The Suburban Interlude with Shelby Vittek
Meet Shelby. By day, Shelby Vittek is the Associate Editor for the magazine, New Jersey Monthly, where she's forced to embrace her inner Jersey Girl. Once the 9-5 workday hustle is over, she's hard at work on a book about redhead culture—a collection of essays that addresses cultural stigmas and stereotypes, as well as issues of identity, belonging and sexuality. On top of that, she makes the time to teach English and creative writing classes to undergraduates. In her career as a journalist and essayist, Shelby has written about topics such as food and wine, travel, and beauty.
Why do you do what you do?
Being a writer means being an active participant in a never-ending cycle of learning—learning about myself, learning about others, learning about the world—though I’m never bored by it. I’ve always been drawn to nonfiction—things like journalism, memoir, and essays—because its goal is to arrive at truth, or truths. I suppose the reason I’m compelled to write in this genre is because getting at my own truths satisfies me in a way that nothing else does. Writing is how I’ve always made sense of my world, how I work through my traumas, how I connect my own experience to those of others. I write because I find pleasure in expressing myself clearly, and I teach because I find joy in helping students find their own voice.
What is one thing you hope never changes?
The power of printed books. For a while, everybody was convinced that e-books would take over the book publishing industry, but recent years have shown just how much staying power printed books have. Is there any better feeling than being completely engrossed in a book, holding it in your hands and paging through it? If there is, I haven’t experienced it.
When do you feel most alive?
I always feel alive while I’m cooking dinner alone in my kitchen, or when I’m traveling to a place I’ve never been. Though I must admit I feel most alive when I’m finally able to unlock a memory or evoke a tough-to-translate feeling or meaning in something I’m writing. Getting whatever has been torturing my mind for weeks (sometimes even months) down on the page always leads to a feeling of euphoria, a sort of confirmation that this is what I was really meant to do.
What are you really good at, but kind of embarrassed that you're so good at it?
Does polishing off a bottle of wine by myself count? I'm..uh...also really good at folding laundry the very moment it comes out of the dryer, better at it than anybody I know. It even impresses me, and I’m a Virgo.
What's the hardest lesson you've had to learn?
The world doesn’t always move at the same pace I want it to, and building a career as a writer is a marathon, not a race. Since I was a young girl, I’ve been eager to excel at all tasks and hobbies immediately. I’ve spent much of my twenties unlearning that behavior, and discovering just how important being present and patient is to the very long journey I’m on.
What's the title of the current chapter of your life?
"The Suburban Interlude." In early 2017, I made a move away from the city and back to the suburbs for my current job, knowing full well it was just an intermission…