Nowadays, it’s not enough to just be a writer, typing away your thoughts on a typewriter in the middle of the countryside like a Sylvia Plath type. You must also have a social media presence to validate your existence, making you worthy of even writing a novel, poetry, or what have you. And some of the most successful writers today are not only Google-able, but use their space online to create a real brand for themselves. There are two ways that this personal branding can go: the first, and more likely traveled route, is the shameless self-promotional branding pertaining to all online personalities, not just writers (See: The Kardashians, Charlie Sheen… or even Walt Whitman, who although pre-dates the Internet, knew the importance of mastering the management his public image.), which involves "pimping" oneself in order to get recognition. However, a more rare type of personal branding is the type of branding that helps you really know the person, not put them on a pedestal of celebrity (See: Mindy Kaling, Kathy Griffin, and Lena Dunham).
That’s what I love about authors like Sloane Crosley. They’re hip to the change in pace of writing, but use the new system in a meaningful way. The online projects that Sloane Crosley has taken on (aside from her essay writings) have been fun and witty, while staying true to who she projects in her memoirs. It’s no coincidence that one of my closest friends Lyris first introduced me to her, as Sloane creates an image for herself that’s so intimate that I really do feel as if I'm sitting with her in her living room, rehashing details from last night. Although Sloane is surely as famous as other media figures out there, it’s the way that she uses her brand that sets her apart from the pack.
This is an excerpt from a post a wrote for BUST Magazine:
From the moment I saw I Was Told There’d Be Cake on the bookshelf, I knew Sloane Crosley was a girl after my heart and taste buds. As a 17 year-old, I have looked to my fellow New Yorker’s escapades as letters from an imaginary older sister. Although I am interested in a career as a style journalist, I also am very interested in keeping up with all of my mini-essays that I hash out in my own diary.
Sloane herself is part anthropologist, part diarist; she is acutely observant of the people, places, and things, around her....she knows her nouns. In 2011, she started an online project, Sad Stuff On The Street, with her then-partner, Greg Larson, which seeks to tell the stories of sad objects lost on the street. It’s year two of the project, and I caught up with Sloane to talk about how the project began, the saddest things she’s ever found, and what’s next for the project. I am so honored to have been able to interview one of the raddest writers out there—read on below.
When and why was Sad Stuff On The Street started?
My friend Greg and I started it over a year ago. A couple of years before that, we met and I began a long-distance relationship, with him in San Francisco and me in New York. I guess I would say that taking pictures of bittersweet garbage on the street was one way we kept in touch, but we probably would have done it if we lived in the same city. The relations part of the relationship didn't continue. We broke up, but we stayed great friends — I saw him today, actually — and we kept sending each other sad things. There's a detailed and self-indulgent version of this story buried within the site.
On the site there are some serious and hilarious debates as to what constitutes an object as being “sad.” Has there been a consensus?
I think our standards have gone up now that we've had such international sadness exposure and we have so much more material. I'm not trying to elevate a Tumblr here, but it has been really fun to watch. One week will bring us submissions from France, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Yemen, North Korea...we had a month where there was an unusual influx from Russia. Guess who does sad stuff really well? The Russians.
Anyway, sadness is a mood. So what goes on the site is subject to our moods. I know if I see too many decapitated dolls, I have an anti-dolly reaction and will hold off on putting them up. Just because we try to go for something a little more unusually sad. We like funny sad things with heart. I personally like the stuff that's very morbid without being disgusting. So a good exception to the doll rule was a recent submission of a clear plastic bag stuffed with about twenty naked Barbies and ties to a fence. That's creepy-sad and that's for us.
There's no real consensus, though. We both like a post where you're left wondering how the hell the sad thing came to be. We also both have veto power and rarely use it. I would say Greg is slightly less dark — slightly — and has a great eye for the classics. If you see a beautiful, busted rainbow umbrella, drowning in a puddle, that's Greg. Or all the "Depressed Teddy Bear Series" and "Depressed Elmo Series" are Greg.
What is the saddest thing you or Greg ever found on the street? Favorite? Weirdest?
That's really hard. I can look but that feels like cheating. Off the top of my head, there was an elaborate toy pirate ship shipwrecked next to a tree on a street in Paris. That's my own longstanding favorite. There was a mattress that said, "Nothing really mattress." Once Greg found a cardboard box full of "Free Bread Sandwiches." Recently there was a drowning penguin stuffed animal and that is a good example of how context can make a post — he was found on the side of a canal in Venice, Italy.
Do you think there’s a place in heaven for lost objects?
I don't think they're ever lost. They just move.
Do you ever take the objects home with you? Or do you like to leave them there as more of a gift of street art?
Eww, gross, no. But Greg and I take very few of the photos these days. So I'm not in Mexico City to pick up said object. I wish I was.
Has anyone ever contacted you after seeing a post on the site, claiming that that was their missing item?
Not directly. People have posted things on their personal blog. Sometimes we get notes if we leave off or mess up a link to a sumbitter's personal page. Another great side-effect to this is that the photography community seems to have gotten in on it. And we'll sometimes get these stunning photographs from professional photographers who just see it as another space to share work that wouldn't go in a magazine or to a gallery.
Have you found that there is a particular place in the world that has the highest concentration of sad stuff?
Because of how we began, just spreading the word to our friends, the site has the longest legs in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. But it's really and truly everywhere. Lots of Austin, Miami, Boston, Chicago. Small towns too. I'm always disappointed that there's not more Las Vegas. Maybe if you're looking down in Las Vegas it's because you lost a bunch of money and/or are about to puke. You're probably in no mood to seek out external sources of melancholy.
What’s next for Sad Stuff On The Street? Do you two have any plans to turn Sad Stuff into an essay series? It would be really cool if there was some sort of meet-up series around the United States, where people could bring in their objects or photos of their objects, and share their stories!
Oh, well, thank you. We do talk about it, about what to do next. We've had some ideas of our own as well as a couple thrown our way. For now we're both just kind of in it for the love of the sadness.
Thanks so much, Sloane! Check out Sad Stuff On The Street here.
Images in this post courtesy of Sad Stuff on The Street
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