POPSUGAR is the first site on my bookmarks bar. Reading their content never fails to put a smile on my face, but not in a way that makes me feel guilty or empty afterward. The articles have a great sense of fun, but also, just the right amount of insight to where it's not pretentious and not fluff either. I've been reading POPSUGAR a lot lately, during these trying times, because, above all else, I find the stories they publish to be profoundly comforting, whether I'm reading a personal essay that makes me feel less alone, or a more lighthearted listicle about healthy recipes.
Last June, I stumbled across an article that perfectly encapsulated all this, titled "Movie Prom Cliches: From Makeovers to Hidden Agendas." I actually laughed out loud reading it, and realizing how ridiculous all these movie tropes were when you actually stop to think about it. Even though it was just a silly project, something about it really struck a chord with me. For one, it was satisfying to see all the high school movies that employ these cliches collected up in one place. As someone who had recently finished high school, it was also endearing to look back on what I thought prom/high school would be like based on movies versus what it was like in reality. I knew I had to find out more about who wrote the piece, Laura Marie Meyers.
I found out Laura was the content director of POPSUGAR and had numerous other pieces of pop culture commentary that were equally as entertaining. She quickly became an inspiration of mine, with her spirited and hilarious writing voice. I found her on Instagram and discovered that she was also a mom, and I was even more impressed by her ability to make having it all seem achievable.
Who are your biggest inspirations and what lessons have they taught you?
Lately I've been thinking a lot about how much I was influenced by my high school English teacher. She was this tiny little human with a wacky sense of humor, and she was known for two things: being smart as hell and loving Brad Pitt.
On the one hand, she had this reputation for being a really strict, tough teacher with high expectations. She wasn't about to hand out an "A" if somebody didn't earn it. And meanwhile, her classroom walls were decorated floor-to-ceiling with pictures of Brad Pitt. I'm not exaggerating. Floor to ceiling! To be fair, there were some other celebrity pictures in the mix, and definitely a Got Milk? ad or five, but her classroom was basically just a giant Brad Pitt collage, and I adored her for it. Here was this crazy-smart academic who carried herself like a boss and crushed on celebrities like she was thirteen. She could school you on 19th century novels and everything about Jennifer Aniston.
It's pretty obvious why I loved her. At a time when I really needed it, she showed me that you don't only have to be into traditionally "serious" things to be taken seriously. You could — hypothetically speaking, of course — be a diehard *NSYNC fan who also cares about books and politics. I think, especially when we're teenagers, we feel like we have to mold ourselves into these different categories, as if we need to fit into a classic character trope, you know? Jock, brain, the whole Breakfast Club thing. And here was this teacher who just couldn't be categorized. She was a little bit of everything, and she made me want to be my smartest, weirdest, most complicated self, too.
What's a story from your childhood that really describes your personality?
As a kid, I used to make up homework for myself. Very cool, right? I'm the youngest of five siblings, and when I was little, I wanted to do everything my brothers and sister were doing even though big age gaps meant we were in totally different phases of life. They'd sit at the kitchen table doing their middle school and high school homework, and I'd haul over my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper to do my made-up work with them. I remember copying Berenstain Bear books for a while. I'd rework parts of the story, making Brother Bear and Sister Bear go off in these new, weird directions, and recently I realized I was basically writing Berenstain Bears fanfic. Eventually I did the same thing with The Baby-Sitters Club series, which I'd sometimes mash up with Saved by the Bell. Claudia dating Zack Morris? Why not?
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Trusting my instincts on a time crunch. Listening to your gut can be challenging, sometimes more so one day than the next, and that's especially true when you're dealing with really timely, act-now types of stories. There are a million things happening on the internet each day, so I'm constantly evaluating which conversations are worth getting in on and which ones should be ignored.
What's the most rewarding?
One of my favorite things about working in media is how writing, which is so often a solitary thing, can become more collaborative. I used to joke that I don't have the right personality for being a writer. I love people, and I like to talk things out, and although I definitely love to hibernate with my laptop and a stack of books sometimes (Big Taurus Energy), the whole stereotype of a "reclusive writer's life" used to make me think I wasn't cut out for it. In a newsroom, though, it's not just you and a page. Sure, maybe it's just you while you're writing the story, but first you're talking through ideas with the team, tossing out headline options, and gathering other people's perspectives on the piece.
There's a real camaraderie that comes from experiencing the daily news together, and I live for the Slack conversations. I really do. I can't even tell you how fun it is when a song is released, or a movie trailer comes out, and the chat room just goes off. My co-workers are insanely funny and sharp and creative, and being able to hear their hot takes in real time is the best. I laughed harder than I had in forever during that hour after the first Cats trailer dropped.
What do you think is the most important skill for a young journalist to develop?
It's so important to have a clear, confident voice and a true expertise in the mechanics of language. When you know who you are, and you have the technical skills to translate your thoughts on to the page, then you set yourself apart. You know the words, rhythms, and ideas that feel like your own, and your story becomes a thing written by a three-dimensional person rather than a collection of words that could belong to anyone. I love writers I can recognize. There are writers who are so unmistakably, unapologetically themselves that you can tell within just a few lines of their work that the story is theirs. It doesn't matter what they're writing about, or where that writing lives. You just know.
What's been the most transformative experience of your life?
Motherhood, for sure. I have two sons, a toddler and a newborn, and when I was pregnant with my first, I remember people telling me all the time that parenthood would change me completely. And, yeah, in a lot of ways it did. Having kids changed my perspective, my priorities, my body, my bedtime... Actually, that last one's not true. I've always had the badass bedtime of 9 p.m.
People were right about parenthood being an upheaval, though, because it's obviously this giant shock to the system that forces you to recalibrate. But I've been pleasantly surprised to realize that I'm still unmistakably myself. It's been pretty wonderful to know that there are rock-solid parts of me that don't shift, and becoming a mom hasn't changed the core of who I am. It's been more like a sharpening of the features that were already there.
Using a metaphor, how would you describe your creative process?
I cannot believe I'm about to use football as a metaphor for writing, but here we are. I don't even like watching football that much, but movies and TV shows about football are some of my favorites? I can't explain it. As a kid I was obsessed with Little Giants (Devon Sawa, be still my heart) and don't get me started on Friday Night Lights. Tim Riggins and Coach Taylor are everything to me.
Anyway, back to the metaphor. TV crushes aside, I think I approach storytelling in the same way football players approach a game. For any given play, you know the points you need to hit, right? You have a general plan of what you'd do in an ideal situation, and you have the tools and the practice in your back pocket, but you can't fully prepare for what will happen once you're actually on the field. When I write a story, it's like that. I always have a brief outline in mind, and sometimes on the page, so before I write, I know the hook, the gist of where I'm going with it, and where I plan to land. Once I'm playing, though, I just... play. Sometimes it goes as expected, and sometimes I surprise myself. Both outcomes are satisfying in their own ways.
In your opinion, what makes a good pitch?
Something unexpected. That could be an entire perspective, a headline, or even just a particularly standout word choice that makes you sort of sit back, like, Huh. Interesting. I love a good, witty lede. Or a final line that makes you think. Mostly it just goes back to owning your voice and taking chances. In my office at home, I have a framed poster that says: "Create something today even if it sucks." It's a good reminder to just keep doing the thing you love, and not to be too hard on your work. You learn from the sucky stuff. You figure out what you're good at, what trips you up, and what you need to do to get better. The more you try, the more confident you become, and that's when you really free yourself up to do what's unexpected.