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Saturday Special: The Rumpus Catches Up With Ann Friedman

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Ann Friedman. Editor. Writer. Force of goddamn nature. From her former post as Executive Editor of GOOD, current curation of LadyJournos!, and creative output (notably in Nymag.com and cjr.org), Ann is one of our generation’s most intelligent, insightful, and often funniest voices on what it’s like to be alive in the 21st century.

In her New Year’s Eve column for NYmag.com, titled “The Year of the ‘Year of the Woman,’” Friedman writes:

Calling it a “year of the woman” both serves up modern successes as historical anomalies (which is rarely the case) and gives us a pass when it comes to dealing with persistent sexism. It’s no wonder we’re quick to celebrate when we think we’ve had a breakthrough. A record number of action-flick heroines? A few more women in the Senate? Dozens of female medalists on the podium? That’s great! Let’s mark it as progress. But let’s call it what it is: incremental and hard-won.

And a month earlier, she also created “The Mulholland Pie,” a graphic representation of how David Lynch may have spent his Thanksgiving.

At a time when we’re not led to expect that a leading voice on current events, feminism, and politics will also choose to make hilarious pie charts, Ann Friedman is a marvel. I got to revel in her prolific and astonishingly varied work for an afternoon to talk about Tomorrow magazine, Hillary Clinton, “breakup season,” dance floor injuries, and everything else she’s been up to since The Rumpus Interview with her last May.

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The Rumpus: So, the last time The Rumpus spoke with you – that excellent interview with Julie Greicius – we covered your time at GOOD, your hilarious #realtalk from your editor, your curation of LadyJournos! – it feels like more than eight months have passed since then, in terms of what you’ve been up to. For starters, immediately after you left GOOD

Ann Friedman: You can say I was fired (laughs). Immediately after I was fired from GOOD.

Rumpus: (laughs) OK, after you were fired from GOOD , you and other colleagues who were also fired along with you started your own magazine. Tell us about that.

Friedman: It was called Tomorrow – is called Tomorrow, I guess, even though we don’t have plans for future issues – we just wanted to keep working together. We really loved working together, as a group, and after we got fired there was this outpouring of goodwill, and we really wanted to direct it towards something positive. Instead of being like, “We don’t really want to talk about what went down at GOOD, but thanks for your support,” it was nice to say, “We want to make this new thing. Support that.”

It was also good to remind ourselves throughout a process that didn’t really pay us anything and was really taxing that we were doing it because we wanted to do it, and we wanted to work together, and the process, not the product, was the most important thing.

Rumpus: What surprised you the most about putting Tomorrow together with this group of people?

Friedman: The sheer amount of work that wasn’t writing and editing was the surprising thing, but it shouldn’t have been. If you’ve been an Executive Editor you think you have this sense of everything it takes to put a magazine together. I would have lots of meetings about advertising or methods of distribution – things that aren’t strictly editorial. And with Tomorrow, a number of new things were now on our shoulders. I stuffed envelopes with Kickstarter incentives and drove them to the post office myself. Or trying to deal with the fact that there’s no printing house that also does shipping & fulfillment. I kind of came away thinking, no wonder print is dying. All of this is incredibly inefficient.

Rumpus: How else was it different from your Executive Editor role at GOOD? How did your role change at Tomorrow?

Friedman: We didn’t do titles at Tomorrow. Dylan Lathrop, who’s our designer, was obviously the head of all things visual, but we just made the masthead alphabetical.

Rumpus: Oh nice.

Friedman: I wasn’t technically the Executive Editor, although being someone who played that role before made me a default person to answer certain questions. We’d all just been fired, so we looked on it like: what skills do you want to learn from this new process?

Zak Stone, who was our assistant editor at GOOD, edited the whole front of book, and Amanda Hess who had never edited back of book before, edited back of book. Other editors who had never edited features before edited features. We saw it as a way to add some lines to our resumes in the safety of our little sandbox.

Rumpus: Is there a piece in Tomorrow that you’re proudest of?

Friedman: Zak Stone did a really interesting piece. At the time, a “End of Men” conversation was happening, which was really more of a social or economic kind of argument, and Zak did a piece on environmental pollutants and their effect on male biology, without being alarmist, without saying, “Bisphenol A is making everyone gay!” It was an exercise in accurately describing the gray area.

It asked questions about biology and gender and sexuality that most academics don’t even want to touch.

Rumpus: Also, since the last Rumpus interview, you’ve been writing a “Real Talk” column for the Columbia Journalism Review. Tell me how that came about.

Friedman: It came about as a way for me to take the silly, amusing GIF and snark blog, #realtalk from your editor that I created during a bout of insomnia last spring, and turn it into something that felt a little bit more real.

Rumpus: You still have GIFs in them.

Friedman: I still have some GIFs in them. But I don’t know if I’m really qualified to be giving advice. Edith Zimmerman at The Hairpin wrote a great little piece about editing an advice column for the past year or so. She wrote about how advice is useless, that all it really tells you about is the advice-giver, which is probably true.

If you want to read #realtalk from your editor as a long personal rant about my kind-of-short journalism career, that might be accurate. Now that I don’t have an editorial staff, it’s also been a way for me to engage with journalists as a community, which is another thing I like about it.

Rumpus: You’re also doing a Politics column on New York Magazine’s website. When did you start this?

Friedman: I started that in August of 2012. My mandate there is to talk about the thing that everyone’s talking about. I’ve written about Lady Gaga and Rihanna, work and family and relationships, but also things that are more strictly political.

Rumpus: Right, and you also wrote a story about Newtown, which was a piece I really loved, and to my mind was a perspective I hadn’t yet seen represented in the national dialogue.

Friedman: Yeah, I wrote about those teachers. In the story, I was basically looking at professions that are financially, and in some ways socially, not valued — in spite of us paying a lot of lip-service to them, in moments of crisis or national elections. It felt like a missing piece to me.

Rumpus: Is there a piece you’re proudest of, so far, in New York Magazine, or a piece that you’d tell people, if you’re going to read my work on NYmag.com, start here?

Friedman: I wrote a column on Hillary a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of those things when I got into it, I felt I could do a whole book about it. The column was about how, in terms of public opinion polling, we like Hillary when she’s down.

Now, everyone likes an underdog, but I think people also really like women as underdogs. The idea of a woman who’s at the top of her game and just owning that is – well, I looked at the polling and the times when Hillary was the most and least popular. I realized that, in spite of all my own claims to feminism, I map completely onto the mainstream reading of her.

I was annoyed with her when she was heading into the 2008 primary as the shoo-in. I thought, Ugh, God. I look back on why I felt that way, and yes, there was a lot of gross stuff about the Clinton campaign in the 2008 primary, but also, I think there’s something bigger at work about how we feel about powerful women. I had a really great conversation with Rebecca Traister that informed the column. The whole thing was a real treat. Calling myself out is always a treat.

Rumpus: Now, pie charts.

Friedman: Oh, man.

Rumpus: Were you doing these before you were doing these for The Hairpin?

Friedman: The first pie chart I made was in Washington, DC in late 2010. I was drinking in my office, on Friday, near the end of the day, and it grew out of a conversation with my then-colleague Phoebe Connelly, who’s now at Yahoo!. The idea was ”Why are the feminists pissed off today?”And Phoebe said, This is funny, you should send it somewhere, and on a whim, I sent it to The Hairpin and they published it. I sent them a few more, and then got back to it again when I was fired from GOOD.

This is something I’d love to play with even more – about the pie chart or Venn diagram or things that are traditionally really cold representations of data, as narrative tools.

Rumpus: Yes!

Friedman: I should try to make a narrative spreadsheet. Thinking about formats that aren’t supposed to be for storytelling and using them to tell stories.

Rumpus: Well, famously, there was the chapter of Jennifer Egan’s last book.

Friedman: Which is a PowerPoint presentation. I’m just going to go through the entire Microsoft Office toolset and see what I can do with that.

Rumpus: Use everything except Word to tell a story.

Friedman: Exactly.

Rumpus: Back to The Hairpin, what are some favorite pie chart topics?

Friedman: Well, some of them are about the totally shameful things that happen to me, like dislocating my shoulder on the dance floor. It’s a way to get vaguely personal without devoting a whole bunch of mental energy to something like a confessional essay.

Rumpus: OK. Let’s go back to the dance floor for a moment.

Friedman: I’m always willing to go back to the dance floor, J. Ryan.

Rumpus: Back in the nineties, when the party people were always being asked to come to the floor, were you one of the party people?

Friedman: I wasn’t! I didn’t start dancing until 2006.

Rumpus: You’re still the only person I know who’s ever been seriously injured on a dance floor.

Friedman: Technically, I was injured on my way to the dance floor.

Rumpus: What was the song that was drawing you?

Friedman: “Pony” by Ginuwine.

Rumpus: Yes!

Friedman: I was outside chatting with the smokers – I’m perpetually jealous of the coolness of smokers – and I heard the first notes, and then managed to trip over a cinder block which was propping open the door, and ate it, so hard, on the concrete. Just ate it.

Rumpus: Did you know right away what happened?

Friedman: My knees were all banged up, I might have been bleeding.

Rumpus: Did you still dance?

Friedman: Not only through “Pony,” but through several other songs.

Rumpus: You’re like a 21st-century Teddy Roosevelt!

Friedman: (laughs) My friend, who had driven me to the party was napping on a couch somewhere, and didn’t drive me home until two hours later. I was continuing to dance in the passenger seat of her car, on the way home, and threw my hands above my head – and this was to Solange’s “Losing You,” an excellent, excellent track from 2012 – and that’s when I felt it pop and couldn’t put my arm down and saw the bone sticking out the wrong way.

Rumpus: Whoa.

Friedman: I apparently begged my friend to Google how to pop it back in, and she said, No, I’m driving you to Urgent Care, honey. At which point they popped it back in. It’s funny now, but it was actually kind of horrible at the time.
My friend had to leave to go to a wedding the next morning, so I had to take a cab home from Urgent Care at 5:00 a.m., and I was in a dress that buttoned up the back, and I couldn’t get myself out of it, so I had to sleep in my dirty party dress.

I cried, I cried. But came out stronger for it (laughs).

Rumpus: Finally,  what are you doing this year that you’ve never done before?

Friedman: I want to write some more features. I had my first reported feature come out about a week ago, which was a story I wrote for TimeOut Chicago of all places.

I’m trying to do some things that are more based on immersive reporting – that’s what I’m really interested in. Spending time out and about in the real world, in scenarios where I wouldn’t otherwise have access – that’s one of the coolest things about being a journalist.

I’m speaking to the Alaska Press Club in April, and I’ve never been to Alaska. Everyone says that Alaska in April is “breakup season,” referring to the ice breaking up — that’s the phrase they use for it.

Rumpus: Ooh. You could get an article or book out of that title.

Friedman: No, it can’t say under my name for the rest of my life “Ann Friedman is the author of ‘Breakup Season’” – Oh God. That’d be Carrie Bradshawing too hard.

Really, going to Alaska and using the fact that I’m a journalist to meet some people and weirdos I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet, is something I’m definitely going to try to do. I don’t think there’s any way I won’t be inspired to write something, because it’s just so far out of the realm of the known for me.


J. Ryan Stradal’s writing has also appeared in Hobart, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rattling Wall, Knee-Jerk, Joyland, Trop, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Nervous Breakdown, and NFL.com, among other places. He lives in Los Angeles, where he creates products and materials for the Echo Park Time Travel Mart, volunteers at 826LA, co-produces the literary/culinary event “Hot Dish,” and often works in TV. Find him, if you must, at jryanstradal.com or @jryanstradal on Twitter. More from this author →