by Delaney Parks
When I was thirteen, I thought I was being ironic by watching Gossip Girl. I perceived the pointlessness behind each glamorous detail, from the fresh peonies garnishing Blair’s palatial banisters to the ostentatious diamond necklaces that were just a drop in the bucket for any character (so what was the value of a gift, at all?). I mocked the pathetic yearning of everywoman Jenny Humphrey’s choppy blonde bangs and designer knockoffs, recognized the hypocrisy of her brother—buzzcutted loser Dan Humphrey—as he scowled about their so-called poverty from a stylishly disheveled Brooklyn loft, attending the most prestigious private school in town. I don’t wish to be too harsh to young Delaney though. A constant irony in life, I feel, is that we can know things intellectually all that we want, and yet it doesn’t stop us from feeling them.
And when you’re thirteen, and your parents always tell you things are financially fine (in strained voices, with you believing the easier truth you want to believe in), and you live in the third richest county in the country, and you always always always pick a character in media to pretend that you are, to project your extravagant fantasies upon, you also assume that ultra-wealth seems pretty cool and surely not that out of reach, right? From the fancy parties, to the Ivy League acceptances and the mental health shopaholic mall excursions, the New York socialites had it made. Why wouldn’t you want that?
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary their social existence determines their consciousness,” is Marx’s take on that mentality. I’ve found that indeed there are many iterations of this gaining of social consciousness that workers and people of marginalized identities, sometimes one and the same, undergo. Some of them are actually false consciousnesses—like the vogue pseudo-activism Fairfax County high schoolers and Ivy Leaguers alike participate in, posting black squares on Instagram and flooding their story feeds with every single infographic about every single social issue that pops up in their notifications, as if such revolutionary actions could win praise from some far-off The Good Place style judge of character who would weigh their actions and deem them worthy.
I like to think I’ve shed all but the thinnest veneer of my thirteen-year-old naivete, leaving the resentment behind along with the Gossip Girl longing. But now, when I power-walk through the trenches of the Locust Walk to my silly little English classes, casting my cat-eyelinered gaze at the lapels and cufflinks of the future MBAs and socialites of the University of Pennsylvania, the parallels kind of write themselves.
And even though I can toss my split ends (I seriously need to either bite the bullet and pay for a haircut or beg my friend Olivia for one) and scoff at their ignorance, pondering what kind of fucked-up system throws people like me—who have struggled against the stinging ropes of imposter syndrome at every turn to do all of the respectable social-climbing allotted to them—into a chef’s salad of chaos and networking with nepotism babies and Bidens. It’s this underlying internal narration, slipping out occasionally among my roommates or on the phone, whining incessantly as I pace the mouse-ridden floors of my house, that drives me to revisit Gossip Girl at the ripe old age of 21.
This thought process is compounded with another, this one a musing about the nature of “gossip” itself. Again and again, throughout the crises I face in my professional and personal life, an accusation has been leveled against me: a heightened propensity for information-spreading. I never learn quite when to shut the fuck up. I’m a storyteller of a conversationalist who craves the dramatization of her own conflicts as much as she wants to resolve them. And it’s not just what I say, it’s also how I say it. I use words like “like” too much to be respected, sound vaguely like a valley girl at times, come across as catty or bitchy or bossy at others. Perhaps this is simply my toxic personality thinking, but I interpret this critique as solidly gendered as fuck. Because truly, what man alive must contend with it?
Further questions that have lingered for years drive me now as I comb through Marxist essays and click through HBO Max episodes of Gossip Girl. Which of these abhorrent people am I most like? Why am I so innately repulsed by some of the “poor” characters—are they assholes or do they hit too close to home? What platform should I use to express my thoughts as I embark on this journey weaving present with past?
The last question at least is simple. Where do English majors go to couch their mental breakdowns and late-night breakthroughs in language just vague enough to prompt concerned texts yet witty enough to garner validation in the form of sob-laughing emojis from their 14 most trusted friends? Twitter, obviously. The same platform I fled to in the wake of my breakup to ironically quote-tweet a previous version of myself (in my initial days of infatuation); where I processed running from a shooter after using it to get minute-to-minute updates during Philly’s Fourth of July fireworks show; where I dump my seemingly clever thoughts before I have enough time to ruminate on them and judge myself. It’s a social media platform, yes, but it’s a glorified void at times—I both tailor myself to others and crave the unhinged, stream-of-consciousness monologues that the format itself encourages.
Late-night live tweeting
I decide to work with the madness within for this first re-encounter, putting things off deliberately this time to force my past-midnight hand and push myself to the brink of awakeness after a long Amtrak journey home, drink (for some reason) a non-spiked half-gallon of apple cider along with a full Charged Lemonade (Mango Yuzu with a dash of black tea to try to keep my teeth from aching over the acidic citrus overload) from Panera, pregame with some Marx essays as a fun refresher, and see what my consciousness oozes out. Unfiltered commentary, hints of class criticism, the self-awarely manufactured Twitter voice of my generation. The setting—my childhood bedroom, between the hours of 12:30 and 5 a.m.—is a little bleak, I must admit, but also undeniably fitting. What better company than the faded, scruffy stuffed dog named Fluffy and the ominously shaky creaks of my metal loft bed to reflect and reconcile my past and present perspectives on wealth? With that, my persona—Delaney Archibald, to honor my 13-year-old crush—will take it away, interspersed with reflections triggered by the show’s events to grant insights that nobody likely wants, but will now receive as a burden.
I will, however, snatch the reins for a quick second here to provide some context for the uninitiated.
Serena: Will never get it. Things come easy for her, she fucks up, it’s okay, she lives on a cushion of financial and social security. Everyone will always love her, this is simply a fact. She floats through life not without problems, but without true consequences. Nate cheated on his longtime sweetheart Blair with her; she’s a crazy party girl whose return to the city from the boarding school she was banished from is the talk of the town.
Blair: This is my most radical take (more so than the class commentary, even): Blair is truly the only person in this show who, despite aggressively not getting it (that secondary consciousness, the voice in your head screaming that you can’t afford it), gets it in a different way. She’s pretty in a cold, polished way, in the words of Taylor Swift, “She’s never been a natural, and all she does is try, try, try”—which is the area where she feels deeply relatable. She’s obviously a socialite, her boyfriend Nate is drawn to her best friend’s effortless glow, her mother criticizes her weight at every move, and sure, maybe she’s been given a yacht-sized lifeboat, but the pressure threatens to sink her at times.
Nate: Truly the golden boy. Blair’s boyfriend, gorgeous human golden retriever, sad puppy eyes, main conflict is his father’s drug problem and embezzlement, but also his push to make him go to Dartmouth rather than UCLA (sad times for LA wellness influencers everywhere who might otherwise be graced with his presence!). Not a thought behind those eyes, but espouses the occasional noble view.
Chuck: Human scum, highly questionable actions towards women at every second, playboy but not actually that hot, adorned with striped pajamas and silk shirts and scarves during dubiously consensual sex with freshmen and sex workers. His father is the mogul of all moguls, his best friend is Nate, and, cherry on top, he drinks scotch out of incredibly elaborate decanters.
Vanessa: I am probably Vanessa in this scenario. She does, I will say, get a lot of fairly undeserved hate for…messing around with the puppeteering schemes of the rich and famous? Dating a rich guy and it not working out? Being jealous of her childhood best friend becoming wholly enveloped by a transactional social world where prices are high as fuck? One interesting perspective on her comes from a Reddit user RealestAC, who claims that “I hated her from the start from the first time I watched the show as a youngen [sic] to when I rewatched as an adult…just something about her first appearance made her seem so bitter, normally we are suppose [sic] to root the one who is lower in society but nope her, dan, Jenny and whoever else was poor were terrible people.” What would Marx say, truly? Quite possibly that Vanessa exists only as a source of labor to them—less than human, but a pawn in the capitalist’s fancy marble chess board.
Dan: Dan is the boy next door, seemingly imbued with all kinds of working-class earnestness but in practice is rather a snobby jackass. He falls instantly for Serena, and carries a chip on his shoulder throughout every interaction, is one of the more judgemental people in the universe, and submerges himself into the socialite sphere despite espousing his frequent disdain. He is, in short, a hypocrite, and he also really really wants to get into an Ivy. I know men like him, all I need to do is turn around.
Jenny: Jenny is a whiny but fairly sympathetic character who gradually becomes more monstrous and insufferable. Blair’s plaything, she runs around making invitations and planning parties and, all the while, simmers with resentment for her “poverty” as well as the patience that it takes to climb the social ladder. She likes fashion design, sitting on the steps of the Met, wearing expensive clothes, and there’s more going on than meets the eyeliner.
Rufus: Our proletariat king Rufus Humphrey! If I am Vanessa in this situation, my father is Rufus. He loves waffles, alternative oldies bands, and giving his kids the life he was never allowed. He has a chip on his shoulder, albeit a friendlier one than Dan. He does want the best for his kids, he feels the sting of the class system that separated him from his adolescent love, he is certainly not as poor as his scruffy, grunge vibes would suggest.
First encounters with Marxism
Like its iconic mid-2000s soundtrack, six seasons of Gossip Girl played on repeat in the back of my mind throughout my gradual conception of social consciousness and class. In seventh grade, I decided I was a Marxist. This took place (predictably) in an essay for my American History class where I raved about the benefits of communism and why anyone with any understanding of empathy would agree, right? This was in fact a very easy approach to take, at least for the purposes of being a Hermione Granger-like figure fully convinced of my own academic supremacy in middle school debates. In parallel to this naive show of intellectualism though, I was gradually acquiring a more personal perspective on my own financial situation. My father had been jobless for a little bit when I was in elementary school, and while I hadn’t lived in complete ignorance of the implications of this plight, my parents had successfully shielded me from the brunt of it. Little indicators actually perturbed my consciousness more over the years. I remember this tiny blonde girl, Bella (who spent full conversations rambling about why her favorite Pokemon Piplop was ‘soooo cuter’ than any others), asking why my house (single-story, with dark brown siding and an overflowing shed unlike that of the picturesque Victorians that populated all the other neighborhoods) was so “small” at a Girl Scout meeting.
I remember watching my mom’s frown lines deepening as she paced around the open floor plan of our living room and kitchen, murmuring about various healthcare plans and the prospects of Obama’s reelection, the sinking feeling of instinctively knowing that unlike my best friends—who had Princeton legacy status, annual Disney vacations, generally no financial anxiety—there wasn’t the money to attend the yearbook class trips to New York City and I shouldn’t ask.
My family’s relationship with elitism has always been precarious. First, there’s the walking contradiction of my father—who is half a suspendered John Denver country boy who cherishes nothing more than quality time with his dear daughter, a bratwurst sandwich with char marks and Amish potato salad (doctored with creamy light dijon mustard), and binoculars to catch the ephemeral glimmer of a shooting star in the shadowy no-man’s-land of a West Virginia mountaintop, half Man of Science who would press pause on Fox News to debunk the deceptively smirking anchors, or go on long tirades about topics from the fundamental hopelessness of the unchanging Constitution and unrepresentative Senate to the importance of grad school to social mobility (and his associated regrets).
Whenever he’d drive me home from our local Smith and Clarkson’s diner or Taco Bell, I’d cease my efforts to capture enough fleeting streetlight to read my Dear America diaries and pivot focus to his words, feeling mature to be holding such a conversation, but haunted by the dread underlying the messages.
Every once in a while, my dad would throw out a casual mention of us—in comparison to my friends who could float through life without a care in the world —being “poor.” My mom would turn rosy with righteous rage and protest that in fact, he had NO IDEA what that meant, as he hadn’t grown up in a single-parent household with her mother’s piercing voice and the background tunes of the TV drifting through the paper-thin walls of a cramped apartment, no going out to dinner to speak of ever.
I never grasped the weight of my mother’s experience, I fear. As I’ve grown up, I’ve felt the magnitude of her selfless love and hopes for me and my future and felt like genuine shit about how self-pitying I could be at times, whining about tiny things I wanted or places my friends were going that I was jealous of. I know how much that must have hurt her: my callous shortsightedness and shallow desires for excess and wealth. I’d wish, absently, to have been born into a richer family. I never realized how growing up with parents who understand the cruel workings of the capitalist system, critique the world around them, and give everything for me to succeed had so much more value.
This is sappy, might seem trite, I know, but it’s also simply true.
The (class-conscious) voice in your head
This underlying but omnipresent tension—which scuttled alongside each everyday interaction, haunting them—grew as I did. Pushing the cold metal of my mom’s shopping cart in the organic section of Trader Joe’s or Wegman’s would elicit a chill in my spine for another reason: even though I was truly, never, by any means food insecure, I would grapple with the numbers in my head as I tried to devise whether we were spending more than we could afford. Underlying the genuine thrill of excitement over a surprise trip to the mall or dinner to celebrate my report card would be the creeping sensation buzzing in the back of my mind—was I a burden? How much was too much? The ever present chorus: can we actually afford this?
Bear with me for a second—remember Marx’s theory of consciousness? Where those unfortunate workers gradually realize the extent to which circumstances have thoroughly fucked them over and they are whatever they are in terms of social class? I propose (quite audaciously, I know) a secondary consciousness.
This one is less high-minded, less intellectual, wholly menial in nature. It’s more like the devil or angel on your shoulder than anything else, and it can penetrate any interaction. The simultaneous balancing of the need to appear financially secure, without actually being such a thing, effortful effortlessness, the voice in your head questioning whether every purchase you make is avoidable, calculating half-hearted mathematical equations for the budget that only really exists in your hopes and your head—that’s a consciousness unto itself.
And as I’ve had to become more financially independent, it’s only gotten louder and more obnoxious. Today, for example, I can tell you that I spent $4.50 on coffee at WilCaf—a foolish purpose but vital for my 30 minute class break mental health and social life, $4 on tissues (with a CVS health coupon), $6 at Smokes on a green tea shot (again, an objectively silly beverage). For food, I scrounged a peanut butter roll left over from my work-study, ate my crowning meal-prep achievement of a quinoa salad, enjoyed some free pizza from said Smokes event, and burnt a quesadilla. Truly a pretty good day for me, all things considered.
Live-tweeting rampage, revisited
When I return to Twitter, it’s far more targeted. This time, I select an episode pinpointing the issues I crave most to unpack—the Ivy League experience and my Wharton ex—a phrase which, while I have treated it as a punchline to reconcile my feelings about, has truly a lot to unpack there.
It’s 4:46 a.m. As I prepare to begin tuning into that level of altered consciousness—after a truly harrowing search for the TV remote through our crumb-ridden old rug and deconstructing the fabric of our foamy, comfortable yet slowly-falling-apart IKEA couch, only to find it hidden under our autumn bowl—my favorite part of the house’s decor. A warm glow flickers around the house as the lavender candle I’ve lit to summon the vibes flickers. My brain feels fuzzy with caffeine from my now-long-gone Charged Lemonade, and my grey fuzzy blanket echoes the feeling.
Ivy League striving
The point where things got real with my class consciousness, in fact, was when it dawned upon me that my income was lower than the vast majority of those around me—when I began to research colleges. This was a couple of years after my initial Gossip Girl viewing quest—and it’s safe to say that the Season 1 dilemma of Dan’s relatively less privileged experience and not-like-other privileged-white-guys complex while the gang was applying to Ivy Leagues began to resonate with me.
I started combing through lists of idyllic and pretentious-seeming liberal arts colleges, or city schools where I could lead a cosmopolitan existence and excitedly presenting them to my parents, glimmers of fresh-faced naivete brightening my grin.
The slow simmer of realization that it was truly all (Ivy League or adjacent with fantastic financial aid policies and demonstrated need guarantees) or nothing (community college or state college that was perfectly decent but probably also a good amount of loans) set in quite gradually, hastened by the concerned sidelong glances and not-wanting-to-disappoint eyebrow raises on my mom’s face when we’d broach these conversations, and brought to a boil by my dad’s determination to be real with me.
I think the reason this seemed so devastating was not, I hope, undue snobbery towards these “lower” options or even the recognition of the hellfire I would have to bathe myself in if I wanted to commit to applying to every single elite school ever and having any shot whatsoever—the SAT and GPA “stats,” the perfectly balanced course load and extracurricular combination that suggests a clear and shiny future path forward, never mind the old-fashioned theory of college as a place to learn about yourself.
The process was undoubtedly insidious at its core—striving to distill each personality into checkboxes, numbers, a pitch about the future, and dividing friendships and families in its path. And honestly, the pure capitalism of it all: how you succeeded at another’s expense (ever heard of quotas?), might have feigned friendship for the sole aim of ascertaining your opponent’s weaknesses, trusted in the girl who, at the end of the day, was always gonna be a lot sadder and more vengeful about her own Harvard rejection than your Penn acceptance.
The Wharton Ex
After typing and retyping for what feels like eons (at least 4 a.m. eons) I come to the realization that I can’t say everything I want to about Nate—my real-life one, obviously. I’m not positive why that is. Possibly one factor in this writer’s block is the combination of time and distance, but getting over things isn’t my strong suit, so likely not. Is the way I felt in our relationship so hard to pin down precisely? Could Taylor Swift do it better, pinpointing what he wanted me to be: “A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you?” Ravaged by the stresses of the non-elite, full of working-class charm, the salt of the earth, doing my honest work in a way he (above it all but unwilling to admit it) couldn’t relate to? Maybe this isn’t even fair—how much of it is projection? Am I more Dan Humphrey-like than I initially feared? Regardless, the act of tweeting alone seems to activate parts of my emotional life I couldn’t otherwise. I unlock a few special powers of speech, if not all. Maybe by living vicariously through Vanessa, watching her and evaluating her decisions, I can see exactly where I went wrong.
“I don’t wanna be rich and famous, you know? Rich, that’d be okay.” That’s an actual quote from my ex, who we’ll call Nate for the purposes of Gossip Girl. It came about in one of those circumstances that, after the fact, becomes quite unintentionally hilarious in a retrospective way. We were sitting at the now-closed Beiler’s Donuts, two months before we started dating, as I conducted a profile interview of him for a class.
Pick someone interesting in your life, the assignment demanded. And Nate was certainly interesting in his apparent averageness and the calculation behind the facade alone. In our hour-and-a-half-long biographical chat, he did not bring up or even allude to his financial status. I won’t go into detail, but his father holds a top position at a firm you’d likely know if you’re a Whartonite and their house is worth like $4 million—pieces of information I acquired via some very light Google-sleuthing.
Excerpt from the profile:
Nate’s words might convey arrogance, but nothing else about his demeanor does. He leans back in his chair with a self-aware glint in his bright blue eyes, not taking himself too seriously. With his curly brown hair, navy Patagonia jacket, Penn t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, Nate doesn’t stand out as a particularly distinctive figure in the sea of quirky characters…”
Three months later, it’s Valentine’s Day. We’re cuddling on his black leather couch in his Hamco apartment, him running his hands through my hair as we ask each other deep questions. This is something Nate loves—getting past that pesky veneer of everyday life, discovering what we’re afraid of, what motivates us. A lot of that is our respective mental health struggles, I gather.
I’m more or less an open book (as this whole thing is making very apparent), so I ramble out streams of consciousness when the situation seems to call for it and endlessly prompt him to tell me something, anything, when it doesn’t.
This is also the time I decide to vent about my monetary stress—this time, just about getting a summer internship. With his grin winning as ever, he reassures me that I’ll get it, failing to grasp the gravity of said financial situation.
I can’t quite blame him for this obliviousness. I didn’t necessarily want him to or to seem desperate in any sense of the word. Nevertheless, it sticks with me.
5:30 am (the part I never intended to write)
Capitalism is built on the pretty Gatsbyian illusion that life can be fair, and powered by the reality that it cannot. This feels especially poignant at this moment. I am experiencing failure, heart-wrenching grief, excruciating humiliation, and the sickening realization that sticks in my throat screaming you have made a bargain for your soul that in no way even benefitted you.
Melodramatic? What other feeling remains when you’ve screamed into every friend on the couch’s arms, felt a little piece of your consciousness float upward while the rest grapples with nausea from the peach wine you’ve chugged to cope and the harrowingly rich, polished-through-even-this, hollow echo of the voice on the phone of the man you used to trust, couching his betrayal in affirmations of friendship. Yep, this is actually a (live from my bed) recap of Corporate Rejection.
When The Machine churns your insides around for a year, makes your pounding heart jolt, you wake to a reality, every morning, in which you’re greeted with the never-ending intrusive thoughts that you’re completely fucking unqualified and shouldn’t be allowed to do anything ever, lies to you that you’ll get everything you want (and a bonus of a thoroughly extinguished soul) if you simply work your ass off for it, then robotically rejects your offer of another year of indentured servitude, that fucking stings.
Like father, like daughter
After spending three hours torturing my lovely roommates with lyrical analyses of why “You’re on Your Own, Kid” by Taylor Swift was actually ghostwritten by my brain, I see a text from my dad (4:34 a.m.), laced with the situationally appropriate expletives and emojis. I call, and he shakes me to my core. He never wanted to burden me with the details of how he exited his job, but this felt too resonant and it’s clearly bringing him back there. People he brought onto the board betrayed him, wanted to strand him sans-severance, erase his contributions by hiring someone in Arizona and pretending he was the villain for making the tough choices that needed to be made.
My father is slow to anger, and usually approaches our conversations with all the emotional volatility of Bob Ross, but this is different—his voice cracks a bit with rage as he tells me he Really Understands when you pour your mental health into a company (our first mistake) with the goal of saving it over yourself and they throw you overboard in a bucket to the mercy of the waves. I think, not for the first time, that capitalism is not only evil in its practices and impoverishment but also evil in the twisted person it tried to mold him, and now me, into.
Me, in my corporate girlie era, walking into the office every day these last couple of weeks with the ultimate goal in mind of being the most competent, professional, charismatic gem ever to grace the palace—never betraying all the things that were in fact upsetting me.
The normalized-to-the-point-of-masochism grind culture, the way I was told “you’re never allowed to have a bad day,” the unpaid 9-5 that becomes a 5-1:30(a.m.), these things I will not miss. Other things, yes. But that was, after all, the trap.
Confidence is a funny thing. So is bitterness. I’ve been exploring both far more than I ever wished to, intended, or anticipated—witnessing as if detached from my body the complete and total shattering of my confidence, receding into the safer territory of self-justified resentment where I once again participate in that ultrafeminine craft of gossip.
Fittingly enough, Taylor Swift, has become (albeit unintentionally) a consistent thread through this narrative, her wisdom injected alongside Marx’s. “I Bet You Think About Me” (a country bop about dealing with your ultrarich ex’s snobbiest tendencies) may be a little contrived coming from the capitalist queen herself, but it certainly provides a nice backdrop for my Dan Humphrey musings; and of course, she is a certified Sad Girl—with songs for sobbing about almost every scenario. Now, as I find myself in desperate need of an expensive-feeling glow-up, a polishing to prove I’m not a gem tarnished by service to The Machine, she provides another piece to the soundtrack, a mantra to my reinvention: “Best believe I’m still bejeweled/ When I walk in the room/ I can still make the whole place shimmer.” I concoct the perfect plan to prompt an epiphany: a glamorous outfit, an opulent locale, and of course, a friend (Meg!) for support as I venture into Louie Louie. It’s in fact uncharted territory for the both of us, as we observe our other commonalities, she comments that we’re “just two middle-class girls from Virginia” who have no idea how to walk through the glass doors to a place like this.
Our momentary fear that the whole place is reserved for a private event is dispelled, and then we’re seated all the way at the end of the bar next to the portion of the smooth marble countertop that’s covered in tins of olives, plastic cartons of caramel sauce, and sprigs of herbs—the barely-noticeable details behind the illusion of effortless perfection. Speaking of, let’s deconstruct my own illusion of grandeur.
The internal monologue of prices makes an abrupt return, perhaps prompted by the exorbitant tabs being racked up all around me amid the bronze lamps and softly opulent glow of the bar. Cocktail-length satin emerald dress? $23 at Buffalo Exchange, purchased for a semiformal of years past. Earrings? Part of a $6 set of studs in a Black Friday sale. Top it off with the fake pearl necklace—from my mother, so free. My tan knee-length peacoat (almost identical, coincidentally, to Meg’s) was slightly more expensive (maybe $100?), but it was both a gift from my mother and, as she boasted, an outstanding sale deal. My makeup is all from the drugstore, the $11 NYX Epic Wear eyeliner pulling its weight as the star of the show in the only look I have managed to nail: winged eyeliner, mascara, light pink glitter on the inner part of my eyelids, a swipe of similar-toned highlighter along my cheekbones. The monetary price, at least, of dressing for revenge is more budget-friendly than you might imagine. Jenny Humphrey could use some tips.
But the designer–attired Karens with shoulder-length blonde hair and businessmen in sharply tailored suits who surround us likely don’t perceive our actual backgrounds, if they were to devote even a moment of reflection to the scene. We look privileged enough, Meg and I conclude, and it sparks the first of our ramblings about fronts and class and that horrifying phenomenon of passing as upper-class and feeling like a fraud—academically, financially, and having-our-shit-together-ly. I confide to her that “I’m too artsy for my practical friends, not genuinely creative enough for the creatives.” Even when objectively I’m doing fine, it feels like I’m one second from my whole world crashing down—at any minute, we confess to each other, we could lose everything. Don’t ask me how to explain that—it’s the visceral sensation those who lack the insurance policy of the double legacy kids carry at all times, the fear-fueled drive that spurs us on through the wreckage of our mental health and every voice pleading to give up and go to bed because we will not allow ourselves a singular misstep. Because the worst part, I posit, is when you feel like the imposter syndrome is proven right. You never were good enough at all; your incompetence just eluded discovery (somehow!) until this moment.
Meg and I (as Blair and Serena might at the Palace Hotel) go from intimidated to bold over the course of our drink, hers a French Negroni, and mine a Caramel Apple cocktail, me firmly gripping the glass that’s far more solid than the IKEA ones we have at home, gaping at the radiant purple Empress Gin to the bourbon bottles that seem to commodify the rustic aesthetic of the lower class. Our topics range from how startling it is to encounter someone and realize the magnitude of their wealth, tainting every interaction thereafter with the unrelatability that remains in the front of your mind, to a particularly heated rant about a friend of mine who, truly, has never worked for a THING in his life. Finally, I explain, things seem to be crashing down on him, and he has no clue how to deal with the consequences, since he has the requisite charisma (that comes from the innate assurance of his privilege) to get out of most any conflict. I reminisce on the old days, when my naive freshman self was captivated by his nonchalance, hypnotized by the audacity of it. Little did I know then, as Meg acerbically points out, “Every carefree person I’ve ever met at Penn is wealthy.” Because what is rock bottom for one with a safety net?
Deeper into our cocktails, we discover more parallels in our lives: we’ve faced so much condescension for our perceived neuroticism, never unpacking the greater rationale behind our anxiety. People will pretend to be concerned for our mental health, brush off valid concerns with “Oh, it’ll be fine, don’t worry so much,” failing once again to grasp that core drive always reminding us that in fact everything might not be fine unless we take every means necessary to be absolutely certain of its fineness. Because there is so much to lose, and because that intrusive voice shrieks that everything we’re not sure we deserve that we’ve toiled our asses off for could very well be ripped away in an instant. Meg sums it up best: “They gaslight you into thinking it’s a problem that you’re anxious. But it’s actually their privilege of not having to be anxious.” That’s the part that Blair understands—the status, she feels, can be shattered at a moment’s notice, even if the material security would remain, there would be nothing to live for.
This feels profound—Meg credits the Negroni, I believe in her inherent wisdom—but yet another revelation is to come. I’m explaining to her my significant hesitancies over publishing a few particular segments of my piece. As biting and powerful and cathartic as I feel a few segments are, I don’t feel right about publicizing them. My bitterness is steeped too intensely in these lines and they were too raw and in the moment, and I hate saying that because that’s what it’s all about!
But I realize, as I speak, gulping down the cream whiskey, that it isn’t.
There’s an episode of Gossip Girl where Dan (rightfully) gets a massive amount of shit from everyone about publishing a book with thinly veiled allusions, pettiness, and bitching about every person in his life.
After pondering episode upon episode of Gossip Girl, fretting over the unhealthy degree to which I’ve resented the rich and held grudges and lashed out and GOSSIPED, for fuck’s sake, I know that I can say those actions do not comprise who I am. My thoughts are valuable, yes, but not only in their power to harm. Far as I am still from attaining enlightenment, I can make this seemingly small choice: to resist the urge to expose every damning detail for the sake of the momentary pleasure I’d gain from lashing out.
I’ve pondered who I am in this world so many times (Vanessa? A poor woman’s Blair? Jenny?) but now I know one thing for certain: I am not Dan Humphrey.