Stephanie Dolgoff is the author of the book My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young. For those of us of a certain age, the topic of the book is entirely too close for comfort — the state of being that she refers to as “formerly.” We’ll let the promotional copy on the Amazon page for the book explain what that means.
“From fashion to friendship, beauty to body image, married sex to single searching, mothering to careering (or both), Dolgoff reveals the upside to not being forever 21 — even as you watch the things you once thought were so essential to a happy life go the way of the cassette tape.”
We caught up with Dolgoff to discuss her career, her past and what it means to be on “the other side of young.” She also made us a custom playlist of songs that she said take her “back to that place.”
TZR: When did you first start writing and who were your earliest influences?
SD: Not until the end of my senior year in college. As loud and outgoing I’d always been verbally, it was the first time I had something that I was bursting to say that I felt others would connect with, so I wrote an essay for the college paper and it hit a nerve. From there, there was no shutting me up. It was the hitting of the collective nerve that was addictive to me. It was about how compelled we were by the “shoulds” that we didn’t consciously choose, and I still write about that. The “shoulds” change but the constant pressure and self-doubt is the same and much more prevalent in women.
Early influences: I read a ton but I used to read and reread certain books as a kid, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, like a gazillion girls who grew up when I did, to try to learn what was a “normal” emotional response and what wasn’t. I felt they listened to me, somehow, and not being listened to by actual people was a pervasive childhood feeling.
TZR: What attracted you to journalism?
SD: See: not being listened to, above. But the type of writing I often do is less about informing than about connecting — letting people know that they’re not the only ones who see what they see or feel what they feel. Nothing that is happening to me is that unique to me. I’m not special. So if what I have to say isn’t going to resonate and make the reader go, “Holy shit, I never thought about it that way, but yeah!” or “Omigod, how’d you know what I was thinking?” it’s less interesting to me. Bonus points if they laugh and come away feeling better about whatever ridiculous but totally human situation they find themselves in.
TZR: You recently wrote an article for Next Tribe in which you posit that at summer camp, decades ago, you may have kissed a teenaged Michael Cohen, also known as Donald Trump’s former lawyer. Did you get that all straightened out?
SD: I believe we were 12 or 13, me and the Mikester, the Mike-Man. Seriously, in the late 70s at Jewish summer camp, you couldn’t swing a tether ball without hitting a Michael Cohen, so I am sure I’m not the only adult woman who is now wondering if–ick!–she has retroactive cooties.
Yeah, I am now 98% sure that it was not him, but there is a whole chunk of people who are still firmly in the “it was him” camp. The story sparked a bunch of Russian bots and a lot of amateur detective work — people posting photos from camp, of Cohen from high school and college, camp alum wracking their brains. And then we got an anonymous post on the Next Tribe site from a person who signed it, “Someone who knows,” attesting that he didn’t go to my camp but rather to Hillel and a few other camps before becoming a waiter at something called Tyler Hill. The level of detail in the post made me think he or she was, in fact, Someone Who Knew. Plus, I didn’t want it to be him so I allowed my confirmation bias to win the day.
TZR: What are you working on now?
SD: I’m working on keeping my shit together. Aside from my actual job job — I am deputy director of the health newsroom at Hearst — I have a very aggressive self-care and protest schedule that I adhere to so I don’t lose my mind during these fully hideous times. And I have two teenagers. So I write whenever there is something ridiculous about my life that I think will help others feel better about their lives… maybe that’ll bubble up into another book at some point. Or not. It doesn’t really matter, I don’t think.
TZR: Are there any literary genres you haven’t worked in yet that you’d like to try?
SD: Yeah, fiction. I wrote a memoir in 2010 that was a bestseller, but the downside of that was that I felt super exposed, in a way that I didn’t used to, even when I wrote shorter about things like my anxiety and depression or my vagina over the years. The comments and the personal attacks made it almost not worth it. So yeah, I think I may thinly veil some fiction in the future.