None of us has especially unique career trouble – not even Emily Gould

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One of the most dangerous things you can do in your career is to think you are different from everyone else. The biggest validation of that idea comes in AA meetings — it is widely understood by this group that thinking you’re different is just an excuse not to get help, an excuse to think you live outside what we already know to be true. It’s a dangerous way to live because you are reinventing the wheel for yourself and you risk just spinning in place.

Yet we jump through hoops to convince ourselves that we are different from everyone else and the experience of others does not apply to us. Daniel Gilbert found, for example, that most of us think we are worse jugglers than average, and most football players think they are better than average, but most people really are — surprise — just average. Gilbert has also shown that we are terrible at making decisions for ourselves, in part, because we think we’re special.

If you stop thinking you are so special, then you can learn from watching others, you can take advice from people who have been there before, and you can make decisions based on tried and true methods.

So finally, here's an example of this problem in action: a blogger gets on the cover of the New York Times magazine, Emily Gould. She talks about how her boyfriend hates that she blogs about him. Of course this hits close to home. But, it’s old news. I’ve already spent 20 years only dating/marrying/then dating people who will put up with me chronicling their every move.

So here’s another way for Emily to think: Instead of thinking that she’s so special because she’s blogging about her own life and everyone is knowing her through that, she could look at what has come before her. Women have been writing about their relationships forever, in transparent ways. It’s what women write about. And sometimes, it destroys relationships. But for forever, some women have been absolutely driven to put their life in words. They can’t stop. Emily is part of that history.

And so am I, so I know the history pretty well. Anne Frank did it, too — in the face of war. And Edith Wharton did it — risking the wrath of her high-end social circles. And Colette did it — with any guy who would put up with it, including her editor.

When I was a child, Anne Frank spoke to me not because she was documenting war, but because she understood that in some people, the drive to write down what is happening is stronger than anything else.

I told this to my divorce lawyer last week when he told me would not represent me if I didn’t stop writing about my divorce. He told me that he can’t represent me if I am undermining my case in my blog. I told him there is nothing worth saving more than my ability to document my life. I told him that somewhere, my husband understood this, because I published weekly documentation of our courtship — which focused on him never going down on me and me being pissed off–and we still got married. At that point, there is nothing left to hide. I told my lawyer it’s how I run my life, and I don’t know how else to do a life.

In the history of documenting one’s life–I hate to be snippy–but Emily Gould is no great example. The stakes are not very high for her. And relative to what other women have gone through, the stakes are not high for me, either. After all, I married someone who had already signed up for this life. Heather Armstrong is maybe a good example of the stakes being very high, because her blog, Dooce, includes her daughter so often.

But the poster-child for a woman going through hell in order to document her life is the photographer, Sally Mann. When I bought her monograph, Immediate Family, I had no idea it was controversial. I only knew that I was mesmerized by how the photos of her children captured the pain of adolescence, the edgy gross innocence of childhood and the closeness of a family’s bond: All at once. Every photo.

But stores wouldn’t sell it. They called it pornography. And people accused Sally Mann of child abuse for making pornography from her kids.

In Sally Mann’s eyes, she was just documenting her family life, and her love for her kids, and the fun of childhood. And with an open mind, you can see that in the photos. Wait. I’ll link to some (probably not safe for work).

Herman Melville is another great example of the stakes being much higher than Emily, or me. Melville had many children, whom he did not really support. He found his family depressing, and he thought his writing was too important to be distracted with the task of family life.

The history of obsessive writers destroying lives around them is not new. The history of writers feeling an insanely huge need to tell something to the world at all costs is not new.

So back to careers. In the New York Times, Emily portrays her career as anomalous, eccentric, and so difficult to manage that she needs to quote magazine articles to her therapist in order to describe her life. But if you put Emily in historical context—which I would have expected the NYT magazine to do—there are a lot of people who have paved the way for her. She can learn from lots of people who came before blogging, how to manage one’s career as a blogger.

And this is true for most of us.Very few of us ever have a totally unique career problem. Most problems come down to five or ten situations that happen all the time. I think we get clouded by the specifics of our own story, and that makes us unable to see why we are just like everyone else. Each person’s details are different, but the problems we have repeat themselves over and over again—especially in careers. That’s why a community of people helping each other with their careers works so well. That’s why I love my blog.

So take time to figure out why you are the same, instead of focusing on why you’re different. There is a community out there who can help you. This is true for everyone. Anyway, it’s not that interesting to operate as if we are the only person like us. None of us should reinvent the wheel by ourselves. Ever. It’s too lonely.

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  1. Jonathan S
    Jonathan S says:

    I learned nothing here except that someone is jealous of another person because that person made it to the “cover” of NYT doing theoretically the same thing someone did.

    Perhaps writing style, intellectual level, and the content of the article had something to do with it? But, let’s not digress and apply some logic used in this post: perhaps someone thinks she’s average(normal) when in fact, she’s way below average(incredibly stupid)? Just some suggestions here…

    * * * * *

    Alas, the line between intelligent analysis and jealously is so thin….


  2. Tom Parnell
    Tom Parnell says:

    Interesting post … And I think you’re right about the seductive allure of presuming oneself different.

    But I don’t subscribe to your argument as it relates to Emily Gould. Since when has it been necessary to contextualise someone’s efforts at communication? If this were the case, every book review would have to set the work in a context of all the other books that’d done the same before it.

    It’s a bit like saying: “Nobody may publicly express grief, depression or sadness without disclaimers and contextualisation – because there are plenty of people who’ve experienced greater hardship than they.”

    This is nonsense, I think. And if you pursue your logic, you’d end up with a scenario in which no-one dared express their thoughts/feelings publicly, because it’d been done far more notably before. Nicht so gut …

  3. Andrea >> Become a consultant
    Andrea >> Become a consultant says:

    I thought this had been going on for somewhere between 800 and 1000 years.

    And doesn’t this explain Lysistrata, even if that was by Aristotle?

    Regardless of whether you have your own room and a bit of money, you’re going to write.

  4. Mitch Wagner
    Mitch Wagner says:

    Great post, Penelope. You’ve definitely been doing some great work recently.

    Emily’s and your desire to write publicly about the intimate details of your lives are something that I can relate to a little – but only a little. When I’m tempted to do the same, I think about who the post might hurt, and whether it’s worth it, and then I stop.

    Heck, I often don’t post publicly that I’m planning a trip to San Francisco or New York if I know there are friends and family who might read the post, and who I won’t have a chance to visit.

    But I do admire your (and Emily’s) exhibitionism nonetheless, because it results in good writing for me and other people to enjoy and think about.

    What I can’t understand is why people like Jonathan S take pleasure in going around leaving nasty gratuitous comments on blogs. There’s no profit in it except for the sheer pleasure of being mean.

  5. Milena Thomas
    Milena Thomas says:

    Does the shock-value of baring all have any intrinsic value? I would argue that one could provide the arguements necessary to get points across without making abject examples of their personal lives, families, bosses, etc.

    I write about my personal life, but I draw distinct lines. If we are to offer any of the gory details of our lives, there has to be some intrinsic or added value to what is being presented, otherwise it runs along the same lines as pure sensationalism.

  6. Sir Loin of Beef
    Sir Loin of Beef says:

    Penelope, Herman Melville and Edith Wharton didn’t put significant amounts of their net worth and visitation rights at risk when they wrote, or at least they were reckless to the extent they did.

    Don’t be a fool. Listen to Counsel, if he’s still your attorney. Your next lawyer could care less that you feel the need to subvert your own position in your divorce proceedings. Good luck.

  7. Christine
    Christine says:

    I admire women like you, Dooce and Emily; I am striving to be more open in my blog posts. I was mostly concerned with plagiarism (people stealing my creative writing) that I allowed my voice to get lost. That’s what I call “too high a stake.”

    I am finding my way back.

    I agree that women have always been story-tellers.

    The online world just gives us access to a wider audience.

  8. Robyn
    Robyn says:

    The whole thing about people having to think they’re special is so totally true. Except for me. I really AM special.

  9. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    What’s with all the haters?

    It reminds of when I’d walk through my college dorm and overhear the other girls’ nasty and catty commentary.

    Is there a way to red flag those comments so I can skip over them?

  10. PunditMom
    PunditMom says:

    All the same, yet different. But the sameness is, as you say, the need to tell the story, whatever the story is.

  11. tarantula
    tarantula says:

    Sally Mann’s “Immediate Family” was hardly a “monograph” — it was a much-anticipated, widely reviewed, gorgeously produced, hardbound, best-selling book from the moment the ink dried — and if you had no idea it was controversial, well, you were the only one. The book was just one element of a marketing juggernaut that arguably began with the New York Times Magazine cover article about her. You must have been dozing.

  12. Dave Atkins
    Dave Atkins says:

    It is interesting that you follow up a post on branding with a post where you say people need to recognize they are not unique. It seems to me this is a lot of mental gymnastics to rationalize that you are capable of learning from other people. Duh. The experience of others can certainly teach us more about ourselves, but every person and situation IS unique. It’s just fundamental emotional and intellectual maturity to recognize that you don’t stop listening as soon as you find one little thing that is different in your case.

    I would think it just as dangerous to believe you are not different…to think you can just take advice “out of the box” and try it out, expecting it to work for you. When it doesn’t, you have more evidence of the fraud of the advice. Or, you can realize that you are a unique individual and there are no easy answers or plans, so you have to try things and learn from them. As a “different” person, you just know that it takes work to make changes in your life because there is no model you can follow. So the real choice is not to reject your uniqueness, but to practice humility and recognize that different or special is not an excuse–or at least that thinking that way is not productive because in order to be successful, you have to learn to fit.

  13. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    At first I thought that you were jealous, but as I read on, I realized what point you were driving at and think you articulated it rather well.

    Thanks for turning me onto Sally Mann. I have been living in a cave and was not familiar with her work (my future husband, the photographer, would probably kill me if he knew that was the case).

    * * * * * *

    Hold it. I AM jealous. I mean, I would like to be on the cover of the New York Times magazine. But I like to think that that isn’t what this post is about.

    Anyway, I’m glad you found Sally Mann from this blog. I feel good about that.


  14. Another Gal
    Another Gal says:

    Penelope, I get it when you say that this (blogging, writing, etc) is the only way you know how to live your life. And as long as you are prepared and willing to live with the consequences, I say more power to you.

    I observe that the choices you have made have in some part placed you in the difficult situations you sometimes describe.

    Choose the action, choose the consequences. Hold your head high. And deal with it.

    I’ll keep reading, it’s quite interesting stuff, very real and very human.

    And by the way, what IS it about men not going down on women? WTF???? And we go along with it, as though they’re right.

  15. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    There are two points here, as I see them: that women document and have done it through ages and that you are special, just like any one else. :-)

    On the latter, there is not much to say except that if this weren’t true, there would not many long-term friendships, relationships or ships of any other kind which are based on finding people like us or largely like us.

    On the former, I urge you to read this FT article on Nichola Beauman, the woman who founded Persephone Books to celebrate 20th century classics:

  16. Jeremiah Johnson
    Jeremiah Johnson says:

    So you told the world all the intimate details of your relationship and you “still got married.” But it didn’t work out at the end of the day it seems. Ah, and now there are children involved.

    An alternative path:

    You showed some discretion and respect for your husband by respecting his privacy -> he went down on you regularly -> still married and live happily ever after.

    I do enjoy a good many of your posts but I’m not sure that turning your loved ones out in public qualifies as bravery.

  17. JMW
    JMW says:

    I have to say I agree with your divorce lawyer on this, from a business perspective. We all have unique perspectives on life, but unfortunately sometimes business and legal considerations do force us into conformity. But as always I do admire your candor and bravery; for your sake, though, I hope that things work out and you can walk the necessary fine line between your personal and public life.

  18. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I don’t really understanding why whether you blog or don’t blog has any bearing on your divorce case. Is this one of those peculiar American things where one person sues the other person for divorce and one person has to be the guilty party and that affects the settlement? Yuk.

    Where I come from (Australia) there is only one form of divorce. It’s called no-fault divorce and it means what it says on the tin. Any ‘fault’ (whether you are talking adultery or excessive blogging) is a personal thing and not a legal matter.

    The property settlement is determined purely on two things: contribution (who brought what into the marriage and what did they build up together) and need (the person looking after the children usually gets to keep the family home). It seems a much more sensible way to do things in my opinion.

    Divorce is already painful enough without the courts forcing you into further acrimony for financial gain.

  19. Rebecca Cottrell
    Rebecca Cottrell says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I thought this was a really interesting post, and thanks a lot for the link to the article on Emily Gould — that was very interesting to read.

    The thought of being “average”, to me, provokes two reactions: 1) fear of mediocrity (fear of being the same as everyone else), and 2) a sense of deep comfort: comfort from the sense that everyone else experiences the same things as me.

    Fundamentally, I think you’re right, we are the same. But I think it’s the tiny things that make us different (this is such a cliche, but it’s true). Not everyone has a drive to blog, and not everyone can write in a way that’s compelling.

    From a macroscopic view, we’re all pretty similar, but when we get into the microcosm, it might be that the smaller things make our situations unique do so in a way that’s beyond the help of the macrocosm.

    “But for forever, some women have been absolutely driven to put their life in words. They can't stop. Emily is part of that history.”

    Emily Gould’s particular fame is a product of the internet. Those driven to write in history (Anne Frank, Edith Wharton) did not have access to the same powerful tools we have to make ourselves heard, though they might have had similar personality traits. So, it’s a matter of different contexts, but similar people.

    Finally, I think nothing ever is really new: if you look at fiction, there are apparently only 7 basic plots. Now think about how many fiction books exist out there!


  20. Mark
    Mark says:

    I’m glad others have gone before me. The hard work is done. All I have to do is wash,rinse and repeat,wash,rinse and repeat. Thanks for keeping the pathway open.I talk about stopping blogging but it is hard to do. It has taken on a life of it’s own.

  21. Amy
    Amy says:

    The impulse to tell everything is something I really struggle with. On LiveJournal, so many of us make up nicknames for the people in our lives so we can blog about them and still give them some small measure of anonimity, or else we just friendslock those posts. Some of us refrain from writing about them altogether. We simply choose not to write about the people in our lives because (horrors!) they would read it.

    I do a mixture of all three. I write about folks at work and give them all nicknames, but I also refrain from writing about all but the most emotionally-impactful events. If I can deal with what’s happening, my readers don’t see it at all.

    But I do have that internal censor, and that censor prevents me from going as far as you or Dooce go. I don’t write everything, and I don’t make it all public, because I am very effectively conditioned to avoid offence, rigamarole, quandries, ethical/legal murkiness, and so forth. But it’s fascinating to read about folks who just leap right into that because they must. I don’t judge that impulse, but I honestly just don’t know what that’s like.

    I would like to tell more. I would like to write volumes about my relationship with my husband, but he is sensitive, and I cannot offend him in that way. I don’t want to.

  22. Amy
    Amy says:

    Shoot, I did want to say something about that issue of sameness or specialness, because that’s something I struggle with, too, and the major reason why blog-reading is so important to me. I started reading Brazen Careerist because it has given me some insights into seeing my bosses as not being all that different from me, which is a stretch for me. I have deep-seated authority issues, most of which push me to hide from my employers. Your articles on “managing up” have been groundbreaking for me. Thank you. I need a lot of that. :)

  23. Michele
    Michele says:

    I wonder if, sometimes, someone who is feeling very different in their environment might simply be in the wrong field or corporate culture. One of your blogs that I really liked was about urging everyone to stop complaining about their jobs. Which is probably very good advice for a majority of the complainers. But, in some cases, I think that some of us have been mis-cast – either we just end up where we ended up by keeping our heads down and climbing the corporate ladder without truly following our passions.

    For me, I spent 13 years learning to be very good at my ?chosen? career, and have no trouble getting the next job and the next promotion. But, I struggle with feeling very “different” when lunching with colleagues who truly enjoy discussing work topics. Though I usually go along with it all, I’d much rather talk about other things in life. I often conclude that I’m just in the wrong business and then go through all sorts of maddening circular thoughts about starting over at the bottom in something else. But what? And how?

    Then I try to focus on the reasons I am like my peers, and put my head down and work harder, so I can continue on my path that pays the bills.

    But feeling different (not better or worse, just different) is always there. And when I dare to be open about that feeling, I always regret it.


    So, my point is, perhaps feeling different might be something that should be recognized as a need for change. For some. And, finding similarities in others might not always be that easy.

  24. david rees
    david rees says:

    I think that some of the worst things that have happened to me have been a direct result of thinking that I was unique and that the rules or common sense did not apply to me or my situation (you know, because I was so “unique”).

    There is a reconciliation when you make peace with the idea that your views, talents, quirks and experiences are truly your own and they make you the individual that you are but they do not excuse you from the laws of the universe or shield you from the consequences of your actions.

    Penelope, one of the things I most love about your blog is how you talk about simply being smart is not enough. I grew up in rural areas and small schools in the 70’s and 80’s. If you had good test scores, they might put you in a program whose primary purpose seemed to be to tell you how “special” you are. As if the world owes you something for being good at standardized tests.

    I think that is one of the worst things you can tell a kid: “You don’t have to work at being great, you are inherently that way without trying”

    What has helped me to get away from that dangerous idea is to stop thinking about people in a single dimension: “is this person smart…? or is they dumb?” :)

    There are lots of different models – whether you want to explore MBTI or talk about the “multiple intelligences” or Buckinghams 30-odd talents, we all have unique gifts and it is up to us to discover them and harness them.

    One thing that I think helps us grow into our strengths is to accept your limitations and weakness and stop being jealous of people who are strong in those areas. Sometimes I am jealous of people who are really scheduled and organized – I would be so much better off if I were more on top of certain things, but then I try to imagine – which of my own strengths would I give up to be that way? (uh, none – because my strengths are awesome, and I love them which is probably why they became strengths to begin with)

  25. Charles
    Charles says:


    Great point about how our sense of self-importance often inflates our perceived uniqueness beyond its true value. While to some this may be seen as a cold harsh reality, taken in perspective it keeps us from becoming self-absorbed freaks alienated from others whom we depend on. Essentially there is "nothing new under the sun" however we all bring a unique perspective to life. For example we can read the meditations (essentially a "blog") of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and share his inner thoughts; however, we will never share the same experience in our careers or our lives. Luckily, positive psychology tells us that a little bit of self-deception about our unique skills and abilities boosts our self-esteem and self-worth and is a major contributor to personal happiness. Perhaps it is best to remember although we are unique; we are not so damn different that others cannot empathize or understand our situation because they haven't trodden the exact same path.

    Alas, consider yourself lucky that you can post about your life uncensored online. Many of us need that pesky censor or associated aliases to avoid career, political and social drama.

    Good luck,

  26. Lane
    Lane says:

    One of my favorite “Depressories” ( is “You are unique, just like everyone else.”

    Someone might find that really disheartening, but I find it sort of liberating. Yes, it means I have the capability to be just as average, or below-average, as someone else. But I also have the capability to be Mozart. I have a thread of uniqueness that everyone else has, and I can weave with it or not.

    The Emily Gould article is interesting because she gets into the online experience in a way I’ve not heard someone really talk about before – perhaps because she has several pages to do it. She’s frighteningly honest about the online addiction of instant gratification. Having been there, I felt she was pretty accurate in that depiction.

    However, it seems to be the rise and fall of a typical job. Change the job type from one corporate job to another – perhaps she is a Senior Analyst, or a Compliance Officer. It’s the same. You go in, excited, ready to change the world and have some self-actualization. You realize after a short bit that some of it isn’t what you really wanted to do, but that’s ok – they pay you well and it is still fun. You completely immerse yourself in the culture, the jargon, the trade journals.

    After a few years, you are tired, having a hard time focusing – or even getting out of bed to get to work on time. You are disheartened. You start wondering if you should go get a different degree, a different job. You start focusing more on hobbies or side projects, using work time to do it, and thinking of your day job as “what allows you the freedom to pursue other interests.” From there all it takes is a poor relationship at the office, a substandard raise in response to your average performance and you’re looking for a new place to work and “express yourself.”

    Emily is talking about what everyone experiences in jobs – not just writers. It was interesting to read about the online addiction aspect and dealing with celebrity of a sort. And the discussion about sharing personal information. But otherwise, it was a story that could have been on her Heartbreak Soup blog – a detailed emotional storytelling that connects people with their own experiences.

  27. Jim Eiden
    Jim Eiden says:

    First of all, if you had written this article back in 1999 – 2001 you would have been drummed out of the internet. That is because back then it was a “New Economy.” This time was going to be different. Work will forever be changed in the “New Economy.” There will be so many jobs we wont be able to fill them, everyone will make tons of money, etc.

    But your article points out that the more things change, the more thay stay the same.

    Turns out that Dotcoms treated their employees just as bad as bricks and mortars were capable of.

    And documenting someone’s life whether electronically, or in a diary is that same as it has ever been. The only difference is that you choose to make your diary public.

    Let’s not forget that Ernest Hemingway fictionalized his life in his books and short stories.

    What about Erma Bombeck. All of her writings were about personal family events, but she used humor. She became famous for it. So if it is OK for Erma Bombeck to do it, then why not Penelope Trunk?

    Erma was a published author. So are you, in book and electronically.

    There is a lot of precedent for you to stay the course.

  28. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Great post! Love the fact that it follows your branding post – perfect symmetry. Funny thing, I read the Emily Gould article online on Friday – preview of the Sunday mag – and immediately thought that you would have something great to say about her thinking she’s ‘all that’. As you so aptly point out (the Anne Frank/Sally Mann analogies are inspired), women have been ‘blogging’ for decades, whether in diaries, novels or photographs. Stick to your guns, Penelope. Much as some may think blogging about your divorce crosses the line, it’s your *right* and you should stand firm for what you believe in. Better to find a new lawyer than to lose your sense of self.

  29. Josh
    Josh says:

    This is a great post, and I learned a lot reading it. To me, the threshold you set for the Times magazine is a key difference between the typical journalistic feature and the typical blog post. Given the same subject, a self-published blog is much less likely to do background research or find multiple sources.

    So it’s ironic that your blog post would cover the background that the Times magazine skipped.

  30. who knows?
    who knows? says:

    Like your thesis for the blog article but your tone seems different than usual. I don’t know if it’s towards Emily or your lawyer, but you seem angrier/defensive. Hope it all turns out ok for you.

  31. leslie
    leslie says:

    Its fine to blog about what you are going through in your personal life but if your lawyer feels you are jeopardizing your future by being too specific it is important to consider his point of view. Mentors are often where we least expect to find them. Most of us would rather be ruined by praise then saved by criticism.

  32. david rees
    david rees says:

    re: the lawyer issue

    It’s not like Penelope’s freedom is on the line. A divorce is primarily a financial matter and her lawyer is looking at the way a sensible lawyer should.

    That said, I agree with prklypr: Penelope is placing her freedom to blog and be her above the assumed goal to achieve a favorable divorce settlement. It’s not irrational, its just valuing things differently.

    So maybe instead of it going roughly 50/50, she weakens her position and it goes 70/30 against her. Maybe she has to pay alimony or something else.

    I don’t see why a lawyer can’t take that into their strategy and work from the frame of “reaching the best settlement possible for a client that will not stop talking about her case”.

    Shouldn’t she have that option?

  33. debbie
    debbie says:

    I agree completely with your premise – that we’re not all that unique and as much as we think the world/life is different – it’s pretty much the same and has been forever. With that said – there is something you said in the NYT article that directly contradicts this.

    "It is a generational issue," she said. "We think it will be a big deal, but it won't be to them. By the time they are old enough to read it, they will have spent their entire life online. It will be like, – €˜Oh yeah, I expected that.' "

    Children are cruel – having all of this dirty laundry in public will hurt your children – A different media does not make the experience any different. A tell all book – or a tell all blog – what’s the difference? Think about it – and fyi for all you braniacs who think that divorce is just about money – not when you have children. Penelope should think long and hard about what her lawyer is telling her. As she has NOT been the primary caregiver, she has a lot to lose –

    * * * * * * *

    Sometimes I can’t believe the stuff I decide to respond to in the comments section. But I feel compelled to say, for the record, that my husband and I each tried being the stay-at-home parent and it didn’t work for either of us. So, at this point, neither my husband nor I will be in a position to claim that we did more care-taking than the other. We split it 50/50. (And maybe this is a good little lesson for anyone who thinks that splitting care-taking 50/50 is a good path to take…)


  34. Casual Reader
    Casual Reader says:

    Penelope, thank you for writing this. I often find myself speechless when I read somebody like Dooce defending her ultra-personal blogging of her family life by saying “This is the first time in history women have had a community or outlet to talk about these issues (depression/sex life/parenting concerns/etc.)!” She posted something along these lines recently after her Today show appearance.

    BUT….is she not aware of women like Erma Bombeck? Jean Kerr? Both homemakers who took the absurdities, frustrations, and craziness of raising children and made careers out of….*writing* about them.

    Also, is she not aware of message boards where women have shared their concerns/fears/humorous moments since waaaay back in the dark ages of the internet?

    This “public dialog” has been happening for a long time. I do think that Dooce is being deliberately obtuse about failing to recognize this. Nobody has earned $500k/year by participating on a message board or forum.

    It would be more honest for her to acknowledge that she could find just as much community support by participating in a lower-profile online forum, but she prefers to take the high-profile route because of the money it brings in.

  35. Laura
    Laura says:

    yes but a book is a monologue and a blog is a dialogue. When you reveal yourself via a traditional medium like a book, you might imagine or fear negative criticism. But when you blog, it’s like some one is screaming that worst fear with a megaphone for the entire world to hear. And that criticism is articulated in the snarkiest and crudest manner possible.

  36. Marsha
    Marsha says:

    Hmmm, how would your blog be viewed if a man were writing it? Seems to me you’d be seen as a keen realist, a la Chuck Palahniuk.

    And your soon to be ex-hubby? While he knew what he was getting into because you provided full disclosure, none of us can know how that will wear over the years. We change over time – what was endearing, can become irritating.

    I just make the assumption that any interaction with you will in some way be grist for the mill – I agree, that’s how you live your life.

    Many people process their lives by talking. Using a blog to do the same thing makes people hysterical. Maybe because it’s in writing and now hangs around for years.

    I tend to think it’s more about shame and our Puritanical background. The more you hide, the more you keep. I feel you know the risk and are aware of what you’re doing. More power to you – one of the reasons I read your blog is because you’re real. Emily? Not so much.

  37. Patricia Hudak
    Patricia Hudak says:

    “Nothing you can do that can’t be done, nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.”

    If I may add, “Nothing you can write that hasn’t already been written.”

  38. Emily (not Gould)
    Emily (not Gould) says:

    I had never heard of Emily Gould until this post. I somehow made it through the entire 10 self-indulgent pages of her article (shows you how bored I was at work). I think the difference between you and her revealing personal information is that your blogs are short, concise, and witty. Her article was so long, drawn out, telling us every detail of her life as though we care (and, like you said, as though her problems were unique). You also give personal information, but it’s in funny little quips…brief yet juicy. I am shocked the NYT didn’t cut that thing down to one or two pages. She is a skilled writer, don’t get me wrong. I just think she should have written about something beside herself…or kept it short and sweet, like you do. It also sounds like your husband knew you’d be blogging about him from the start, whereas she didn’t exactly inform her significant others from the get go. Our internet-driven world really is creating the age of the amateur, where anyone can become “famous,” for better or worse.

  39. Yule Heibel
    Yule Heibel says:

    Thanks for this post, Penelope. I think you’ve provided the best commentary so far on Emily Gould’s NYT piece. Not until I read your article did I fully understand why the “I am special” message emanating from Gould bothered me (beyond what I identified immediately as my own feelings of envy or jealousy, as in “how come I don’t get paid to write navel-gazing like this?”).

    Your post let me understand that there are many average people who do what Gould does (she seems amazingly blind to that), and that there are a couple of exceptional ones, too, whether because they are innately talented or because historical circumstance thrust them into very difficult positions. By showing *that* difference, you’re giving us some tools with which to choose and discriminate.

    My immediate thought after reading Gould was, “meh, what a self-centered 20-something,” (i.e., put her down because of her youth and inexperience), but your reference to Anne Frank squashed that — a risky move on your part given Frank’s historical legacy, but you effectively showed that age and/or inexperience doesn’t have to be the determining factor — which of course fits well with Brazen Careerist’s overall goal of speaking to young people, and connecting their voices.

    Had Frank had a normal life and not been murdered by Nazis, would she eventually have had garden variety “career trouble” or not? I’d like to think her insights would have been more …universal, and fittingly mordant perhaps. Something a bit more seasoned than Gould.

  40. Dan
    Dan says:

    “The history of obsessive writers destroying lives around them is not new.” Two quick points: 1) from what I could slog through, Gould doesn’t claim to be new or unique and 2) perhaps if said writers could refrain from violating trust, fewer lives would be destroyed.

    Anne Frank was a teenager writing an obviously PRIVATE diary. Not relevant to this topic.

  41. Herman Melville
    Herman Melville says:

    I can’t believe you married a guy who wouldn’t go down on you. What were you thinking?

    I think your being faced with that choice is related to your need to write about your boyfriends. If you limit the pool of guys to those who don’t mind being blogged about, maybe you end up with a group where the best available candidate won’t even go down on you. Think of all the happy youthful, bygone hours of receiving oral sex you may have missed because of your insistence of documenting in words every aspect of your life.

  42. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    I read Gould’s article prior to its being published. As someone who also got her start in “regular” book publishing, I was interested in her choice to leave that world and move into something more immediate, more exposed, and more addictive (as she talks about it). The resulting “instant gratification” of the job at Gawker apparently capped her lifelong desire to develop an audience for her life/writing.

    Which is fine, as long as she is aware of the consequences of being that naked and of making those around her that naked.

    I have left publishing (thank God!) and now teach at university and write plays and screenplays. To tell my story, I have to talk about my family and friends, often in unrecognizable ways–because I write fiction and change the names. I still worry about their feelings, and that conflict with my integrity. My problem (and my sympathy) are with Gould because she got caught up in thinking that not only was her “honest” writing more important than her relationships (in more ways than one) but that SHE was more important than her relationships.

    But it wasn’t the worst thing she could have done. No one died, after all, and her story is now on the cover of the NYTimes, where she’s spun her problems into a morality tale for the cocktail party and blogging circuit. Her combination of self-awareness and desire for exposure has again borne fruit.

  43. Angie
    Angie says:


    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years now, beginning in early 2006 when a co-worker forwarded me a link to “If You’re Stuck, Take an Adventure.” You’ve had some really insightful, well-researched things to share.

    Yet, I’m puzzled by your determination to blog about your divorce. It seems incredibly risky to do so against your attorney’s advice. Now, I know you’re a risk-taker, but it seems even risk-takers need to practice self-restraint at times. Besides that, it seems kind of disrespectful to your family. While I can understand the need to write, I don’t buy the “need” to post about absolutely everything. What/whom is it really serving?

  44. Sakoro
    Sakoro says:

    I’m with Angie. Yes, I agree women have been writing about their families and relationships for eons but they didn’t necessarily share their material with the world immediately. Why not just write up these entries and save them until the divorce is final and they can’t be used against you?

  45. Miss Bits
    Miss Bits says:

    Is there no difference between feeling a compulsion to write and document, and feeling a compulsion to perpetually have an audience?

    I think there is, and it’s called narcissism.

  46. debbie
    debbie says:

    Penelope – as you responded to my post – I feel compelled to add one clarification. As a mother working full-time, I by no means was trying to throw stones for not being the primary caregiver – I reread my post and it came across that way. Perhaps because one of my coworkers lived through this, I wanted to bring up the custody angle. It was a real wake up call for me when this incredibly devoted mother, who just happened to work full-time (in this case the father did as well) ended up with the one night a week custody arrangement. Her job was seen as less “flexible” and she got shafted (in my humble opinion) Perhaps things are different in WI, I was trying to encourage you to have a frank conversation on what is truly at risk here.

  47. Beth
    Beth says:

    Emily is simply Net Gen’s pin-up flaveur du jour. I imagine she reckons herself all 4 “Sex & The City” girls, with a twist of alt-indie. She’s such a poser.

    You can quote me on that.

    I too have been chronicling my life and personal woes since the dawn of blogging inception.

    My advice to Emily: Take a number and be humble enough to get behind the woman with something to say that we actually want to know about.

    Oh and Joshua Stein is so much more entertaining as a blogger and a tell-all yenta in some snooty NYC publication than his ex. He’s got that market cornered.

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