(or Why You Should Give A Hoot When The Entire Universe Is Broadcasting The Minutae Of Their Lives Online)
Hello and welcome to my site. If you are looking for Abby Ellin, journalist/author/former fat-camper/compulsive traveler/occasional mountain climber/aspiring cellist/ice cream namer then you are in the right place. If not, well, stay a while, anyway. Maybe we’ll be Facebook friends! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (But first read this.) If you must, you can also find me on Twitter at @abbyellin. And yes, I know I need a new website. TK, as we say in the biz.
I’ve been a freelance writer for 20 years. During said two decades, I got an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College, in Boston, which is a really good degree if you have no other marketable skills. Not that it actually helps you earn money, but it will make you think you’re an Artist, which makes poverty sound romantic.
I lived in a $375 dollar-a-month flat in a craggy old house in Cambridge, and wrote for The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly newspaper. My editor was Caroline Knapp, who was–and still is–one of the funniest, most emotionally raw writers I’ve ever read. She was a keen observer of pretty much everything and way ahead of herself, especially with her willingness to expose her struggles–eating disorders, alcoholism, romantic entanglements, shoe obsession–in print. This was the early ’90s, mind you, before Al Gore invented the Internet and tweeting was just something birds did. Two of her books, Drinking: a Love Story, a memoir of grief and addiction, and Pack of Two, about her relationship with her dog, hit the New York Times bestseller list. She died in 2002, and I wish I could tell her how grateful I am to her for giving a kid a break, and more importantly, for sharing her words with the world.
In 1994 I hightailed it to Manhattan and shacked up with a (gay) college buddy named–I swear!–James Bond. We were just like Will and Grace except our neighbor was not Sean Hayes but a sign-language interpreter with exceptionally loud vocal chords. Perhaps she forgot that we were not hearing impaired. During this time I temped at various companies around the city and used their offices as my very own Freelance Factory–which is to say I may have borrowed their supplies to send cover letters and clips to magazines like Self, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Sassy, Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Glamour. I wrote life-changing quizzes (“Is He a Jerk?” “Are You a Control Freak?”) and, eventually, stories that sort of mattered–like my essay about my six years at fat camp, which the dearly departed Mademoiselle published in 1996. A few years later I penned a more amusing version for the late, great Spy. Perhaps there is a reason both publications are now defunct.
While I enjoyed writing for women’s magazines (they paid pretty well, though they haven’t really increased their rates since then), I always felt a little like Farrah Fawcett during her Charlie’s Angels heyday. She longed to be considered a Serious Actress, but everyone laughed until she gave an Emmy-nominated performance in The Burning Bed. Ha!
In 1998, I decided it was time for my own futon to erupt in flames, so to speak, and I pitched an idea to the New York Times business section about boot camp for executives. The story ran; I framed it and hung it on my kitchen wall, figuring it was a one-shot deal. To paraphrase The Fonz, I was wr-wr-wr-wrong: the business section was launching a new column about young people and money, my editor told me, and did I want to write it?
“Uh, sure,” I said. “If I can fit it into my schedule.”
Preludes, as it was called, ran in the Sunday Money and Business section of the New York Times from 1998 to 2002. It was kinda great, I must say. I got to chronicle the beginning of the dot-com boom and its subsequent demise. Never mind that I really knew nothing about business, or that I once jokingly compared the Roth IRA to Philip Roth. I interviewed folks like Monica Lewinsky, Donald Trump, Jeff Skoll, and residents of a small Guatemalan village who were trying to sell their wares online. I still write for the NYT business section, as well as Arts, Education, and Styles. I even did a story for the NYT Sports section about five former Olympic skaters and skiiers who hang out together. (I dubbed them ‘The Ice Pack,” which cracks me right up). Sometimes I get to do really cool things, like when I met Leonard Nimoy, of Spock fame. (I was never a Trekkie, but I’m now a Lenn-ie!) I’ve often crashed strangers’ weddings for the Vows column, which I have been known to call “Other People’s Happiness.” In 2002 I wrote a piece for Marie Claire called “Could You Go Undercover For the CIA?,” about a former spy named Tony Mendez. Ben Affleck has since made a little film about him, called “Argo.”
Then my Career ADD kicked in, and in 2005 I published Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help (paperback came out in 2007). The book (a/k/a Fat Camp Confidential), was part memoir of said SIX years at fat camp–Colang! Kingsmont!–as well as an investigation into what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to helping kids lose weight. (Parental hint: Don’t make them feel like total losers). The book got a lot of attention–it was excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, People and London’s Daily Telegraph, and promoted on TV and radio. It was also a finalist for the Books for a Better Life award, and optioned by Sony Television. Unfortunately, they never turned it into a movie, which means that–listen up, Hollywood!–the rights are totally, unequivocally available.(Call me! Let’s do lunch!)
In addition to the above-mentioned magazines and newspapers, my work has been featured in The Village Voice, The New York Post, The NY Daily News, New York, Glamour, Self, Gotham, Time, Newsweek, More, Marie Claire, Redbook, Maxim, POV, Fortune, Psychology Today, Salon, and The Daily Beast, among others. My twelve-part series, “How to Raise a Millionaire” ran on MSN.com. My essays have appeared in The Secret Currency of Love and In Search of Adventure, and twelve of my words popped up in the Six-Word Memoir collections (“Jew-born. Yeshiva-educated. Date goyim” and “I’m too old for this S***!”) Apparently, I make a rather lengthy appearance as myself in the Sundance-award winning film We Live in Public (I wrote about the main character, Josh Harris, in 2000). Alas, no one has ever sent me a screener, so I have yet to see the movie. (If anyone has–be honest now–do I look fat???) Years ago I received the Sword of Hope award from the American Cancer Society for a story I wrote on breast cancer. More recently, I won a prize from the American Society of Journalists and Authors for my March, 2008 New York Times article on my disastrous Lasik surgery. If only I could see it, that would be really cool.
More recently, I conducted my own little undercover investigation of naked New York for The NY Observer. This involved naked yoga, naked dinner, and naked body painting. In public. If you ask nicely, maybe I will show you my photos. My piece on duplicity ran on the cover of Psychology Today. And you should read it. (Even better! If you have a story you want to share with me about being duped–or being a duper–email me at AEllin123@aol.com).
I’m also the editor-at-large for Fitsmi.com, a website for girls and their moms who are struggling with weight. My nomadic tendencies never disappeared, and I’ve written stories in exotic locales like India, Cuba, North and South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Russia, the Middle East (where I lived for a year), Europe, the Caribbean and the good old United States of America. Famous people are swell and all, but I am especially interested in giving voice to the underdog, in telling the stories others can’t tell for themselves.
I’m now in Phase Four of my life, in which I recently completed my Second Useless Masters, this one in International Relations at Johns Hopkins. I am officially over-educated. Meanwhile, as of press time my greatest accomplishments have been summitting Mt. Kilimanjaro (with a broken wrist!) and naming Karamel Sutra for Ben and Jerry’s.