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Deborah Copaken
52,  NYC

Tell us about where you live.
For the past four years I’ve been living in Inwood, which is the northern tip of Manhattan. I moved there a year after my separation, when the new landlord nearly doubled the rent on my home in Harlem just as I was going to have to pay for it solo. That last year in Harlem, after my ex split for California, and I was suddenly the sole supporter of my family, I took in boarders to staunch the flow—one lived in my college-aged son’s room, the other moved into my tiny home office. We called it the commune, and for a year it was kind of a utopia, living like that in the wake of a separation. The home was lively! One of my boarders liked to bake bread. The other was always singing and dancing and bringing joy into the home. I was working outside the home full-time, and my boarders had more flexible schedules, so it was great for my kids to have people around after school. But like all utopias, it had to end. Inwood and its forest, which I can see from my bedroom, have been healing. A place to recalibrate and find my own strength. At the end of the month, my boyfriend and I are moving into a new place in Williamsburg, which will be much closer to my son’s new school. I’m really excited for this new chapter.

What do you do for work?
I am, at heart, a writer. But I also earn about 10% of my income as a photographer (and used to be a war photographer, back in the day.) At the moment I have several jobs. A full-time job as Head Writer at a company called Neurotrack, which is a Silicon Valley start up bent on keeping those with cognitive decline from getting Alzheimer’s. It launches in January, and I travel back and forth to Redwood City once a month, so work is a bit intense right now. From them I get a steady income and health insurance, thank god, plus the work feels fulfilling and important in ways other work I’ve done of late has perhaps not. Plus gone are the days when I could count on my magazine and book writing being my sole means of support. I also have a 2x a month column at the Atlantic, which just started this fall, and it’s been a wild ride. I just sold a new memoir, LADYPARTS, to Random House, which I write in the wee hours of the morning, and a Modern Love I wrote for the NYT was just adapted as the pilot episode of the Amazon series by the same name. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been collaborating with Darren Star on a new TV show called Emily in Paris, which was picked up for 11 episodes by Paramount. The writers room on that starts mid-January at Silver Cup. I’ve been asked to write a script and sort of float in and out of the writers room when I can. I also shoot author photos or sometimes people just want nice photos for their dating or social media profiles.

For play?
There’s not much play these days, alas, but I try to get out for a walk every morning with the dog, I do yoga or sometimes a little core training with a YouTube video in my bedroom a few times a week, and I love biking with my boyfriend around the city. This summer, while visiting my mom on the Delaware shore, I learned how to surf, which was thrilling. I enjoy reading before bed and shooting photos on my iPhone and cooking dinner for friends. I like going gallery hopping in Chelsea on Saturdays and vintage shopping at Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg with my daughter when she’s home from school and seeing movies anytime I can get out to see them. I’m a terrible guitar player, but that doesn’t stop me from picking it up now and then and strumming a tune. I recently had the pleasure of performing “Take It Easy” on stage with my friend Tommy, who plays lead guitar in an actual rock band.

Regrets?
Thankfully, not too many. I regret not leaving my marriage sooner, but then again, I might have never met my new partner had the timing been different, so no. I regret not having gotten a Masters, as I am unemployable as a college writing professor without one, or so I’ve been told so many times, I gave up. And I regret the loss of two friendships that were important to me.

Can you describe your fantasy version of your older self?
I’m living it. If you mean when I’m in my 70’s, I guess it would involve the same thing it involves now: a lot of writing, as much travel and photography as possible, a healthy sex life, a loving and empathic relationship with my new partner, ample time with my kids and grandkids, and I guess just more free time in general to stop and smell the roses. I want to make sure to keep growing, to never stay stagnant, to be willing to take risks well into my dotage. I will never allow my age to define me. Blue jeans will always be my friend.

What’s your biggest fear?
Losing a child.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
For several years, post-separation, and for lack of age-appropriate alternatives, I was dating much younger men, two in particular, each nineteen years younger, that have remained my good friends to this day. But I’m loathe to define that as a “guilty pleasure,” as I learned so much about love and letting go from both of them. I really enjoy the show Succession and Younger, the latter which I also consulted on. A full body professional massage is always welcome, though I don’t build time in my life for them (nor do I have the funds to really indulge in them.)

Any advice for someone who needs to get divorced but doesn’t have the means to?
Yes! You can represent yourself. I did my entire divorce pro se. I’m actually writing a long story about it for the Atlantic, but just know it is possible to get divorced—yes, even with kids and a controlling spouse—without hiring lawyers. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

Any advice for dating post marital rupture?
Treat every date as if it’s a journalism assignment and you’ll never be disappointed. Your job is not to find the love of your life–as nice as that would be, and if it happens, cool—but rather to meet a new human and figure out who they are and how or why they might fit into your life, if at all. Are they a jerk? Laugh it off and use it for good storytelling fodder. Are they boring? End the date. Are they too young but really hot and eager? Enjoy yourself. Be present. You have one life, might as well live it. The point I’m trying to make is this: even bad dates can teach us something about life and about ourselves. The less pressure you put on yourself and your date the better. Oh, and love yourself first, and none of it will bother you. Except the ghosting and getting stood up. Been there. It was no fun. But then again, recovery time for such rude behavior from others, with self-love intact, is never more than a few days or so, if that. Their loss, you’ll think to yourself. And you’ll be right.

Where can we find your work?
My Website
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Stephanie Staal and Nina Collins have worked together and adored each other since 1994 when they were both babies in the world of book publishing. Stephanie is a lawyer, journalist, & author of READING WOMEN, and Nina is the founder of "What Would Virginia Woolf Do?"