Rookie’s Popular ‘Life Skills’ Column Is Back

Tavi Gevinson. Photo: Jenny Anderson

Last spring, Tavi Gevinson learned learned that Rookie, the online magazine she founded in 2011, was still getting traffic to its website, despite having folded over two years ago. “I hadn’t bothered to check, because I thought that when the site stopped publishing, traffic would peter out,” Gevinson told the Cut. But Rookie’s archives have been consistently attracting hundreds of thousands of unique visitors each month — more than in the last couple years of its life.

“I think it’s because so many of our contributors created evergreen content that people can still relate to, and that new readers are still discovering,” Gevinson offered as one explanation. Advice, for example, is something that you can always count on people craving, and, if it’s good, it doesn’t usually expire. This only became more true during lockdown. Gevinson found herself seeking community and comfort online, and she really missed Rookie. Clearly, she wasn’t alone.

Rookie fans will be excited to learn, then, that on January 21, the magazine’s popular “Life Skills” column — which offered “encouraging but never prescriptive” advice for coping with personal conundrums — will be revived as an eight-episode podcast, available exclusively on Audible. Gevinson will host, and a cast of former Rookie writers will address questions that are both of the moment and eternally helpful, like: How can I be creative if I’m scared? How do I talk back to my inner critic? And, last but certainly not least, how can I create more pleasure and fabulousness in my life?

The hope is to offer listeners tools for thinking and living, but also, because it’s a podcast, the intimacy of good writing and reading. “I just find it so comforting to hear another human being’s voice right now,” Gevinson said.

Below, she shares what we can expect from Life Skills by Rookie.

Photo: Courtesy of Audible

You mention in the first episode that lockdown made you feel like a teenager again, and that you missed Rookie. I’m going to assume, just based on how media has fared the pandemic, that you don’t have any regrets about shutting it down when you did. But I’m wondering what made you decide to bring it back now, in this new form? 

On the one hand, I was relieved to not have that burden [of keeping the site going] anymore. On the other hand, I became much more aware of so many parts of Rookie that I missed that had perhaps — and this is the unfortunate thing about your passion becoming a business — been conflated with the parts of keeping the site going that were so stressful. Two years ago, I was ready to be done. But then I really missed community — having an online community, but also our readings and events, which were filled with so much warmth. I never would have known — I don’t think any of us would have known before this year — how much we would miss being in a room with other people and hearing them read their own writing.

I started talking to Audible before the shutdowns, but then when they happened, it was clear that “Life Skills,” a column that the writer Krista Burton did at Rookie, was the right idea. I asked writers who had done advice at Rookie to list a few things they’d be interested in writing, and then we found the right balance for all eight episodes.

You say that you think good advice is “encouraging but never prescriptive.” Could expand on what you mean by that?

The most tangible, actionable episode we have is Krista Burton’s “How to Be Good at Talking to People” because she’s literally like, here’s what to say if you can’t get into a circle at a party, or if you’re on a Zoom meeting waiting for people to join, or whatever. But for the most part, I think it’s hard to give one-size-fits-all practical advice. The writing that’s helped me the most in my life is from people who’ve created openings in my mind, and given new frameworks for thinking about things. Dylan Tupper Rupert, for example, wrote an episode called “How to Manage Uncertainty,” and it’s basically trying to walk in the footsteps of a brain spiral, and just stop and unpack some of the logic some of us may go to when we’re experiencing a lot of anxiety about the future.

That episode actually changed over the last several months because at first we were like, “Well, maybe the show will come out in the fall, and maybe by then, things will be better” [laughs] … I remember when we recorded that episode, it was literally the day after it was announced that Trump had COVID. So, yeah. We were trying to be conscientious about not being reductive, or resorting to platitudes, or resilience rhetoric, when I would imagine that everyone who could be listening to this is having a hard time right now, just because everyone is having a hard time right now.

What do you think makes for good advice in 2021, specifically?

I think it would be nearly impossible not to feel transformed in some way, for better or worse, by the last year, from the pandemic to the weeks and months of Black Lives Matter protests. I think we were just trying to absorb other great writing and the way people have been sharing their experiences online this year, and trying to let that inform us, without explicitly trying to speak to the specificity of how COVID might be impacting someone’s life, because obviously there’s a range of experiences there. It was more, “What new developments in our own thinking can inform the ideas that we’re discussing? For example, in Jamia Wilson’s episode, “How to Embrace Conflict,” she was responding partly to the kind of exhausting rhetoric of civility, and people saying like, “We’re too polarized; we need unity.” And then looking at who asks to censor themselves, or silence themselves.

Rookie was largely for teenagers. Did you have a demographic in mind for this project?

I just imagined our readers grown up, or in their 20s or 30s. I mean, we always had readers who were adults who loved Rookie, who weren’t spectators. So, I just imagined our readership, but older.

Have you applied any of the advice in these episodes to your own life since?

So many. The episode with Ogechi and Ugochi Egonu about “How to Stand Up to Your Inner Critic” was on my mind a lot this fall because I was shooting the new Gossip Girl, which comes out next year. On-camera acting really takes a microscope to all the unkind things you think about yourself. I don’t think it actually has to do with the quality of one’s acting, but just seeing myself on the monitor, I could be so self-critical. So I was thinking of some of the tricks that they shared in the episode, to help ground myself and not self-destruct from my relentless inner monologue.

Without giving too much away, what were some of those tricks?

One of the things that they share is to find the source of the inner voice, and it’s true — any mean thought you have about yourself, you weren’t born with it, you were taught it by someone or something. It just became a more and more immediate impulse to know that it was something else talking, whether or not it’s a specific person, or just thousands of years of patriarchy, or whatever.

Life Skills by Rookie is eight episodes. Looking ahead, are there any other projects you want to work on, or already have in the works, with Rookie?

I think part of why I was even excited to bring it back was that it could be this extra-special, one-off project, without the whole burden of running a company. In the fall, the artist Savana Ogburn and I organized a Rookie print sale, where a bunch of people who contributed to Rookie donated their work and we raised money for the Movement Voter Project. It brought back all the feelings of being excited to see people’s work come in, and arranging it in a certain order, and all that stuff. So I guess it’s nice for myself to know that it’s not all or nothing. I can do these little pop-ups if I want. But I don’t, at the moment, feel like I’m looking for the next one. I’m really pleased with this show.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Rookie’s Popular ‘Life Skills’ Column Is Back