Elizabeth Wurtzel filed a long, rambling confession over at New York this week, entitled Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One Night Stand of a Life. You’ll have to read it if you expect to follow along, but the gist is this: Elizabeth Wurtzel 1) had a crazy landlord this year, 2) women who don’t pay their own way are prostitutes and 3) there’s no such thing as happiness (?).
Peppered throughout are reminders of the Ivy League schools she’s attended, successes she’s enjoyed as a published author, fancy designer bags she’s purchased, and the assurance that her body is as firm and taut as it was in her teens… and yet, she asserts, happiness is an untruth. Convention is a lie we tell ourselves.
Editors Jennifer Wright and Ashley Cardiff will now try really hard to parse this.
Jennifer: So, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s piece seems to spend a very, very long time talking about how she is unhappy before concluding: “But this is it for me. I am a free spirit. I do not know any other way to be. No one else seems to live as I do. In a world gone wrong, a pure heart is dangerous.” Whereupon, I laughed out loud. What about the fact that you don’t want to hold down a job or a relationship qualifies you for a pure heart badge?
Ashley: Maybe she means buying a $10,000 handbag?
Jennifer: Oh, yes, she bought a Birkin! That’s right. That was pretty pure. She also seems to spend most of the day Googling herself, which seems very brave.
Ashley: I’m sorry. I still have no idea what I just read. Can we step back a second and you can, maybe, explain it to me? At first glance, it seems like it’s about her being harassed by her landlord (who stole the aforementioned $10,000 handbag) but then it’s about how happiness is a lie? I don’t understand what’s going on, Jennifer. And at first I was really excited, too, because I love a good crazy landlord story.
Jennifer: I know, but that didn’t happen, did it? Not really. That would have been a story. Maybe one with some chuckles in it.
Ashley: How does she know that her landlord stole her Birkin? What does this have to do with her being unhappy, but also free?
Jennifer: So, in essence, Elizabeth Wurtzel is unhappy. Frankly, I think everyone but the village idiot suffers from a deep unknowable sadness, so I don’t think this makes someone a terribly unique little snowflake. Honestly, I assume everyone around me is depressed. It seems like a rational response to the human condition. I do not think that this is particularly brave or interesting, but, fine. I would probably read piece about being sad. Maybe I will write a piece called “Sadness.” You know what I think is brave?
Ashley: I can guess.
Jennifer: What would you guess? Guessing games are a good way to forget the looming inevitability of death that sometimes weighs on me like a wet toad on my belly.
Ashley: Maybe if you bought a Birkin, you’d be more free.
Jennifer: More guessing!
Ashley: Well, Jen, in your two years as EIC of The Gloss, you’ve made it your pet project to ruthlessly dismantle any romance in the woman-child myth. You hate it more than anything. So I’m guessing, for you, “bravery” is actually getting up and going to work and balancing a budget and, for lack of a better term, being a responsible adult.
Jennifer: You guessed correctly. I think it’s especially brave to do all of that when you are – correctly – depressed about the fantastic lonely prospect that is the human condition. I think the bravest thing you can do, really, is carry on.
Jennifer: Okay, I guess you had some clues with your guessing game.
Ashley: I did.
Jennifer: But does this not strike people as – and I almost never use this word – astonishingly privileged? This woman who gets to work from home googling herself endlessly with a Birkin bag by her side is complaining about… again, is it just the human condition?
Ashley: Well, the Birkin got stolen, Jen. Which probably has something to do with that impenetrable swell of sorrow.
Jennifer: Well, we are all bottomless wells, really. I think that’s part of being an observant person. I’m generally quite sensitive to that. But I don’t think that excuses this:
It had never occurred to me before that any of the choices I made, which I prized, I guess because at least they were mine, were crazy or risky; but I was becoming convinced. I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain. But I also don’t get it: Even sitting through a carafe of Italian wine with a guy who worked in private equity felt like being handcuffed in the back seat of an unmarked squad car: The next stop is jail. And a lot feels potentially imprisoning to me. To get through every day, through a job of staring at pencil marks in spreadsheets through glassy eyes, through humoring a husband who has not sold a screenplay in six years and is writing a new one still, through telling everybody your three basic children are talented and gifted—I know that people who do these things are happy because happiness is the untruths we tell each other and ourselves or it would be unbearable. But I would rather not. I would rather be sad, and sometimes lonely, but at least not suffering the silly.
That thing, sitting at the job with the pencil, that is not a choice for a lot of people. A lot of people are talented, and not rewarded for their talent.
Ashley: Also, a lot of people are actually happy and not in the sense that they are suffocating under convention and the only way to stave off crippling existential crisis is calmly repeating over and over again that they are happy. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really buy her premise that happiness is an untruth.
Jennifer: Neither do I! Lots of idiots out there. Sorry. That’s not fair, really. But I do think that anyone with a memory of the past, and the losses that you accrue in the course of human life has perfectly good reason to be unhappy. I mean, I think the only way to be completely happy would be to be senile and eating an ice cream cone.
Ashley: Huh. I’m pretty happy?
Jennifer: Well, good for you.
Ashley: Maybe that’s why I don’t want a Birkin?
Jennifer: Well, I want a Birkin. But the point isn’t really whether I’m happy or not (again, human losses, passage of time, inevitability of death, all just the normal stuff, nothing special like, I don’t know, sneezing, which Wurtzel cites as a reason to give up on the day). But. Regardless of whether I’m happy or not, I get up, and I go to work, because I believe we are put here to do as much as we can to contribute to society around us. I mean, I think we should reap benefits from that, too. I’m not a communist.
Ashley: Benefits like Birkins.
Ashley: I think Birkins are too free-spirited for you, Jen. You’ve always struck me as more of a Kelly.
Jennifer: Let’s talk about stay at home moms being hookers.
Ashley: What about them?
Jennifer: I think, if the logic is getting money for something you do not necessarily feel like doing, then 90% of employed people are hookers. Again, I think Elizabeth Wurtzel forgets that most people work because they have to, not because they feel like it at that moment.
Ashley: That’s a very good point.
Jennifer: Moreover – I’m a fan of stay at home moms, and women supported by their husbands, as long as they still find ways to better the world. As far as I can see, a lot of them are docents at museums and help run charitable committees and support many institutions that I love, so they seem to be caretakers of society in their own way. That strikes me as more beneficial than sitting at the computer Googling herself, which seems to be what Elizabeth Wurtzel spent her afternoon doing.
Ashley: Jen, I still have no idea what this piece is about.
Jennifer: Lizzie Wurtzel is sad, but also, she’s decided she has a pure heart, so it’s fine. I mean, barring suicide, what’s the alternative though? I suppose it’s a better ending than “feeling sad is tough!” Or “it is indeed sad to be sad.” ALTHOUGH THOSE ENDINGS WOULD HAVE TIED MARGINALLY TO THE PIECE.
Ashley: You’re just saying that because of the gaping Hermes-shaped hole in your anguished, brittle little heart.
Jennifer: We all have holes in our heart, Ashley. It doesn’t mean deciding anyone who works for a living is some kind of sub-par impure being.
Ashley: I thought she was saying that about women who don’t work?
Jennifer: Everyone is subpar except her, with her pure heart. I mean, of course she suffers. But I think she forgets that so does everyone else.