I Met My BFF on the Set of Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl introduced me to headbands, nair-tinis, and one of my closest friends.

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In high school, my guiltiest pleasure was reading Cecily Von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl novels. The scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite – Blair, Serena, Chuck and Nate – were the opposite of anyone I, an overprotected teenage girl attending public school in the suburbs, had ever met in real life. The people I knew went to regular school dances, not debutante balls or swanky charity galas. I had been on the steps of the Met before, but only directly after stepping off of a school bus on a class trip. I was immediately hooked on the series, dashing to Barnes & Noble each time a new book was released.

Throughout college, I’d read my YA novels during slow periods at my part-time job at my university’s fitness center, craving a life as exciting as my favorite characters’. I dreamed about someday getting a more glamorous job and an apartment in New York City, although I wasn’t quite sure how I’d make it happen.

After graduation, I got a job as a financial news editor in midtown Manhattan, and settled into my new routine of commuting into the city from home in the suburbs. Working in the city was turning out to be less exciting than I’d imagined until, one day, on my way to the train, a “Notice of Filming” sign the street caught my eye. Gossip Girl, the TV adaptation of my favorite books, was going to be filming across the street from my office.

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Penn Badgley, me, Blake Lively and Penny Lively.

On the day the first episode of Gossip Girl aired, I was walking down Madison Avenue and ran into Blake Lively and Penn Badgley. They were shooting the scene from Serena and Dan’s first date when she jumps onto a Vespa. As the camera rolled, a city bus drove by with Blake-as-Serena’s face plastered across the side. After the scene wrapped, I gushed to Blake and Penn about how excited I was for the show. Blake and Penn were friendly and down-to-earth, especially in light of my over-the-top fangirling. Before that day, the only celebrity I’d ever had a conversation with was Joe from Blue’s Clues. Suddenly, coming into the city each day felt a lot more exciting.

My New York City dreams were finally starting to come together. I had cleared the small hurdles of adulthood, like choosing a health insurance plan and setting up a 401(k), but I still wasn’t sure that I was on the right path. The close friends I had made in college lived in other states, and I often felt lonely. My coworkers weren’t that interested in talking about Gossip Girl with me.

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Chace Crawford and me.

As I was leaving work one night, I spotted a brown-haired guy in a navy trench coat and Chuck Bass’ signature navy, red and white J. Press scarf, and immediately introduced myself. Brian was a college student from Queens and, as his taste in accessories suggested, was also passionate about Gossip Girl. He and some friends had learned of the filming location on a fan site and wanted a photo with Chace Crawford. I excitedly told him my Penn-and-Blake story. After taking some grainy photos with Chace on our respective flip phones, we exchanged phone numbers and friended each other on Facebook to coordinate our next meetup.

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Brian and Ed Westwick outside of the Palace Hotel.

Using the show as our guide, Brian and I went on fun Gossip Girl-themed outings all over the city. While a few months prior I had struggled to find my way around, together we went to Sant Ambroeus for coffee to drink on the steps of the Met, PJ Clarke’s for cocktails and Socialista for cuban sandwiches. We celebrated my birthday with Gossip Girl grilled cheese sandwiches at the Palace Hotel.

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Brian and me at Fashion’s Night Out, 2009.

Aside from being Gossip Girl fans, Brian and I are both ambitious, have similar taste in music and movies, pamper our pets, and come from close-knit, single-parent families. Over late-night phone calls, we discussed our different theories about Jenny Humphrey’s social climbing, our favorite Blair Waldorf zingers and our mutual dislike of Vanessa Abrams. We also talked about deeper topics, like our goals for the future or conflicts with family and friends. Our conversations helped me make big life decisions, like finally getting my own apartment (on the Upper East Side, of course), and generally feel like my life was going to turn out OK.

Gossip Girl premiered in 2007, which, in some ways, feels like a lifetime ago. The iPhone 1 had just been released. Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana. George W. Bush was president. I wore a headband every day.

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Brian and me on Cape Cod.

I definitely still read YA novels, but my priorities are different. I’ve stopped wearing headbands and I’m pursuing my own dreams instead of fantasizing about trading lives with private-school educated socialites. I’ve changed jobs, apartments, and even some friends. Like all friends, Brian and I have had our ups and downs, and we have disagreements, but we are still friends today.

Blair Waldorf once said that destiny is for losers, but I disagree. Sometimes, there is such a thing as being in the right place at the right time. I’m lucky to have friend who gets me, long after our favorite show has gone off the air — even if we met behind Chace Crawford’s trailer.

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Brian, Gossip Girl costume designer Eric Daman, and me at Henri Bendel for Fashion’s Night Out, 2009.
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#TryPod: Here are some of my favorite podcasts

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March is #TryPod month, a word-of-mouth campaign to expand the reach of podcasts. Lately I keep finding myself recommending or mentioning podcasts that I like to others, because it’s always nice to have another fan to discuss your favorite podcasts IRL. Here are some of my favorites. I should also add a podcast hack: I bought a waterproof bluetooth speaker so I can listen in the shower.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

After Serial, this was the first podcast I began listening to on a regular basis. Author Gretchen Rubin and her sister, TV writer and producer Elizabeth Craft, share try-this-at-home tips, interviews and hacks to help their listeners create a happier life. I also like the bonus mini-episodes on Monday mornings to start the week.

Radical Candor.

This podcast is part of Gretchen Rubin’s Onward Project family of podcasts. Kim Scott and Russ Laraway, co-founders of Candor Inc., share actionable advice for navigating relationship dynamics at work. New managers will find the insights particularly useful. Scott is also the author of the newly-released Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

Writing in Real Life.

Husband-and-wife team Barry Lyga, an author, and Morgan Baden, an author and publishing executive, discuss writing, publishing, parenthood and marriage. They share personal anecdotes and discuss evergreen and timely topics, touching on both the creative and business sides of writing, as well as books and articles they’re currently reading.

Magic Lessons.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert counsels listeners struggling with their creative work across storytelling genres. She also consults high-profile guests for their insights. The result is creative inspiration for both the counseled and the listeners. The episode with Brene Brown is among my favorites.

Lit Up.

Host Angela Ledgerwood interviews the authors of many highly buzzed-about books, delving into the personal experiences that have shaped and influenced their work. I particularly enjoyed the episode with Jami Attenberg about her new novel, All Grown Up, and the joint episode with Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me, and Marcy Dermansky, author of The Red Car.

Coffee Break w/NYWICI.

Career expert Julie Hochheiser Ilkovich hosts this New York Women in Communications podcast, interviewing women across communications-related industries and career stages who share actionable tips for success. I was fascinated by the episode featuring Liz Perle, who has worked at several major brands, including Instagram, and is now a digital strategist & consultant who specializes in teen trends & technology.

Cosmo Happy Hour.

The editors of Cosmopolitan.com and host Elisa Benson discuss a variety of topics, from child stardom to addiction to launching a side hustle. Celebrity guests have included Full House star Jodie Sweetin, Heidi and Spencer Pratt and Dolly Parton. A highlight: Candace Bushnell joined for an episode to discuss the story she wrote for Cosmopolitan.com about dating on Tinder.

Longform.

This podcast is a great way to learn about how your favorite top journalist got his or her start in media and the backstories behind some of their most high-profile scoops. Jessica Pressler and Nancy Jo Sales shared what is was really like to spend time with Channing Tatum and Paris & Nicky Hilton, respectively, for in-depth profiles.

My Favorite Murder.

My coworkers introduced me to this podcast, which releases one regular and one mini episode each week. Fans of true-crime stories will love hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff’s humorous take on different reported cases, and can submit their “hometown murders” to be discussed on the show. (Full disclosure: I’ve given up on listening my way through the entire archive). What’s most impressive about this podcast is its cult following: a recent live event in New York drew an audience of several thousand, and MFM was recently featured in Entertainment Weekly.

The Best Books I Read in 2016

Last New Year’s Eve, I was under (self-imposed) pressure to finish the book I was reading for my new book club. I set a goal of 52 books (one book per week) for 2015 on Goodreads and it was really satisfying to meet my goal, even if it was at the very last minute.

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Like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, I’m not afraid of a challenge.

This year, I set a goal of 55 books. Knowing I really wanted to hit my goal before the end of the year, I kept checking the status of how I was doing on Goodreads all year long, and I’m at 66 books with just over a week to go!  There are still so many books on my TBR pile, both in my apartment and on my Amazon wish list. If you’re interested in reading more, taking a reading challenge can help motivate you.

Here are some of the best books I read this past year.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

This fall, I took a Children’s Book Publishing course at NYU. My classmates and I read books from picture books to middle grade to YA (I included some of the middle grade and YA in my challenge, but not all). My favorite book from the class was Smile by Raina Telgemeier, which is a graphic novel/memoir crossover. I loved it so much, I chose it as the subject of my final presentation for the class, which was a mock pitch targeted towards the sales and marketing teams of a publishing house. The voice was so relatable and honest. Plus, I had braces (and headgear!) for several years. If you enjoyed Smile, I also recommend Telgemeier’s second book, Sisters.

Pretty Little Killers: The Truth Behind the Savage Murder of Skylar Neese by Daleen Berry and Geoffrey Fuller

I shared a link to a story about Skylar Neese in this post in September 2014. I finally ordered and read the book to learn more about the story. The short version: two girls killed their “best friend” and covered it up for many months. Their tweets play an interesting role in uncovering the truth behind what happened. True crime fans will find this fascinating.

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales

I’m fascinated by the way social media shapes our culture, and Nancy Jo Sales does a deep dive into how social sharing platforms fit into the lives of young people in this book. Young women in particular are constantly criticized in popular culture for their use of social media, and this book is a great way to hear from teens directly how they feel about using these platforms. I also gained some takeaways for my personal and professional social media use.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I was so excited to win an arc of this book on Goodreads that when it didn’t arrive, I tracked down a contact at the publishing house to make sure it was still coming (and it did!) I’ve previously read and loved Abbott’s Dare Me, The End of Everything and The Fever, and there is no one who captures the darkness of teenage girls in a more captivating way. This book, set in the world of competitive gymnastics, does not disappoint. It’s also a commentary on the sacrifices families make to for their children to succeed in a competitive sport.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

👓 #girlsonfire

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Set in the early 1990s, Girls on Fire is the story of a passionate, dangerous friendship. Megan Abbott’s blurb of the book describes it as “A captivating, terrifying novel, and one you won’t forget,” and I second that! It was un-put-downable and resonated with me long after I finished it.

Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave by Jill Kargman 

Loved this collection of essays @jillkargman 📖

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I’ve been a fan of Odd Mom Out creator and writer Jill Kargman’s essays and novels for the longest time. The Right Address (co-authored with Carrie Karasyov) came out in 2004 and my best friend gave it to me. This Christmas, I got her a copy of this book, which is a follow-up to her most recent essay collection, Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut. I love her humorous take on the notoriously stuffy culture of the Upper East Side.

I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam

In my book club, we’ve read a couple of books in the women-work-life space, including #Girlboss, Unfinished Business and the novel A Window Opens. I was interested in this book because the author connected with real women about their lives and schedules. This book is a positive voice in what often feels like a depressing conversation about busy-ness and overscheduled lives and shows by example that having a job and a life is possible.

 The Girls by Emma Cline

#thegirls 📚

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This book got a lot of pre-publication buzz – and rightly so! I loved the writing. The Girls is a fictional account of the women connected to Charles Manson in the 1960s. It’s dark and engrossing, and there are a lot of universal truths about coming of age as a teenager that resonate, no matter the decade. If you enjoyed this book, you might also want to check out the author’s 2014 essay, “See Me,” in The Paris Review.

Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend

 

Natasha Friend is one of my absolute favorite middle grade/YA authors (I highly recommend Bounce, Lush and Perfect) because her characters’ voices are hilarious but also emotionally authentic. Thirteen-year-old Anna is dealing with a breakup with her best friend, her mother’s suicide attempt AND a new stepmom and baby sister. The book details how she finds herself in the face of all of these challenges.

I’m hoping to read a few more books by the end of the year! What were your favorite books of 2016?

What my piano teacher taught me about passion

Or: why I spend my days off at the library.

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I began piano lessons in second grade. Although I don’t currently play, I was lucky to learn about music at a young age. I practiced often, though not religiously, and had lessons every other week at the home of my teacher, Mrs. G.

I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation — whether we were discussing how often I practiced, or her career as a pianist and teacher, but during one of our lessons, Mrs. G said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said that when she was at the piano, there was nothing else she would rather be doing. There was nowhere else she’d rather be. I thought that was so inspiring, for someone to have found an activity they love so much that there is nothing else they’d rather be doing. I knew that, although enjoyed playing the piano and taking lessons, that I didn’t feel that way about music. And so, at the end of seventh grade, when the time came to decide whether I would serve as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, which would mean the end of my piano lessons, the decision was not so difficult.

One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, created a list of Eight Splendid Truths while writing her bestseller The Happiness Project. The fifth splendid truth is: I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature

This summer, I’ve spent several of my vacation days at my local library. I love hanging out there; it’s a relaxing place to write, check out books, and do research for a writing project I’m working on. I can see why some people would think that’s lame, since there are so many fun activities a person can do on a summer day. But, when I’m writing or working on my project, there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. There is nowhere else I’d rather be.