friends struggle and set aside their dreams to pay their bills when this little budgeting nightmare of a woman had it all handed to her like it was no big deal. It's not logical, it's frustration with the karmic clusterfuck that leads talented people to burn themselves while steaming milk at Starbucks while assholes take jobs at Colgate teaching writing and are stupid enough to do what this chick did.


@S. Elizabeth yes, the sheer hollowness of this life makes me angry. Not because I feel sorry for the writer, but because it is a squandering of so much privilege and opportunity, with such drivel as the result.

Hellion of Troy

@S. Elizabeth okay thank you so much for saying that. This piece made me really angry too. And obviously, I am speaking about the writing, because I don't know this person, but from the way she writes it seems as if she doesn't have any feelings or point of view about anything except objects, which is not okay as an artist or a human being. Many people like nice things, many people are wounded by tragedies that don't directly affect them, many people get into debt, but the way she writes is more about exploiting these realities in other people than saying anything real about herself. That's what makes me angry. There are so many people writing about this stuff in a way that isn't totally bullshit so it grates to see this here. You can't "forgive yourself" if you're not even going to be honest with yourself.

Also, it's funny because a few times in the piece she talks about how "lucky" she is. No. She has some wonderful things: caring parents who helped her through school, opportunities I would kill for, but giving a writing fellowship to somebody with nothing to say is a cruelty. She'd be much better off working for Martha Stewart Living or struggling for a few years, building a grown-up soul.

@Hellion of Troy Yes. I think the "exploit the pain of other people, but don't be honest about your own" is the downfall of many younger people trying to be writers, and is part of that idea that you need life experience in order to be a good writer. I mean, yes, some people can just be brilliant and write about simple things. Most of the time, you need some perspective to write well, even if you're writing about things that are really familiar to you. Good writing is about perspective and the ability to strip something down to its nakedness and dress it back up again with words.

I imagine the kids roughing it in Iowa city, living in uglier, smaller apartments and dealing with roommates and bills and bitterness, are now much better writers.


@S. Elizabeth - Glad the comments got more critical. I was baffled by all the earlier 'I relate SO much.' Barely a bone in my body relates.

ALSO, if you're going to waste a lot of cash, don't waste it on tacky shit from Home Goods, Target, and Von Maur!!! FFS! I thought at first, based on the pictures accompanying the article, that she had a vintage furniture / mid-cent mod habit. THAT I could almost understand! LOL!

Stylish ennui

@S. Elizabeth @Legal

Lol, yep, I thought it was a vintage furniture jones too, and I was like erm... I can see how that could quickly get out of hand.

But this piece really resonated with me because of my mom. My mom, and this lady suffered from the same disease... and I tend to get really judgmental of my mother. Because she fucked up, but bad, and even though I tell myself "oh, it's my opportunity to be strong and independent rather than supported and nurtured" I still harbor a bit of the white-hot rage towards her. And very little in the way of understanding... (more like, just: how could you?). To blow an opportunity to make the soil fertile.

But, on the other hand, art really serves as a flashlight (or a lightbulb, or the sunshine) to shed light on the dark corners of our psyches, to help us to understand ourselves and to reveal our perfection within our imperfections... which can seem like such a contradiction and to be so paradoxical. That's the subtlety of art. Life contains perfection within the imperfections, and that's humanity.

And why storytelling can be so powerful.

So, this did help me to understand my mother a little bit more... And to condemn her a little bit less and understand how she was already condemned by her fears. Understanding is difficult, but each moment is filled with such promise which in many ways can only be fulfilled with understanding... for each other, for ourselves, of our potential, and yes, even of our failings... which so often stem from a lack of understanding.

Also, I do spend some time, sometimes, with a little bit of a lady-crush for Choire, on thinking about the Hairpin, and it's vitality - both financial and as a strong brand. And you know, it's pretty special and it's not Thought Catalog, y'know? It's not xo jane. It's unique and has a tremendous vitality and is very forward-thinking. I'd be confident betting that it's audience is very talented (and obviously extremely smart) ladies. And while, yes, that's a niche market... it's also a pretty big niche, and a powerful one. Definitely an influencer one (god help us all if Thought Catalog is the "influencer" just oh, god, no. But then again, hate-reading is a pretty popular activity... so I guess they have their place, after all!) A lot of media outlets have started out relatively small and then really built up a strong brand, and not that Choire et. all necessary have it on their radar to grow... but sometimes I feel a bit guilty that more people don't know about it. It's hipster (not me, of course, I am not...) to want to keep things small and exclusive and intimate... but I really connect with a lot of the awesome qualities of smart ladies... even though I myself have often been a bit more of a masculine (quote unquote) type of person (not externally at all, I can't say that I'm in any way butch, but I've always been kind of aggressive and a bit drawn to male circles of things possibly as a holdover to when dudes were the doers and ladies were the lookers and the look after-ers of men and children... not that I don't think child-raising isn't totally a SUPER fascinating exercise is deconstructing humanity, and constructing and creating humanity at it's foundational level. I'm all about the nurture and children are the bomb-iest.)

So, my little long rant here is that.... I think it'd maybe be great if there was a little corner of space (just a wee one!) where people could place submissions, and then those people who were so inclined could peruse and weigh in on what they'd like to see in the general content. I know jezebel does this, already. And maybe the hairpin is not ready for it, or it wouldn't really fly.

But I do feel like I'd like to have a place where the gatekeepers are the people, and the audience is highly literate and intelligent. And I'm not sure there is such a place, currently? I mean, I love jezebel for what it is... but realistically that means 50% of the time not liking it very much at all because people are so aggro and it has the tough job of balancing being commercial with being a high-profile early lady-space, so I feel like the message is, a lot of times both too watered down and too polemic! It doesn't bleed creativity to me in the same way that the Hairpin just radiates a kind of unselfconscious talent and self assurance. I mean, arguably, if there were no jezebel there would be no Hairpin (in an abstract, kind of a way). But I think the Hairpin is like next-level. And that's a good thing, I think.

And I feel like, if your writing was not-of-a-caliber, the subject matter certainly was and you may have found people willing to provide some helpful suggestions with editing. I mean, plenty of good writers would be nowhere without the help of good editors. And that aesthetic of community I think suits the Hairpin really well. (I mean, I'm guessing that it might). Could be like next-next-level.

Anyway, I'm sorry that you didn't get the chance to even provisionally share it, and work on it (if for some reason the writing was not landing and not impactful and it needed to be worked on if that were something that you wanted to do, for creative or therapeutic reasons).

And, I'm really really (so) sorry that you went thru that great loss. My condolences and support. The greatest bittersweetness of life is that we are not here forever, and for me it gives me comfort my strong intuition that there is more going on, and that life is not necessarily as finite or as final as it seems, and that our spirits are connected... in life and beyond. I am glad that you have been able to try to heal and to flourish in the wake and the face of this loss. Best of luck to you.

@Stylish ennui Honestly, after I submitted my piece and it was rejected within an hour of being sent with no comment, I have had little desire to submit anything to the Hairpin. I submitted it last year and it seemed like things were kind of a clusterfuck in terms of editing, but it left a really bitter taste in my mouth, especially since there was almost no long form content at that time -- the site was mostly filler and links.


@S. Elizabeth You should submit it again since we've never seen it and have no idea what was rejected back then. Generally, now, we're really, really trying to get better at dealing with submissions, but with just Emma and Part-Time Jia we admit that we are not always great. BUT in response to another comment of yours from down the page, I think that this piece is extremely well-written, which is a huge draw, and although the subject matter is not as "serious" as partner illness and death (I can't even imagine what that was like for you) I think we try not to compare experience to experience - this is a story among a million other stories, valid because it is written in good faith, by an author who is ostensibly confessing the shortcomings that you guys are pointing out - she knows, she's trying to get better - and it's also, again, good writing (to me). But feel free, really, to send that essay over again.


@S. Elizabeth it seems to me that there was a lot of activity on the 'Pin masthead, a year ago. I wonder if your submission didn't get a close look? What would you think of re-submitting it?


@Stylish ennui I second this idea. I'm curious to see what the 'Pintariat would back.
Secondly, I'd read the hell out of whatever you chose to write about your relationship with you and your Mother. You hint at insights that show you've done some life-changing thinking on it. I'd love to read that story.

annie d m@twitter

@j-i-a I'm afraid I really can't get behind this statement of yours:

"this is a story among a million other stories, valid because it is written in good faith, by an author who is ostensibly confessing the shortcomings that you guys are pointing out - she knows, she's trying to get better - and it's also, again, good writing (to me)."

The last portion of her essay indicates precisely the opposite of what you posit here. She doesn't regret her foolish actions, because when she finally gets her strong man to protect her (apparently the only reason to work hard in life?), she'll have all of her $40,000 of warm home furnishings to make their house perfect.

Not to mention, I'm not sure how we could sign off on this being good writing, given that her entire justification for her ridiculous, overprivileged behavior wasn't even introduced until the last three-fourths of the essay (the murder by someone she sort of knew of someone she didn't know--and somehow, finding it to be about her).

This is narcissism, privilege, and self-indulgence at its finest. And the end has no redemption, merely justification. The consequences of her actions were the fact that she had to learn about student loans? I'm so sorry? Some people end up in far worse over more serious issues. I am not impressed, and this has no place on a real publication. This is fodder for a silly woman's personal blog that no one should read. It certainly shouldn't be the story I read after the article about the couple who had to obtain a medical abortion and had to sell scrap metal to do it. This isn't the suffering Olympics here, because this woman isn't describing anything even marginally related to suffering.


@annie d m@twitter It's fine that you disagree with me. It's not, indeed, the suffering Olympics, as you say; essays here are not published on a basis of The Most Suffering Wins. Still, I don't think the author thinks she has "suffered" in a way that is in any way comparable to anyone who has not enjoyed the constant safety of deep privilege all her life. I think she knows her behavior is ridiculous and overprivileged and narcissistic; we are allowed to publish an exploration of consumerism embedded deep in the heart, which I think affects lots of people who don't come anywhere near to taking it to this extreme. I don't feel in the least "sorry" for the author, don't think I need to, and I still think it's very good writing, which is, of course, subjective, and again, I think it's fine that we disagree.


@annie d m@twitter @j-i-a

One of the things that I loooove about the hairpin is that disagreement, while o'cassionaly heated, is generally at the end of the day very civilized and respectful. That is like, what, practically unheard of on the internet...? Unless it's overly deferentially and almost oppressively a "we don't fight here" type of environment where disagreements are quashed, which I don't think is too healthy or productive.

Instead I often feel enhanced by the clashing of viewpoints...!

And it's great when people can retain their passion without being overbearing in their certainty that ends up crossing over into a high horse extravaganza-fiasco, which is just: dull. I mean, it can be dull in a blood-lusty way, but it's still not creative or innovative or, really, inspired or even truthful. It's so easy to point fingers -- especially at oneself and (usually loudly) proclaim "I'm right!" If you look into a mirror and do that, the veracity of that statement can often be measured opposite the degree of self-righteousness. That's one of the weird finer points in life that is very paradoxical!

I mean, I do respect people who stick to their guns, and who have strong opinions, but I also appreciate it when it isn't done obstinately. (Although... I mean, sometimes that can be a necessary quality, too.)

Y'know, all things in moderation, even moderation, etc.


@j-i-a YES. I don't want The Hairpin to be filled with "I Suffered The Most" essays. People struggle with all kinds of things, including compulsive shopping. I want to read about it all. Struggle is not a contest.


@j-i-a I am constantly impressed by your acceptance of all people/stories. It's really heart-warming.


@olivia Do you read the Billfold too? Logan has written a lot over there about the emotional component of compulsive shopping and it's helped me develop empathy for an impulse I used to just find baffling.


@annie d m@twitter I was just thinking about that Shopaholic movie that was based on that book, and I was kind of like, geez, even in Shopaholic she had the sense to sell her stuff to pay her bills, y'know?


Ugh and FURTHERMORE. the romanticization of a rural life, of a woman playing house, complete with oil deliveries, is sickening. Yeah, I lived that life too. Only it was for real, because it was all I could afford, and I worked my ass off to pay for those oil deliveries in my small cabin on the hill over the sea. I wasn't teaching at a university on a fellowship, I was getting up at the crack of dawn every day to work at a diner.

@joie Word.


@S. Elizabeth @joie @Hellion of Troy blah blah blah blah. Comments like this are what I find most sickening--guarantee you all are ordering nine dollar beers and living in $1,000+ apartments and living like it's no big deal. You guys are all so quick to judge without ever trying to do something similar, without ever putting yourself up for judgement by the anonymous internet. Someone does, and you can't stand it. It's not like she's not aware of the judgement implied in what she's saying.


@Scar892 I guess I missed the part where 1) you are the authorized representative of the author and 2) somehow had any knowledge of the lived experience of myself or the other dissenting commenter's lives. Because you aren't, and you don't. So hush with your nonsense trolling ways.


@Scar892 - So you think the professional, highly educated author of this piece can't take some (valid) peanut gallery, blog comment section criticism? And needs you to make some ad hominem attacks of the critics? LOL!

On the bright side, I am drinking a $9 beer - but it came as a six pack.

@Scar892 Ummmm... I have tried to do similar, and have done it successfully without having gone into student loan debt because of a shopping addiction. I have done harder stuff. I have really, quite frankly, kicked the ass of my 20s.

I'll admit, my lack of sympathy comes from honestly having it harder than this chick -- I'm fucking widowed, asshole. My partner DIED. I'm 26.

Your move.


@S. Elizabeth @joie you guys are so ridiculous, I come back on here just to roll my eyes. Did you, @joie? Up the hill? Both ways? In the snow?

My friend goes to Colgate and said that fellowship carries a teaching load, and from her website it looks like she teaches online for five schools. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge just because her entire life isn't in one web-friendly essay...? Just a thought.

Hellion of Troy

@Scar892 If I lived in a thousand dollar apartment I wouldn't even go on the internet--I'd have my butler print out pictures of Ryan Gosling and bring them to me with my afternoon Pellegrino.

@Hellion of Troy I like you.

Queen of Pickles

@Scar892 O hello troll. You're new here, I take it.

simone eastbro

@S. Elizabeth "I'll admit, my lack of sympathy comes from honestly having it harder than this chick -- I'm fucking widowed, asshole. My partner DIED. I'm 26. Your move."

Oh, darlin.


@S. Elizabeth "I'll admit, my lack of sympathy comes from honestly having it harder than this chick -- I'm fucking widowed, asshole. My partner DIED. I'm 26.

Your move."

I thought a widow was a woman who was married. You refused to marry your dying fiance due to her medical debt so I don't think widow is a good term for you. Did you at least tell her you had no intention of marrying her or did you just string her along? Well, the important part is that you received a ring and got all of the attention you want without the commitment!


@lovingskyfairy that was a profoundly uncool thing to say. why are you being so mean?

also, creating a throwaway account just to make a nasty comment is a really cowardly thing to do.

simone eastbro

@lovingskyfairy this is extremely cruel. is your username delicious irony or . . .?


@joie Well, this is the internet. You have to play to win.

Also, I'm not nearly as cruel as S. Elizabeth

@lovingskyfairy That was a very cruel thing to say. But if you would like to know, we were very much planning to be legally married and had consulted with an estate planner, and had figured that out. She died much more quickly than anticipated (in August her oncologist estimated she had about a year), and by the time we had gotten things figured out she was very, very ill and died about 2 weeks later.

And now I'm wondering who you are, because it certainly seems like you know a little bit more than I've really shared here.

I loved her very much. And now you made me cry at work, so thank you for that.

simone eastbro

@lovingskyfairy you don't have to, no, but i'm glad that's working out for you.


@lovingskyfairy you are being needlessly cruel. but I think you know that.

you should also know that I am friends with S. Elizabeth, and your estimation of her character could not be more untrue. You need to hush your mouth and step away from the internet.


@lovingskyfairy... ... ... ... that was so mean, I caught my breath a little. And being mean the internet is not, actually, how you win. Whatever it is you win on the internet.

And *even if SEW* is being cruel, which I don't actually think she is, return meanness is not actually a winning strategy at being a human person in any arena.

But I guess it's good to know you have the skills? Or something.


@lovingskyfairy I think it's pretty clear that you just lost the internet, frankly. That was an astoundingly hateful thing to say.

I hope that, someday, when you're sitting alone some quiet Tuesday night, you think about what you just said, and realize what it means about your character, and who you are. Because it certainly doesn't reflect anything about S. Elizabeth.


@lovingskyfairy You need to fucking leave now.


@lovingskyfairy Just go. Now. Seriously.

I mean, I could tell you how absurdly cruel and awful a thing that was to say, but I get the impression that you don't care/ are happy to be cruel and awful because...? So get the fuck out, now.


@lovingskyfairy You're a coward and a miserable person. SEW is a kind, loving person. I think you already know that though since you seem to know so much about her life. Your attack was obviously stemming from something else. Be a woman and say what you need to say to SEW with your real name.


@lovingskyfairy Wow. Whoever you are, you're an asshole and you're no longer going to be privy to those kinds of personal details. I hope you're happy playing to win, you've made everybody feel unsafe. Unbelievable.

Rachel Susko@facebook

i don't really understand the point of the first paragraph - is this meant to imply you can only get this at offensively expensive, insular private institutions? i had all of these things available to me and i went to a flagship state university with 25,000 undergrads. please.

her parents clearly managed their money very well, but...? somehow did not pass that one on along with the full ride to undergrad? i will admit to being born with an (albeit smaller) silver spoon in my mouth, but even i know you have to wait to have the nice things. until then, there's catalogs. and pinterest.

Oh, squiggles

Wow, I don't understand where the hate for this piece is coming from. I understand in a way, because I started eye-rolling a bit when I first started reading, but I still found myself sympathetic to the writer at the end of it. She's describing a lonely existence, where she is equating objects with the kind of life they imply. This is basically what the "American Dream" tried to brain wash us all into believing. So why are people attacking her for this, when so many other people have fallen into this trap? Is it just that much fun to be holier-than-thou that we can't extend her a little bit of compassion and understanding?

How dare she want a happy and fulfilling life, and make the mistake of thinking that material goods would help make this happen?! Well, guess what, a fuckton of people have made that same mistake, and there is no reason to go pissing on all of them because of it. It's a mistake that causes a lot of misery for a lot of people, and being open about it, writing about it in a way that might help other people understand their own mistakes isn't a personal affront to anyone. But yeah, by all means, let's tear down this writer for being honest about her life experience. This kind of vitriol in the comments is why I've stopped reading/commenting on the Hairpin, and even though I've written this stupid, long comment, I think I'm gonna go back to the land of no commenting now.

Hellion of Troy

@Oh, squiggles I guess I'll answer for myself. I feel anger and pity in equal measure, because this is a person whose misery is entirely self-inflicted, and who has all the tools she needs to fix the problem, but refuses to learn from the experience, and then writes an essay about it where she falsely lets herself off the hook. My annoyance is compounded by the fact that her writing keeps showing up on my favorite blogs, each more horrifying than the last. And if the line "Ask me about my children, I'll tell you about headboard bunting" doesn't make your blood boil, we may just be too different to ever agree ;)


@Hellion of Troy

And if the line "Ask me about my children, I'll tell you about headboard bunting" doesn't make your blood boil, we may just be too different to ever agree ;)

Ha ha, yes!


@Hellion of Troy

I'm not sure what you mean by saying she refuses to learn//falsely lets herself off the hook, could you explain more? I thought she was criticizing herself throughout this whole piece? I read this as she was horrified *at herself* for letting herself get out of control. I see retail therapy (in the way she is talking about it) as a form of drugs, and it sounds like she is doing/did some soul searching to truly look at herself and her issues:
"Only in spinning wildly out of control ... did I learn the truth about myself, my internal processes, my need for help."


@Oh, squiggles I haven't read all your replies but I agree with what you've said here. Aren't we living in a world where it's basically implied that if our homes aren't clean and filled with PotteryBarn we're failures? Where credit card debt is normalized (though down slightly vs last year: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/)?

Hellion of Troy

@hedgehogerie Well, I think the stuff about some unrelated murder leading to a shopping addiction is bullshit. I don't think it's categorically bullshit, it COULD happen, but I don't see any evidence in the piece that it did happen, given the insane way she writes about people and things here and elsewhere. Either she is a not very good writer trying to exploit the one interesting thing that has happened in her life, or a shockingly bad one trying to share the truth about what she's going through.

@Hellion of Troy This. And honestly, I could see being single and scared and sheltered and immediately sprung from the sweet and adorable nest of fancy liberal arts college as a pretty valid reason why someone would lose their shit and develop some issues. Whether or not that's the case is not quite the point. The point is that it's either bullshit or it's poorly written truth, or it's just the only concrete thing she can put her finger on that can signify "the world is fucking terrifying" because the world hasn't been quite as directly terrifying as her reaction to it would indicate -- which is actually not a problem.

The problem is that it reads like bullshit and she just spent years literally sitting on her ass learning how to tell a story so it doesn't sound like bullshit.

@S. Elizabeth Ugh, I'm sorry, this is just so irritating. Basic narrative arc stuff. If you're going to make the cause of the story or the issue the murder, it would be much better if the murder came up earlier, or if the murder were something we were thinking about to begin with, or something. One of the reasons the murder seems like a bullshit reason is that there is NO CONTEXT and it's basically dropped in as an excuse for her behavior, to make them somehow excusable.

And I find this so ridiculous, because we have so clearly established on this site that being a grown adult woman can be really hard. It can be scary no matter what. It can be scary with and without money. It can be fucking terrifying even when things are okay. If that's what was really going on, it would have made such a great, honest, lovely-but-bizarre piece -- that juxtaposition between the signifiers of adulthood while simultaneously terrified of them. And I imagine it would be a lot more relatable, since the panic-inducing state of being 23 or so is pretty normal. Or at least INCREDIBLY trendy.

But making this whole issue about a murder that was awkwardly dropped into the story as a means of mitigating her guilt and disgust with herself? Bullshit.

You found a way to access lots of money, you bought a lot of crap to make yourself feel okay, you were lonely, you fucked up. Congratulations, it is not that special of a story -- but the way it could be told could be phenomenal, and the expectations for that are high when the person telling the story had literally nothing else to do for YEARS except learn how to tell a compelling story.


@S. Elizabeth I, too, was tripped up by the murder reference and assumed this was part of a larger piece. I checked her website and saw she has one or two pieces that seem to go into that topic further. So perhaps that's what happened here. It should have been introduced better.

I disagree with you about this not being a compelling piece--I'm assuming The Hairpin wouldn't run a terribly written story.

@hedgehogerie Wait, that doesn't make sense. Whether or not The Hairpin would run a story isn't what makes it compelling or not. The Hairpin's stamp of approval doesn't mean that a story is well written, or that a story is the best story it could possibly be. I don't look at this site and say "hey, it's published here so it must be good." It needs to stand on its own legs.


@S. Elizabeth @Hellion of Troy I've never before done this, address the commenters critiquing my work, but as a person, and most especially as a woman, I've got to be honest with you guys that this was incredibly hurtful and hard to read. I say that not because I disagree with certain expressions addressed here--indeed, I am very aware of the very-fucked nature of the decisions that I've made--but as a person, I'm beside myself that anyone (much less so many) would take to personally attacking another person for making decisions they themselves would't make. Since when did it become so wildly shameful to present oneself as an evolving, learning person? As a person who--yes--fucks up, and royally? And who is unafraid to state as much, or occupy the space in which those decisions were made?

In its purest form, an essay is a reflection of the self, but it is not a whole self, and it has never been--nor should it be, in my opinion--a manifesto or instructional set of advice on how the writer believes one ought to live, or even how she herself ought to live. Not every essay is the final word--or even close to the final word--on what one has to say about love and shame and loneliness and longing and, for that matter, youth. Why do we as readers always assume that the person essaying their experience will forever be that person, will remain in the young and flawed period in which they wrote about? Simply because I wrote from the perspective of the twenty-three year old self now as a twenty-six year old doesn't mean that I will forever occupy that mindset.

But what hurts most of all is not the intellectual debate that this essay has inevitably spawned--in fact, it really was my hope from the start, along with conversing with others who can relate (a good many of you, it turns out)--but to be the target for such vitriolic hate, such out-and-out self-righteousness. This is an essay about decisions made and later regretted, and while no, it's not directly about what my friend did, who the fuck are you to tell me what's an appropriate response to grief? To fear? To overwhelming and crushing sadness? To dedicate vast paragraphs--or, as you suggested, @S. Elizabeth, restructure the essay to carefully place it as a narrative arc--felt wrong to me, because it's not the forefront of this essay. It's not the forefront of my story. But you have absolutely no idea who I am or the impact it had or the impact it continues to have on me as I was the last person before his victim to see my friend that night. It has no place, and yet it now feels worth saying, that I wrote him for three years on a monthly basis, that I was twice-diagnosed (by different doctors a year and a half apart) with severe PTSD, that I even drove to his maximum security prison because I didn't know what else, frankly, to do except confront him once and for all. My essay is not about that, and I don't want it to be, and while I'm sorry for your loss, you have no fucking clue--none whatsoever--and should show a little respect and compassion to evidence as much.

Frankly, who the FUCK are you?

As a woman, I'm absolutely shocked and disheartened by the personal level of things said here, and I'm not certain what more you want me to say. That I feel like absolute garbage, embarrassed and very guilty for some of the decisions I have made? Yes. But for me, the value of the personal essay is its capacity as a tool for self-examination, and as one who's never attacked anyone in such a personal and detailed way, I'd advise you to give it a try.


@Oh, squiggles I agree that come of the commenters are being harsh about your decisions-- you know they were stupid, you know you were lucky, I think half their anger is at society and the economy but it was directed towards you. But I am way weirded out that you talked about your friend MURDERING SOMEBODY for about a paragraph in order to illustrate sooooomething about yourself? You do know that indicates a level of self-obsession that just isn't healthy, right? I mean that was way less okay to me ethically than you getting yourself into debt.

Hellion of Troy

@AEB I understand perfectly well what a personal essay is. I have no beef with how you spend your money. I couldn't care less in fact. That's the whole problem with the essay. Perhaps I could have better explained that my problem is with the character portrayed in the writing, not with your actual life, which is of course foreign to me. As for PTSD, I very much wish you godspeed in your recovery, but it doesn't make me like the essay any more. I've got PTSD and I don't expect it should make you appreciate my loudmouth comments either.

I won't address the "as a woman" stuff because that's beneath both of us.


@AEB: A few different issues going on with the detractors. Some want to discredit everything you say simply because you come from a middle class family while they didn't. Well that's not a valid criticism. They do not have a patent on suffering, on PTSD, on literary talent, or anything else. You have a right to speak as much as anybody. It doesn't seem to me you are begging for symapathy. Others seem miffed because their own work was rejected by Hairpin... that's just petty beyond belief: green-eyed monster. I wouldn't dignify these people with a response.


@AEB Agree with ladyoflettuce -- try not to take it personally, hard as that may be. You're talented. You're growing. Learn from this (i.e., your work may be divisive; be prepared, and be as self-aware/class-aware as possible) and move on.



Wow. Those are some strong feelings. And, obvs, some other people had some strong feelings too that were evoked by your... "being" (not just your essay, but yourself... as much of it as you've shared with us here).

I'd like to say: hey lady, you have every right to be. And to be imperfect. If you haven't felt that way here... lemme just clarify:

You, full stop, have every right to be, and to be imperfect (juuuust like everybody else here... Hairpin ladies, raise your hand if you are perfect and 100% self-aware and never self-destructive or intentionally or unintentionally unkind to others).

So... now that we've got that out of the way!


You feel attacked, personally (mayhaps a wee bit persecuted? Were there a few pitchforks I saw out there....?)

I really appreciate your vulnerability in sharing that. (Even though it came with a healthy dose of FU back atcha!) :)

And I am sorry that you feel that way! I hope that you hear the whole chorus, rather than just get drawn to the strong negative comments. And to those strong negative comments, may I offer a bit of perspective? One of my most brilliant friends, who sadly did not remain my friend but that doesn't diminish her brilliance, was very highly attuned to social class...

It is kind of a big deal. And, I never really could appreciate it in the same way that I can appreciate racism or other forms of marginalization. But her response to me would be that this was because I undervalued myself and that I was meek in ways that I should not be.

While for me, I have always understood personal power (what I would view as vitality) to be tantamount and interlinked to joy and understanding (two things that did not have any clear correlations to wealth by any stretch) there is another kind of power in the world that is not incidental or inconsequential. And that is, indeed the power of money and class... the very real and tangible and literal power of it.

I have always seen a much closer connection between education -- tho by no means formal, institutional learning often enough being misdirection and calcified -- and power. So I was always a little bit confused because my friend seemed to me so much more "privileged" by knowledge and talent, and perhaps sheer luck, that it was unfathomable to me that she would be envious of people with the power (and privilege) that wealth (relative or otherwise) bestows.

But on the other hand... there is a dynamic that is not unimportant, but that is built-in. And which does not serve anyone. Just as quote unquote the patriarchy really was not "teh awesomest way to live as a dude" but was actually just lameness for all (I know if I was a guy, there is no way that I would want to belittle my lady friends and relatives or to dismiss their talents or circumscribe them in any way, nor would I want them to have myriad weird sexual hangups ala madonna/whore)the kind of insular created by extreme class distinctions (and concomitant opportunities) really doesn't serve to enhance society.

One of the people I've felt sorriest for was a random little girl I saw being "trained" by her obviously wealthy grandmother in "manners" - I just prayed that lady would not succeed in crushing her granddaughter's spirit/soul. The society set is not really "a cut above" and frankly neither is the "successful" set. Some people really do get to success by being willing to "do what it takes" and it's not pretty, up close. Fame, adulation and recognition are the not the footpath to happiness or fulfillment.

But if you considered the perspective that it might be somewhat like a dude sharing his struggles with his career path, circa 1950... well... that dude might get a little bit of heavy shade thrown by the ladies. I just recently watched “THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE” on Netflix which would give you an idea of how ladies' talents weren't recognized or taken seriously.

So, nope, it's not your "fault" that we live in a class-based society that's rigged against people without means, in sometimes very serious, dramatic and impactful ways. And no, it does not minimize or reduce your humanity or your rights to be human.

Buuuuuuuut.... you might have to bear a little bit of: first world problems, or white people's problems. It's like... a really pretty girl discussing some issues she deals with around that. Totally, one million percent valid, and definitely do need to be unpacked. But, you kind of have to be careful about a tone of "oh, it's so hard for me to be beautiful... seriously folks" when actually, there's a lot of doors that are opened if you are attractive and a lot of privilege that goes along with... and it is a lot harder to be quote unquote deemed so-called ugly, simply because: pretty, people are nice to you for no reason; ugly: people are mean to you for no reason. And yes, there's a whole world of grey that goes on between and within those two, advantages and disadvantages possible in both directions.

At the end of the day, though... it's our shared humanity (or, simply, our own humanity) that matters and counts. And you have just as much right to yours as anyone. Everyone has that "privilege"!


I for one, got something of value from your writing... and from you actually commenting on how the comments affected you. I hope that you can manage not to be self-centered and self-absorbed in only hearing the negative comments (which may be coming from many different places, not all of which may be valid... and sometimes we have to extend to others a little bit of extra courtesy around sensitive subjects) but in sort of getting a "tone" overall which (as I read it) is: some people resent that you weren't forced into a life of servitude (ie. debt) but can be rather cavalier about it, when they do not by any means have that luxury, and people may also resent that you have access to power/recognition that is less achievable for them (and that what you choose to do with that is - or may seem - a bit la de dah), and that some people feel there is power in what you are doing and contributing and that it has value and is worthwhile, and some people are a bit mixed and feel both ways.

It's seems kind of to me like, maybe if you were at an al-anon meeting where people had issues of parents being alcoholics and you came out with: yeah, my mom never supported my dreams and always wanted me to marry a lawyer or a doctor.

Do you have a serious, valid issue? Yep, absolutely. Is it even, maybe, part of the problem of why people are driven to drink... because they never felt recognized or fulfilled as human beings? Arguably, yes, very much so. Is it, even, in fact containing a kernel of the key to dealing with the ish that kids of alcoholics might deal with, self esteem issues and such?


Should you complain in that company......? Maaaaybe not, without kind of contextualizing and sort of reaching out to acknowledge other people's situations as well as your own. And rather than diminish your complaints, it could serve to put them in perspective. Like you could say, wow, my mom didn't support me, but at least all this other stuff didn't happen to me that these folks have had to deal with, that would have been worse. Maybe it's not such a big deal that my dumb mom didn't want me to realize my dreams or that she put limits on them: maybe I can put that into perspective and not get hung up on it (or be so annoyed and affected by it) and I can go ahead move beyond it, and even forgive her. Silly, dumb, foolish mom(or dad, or grandma, whatevs)! And wow, let me have some compassion for these folks who had parents who were very broken/messed up.

Like, you are complaining about debt when a whole generation of people are facing a really lot of debt, that doesn't quite have the same implications or consequences that yours has. And, that's not really a little thing. So, it might be a bit tone deaf to not preface or at least acknowledge that a bit more.

You are not among an insulated company of people for whom that is not a concern, and I am sure that you would not want to insulate yourself in that way. You seem to me to be a thoughtful and genuine person.

So please, I hope you really strongly do feel that your voice is just as valid as anyone else's, and that as writer and a person you are allowed to be authentic and that you are supported in that by your peers (and not just your class companions). I felt your piece had artistic merit, and there were plenty of others who did as well, along with some people who had some (perhaps too strongly felt, and worded, with perhaps some displaced emotional energy & velocity) issues with it that might be valid have have some merit, too.



"you have absolutely no idea who I am or the impact it had or the impact it continues to have on me as I was the last person before his victim to see my friend that night.

...that I wrote him for three years on a monthly basis, that I was...with severe PTSD, that I even drove to his maximum security prison because I didn't know what else...to do except confront him once and for all. My essay is not about that, and I don't want it to be"

Holy crap!

One thing I am wondering, because I kind of like how broad this piece is, how it could apply to so many people "chasing a lifestyle" in order to qualm some inner existential fears.... but I wonder if maybe it's missing something in it's emotional resonance because your truth is, in fact, so darkly and deeply specific? Like maybe it's coming across as a little bit glib? Wrapped up a little too neatly? And that seems inauthentic a little bit?

Like this seems a little bit like a fluff piece. I didn't find it objectionable the way that some people did, nor did I relate to it, like some other people did. But I think I did walk away from it thinking you were just a few clicks away (ha ha, literally!) from starting your own lifestyle blog, maybe (and not in a good way, kind of).

And then BOOM! In the comments you were like, actually, people, it's way darker than you know. And that really took me by surprise because when you referenced this event in your piece it seemed much more peripheral, and even abstract, when it turns out to be this rather central event in your life. So maybe folding that in a bit more... if not the actual even than what it meant to you and how it impacted you, would give the reader more information and make your writing richer and more resonant, and not serve to make it "just about that one thing that happened in high school," when you are striving to create a broader story, and not just tell "that one bad story" over and over again.

It might be that by trying to make the story more universal, you've actually held back and made it less accessible and less authentic to who you truly are and your lived experiences.

Idk, but I wish you a lot of luck (and of course, everyone involved, most especially the victim's family) in healing from this tragic event which was so close to home for you.

I don't think one needs such a pivotal, or specif, event to be thrown onto the path of self-destruction or self neglect through materialism or through other means. But I'm not sure if you can write about it honestly without addressing the fact that, for you, it really was spurred by this specific event. Healing might mean you need to go there, not to wallow or define yourself, but in order to move past it and thru it. And to take the reader (since you are a writer) on that journey with you. Rather than just staying more superficial... (I mean, definitely don't exploit your pain for art, I would never suggest that. But I do think that art can be therapeutic and is a way of working out and struggling with our deeper understandings of ourselves and life).



Oh man, I realize this isn't a writing workshop... and, on the internet especially, "everyone's a critic". I'm sorry... it's probably really out of line for me to (presume to) critique your work, when I think it's actually sort of lovely in it's way...

but, in for a penny, in for a pound:

"a friend who suffered psychosis and unprecedentedly murdered a 19-year-old girl. This is not about that—something that makes its way into my writing so very often—but it is about one’s sense of safety, the way grief can interrupt your normal processes, the health functioning of heart and mind.

"Unprecedentedly murdered"

That's kind of weird writing and I think took me emotionally out of what you were saying. Like, I actually sort of didn't even process the words. I got that there was someone killed by someone you knew. But emotionally? It's like it didn't happen, like I was watching a tv show or something... oh yeah, and then someone was murdered, and then, oh, commercial break!

I mean... what exactly would a precedented murder be? That this person had killed before? It wasn't the first time? So, it being the first time makes it more gruesome? Wouldn't it be worse if it was precedented? Or would you be inured, because, hey remember that other murder last week.

So, I think this choice of words served to disconnect me. It didn't register, and I didn't really fully -- emotionally -- process it. In reading it I became, in the process of reading it, numb to it.

And, "so very often" maybe trivializes a bit? Like it sounds a little bit affected? It's not normal, standard usage (how often do you actually say, or read "so very often" - not often), and in having this artifice it also serves to emotionally remove and distance?

"This, I realize now, had everything to do with what I did —not his actions, necessarily, but how they forced within me an awful awareness that no act of kindness or compassion could protect you or the ones you loved. No one, in this life, is safe from the vast and deep unknowable,"

And this resonates pretty deeply within me and made me really respond to your writing. I got this, emotionally, and it stuck with me.

"deal with the tragic and violent thing that long ago happened. "

and here again is the awkward, distancing phrasing. "Long ago happened"

...? This is what left me with the impression that this was not something that happened close to you, but was a much more external experience, that "someone you knew, but not well" a friend, but not a close one, more of an acquaintance perhaps, and that in the story, perhaps even in your story, this was more kind of like on the drama side of things. Which makes absolutely no sense, especially knowing a little bit more of the backstory of the event. But emotionally reading that, it read in a very uncomfortable way. Like it almost didn't matter.

This tragic event that long ago happened. Like centuries? When you were a child and hardly can remember it? The language is making it smaller and more diminutive. When, you're actually calling it out as a core motivating force in your life. So, no matter how "long ago happened" it was it's still pretty darn fresh and alive in the present... I mean, hopefully less so, and you have integrated and processed it more after dealing with it in therapy. But your writing seems to want to bury it in the past.

Anyway... I thought it was fine and good writing. And I hope you will forgive me for critiquing it, when I'm the worser-est writer ever (and communicator, tangents? obfuscation, idiosyncratic incomprehensibleness? those are my middle names!)

But... I do think it's possible some of the response that you got here could be reacting to a little bit of that "emotional disconnect".

Or, on the other hand, maybe totally not, and it has nothing to do what I commented on, and I have just totally rambled on about nuthin'! (It wouldn't be the first time!!!)

frumious bandersnatch

@flowerpins +1 to your critique. I think a huge problem with this was the insertion of that murder (and the writing growing progressively more overwrought around it). All of the weird things you pointed out struck me, too. I understand not wanting to make it about that because that's not the story she's telling, but as a reader it was almost like a bait and switch. "Judging me? You can't with the spectre of the solemn tragedy. Identify with me? I have even more, deeper reason!" I really really don't think that's what the author meant, but for me invoking this murdered 19-year-old was too much.

I linked below to a story about the girl, because it felt weird to me to have her mentioned in passing. Not that the author-as-a-person has to engage with her family's suffering, but I feel like we as strangers maybe have more responsibility to. Her name was Emily and she was a progressive activist. And she was the friend's ex-girlfriend.


@flowerpins +2. Bless you for attempting to give this weird, amateurish piece the editing it should have had before it was posted. I cannot bring myself to cut much slack to a writer with this kind of resume. I don't care if the content is self-indulgent and fluffy--there is a place for that, and that's not what bothers me about it. It simply is not good writing.

There are lots of eye-roll-inducing passages here, but this is my favorite: "I again made an unprecedentedly indulgent decision [...]"

It's not unprecedented (author's favorite word?) if it's happening AGAIN.

frumious bandersnatch

@pawtism My favorite is "that long ago happened."

Maybe people reacted so negatively in part because of language, feels like it's trying to capture Shakespearean melodrama or something in places.

annie d m@twitter

@AEB I wouldn't have had any problems with what you wrote but for what you said at the end of your essay: "And yet when I’m truly honest with myself—as I’ve been known to often self-deceive—the fact is I don’t regret my indulgent and repeatedly foolish decisions. Often, I feel guilt, or shame, or vanity at my own materialism, but I’m forgiving of my own mistakes because I think I have to be. Because I think they were necessary."

It's fine that you did what you did. You are describing a very privileged, bourgeois existence, and that's a bit insufferable. However, if you'd noted that what you did was ridiculously self-indulgent, it would be one thing. But you are glad you made this mistake.

And further, you didn't disclose anything about the depth of the relationship with your friend. You popped it in as an after thought to excuse away your exceedingly poor behavior. At the very least, that is poor writing.

I don't know you, I don't know the full scope of your life; I only know what you wrote here for us to read. You couldn't have expected no criticism at all; I know you're not a child, so you must have known that what you're saying is on some level ridiculous.

And finally, you look pretty spoiled and entitled. Who the fuck are we? Who the fuck are you? From where I'm sitting, we're all just people behind computer screens. You're not any more special than the rest of us.


@annie d m@twitter Do we really think it's not possible to feel that our past behavior was incredibly wrong-headed and also acknowledge that it led us to become the people we are today, for better or worse? I really don't understand this "she didn't learn anything!" line of criticism here.

Obviously this author's experience is really relatable to some people and really galling to others. I often have a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to people who grew up with privilege (which I very much did not) but she seems pretty honestly self-reflective about it here, which is why I can't quite grok all the raginess.

cruelest salad days le Creuset

@cruelest salad days le Creuset

search for poetry, by word, is what I meant... ooops! it looks like there's a million of them. Good to know, though....

cruelest salad days le creuset...


It's your eyes that aren't contrived to grok beauty.

I am willing to say I think your words I grok the most.

Poetry search by word!


I eyerolled hard when I began reading this essay, and perhaps it was planned that way. But I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. It reminds me of a surprising amount of friends--the going in over your head in debt because you think its expected to have a lovely, stable space/beautiful clothes/amazing travel adventures. It reminds me of my own upbringing where material items were cherished because we were poor, and the various ways (the opposite actually of what she went through) I've dealt with this since getting my Real Job.

I'm the same age as the author apparently, and I was exceedingly fortunate to get a job in that terrible fall of 2009. Maybe if I had gone to grad school I would have encountered similar issues. Who knows. I'm actually really glad to read such an honest piece by a peer.

Thanks Hairpin for sharing.

@hedgehogerie Fall of 2009 was the worst. Seriously, the WORST. I was a 2008 grad and got through my first year of work (I was a teacher) and then mass layoffs hit my school, and fall 2009 was just so rough. I often wonder what would have happened if I had been in grad school then -- would things have been easier?


This piece guilted me out of my apartment fantasies temporarily, so I'll let the rest go.

@dham There are ways to spiff up your (affordable, tiny, within your budget) apartment without going into terrible amounts of debt. A little paint, some IKEA lighting, craigslist for furniture, etc. It's not that hard.


@S. Elizabeth Oh, I know- I meant it removed the insane fantasies, not all of them. Replacing the broken knobs on the cabinet drawers: acceptable. Moving from sharing a bedroom for $450/each to sharing a two bedroom apartment for $1100/each: unacceptable. I was just debating the merits of the latter scheme when I clicked this link.

Personally, this kind of writing is among my least favorite. But living in NYC, I am always grateful to the unhappy wealthy.

@dham Yeah, I get that. I share a 4 bedroom with 3 other people (and a cat and a dog) and ... yeah. Sometimes I think about moving and how I *could* get my own apartment, but then I cry about what the combination of rent and my student loan payment would look like.


I think it is brave of the author to put herself out there and admit to the world that she has made some colossally stupid decisions. Seriously, that farm house bit, oof.

But really I get the feeling this author hasn't had a very exciting life, and her writing really reflects that. Not just this piece but others that I've come across. You clearly have enough talent to get as far as you have in academia and more importantly, have supportive parents. Maybe set your sights higher than finding a husband who fits your ideal and a house decked out in labels.

I'm not trying to be mean, trolling online is not my jam. But I come to the Hairpin because I want to read about the adventures of interesting women, the kind of women who go hiking for 6 weeks by themselves. Bold women. Not women who have life handed to them on a platter and still somehow manage to cock it up...

wendy darling

"But really I get the feeling this author hasn't had a very exciting life, and her writing really reflects that."

yes! this! i also want to read about bold women and the lessons learned on their interesting adventures. maybe she should sell everything she owns and travel living out of a backpack for 6 months.


@Panda+Attack The domestic sphere has always gotten the short shift, I guess your complaint is nothing new. Personally I could not give less of a fuck about hearing about someone taking a real long walk. I don't resent the existence of The Hairpin's travel coverage though, I just... don't read it. I also disagree with your characterization of her life. As a fairly financially conservative person (in my own spending, not, like, politically), seeing someone take the same materialism I feel the pull of to its extreme makes my heart pound. "Kickass strong woman!!!1" is just as limiting and false category to demand all women conform to as any.


Yeah, everyone's idea of what requires strength and constitutes adventure is different. And using terms like "privilege" and "real life" to discredit someone doesn't help because you are commenting on a piece of work that is judged on it's own merit, not on moral obligations or the righteousness of the author. The essay for me was about indulgence and being confused about reality and expectations, and I enjoyed reading it.


I honestly don't comment much, but I do enjoy reading others' thoughts on the writing here. But when did comments on The Hairpin become so vitriolic?

The amount of judgement and condescension on this thread is baffling.

I always liked The Hairpin because it seemed like a place to go to read about experiences that were totally foreign to my own. But if people face such needlessly nasty commentary on their work, are others going to want to share their experiences with us?

Despite the wild west mentality of the internet, I think it's still possible to discuss and critique a piece in a reasonably polite manner.

So you find this essay detestable? Well, so did I. But that's not an excuse to feel personally offended by the author's choices on some profound interior level and then attack her just for existing the way she does.

Maybe instead of lambasting the author's life choices, we could talk about what her essay brings up for us, and how our own experiences and decisions have shaped us in similar or in disparate ways.

OK, well, that's all I wanted to add. Also, Jia, I think it's important that the editors of a blog respond to commenters, so it's cool that you wrote back a few times in this thread.


@mirah I wrote the comment above yours, which for me was super snarky. I actually felt regret after posting it but can't figure out how to delete it. I make it a habit of trying not to bash the work of other women, I feel like the rest of the world is ready to knock us down anyway so why pile on?

I think the reason so many people felt strongly against this piece is that at a time where so many people were struggling in the face of a horrible financial crisis, this writer was offered opportunity after opportunity. And not in a field that traditionally makes money either, but in writing. I think it rubs people the wrong way that instead of ending her piece feeling more regret and self loathing, she was able to shrug it off and keep on carrying on. I think if the author had written about wasted opportunity and debt but it was framed in another way, like drug abuse, people would have been less raging... but to be given opportunities to be a writer debt free, and to waste it? That brings out the hulk in a lot of people.



I see what you're saying, but at the same time, I don't think any of us are really in a position to judge someone especially harshly because they used the opportunities they were given in a different way from how we may have used them.

I love to read comments along the lines of, "If I had been given opportunities X, Y, and Z, just like the author, I would have done __________."

But here we're getting comments that are so scathing and mean, instead of perhaps speculating on what we might have done differently had we been in her position. I think it's great to talk about our own experiences in the context of this piece, but not if it means we have to completely tear down another person's choices, however misguided, in order to give value to our own decisions.


@mirah Thanks, and very much.



No problem. I am also a writer, albeit in a different capacity than you, and I think the hallmark of a good writer is the ability to see the possible validity of experiences other than your own.


@mirah cheers to you for sayin this!


@mirah God, thank you for this. I was disheartened by the amount of judgment and anger in the comments. I'm a writer who graduated in '09 and hasn't had half of the opportunities the author had, but after reading this I can see that as a gift in many ways.


@mirah Yeah, this used to be my internet "safe place" but the comments on this piece are just vicious. Also, 22 is so fucking young. I doubt very much I appreciated the opportunities I had at 22. It's something I can only really appreciate in hindsight.

I am sorry to hear about the above commenter's partner dying. I can't imagine going through something like that at such a young age. But we all have different life experiences and we handle them the best way we can. As someone else pointed out, it's not the suffering olympics.


@mirah I agree, and I would also say that it baffles me a little bit that so many people seem to think that their reaction to this piece is the only one that's valid. Many commenters have expressed how much this hit home for them. Maybe it didn't for you, or was even offensive in light of your own life experiences--well, that's kind of the nature of the Internet.


@sycofan I am pretty tired of hearing the "22 is so youuuung" thing. 22 is only young if you're privileged enough to treat it like it is.

I am 22. I have a job. My partner has a job. His job pays well, so thankfully, we can now live in an apartment with closed bedrooms while we pay off our debt, but that is a new experience. My parents were not able to help me pay for university at all. My dad died the summer before my third year, after an awful struggle with ALS, and my mum is disabled, so I actually was responsible for them, and still am. I worked my way through university and I learned how to be a grown-up, and I live as a grown-up.

I have a different kind of privilege: my privilege is education, not money. While I'm complaining about my own 22 being less privileged than other peoples', I'm aware that a lot of 22 year olds have been in the work force for 4-5 years already. A lot of them have kids. A lot of us are providing for extended families. So saying that 22 is super young and everyone who is 22 should get off the hook just does not fly in the real world.

The author has reasons & motivations for her work; she's mentioned PTSD, she's obviously got some psychological trauma to work through. Let's place the blame where it belongs, instead of copping out with some invented adolescence.

Koko Goldstein

@mirah I don't know. I'm seeing some anger and pettiness, but also some very good critiques on the subject, story, and the writing. It's hard for me to imagine that the writer didn't experience equally scathing and nerve-wracking critiques in creative writing programs in grad and undergrad.


@Koko Goldstein yep. If you're gonna write, and you're gonna put your writing out in public, you have to expect criticism. The criticism here happens to be mostly professional writing-based criticism, and you're not going to get that elsewhere on the internet.


@Koko Goldstein

So because people are jerks in creative writing programs, we should also be jerks on the internet?

Also, I have done multiple creative writing programs, including one at the graduate level. It was my experience that while my classmates' criticism was often harsh and intense, no one ever attacked any of my life decisions for being different from what they would have done had they been in my place.


I agree that some of the criticism on this article is legitimate and writing-based, but I would hardly say that it is the bulk of the comments. A good deal of the remarks here appear to be anonymous rage directed at a woman that probably none of us know for making poor choices when presented with certain opportunities, or "privileges," since everyone likes to toss that word around as if it has one conclusive meaning to all of us.

simone eastbro

@mirah thank you.


I find the attempts to curate the type of discourse people have in comments really tasteless. It's the internet. "We don't do that here" type comments are cliquey and tacky.

I also find people telling "mean" commenters to leave quite tasteless and immature. If you share something on the internet, and someone wants to say mean things about you that fall within the commenting guidelines of the website and therefore won't be deleted, tough.


You have a point, the fact that people generally aren't hateful in the comments is probably one of the reasons people like this site so much. I know it is for me.


@Panda+Attack Definitely why I read the comments! It's like the polar opposite of YouTube comments.


@mirah eep...why are we having such a hard time "replying" to each other...oh well.

Here it is

It's called hoarding.

lucy snowe

@Here it is People have a harder time seeing that when there are no dead cats under piles of newspapers. But yes.


I have read the majority of the comments here and see they span the spectrum of honest to bordering on troll.

What I see in the article is a self pampered young women, with no real idea of what it is to balance income with expenses. . .period.

We all have our indulgences. Amy simply has not learned the "art" of the budget. She obviously was given most of what she had, up until the time where she was required to start paying it back. And paying back was simply a relatively foreign concept.

Now where my objective enters the subjective is MANY individuals much like Amy don't stop with a bleeding heart article on an obscure website for public compassion. For many the "Give it to me, I deserve it...just because" mentality will begin to manifest itself into abusing the public trough. OWS was the crescendo of the attitude, the outlet for the bloated horde of Amy-like individuals.

A liberal-arts "self-invented and designed" worthless major, yet to the individual it is not enough of a wake-up to reality until they are forced to confront that decision in the real world.

I actually feel sorry for Amy, she seems to be an an honest person striving for a happy life. It's a shame it took 40K for the coffee aroma to waft into her life.


@17995777@twitter I think you may have totally missed the point of OWS. Shame.

The fact that there are entitled individuals out there does not in any way alter the reality that millions of people are being completely and legitimately fucked over on a daily basis by the people with money and power. Perhaps you might consider feeling sorry for them.


I admire your courage and self-awareness in putting this much info about your finances out there. Most of us make poor decisions that lead to debt at some point and I can absolutely understand how a 22-year-old who has never had to support herself could end up in this situation. I know that I took on student loan debt for college without thinking twice about how it would affect me in the future, because I had no frame of reference for what it feels like to be solely responsible for my rent and bills every month. I also think that there's something about being close to death at a young age that can lead you to a "fuck it, I can die at any moment, might as well spend everything today" mentality. At least you made your mistakes when you were young and have plenty of time to recover.


You sound exactly like... a spoiled rich kid. Growing up should not cost nearly so much.


WOW, feelings about the piece and the writer totally aside, @S. Elizabeth represents everything that is wrong with the internet and, increasingly, the Hairpin. Seriously girl. Check yourself.


@tuntastica Her responses in this thread have sucked, but her partner died 2 months ago and I'm inclined to cut her some slack. Grief makes us do things we regret.


@Alli525 Absolutely, but a valuable part of the healing process (in my experience) is having people tell you you're being an asshole, and (re-)learning to regulate your behaviour around other human beings.


@tuntastica 2 months, dude. 2 months. Grief fucking sucks.

And I give S. Elizabeth mad props for being very open about the fact that she is grieving right now, and that is affecting her responses.


The writer of this piece seems to think she has discovered something deep and profound. In fact, she's describing the well-known phenomenon of predictive affect, which basically refers to our own fantasy that getting something (like furniture, lottery winnings, a car or a new sweater) will make us feel a certain way (content/less lonely). Turns out, humans are terrible at predicting how we will actually feel after we have these things. (Spoiler alert: not content/not less lonely.)

As this girl discovered the very hard way, catalog creators shamelessly manipulate predictive affect, which is why it is helpful to have the insight to recognize that having a patio decked out in Pottery Barn finery is not the same as having 15 friends to come over and eat off those plates.

I guess the folks who don't figure that out in time end up $40,000 in debt.

Here's a link to a 2003 NY Times Magazine story by Jon Gertner that describes predictive affect in greater detail: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/07HAPPINESS.html?ei=5070&en=ed

And here's an excerpt:
"Gilbert and his collaborator Tim Wilson call the gap between what we predict and what we ultimately experience the ''impact bias'' -- ''impact'' meaning the errors we make in estimating both the intensity and duration of our emotions and ''bias'' our tendency to err. The phrase characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy. Would a 20 percent raise or winning the lottery result in a contented life? You may predict it will, but almost surely it won't turn out that way. And a new plasma television? You may have high hopes, but the impact bias suggests that it will almost certainly be less cool, and in a shorter time, than you imagine. Worse, Gilbert has noted that these mistakes of expectation can lead directly to mistakes in choosing what we think will give us pleasure. He calls this ''miswanting.'' "

frumious bandersnatch

I thought the first two-thirds of this were good, but I understand the "wait what" reaction that comes towards the end. It sounds like saying "but surprise you can't judge me it wasn't my fault because of this terrible thing" (+ the writing is a little overwrought towards the end). I get how much tragedies like these can seep into your life and I understand the author not wanting to make it the story, as she wrote somewhere in the comments, but to me as a reader it was too much swerving, too late in the piece. It reads as an excuse, even if not meant to, and that feels squicky.

I'm sorry that people feel the comments are turning vile, but while understanding the mistakes we as people make and the freedom we should have to tell our own stories, I was also deeply unsettled. And I'd like to have that conversation. I think it would be a much better piece of writing if it ended before invoking the shadow of the murder.

Anyway, I too was intrigued by the litany of writing awards and opportunities afforded the author and visited her website. Reading one other story about the murder made it clear to me it was something I had read about before. Borrowing a friend's Cosmopolitan on the plane or something. I'm going to link to that article, not because I'm trying to rubberneck or be sensationalist, but in case anyone else felt a pang reading about the 19-year-old girl "unprecedentedly" murdered and felt a smidgen like we were participating in exploiting her victimhood. (I do not think the author is exploiting it as a person and sincerely feel for her trauma and think comparing suffering rights is a terrible idea. But the the passing nature of the mention in this piece on materialism and debt made me feel complicit in downplaying the victim and her family's suffering.) This article gives you a better sense of her life and the tragedy of her death, and the extent to which the author's friend's psychosis may have manifested. It's also a good reminder that threatening to self-harm unless the partner does [x] is a type of emotional abuse and can escalate suddenly. So love your friends and be watchful.

TL;DR I think there is a lot of deserved criticism for particularly the end of this piece, though I found the beginning interesting.


@frumious bandersnatch you are great and thoughtful.


@frumious bandersnatch I took the ending in a different way. My reading of it is why regret something you can't change? I think it's better to accept that you fucked up and be glad the fuck up got you to a better place, which it seems the author did.

frumious bandersnatch

@olivia Yeah, I think that's how it was intended, so I'm glad you read it that way. I was able to see 'ok this is how I probably am supposed to be reading this' but the other stuff just hit me too forcefully to read it that way. I don't think the author is trying to say "you can't blame me," I just think it's not written well enough to convey what she wants.


i blame goop.

Queen of Pickles

Auuughhhh I have read all of the comments and feel gross


@Queen of Pickles Yeah, I was a bit dismayed when I came back. I think it's a sweet essay and man, I don't see why it's useful to tear someone down who was already being self-critical.


@Queen of Pickles They're sickeningly cruel and confrontational. This site has really gone to shit, both above and below the fold.


@itmakesmewonder Um, they're a bit more harsh and unforgiving than I would hope. But it's a bit circular to confront people for being confrontational. Some people had visceral reactions to this piece, and I wish they had expressed a bit more empathy and understanding about how someone can be privileged and still sad and unsure how to remedy that constructively, but they weren't in that place and it doesn't make them sickening.


@adorable-eggplant Oh good, the feelings police are here. Thanks for reminding me what I should find sickening or not.


@itmakesmewonder You can feel whatever you want to feel. Whether it's useful/constructive/worthwhile to share those feelings in a public forum (and whether it's a bit hypocritical to call people out for being overly critical in a way that is .... less than civil) is another question.

We can all moderate our responses to be polite and considerate, regardless of what we are feeling.

tl;dr I'm fine with you finding their comments sickening and firmly pushing back, but I am not fine with you calling their comments sickening. It isn't possible to have friendly discourse (which I sorely miss, too) if we do that.


@adorable-eggplant I don't know how to say more plainly that you aren't the boss of anything I say, and I carefully chose my uncivil words. It's my prerogative whether or not to be polite and considerate in a dialogue I think is disgusting. I'm not sorry I offended you with my language. I don't care what you're fine with.

I AM sorry a person in this commentariat chose to tell the author of this piece that nobody in the author's life has died so she doesn't deserve a voice, I guess; I'm also sorry the author of the piece responded to someone by saying, Who the fuck are you?

No, I don't think "friendly discourse" addresses that in the way I believe is right to do.


@itmakesmewonder I'm not the boss of you (and perhaps we all need some remedial kindergarden) but it's my fault for not making my point clearly: you can have feelings, you can say what you want, but I am not going to condone calling people's anger (misplaced though I think it is) symptomatic of things going to shit. It's not nice.

And yes, I strongly prefer niceness. And no, I cannot make you or anyone else be nice. It would've been preferable if there had been some general goodwill all around, but there hasn't been. It would still be possible for people to be nice if not to the author, since that ship has sailed, then to the commenters who clearly also have some hard feelings, and if not that then to the commenters who have hard feelings about the people who had hard feelings [which is what I'm trying to be, so I'll add that I am annoyed by the pettiness too, so I get where you are coming from].

Say whatever you want, however you'd like to say it, but I suspect that just dumping more blood in the shark tank won't get you the results you want to see (which I assume is a more respectful comments section, and if that assumption is wrong then, yes, you may get what you want).

I'm also just exercising my prerogative to express my feelings, which, for the record are: I feel saddened (annoyed) that people have decided to express so much negativity with so little thought to how someone else might feel reading their words because I enjoy personal narratives and expect that authors will be (justifiably) frightened of the prospect of submitting to the hairpin because people might dogpile, which I don't feel used to be the case.

But I also feel that eviscerating people for eviscerating the author doesn't solve that problem. We can disagree on that point.

ETA: It's tempting to have the last word, which may be why I elaborated more than necessary, so I promise that this is my last comment on this story.


reddit comments. take them with a grain, as most of these folks are 18 to 24 and probably either away from home for the first or feeling frustrated because they haven't moved away from home yet.


Lynn P

All these other comments aside, this article is strewn with weird grammar and convoluted syntax. Please don't tell me that you went to Iowa, then publish a piece where you misuse "alike" (a hackneyed word to begin with) THREE times. Also: "I recognize now to myself"? These are the sort of mistakes you would really want your editor to save you from. Er, from which you would want to be saved.


@Lynn P Truth. See also: "avail myself to", "full-ride", "in-full", and "at the risk of full-disclosure". Weird errors in a piece that can't really afford to provide extra grounds for criticism.


@Lynn P

This was what baffled me most when I read the glowing reviews in the first few comments. Content aside, the quality of the composition is *so* poor. The grammar and word choices are awkward and often flatly incorrect, as a number of people have pointed out. This is the product of years of graduate study of creative writing?

I know the author was reading the comments earlier and I'm not trying to be vicious. But given the hard-won lessons described above about the futility of buying the trappings of a happy life vs building the relationships you actually want, I think it's worth saying. It might be time to focus a little more on the actual craft of writing sentences and structuring a narrative vs living the great writer "lifestyle". I know many of the sentences in this essay would have been sent back covered in red ink by my high school English teachers. Hell, even if you have no desire to go back to basics, consider trying to build some relationships with editors who are willing to be more blunt than is perhaps initially comfortable for you.

Writing personal essays on the internet is always going to be an emotionally fraught and vulnerable pursuit, no matter who you are and what you have to say. But a grammatically flawless essay about the poor life choices made *during graduate writing programs* would probably be much less harshly received by the peanut gallery than this was.


i work in higher education, and this is a sad tale of how immature students abuse their aid money. i am not saying that all students are responsible for the student debt crisis, in fact i believe that education should be more affordable and available for high merit students. but this particularly story makes me angry that people can be so wasteful and there are students out there with a poorer economic status who have maxed out their loans/aid because funds are so limited. even worse, broke students spent every dime only on school supplies and tuition and they are still under crushing debt. pottery barn or anthropologie lifestyles are a myth and loans should not be made for this!!

Party Falcon

My darling child. The tale you continue to spin for yourself is glittering and beautifully rationalized. One day, I hope, I truly hope you can see the myopia of it all. I hope you grow and learn. And manage to make your world so much larger and more fulfilled than a perfectly proportioned faux tree.

I felt my hackles rise, reading about your blithe indifference; jealous and spiteful of your waste and carelessness. But as I read to the end, I realized you are, in fact, simply still very young. And there is very little sense in envying or hating the young for their youth or the privileged for their opportunity.

You may have ended this piece, but you don't really have a conclusion. Maybe in ten years or twenty or forty, you'll have the grace and opportunity to revisit, reflect and rewrite about waste and debt and perfection and grief and hopefully, wisdom.


@Party Falcon party falcon!

Party Falcon

@redheaded&crazy Shhhhhhhhhh. :)


@Party Falcon This was so exactly the reaction I had. I work with teens and sometime I want to do this haggard, ghost of Christmas future "You don't even know how hard life gets! You don't even appreciate how good you have it! Why are you so dumb!!" But then yes, it occurs to me that that (infuriating) lack of fear is what I envy/covet and I don't actually want to take that cocoon feeling away from them, because it will happen on its own with time. And that's a bit tragic.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@Party Falcon Hi Party Falcon!


@Party Falcon hi party falcon, hi hi hi!!


@Party Falcon *whispers* hellloooo!


*walks in, and slowly backs out*

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

Eugh. Okay, look.

A lot of the comments have been perceived as personal attacks on the author. Which, I mean, the version of herself that she paints here? Not likable! Sure, she made a lot of very poor decisions as a young adult, and I cringed as I read about them; but they weren't the real reason I felt animosity towards the (imagined) author. Throwing in fleeting thoughts on the love of a good man because [who knows]? Treating what are honestly very commonplace growing pains as celebrated, insightful revelations? Inserting the murder stuff that is clearly an integral part of her young adult experience (clear from the comments/her other writing, NOT from this essay) in an awkward manner, seemingly as an afterthought, as a diversion from the judgment of her readers? Describing "dusty riverbed trailer parks" to paint a bleak picture of home, when she has made it ABUNDANTLY CLEAR to her audience that she didn't come from those trailer parks? These aspects of the essay make it hard for a reader to identify with the narrator, however close or far she may be from the real-life woman who wrote her.

But that's not the point.

The point is that the piece really needs to be edited/proofed; that the essay reads like a second draft, not a final product, and shouldn't have been published as such.

The point is that the title, especially to a Hairpin audience, sets audience expectations counter to the attitude and subject matter actually found in this essay; that it sets the reader up for disappointment and anger when she expects a real but light-hearted "LOL DEBT" piece and instead finds a sincere almost-defense of extravagant and undiscriminating spending.

The point is that there's no focus, no lesson, no conclusion to this piece.

The point is that this author self-identifies as a writer, and she chose to write and publish this essay.
Obviously it is hard for an artist to separate herself from her work, especially when the work is of a personal nature, like this essay is. But if the author is going to put her work out there for everyone to see, she has to let it go. The world is full of people with different opinions, different backgrounds, different circumstances; different personal interpretations of her words. This essay doesn't belong to the author anymore, it belongs to the world. Writers have to accept that, to let their work go, in order to have any hope of (emotional) survival in their field.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

TL;DR I think many of us found the lack of editing or writing skill much more objectionable than the subject matter of the piece.


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me Yes. This is just so ham-fisted: "the fields of yellow corn stretching outwards to touch a blue-green sky, tall men standing in prairie grass, children in denim overalls with wide-mouthed Kool-Aid grins and white blond hair."

Grad school teaches you about colors, apparently.


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me this piece just made me way less impressed with Iowa's writing program, which I have fetishized in my mind forever.


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me Yup: That's the truth.


I (like so many others) read all of these comments and now feel a little queasy. I also took serious issue with several aspects of the essay, glibness and stylistic glitches among them, but I'm going to avoid jumping on the HateTrain (tough though that is). I will say that if you're gonna publish a personal essay online, prepare yourself for the reactions, positive and negative. That is all.



I don't know... I think it's reasonable to expect some courtesy in civil discussion, even on the Internet (lololololololol... lol.) Like, the fact that you feel a bit queasy... (here, have a cup of peach qream, you'll feel better!) says that maybe you have a high expectation for the hairpin forum. And I think that's a very, very good thing!

So, I think it's okay to expect to be treated with respect on the Hairpin.... not the internet at large of course. But here. Among friends. (Or at least where there is a sense of good fellowship... good ladyship!?)

That said, I've recently come to feel that I have maybe underrated Dorothy Parker, assuming she was a bit of a bitter pill... but I think maybe that's just because of a movie I watched. I actually adore how she called out Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

So I do want (to be able to) expect a standard of civility (on The Hairpin, not on the internets at large hahahaha that way lies madness!) But, I also appreciate a sharp wit. One which might have some bite in it.


@Dottie: Yo hey! I totally agree with you about civility in this forum--I found these comments amusing/revolting/on-point/way off base...you get the idea. Rare to see 'pinners so vitriolic, which means (in one sense, at least) that the author was doing her job, if you consider an author's job to be stirrin' up controversy. Vitriol aside, lots of the structure-related and stylistic suggestions were valid, if you ask me (which you may not be: I get it!).

I also dig incisive wit; too bad it was absent from the original piece.

QREAM! I've never tried it, but I won't knock it until I do...

Mary Mouse

I can't believe nobody has mentioned the fact that this is a sad imitation of Meghan Daum's writing.


This article resonates with me so much that it hurts. It's so very true and I think a more common reaction sulfate free shampoo

Choky Pradogi@facebook

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