Subject: You're a Very Mean Man
Dear Mr. Gross,
My book is not a memoir. You do it a disservice to treat it as such. I would hope that as a woman I would finally be beyond the position of being judged by my husband's job.
I say in the first chapter exactly how lucky I know myself to be. At least half of the people in my book are not "poor, self-pitying upper-middle-class types" like me but in the 72% of 25-29-year-olds with no bachelor's degree. Your piece has absolutely nothing to say about the actually poor kids, who are holding down the vast majority of minimum wage jobs while struggling to get through school, not to mention fighting in Iraq, but my book does have a lot to say about them. Perhaps you didn't have room to acknowledge more than one good point of evidence ("Now, today's twentysomething authors are clearly onto something...") in your quite amusing review?
Thanks for your note. A few points I'd make in response. One: I don't think I'm a very mean man.
Also, I don’t know quite what to make of the people who have chosen to consume when they had no capacity to consume, like Stella, who maxed out her Citibank Visa by taking a trip to San Diego on her semester break from college, or Kyle, the Cornell grad who chose to have a car in college and hence took our more loans.
I know you probably thing I’m just a mean old man. But we actually have quite a lot in common. I, too, am the child of an English professor of modest means. I worked my way through Cornell, on student loans and crap jobs, then landed a year-long benefit-less internship at the New Republic for $200 a week while living in a shithole rowhouse in a part of town to which none of our girlfriends would venture, and then did two years of graduate study at Harvard, living on about $10,000 a year. My first job in journalism, which I took with my stellar degrees and experience at TNR was the ultimate crap job – coming in at 4:00 a.m. to Bloomberg news to summarize newspaper articles for the wire service and living in a shitty apartment. Of course, like everybody else, there were times when I was miserable and full of self-pity, and I even wrote about it sometimes.
I quit Bloomberg after nine months, and have been self-employed ever since, writing for magazines, writing books, etc. The point is not to impress you with my up from the bootstraps tale, or to look back wistfully to my youth. The point is that if you want to make it big, or relatively big, in New York journalism at a young age you have to take an awful lot of risks – which is precisely what you’re doing. At any point in my mid-20s, I could have taken a job with benefits, a 401(K), and a paid vacation at a crappy trade publication, or at the Daily News. I chose not to, because I thought I was capable of better and was prepared to deal with the insecurity for the sake of doing more interesting and satisfying work. I’m guessing you’re making the same calculation—and you’re right.
Dear Mr. Gross,
Thanks for writing me back. Since you concede the main thesis of the book--
" College is more expensive today in real terms. There's been a shift in student aid—more loans and fewer grants. The Baby Boomers, closer to retirement, are sucking up more dollars in benefits. There's more income volatility and job insecurity than there used to be"--
I'm going have to declare victory on this one. I just wish I could get you to see that I didn't write it about me and my own choices. I'm lucky as hell to be doing what I'm doing.
By the way, if we have so much in common, why is it that you find me so especially annoying?