Four years ago today, I was getting my diploma from ye olde alma mater and me and my four suitcases were heading out to San Francisco where we lived in a hotel for two weeks while I had a series of job interviews, none of which panned out, and resulted in me moving back to SoCal to live with a friend from college.
Had I gotten one of those jobs and stayed put, I would have had a very different life than the one I have now. I like how our inclination is to immediately romanticize that these lives would be better than the ones we currently lead. But it’s just different, that’s all. The people, places, and circumstances that surround you contribute to who you are and the person you continue to become. And timing is still everything, ultimately.
Truth is, there are so many roads we can take to becoming all of these different versions of ourselves. They are there and they are available. And some of them we know taking would ultimately lead to the creation of a version of you that you may not like but want because it means you’re (fill-in-the-blank with financially successful, famous and noteworthy, meeting the status quo, meeting up to parental/societal expectations) fulfilled on the surface. Maybe you start taking that road and realize halfway through it’s not you want and turn around and start over. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s never been anything wrong with that. Naturally, we’re taught to believe that if you aren’t meeting deadlines and goals and schedules, you’re not contributing to the greater good and are blowing your life away. And that’s not fair. We all must dig deeper and realize that no one path leads to a quick and easy palace of wisdom.
Experience, timing, circumstance. These are what matter.
I’ve gone on (Facebook) record with my distain for the HBO series “Girls” before. But it’s always my younger brother who is quick to call me out on my supposed dislike for anything, “I can never take you seriously when you say you hate something because in a week you’re either watching it secretly or you actually gave it a chance and turned out to like it.”
He hasn’t been wrong yet about that either.
Here we are, with the third season of Girls wrapped up, a show I criticized but! continued to hate watch on the side. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Guiltier than how I like to look at pictures from food blogs while I’m eating or how I did not hate Lindsay Lohan’s two albums. Every Sunday night, I’m secretly watching this show. Every Monday morning, I’m reading the Vulture recaps and texting theories with a close friend of mine who also hate watches too. This morning was no exception. Three years later and we have four girls still acting like well, girls. Personality growth in these four has crawled, to say the least, and a lot of that I blame on the fact that they should probably start branching out and hanging out with other people outside of their clique. (Which after the extreme bitch-out fest in the pool house episode, I was stunned to see NOBODY severed ties with anyone. To me that was entirely grounds for never speaking to any of those fools again and they probably should have done it there and then. I’ve been down the shitty so-called BFF road myself and emerged to find real, genuine friendships on the other side and I gotta say, it does get better but y’know, you can’t allow yourself to be treated like a rag doll all for the sake of “the friendship.” The moment anyone uses that phrase with you, run. Run fast. But I digress.)
However, there was a little growth last night in that Hannah (protagonist played by Lena Dunham) got accepted to a writer’s workshop in Iowa. Herein lies the bit that rubbed me the wrong way and has been doing so since the series started: would anyone like to point me in the direction of Hannah’s written portfolio and fight to become a writer?
Girls in its own light mirrors my own experience as a writer with very similar timelines matching up but wholly different experiences. I’ve done freelance writing for several years now and deeply enjoy it. I’ve had experiences I never, ever, thought I would get to have because of it either. If you had told me in grade school that one day, that dream I had written down on a binder cover in the 4th grade to attend an awards ceremony would one day come true, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me by then I would also have gone backstage for major fashion shows, done red carpet interviews, been a manager leading my own team, and spent several years hanging out with the Pillsbury Doughboy, and um, being named an honorary member of his family tree, I would have been like, “This is the life! You achieved everything you ever wanted!”
But what I need to stress here is despite these glitzy achievements, I. worked. my. ass. off. for. them. I had (and still have) incredible editors who worked alongside me (as well as some blowhards but let’s not discuss that). I stayed up late. I woke up extra early. My social life was basically whatever event I got invited to cover which to the untrained eye looked like a blast but it was really me interviewing people the whole time. (Which is fun but being a part of the press comes with expectations and decorum different than going somewhere as a guest.) It was hard. All of it. It still is and everything I write continues to change and evolve with time and I’m only proud of maybe a handful of articles I’ve done at best.
Watching this show as a writer made me hopeful I could relate to Hannah’s journey. Maybe we wouldn’t fully match up (me: LA, Hannah: NYC) but hey, writers woes amirite? Hannah has written a handful of articles at best, stretched out over the course of four years. One was about first-time recreational drug use at a party which she wished had gotten more tweets but to my knowledge seems to be the centerpiece of her writing resume. For a season, she had a storyline about getting a book published (I don’t know either) granted, an e-book but still a book. Fell behind on the paid deadline for that. Her editor died and then she went and tried to inquire about the book’s future at the guy’s own funeral. And then she got a sweet gig in the advertorial department at GQ which she got fired from for mouthing off about how basically everyone in that department was useless and not doing anything meaningful with their lives.
But while it’s realistic to portray a young writer as making some cruddy decisions along the way, going to Iowa is going to be the best thing she can possibly do if she wants to get serious and evolve. The thing about being a writer is (drumroll please)… none of this comes quickly. The praise, the publishing, the establishment of your own name. You have to work at it. You have to build the foundation and start building upward from there. Trial and error is learned along the way. In some cases, that means leaving behind one state for another too. Which I hope that Hannah says yes to. If she doesn’t and opts to stay behind, I’ll feel like she isn’t fighting for a new experience, the possibility of mentorships, the thought-provoking classes and new friends who may be the very bricks to keep building onward and upward, both for her professional and personal sense of self.
I was gonna write tonight.
Even picked up my dry cleaning early to get on it faster.
But then I made dinner.
Downloaded 21 Jump Street.
Went onto a wedding registry and bought a gift.
Answered work emails.
Texted. Tweeted. Offered up Facebook support.
Fell into a YouTube black hole.
Stared at some personal emails I should prrrrrrrobably not be delaying answering but I just… lack motivation there.
Fell into a more extensive and way deeper Soundcloud black hole.
Found out a DryBar opened up in my area and looked at the list of services and got way too excited.
Got ready for bed.
And here we are at 11:30 PM and no writing has been done.
But on the plus side post eye doctor visit tomorrow that will most likely not be the case.
Unless, you know, something goes down and I can’t really see.
Then we may have a slight problem.
Sometimes I get asked about my former work experience which in some ways is a question you probably shouldn’t ask me because my answer is very long and detailed. In age brackets, the breakdown looks a little like this:
ages 11-13: first job as an Avon assistant
ages 16-20: Panera Bread/Subway sandwich artist
ages 20-22: a slew of college internships and on campus part timers
age 23: copywriter at an advertising agency AKA the worst nine months of my professional career
ages 23-present (26): social media manager, freelance writer
Let’s bring it back to that 16-20 age bracket where I was working both Subway and Panera simultaneously when I was in high school and after high school. Subway is a story of its own for another time - working there was very coming of age for me, like a Cameron Crowe film. I entered a naive 16 year old and left a slightly less naive 20 year old. On the flip side, my memories of Panera all start with the fact that for the better part of my life I never even referred to it as Panera. I grew up in Saint Louis where the company was headquartered and known as Saint Louis Bread Company or, on a local nicknamed basis, Bread Co. When I was 16, I applied for a job at a store in my parent’s neighborhood. I went on two interviews and an orientation and for the next four years, I worked at Bread Co. and Subway simultaneously while in high school. (Panera on the weeknights and Subway on the weekends.) Since I didn’t think to blog or even keep a journal throughout it all, here are a handful of moments from my memory bank I can recall about my Panera experience.
1) It was never not insanely busy there, even in the summertime when the AC units barely worked. Our store was one of the busiest ones in the region and it showed - there would be lines out of the door some days. At one point, we actually had a person on hand to open and close the doors there. Almost like a doorman but minus a coat check room during the wintertime. But this wasn’t the most ridiculous job there. At one point my “job” was to collect the pagers from the customers when they buzzed and put them into the wire basket. I still got bitched at for talking too much no matter what I did or where I was at though - I s2g people back then had a radar alert out for me when I wasn’t 250% nose to the grindstone at all times and attempting to enjoy myself.
2) There were many moments in my life working there where I was certain that if I died tomorrow (in 2006), the last thing I would recall doing with my life was slicing a bagel or scrubbing the soup well. High schoolers across the world, I’m telling ya it does get better. This kind of restaurant life isn’t forever so just work hard while you’re with it in the present. Remember to keep your dreams in front of you and keep pushing towards those no matter how much you smell like a pile of frontega chicken paninis at the end of the day.
3) I started two (small and quickly contained) fires in the bakery, both of which involved the bagel toaster.
4) Let’s discuss the nickel raise bullshit incident, shall we? One year in the spring, we had our reviews and were to receive raises. For part time employees, the largest amount a person could receive was a quarter and I had no doubt in my mind that I would definitely be getting my quarter because the review and my work had been solid. The paychecks arrived, I get my check, I leave the building, I go out into the parking lot and get into my mom’s car to rip it open, and I have received a whopping 5 cents. A nickel. A NICKEL RAISE. I began seeing red and started yelling in the car, then jumped out, ran inside and slapped my check down on the counter and demanded to see one of the managers. We weren’t even in the back office before I started yelling again. I’m really not sure of everything I said (the important thing was that I refrained from swearing) but it was unfortunately a Sunday and also Mother’s Day that day, so many moms and their kids got to witness a level 5 Heather core meltdown.
This began a month long battle for my quarter. I did not give up or back down on it and reminded my managers regularly about that quarter and how I needed it. I put more effort and concern into that quarter than I did some of the classes I was enrolled in at school. Long story short, I got my quarter. And a few months later we had the VP of Panera visit our store and guess who got to take him on a tour? The 25 cent girl. He didn’t come empty handed though, oh no. For all of the hard working employees and managers, he brought along a cake and a container of fruits and candies for everyone and acted like we should have all been grateful for that gesture. This was the moment where my complete and total disgust for corporate higher ups who make an insanely bloated amount of money while those way, waaaaaay underneath the monetary totem pole struggle with nickel raises was born. When it happens in front of you, you don’t tend to forget it.
5) Here is another unpleasant story: our store had a mice problem. There was one mouse in particular that routinely ran around the back offices. For a moment, there was a concentrated effort to try to find and kill the mouse but then we all got wrapped up in work and everyone gave up on catching him and setting out the mouse traps so my managers named him Mickey and let him do his own thing.
6) Contrary to popular urban legend, the soup is not homemade. That would be literally impossible to do every single day. It was kept in big bags in the freezer and heated up over a soup well.
7) Ugh, remembering that nickel incident was the worst. Not to keep dwelling on it, but I can’t believe that was an actual occurrence in my life that happened and you’re talking to someone who once woke up in a wheelchair in a hotel she had never been to in her life after being blackout drunk one night. The year was 2007, not 1908 and this was a restaurant chain, not a bobbin factory. Don’t give your staff members a nickel raise for an annual review and expect them to love you for it and respect your establishment no matter how many hours a week they work. Don’t do it period, okay?
8) The most pleasant time I can recall working at Panera was during the Crispani launch. This was a line of pizzas that could be shared with two people and were actually really good. You got to wear a much nicer looking uniform and the work station to clean up was infinitely smaller than anywhere else in the cafe. A different summer one of my duties was to serve samples to everyone in the restaurant of whatever new drink or pastry we were promoting. I liked that because I got to walk around, go outside, and would only come in for two hours to do said sampling.
9) I was well versed in making sandwiches, salads and soups, doing the register, barista duties, the bakery life, the back of the house, the front of the house, and whatever odds and ends I was called on for. Since I was all over the place, the average workday for me included four or so drinks made and hidden in strategic places all throughout the store. (Technically employees were only allowed to have the soda for free but I had quite a few other things floating around.)
10) The uniform. Terrible then and terrible now, it consisted of khaki or black pants, a polo shirt, and this hideous spit pea soup green apron that covered almost all of your frame along with a hat to smush down the hair on your head and bring on the sweat in the summertime. I developed a strong hatred for the khaki pants after one day where I spilled scalding hot coffee everywhere on myself and all over the pants from one of the big coffee pots so most of the time, I wore a black skirt or black pants, polo shirt, and a pearl necklace into work. The first time I wore a white polo with the skirt and walked out to show my mother, she immediately told me I looked like a Jehovah’s witness. Thanksssssss!
11) It always cracked me up when people I knew who were clearly overweight opted to head there because they saw Panera as a healthy alternative to fast food. Oh my, no. There is a shitload of calories, sodium, sugar, trans fat, and basically everything wrong with most food ever in pretty much anything you order there. As the years went on, customers started to inquire about the calorie count in the foods and this called for a big white book to be brought out from hiding (underneath the registers) about the number of calories in each item since they weren’t really printed anywhere visible at the time. Once the book was out, everyone in line would look at it and they didn’t look too thrilled about what they saw despite the fact that they had to have some inkling that all this food wasn’t particularly healthy. Insert the Emma Roberts “surprise, bitch” gif here.
12) One of my coworkers in the morning was an older woman named Paula. I didn’t like her. I feel like at almost every job I’ve ever had or school I’ve gone to I’ve meet at least one person who I just didn’t gel with from the start. In the case of Paula, it was because as a teenager I didn’t care about or want to listen to her stories about her sons or grandkids or whatever mediocre life event she was up to that particular day. About a year after I left, I’d find out that she was fired for stealing money from the store. She had been working there for too many years to count and her stolen numbers amounted to the thousands. I might be wrong recollecting this but there might have been some legal stuff in the mix too. I thought this was hilarious because the woman had always put off this kindly old grandma vibe around everyone and I thought she was full of it. Karma’s a bitch, in an Emma Roberts gif kinda way amirite?
13) Theft, mice, nickel raises, and weird older men singing some song called “Heather Honey” and attempting to make a pass at me when I was 16 goddamn years old and they had a decade on me in age aside, I did work with some really amazing girls and guys which was what really made the experience worthwhile. For every bitchy manager or thirsty older male coworker, there were five cool people and two fun managers and that is not an easy ratio to pull off either. One of my managers, Elizabeth, and I went to the same grade school together and we shared a very unusual memory of the first time we met. I was in the 1st grade and she was in the 7th and she sat next to me at a chapel service because the custom then was to have the older kids sit in between the younger ones so we wouldn’t giggle or talk or make fart noises or whatever during the sermons. Maybe this would be less of a coincidence if I had grown up in the sticks, but this was Saint Louis. It was a cool reunion and a crazy one at that because we still remembered each other from that time. The good guys and gals made this place awesome during the Bread Bashes and holiday parties which in some ways feel close to me memory-wise and in many more feel infinitely further and further with every day that passes.
14) Oh, and when I was a senior in high school I filmed a part of my autobiography video assignment there. Or, as I fondly remember it, Heather’s Ridiculously Long Vanity Project because the end result was 13 minutes long for a 5 minute length and I refused to edit it down because I didn’t see the need to cut out portions of my life especially when I was the focus of it. (This is why I have always seen myself as more of a Jenna Maroney than a Liz Lemon.) Did my classmates really need an extended shot of me walking down the street in Clayton to watch? Probably not, but life is so wild and it happened and I stayed in the bathroom throughout the duration of the showing when we all watched each other’s videos so yeah.
There was a time where my dream job for many years was to write at Gothic Beauty Magazine. When I was in community college, I interviewed the publisher Steven Holiday for a project I needed to pull together where we had to chat with members of the media. It was very different from what everyone else was doing, but really special to me. Sometimes I wonder if he remembers me. I should look him up on Twitter. I know it’s cliche to say it, but that dream job feels like such a long time ago for me - my former ambitions and how they evolved over the years.
My inner interest in the macabre is going to be with me until I die. I feel it pique anytime I watch a horror movie. I think about the other career I could have pursued - forensics - sometimes. There’s no way of knowing where I would be today if I did go to school for that. I still like to read about serial killers and their traits and characteristics a lot. I remember that was how I introduced myself to my communications class on my first day at my alma mater. Tell us your name and one interesting fact about yourself. My name is Heather and I like to read about serial killers. I find them fascinating. (Bless my teacher for not being weirded out and kindly asking if I had a favorite I was intrigued by. He probably did it to be polite and definitely didn’t expect me to reply back that it was Albert Fish - grisly guy.)
I know that this all clashes with the girl that I am now and who I am seen as on the outside but I don’t believe in being everything you can outwardly appear to be. I believe in being as multi-faceted a person as possible. Like a diamond. If it grabs at my attention, I like it and I’m gonna make it my mission to know everything I can about it. Sometimes that can mean horror films, other times it’s fashion on the runways, still others it’s the Pillsbury Doughboy. A little pinch, cup, scoop, of everything that draws you in is really the spice of life.
When I went home last summer, it was the first time I had been home in two years. My old bedroom isn’t mine anymore - it was converted into a room for one of my brothers. But the closet was still 90% Heather based since it was filled with books and old journals and piles and piles and I do mean piles of magazines of mine from the early 2000s and ’90s. Closets tend to be my favorite room in any house. Maybe it’s because I place such an emphasis on clothing and very little to none on actual furniture anywhere else, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that a closet is the easiest room to fill up. When my parents first moved into that home, I filled my closet first, then stepped inside of it and shut the door behind me, breathing it all in. We had one, whole, space in that house that felt like it had been lived in. Then I filled up a cabinet underneath the sink in the bathroom with some bath products and we had one, whole, lived in cabinet in place. It was the only way the 14 year old version of me could stand the entire moving process which was exhausting and drawn out - to fill small spots here and there throughout the new home and make them feel comfortable to all of us until the new home was ready to go. Anyway, to tie in with the photo above, my parents asked me recently what magazines they could sell off and I told them everything but the copy of Vogue with Kirsten Dunst on the cover from the Marie Antoinette film release. It’s like looking a pre-social media relic of Vogue’s golden era and I want to hang onto it as long as I can. Also, there were several letters written to my future self in that closet. There was a time in my life where I was unbelievably dead set to move to New York and go to Columbia for journalism and I distinctly remember that feeling. But then one snowy afternoon I received a postcard in the mail for a private university in California and my entire course of action changed. I wrote these letters before I got that postcard, and I like how even though I had determination driving me toward that school and other life I could have had, I didn’t have the heart in it like I did with my now alma mater.
"She’s single, urban and loving it—but she’s no Carrie Bradshaw. Not necessarily looking for a husband, nor looking for just a good time, this leading-edge millennial woman, age 28 to 34, has a career to tend to and money to make."
At the Pillsbury Bake-Off last month, one of our speakers was Phil Lempert aka The Supermarket Guru who described one of the future trends in grocery shopping for 2014 and beyond to include the rise of “the indie woman.” I immediately liked the term and even introduced myself afterward to him as such, especially since I was one of the youngest people covering the Bake-Off.
The rise of the indie woman, as illustrated by AdWeek, looks a little something like this:
- Career first, marriage and kids later. (Perhaps not even in that order.)
- Fashionable, but also excels at window shopping even more than actual shopping.
- A fan of brand names.
- “They can work late or go out late, and they can bring home whoever they want.”
Muy bien. And now, here comes my personal anecdote.
When I started my NaNoWriMo story last month, it came out of a place deep inside of myself. I had been thinking about women in recent literature for a long time. Supposedly modern women and how unmodern they really were. It’s always the same story of the girl who was so very unique because she didn’t talk to other girls or licked her lips a lot or possessed a very “haunting” beauty with her pale skin but hey, that was okay because the boys liked her. Or, on the flip side, the very upset 22 year old who just graduated from college into a cold world where she didn’t immediately become the editor at a fashion magazine and bitched and complained about everything despite the fact that her parents paid her student loan and oh yeah, wailed on and on about boys.
Seriously? We’re still doing this? This is what still sells? Where were the girls who were playing by their rules and confident in the skin they were already in? When did it become acceptable to encourage a girl to settle because some rando guy had a thirst? How are you gonna bring girls into this world and build them up if there are no books around to encourage them to be their own woman?
So I had wanted to write something about a small cluster of girlfriends who were all cusping on the end of their twenties and were not even close to having made all of the so-called “right moves” with their lives, but also lived for themselves and valued the relationships they had that mattered. My girls (literally how I refer to them in my head) were all smart and independent and did not give a shit what anyone thought about them. They were also full of flaws, lest I started thinking they were too cool for school.
One of the first scenes I wrote up was one in which the protagonist Abby is sitting at a table for a dinner she was invited to with seven other people, six of which are married couples, and the seventh person is a single guy desperate to be like these married people (presumably Abby is invited to the dinner as someone he could potentially date but she’s not feeling how basic he is). The couples are all discussing their photos on Instagram and the monotonous ways they spent their weekends and Abby is bored. She is drinking the most out of anyone at the table, flirts with a married guy from across the room, and gets into an argument with one of the couples in which she begs them not to reproduce because she has a hard time figuring out whether the mom will pay more attention to her child over her MacBook.
Writing that was a lot of fun because I think every single girl who has ever been trapped at a table filled with nothing but couples could relate to it. The best part came from yanking myself open and letting everything fly out. No restraints, no limits, no cares as to who does like it or not. No biting the tongue, no polite smiling, just coming out and calling people out on their bullshit. There are no stories for twentysomethings that do that.
But the whole process for the NaNoWriMo story was never to write something that took itself too seriously or hit the bitter ground running either. This wasn’t going to be some thinly veiled version of any potential insecurities cropping up (“everybody’s getting married on Facebook but meeeeeeeee”) of mine you could read into. This was their story. Everyone was different and went through their own troubles and there wasn’t an ending. It’s a story, but doesn’t mean it can’t feel real, be self-deprecating, and sarcastic with heart.
These are the indie women. All the real girls. And that’s me telling a little bit about my own (fictional) story. That I’m proud of it and where it’s heading.
I’ll keep working on it, don’t worry.
Working on an article that I thought would not take me long to compile but it’s turning out to be much more lengthier, detailed, and all-around thoughtful than I thought it would. This is not a bad thing either. Just unexpected. I am also being picky on my selections for this piece too which makes it go slower than usual, but that’s because I want to be able to stand by my list with pride and know I had a good reason behind every choice I made.
Just another reminder to the world that good content is not built to be based on an assembly line model where you lather, rinse, and repeat it on an endless loop.