February 26 marks an anniversary for me at Thought Catalog: I’ve now been writing for the website for just over a year, after I submitted a piece about the weird nervous breakdown I had after splitting from my ex — who I’m now on better terms with, for the record. He broke up with me after sex. Right after I walked out the door, I got a text message from him informing me that he “just wasn’t that into me.” While I read his equivalent of a breakup post — it, “Stacy’s Mom” came up on shuffle, and the song’s catchy power pop hooks made me feel better — momentarily transported to a place of solace and comfort, where Stacy and I could mourn together. Stacy and I stayed there for an entire week, baking cookies and talking about boys, while I listened to the song on repeat.
Whenever I tell this story to people, I often get the “Bitch, You Crazy” insta-reaction or that look of pity, like I’ve told them I’m Fantine in Les Mis. However, I more often find that people relate to my story of romantic defacement — that humiliation so brutal that even Lars Von Trier couldn’t dream it up. We want to find others who share our stories of pain, struggle and triumph and realize that we aren’t the “Worst Dater in the World” because others know what it is to fail.
It’s why America cheered when Jennifer Lawrence tripped while receiving her Best Actress Oscar. It’s not that we are ridiculing her. We feel like we understand her more when she screws up and laughs it off. She is us.
In the past year, I’ve found a weird community of people online willing to engage with me, whether that’s in a comment section, on Twitter or writing me deeply personal emails that take me weeks to respond to. I think that sharing these parts of ourselves and finding connection through struggle is the reason we live, and at its best, the reason I like Thought Catalog is because it’s a community. The people who comment on my pieces aren’t strangers but followers and eventual friends, and even if I’ll never meet most of them, I feel like I get to know them through their responses to my pieces — some positive and some about why I deserved to get sexually assaulted. Yeah, that was a thing that happened. You learn to take the bad with the good.
Conventional wisdom goes that you should never read the comments on your pieces, but I scroll down to every single one — to see if “whatgoodwoulditdo” or “April Ludgate” responded to my article. It’s the little things that keep you going.
A couple weeks ago, Jonathan Male sounded from this Greek chorus in a sometimes accurate critique of Thought Catalog, a quick summary of the reasons that people hate what we do. Male criticizes the tendency to list or rely on fairly recognizable formats — such as the much-lambasted “How To” articles or posts about “20-Somethings,” which suggest a nice Thought Catalog drinking game. Gawker similarly critiqued the site last year when a screenshot of Thought Catalog showed the homepage to be a bunch of list articles, code for lazy and vapid. For the truly dedicated, a Tumblr entitled “Fuck No Thought Catalog” routinely responds to Thought Catalog articles with sharp one-liners and critiques of TC’s perception as shallow and self-involved. Sometimes it’s actually pretty funny. I laugh. I’m only human, y’all.
Parts of Thought Catalog are all of those things, and I’ve written some of the offending pieces. However, the interesting thing is that almost all of the pieces I truly cared about, the ones that really meant something to me almost no one read. I’ve written pieces about, sexism, racism and homophobia that do half as well as a list piece on Mean Girls that takes me half as long. This used to bother me a little bit, but if someone likes a nice, easily digestible piece I write on “Things Single People Hate,” they’re more likely to follow my work and check out something a bit meatier. And every once in a while, one of the latter pieces breaks through. It’s like Christmas.
For me, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying both, but it’s my hope that an article on “Movies for the Y2K Girl” leads someone to my piece on Steven Soderbergh, which attempts to tackle important themes in his work. Upon his retirement, I wanted to show why he will be missed. As a review of culture and a profile of a beloved director, it’s the kind of piece that Male and critics of Thought Catalog always say we need more of, but no one read it. You could read the article and not like it, which is valid (because I’m still developing on that whole “being a good writer” thing), but you can’t dismiss it as more of the same.
I’m not holding my work up as different or special (no one is a snowflake, Barney kids), and I actually say this because that Soderbergh piece isn’t unique. It’s one of hundreds on the site that are outside the parameters of the “Same Shit Different Day” mentality, which usually get less attention. However, I like that these more modestly trafficked pieces are privileged as important on a site as hit driven as Thought Catalog is, and I was invited to be a regular contributor not because of a list piece but because of a piece that didn’t do very well. I wrote about why The New Normal is super racist, so much so that I imagine Ryan Murphy flying around the set in a cape and screaming “Zap!” and “Pow!” I want to throw him from a tall building and see if his racism can fly.
I strive to strike a balance between what I know will attract and audience and what I as a writer cares about, the pieces that cut out my heart for public display. As a writer, I always hope that you read them, but you could hate me. It’s okay. A lot of people do, especially Ryan Murphy. In that case, I know that Thought Catalog has dozens of other contributors you will like, ones I enjoy reading every day along with you. It’s a law of nature: Everyone loves Brian Donovan. He’s a giant man pillow.
Thought Catalog has become a part of my morning routine, what I wake up to with my cup of coffee, my MSNBC, my NPR and a newspaper—because YOU SHOULD STILL READ THOSE. I don’t know Mila, Gaby, Brandon, Stephanie, Nathan, Oliver, Alison, Ryan or Chelsea that well, but I feel like I do. Oliver, to me, is like the human equivalent of Grumpy Cat, forever nonplussed about this newfangled thing on the internet. Stephanie is that girl I always wanted to be like in high school, who seems so sweet and carefree but has a depth to her that most people don’t give her credit for. Brandon I want to tickle, just to see him laugh. I know he’s got one in him. I can feel it. Chelsea I just want to get drunk with. I see her as a whisky kind of girl — but aren’t we all.
Sometimes I’m challenged or moved by them, and sometimes I read something and want to throw a glass of water on the person who wrote it, like that piece on Rebel Wilson or the slut-shaming Rihanna piece. I share in the critique that not everything at Thought Catalog is transcendent or even quaffable, and I’d be happy to tell you which of my pieces I now think are outright shit. Why did the world need another take-down piece on famous Scientologists? Answer: it didn’t. It’s cruel and dismissive, the kind of crap that’s Seth MacFarlane’s territory, not mine.
Thought Catalog can be more intersectional, inclusive, engaged and boundary-pushing, and I was actually impressed that the editors (of which I am not one) published a piece that would draw attention to their child’s flaws. No one wants to be told their baby isn’t perfect, but Thought Catalog officially recognized it has room to grow, and I’m excited to see the ways in which its readers, editors and writers continue to push it in that direction. Like Jennifer Lawrence, we screw up sometimes, and we hope that makes us more human. However, we’re not laughing it off. We take accountability seriously, or that piece would have never been published.
As a writer, I want Thought Catalog to give you the same feeling that I have with the site. I want it to be a place where you feel like you are represented, one that offers you a space for discourse and dialogue, to critique what you find problematic and to find others who both share your opinions and challenge you to think differently. You might find that in a comment section, a list article or other thousands of pieces we’ve published, and if you don’t find it, you have every reason to move onto other fish. The internet is a wide Sargasso Sea, except for that part about destiny and self-sacrifice. That’s just 4chan’s thing.
And reader, be the change you want to see at Thought Catalog. They say that you vote with your dollar. On the internet, you vote with your click. If you want to see more of something, like it, read it and share it, and we’ll give you more of it. Sound back in the comment section and share your own story. We’re not just cataloging our thoughts. We’re here for yours.