Earth Hates Me: A Conversation with Author Ruby Karp
by Emily Simpson
It’s evening rush hour, and it suddenly occurs to me while waiting for the uptown 2 train that I can’t recall the last time I’ve interacted at-length with a teenager. My entire recent-years’ experience with people between the ages of thirteen and twenty is informed mostly by that familiar brand of internet and social media runoff, which describes the young in terms of tech trends at best, and local-news parental scare pieces at worst (Snapchat flirting, weed overdoses).
I’m on my way to meet with seventeen-year-old author Ruby Karp to chat about the sort-of preposterous - but actually amazing - feat of publishing a mixed memoir and advice book at the beginning of her senior year of high school. After poring through chapters on self-acceptance, navigating the internet as a social tool, heartbreak, and more, it became clear that many of her (still early!) life’s takeaways were as personal as they are universal, and gratifyingly so. In the true spirit of self-help genres, Ruby pinpoints and gives name to emotions that even well-adjusted adults often find confounding. And knowing what you’re dealing with is the first step to personal improvement.
Ruby and I settle in at a diner right after school lets out for the day, and talk about Earth Hates Me over a hot chocolate and soda. She’s checking out my prepublication copy of her book:
Ruby Oh you only have the ARC? The actual book is so much cooler.
Emily I got the ARC maybe a few weeks back, yeah!
Ruby I will make sure we send you the final book, because the final book’s actually much cooler. My face is the back cover!
Emily That’s awesome. What kind of events or in-conversation setups are you doing to promote your book?
Ruby Tomorrow, I’m doing an in-conversation with Tina Fey at Refinery 29.
Emily Have you met her before?
Ruby I’ve known her since I was like a baby. It’s weird because when I was younger, her and Amy [Poehler] and all of them, I was like “oh yeah, my friends!” They’re who my mom hangs out with, and now I’m like, oh these are my idols.
Emily That has to give you a pretty crazy perspective compared to some of your peers.
Ruby Well it’s weird because I go to a performing arts school and I’m a drama major, so we’ll be sitting in improv class and they’ll be like “okay, today we’re gonna learn about UCB!” and I’ll be like, “oh, I feel so weird.”
Emily Well, the book is awesome, first of all, congratulations on writing it.
Ruby Thank you! The Today Show just did an excerpt of it and they posted it on the Facebook page, and I looked at it, and it was all just comments of white men being like, “feminism? That’s a joke.”
Emily The proverbial comments section.
Ruby Someone tagged me the other day in an Instagram post that was a bunch of girls lifting their skirts up, and he didn’t even say anything, he just tagged me in the post and I was like “why am I here?”
Emily Was it somebody that you knew?
Ruby It was someone whose name was in Arabic. I was like, I don’t know who this person is!
Emily How old are you now?
Ruby Seventeen. I started writing the book when I was fifteen! It wasn’t that we thought I was gonna be sixteen when it came out. My birthday’s at the end of the summer, so I only just turned seventeen, and mostly throughout press and while I was writing the manuscript, I was sixteen.
Emily It’s such a crazy achievement for somebody of your age. Have you always known that you wanted to write a book?
Ruby No, not at all. I always knew that I wanted to go into entertainment. It started out as, “I wanna be a rockstar” then it was like “I wanna be an actress” and I was like, both of those things are really scary, and people can be really mean. Then I was like, I want to be a comedy writer, I want to be a comedian, and it all kind of started tying together that I could do both. I can be a stand-up, and stand-ups have to write their own content so it’s like, this is convenient! I got asked to write the book. I was sitting in Spanish class sophomore year, and this woman Alex at Random House emailed me, and was like, “Hey my husband’s a literary agent, and we’re looking at stats, and I really think there should be a book out there written by a teenager who’s not famous, and writing about how their life isn’t fame. Written by a teenager, for teenagers, about what it’s like to be a normal kid.”
Emily As a former teenager, that’s such a good idea.
Ruby She was like, I’ve seen your writing on the internet, so I know you’re a real person and you can write but also, no offense, but you’re not famous so you can still relate to the typical teenager.
Emily Your followers aren’t in the Kardashian millions yet.
Ruby No, exactly! I have around three thousand followers. I have around as many followers as my gym teacher. A lot of my articles before were very personal. They were about the boys I liked and the girls who were mean to me, and just personal writing, which is essentially what the book turned into.
Emily I think what’s really great about the book is I found myself so many times while reading it feeling like, “why didn’t anybody tell me that when I was in high school!”
Ruby Well also, a lot of people are under the impression that its only for teens, and it’s really not. I feel like honestly, thirty year olds would relate and love this book even more than people my own age.
Emily It’s very true actually. When we first received the pitch on writing about it over at Girl Crush, I was like new writer, teenager, very intriguing, but curious.
Ruby When you actually read it, and get down to my writing, not like the adults who are promoting it, it’s very sarcastic and real.
Emily There are some direct pieces of advice in the book that are things that I had friends tell me in my early twenties that had to be my “a-ha” moments when I was twenty-two, twenty-three, and I’m almost thirty now.
Ruby Which is not old!
Emily [laughs] Right, that’s not old. One part of the book that was really cool was where you talked about not needing to be friends with everybody, and there’s a couple times where that theme comes up.
Ruby I’m a total hypocrite. Everything I write in the book, like “think positive,” “you are capable of great things.” I’m pessimistic, I’m cynical, I am friends with everybody even though I don’t want to be, but I tell advice like I want to hear it.
Emily The act of growing up is something that billions and trillions of humans have already done before, so how can the act of growing up not be cliche.
Ruby Everyone’s talked about it! Everyone’s been there, everyone’s gone through it. I’m one of the last people alive on earth today going through it.
Emily It’s crazy to think about the timeline in that way. I know that you mention in a couple places in the book the ways that comedy in particular has been an important factor in your life. You mention getting to go to the Asssscat show as a kid, and being really deeply invested in the improv community. How have your experiences with comedy specifically influenced the book?
Ruby Comedy is the most influential aspect of my life, by far. Comedy is the number one thing in my life. I was raised around it. It was my ritual every week. It was just my mom and I at Asssscat, that’s just how it worked. It slowed down as I grew up because I had school and stuff, but that was my church. Amy [Poehler], Tina [Fey], Rachel Dratch, all of them, they were my moms. I think that shaped who I am because, obviously you’re cynical, you’re angsty when you’re a teenager, but I went into every situation being really optimistic and, obviously every teenager has their own form of depression, and anxiety and sadness. I have really high anxiety, but it helped a lot because throughout high school when things would get bad and I’d be having panic attacks, or if I was getting my heartbroken, or in a fight with my friends––somehow I’d always come out of it not because of my friends or my mom, but because I’d be like “This is so dumb. This is so funny.” In the book I wrote about how a boy I liked broke up with me because I was “too weird.” In the moment, that killed me, and I was crying for days. Then I woke up one morning and was like “that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” I just laughed about it. I talk about the importance of laughter, but we all take ourselves so seriously, adults especially, like “everyone needs to understand that I’m smart and intelligent and a serious person” but it’s like, “oh my god, get over yourself.”
Emily Self-importance has become something in our culture that has led us into a lot of crazy places. The boy drama in the book was particularly relatable for me.
Ruby Well, everyone’s gotten their heart broken. I felt really bad because, and this is in the beginning, I wish I could write about what it’s like to crush on a girl, to be a girl crushing on a girl, or to be a boy crushing on a boy, but I couldn’t. And the thing with the heartbreak chapter is that I still hope that everyone can relate to it even though it’s me talking about a boy. It was something that was really important to me, was to not act like I know people who I don’t know. So I kept the book very personal to my experiences.
Emily One of the last parts of the book is a call to action on a personal and political level. Given this age of information that we’re in, and how accessible current events are to kids your age and even younger, do you feel like there’s any responsibility to think and talk about social and political injustices in our country?
Ruby Oh my god, there completely is. I mean in writing the book, I was so lost on how to address everything that’s happening, because I didn’t want to write about Txxxp and Hillary and all of that, because I don’t know who’s reading my book, and I don’t want a kid who’s grown up super Republican to feel left out because I’ve grown up in New York, which is the most liberal place you could grow up. I was writing the book while the election was going on and when Txxxp won, and when the Women’s March happened. I was writing during everything. I did touch on it as much as I could without getting too political, because the book isn’t a book about politics, it’s about growing up. I think what makes it timeless is that it can relate to any time, but I had to include details about the Women’s March, I had to include details about the fact that we are in a serious problem right now in our country, and the only way women can reclaim feminism, and reclaim the fact that we’re people who have rights, and not feminazis - or whatever it is people are calling us - is to educate people and to tell people who we are, to unite and not hate on each other. It was really difficult to talk about politics and what’s happening in the world. One, the news is changing every four seconds. Two, I didn’t want to offend anyone Republican or Democrat.
Emily You wanted to make sure the core of the book’s intent carried through and that the advice could still be relatable?
Ruby Right, and the whole book I preach with the ongoing theme that “you are enough” and I can’t because of my personal political views tell a girl who needs who needs help too, who was raised in a family that supports Txxxp, “you aren’t enough because I hate your political views.” As much as I just don’t understand that, and I truly believe that Txxxp is . . . ruining our country, I’m not going to single-target those people because that’s not fair.
Emily It’s also maybe not useful to make people feel attacked.
Ruby Right! It’s about self-positivity, so why would I be negative!
Emily Did you get a chance to go to the Women’s March?
Ruby I did, it was awesome. I’ve been going to marches since I was five. I knew what I was going to marches for, but I was never really really a part of it, because I was always a kid. When I was eight, I went to a Planned Parenthood rally, and it was amazing, but I was a kid. It wasn’t like I was really a part of it. I thought, “these women are all so cool.” I went to the Women’s March and I was so upset about what was happening in the world, and I go to the march and it’s just like, so many people united in one. I wish I could have gone to DC, but New York City of all places to be was the most amazing experience of my life, because you’re just marching with all of these people in the same culture and busy lifestyle as you. To see everyone just stop their crazy busy lives to protest against this horrible thing that’s happened.
Emily I was down in DC. I think what I went into it expecting was some counter-protesting.
Ruby There really was none!
Emily I took one of those Megabuses down. Pulling into a bus depot at the same time buses were pulling out with people in Txxxp hats from the inauguration was totally surreal. There was a silent tension, like “how do we deal with each other?” What are some of your favorite ways to get the word out about issues that are important to you? What kinds of actions can kids your age take?
Ruby My whole thing throughout the book and my life, is I’m all about activism through education, particularly for young people. Not just education in schools, but education online, following the news. Even older people, their way of finding out what’s happening in the world is through the media . . . I really believe that the way for getting people to understand what feminism means, is to make it a part of the curriculum. When we learn about women’s suffrage, that’s a great time to bring up feminism, and the feminist movement. I learned about the ‘60s and ‘70s and they didn’t even mention Gloria Steinem. I feel like you can’t talk about history without mentioning those huge plot points. We learned a bit about the civil rights movement, which was amazing, but no one really talked about feminism. I’m not comparing movements at all, but why can’t we make sure that’s taught? Kids my age, you can go out to different forms of media, start a Tumblr, start something to get people aware of feminism. Not huge long articles, but educating that feminism isn’t about hating men, it’s about wanting equal rights.
Emily In the book, you’ve touched on universal experiences that could even connect with kids in places like where I went to high school, down in Tampa, Florida. It’s a different mix of people. I’m actually debating whether I should go to my ten-year high school reunion or not.
Ruby You should go! What if you saw your high school crush?!
Emily [laughs] I was actually kind of lucky, in that I only ever dated someone from another school and only during my senior year. I crushed a lot in the other years, but I didn’t get too entangled with anyone except for a guy I met through soccer. I feel like I got out pretty unscathed. In the book, I was really interested in some of the things that you and your classmates have at your disposal that we didn’t have when I was in high school even just ten years ago. For instance the announcement of iPhones was made in my senior year and I distinctly remember going “no one’s going to buy that.” Today, there’s Instagram, there’s Snapchat, there’s all these various ways that we can connect, but also make each other’s lives harder. You talk in the book about detoxing from technology. How do you get into that?
Ruby Something that I do very often is –– and I’ve been wanting to do it so badly lately, but I can’t because of the book –– is for like a week, I won’t delete my accounts, but I’ll delete the apps off my phone, and I won’t of go on Facebook on the computer. I’ll just delete Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger. All my apps that I’m constantly on. A week later, I re-download them. The truth is, you don’t really miss anything, you just miss people posting photos of themselves. You just get scared that you’ve missed something. Once you get over that initial ‘oh my god’ you’re fine. I don’t care what anyone else is doing, until I have the apps.
Emily That’s advice I need to try. What other stuff are you working on to promote the book?
Ruby I’m in the middle of college applications, so it’s a lot of interviews and articles, excerpts from the book, which, I hate excerpts! I think my book sounds cheesy in excerpts, because a lot of the excerpts have been the ends of chapters when I’m wrapping something up, and being broad.
Emily Or using general terms to talk about the rest of the chapter?
Ruby Exactly. So I personally want people to pick it up and flip through - it’s an easy read. I’ve got a couple shows [at] UCB.
Emily The performative impulse is not something that’s inherent in everyone. How did you grow the confidence to perform and speak in front of crowds?
Ruby I think it’s literally because I grew up doing it. Not even on stage - the way my mom raised me, I would come home from school, the second I learned how to speak. I’d come home from school, and she’d be like “Ruby tell me all about your day!” from a really young age. My mom was like my superhero, so anything she said, I did, I would just talk for hours and my mom would kind of listen, but she’d more be like “Yeah! Totally!” She’d be on her phone and doing other things too, but it was about letting me talk, getting me to be a person that was outgoing and always wanted to talk to people. I’m an only child, so growing up, when my mom’s friends would talk to me, I’d talk their ears off. I’d play make-believe and talk on my play phone to the point where my mom would pick it up and ask if anyone was there, because I was just freaking her out. And then, I was a musical theater kid. It was never a being comfortable or not, I was always comfortable.
Emily Speaking of being comfortable, I know there’s a good deal of the book where you talk about finding community online when it can’t always be found in person. You used to make music videos that you shared online, and found good friends that way when it was sometimes hard to make friends in person. You also touched on some of the guidelines for that and being smart on the internet. Do you think any limitations should be placed on kids’ access to avenues that connect you with complete strangers?
Ruby I think every parent’s fear of letting kids go online is the fear of interacting with strangers. I know I definitely interacted with a bunch of strangers. Nothing happened to me. You’re going to end up seeing everything. We’re in a digital age where something like accidentally coming across porn is just something that’s gonna happen. I have a whole opinion about porn that’s another conversation, but kids are gonna come across creeps online. No matter what parental locks you have, we’re living in such a time where it’s like, we have access to everything. If that’s your main concern with letting your kid on the internet, you kind of just need to get over it.
Emily Makes a lot of sense with laptops and iPads and stuff like that as factors in the classroom, and where that’s in some cases required. It’s part of our cultural/social fabric now. It sounds like it’s just about being smart. Talking with you mom or parents.
Ruby And talking with yourself. Like, is this the right move?
Emily Probably great advice for adults, too. One of the things that you talked about the book was having five-year plans. What’s your plan?
Ruby Oh my god. So, yes I do have a bunch of five year plans, but sometimes five year plans can’t work because different opportunities lead to different opportunities. Two years ago I had no idea I was going to write a book. My plan was, comedy. Obviously comedy is writing, but I didn’t know I’d be writing to this extent. Opportunities come up as your working on other things. I don’t really know what my five year plan is. I know the dream is SNL, or writing my own show, or writing my own movie and starring in it or directing in it, but the goal is to go to college, I’m applying right now. If opportunities come up that change that, which is likely to happen. Eighteen to twenty-two especially in entertainment are prime years, so if opportunities come up that could even affect the college plan. The goal is comedy!
Emily What kind of guidance would you give to someone who is looking to start writing their own book?
Ruby Writing a book, it’s such a process. There’s a lot of steps. You can self-publish. I think in terms of getting yourself out there, every day, look up five websites that you like and just submit a pitch to each of them, by the end of the week, you will have sent out 35 emails, you probably won’t get a lot of responses, you’ll get a lot of no’s, but at least you’ll be putting your name out there, and if you really stay dedicated to that, people start remembering your name.
Ruby’s book is available now through Running Press.