Guys, it’s time to get real.
In the journalism world, this would be an editor’s note.
I, Saerom Yoo, TEDxSalem storyteller, hereby disclaim that the speaker I will now announce is a dear friend and former colleague of mine. Therefore, I found it awkward and dishonest to approach today’s post like any other speaker announcement.
I have a clear bias toward Kelly Williams Brown. I think she’s hilarious, talented and brilliant. So we tried something different for her speaker announcement. Since our main form of communication is the “geech,” or “G-chat,” we thought we’d let you in on our friend-to-friend, no-B.S. conversation.
Some context: Kelly was a newspaper reporter, several of those years as the entertainment reporter at the Statesman Journal. That’s where we met. I also am a reporter at the Statesman Journal. This spring, Kelly made her debut as an author with “Adulting.” Ever heard of it? It’s only a bestseller.
At TEDXSalem, Kelly will be back to the town where her fame began — the town she wrote much of Adulting — to talk about how our generation, the Millennials, are the worst. Just kidding. She’ll be addressing those many articles that you may have read about how those in their teens and 20s are basically lazy, selfie-taking leeches and the potential damages of that type of generalization.
Without further ado, I give you TEDxSalem’s first G-chat interview, edited for length:
Saerom: Do you remember the first words you said to me in December of 2010?
Kelly: Whoa. Um … hrm. Was it about red lipstick or kittens?
Saerom: No, hahaha
I was at the SJ for my interview
and you warned me very seriously that “there are no guys here”
Kelly: HA. I really hope those weren’t my very first words … I hope I at least introduced myself before dropping that truth bomb on you.
Although I can see myself kind of leering out of a doorway and yelling that.
Saerom: Yeah you probably did.
Do you remember that point of your life? three years ago? Where were you in your journey?
Kelly: You know, three years ago I was in this (relatively, for me) intense period. I was writing constantly, both for the Statesman Journal and on my own time, and feeling that sort of restless anxiousness that comes when you know that something will be changing for you soon, but you’re not sure what or when.
But on the other hand, I was deeply deeply invested in and loving my job at the Statesman Journal (despite the dearth of dating opportunities). Editors Michelle Maxwell and Bill Church, who I consider my mentors, were letting me do some really weird and unorthodox things.
Saerom: Yeah, you know I’ve had the same kind of support. The SJ is a special, special place for young, hard-working people willing to do some crazy things.
Kelly: It IS!
It’s incredible. I know this is kind of a silly Bay Area-sounding thing to say, but it feels like an incubator
Everyone is working really, really hard, and everyone is cognizant of the fact that the industry is changing and we have to do something new
So as long as you’re getting your (immense) workload done, there is a lot of freedom there
Saerom: Yep. And a lot of laughter. So much laughter. Which is so precious.
At that time (again three years ago), did you know “Adulting” was on your horizon? Or some sort of book?
Kelly: You know, I hoped there was a book on my horizon but I really had no idea what it would be. I don’t write fiction; I’m not the kind of serious person who can really go in-depth on a serious topic
So if you had told me, “Hey, you’re going to write a book!” I would’ve found it fantastic but also been very, very curious as to what the hell it would be.
Saerom: How has your life changed and stayed the same since your debut as an author?
It’s changed in that I’ve gotten a lot of incredible opportunities
Although, to be fair, there were so many amazing opportunities that came with working at the Statesman Journal
But day to day, it feels remarkably the same
Except now, if I see a pair of shoes that I absolutely love but cost $40, I can just go ahead and buy them. So that’s pretty neat.
Saerom: So remember when you were on the Today Show? That was pretty crazy right?
Kelly: Yes! If I had to sum up the experience in one word, that word would be “neat!”, with an exclamation point
Saerom: Watching you on TV and hearing you on the radio, the thing that struck me most was how much of a natural you are at being this celebrity author.
It felt like you were exactly where you were supposed to be.
So did you know that they were going to try to tie your book in with our terrible, terrible generation?
I think we’re the millennials or something like that.
i knew that there was this big, ongoing conversation when i started the project about whether or not millenials could/would grow up
which seemed so silly
of course we can. there is nothing special or wrong or specially wrong about us
but my book was my way of weighing in on that question to other people of our generation
yes, of course we can grow up
yes, sometimes it’s hard
yes, it’s easy to get frustrated or angry with yourself, but that’s far less productive than actually figuring out what you’re doing wrong then taking the small steps to correct it
Saerom: Well much of the criticism out there about people in our age group seems to be more about the times, rather than us, specifically.
yes, we have social media. so do my parents.
it’s the 21st century. that’s what we tend to spend our time doing at this time in history.
Kelly: right. and social media is just a way to talk about yourself
and spy on people around you
which have been two of humanity’s favorite things always
so what is the most outrageous or funny thing that you’ve heard in this tirade against the “entitlement generation”?
let me think about that
it’s hard because part of what frustrates me about the conversation is that nothing really stands out
it’s the same tropes again and again
the same vision that all of us are living in brooklyn and hitting our parents up for money at every opportunity
the idea that we wake up in the morning and decide to instagram rather than work
Saerom: yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard anything unique either.
It’s just beating the dead horse.
What’s weird is that many people in our age group agree with these stories
On Facebook, I see my friends sharing and agreeing with the same articles and I would roll my eyes at because it’s just another piece about how we are lazy and self-absorbed.
it’s because all of us feel that those stories are talking about someone who isn’t us
i hear very very few people my age who say, “yes, that is TOTALLY my life! i spend all my time on social media, i have no goals, i am perfectly content to live with my parents forever until i magically get a huge book deal!”
we all think they’re about someone else
Saerom: that’s a really good point
so if you had to describe American millennials in your own way, how would you do it? Is there anything that describes the common denominator?
Kelly: well, the only common denominator is age
every single millenial is young-ish
that’s it! that is the only thing that you can honestly say all of us have in common
because we’re talking here, depending on how you define the cohort, as somewhere between 52 and 75 million people
i think there are traits that a lot of us share
but … my life as a 29-year-old copywriter/author in portland oregon
probably looks a LOT more like the life of a 39-year-old college educated portland woman working in marketing
than it does a 27-year-old man in mississippi who is married with two kids and works in manufacturing
or a 25-year-old woman in San Francisco who was recently emigrated to the US and is living with her extended family and working in their family business
Saerom: So why did you choose this as the topic of your TEDx talk?
What are you hoping people will get out of this?
Kelly: you know
i think it’s important to question narratives we have about groups of people
obviously, this is NOT a civil rights-type issue
i don’t want to frame it that way at all
but to me, there is a lot of optimism, creativity and entepreneurship that i see among young people
and this is a dead horse.
i think it’s easy to work on assumptions and generalizations
we use mental shorthand every day
that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea
Saerom: yep. yes it’s convenient, and we have that innate ability for a good reason. but not for the purposes of painting millions of people with one unflattering brush for the sake of entertainment
Kelly: RIGHT. precisely
Saerom: Well, I always end my interviews the same way: Any last words?
Kelly: thank you so much, saerom! i really appreciate it and am so excited to be a part of TEDx Salem
Saerom: Me too!
Now go take some selfies. i’ll be sure to like them immediately.
Kelly: with emoji?!
Saerom: of course.
the panda one.