the cult of cruel: on duplicity + hate-reading

donuts at sidecar

In high school, Mike B. made it hard for me to get out of bed in the morning. There’s no logic to who gets chosen as the object of one’s vitriol, other than perhaps the fear of someone or something other–disgust toward a person who doesn’t conform or blend in. Mike B. was relentless. His friends vandalized my locker and all the girls on the kick team (think cheerleaders, only cooler because these were the kind of girls who smoked Newport Lights and swiveled their slim hips) called me “Fro” because my hair didn’t blend. My hair wasn’t fine and smooth and like Renee’s. Renee sat in front of me in A.P. Bio and she was a smart girl but she played dumb because she filled out in all the right places and with Renee you didn’t hit bases, you knocked her right out of the park. Boys didn’t like hot girls who were smart. It just didn’t make sense. But Renee was the only one who was nice to me–she didn’t ridicule me like her friends did, and when I tutored her in English and she helped me in Bio, she confided that none of these people matter. Mike B. was one of her best friends but on that afternoon in her bedroom, she rolled her eyes and said, Mike B.? Wait ten years. He’s going to be such a loser. Renee would tell me about the boys she slept with and the boys she didn’t want to sleep with but had to sleep with anyway because this was high school and she was Renee and she was popular and she didn’t want to be the girl who didn’t give guys a good time.

For two years I was the subject of Mike B.’s torment. I devised alternate routes home in fear of him driving beside me, yelling out his insults and taunts. I ate lunch alone in the senior lounge or in teachers’ offices because I was the kind of girl teachers trusted. Renee opened doors; I closed them. I was miserable but had a certain satisfaction when I received acceptance letters and scholarships to all the schools to which I applied–NYU, BU, UPenn, Fordham–and Renee confessed to me that Mike B. was going to community college if that.

Ten years later, a chorus of people from my high school somehow tracked me down and sent invitations for a reunion at a waffle joint in Long Island. I browsed the website they’d set up, which reminded me of a Geocities page, and it amazed me that the people who made my life miserable were intent to find out what I was up to. What ever happened to “Fro”, they probably wondered. Word had gotten out that I’d attended Fordham and Columbia, that my career was somewhat successful, and Mike B. still hadn’t left Valley Stream.

High school’s supposed to be terrible, right? Par for the course, right? But how is it that you can remember those days, hallways, and the places you hid, so vividly? We never remember the kind words, rather we feel old wounds opening up, raw and fresh as if you’re forever paying homage to that old hurt.

I can’t imagine high school and the internet because my only solace back then was the fact that there places Mike B. and his tormentors couldn’t reach. For brief periods of time, it was as if everyone in that school ceased to exist.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–the ways in which people exact their minor and major hurts. People subtweet about their hate-follows and hate-reads. People talk smack behind other people’s backs to then kiss-kiss, hey how are you? to that person’s face. People leave hateful comments tearing apart someone’s appearance: well…if she didn’t want to hear how fat she was, she shouldn’t have posted that picture online, which reminds me of a similar refrain: if she hadn’t worn that short skirt or that tight top, she wouldn’t have gotten assaulted. Same country, different state. Groups exist on the internet devoted to the care and feeding of  hate.

Yesterday, I read two articles about trolling and hate, and saw a tearful Brianna Wu on SyFy’s new show, “The Internet Ruined My Life”. Brianna tweeted last night that she was afraid of her mentions, and amidst all of the support for her bravery, for not backing down against men who make it their business to “put women in their place”, there were articles and tweets calling her story a “great comedy”, lambasting her with cruel retorts. Just the other day, I tweeted a retort to an outspoken feminist friend who routinely gets trolled by men, and a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi called me a cunt.

A cunt.

We live in a country that espouses free speech, but many are forced into silence in fear of the hate avalanche. I’m in a private Facebook group, and many of the women who are writers talk about not reading the comments of their published articles out of sheer self-preservation. A few bloggers shared stories about strangers calling CPS based on their opinions of a blogger’s particular Instagram post, and their views on how a mother should/should not raise her child. Because, as you know, an online representation of one aspect of someone’s life is the complete story, the whole of someone’s life (/sarcasm). A few years ago, I was the subject of a man’s ire, someone whom I believe I knew (or at least had come into contact with during my agency career, which makes the whole situation that much more jarring), who essentially rambled on about how much he hated me, how I was a troll, etc, because I stood up for women who had been ridiculed because of their appearance. A decade ago, a small circle of literary bloggers posted cruel blind items about me and I remember being at work, in front of my computer, reading these posts and my whole body going numb.

While it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone will love you, what you do, or what you choose to put out into the world, that knowledge doesn’t remove the sting you feel when you saw yourself as the object of someone’s ridicule on the internet. While the taunts of the Mike B.s of the world in the early 90s have a limited shelf-life, words published online leave a permanent indelible mark. It’s public, made searchable by your family, colleagues, and friends. It’s a cruel reminder that always hovers, whispering, we don’t like you.

The spectrum of cruelty feels seemingly infinite–from the side-eyes and whispers behind one’s back to the full-blown doxing and harassment of women and minorities online, made that much more ubiquitous in today’s frightening political climate where people wear their hate as a badge of honor. And we’re all culpable, we may have talked shit behind someone’s back and played nice in front of their face, or we may hate-read someone’s blog or Instagram waiting for the object of our ire to stumble and fall. Or maybe we leave anonymous comments–words that burn and hurt. We’ve all been cruel in one way or another.

I’ve been guilty of double-talk and hate-reading, and I always felt dirty doing it because I know exactly what I was doing, felt horrible for doing it because I wouldn’t want someone to do this to me. But it was hard, especially when I was deep in my depression and sneered at everyone living their best life because, frankly, I was jealous and wanted that life too. In January, at the height of my depression, I read a post from Paul Graham that put me on pause. Life is short, and we’re literally giving away time in our life to others. He talks about arguing online with strangers. He writes:

But while some amount of bullshit is inevitably forced on you, the bullshit that sneaks into your life by tricking you is no one’s fault but your own. And yet the bullshit you choose may be harder to eliminate than the bullshit that’s forced on you. Things that lure you into wasting your time on them have to be really good at tricking you. An example that will be familiar to a lot of people is arguing online. When someone contradicts you, they’re in a sense attacking you. Sometimes pretty overtly. Your instinct when attacked is to defend yourself. But like a lot of instincts, this one wasn’t designed for the world we now live in. Counterintuitive as it feels, it’s better most of the time not to defend yourself. Otherwise these people are literally taking your life.

Hating people is exhausting. Perhaps it’s easier to hate than to be empathetic and kind because that requires us to be vulnerable and exposed. It forces us to ask that uncomfortable questions about ourselves. What about her bothers me so much that I have to leave that comment, say that thing behind her back? And hey, awful people who do awful, stupid things, exist, but we have a choice to devote our attention to them. We choose to give them our life in exchange for the privilege of hating them, publicly or privately.

The past six months have been the hardest I’ve ever known. I have to devote all of my energy to putting one foot in front of the other. I have to wake every day to this financial anxiety and devise ways in which I can get back to a place of stability. My time and energy are precious–they’re things I can’t ever get back–so I’ve made a conscious choice to lay down my anger, jealousy, annoyance, and fear. Years ago, a wise friend told me that crooks undo themselves, always, so there’s no need for us to contribute to their inevitable downfall. So why should I waste my time picking apart others when I can instead use those moments to put myself forward and spend time with people I do love. I don’t hate-read and while there are people in this world I do not like, I no longer devote my energy tending to that dislike.

You have one life. Why would you waste it hating people and acting on that hate? Where does it get you? Does it move you forward? Ask yourself why you might feel so satisfied in a feeling that’s so destructive?

Why not focus on yourself and moving your shit forward?


 

You might wonder why there’s a donut in this post. I had a crap day and decided to leave my house and treat myself to a donut. That’s why. 

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forget mass-market. why not play small?

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What we are is a set of walking contradictions. Our inner lives are not partitioned like day and night, with pure light on one side of us and total darkness on the other. Mostly, our souls are shadowed places; we live at the border where dark sides block our light and throw a shadow over our interior places…We cannot always tell where our light ends and our shadow begins or where our shadow ends and our darkness begins. — From Lewis Smedes’ Shame and Grace

We always want more — even if we don’t want it, even if we never needed it. When we were children our eyes roved over the things we saw–the pink light that filtered in through the trees (dusk), machines that raced down streets (cars), furry things that licked their paws (cats, dogs–this could get complicated), and in those experiences we cultivated memory — the first of our many acquisitions. Everything used to be a puzzle; images and words played Lego, and we leaned on others for definition, interpretation, and perspective. We were taught to believe that everything in the diminutive represented an unfinished state, something not yet realized and far from its potential. That cute wobbly puppy will grow into a dog that can sprint. That infant who once smelled of clean cotton sheets will become someone who will build houses, fly planes, cure diseases. Our memory of the miniature plays out in sepia, it’s hazy and often romanticized — we only fixate on what we’ll become, leaving our previous states aside.

We always dismiss our smaller, unfinished states in favor of the large and seemingly complete.

I’ve been thinking about children lately. Not having them, but observing them. I’ve also been thinking about death and making connections between the two. Our destination varies depending upon what you believe, but I wonder if the place we’ll go vaguely resembles the one from which we’ve come, and the space we occupy between the two, our holding pen called life, will be spent trying to make sense of our journey from one place to the other.

Or maybe that’s my life.

We cry coming out and we weep slouching home, because isn’t that what death is? Our final stop, a story, a home that can’t be torched or torn down? Our tears come from fear of the unknown, of what’s to come. I assume babies scream-cry because they consider everything an assault. What are these shapes, colors, and lights? Who are you? What is this, what am I, and so on. Over time, the answers are revealed in degrees, and for a brief time, we are comforted by these certainties. Life becomes a slow conquering of sorts, a means to ferret out truth from the unknown, and our death is a surrender. We lay down our armaments because we’ve no idea which tools we’ll need for the next battle. Come our twilight years, I suppose we’ll weep because we’re left with a life where most riddles have been resolved, loves have been felt, truths have been revealed — to what? A fugue state that morphs into the eternal black? Or do feel sorrow because we’ve spent our lives trying to know what we’ll never know. Have we wasted time in this single, temporary waking life?

“I greatly fear my hidden parts”–From Augustine’s Confessions

It occurs to me that these moments, life and death, are monumental, yet we’re small when confronting them. We’re small in the beginning (literally), and, in the end, we become small in ways that are more complicated. In both states we don’t consider the notion of wanting more; we can’t even comprehend acquisition, and isn’t it funny that we face our two greatest moments being valiant and great in our smallness, in our need for nothing?

Lately, I’ve been feeling, for lack of a better term, colonized. Colonized in terms of defining a home, colonized in reference to how I live my life. We all have a reference point. I came from a home that had nothing and spent my 20s and early 30s in the business of hyperaccumulation in hopes that it would satiate a need that could never be truly filled by the things bought in legal tender. I hailed from a generation that believed in the beauty of size. We measured our self-worth in width, height, and weight, and our homes made us feel like dwarves, our Italian leather handbags threatened to swallow us whole. We became bound to this title, to those letters after our name, as if ascension equates to human greatness or a rich character.

The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile. I think of my strawberry souffle. I did that at least twenty-eight times before I finally conquered it.” — Julia Child

A friend and I talk about the avalanche of e-books and articles we read: how to build your newsletter, how to achieve a million readers, how to grow at scale — apparently you cease to matter if the world doesn’t read you (that tree in the forest metaphor). I’m a difficult woman who writes often about the darker aspects of life, so I know I’ll never be fit for the masses. I’m not someone who colors in the lines, rather I’d rather create new books in which to color. I know I’ll never be “big” or widely read, or deeply connected or nominated for the fancy awards, and I’m okay with this. I’m okay with playing small and accumulating a wonderful, compassionate tribe.

I think about my dad. For a time, I couldn’t comprehend why he didn’t want more from life — why he didn’t demand the world and everything in it just I had. His home and closets are spare, he has only what he needs. He cleaves to his rituals: coffee in the morning, coffee as a means to connect, and long drives to clear his head. He holds few photographs. Luckily, I’m in some of them. He doesn’t speak about the past often, but what he remembers are the moments I sometimes struggle to recall: they’re small, but we explode into laughter when he recounts them. The day he drove down a one-way street. The day we made a point to eat one meal from every fast food joint in a five-mile radius (I don’t recommend this). He has the ability to say one string of words and we’re immediately transported back and I can feel everything. He has a way of making the world simple, clean and neat–even when he’s engulfed in sadness, loss, heartbreak.

I admire him this, his quiet nobility. I admire a man who’s lived a great, small life–who loves every minute of it. You feel everything so hard, he once joked. When I look at him or when I think about children, I’m reminded of the beauty of playing small. Of not needing to puff up my chest, resume, byline or biography. Life is still worth loving even if I don’t win prizes, or reach financial and professional heights. Last year I read David Brooks’ The Road to Character and in the final chapter, he underscored the dangers of a society focused solely on meritocracy, on the accumulation of desires and the constant cult of “big me”. He writes,

The meritocratic system wants you to be big about yourself–to puff yourself, to be completely sure of yourself, to believe that you deserve a lot and to get what you think you deserve (so long as it’s good). The meritocracy wants you to assert and advertise yourself. It wants you to display and exaggerate your achievements. The achievement machine rewards you if you can demonstrate superiority–if with a thousand gestures, conversational types, and styles of dress you can demonstrate that you are a bit smarter, hipper, more accomplished, sophisticated, famous, plugged-in, and fashion-forward that the people around you. It encourages narrowing. It encourages you to become a shrewd animal.

We covet the largess of life, yet we end up feeling silly and small. What if we revered the reverse? What if we came from a place of curiosity, humility, self-acceptance, and honesty? What if we formed our character based on how we loved, what we built as an extension of that love versus blasting out what we’ve acquired, the weight of objects we carry? I think about this tension a lot, especially when I read that I have to make a ruckus in order to break ranks. What if I ceased wanting all the things? What if I burned the measuring tape and scales, and stopped equating large and more with joy and greatness? Fewer, better. Quality reigns over quantity. I’ve done this in nearly all aspects of my life, but not completely. I wonder if that’s even possible. I’m not sure that it is, so perhaps that’s part of the journey, too.

Why are we defining success by a metric, a site visit, or a number of comments? Why is mass suddenly the marker of achievement? A blog with a book deal and a stylish lifestyle show and a line at a fancy department store — are these the new markers of success? Have we updated the old playbook where we were told as children that a good life meant having a career, getting married, having kids, buying a house, having a summer house, and retiring? Shouldn’t success and happiness be the achievement of what we love to its own end, knowing that end might be private and personal? That we should strive to create depth, complexity, difficulty, meaning and devotion in everything we do instead of optimizing our content for search or being “social” because that’s the sort of thing we ought to be doing?

The idea of working a room makes me want to gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch.

A boss once we told me that we have to think about content in the context of its distribution. For nearly four years I clung to this fiction, repeated it to a litany of clients, left an indelible mark on those whom I mentored, and it occurred to me that this statement was wrong. Of course, we don’t create something to simply leave it there to gather dust, but if I start to fixate on the end game, the thing I’m creating suddenly loses meaning. It becomes airless, soulless, a pretty picture worth pinning with nothing beneath the surface.

Fuck being big. Fuck scale. Fuck viral. Have integrity. Because when you achieve the largeness, it never is what we wanted it to be, and we end up just wanting more. Instead, create that which bolts you out of bed. Build and be everything that gives you heart and purpose, a big life lived small squeezed between our beginning and inevitable end.

Why not play small?

Image Credit: Pexels

competing with toddlers turned strategists

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It must be good to be a thirty-year-old guy, a friend tells me one day over diner pancakes and eggs. I’ve known my friend for nearly a decade and we meet for breakfast to trade war stories of the freelance life. He listens to me prattle on about being outbid my men and toddlers turned strategists, and after a long silence passes my friend, the epitome of cool, calm and collected, confesses that he’s afraid of approaching his “best-buy” date. Do I know what it’s like to be a forty-something, fifty-something man being interviewed by a kid who just learned how to shave? I nod in tacit agreement (about the age, not the gender) and I think about my friend, who’s razor sharp and one of the smartest people I know, a man who looks good for his age and then it occurs to me that in thinking that phrase, looks good for his age, I’ve too been programmed to believe that on a long enough timeline, we’ll all approach our best-buy date. We’ll all face professional extinction.

Unless you’ve been burrowing under a fortress of Winona Ryder movies, Soul Asylum DVDs, re-runs of All in The Family and Different Strokes, or choruses of Conjunction Junction, the world as we know it has changed. My generation (the ubiquitous X) grew up without the Internet or tethered to devices that provided a means for connection/disconnection, and we were taught to believe that you had to pay your dues; you had to work long and hard for professional success. We filed papers in file cabinets, we took unpaid internships (I couldn’t afford to), we faxed, and we didn’t speak unless spoken to because we were groomed to know our place in the pecking order. We were programmed to respect hierarchy as if the corporate world were some aboriginal tribe with the CEO serving as its all-knowing elder.

No wonder we were called Generation Apathy. No wonder the next generation took a look at the ones that preceded it and said, you’ve got to be kidding me. You could hear the collective group-text murmur of hell no. This is a generation who would go on to break ranks and tear apart everything we had come to know about one’s career trajectory. Theirs was a generation that wouldn’t settle.

Most of my peers have perfected their get-off-my-lawn rhetoric. Gen-X’ers love to throw around words like “entitled”, “greedy”, “lazy” and “impatient”. However, a day doesn’t go by when we don’t hear the constant refrain of Generation Fucked — millennials are poor and burning out. But this story isn’t about the plight of Gen Y; it’s about age and struggle.

Many of my close friends are in the 20s and 30s and there’s much to be said for reverse mentorship. Our generations have tremendous, equal value and we’d be insane not to collaborate to undo the ruin that Boomers imposed on us. Millennials have ruffled the proverbial feathers of the status quo and we’ve seen an avalanche of companies focused on impact and social good, an uptick in entrepreneurship, careers based solely on using the internet (or building applications and software for it), and more importantly, they changed the perception of the freelancer as no longer a code for failure. Consulting isn’t a dirty word or what you did when you were in-between jobs. Finally, people stopped asking when was I going to get a “real job” because freelancing has been legitimized. Organizations and a plethora of websites are devoted to the care and feeding of this new breed of worker.

After I left a job that was slowly killing me, I envisioned taking some time off and then returning to the world of sixteen-hour days, supply requisition forms, and 401Ks. However, one client turned into another and suddenly my days were of my own design. Instead of taking on clients I didn’t believe in for the sake of paying employees and managing overhead, I connected with business and brands I believed in. I took on projects that challenged me, and I found that creativity couldn’t be found chained to a desk. I’ve done some of my best work in the past few years, and being a consultant has fulfilled me in ways I hadn’t imagined.

Every freelancer will tell you the hardest part of their job is deal flow. Some are lucky to have retainer clients — a consistent stream of income that provides a financial salve in the months where their inbox is filled with tumbleweed and crickets. I’ve been privileged to have consistent work over the past three years, but a buzz that was once annoying has morphed into a shout I can’t ignore. The buzz being: wow, you’re really expensive.

Last week I wrote about the value of experience, but I didn’t touch on age and how it could potentially be a liability. Last fall I bid on a big global project and I priced it fairly because I knew the work would look stellar in my portfolio and the client would be a coup. However, the client came back to me and told me that my fair rate was “extremely high” (huh?) and that others came in at half or a third of my rate. Considering the work and scope involved, I found it impossible to price south. I wrote the client and outlined what would be needed for the role:

  1. Someone who’s successfully launched products in global and local markets.
  2. Someone who understood the nuances + cultural indicators between markets.
  3. Someone who could create an actionable global strategy with measurable results but also break down the tactical roadmap, budgets, and resources needed.
  4. Someone who had an in-market resource on-hand.

Ultimately, I won the project and the client confided that no one came close to the experience needed for the role but they were willing to cut costs where possible. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. People who have little to no experience mispricing their work or misrepresenting their level of experience. Anyone who owns a Snapchat or Instagram account is automatically a strategist. Anyone who can create a sentence with a subject, verb, and object, is automatically a seasoned copywriter or journalist. Part of me wonders if I could be a surgeon if I binge-watched enough of Discovery Health.

We live in an age of P&L surgeons who are all too happy to take scalpels to their marketing budgets, to settle for “just good enough” instead of successful and extraordinary. Businesses who are willing to sacrifice short-term bottom line benefits for long-term brand health and business growth.

It’s no secret that society reveres the young. Helen Mirren looks “great for her age”, women are encouraged to age gracefully, and people who have dedicated their careers and lives to companies are quietly being replaced by their younger, phone-toting doppelgangers. No one wants to be reminded — in life and in business — of the inevitability of extinction. People feed off the energy and verve of the young, resulting in bottom-heavy staff plans and ignoring the precarious balance needed in weighing verve with experience and perspective. We live in an age where one is endlessly traded in for another rather than playing the long and viewing the composition of a team and company with a level of diversity (gender, sexual orientation, and age) that will drive real and meaningful growth.

Instead, many tenured freelancers feel their age as an indelible mark, a liability and a perception that experience automatically means expensive — as if placing the correct value on our breadth and depth of experience is viewed in the pejorative. Or perhaps they feel age breed a lack of verve and passion. Most of us feel the cost cutting, projects awarded to those with less experience or who are willing to take on more for less. Photo editor and writer, Heather Clark McKinnon, laments, “Content creators and editors are paid less now for the same work. As a photo editor for a huge American company, my contract has gone down 35 percent over the last 8 years. They are now outsourcing most of the work to India.”

While freelancing is finally a viable, respected career option, it’s become Darwinian, and to remain relevant and working we need to maintain diverse revenue streams or capture and own a niche. Otherwise, we find ourselves boxed in forever competing on price as the years tick on and the days age us. Today, several of my peers have shared encouraging words, that there are clients — even if it seems few and far in between — who believe in the power of experience, who understand the need to diversify their teams, who believe in what and whom they invest. We’re grateful for people like Stephanie Faris Berry, who shares that, “as someone who regularly hires designers for the author side of my business, I have personally seen the experience vs. price argument play out. When I hire someone, I know what I hire will represent my “brand” and when someone quotes $25 and someone else is quoting $150, the $150 designer immediately gets my attention. I might settle for something in between those two extremes, but it will be someone who has talent and experience vs. someone who is new and cheap. I think anyone who is serious about building and growing a brand will see that experience as worth it.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking the hustle of the young, hungry and inexperienced — but I believe that an environment where clients still pull the strings (regardless of the guise of “freedom” promised to freelancers) creates tension between those who have experience vs. the young and ambitious, creating a severe divide. And what we’re left with is an old refrain dusted off, a record played on repeat: how can I get this cheaper?

We should complement, not compete.

Photo Credit: Pexels

pasta bolognese

pasta bolognese

Yes, I know, another pasta recipe. Every week I make a pasta pot and alternate the hearty dishes with veggies, grains and legumes. This dish makes for 6 meals and it’s perfect for the days when you want to cuddle up with the remote, your feline and a bowl of piping hot YES.

This week was a hectic one–I met up with old friends and had a few new business calls and lunches. The leads are slowly trickling in, and although nothing has landed just yet I continue to be hopeful. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the semantics of happy, and I’m shying away from the phrase “be positive” because it feels forced. It feels as if I should cloak my real feelings with artificial ones. I don’t want the blindness of relentless positivity, rather I want to sit in what I’m going through now. Getting sober is akin to having dozens of band-aids ripped off and although the pain is searing, it’s brief. Drinking, or any form of anaesthesia only serves to prolong the inevitable. The pain is omnipresent, the circumstances in your life haven’t changed, and the only way to get beyond it is to go through it–to sit in discomfort with the knowledge that the sorrow and pain will lessen with the passage of each day.

So I don’t want to “be positive”. I grew up in the generation of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, but I want to worry when worry is warranted. Instead of engaging in blind positivity or whitewash my life with smiley faces and emoticons, I want to be realistic, honest, and hopeful.

Until my next project, there’s pasta.

INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp olive oil
5 small carrots or 3 medium ones
2 celery stalks
1 shallot
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lbs of ground sirloin
1/2 tube of tomato paste (1/2 of a 4.5oz tube)
1 cup red wine (or you can also use beef stock)
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or you can use whole milk)
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 lb of pasta (you can also use rice, or lentil/bean pasta or spaghetti squash)
1 cup pecorino romano cheese

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DIRECTIONS

Blitz the carrots, shallot, and celery in a food processor to a fine mince. In a large pot or saucepan, on medium heat, add the mirepoix, salt and pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the beef and toss to coat the meat with the veggie mixture. Don’t fuss with the meat all that much or it’ll get overworked and grainy. Turn up the heat to high. Allow the mixture to cook until the meat browns, 5-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, wine, and milk, thyme, and stir, cooking until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce to low, cover, and cook for at least two hours. The sauce will reduce and thicken.

Fifteen minutes before the bolognese is done, cook your pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Add the drained pasta and pasta water to the bolognese. Add the pecorino cheese and toss until everything is completely coated. Serve immediately, with extra cheese, of course.

pasta bolognese

it’s amazing what changes in a single week

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Wouldn’t it be adorable if this photo accurately reflected my life? All the LOLs.

Last week I traded emails with a stranger, a man, whose life mirrors mine. We’ve arrived in the middle of our lives, and although we know, logically, what we’ve achieved, we still feel like failures. This feeling of helplessness is further amplified by our mutual chemical imbalances. I’ll be honest–I’ve become good at building and maintaining a fortress around me. Rarely, if ever, do I share the details of my personal life (and trust me, I only share the broad strokes here) with strangers not for any reason other than my own inability to be vulnerable around people. Also, I’ve spent half my life parenting others that I’m always fearful of being put in that role again. Perhaps this is why I never yearned to have children of my own. But this man’s story put me on pause and he confessed his fear of taking meds, that they would transform him into some kind of somnambulant, and this was my worry too (would I lose my ability to write–crazy shit like that). I told him what my psychiatrist told me–the journey back is about the right meds (and dosage), talk therapy, a decent diet/exercise routine and social stimuli. Meaning, I had to see him consistently, take my meds, and leave my house. At first, the idea of all of this seemed unimaginable since four-block walks to the grocery store literally left me exhausted and pained, but honestly, the alternative wasn’t better.

I also wrote that what works for one person (in terms of medication) might not work for others. My body doesn’t respond well to SSRIs after a rather frightening reaction I had to a Celexa/Trazadone cocktail in my early 20s, so my doc put me on Wellbutrin, and although I had some minor side effects (tremors, dizziness, dry mouth), they went away after a few days. Within a week, I experienced an 180 in terms of mood and energy level, which is kind of unheard of (most drugs take at least 4 weeks to experience full impact). When I asked my doc about this, he mentioned that my body chemistry reacted favorably to the drug + dosage, and it might be the addition of a placebo effect (my desire to get better coupled with drugs that help me get there) that caused the precipitous change.

He reminded me not to get high off the honeymoon, that there’s still work to be done.

I work best with a routine, so I schedule and map out each day so to ensure that I leave the house (because drugs aren’t a cure-all). I’ve been spending time with people who are “on my bus” and avoiding scenarios that pile additional anxiety on top of that which already exists. Food’s tricky because the healthy stuff is expensive so I balance what I can and make all my meals at home. I take long walks every day, and some of my friends have been kind enough to send me gift cards for spin classes and yoga.

Let me be clear–my situation hasn’t changed. I’m drowning in a mountain of debt and maxed out cards and only have enough money for one additional month of rent and things get…precarious, however, what’s changed is how I’m managing the situation. I still have anxiety, but it’s manageable, and I don’t feel as helpless and hopeless as I did only a few weeks ago. My world feels less cloudy, and I wake with clarity and calm. Friends whom I least suspected have swathed me with their kindness and virtual fist-pumps. And if I lose my home and have to deal with the financial burden of what follows–I’ll deal with it.

Yesterday I joked with my therapist in the middle of a particularly tough session, asking if it was okay to get a little high off the honeymoon, because, my god, this is the best I’ve felt in the past six months.

We laugh and nods. A little.

Onward.


Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

you want to pay me $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy? that’s cute.

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Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

Let’s not talk about the time I was offered $250 for a comprehensive marketing strategy — weeks worth of work — and say we did.

There’s something many of my peers have been discussing in private groups and behind closed doors but no dares to speak out loud for fear of losing work. We trade emails where editors think $25 for 500-word articles, replete with secondary sources and rounds of revision, to be a living wage. We lament over the fact that seasoned marketers are being outbid by people with little to no actual work experience beyond preening themselves in front of a camera. I’m told, why would I pay X if Competitor A offers a third of your rate, to which I respond: I don’t compete on price; I compete on value, efficacy, and experience. Last week someone told me that she made more money doing the same thing ten years ago than she does now. Her professional life is one of diminishing returns: she has to work twice as hard now to make the same money she made a decade ago. In a private Facebook group, scores of influential bloggers talk about how brands and publicists trot out the word “exposure” in exchange for free work. Recently, writer Victoria Philpott shared a perfect scenario of this charade in her incisive essay about the trap of blogging for exposure:

A new startup wants you to review their app on your site, host a competition to give 5 away to your readers and write about them on the App Store. In return you’ll get to be one of the first to try the new app. You go back and tell them that’s advertising and will cost but they ‘don’t have the budget for that’.

So, they want a good few hours work, and access to your audience, in return for an app you didn’t ask for or want?

Another friend seethes when she’s told by her editor that college kids would be willing to work for free (or for a fraction of the standard rate) because everyone wants exposure and experience. In a hustle economy, everyone’s juggling side gigs and projects, and the refrain is constant: we’re working harder for less.

I worked through college — balancing a 20+ hour work week with a full course load, volunteer activities, and a social life. Most of my internships were paid because I couldn’t afford not to make money, and while I understood that my compensation directly correlated with my experience, it was unthinkable to compete with full-time employees’ comp, people who had years of experience.

Let me be clear and say that this isn’t a get-off-my-lawn rant, a Gen X vs. Gen Y kerfuffle that rivals Biggie and Tupac. We need each other, and I believe in the power of symbiotic mentorship. After I left a digital marketing agency where I was an equity partner, I kept in close contact with many people who reported to me, brilliant women who went on to break ranks and with whom I forged close relationships. Although we were 10–15 years apart in age, we knew our respective value, and it was equal and powerful. I mentored women on being a manager and leader, how to negotiate comp and deal with toxic employees, and they kept me fresh on burgeoning trends and social media, and what I’ve learned most from my millennial friends is the power of reinvention. Of taking something old and seeing in it the new.

So if you’re ready to get riled up at the kids today, there are plenty of articles on Medium that will satiate you — this is not one of them.

For the past few years, I’ve witnessed a disturbing trend in some agencies where they’ve skimmed the top (less P&L impact) and hired junior talent in hopes of growing them rapidly into senior roles. A whole middle layer of management was nearly non-existent, so you had very senior people too deep in the weeds and junior talent feeling overwhelmed and non-equipped to manage work and situations in which they had little experience. In The Devil’s Advocate (bear with me), Al Pacino’s character tells a young and arrogant Keanu Reeves:

I know you got talent, I knew that before you got here. It’s just the other thing I wonder about: pressure, it changes everything. Some people you squeeze them, they focus. Others fold. Can you summon your talent at will? Can you deliver on a deadline? Can you sleep at night?

Some people surprise you — they’re natural leaders and they exude confidence and acumen beyond their years, a talent that’s rare and priceless. A soon-to-be college grad outlines, in detail, how hard she worked to get published in bold-face publications before graduation, and I respect her tenacity, talent, and hustle. Yet, there’s something to be said for tenure, for having the years, for enduring experience and learning from it and then having the perspective that only time and distance brings to bear on new situations. I will always believe in the adage “you get what you pay for”.Replacing tenured talent with cheap labor to save bottom-line impact isn’t a viable long-term strategy. Placing band-aids on dams might work in the short-term but inevitably the dam will burst.

There’s real and tangible value in having a college or intern perspective. There’s value in having someone who knows the nuances of a particular social media channel give input on content and strategy. However, the value is complementary, not interchangeable. Just because someone will do something for free doesn’t mean you need to take advantage of it for the short-term savings, completely sacrificing the value of experience and perspective. Complement, don’t replace all.

Let’s revisit that offer of $250 and what comprises an integrated marketing strategy. Building a strategy requires (I’m summarizing big time here):

  1. Discovery/Research: A complete brand and business immersion and discussions with staff across business units — all of this in the context of industry factors and consumer trends/behavior
  2. Key Learnings: From all of the research and discussions, I tend to identify challenges and opportunities, along with some kick fixes or wins. Since I’m removed from the day-to-day, I have the fortune of distance and perspective and can usually identify issues (internal and external) and opportunities that staff too close to the business might miss
  3. Objectives/Goals Discussion: This is lengthy, and often we review past day and performance as well as a deeper conversation about their existing customer base. We discuss quantifiable and qualitative goals and objectives, knowing that our strategy has to satisfy or meet those goals/objectives. We discuss what success is and how to measure/optimize it, by channel, by tactic
  4. Strategy Outline: This is the “What” — What we’ll do to service the goals/objectives. This isn’t a tactic, a “we’ll launch an Instagram channel” or “we’ll hire a YouTube celeb to bolster our brand” — this is the big idea and plan that will impact the entire business, and will be implemented across paid, owned, earned and partner media.
  5. Tactical Roadmap: From the strategy falls the tactics, which brings the ideas to life in a practical way, i.e. the “How”. This will invariably require the collaboration between partners (internal and external) for development of distinct and detailed plans with budgets, timelines, and allocated resources

So you think all that work — weeks of labor — is worth $250? I’ve worked hard for 17+ years to be paid $250 for a marketing strategy? Surely you jest.

You think the hours it takes for writers to find sources, compose interview questions, transcribe interviews, draft articles and make revisions are worth $25? $100? $250?

As Shannon Barber so sagely writes: “No one can eat exposure.” I tell people I’m not operating a non-profit. Would I ask my doctor to reduce her rate because someone down the street charges less? Would I nickel and dime a plumber? Would I ask someone to paint my apartment for free in exchange for an Instagram post? Why is it that people find it easy to diminish the value of writers and marketers (non-tactile skills)? Why is it so easy to sacrifice quality for short-term profit?

When will brands and businesses focus on complementary talent rather than bottom-line savings that hurt over time?


I originally published this post on Medium

recipe: pasta with chicken + chive/parsley pesto

gluten-free pasta with chicken and chive/parsley pesto

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe around these parts. In all candor, keeping up a food blog is pretty expensive and my meals as of late have been about what can be repurposed or stretched and what I can afford. I love this dish because it gives me four filling meals (especially with the lentil pasta), there’s an ocean of green on the plate and it’s delicious. Luckily, I live by a farmer’s market where the produce is inexpensive (the herbs were $1.50 each for a huge bunch!) and fresh.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups parsley, chopped
1 cup chives, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 lb chicken breasts chopped into 1/2 inch cubes/strips
1 lb gluten-free pasta (or you can use this delicious lentil pasta)
Optional: 1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese

DIRECTIONS
In a blender (or food processor), blitz the first seven ingredients until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Cook the pasta per the directions on your box, removing a minute early so the noodles are al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water–you’ll need this to make the sauce super creamy.

In a large non-stick skillet, add 1/2-1 tbsp olive oil, the chicken, salt, and pepper and saute until brown, 5-6 minutes.

Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet along with the pesto. Mix until the chicken and noodles are complete combined. Add the reserved pasta water. Finish off with cheese, if that’s your bag. Enjoy!

old school social media: friendship books (FBs) and penpals

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Photo Credit: Unsplash

When I was small, I became aware of the spaces between people. A fence separated the building where I lived and the girls who played jump rope next door, a physical barrier that was no match for a religious one. They wore skirts that grazed their ankles and blouses that cinched at the wrists, and I wondered if they could feel the heat. One summer I wore a mint-green short-set until it was threadbare and when I asked the girls next door if they wanted to play, they ignored me. We occupied the same space — why were they unfazed by the hot sun bearing down? Why wouldn’t they play with me? Days later, a small boy would tell me that they weren’t allowed to speak to “people like me”, much less share a rope.

It was summer and I was friendless with only a stack of library books and squirrels scavenging through the trees to keep me company. Everyone seemed to have a crew, a pack of friends with whom they played double-dutch or swam in the 4-ft pool at Sunset Park. I don’t remember how I discovered Friendship Books (FBs) or how I found my first pen-pal, but that summer I finally befriended dozens of girls my age and was awed by the places in which they lived. Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Canada (!!!) — I considered these faraway lands exotic countries because the farthest I’d ever traveled was to downtown Manhattan. No longer did I spend my days alone! That summer, I spent hours buying Lisa Frank and Ms. Grossman stickers, colored markers, and construction paper with the small amount of money I’d saved — all in an effort to make me desirable, because who could resist an eleven-year-old from Brooklyn who hoarded iridescent unicorn stickers?

Soon I mastered the acronyms:

AA — Answer All
AM — Answer Most
AS — Answer Some
AVF — Answer Very Few
SNNP — Sorry No New Pals
NNP — No New Pals
SNNS—Sorry No New Swappers
NPW — New Pals Welcome
NSW— New Swappers Welcome
LLP— Long Letter Pal

Within a year, I migrated from “AA” to “NNP”, a status that would fluctuate until I stopped “palling” when I was seventeen. Trading sheets of stickers, stationery, and glitter pens would evolve into trading clips from popular teen magazines: Bop, Big Bopper, Teen Machine, and Sassy. Even though foreign penpals meant more stamps to lick and calculations to navigate, glossy spreads of my favorite teen stars (Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., Kirk Cameron, Andrew McCarthy, NKOTB) from magazines published in languages foreign to me were worth the trips to the post office. And I had friends! Some pals were purely trading partners while others became close friends. We traded long letters about our parents, all the ways we didn’t fit in at school, and the movies we watched and books we read because we were lonely kids and teenagers and we desperately wanted to feel less alone. Mail was something to look forward to, and I’d stare out my window breathlessly awaiting the men dressed in blue to make their way to my building, and when they left I raced down the stairs and cradled my bounty back to my room. Sometimes I’d open the fat envelopes midway up the stairs, giddy. Other times I’d spend long afternoons writing letters in neat cursive and decorating my small piece of real estate in the FB I’d received.

When I was 16 and 17 I rode a Greyhound bus to Washington state and California to meet my best pals in person, and we snapped photos with our 110 cameras and ordered late-night pizzas. It never occurred to me that I had to travel thousands of miles to do the kind of things ordinary girls did with friends who lived within a 5-mile radius.

This morning, I read a remarkable post about a woman who’s made hundreds of friends through social media. Ella Risbridger writes:

We write online — tweets, DMs, emails — and we write to each other offline, too. Sometimes I picture our correspondences criss-crossing the globe, like those maps of trade routes: old copies of the New Yorker and pictures of cats, postcards, platonic love letters, stickers with lions, little lovely things that might make our disparate lives a little better, a little closer, the world (in the very best sense) a little smaller.

1-lon_HLCqSNYm4G93Xun7cwHer words put me to thinking of space. There was a time when if you wanted to contact someone you had to phone them, write them, or show up at that doorstep screaming their name from the street. There was a time when they only way you could escape the world you lived in was to write your way to a new one through the art of pen palling. FBs were the original social profiles and calling cards, ways in which we could showcase our plumage and find friends who closed the spaces between people. My new pals might have lived thousands of miles away but they felt closer to me than the girls playing rope next door or the cheerleaders in high school who routinely ignored or made fun of me.

And while I miss the tactile ways in which I used to make new friends, I’ve found dozens of wonderful people through my blog and Twitter with whom I’ve formed similar bonds. We may not be trading shiny strips of stickers or pictures of cute boys in magazines, but we’re sharing words, kindness, knowledge, perspective, empathy, and, more importantly, we’re making ourselves feel less alone.


Second image credit: Geek Girl Pen Pals

the masks we wear, the lies we tell, and the secrets we keep

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Photo Credit: Unsplash

I spent the past year a walking wound, but you’d never know it. Maybe you read a handful of sad stories I’d written or scrolled through a few Facebook status updates, but if you saw me in person you’d see someone who was assembled, stitched neatly together. Nevermind the gashes beneath the surface, the cuts that failed to heal. I was fine, just fine, but let’s not talk about me. Tell me about you. I’d arrange my face in different shapes; I’d smile and nod and stare intently, and everyone would leave with the comfort that I was going to be okay. In forty years I’d survived so much, surely I would endure this. Surely the girl was going to be just fine.

The girl slouches home. The girl unravels. The girl is far from fine.

When I was small I was taught the worst thing one could be was weak. Never cry, never be vulnerable, never let anyone all the way in. So my heart was a bolted door and I lived on the side with all the mothballs desperate to flutter out. Throughout college and during the first fifteen years of my career, I was repeatedly told that it was verboten to bring your full self to work. The office wasn’t the place for your sob stories or crumbled tissues in clammy hands. Leave that six-piece luggage set at home. No one wants or needs to know. Deal with your life privately, behind closed doors. Even as a child growing up in Brooklyn, everyone lived by the axiom: mind your own.

So we become editors of ourselves, preservationists of our suffering. We become architects of our masks; we reframe our true stories in work and in life. We become vague on the level of a CIA operative. We’re just going through a tough time. We use phrases like a rough patch, a temporary setback, and a minor blip. But we’re fine, really.

We consistently pass on that glass of wine because we’re not in the mood or we don’t particularly like drinking instead of saying I’m an alcoholic. We talk up our partner’s attributes or the memories you once shared that were photographs worth taking instead of saying I’m going through a divorce. We post terrific photographs of our best selves while we binge-watch “House of Cards”, refreshing our phones, waiting for the Likes. We live for that validation in the moments when we feel sonnet-small when the space between you and the photograph you’ve taken becomes a chasm that widens with the passing of each day. We wonder: how do I get that to person? When can I feel that expression? That face?

This week, I was formally diagnosed with severe depression, and my financial situation is dire to the point where I’ve had to borrow money from close friends to pay for my twice-weekly therapy visits. I tell my therapist how much this bothers me, how it annoys me that I’ve become a burden. I look weak. I’m a failure. And he interrupts and reminds me of something I’d said when we first met — it was an off-hand comment, something to the effect that if he saw me on the street I would be unrecognizable. What did I mean by that, he wanted to know. Had I been wearing a mask all this time? I said, yes, of course, because when you spend your whole life on guard, you can’t just fling open all the doors, throw open all the windows. It didn’t occur to me that I was laughing during the first half hour of my visit. I couldn’t stop laughing. I hate that I had to publicly ask people for money — ha! ha! ha! I hated how it felt when my friends read an essay I published and subsequently deleted because it caused them insurmountable fear and anguish to the point where I received frantic voicemails in the middle of the night— ha! ha! ha! I hate this feeling now, of being here, of telling you these things; I’ve always come back, I’ve always survived, and now I’m certain if I can get past this. He tells me that vulnerability isn’t a mark of failure; it’s the trait of someone who’s human.

Why are you laughing, he asks, to which I respond, it’s easier than crying.

I spent so much of my career not bringing any of my whole self to work that it must have appeared like I wasn’t human. I wasn’t capable of feeling, and this alienated me. This red pen that I took to myself, this scalpel I used to excise parts of my life that I could have shared with others, made it hard for me to form attachments, made me seem less real to the people who worked for me. I regret the mask I wore and wish I would have been a little more vulnerable, or at least, honest.

When I tell my friends that things are bad, really bad, that I’m seeing a psychiatrist twice a week and taking Wellbutrin, I receive dozens of emails from people whom I least suspect, people whom I’ve known for years who suffer from depression or another form of mental illness. They tell me they’ve been there and they know exactly what I’m going through and that it gets better. They assure me it does even on the days when I can’t see my hand in front of my face it’s that dark. And then I ask why they never told me this, what they’ve gone through, some replied that I seemed so put together, so stoic, warm but at a remove, that they didn’t want to ripple the surface. Others said that their depression (or mental illness) is not something they offer up for a variety of reasons, one of which is stigma and fear of how others would perceive them. They trust me with their secrets and I want to write back and say I wish we wouldn’t have to lie, or tell secrets, or spend our lives presenting our edited selves to the world.

I wish I would have made my wounds visible sooner because I know some would be there at the ready with bandages. Perhaps I would’ve healed sooner.


I originally published this post on Medium

feeling bookish: when books are your greatest salve

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“What happens if you are so afraid that you finally cannot love anybody.’’ —James Baldwin

 

The thing about depression you’re always losing things even when the losses mount and you feel as if there couldn’t possibly be anything else left to lose. It’s a cruel thief that pilfers through your things in the night and leaves as swiftly as it came with everything that you hold dear. This week, a friend phones me from work and I can feel her sorrow over the line when she tells me that what I’ve been writing lately disturbs her–one post in particular that I’ve since deleted as it caused her, and a good deal of other people in my life, considerable anguish. She pleads with me to return to therapy and that if I were still in New York she would come from me. And I think of her arms as duvets swaddling me, and the first thing I thought was: I’m glad I’m here. It occurred to me then perhaps I purposely moved here to unravel out of the reach of those who love me. It’s a dark thought, but one that haunts me. I feel grateful for the unbelievable support my friends have given me in the past few weeks through calls, texts, emails and loans for therapy that I’m not able to afford on my own. This year has been a harrowing one, to say the least, but it’s taught me a great deal about friendship, kindness, patience and empathy. I haven’t been my best self and now I deeply understand what it feels like to lose your way but want so desperately to climb back. So I’m excited for the comeback tour and even if the road back will prove to be a difficult one.

Books have always been a comfort, a salve for anything that ailed me. When I was small, I read on my fire escape, imagining myself sprawled across the pages I was reading. For a time my surroundings gave way to the scenes and stories playing on in the stack of books I was making my way through and this kind of wandering, this loss, was a welcome one. Lately, reading has posed a challenge. I’ve started half a dozen books to only discard them. I tried to finish A Little Life and fell asleep–not any fault on the author, but rather my ability to shed my existing surroundings for a new one. Instead, I read articles–dozens of them, ever day–in fear of atrophying. Even though I am where I am now, I still want to learn. I continue to be a student.

Last week I came across a fascinating article about Pamela Moore, a writer I’d never heard of, but the tragedy of her and the power of her work has likened her to Sylvia Plath. Moore took her own life at the age of 26 but enjoyed a successful, albeit brief, career when her debut novel, written at 18, caused a sensation. Chocolates for Breakfast reminds me of The Bell Jar, but better. It’s a story of a privileged teenager’s sexual awakening–a precursor to Gossip Girl with the wealth and private parties and oceans of booze. Reading the story doesn’t feel dated even if it was written in the 50s because the rules of wealth, privilege, abandonment and being a teenager rarely change. It’s the first book I’ve been able to read in a long time–one that has managed to sustain my interest, and I’m grateful for these minor victories. Especially on days when I feel like I’m constantly failing.

What’s also made me smile is Heather Havrilesky, Ask Polly columnist, who is acerbic, funny, and unafraid to say fuck one too many times. I recently discovered her via Austin Kleon’s email list and streamed her recent Long Form Podcast interview while reading her hilarious essay on writing rituals and routines.

On a more sobering note, these two essays hit close to home. One ponders whether a girlfriend who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide should be considered his murderer, and a brave series penned by a woman who was formerly homeless and still penalized even though she’s doing everything to get her life back on track. And finally, an astute read on poverty and privilege amidst the smart set–an apt response to Claire Vaye Watkin’s excellent “On Pandering”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and class assumptions. Over the past few months, many people have said the words, “You would never be homeless. It’s just not possible.” Part of me wonders if it’s because I have the privilege of having a few friends who would take me in, lend me their homes, or is it because the assumption that a well-educated, moderately successful white woman (by all appearances, I’m white but I’m part African, Italian, Greek and Finish) couldn’t face peril. I read statistics that tell us the economy is doing better! Unemployment is at an all-time low. But then why am I reading hundreds of status updates and posts about people across race and class who are really struggling. People who made the same money now as when they graduated college, 20-30 years ago. Even my therapist asked about my project lull. I’d been consistently busy for nearly three years but I haven’t worked on a big project since October.

To which I respond, I have no idea.

 

what the market will bear: the long game of female friendships

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Hedge Fund (n): a limited partnership of investors that uses high-risk methods, such as investing with borrowed money, in hopes of realizing large capital gains.

How much risk are you willing to bear? Are you able to lay your hand on the table fully aware of the gamble you’re taking, cognizant of the fact that it is possible to leave with less than with what you started? Are you willing to engage in arbitrage — exploit your opponents when they’re at their weakest? Will your investors provide shelter through the most ferocious of storms, or will they find safe harbor, taking comfort in their abandonment while bearing witness to your public ruin? Are you comfortable in identifying that which is worthless and using that “junk” to yield financial gain? Can you build a life trading security? Can you weather what the market will bear? Are you comfortable calculating your worth based on what you’ve acquired and own? Will your partners stand beside you until the inevitable end?

When I was in college I became enamored with finance and its gameplay. The idea that a whole industry was devoted to partnership and risk appealed to me because the fundamental elements of finance reflected innate behaviors in human nature. We “short” friendships; we invest in that which is profitable and we fervently need to believe that we will come up solvent and prosperous in the end. We tether ourselves to the notion that if we make sound investments and take calculated risks, we’ll enjoy the inevitable returns. However, what happens when the market takes a fall that you hadn’t expected? What happens when your partner doesn’t hold up their end of the deal (think pyramid schemes, sociopathic traders and hedge fund charlatans), and you’re left in shambles, forced out of retirement or struggling to make ends meet? What happens when you play your boldest hand to then lose everything?

What happens when you arrive in the middle of your life with so much less than what you started with?

Lately, I find myself drawing correlations between playing the market and the ways in which we cleave to, and disconnect from, people. I find myself frustrated in friendship investments that consistently yield disappointing returns, friends who haven’t performed, risks that don’t fall in my favor.When it comes to relationships, I’ve placed equal, if not more, weight on my female friendships, echoing Rebecca Traister’s sentiment:

For many women, friends are our primary partners through life; they are the ones who move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses. Even for women who do marry, this is true at the beginning of our adult lives, and at the end — after divorce or the death of a spouse. — “What Women Find in Friends They May Not Get From Love”

In my twenties, I was thick in the business of accumulation — I wanted to know all of the people, all of the time. I had no strategy; I just wanted the masses. Most of my college friends left New York so I found myself cozying up to coworkers, neighbors, and fellow graduate students. I operated a high-volume business, ushering in a revolving door of female friends and acquaintances while trying to figure out my identity as an independent adult woman. I figured that I’d winnow down over time; I thought I would slowly build my tribe. I didn’t count on feeling depleted and stretched too thin as a result of investing in too many people instead of creating a thoughtful portfolio. I ended up with a phonebook filled with people who were willing to uncork the champagne when times were flush but couldn’t be counted on during the moments when I wallowed my way down a bottle of red wine. I woke at 30 feeling as if I knew a lot of people but didn’t really know anyone.

At the same time, something else shifted — we grew up. Everyone was getting married and busied themselves in the business of procreation. Suddenly, we couldn’t roll into work hungover because we couldn’t hide in our cubicles. We had accountability and responsibility. Our devices multiplied while our attention dwindled. We were everywhere but not present. Friend dates turned into CIA logistical operations with multiple calendars being juggled and people prioritized. No longer was I a player in the open market — I had to go private. I was forced to be surgical and strategic in focusing on the quality of my friendships and how/to whom I would allocate my time, which seemed to be dwindling with the passing of each day.

There is no time, became everyone’s anthem, always.

In my 30s, I was myopic when it came to female friendships. I devoted myself wholly to a small group of women who were brilliant, funny, ambitious, and kind. Most were married, few were single, and I tacitly accepted the fact that casual connections gave way to scheduled friend time.People became comfortable announcing that they could see me because their significant other had other plans for the evening, i.e. you’re my backup plan since my husband isn’t available. I accepted that the word “I” would be replaced with the word “we”, and that affinities, hobbies, and passions became a collective, coupled sport. I accepted that the only people with whom I could talk about being single were other single friends because most of my married friends had developed amnesia about what it was like to be uncoupled. I accepted, with chagrin, the emergence of the “single girl dinner” as a cute trope when it’s my everyday reality. I accepted that I’d been deprioritized — that I was the hobby, “fun-time” for my coupled friends. Briallen Hopper eloquently writes:

“Because single women often put friendship at the center of our lives, it can be hard for us to be friends with people who see friendship as peripheral, as many partnered people do. A close friend once told me that her priorities were her kid, her partner, her work, her friends, in that order, like suits in a deck of cards. In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. This was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships — plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life. Our friendship didn’t last.” — “Relying on a Friendship in World Made for Couples”

I accepted that I’d see some of my close friends less and less because they opted to befriend other mothers — complements to the lives and the struggles they endured, others who “understood” where they were at a specific time in their lives. Still, I invested heavily. I nurtured a married friend through her bought with depression and her desire to divorce the man she’d just married. I took the late-night calls and the last-minute lunches from friends who needed me. I was the wall that would never crumble; I was the friend everyone could count on.

Until I could count on no one. This became the moment when it registered that my decade-long fund — replete with the strategy and risks I was willing to bear — was underperforming.

This year is the worst I’ve ever known. I’m enduring immeasurable loss and intense sadness. My financial security remains uncertain, at best. And the people I believed I could count on became demonstrably silent. They were “busy”. They didn’t know “how to handle it”. They swooped in for a series of caring texts to then disappear for months at a time. Even when I made it clear that I didn’t need a therapist, that my expectations were minimal, the years I spent being patient and devoted haven’t been reciprocated. Everyone is quick to “like” my minor triumphs and “heart” my Instagram photos — passive interaction has become the default setting, the status quo. When I announced to one of my closest friends I was moving to Los Angeles, she ceased all communication. We’d been friends for nearly a decade and suddenly I was speaking to a ghost. I sent pleas via email, text and post and silence. When I sent an email to another close friend pleading for work because I was frightened of losing my apartment and defaulting on my loans, two weeks later I received the equivalent of a form letter response. I never expected to be saved or delivered a kingdom. I never anticipated that my friends would swoop in and solve my life because I’m an adult and that responsibility rests solely on my shoulders, but it would’ve been nice to have my friends shoulder me through the dark places I once carried them through. It would’ve been comforting to feel that the risks I so assiduously born would have been shared by others — even for a little while. It would have been wonderful to feel less alone.

Here I was, spending a decade avoiding risk, leveraging my heart in my portfolio, and laying all of my cards on the table only to come out empty. Only to feel that my years of investing wasn’t worth it at all. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe those years spent being a good friend without expecting anything in return to find I never received anything in return was a hand folded, a return I should’ve accepted. Maybe laying my heart on the table wasn’t the wisest hand I could’ve played, but I can’t help but think that I spent my adult life constructing the safest portfolio to discover that not everyone lingers for the long game, that as you grow older your world becomes too small for anyone to fit. And who expected this when you believed that friendship was the one partnership that didn’t need regulating? That those moments spent in the dark with the friends you loved would be forgotten, discarded, left for a savored, sweet memory? I spent years studying derivatives, all of the ways in which one could mitigate risk, and here I was, at 40, and completely alone. Bankrupt. A slew of bad investments lay before me.

When does it happen? How does one regard the love between two friends as a garment worth shedding? How do you tell someone that you love them but that love has been deprioritized? How do you handle learning that you’re a junk bond? A short-term investment folded for the long family game? How do you gracefully accept that no one will follow you gallantly into the dark when you were happy to serve as everyone’s usher?

I thought I was wise. I spent a decade building a tribe to find that tribe never existed. What happens then? What happens when you’re 40 and alone and all of your friends are toasting their own lives, shouldering their own sorrows? What becomes of you then? How do you move on?

What happens when you wake one morning and find the market shifting below your feet? How do you rebuild after the market you spent your life investing in collapses?

Photo Credit: Helen Sotiriadis

when your friend is sick, you make chicken soup

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My friend Amber is in town for a long weekend, and having her here has been a needed respite from the daily financial anxiety which is my life. We drove to a secluded beach in Malibu after we ordered piles of fish tacos and cheeseburgers, and walked along the shore in Santa Monica. Amber arrived with a scratch in her throat and in two days time found herself run down with a horrible cold. Yesterday we spent the day watching season one of The O.C., and talking, and it was honestly one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. At one point she admitted that she still can’t believe I live in Los Angeles. Yeah, I thought. Sometimes I can’t believe it either. But I’m here and I wake to seagulls and fall asleep to quiet and I’m hoping, praying (even though I’m atheist) that I won’t be forced to have it any other way.

While Amber made a makeshift home on the couch, I refused her requests for Panera soup in favor of making her something homemade because she’s been such a beautiful friend to me over the past few months when my life has been filled with omnipresent darkness, that fixing up a bowl of chicken noodle soup was the least I could do. I haven’t cooked meals that take longer than 20 minutes in some time, so it was nice to stand over the stove and linger. Even if it was skimming fat off the surface of the soup.

So we spent the day like that, she on the couch sipping soup and me in front of the stove inspired to make bolognese sauce. I’m sad that she’ll be leaving tomorrow because this reprieve has been wonderful.

After Monday, I’ll go back waiting for emails, waiting for work, hoping I won’t default on all my loans come April. Until then, there’s always soup.

INGREDIENTS
1 4lb whole chicken, try to get organic/local if you can
5 large carrots (I bought my carrots from the farmer’s market, and I tell you that buying local really did make a difference in the soup)
4 celery stalks
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 1/2 tsp of whole peppercorns
1 1lb of egg noodles
Salt/pepper, to season

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DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, add the chicken. Dice 3 of the carrots and 2 of the celery stalks into a 1-inch dice. Set the other carrots/celery aside. Add the three diced carrots, two diced stalks, quartered onion and peppercorns to the pot with the chicken. Add cold water until the chicken and vegetables are completely submerged. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, skimming the surface fat every ten minutes.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and set aside to cool. Strain the broth and add the vegetables and strained broth back into the pot. Add the egg noodles, bring to a boil, and cook for ten minutes.

Shred the chicken with two forks and add the meat to the cooked noodles and broth and serve immediately. Season with salt/pepper.

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