Kelsey Miller never expected to have room for a home office in New York City—at least until she was "rich and famous." However, she and her husband lucked out on the apartment front, and now she has a small writer's retreat all to herself. The author of the forthcoming book "I'll Be There For You" takes us on a mini tour of her workspace, and shares what it's really like writing a book about everyone's favorite TV show, "Friends."
Apartment Therapy: What was it like to set up a home office in a New York City apartment? Was it challenging at all?
Kelsey Miller: First of all, I never really expected to have a home office to set up. At least not until some theoretical day when I was rich and famous. We really lucked out in this magical apartment. I got a tiny little workspace all for myself. I think the first challenge was just making it comfortable and a place that I could sit for many, many hours at a time. It's something I hadn't really thought about until I left the real office space where they have chairs. Often it was nice chairs. If your chair is broken, then you can bug somebody enough and probably get another chair.
I was using dining room chairs and whatever I had in my house. I realized that I had to start investing a little bit in a few pieces that made it a space that I could really focus on. I got myself an adjustable desk. I got myself a real deal office chair which was the most money I've ever spent on a piece of furniture in my life, but it was completely worth it because I'm a writer. My job is to sit on my ass.
KM: Then, I made myself a giant corkboard because I can be pretty scatterbrained and get easily overwhelmed. Without the structure of an office, it was really challenging to set up some sort of structure for myself. Anybody who goes through this will tell you that one of the hardest things is becoming your own boss as well as your own employee. Having this big corkboard really allowed me to write myself little notes, or if I'm outlining something, to just be able to move my thoughts around in a big visual space right in front of me. That really, really did help get me organized, especially when I was writing the book.
The other element of the office that I really wanted was a cozy place to sit. I like to move around a little bit with my work. I got myself just a little armchair that I found on Wayfair. It's not the fanciest thing at all and it's not even the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's deep enough for me to curl up into it with my laptop when I'm in the mood to do so.
AT: What's always on your desk?
KM: Way more pens than anybody will ever need. I don't know why. I just need 20 to 50 pens at a time, even though I work on a computer. Another thing is accessories for my laptop. I had been working on a desktop at my office and I realized what an enormous difference that made in my posture and in my comfort level and in my productivity. So I just got one of those very simple little laptop risers. With a separate keyboard and a separate mouse, it was a very inexpensive way to turn your laptop into the comfort and ease of a desktop.
AT: Do you have a set writing routine or do you like to mix it up?
KM: I do have a set routine in that I have to start as early as possible because the later it gets in the day the messier my brain gets. I have breakfast and get in there as soon as possible with my cup of coffee and my water. That's the other thing. You have to have at least three beverages on your desk at any given time with lots and lots of water. The nice thing about working from home is you can go to the bathroom as much as you want. It's so much closer than it is at your office.
AT: It's the best part, for real.
KM: It's so true. So my routine is to start pretty early and to wrap it up by late afternoon because then that's when I go out into the world. I go out and I go to the gym and I go to the grocery store and have my social life. It's nice. If you start earlier then you can usually end earlier.
AT: Let's talk about your writing. Your first book was a memoir about how you quit dieting. Did you feel any pressure to stay in that lane—either in body positivity or in memoir, specifically?
KM: Yes. Absolutely. It would have been much easier for me, at least in terms of marketing myself as a writer, if I just stayed in that lane. It's still a very, very important topic to me and something that I always will write about. I definitely felt the need to diversify and to go back to some other topics that I've been writing about more frequently before my column took off and the book, before I became known as somebody who writes about anti-diet culture and body positivity and fitness and things like that. It was very exciting to be able to get an opportunity to write about popular culture again. The other thing is, it's really hard to write about yourself exclusively. I was really, really eager to write and talk about something other than my myself.
AT: Your upcoming book is about the TV show "Friends." Have you always been a fan?
It's really funny because before I wrote this, I thought I was a Friends fan the way everybody kind of was. I grew up watching it. I was 10 years old when it started. I was in college when it ended. It was just baked into me. I realized, when I really thought about it, that I had gone back to watch the reruns during difficult moments. I totally hadn't even thought about it.
Whether it was late at night in an unfamiliar hotel room when I was lonely and looking for something comfortable on television, or really harder moments like when I had a very sick relative in the hospital. That was the winter when "Friends" came out on Netflix in the US. I watched the whole thing. It was really comforting for me then. I realized that while I never considered myself to be a "'Friends' fan," I certainly did have a relationship to it. It was one of those things that's just so ubiquitous and has had such a meaningful and enduring impact on our culture that it's hard not to have an opinion on it.
AT: Do you have a favorite episode?
KM: I do— it's "The One Where Everybody Finds Out." Monica and Chandler are still secretly dating and Chandler and Phoebe get into this game of sexual chicken. Meanwhile, Ross is trying to sublet Ugly Naked Guy his apartment and winds up doing all these crazy things. Anyway, it is a wild episode where they're getting in these sitcom high jinks and yet it totally works and it doesn't feel ridiculous somehow because they're so committed. The writing is just so sparkling in that episode. That's my all-time favorite.
AT: Is there a character you relate the most to?
KM: The other day, I was talking about the fact that I've never cried at movies ever, really, almost never. My friend was like, "Oh my God, are you a Chandler?" I went, "Oh my God, I am a Chandler." I think I just have to own it.
AT: What's the research like on a book like this? Did you have to rewatch the series a bunch of times?
KM: I watched it every single night a few times through. Then, I watched some episodes over and over and over and over and over again because I was writing about them specifically. The research is enormous because the show was on for 10 years. It was this massive cultural phenomenon. There's been so much written about it from the very time it began up until now because, even though we're in the middle of this massive "Friends" revival, the show never really went away. It was always on. There's so much to read about it. There's so many opinions about it. There's an enormous amount of academic research on it, believe it or not.
AT: Wow! Is there a fact or a tidbit that you found surprising in your research?
KM: Gosh, I found a lot. Well, one thing that some people knew, but actually I didn't know before I did this book with that Phoebe's twin sister Ursula predates Phoebe. She was a character that was created on "Mad About You" before "Friends" was created. Lisa Kudrow was already on that show. It wasn't a regular character, but she was a reoccurring character. Then, when they wanted to cast her on "Friends," the creators had to go to the showrunner at "Mad About You" and say, "Hey, we want to cast her. It's the same night. It's the same network. Actually, our shows are going to be airing back to back. Is it okay if we make Ursula a twin?" The "Mad About You" team said, "Sure." Which was really very generous of them.
AT: Funny how that wouldn't even matter now. People are in multiple things all the time!
KM: I know. You have to think about the power of Thursday night primetime in 1994, it was just the whole other ball game back then. I also think it's really funny that audiences just rolled with it. I didn't find any reason or people that were like, "Hey, what happened here? Why did they do this?" Maybe it's because she's really good and the characters are very distinct. For a while, there were times when she was on both shows at the same time.
AT: Now that all these older shows are on Netflix or have been in reruns forever, it seems like they all have a bunch of problematic-for-2018 moments. Do you feel that that takes away from the enjoyment?
It's such a touchy subject. I can hear when you ask me about it that maybe you think that I'm a giant fan and I'm going to defend it to its dying breath. Then, there are other people who bring it up that assume that I'm going to lambaste their beloved show. I'm neither of those things. I think it's very interesting how polarizing "Friends" has become. It doesn't really need to be. I think it is extremely possible to love something and to critique it at the same time. I really think we all should. We all love members of our family. Yet I'm sure we all have problems with them too, right?
There's quite a lot about that stuff in this book because I felt it was really important. I had written about "Friends" before when I was on staff at Refinery29, pointing out things that I think are worthy of revisiting, especially because there are things that probably wouldn't happen now or would be handled very, very differently now. Things that are just simply outright offensive that nobody bothered to really point it out or discuss. I think it's very worthy of discussion, especially because the show is living such a long life and doesn't show signs of going anywhere anytime soon.
My point is: Why can't it also be a perk? Why can't we also use it as this historical marker to say, "Okay, this is something that was made in 1994, 1995, or whatever episode it was," and reflect on that? For example, "The One with the Lesbian Wedding." There's a lot to discuss there in the way that they depicted gay people. The risks that they took showing gay people getting married and also the ways that they played it extremely safe and clearly were afraid of offending people. I think that wedding would look very different now. For starters, they would probably kiss at their own wedding.
Thanks, Kelsey! "I'll Be There For You" is out October 23, and is available for preorder now.