I’ve been reading Liz Armstrong’s work for…a long time. When I lived in Chicago I checked out her Chicago Antisocial column in the Reader on a fairly regular basis. Wow. She totally pissed people off. On the flip side, she had rabid fans, too. If a writer can incite that much emotion in her audience for months? years? How great is that? Because in the glamorous, high-paying (oatmeal-eating-to-survive) world of writing it’s just write/publish/write/publish and not too much positive feedback. Which blows. Which is why I interview writers for this site because they deserve more credit than they receive. Anyway, where was I?
When Liz left Chicago, I remember people getting all whispery, wondering, “Where did she move?” or “Who is she writing for?” Then her byline appeared in Vice. Fast-forward to right now. Liz is the Online Director for ReadyMade—her day job (and priority). And she’s also the New Agey advisor for xojane. And the list of publications she has worked with? I’m not even going to attempt that. Too many. I talked with the 33-year-old Brooklyn-based writer about spiritual enlightenment, not taking writing too seriously, and the Amy Kellner Fan Club.
Jen: Working for ReadyMade. I bet it’s a fun job. Do you work from home?
Liz: My office at ReadyMade is in Manhattan, and I’m there most days of the workweek—when I’m not at our HQ in Des Moines. It’s actually pretty glamorous getting there, as we have a company jet that shuttles us between private airports. Once, somebody on our team spotted Valentino. And then I stay in an old haunted hotel that feels like a bank. When I’m freelancing, I’m definitely working from home. How do people do the coffee shop thing?
JH: No idea. I can’t do that either. Ever. What about the xojane job as the New Agey lady? Will you be answering readers’ questions or just bestowing your wisdom.
LA: I’m game for whatever. I do take questions from readers and staffers, anything from “What did my dream mean?” to “How do I tell my friends who’re obsessed with ‘the universe’ to back off?” I’ve done some very deep self-exploration, and I continue to make that a practice, using meditation, a bit of yoga, tons of spiritual and religious reading, practice with and attention to synchronicity skills, quietness, and seeking bits of knowledge anywhere it may be available. I think the key is to keep myself in check, as I am not some kind of enlightened master, although I am fascinated with those types, and share what I have gathered as “truth” or “real” without preaching.
JH: Prior to taking the online editor gig at ReadyMade, were you a crafty person, like, good with your hands?
LA: Honestly, I would not consider myself crafty in that sense. I’m definitely a cheerleader of manifesting creativity in any and all forms, and that is what keeps me excited about my job. I do love to cook, I go on crazy baking streaks, I find creative solutions for things all the time, I used to write and record and perform music (and build janky yet involved stage sets), I make some art on my own…I dunno, in terms of being a “maker” in the physical sense, you can say I’ve been a lifelong dabbler with no serious oeuvre.
JH: Your Vice posts were f*ing hilarious. I remember reading “I Totally Went on a Press Junket” and laughing my ass off. It’s so true. So, wait. We’re not paid shit as writers, we can’t accept perks, and we should look at ourselves in the mirror on a daily basis and say “I hate you”? Oy.
What I’m trying to say is…you really don’t give a shit about reactions. I love that.
LA: Thank you! I had a great time writing for Vice, they really let me freak out. In fact, I’m (slowly) working on stuff for them again.
JH: Do you remember any favorite comments from readers when you were there? Or maybe a shitty one?
LA: I have to say that in general I do care what people think of me, though I give weight only to the opinions of those whom I know and care about. I do read almost everything that people say about me and my writing, and I know it’s rare that 100% of the feedback on a story is positive, or even kind. Sometimes it bugs me. I’m a real person. Regardless, internet commenting has never really colored how I approach my work. So I can’t tell you a favorite or a worst comment, because I don’t recall (that’s the truth), although at one point someone had a whole in-depth hate blog dedicated to me… I try to let it all pass through, take the nasty stuff and the praise in stride, not get too caught up in stuff, and just keep going.
JH: I remember that blog. Wow, that’s a lot of effort, huh? Someone had some time on their hands. Anyway, what’s your writing philosophy?
LA: Ooh. I had never thought about this before. It’s such a cliché to say this: I don’t take my writing too seriously. First of all, I’m not, like, a scholar so it’d be completely out of place to act like that. Second, everyone gets edited, and if I were too attached to my brilliance or some shit I’d be sending myself into a world of (more) pain. And I know when I’m getting serious about making a point, that probably what I’m writing is going to suck or at least serve some selfish purpose and that’s it. I’ve learned that since so much of what I write focuses on me as the main observer, I’d better have something worthwhile to relay to the reader, even if it’s just laughs.
JH: What was it like working with Amy Kellner? I love her work. (I think I ask every Vice person this question)
LA: I am in the Amy Kellner fan club too! She and I have known each other for I think 14 years (or more), as we both were huge Lisa Carver fans and contributed to her zine, Rollerderby. Amy’s work is so hilarious because she’s extremely straightforward. She writes the thing everyone wishes they were smart enough to think of and peppily cranky enough to say. Plus, her unabashed love for twee shit is pretty endearing, even if it baffles me. Working with her at Vice was a trip—the editorial department was a stew pot for loveable curmudgeonly kooks. I was not there as long as many others, so I’m not qualified to say much more than this!
JH: Who are the top 3 ladies you admire?
LA: I am so not the type to have “top” or favorite anythings! I tend to love everything equally for different reasons. I’m that passionate that it really is either I love it intensely or else I’m not interested. That said, one of my major and ongoing friend obsessions is Anaheed Alani. She was my editor at the Chicago Reader, where I was a columnist, and she taught me so much as a writer—most importantly, how to find an emotional truth to make a story worth telling. And by observing how she dealt with me, I figured out how to be an editor too. She’s the adult editor supporting Tavi’s print project with Jane Pratt, and she’s the producer of the Talent Show with hosts Elna Baker and Kevin Townley, this weird-ass half-coordinated, half-improv variety show where the best NYC comedians and writers and radio folk go onstage to act like spazzes. It’s my favorite thing to go to in the city. I am obsessed with Anaheed, as are a lot of ladies, because she’s hilarious, talented, super smart, gives creative and sympathetic advice, and has great taste in basically everything. And she does stuff like take trampoline lessons.
JH: 3 things you love about NYC
1. I love the immediacy of this city—if you think of it or want it, the opportunity shows up right away. It’s a positive form of chaos that makes NYC a place for real transformation and synchronicity.
2. One of my mottos is “Give me one of everything!” Here, you get at least five, which is nice because people here are very intellectually smart, especially the women, and tons of ‘em are also really hot!
3. Everyone here does so many things. As a friend pointed out, it’s totally normal that the person serving you your hot dog is a drummer in a band you love.
JH: 3 things you hate?
1. Yes, there are lots of parks and the Million Trees project is great; still, this place is fucking filthy and toxic.
2. It’s very difficult to cultivate meaningful and lasting relationships, and even harder when it involves romance. It takes so much effort to live here, that I think people tend to become extremely self-involved. There’s a lot of using going on. Life gets better when you incorporate others in a symbiotic way.
3. Overall, I think people can be pretty emotionally irresponsible here, and since there are millions of residents and people passing through, accountability is low. I’m not immune—I’ve done some shit recently that I’m not proud of, and I sometimes accidentally insult people. I wish I knew how to stop making “bad jokes.”
JH: You’ve basically evolved over the years in print. How do you think you’ve changed over the past, say, 5 years?
LA: For anyone who wants to examine themselves and their surroundings, ages 28 through 33 is the prime time to do that, as it will naturally involve a lot of self-growth. I evolved pretty hardcore from an a fairly self-obsessed party girl who was just looking for the next experience she didn’t have to actually “feel” to someone who’s trying to be a bit more deliberate, thoughtful, giving, and more in touch with my ultra-sensitivity. I’ve been lucky to have some large forums indulge me in this, and I’m hoping I find a better balance between these two extremes pretty soon.
JH: What do you think you’ll be doing in the next 5 years?
LA: I honestly can’t tell if I’m the type who’ll be living alone in the mountains or if I’m destined to keep exploring the nature of an urban experience. As for what I’m doing wherever I am, I’m sure I’ll still be writing.
JH: When are you going to write a book? You should.
LA: Thank you! Me too. I get these grand ideas, and start indulging them, and then that lack of a deadline, or knowing I have a place to publish it, or an editor kicking my ass (which I like)… it all avalanches on top of me and I put it aside for some assignment that pays. I guess I’ll really write it when I save up enough money to have at it full-time and try to sell it on my own, or when I have an interested agent or publisher.
JH: Do you have any animals?
LA: I have an amazing 8 ½-year-old dog named Sadie, who is this empathic, mischievous guardian angel and companion. That sounds so lame unless you have a dog yourself. If you do, you get it.
JH: I totally get it.