On Being the Last to Know
Don't ask me about quiet quitting.
I stumbled into editing for digital publications by accident. For years, I was designing websites and marketing materials. I knew exactly what my days would look like; after a decade-plus working in the industry, I’d built up some confidence. So when I transitioned over to the world of digital media as an Executive Editor—a jump that feels implausible to me even now—I was scared shitless. I suppose I had this idea of an editor being a terribly chic, omniscient person. Someone intimidatingly smart and purposeful, who wears designer labels and gets weekly blow-outs and knows George Saunders personally.
When I asked a manager what the most important trait of an editor was, she said, “You should be a person who’s continually ahead of the trends.” And that makes sense, of course; editors have a strong hand in shaping the content we consume and the products we purchase. You don’t want passé recommendations or content.
But that one sentence made me second-guess my brand-new career choice. You see, I’ll never be accused of leading a trend in my life. In fact, I’ve always felt like I’ve lagged behind my peers, the last to know about anything. In pictures from high school, I’m wearing bell-bottoms and pleather jackets, when everyone has already moved onto boot-cut jeans with flowy halter tops. I tend to read things later than others and discover television shows after everyone has binge-watched and written about them ad infinitum. (A couple months ago, a kind editor responded to a pitch about Stranger Things by saying, “I think we’ve passed the peak of Kate Bush chatter online.”) I once wrote a romance novel based on The Bachelor franchise, but of course, began submitting it the moment The Bachelor stopped garnering the same high-pitch level of fandom, after its Chris Harrison scandal.
You know how some newsletters will have a reading section called “ICYMI” (in case you missed it)? Mine would be called “You Probably Saw This.” Even the very act of writing this newsletter, I realize, is probably another example of me trailing the trends.
So what is it that I find so shameful about being the last to know? It’s probably the same whisper of hurt I feel when I see elderly Millennials like me described as “cringe” or “cheugy.” No one wants to be left behind or seen as outdated. But when you’re a person who sometimes operates in a fast-paced world of media consumption, that sense of behindness can feel like a death knell to your career. Moreso, it can make you feel like an imposter, as if value were tied to your ability to keep up with breaking news and trends.
Let me tell you, the act of keeping up can be exhausting.
If I were to get deep in the psychic archives, I’d say that the sense of being late to the party is probably rooted in how I came to America as an immigrant, at the age of five. While my peers were learning how to read in kindergarten, I was just learning how to speak the language. Even after summer school, it took me years to catch up. I always suspected there was a whole world that the rest of my peers understood, one I couldn’t grasp. I still carry that lost kid with me. The one that looks around her, asking, “How did I get here? What is this place?”
But the truth is: we all feel left behind sometimes. Uncool or unsophisticated, or whatever un- word encapsulates your biggest insecurities. My working theory is that when you’re stuck in a losing race—like the one I wage daily against the rapid-fire propulsion of trends—sometimes the best tactic is just to quit the race altogether. In my world, my family couldn’t care less what sneaker brand I’m wearing. My friends understand that they will have to convince me to watch The Bear, because I’ll probably be re-watching Schitt’s Creek, a show I discovered years after its cancellation. To my most beloved people, I’m fine the way I am. So, why keep running to catch up with the rest of the world?
I’ll just be resting here under the shade of a tree, where the word “cool” doesn’t mean anything important or essential in living a satisfying life. So maybe that’s what this newsletter is. You likely won’t find “buzzy” products or topics here—there are tons of other amazing places to get that—but you’ll find some space to linger on some of the questions we continue to ask. A chance to pause and ponder, without needing to wonder if someone else has already thought this same thing.
Now, a few years into editing and freelance writing, I think I’ve revised my thoughts on what an editor should be. Sure, it helps to have a certain prescience towards the things that will spark the Zeitgeist. But what’s most important to cultivate, in my opinion, is curiosity. Wonder. And isn’t that, too, what makes a person—of any occupation—interesting?
My wish for you today is to find joyful curiosity in the things and people you encounter, even if they are new discoveries only to you. May you have the opportunity to swim in your own peaceful lake of thoughts, without worrying about where the current takes the rest of the world.
Upcoming topics you can expect on Wallflower Chats:
The Secret Society of Cool Moms
Is it possible to be too boundaried?
The Failures We Don’t Talk About
How My Agent and I Found Each Other (paid subscribers)
Notables of the Week
Things I’ve Written:
The American Mall’s Long Goodbye at The Sunday Long Read (20-minute read)
Things I’ve Read:
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Sea of Tranquility Emily St. John Mandel
Every Summer After by Carley Fortune
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books [The New Yorker]
The Truth About Housewives [All in Her Head by Jessica Valenti]
Fear of a Black Hobbit [The Atlantic]
Things I’ve Eaten and Drank:
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