I’m from Alexandria, Virginia, but we moved to Paris when I was two because my parents were in their twenties and were like, “We’ve never lived in Paris, let’s try it! It’s totally fine that we have a baby.”
My mom’s an architect and while we were there, my dad was painting walls. He painted Claes Oldenburg’s studio, which was cool. He had some good stories of opening closets and there being giant drywall nails. But we were super broke, so when I was three we moved to a nowhere town in Ireland called Mullingar because my dad has family there. It was a weird, isolating place, but it’s beautiful. I really liked it when we lived there and was really sad to leave. We moved back to Virginia when I was nine.
I used to have an accent and I took Irish as a kid in school, but I don’t remember any of it. The job opportunities weren’t great and I think my mom was just sick of living in a tiny town in Ireland where she was the only Chinese person. And tired of feeling like an outsider.
I lost my Irish accent really fast because I was desperate to acclimate.
My dad has this really offensive story where he was meeting an old childhood friend he hadn’t seen in years. They were chatting at the bar and he asks, “How’s your chink wife?” My dad told him that you can’t say that, and the guy was like, “I thought she was Chinese.” So my dad says, “She is, but that’s an extremely racially insensitive term.” The friend was so apologetic—he just had no idea. What’s crazy, though, is that as of the last time we went back to Mullingar to visit family, there were a lot of Chinese people living there now.
I lost my Irish accent really fast because I was desperate to acclimate. When I first moved, the girl who would become my best friend thought I was from Arlington because she couldn’t understand me with my accent when I said “Ireland.” I felt really nervous all the time, but then you find the versions of stuff you liked before, just in a new place. I was a big book nerd, so there was a lot of reading.
I was a fuck up in high school. I had problems with authority. I skipped class and talked back to teachers. I had this one teacher—poor guy. I should have been tender towards him because he definitely had a rough time being a high school teacher. I think he taught trigonometry and I fucking hate math. I suck at it. So I was just such a nightmare in his class to the point where he was like, “Listen, I don’t want to flunk you. But I can’t stand you being in my class anymore. You’re going to spend the rest of the quarter in my office playing solitaire on my computer.” I told him that I was pretty sure that was illegal, and he asked, “Do you want an F?” I said no. So he said, “Here are the keys to my office.”
Now I count on my fingers all the time. If I’m doing the bill at dinner, I draw dots so I can count them. I have zero cognitive ability to just do it quickly. People will say, “Just try this trick. No, just try this trick. And then you carry the thing.” And I’m like, “No, there’s a calculator on my phone.”
I worked in fashion PR, which was super not for me. It's just so toxic.
I moved to New York when I was 18. I still wish I had taken a year off before I went to college and just tried real life. I would have been like, “Fuck.” I always had a job during college. Retail and stuff. But I don’t think I understood that at college, this shit is on you and that it would behoove me to take it a little more seriously.
After college, I modeled, and had weird, boring jobs. I worked in fashion PR, which was super not for me. It’s just so toxic. You’d be like, “I love you, thank you so much for coming! I love your shoes!” I don’t like lying to people. Sales was the same way. I’m just not going to tell you to buy something if it doesn’t look great on you. I mean, it’s $400.
I was also an executive assistant for a media consultant in midtown, which was actually really fun. She was terrifying in a good way and I learned a lot about professionalism, especially as a woman in a world mostly run by dudes.
After my contract ended there, I got my first paid writing job. My friend who was the marketing director at invited me to meet the founders, Noa Santos and Will Nathan, at Noa’s apartment. I had no idea what I was doing there. No one had told me it was a job interview. But they hired me on the spot as an editor and I worked there for a year and a half.
Digging through other people's stuff for hours and hours is almost an out-of-body experience.
After Will left Homepolish, he told me he had a new endeavor. He had bought this huge, old, five-story building in Bisbee, Arizona and was turning it into a hotel and retail space called Object Limited. He was like, “I’m going on a cross country road trip to buy furniture and decor, and I want you to come with me.” We had never spent significant time together before, maybe a few lunches and coffees, but had never even graduated to dinners. It sounded insane, but I said okay. He rented a 16-foot-long truck and did all the driving because my license was expired. While we were in the truck, my job was to pick books on tape and find the Airbnb for that evening.
We went to estate sales and tiny shops. Stands on the side of the road. Anything. I try to look for natural materials, silk and cotton, and stay away from polyester. Though, in reality, buying cute polyester stuff is better because then at least it stays in the wheelhouse of being worn instead of being in a landfill.
Digging through other people’s stuff for hours and hours is almost an out-of-body experience. You’re like, who am I? Do I even know what to look for anymore? Is this covered in black mold? It’s really bizarre. And you start to think about the people that owned the things, which is also overwhelming. I've never been that close to losing my mind ever.
When I’m at a cocktail party and someone asks, “What do you do?” I say, “I’m a writer” because it’s a lot easier than saying “I really like digging through people’s shit.” People are like, “Oh, cool. I know what that is.” You don’t have to explain that much. It’s a compact impression. But what I actually do now is model, sell posts on Instagram, and make content for people. I do creative consulting. I buy vintage and sell it. I do a lot of work for this store called Frankie Shop.
The owner, Gaelle Drevet, is a wonderful human and a good friend of mine now. She is just overworked and very busy, so she asked me to help her get her projects off the ground. She always has a list of things she has to do.
I do a lot of her blog content. I interview people about what they do, and why they're interesting creatives, and why their work is beautiful. And then I’ll write stories about weird, interesting stuff.
For instance, there were these kids in Nairobi: two young boys, homeless and not in school. They couldn’t afford their school fees, but they were really good at skateboarding. They would show up at this new-ish skate park there and these guys from from Stockholm started to come in and take videos. Word got around about these kids and the skate community noticed and started a crowdfunding campaign for them. Now they’re in school and they have a house.
My friend Brianna Lance was really touched by this story, so she worked with Gaelle to have one of the kids design a T-shirt that we sell on Frankie Shop. And all the proceeds go straight to them.
I have a newsletter, Things I Would Buy If I Didn’t Have to Pay Rent, that allows me to write about fashion. And my consumerism. I list all the stuff that I like that I find on the internet and say funny things about them and spew ideas about dumb stuff. That's about it. It's low impact, low pressure. It’s the thing that I am most proud of in the world right now. I try to do it once a month but wish I did it more. I'm not good at setting deadlines for myself. I can’t write at home. I don’t get anything done there. I need to feel like maybe someone is watching me. I see you looking at blogs!
I’ve always written. I’ve just always liked it, and thought it was fun and enjoyed storytelling. I think I always sort of knew that I would end up doing it professionally. But it really doesn't pay any money though, it’s insane. Which is why I need to do so many other things.
I'm too short and not alien-looking enough for runway, so my modeling career has been pretty chill.
I just did the craziest modeling job, an advertorial thing for a magazine. It was probably a million-dollar budget for a one-minute video and they rented out an entire hotel next to Central Park. I was there for 13 hours and I wasn’t even principal cast. I was in the kitchen, pretending to be a chef with all the real chefs who were like, “Can you get out of the way?” My boyfriend, Matthew, shoots a lot of commercials. I’ve been on his sets for car commercials and this was the same caliber, so I’m just like, is this why magazines are dying? It’s absurd.
I love being on set, though. It's fun, and I like feeling special. I like getting my hair and makeup done and wearing crazy clothes. And I like being the one that's not complaining. That makes me feel good. I’m not a diva. It’s a privilege to be there and I’m getting paid for it. It’s just a weird fantasy for a day. Plus I’m Irish, so I’m very good at being super charming to people I don't know well. You throw my dad into a room full of anti-social strangers, and he’ll make them all laugh. So I have that great skill.
I'm too short and not alien-looking enough for runway, so my modeling career has been pretty chill. I'm 29 and people don't want 29-year-old models, but the jobs I’ve gotten the last few years have been awesome because people have come to me and been like, “You have a brain and a personality and happen to be attractive and we like that.” When I was younger I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. 200 bucks? Okay!” but I say no to more stuff now. I don't go to castings.
I started microdosing mushrooms, but I don't smoke weed. I smoked a ton in high school, because it was the “cool” thing to do but I wasn’t that into it. So when I got to college, I was like, “Oh yeah, I don’t have to do this anymore.” I have friends who smoke all the time and partake with pleasure, but I’m not really a downer girl. I’m like, give me some tequila.
I’ve been trying to drink less, though. Another great thing I inherited from my Irish father. If I have, like, three glasses of wine, I’m for sure going to be sick. There’s no in-between. But I’ve found that eating tiny amounts of mushrooms so that I’m not remotely fuzzy or high or whatever the correct lexicon is allows for me to have one glass of wine and be fine, which is cool. I feel great. I take little round chocolates that are super mild. If I’m going out for dinner or to a party, I eat a quarter of one.
It might be a placebo, but I would be totally fine with that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Anna Gray photographed by Meredith Jenks in her home in Manhattan.
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