I remember deciding against publishing this photograph from the interview with Alison Rodriguez because I'm in the frame. Looking back, I might have made a different decision. Anyone who has spent even a bit of time with me over the last few years will recognize the green sweater. I bought it by way of ebay in 2016, and have been wearing it at least three times a week throughout the autumn, winter, and early spring seasons. Alas, although it's finally started to fray, at least I have the memories, and this photograph.
The interview with Alison and Paul and Emily as printed within Issue No. 1 hovers around fifteen thousand words. It's a maximalist experience, as I transcribed nearly every word that we spoke that afternoon.
Taking an interview is an art, something that one can work at, and improve upon over time. And the same can be said for editing an interview. Nearly three years later, I can look back and read through this interview and see a number of places where trimming down and scaling back would have helped shine more light on the deeper and more meaningful aspects of the insights that Alison shared that afternoon.
But a magazine can only have its very first interview once, and all told, given what I knew and was capable of at the time, I can't help but feel gratitude for the time we spent together, for Emily's photographs and ideas as we played jazz with the format and landscape of the interview, and for Alison's and Paul's hospitality, and honesty. An excerpt from the interview, in which Alison shares her earliest experiences of becoming a writer, below.
All of our best,
March Twenty-fourth, 2020
Alison: I found a job with a property management firm in Jersey, where I worked for, what a year - or two? So I worked for them, they were great. And then Paul got into law school up in Connecticut, so we realized, okay we’re moving. And then up there I got a job with a real estate firm that handles Yale’s residential investment portfolio. So this is Yale owning a bunch of apartment buildings, all in downtown New Haven.
Paul: They’re the largest landlord.
Alison: They’re the largest landlord in New Haven, yeah. And they’re just this behemoth. They own so much stuff. So I worked for them, and then one of Paul’s . . .
Isaac: Was it property management?
Alison: Yeah, property management. But that was more lease signings, and showing apartments.
Isaac: Were you knocking on doors and collecting rent?
Alison: No, because they were paying Yale. It was a very different sort of system. And so then, one of Paul’s law school professors had this company, and he wanted me to build out the northeast operations for it. And I thought of it as a way to get entrepreneurial experience, but with the guarantee of a paycheck. And so I thought, well that’s kind of cool. And so I did that.
And then I left right before we got married; I just took some time off for a while, and hung out. Which was really cool. And we went backpacking through South America, which was amazing. And then when we got back, I launched an organic skincare line, and I did that -- I know it was totally random, just a random trajectory. But I had just finished reading a book on Estee Lauder.
I read biographies of successful female entrepreneurs because I think it’s a different -- I like the stuff about guys too -- but I think women face a different set of challenges than men do in business. So I make a point to read their stories and see what they did. So I had just finished reading a biography of her, and it was talking about how she had started her skincare line on her stovetop in her apartment. And I thought, that’s nuts.
I always thought skincare products were from big factories, and there were machines doing things, and it was very intricate. And so I thought, well, if there’s ever a time to figure out how to make products, like with Google and YouTube, then it would be now. And so I started Googling and YouTubing and checked it out, and figured it out. And it came about because I had really bad skin.
I started using Ponds Cold Cream, and I just looked at the ingredients, because you know, it was kind of crunchy and whatever, and so the first ingredient was mineral oil. And I thought, that sounds very healthy, it’s made of minerals. And so I thought, let me just Google it, just to double-check, but I’m sure it’s just all of these good minerals. And it’s Petroleum Jelly, which I didn’t know. And it’s not green. And so I saw this and I was bummed.
Paul: One of the ingredients was linked to cancer.
Alison: Yeah, and I don’t get into the politics of mineral oil, because they’re very contested, but it’s a difficult issue in the cosmetic world, so I was thinking, I just want something with- out it. That’s all I’m looking for. Surely there’s a cold cream that just doesn’t have it. And there wasn’t one.
Emily: No kidding.
Alison: Yeah. Like La Mer has it. It’s weird. It’s the cheapest ingredient -- it’s cheaper than water -- to include in cosmetic products. It’s Vaseline, is what it is. And I just wanted to find a cold cream without it, and I couldn’t, and so I thought, well, maybe I could make one. And I did. And it’s still around, it’s called
Neuth. It’s fun. I like it. We have some in the bathroom.
Isaac: How is that spelled?
Alison: N-e-u-t-h. It’s the name of the Egyptian Goddess of the Sky.
Isaac: So after Neuth, you started writing? Alison: Yes. And so then after Neuth, which was about ten years ago, I started writing for other clients and other publications.
Paul: You should tell them that technically you’ve been writing since first grade. Isaac: I was looking at your website, Starry Writers.
Isaac: And there’s a few interesting posts on there. And I was reading one, and it sounds as though you resisted writing for a while, no?
Alison: I did. Is that the one about having a nightmare? Isaac: Maybe, yeah. I think you mentioned having the nightmare for over a year, and then you thought, maybe I should be writing. And there was a moment when you were wearing glasses. Alison: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Isaac: That’s a separate post. Yeah. Alison: Yeah. That was a big deal. It was weird. It made it feel like I was a writer. Was there a question? I’m sorry. Isaac: Well, I guess know plenty of writers who don’t wear glasses, and I also know some who do, but I’m wondering when you were look- ing at yourself in the mirror with your glasses on, was there
something that clicked? Do you remember where you were? Alison: I don’t. A big part of it was pregnancy. When you get pregnant your hormones change, and some women’s eyesight changes, and so mine did. And so that’s why I needed glasses. And I had never needed glasses before. So I couldn’t even see the glasses. Paul picked them out. And so Paul’s dad is an eye-doctor, and Paul’s step mom is an amazing Paraoptometric. And she’s great! She really is. So she and Paul had picked out the glasses without me being able to see them, because I couldn’t see. And so when I put them on I was in her office, and my first thought was, “Oh they look great, that’s awesome.” Because I couldn’t see what they had picked out at the time, before the lens were inserted. And then it was just sort of like, “Oh, I look like a writer. I look like who I always thought I was. But I never believed that I was.” Does that make sense? Isaac: Yeah, it’s comforting. Alison: Yeah. It was actually really exciting be- cause it felt like permission. And that’s one of the things that a lot of these women entrepreneurs who I’ve reading about talk about is how women ––– I’m sure men do too ––– but specifically, one thing women really fight, and have to work through is confidence and permission. And getting the glasses just felt like, I finally got permission to be a writer. Because the other thing too was that I always viewed writing as a wildly unprofitable enterprise. And I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of being an impoverished writer. And you hear a lot of stories, or I hear a lot of stories -- Well, there was this one guy who wrote a blog post for Gawker, when Gawker still existed. Isaac: Yeah, that was an ugly crash, right? Alison: Ohhh, that was horrible. But there was this guy, and he was saying, “Yeah, I’m divorced. I’ve got two kids with my ex-wife. And I can’t make child support. I don’t even have a place to live. I don’t even have an apartment, because I’m a writer. And I’m writing all of the time. And I’m submitting to all of these places, and I’m just not getting accepted. So here I am, I’m an impoverished writer.” And that was my vision of how you lived your life if you were a writer, and I was like, in my mind, that’s a very tough existence. Because you’re putting your heart and soul into something and you still have a horrible quality of life. And yes, you’re living your art and that’s cool, but you also just want to be able to live. Right? And have a standard of living. And so when I realized that I could write and be financially compensated in an acceptable way, I was like, okay. It all kind of came to a head at the same time.