Vivian Nunez Keeps It Real And Talks Too Damn Young
There are few greater privileges than having the opportunity to interview one of your best friends--I'm proud to know Vivian Nunez. Not only is she a kind, intentional, candid, and sarcastic being, but she's also a self-made success in her own right. A born and bred New Yorker, she did all the right things in college that would have set her up for a "glamorous" job as an Editorial Assistant at some major publication. Instead, she decided to employ herself, and become a freelance writer and digital content strategist. This allows her time to commit to her passion project and one of the most important websites I've ever come across: Too Damn Young. After having lost both her mother when she was young and her grandmother a couple years ago, she realized that young adults don't really have "permission" to grieve properly and so she gave them one--a website for young people who have lost loved ones and just want to write about it. To be Vivian Nunez means to be brave and I hope you see that as she talks the writer's life, Too Damn Young, and what it means to be 23. Name: Vivian Nunez but my rap name is Vevo ????
Location: New York City
Current job: Founder + Creative
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I don't think you intended this to be the hardest or most loaded question in this interview, but for me, where I am in my life right now, it is. I live with depression and anxiety, and right now am actively struggling with depression more than I ever have before. That fact colors my answer to this question significantly because getting out of bed is usually my biggest challenge of the day.
In no particular order:
My nephews and little cousins. I'm a family girl at heart and knowing that they're in my life motivates me to get out of bed.
@caitroby - Caitlyn runs TDY's Twitter but has also turned into my accountability partner. We check in on each other and remind each other that moments pass, even the ones that feel the most overwhelming.
My friends in general. In the same way that I'm intentional about finding potential baes (#swiperight), I’m extraordinarily intentional about my female friendships.
My work. I have bad days when all I want to do is Netflix, but for the most part I love that I get paid to create.
What hooked you on writing? When did you realize you were good at it, and what prompted you to make it a career?
I’ve used writing as a coping mechanism after losing my mom, but my relationship with writing goes back to before my mom even died. I remember sitting on my couch writing some kind of love story that I told her I was going to turn into a book one day.
From elementary school through high school, I never did exceptionally well in English and I think this impacted my desire and belief that I could actually write. In my mind it was like, “well, I don't know what a comma splice is so I must not be a good writer.” Then at some point in one of my college journalism classes I realized that being a good writer and a good editor are two different things. I was naturally (and thankfully) a good writer, I could learn to be a better editor.
Even now I'm a stronger writer than I am editor and if we rank the kind of editing I'm strongest at, I'm way better at editing for flow and readability than I am with knowing if the comma is in the right place.
During my freshman year in college I wrote for a small online magazine, that’s now folded, but they were the first ones to see my writing and ask me to write more. After them I never really stopped.
In college, you interned at some pretty “glamorous” places — like Seventeen and Cosmopolitan — in a city that many people only dream of. Given that you were born and raised in New York did you realize the advantage you had? Was this your normal?
Nope. Negative. Not at all. I didn't check my privilege in this regard until I was in college and realized that everyone around me wanted to come here. New York and an internship at Hearst or Conde Nast was the goal for so many people. While to me New York was my hometown, with all the positives and negatives this implies.
I will acknowledge though that my perception of New York and my lack of knowledge of how “glamorous” an internship at Seventeen was supposed to be personally worked to my advantage. I'd never pined for interning at a big name magazine so when I did get the opportunity I was able to separate the name from the work. I was free to acknowledge if I was falling in love with the work regardless of how important the magazine name on my email signature seemed.
You are talented beyond belief and would have been able to land a #DreamJob out of college—Twitter verification and all. What prompted your decision to become a freelancer instead?
If I'm honest, at no point in my career have I ever said, "I'm never going to go for a traditional (potentially glamorous) 9-to-5." I make that decision every day when I choose the work I'm doing over job searching or over taking something I've been offered.
I try to check in with myself and decide what's best for me or the work I'm most passionate about in the moment I'm in. The summer after I graduated, I was 21, had the opportunity to stay at home and build up my own thing. I fell into Too Damn Young before I fell into any work that actually paid. At first I told myself it would only be a summer thing and that come September I would look for an editorial assistant job. Then September came around and I realized I wanted to bet on Too Damn Young so I've looked for work that would help finance that dream.
It just so happens that I then fell in love with being a creative. I get to write and work on digital content for other people. This is my career version of Disney World.
Right now I need to be able to work on Too Damn Young, create and write on my own schedule, so being self-employed makes sense. Maybe at some point in the next couple of years it won’t make sense anymore, but that’s something that future me will have to deal with because for right now I’m thankfully solid.
Let’s talk about Too Damn Young. In five years, how do you imagine it growing? Do you think this far ahead?
My only wish for Too Damn Young is that in five years it’s not such a well kept secret. I want it to be the thing a guidance counselor or a friend directs any teen or young adult to after losing a loved one. I don’t really think that far ahead and this very well may be a side effect of grief. After losing someone it’s hard to hold on to a “next time.” It can be overwhelming for me, so instead, I focus on the tangible things I can do right now to make the big wish a reality.
You’ve said before that Too Damn Young isn’t about you, it’s about the people submitting and their stories. That being said, do you ever imagine someone else running TDY? Is that possible?
Absolutely. I am not Too Damn Young and Too Damn Young isn’t me. I’m really lucky that I get to share in a piece of Too Damn Young’s story and that I have the access to such a great platform when I’m feeling especially down, but I know that at some point I’ll have to hand over the reigns. Realistically there will come a time when I’m no longer a young adult and I won’t relate to what it means to go on a first or third date and tell someone you like about your loss. Graduation won’t be the moment I miss my mom or grandma the most. I’ll be at a place when I’ll miss them at my wedding or when I’m having my first kid.
That being said, I don’t see myself ever leaving the grief space. I think there’s a lot of innovation that can happen within this space because everyone’s so scared to talk feelings, so they don’t.
Given that you’re self-employed, you have to be very conscious about the way you spend your time. How do you motivate yourself when you’re just not feeling work?
I’m really big on to do lists, especially because of my anxiety and depression. I need to write down what needs to get done because if not I run the risk of internalizing all the things that need to get done without actually doing any of them. When I’m feeling stuck with where to start, I tend to just jump in the middle of something.
I try to be flexible with what I do at what part of my day and it makes all the difference in helping me get things done.
I’ve never met a person who invests more in the people they love more than you. You love hard, fast, and genuinely. How do you make others a priority while also making yourself one?
That is both the highest compliment and the biggest acknowledgement of one of the areas I struggle the most with. Losing someone at a young age (I lost my mom when I was ten) makes me value people more than anything else in my life. I’ve been incredibly intentional with forming female friendships that make me happy, but at the same time I had to learn that self-care is as important.
I think the breaking point for me was when I was in a friendship that was mentally tough for me to be in and I decided that for my sake I couldn’t be around that person at that moment — it was probably the first time in my life that I put myself first in a friendship. Since then I’m constantly learning that the only way I can be a good friend, sister, cousin, aunt, [insert other roles here], is by giving myself the space to be happy and healthy.
How would you describe your Twitter aesthetic? This is probably the most important question.
I think that the fact that I didn’t really know how to describe my aesthetic may mean that I’m just kind of on Twitter? I tweet about things that make sense to the person I am IRL. My tweets are: thoughts of witty and funny commentary that stem from real life moments; articles that either appeal to the marketer, writer or deep-conversation-haver in me; or things about online dating ‘cause like the struggle is real on Bumble.
How do you think a human being should balance their needs between their wants?
One of the biggest things I’m learning as I grow up is that you have to learn to compromise with yourself. You can’t always get what you want, sometimes you have to do work you’re good at but don’t necessarily like just because you somehow need to pay your student loans. But, if I’m in a point in my life where most of my moments are somehow fulfilling my wants and meeting my needs, then I’m good. If I can answer the question, “are you happy?”, genuinely, then I’ve found a sweet spot and I’m good.
What are your top six favorite places in New York?
A bench by the Cloisters that overlooks New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge
The used bookstore on 81st and Broadway
The Museum of Natural History
114th street and Riverside
Is this how you imagined 23? If not, what did you imagine?
This is by far my favorite question anyone has ever asked me.
This is definitely not how I imagined 23. I’m not sure I ever imagined 23 in any specific way, but I think I did assume I would feel lost in ways that I actually feel secure and secure in ways that I actually feel lost.
A lot of what’s happening for me career wise is not something I really anticipated. I’ve always worked hard, but a lot of the things that I’m experiencing have come down to me being in a lot of different places at the right time.
In my personal life, I am so lost and coming to terms with that not being a bad thing. 23 is the first time I internalized my diagnosis of depression. I’ve started calling it by its name. I’m traveling more and dating guys I find on apps — both things I never thought I would do. I’m learning to lean on the people in my life in ways that I never had the opportunity to do when I was growing up. I have a fuck off fund and know how (to hire someone) to do my taxes. I have time to write as a part of my work day. I’m finding my personal style in the same way that I’m finding my voice, so 23 is definitely not what I assumed it to be, in some ways it’s better and harder than I expected.
As a freelancer, how do you build relationships with publications?
Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.
As a freelancer, you have to find your voice and let your writing and ideas speak for themselves. As long as you’re creating and pitching really good content that’s relevant to the publication you’re pitching to those relationships with editors come organically.
If you could have one client, who would it be?
Circling back to Too Damn Young, has you ever found that your website didn’t help someone cope with loss? Grief is expressed in a lot of different ways.
Oh for sure. I’ve gotten emails that outline all the ways TDY can be one-sided or not acknowledge the particular way they experience grief.
I think those are the moments that remind me of my humanity the most. I can only try so hard or do so much. I try my best to create the kind of space where if someone doesn’t see their story reflected in our essays then they feel comfortable enough to send us their writing so that maybe someone else doesn’t feel as alone as they did. But, at the end of the day, this goes back to TDY not being just me.
I can write day and night for Too Damn Young, but I’ll only ever be able to write about what it’s like to lose my mom and my grandma. Those are my stories and I try really hard to emphasize that they are my stories and in no way do they imply that yours should unfold in the same way.
What has been your favorite activation or partnership for Too Damn Young and why?
I’ve loved the two social campaigns we’ve run. The first we ran alone and it was our #HeyIMY campaign which focused on remembering our loved ones during the holidays.
The second one was #TellUsAboutThem which was in partnership with Germ Magazine and Jennifer Niven, author of All The Bright Places. My favorite part about this campaign was that we reminded the world that those we lost were also human beings who had lives and we shared memories with.
Describe your personal brand in three words.
Authentic, Witty, Deep
Do you think it’s important for young people to be on social media?
Not necessarily. I think you should be on social media if that’s where you find your voice the most. If you prefer to just write in your journal and find your voice there then that’s as impactful as having a Twitter that teaches you to be succinct and quick witted.
How do you feel about the way media portrays celebrities? Is it fair? Are they doing it to themselves? Is there an imbalance? Do you even care?
To be honest, I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other. I think that celebrities are human beings and the media loses focus on that when they boil them down to the person they’re dating or the role they just got cast in.
What’s one question you wish I’d asked that I didn’t? Did you have a response in mind?
“Besides writing and creating digital content what are your other passions?”
And why yes I do have a response. ;) I have a passion for music, mostly because of the lyrics which is a semi-cop out answer because this does involve writing.
If I had any kind of musical knowledge or grew up in Nashville, I feel like I would’ve tried to pursue a career in songwriting. Most of my favorite records come down to the lyrics and storytelling behind them. (May or may not have created a Spotify playlist while answering these questions.)