28 before 29, #9: Deanna Zandt

Welcome! This is the ninth in an ongoing series leading up to my 29th birthday in which I ask people what their lives were like at my age. (More details here.

Deanna Z bday

I’ve been trying to remember when I first became aware of Deanna Zandt’s work. It was years ago, way before she launched the #One4One game on Twitter…definitely before her book, Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking was released, because I remember following her (pre-Kickstarter) crowdfunding experiment and being stoked to buy my copy…and I’m sure it preceded the time I saw her speak at a Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!) event in New York. At any rate, I always learn a lot from Deanna’s speaking, writing, and online sharing – and I’m thrilled that she decided to share some of her stories here. 

Julia: Does the term “Saturn returns” mean anything to you?  

Deanna: Yeah, I’m a big astrology nerd, so I’m into it! It’s supposed to be about your big struggle with authority, masculine energy, whatever is concrete and external in the world. Everything that Saturn represents as a planet. Some people call this the “father principle” and interpret it literally, that you’re going to struggle with your dad. That didn’t happen for me, but I did struggle with what I understood his gifts to me to be.

J: Where were you when you turned 28?

D: In New York, living on the Lower East Side. Two days before my 28th birthday was the Blackout of 2003, so it threw my (always large, epic) party plans into a tizzy. A lot of people couldn’t get into the city for the party, but many people who’d planned vacations out of town couldn’t leave, so it all worked out guest-wise. I couldn’t get my hair done like I normally always do because my stylist’s electricity still wasn’t quite right. I was pretty bummed about that – I’m super vain, haha.

The night of the blackout was probably more memorable than my actual birthday that year, so let me share that story. I was working downtown in a high rise in Tribeca when the power went out. My coworkers and I all kind of looked around at each other; it was late in the work day, so I was like, “Woohoo! Let’s go home!” Then we looked out the window and saw smoke coming out of another high rise nearby, and an announcement came on the PA for us to stay at our desks. I had lived in New York through 9/11, and I said out loud, “That’s what they told the people at the World Trade Center. Let’s go, folks.” We all packed up quickly and headed down the stairs. It was a kind of terrifying few minutes. (FYI, the smoke we saw was from that building’s diesel generators kicking in, and was totally normal.)

When we got to the street, hundreds of other people were already there. We didn’t have mobile internet then, so we were relying on word of mouth to figure out what was going on. I was talking to my mom in upstate NY when her company lost power, and we got disconnected. We all started to put it together that something very big was happening.

We meandered about for a bit, and a lot of people started hitting the nearby bars. I was deciding what to do—literally, by choosing what was going to be the most fun, not the safest or anything—and folks in the bars were getting hot without A/C, so everyone started carrying furniture onto the streets. I decided to walk home and meet up with my friends, which was the weirdest walk home ever. It felt like a movie. Traffic was just stupid without the lights, and I remember people walking getting fed up with how kind of helpless, and thus aggro, the drivers were getting. People walking by gnarled intersections would just throw down their stuff on the corner and start directing traffic. In typical NYC fashion, it wasn’t so much to be helpful as it was to prove a point about how things should work.

That night we gathered on my best friend’s roof, and it got really eerie really fast as it got dark. I mean, DARK. You literally could not see across the street. We had heard about bonfire parties happening in Tompkins Square, but my faith in humanity was not so great that I thought that was a safe option for even a big group of mostly women. We had an awesome time on the roof. The stars were insane that night! Plus, you could see silhouettes of skyline in the distance, because NJ got power back before we did. Totally post-apocolyptic. We all stayed over together at my friend’s apartment, assured by city officials that power would be restored by morning.

It was not. I walked around town early that morning, and again, it was like a movie. The streets were empty. We’d heard parts of midtown and uptown had gotten power back, so a couple friends of mine and I jumped on buses and went to find places to charge our cellphones. We were totally reliant on the radio for news. It was so freakin’ weird. Friends who lived in buildings whose water supply was dependent on electricity came over to my little apartment to shower all afternoon. It was the shower parade. We were the last neighborhood (note: demographically the poorest neighborhood) in Manhattan to get power back, at around 9pm that night.

J: What are one or two or several things you remember from the year or so surrounding that birthday?

D: In the wider world, the war on Iraq had launched in March 2003. The political climate was very, very dark. It was a revolutionary act to be publicly against the war; I spent the pre-birthday part of the year going to lots of rallies and trying to figure out what political activism looked like in that climate. I started a little anti-war blog with a boyfriend. Howard Dean was being a badass, and I started going to his events.

Personally, I was frustrated and lost. The two years after 9/11 in New York were a blur of “Nothing matters! We might all die tomorrow!” and “Everything matters! We might die tomorrow!” It really started to eat at me that the world was going to shit around me, and I started thinking that maybe I couldn’t be an hobby activist. I met some really great people that year—three men, actually, there’s your Saturn for ya—who encouraged me to quit my job and become a freelancer. I started freelancing while still working in the fall of 2003, right after my 28th birthday in August, and then quit my 9-to-5 job for good in early 2004.

That was probably where I dealt with the Saturn principle as it relates to my dad the most. He is, besides being one of the funniest people ever, the hardest working man I know. He worked as a phone technician for 40 years before he retired, and has that very down-to-earth, German/Protestant work ethic. Good work was very important to him; not crazy high-paying work, but good work. He still does a lot of odd jobs for neighbors and friends in his retirement.

My 9-to-5 job was good work by his values, and I felt that. But it was making me very unhappy, and I struggled desperately when I was deciding to freelance. Going off into the unknown (especially with very little savings) was not something that was probably a good idea by his principles. He was often quiet when we talked about it, which to me meant, “I’m not really thinking this is a great idea, but I want you to be happy, so I’m just not going to say anything at all.” That actually meant a lot to me, especially in retrospect. Now, of course, he’s super proud of my career, which also means a lot to me.

J: Do you feel close to those memories, or far from them? 

D: Very close. It was an emotionally intense time, very formative for me.

J: Do you have any advice for someone going through this (supposedly) astrologically tumultuous time?

D: Trust your instincts and capitalize on that badass masculine energy. Not like, “hey, go be a macho dude,” but more in the Jungian sense. Masculine energy is about being powerful externally, making things concrete in the world. That’s what Saturn asks us to do, I think. Stop foolin’ around and get to work. Who are you? Show me.

“Own your expertise” was something drilled into me much later at the Progressive Women’s Voices program at the Women’s Media Center. I wish I’d done that more right out of the gate when I first started freelancing and consulting. I’ve since tried to mentor other women younger than me entering the consulting life.

The other part of Saturn is the authority aspect – he asks us to develop our own authority through others’. Find a mentor and be explicit with her. Say, “I’m doing this, and I’d love for you to mentor me.” Keep doing that til someone agrees.

Last, despite all this focus on the external and masculine, don’t forget the internal and feminine energy. Get a good therapist, haha. Nurture and be good to yourself during this time – really, be very sweet and gentle with yourself. Use your internal nurturing strength to build a solid base for all that external badassery.

Big thanks, Deanna. Everybody: Want to enjoy more of Deanna’s badassery? Visit www.deannazandt.com

Photo: Deanna provided the one of herself on her 28th birthday. 

Previous “28 in 29″ posts: Intro; Hannah, #1Kara, #2Saya, #3Cathy (aka Mom), #4Rachel, #5Jen, #6Cathy W., #7; Celeste, #8.

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