What Were You Doing When You Were 23?

Intern Madeline is turning 23! Here's what some of our other contributors were doing when they were 23. (Playing packed shows with "The Crash Test Dummies" is a real answer.)
Publish date:
June 2, 2011

Christina Kelly, Contributor

I had just moved into the Village, which was super exciting for me. I was sharing a fourth floor walk-up studio on Sullivan Street with a friend from college. We had trundle beds. We would go to the Pyramid club, Area, Danceteria and other dance clubs. I used Tenax in my asymmetrical bob and wore rubber bracelets and one long earring, like "Borderline"-era Madonna.

I had a job working for a trade magazine for the creative side of the advertising industry. That wasn't so great, as I had hoped to land a staff writer gig at Rolling Stone (no luck), or at the very least an assistant job at Conde Nast, but I failed the typing test there. (Even if you had a B.A. and were the editor of your college newspaper, you would not get hired at Conde Nast back then unless you passed a typing test.) I almost got hired by Seventeen as an edit asst whose main job was to answer reader mail. I did great on my test, according to the asst ed who interviewed me, but they decided to promote from within. Yes, back then, that job was a promotion!!!

I also had a part time waitressing job after work, as my magazine job paid $13,000 a year and was not enough to cover my $350 rent plus stirrup pants from Patricia Field plus copious amounts of Giorgio of Beverly Hills perfume. The waitressing job ended after my affair with the restaurant owner went bad.

I also lost my virginity three days before my 23rd birthday to a male model who I met at a dance club. I could go on. Being 23 was AWESOME.

Jessica Olien, Relationships Blogger

When I was 23, I flew to Thailand by myself. I told people that the purpose of my trip was the volunteer project I had signed up for, but my real motivation for flying halfway around the world was to break up with my boyfriend, which I did from a payphone on Bangkok’s Khao Sarn Road.

Jeff was a creative writing major at Columbia College in Chicago who had convinced me that I wanted to live with him. As he maneuvered his brown hide-a-bed through my small apartment’s door frame, I had the realization that not only did I not want to live with Jeff, I didn’t even really like him. We still managed to slog it out for the better part of a year. Jeff left for class every morning kissing me goodbye as I clenched my fists.

I had taken a semester off from the School of the Art Institute and mostly sat alone smoking cigarettes and constructing detailed fantasies about my life as a famous photojournalist. I should have just left him, and I would have done so much sooner if I hadn’t been afraid of him.

Several months earlier, Jeff had slammed me violently into a wall to teach me a lesson about eating the last slice of leftover pizza. Jeff’s friend, also a creative writing student, had published a short story that Spring in which a young man consumed by the will to destroy that which he holds dear, slowly poisons his girlfriend to death.

“He said that the story is based on us.” I told Jeff one night while I was washing the dishes. Jeff laughed and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator. “If I was going to kill you, I’d just slit your wrists and make it look like suicide.” It was the quickness of his response that was scary.

It was only a matter of time. I knew I had to leave him, but I was afraid, not just for my safety but, ridiculously, of hurting his feelings. So I employed what I would later recognize as one of my greatest skills -- making plans and convincing people to partake in them with me. We would sublet our apartment and Jeff would go stay with his parents for a few weeks while I went to Thailand to volunteer. Then I could do what I was too afraid to do in Chicago. I had put half the planet between us to make sure I would be safe for this very moment.

"You are messing everything up," he was saying, his voice ragged with exertion. "You'd better get back here."

“You don’t get to talk to me like that anymore,” I said and quickly hung up the phone. If it had happened in a movie, a saucy friend would have come out of the 7-11 with two Slurpees, high-fived me and told me I could do better. We would go out that night, get drunk and explore our options -- but I was alone and in Bangkok.

Liz Armstrong, New Agey Editor

At 23, I was deep in the throes of my alter-ego, Misty Martinez. I was a musician/performer and at the “height of my career” (the peak wasn’t very high). I was traveling the US and UK and parts of Europe, just released my second record, called “Special Brush” (self-released on CD-R). I was out of my mind, basically, prancing around onstage in a blond wig, stripper shoes, and very racy custom-made outfits, while I played with toys and hit piñatas full of chicken gizzards and spiders, and cast spells.

I had huge homemade banners proclaiming my mottos, the first and most lasting of which was “I’M CONSTANTLY HIGH ON COCAINE” (which was pretty much true). My shows were totally janky, gory, slutty, pedophilic, man-hating affairs. My music, to me, was total booty dance music. Looking back, I have no idea what gave me this impression, as it’s very odd, low production value, homemade catastrophes.

I would scream at people to dance, and they would just stand there, staring at me. Yet I had packed shows! In London, the Sugababes opened for me, as did a dude from Crash Test Dummies who had gone solo. Bad move. Ha. So that’s what I was doing at 23. Happy birthday Madeline!

When other people get jealous and want to write their own stories, I'll put more up. Tell us yours! (BTW my 23 was the worst year ever.)