Saturday, March 27, 2010

How the Mighty (Editors) Have Fallen!

Maybe it's me, but it seems in the midst of the spate of recession memoirs -- a particularly timely sub-genre of coping, a.k.a. triumph-over-tragedy, tales -- the newest, hottest subset is the memoir by an ex-Condé Nast editor.

Absurd? I think not.
If two examples can inaugurate a trend, consider former SELF ed Alexandra Penney's "The Bag Lady Papers" (Hyperion), which is about her financial ruination at the hands of Bernard Madoff, spun off and partially serialized in her blog on The Daily Beast; and Dominique Browning's upcoming "Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas and Found Happiness" (Atlas & Co.), a memoir of the joys of unemployment following the demise of HOUSE & GARDEN magazine, which she had edited for 12 years (she blogs, too, at

What's especially interesting about these two is the similarity in the women's psyches. As excerpted in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine (March 28, 2010), Browning's book says:

"My nightmare had finally come true. For years, I had a profound dread of unemployment that went way beyond worrying about how to pay the bills. … My anxiety had more to do with my own neuroses …. I always worried that if I didn’t have work, I would sink into abject torpor.... I have always supported myself."

Dominique Browning

Penney expresses something very similar:

"For many years, I've feared that one day I'll wake up and be destitute and alone. ... I will end up trudging the streets, cold and abandoned, with a shopping cart filled with tattered bags full of god knows what. ... In December 2008, my worst nightmare came true."
No, even the bit about nightmares coming true doesn't exactly constitute plagiarism. But the overlap is interesting. I suppose these days many people fear unemployment, but this common strain makes me think that some of these very successful people--these hyper-driven women--do what they do and get where they get because of this fear. It spurs them to achieve, and keep achieving. By their own admission, it's an irrational fear out of all proportion to reality. So it must spark an irrational drive that's out of proportion, too.

Back in the 1980s I applied for a job at Condé Nast. Needless to say, I didn't get it or any other. Perhaps if I had, I'd be writing one of those memoirs myself now. Then again, I'm certain I've never had a nightmare about becoming a bag lady, or whatever the male equivalent is.

Anyway, it makes for fun reading!

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