ANNA HOLMES is an award-winning writer and editor who has worked with numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The New Yorker online, and The New York Times, where she is a regular contributor to the Sunday Book Review. In 2007, in response to her work for magazines like Glamour and Cosmopolitan, she created the popular website Jezebel.com, which helped to revolutionize popular discussions around the intersections of gender, race, and culture. In 2016, she became SVP of Editorial at First Look Media, where she is spearheading the launch of Topic.com, the consumer-facing arm of Topic, the company’s film, TV, and digital studio.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore? They should ignore any advice from anyone who purports to tell them what the future will look like. No one knows. People have ideas, and those are good to take on board and consider, but that’s about the extent of it. I can’t tell you how many media or political “experts” have made proclamations as to the next big thing in journalism or entertainment—or politics—and been proven horribly, embarrassingly wrong. In the whole scheme of things, no one knows anything, or rather, all of us have a lot to learn, and it takes a lifetime. Interrogate the information shared with you by others, and use it as a way to make up your own mind, not a path to follow.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
“Follow your curiosity, wherever you can find it.” Embracing a curious mind and always trying to learn more—about others, about yourself, about the world and our place within it—is an important way to express yourself, and it’s pretty cheap, too, often free!
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I am a complete failure at the politics of the workplace. Probably because I just don’t have the stomach for it. I like collaborative environments where people who work hard and do good work get rewarded for it, no matter who they are. I hate machinations and behind-the-scenes strategizing and bullshit. The first place I worked after college was a profoundly political place and I did not do well there, which, in the end, was a blessing, because it set me up to try my talents in more emerging, less conventional, and less conservative [not conservative politically, but conservative as in “cautious, by-the-book, doing things the way they are always done”] spaces.
What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
My favorite children’s book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. I have about ten copies in my apartment that I give out to friends (old and new) with daughters. It’s a beautifully illustrated and written tale of a young girl in coastal Maine who grows up to travel the world and indulge her curiosity about other places and people. In her old age, she returns to Maine to make the world a more beautiful place. There’s no mention of marriage or motherhood in the story; it’s simply a portrait of the life of a woman who finds value and meaning in following her interests and an important lesson for all of us about what women are capable of.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Over the past few years, I’ve found myself more and more fascinated by flight— by birds and by airplanes. A few months ago, I did some plane spotting while staying at a hotel near Heathrow airport; I just ambled out to the parking lot and introduced myself to some young Englishmen who were on a small hill watching the planes come in. We’ll see if it’s a fascination that “takes.” I don’t think it’s a particularly common fascination of women, from what I can tell.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Yoga. Specifically, vigorous vinyasa yoga. I began a yoga practice in 2011 as a way to get stronger and healthier and to deal with a very difficult period in my life—the estrangement from my then husband and later separation and divorce. I’d been a dancer as a child and had forgotten how much an understanding of my own body and belief in its capabilities could translate into better self-esteem, focus, and mental and emotional centeredness. Yoga, and the community I came to know through my practice, saved my life.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?
I’ve become much better at saying no to requests for assistance and advice, which sounds horrible! But there was a certain point a few years ago, where I was spending more time responding to queries from complete strangers than making sure I was allowing myself to be accessible and present to the actual people in my life—my friends and family. A few years ago, I gave a commencement speech to graduates of a private girls’ boarding school in upstate New York. The thrust of the speech was why these accomplished young women should learn to say no more often. Females are socialized to be accommodating, to be caretakers, to not rock the boat, and to put others before themselves. What I told these graduates was not so much “fuck that,” but that they should work to overcome the uncomfortable feelings they may encounter when telling someone else no, whether that is a friend, a romantic partner, a work colleague, etc.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Two things: I try to breathe deeply and I walk, preferably in some sort of natural setting: a park, along the NYC waterfront . . . if I’m lucky, someplace outside of the city, like paths and trails in Maine, the UK, or my beloved home state of California. I also like road trips. I find that long drives help me to put things in perspective and solve problems and blow off steam. (I sing in the car. Loudly.) Moving throughout the world, whether by foot or four-wheeled vehicle, gives me a different way of looking at things and inspires me to feel gratitude at even the smallest of pleasures: a fluffy cloud, a chipmunk scurrying across the road, a hawk sitting on a fencepost, a gaggle of teenagers making a ruckus and having the time of their lives.