A Reading List for My 25-Year-Old Self

Photo: Omer Wazir

This week I’m turning 25 and have decided (based on anxiety attacks and several recent horoscopes) to say what I really want: to pursue writing seriously. It terrifies me, because I’m having the following thoughts: 1) now it’s no longer a secret and everyone will see me fail; 2) my best writing samples are several years old; 3) so many folks I know who are younger and far, far more talented than me are Living Their Best Lives Now, and I feel hopeless in the face of so much talent. What do I have to offer? What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

But then I read something, and I realize I do have opinions and original thoughts. I can contribute to a larger conversation. I only need to commit to my potential and take risks. I need to contact the folks who’ve made offers I was too scared to accept, and I need to seek out these opportunities for myself. I need to believe in my value, and I need to hold myself accountable.

This list is a birthday gift to myself and, I hope, of use to you, too. It’s a mix of practical advice for freelancing, things that make me feel good, and examples of excellent writing. I included advice from professional women who get shit done, slideshows, links to YouTube videos, interviews with my favorite celebs, and other stuff. (Oh, and a post from Arabelle Sicardi’s Tumblr that makes me cry and is always open in my tabs.)

1. “Self-ish: Part 1.” (Ana Cecilia Alvarez, Nerve, May 2015)

Now that I’ve devoted an entire reading list to my own desires, a roundtable of super-smart women talking about a book called Selfish seems apt.

2. “12 Women on Twitter and Self-Promotion.” (Erica Schwiegershausen, The Cut, March 2015)

Is sharing your work gauche? What about retweeting others’ praise? How much “self” should you show in your self-promotion? Is Twitter personal, political or professional? Reporters, critics and comedians weigh in.

3. “Space to Create.” (Rookie, July 2015)

When I was a kid, I would clean and organize my room daily–sometimes multiple times. My second-grade teacher allowed me to organize her desk, too–I rearranged her knickknacks and put away her pencils. Since I moved in with my partner in December, I’ve been negotiating how to organize our space. He’s far more relaxed about what goes where, even as I’m frustrated by dust bunnies and stacks of books (all of which, I would like to clarify, are my own). Somehow, I’ve become “the messy one.” When business at the bookstore is slow, I read The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up and vow to give away T-shirts I hate and throw out dead plants. Then, I go home and watch Medium. I struggle to stay motivated, but slideshows like Rookie’s and before & after shots on Tumblr are helping.

4. “Kristen Stewart is Our September Cover Star.” (Margaret Wappler, Nylon, September 2015)

Guess who else is 25?! My boo, Kristen Stewart. As a birthday gift to me from the universe, K-Stew is on the cover of Nylon. I defended Stewart throughout the Twilight years, and it is so awesome to see her talent recognized worldwide. She is very chill! She loves dogs! When I’m angsting about my identity, it’s nice to have confirmation that I don’t have to know everything right now. If Kristen, with the pressure of fame and A Beautiful Face, can make peace with herself, so can I: “Mistakes are cool, even if they’re hard,” she says. “I’m down to make myself uncomfortable. I’m OK with that.”

5. “A Comedian and an Angry Kid Find an Unexpected Connection on Twitter.” (David Greene, NPR, August 2015)

You may not know Chris Gethard, but you’ve probably heard of his friends: Seth Meyers, Aidy Bryant, Nick Kroll, etc. For years, Gethard and his zany comedy crew hosted a late-night show on public access TV. Now he’s on Fusion, sponsored by AT&T, but he’s no sellout–he’s still forcing Wyatt Cenac to participate in Live Action Duck Hunt and hosting a show dedicated to puppies. In his latest episode, he invited one of his trolls onto the show. Randy is a teen from Virginia who took issue with Gethard on Twitter. As their feud escalated into name-calling and silly insults, Gethard decided they should meet face-to-face. What follows is hilarious.

6. “On Picking My Brain.” (Chloe Caldwell, August 2015)

I guess I just want people to be more aware of the phrase “how did you get” because usually the person didn’t “get’ anything and while they respond to your email of how they “got” what they “got” it’s taking away from them “getting it, girl.” I got what I got because I sit here in yoga pants and acne all day working my ass off. This is not to say I am not grateful and flattered. I am. But there’s something about it that makes me feel defensive, and used, and dirty…

It is insulting to ask writers how they GOT on VICE, or The Rumpus, because it implies they knew someone there, not because their work is good. I got in The Rumpus and Salon because I went to their websites and followed the submitting directions. The secret to writing and publishing, it turns out, is writing and publishing. Mostly writing.

7. “This is What It’s Like Being a Gay Christian Rock Star.” (Patrick Strudwick, BuzzFeed News, August 2015)

Vicky Beeching started to dominate the contemporary Christian music scene around time I left for college–otherwise, I promise I’d know all the words to her songs. My church wasn’t big enough to be on the cutting-edge of worship music–but thousands of other evangelical megachurches were, and Beeching was their golden girl.

Then, she announced she was a lesbian.

There are a lot of thinkpieces about the implications of Beeching’s decision to come out–for Christians, for churches, for worship music, for anti-LGBTQ doctrine–but not many have focused on the woman herself.

8. & 9. “How to Come Up With Great Ideas: Advice for Freelance Writers.” (Sulagna Misra, The Toast, July 2015) & “The Beginner’s Magical Guide to Becoming a Freelance Writer.” (Lisa Marie Basile, Luna Luna, January 2015)

Great advice from the creator of Pitching Shark and the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna, respectively. For future reference, when I’m inevitably doubting myself and in need of a reality check.

10. “Unfinished Letters From the Most Popular Kid at the Psych Ward.” (Casey Rocheteau, The Offing, August 2015)

A stunning series of letters/poems–fiction? nonfiction? does it matter?–that strike a balance between the literal and the unsaid.

11. “All Songs +1: Laura Jane Grace & Lauren Denitzio on Surviving in Punk.” (Robin Hilton & Daoud Tyler-Ameen, All Songs Considered, August 2015)

Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and The Worriers’ lead singer Lauren Denitzio discuss the punk rock scene’s flaws and potential, songwriting, sexism, and what brought them to music in the first place. These humans have keen minds and big hearts and their thoughts on gender identity are very important to me.

12. “Ferguson’s Radical Knitters: ‘If Someone Asks Me What I’m Doing, I Say I’m Knitting for Black Liberation.'” (Sarah Kendzior, The Guardian, August 2015)

In the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, Ferguson emerged as a locus for activism. Several of the women protesting systemic racism and police brutality took to knitting to relieve stress and start conversation. As an editor, I applaud Sarah Kendzior’s fresh take on a story that has become, tragically, omnipresent.

13. “Lisa Kron, Jeanine Tesori and Sam Gold Welcome You to the ‘Fun Home.'” (Suzy Evans, American Theatre, March 2015)

How do you turn a graphic novel into a musical? In Fun Home, the music takes the place of the pictures. I was an Alison Bechdel fangirl long before I started working in theatre, and to see Fun Home enjoy such great success makes me emotional. (I sobbed–SOBBED–the first time I watched “Ring of Keys” on YouTube.) I also read “Fun Home Made History Last Night and This is Entirely About That” by Ali at Autostraddle, and I recommend that as well.

14. “A CVS Pharmacist Stood in the Way of My Abortion–And the Law Says That’s Okay.” (Haley Potiker, Cosmopolitan, August 2015)

I was horrified to learn a pharmacist’s personal religious beliefs can compromise women’s access to birth control. Even if a privately owned drugstore has the means to fill a prescription, the pharmacist on duty can refuse or refer you to another location.

15. “Give Your Money to Women: The End Game of Capitalism.” (Lauren Chief Elk-Young Bear, Yeoshin Lourdes & Bardot Smith, Model View Culture, August 2015)

Following Lauren Chief Elk on Twitter, I’d noticed #GiveYourMoneyToWomen trending. I had a vague idea of its meaning, but this interview with Model View Culture is a comprehensive guide to its origin story and goals. I learned so much–the three activists discuss economics, violence against women, sex work, and emotional labor.