how do I monetize what’s left of my soul?

 

the shady blogging game

On a long enough timeline everyone has a strike price, or so it seems.  Few talk about the cruel irony of the online space–the anti-establishment becoming the establishment, and when they become the thing that they once sought refuge against, they try to convince you that this establishment is different. We’re creatures of order with selective memory, and what was once an idealistic rebellion becomes corporatized, systemized, anything-ized. After the dot.com crash of 2000 (I remember it well because I was one of many who lost their job when my dot.com blew through their VC money), we temporarily returned to the perceived safety of brick and mortar companies until a new generation cropped up, the crash being a distant memory, launching companies that were just as insane and overvalued as the ones that came before. But we’re different, they emphatically insisted. Not really. Maybe they have better haircuts? Fancier footwear? Hoodies?

In 2002, I launched an online literary journal because I was tired of seeing good writing routinely rejected by print publications because the writer wasn’t connected or had the means to attend an exclusive MFA program. Or perhaps the writer didn’t know X famous writer, attend Y reading series. The writer couldn’t work the room because they were denied access to the room’s address. I was tired of a limited few benefitting from privilege and access. Perhaps I was also rallying against my own disappointing experience at the Columbia MFA program, where I felt like a complete outsider.

Back then, no one took online lit mags seriously. Paper lent you legitimacy because who would go to AWP with a laptop? Aesthetically, few could compete with the grandeur of the print establishment with their glossy covers and bold-face contributors, and don’t even think that your work would be considered in any of Best American series let alone win prizes. But I kept on trucking. I invested my own money in a site redesign and ultimately succumbed to the paper peer pressure. I spent thousands of dollars because I loved what I did. Even on the days when I had to haul heavy boxes (slim books are surprisingly heavy when you’re moving a few hundred of them from a taxi up two flights of stairs) or I encountered a snobby writer (or forty) who thought my “little” publication was “adorable”, and sure they’ll deign to submit the story they torched in the trash bin because they’re charitable too. Never did I consider making money off my literary journal because I felt, perhaps too idealistically, that money would taint it as money tends to do. Money would drive editorial decisions. Money would force me to sit in a room with people I didn’t respect much less like because one has to work a room and be part of the scene in order to be taken seriously. Not relying on profitability allowed me to say fuck you, I’ll do my own thing over here whether you like me or it, or not. And then I stopped publishing the magazine because I didn’t love it like I used to, and I walked away and watched as a succession of others took its place. I watched online magazines gain the respect, credibility and authority they deserved. I saw online editors blurbing books and hosting conferences. Part of me was really happy, but a small, growing part of me was sad and it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered why.

I left three years of working in marketing at a major publishing company because I couldn’t stomach the business of writing. Editorial meetings would make me violently ill with talk of platform and reach trumping the quality of a writer’s work. As long as a book could sell, who cared about the contents of the pages? I witnessed talented friends tirelessly sending out manuscripts that would invariably get rejected while I sat in an editorial meeting pontificating our ceiling bid on the media darling of the moment. I’m not naive. I know publishing isn’t a non-profit, but as someone who writes for the sheer joy of it, it was hard for me to detangle the bitter taste from the business with the sweetness of the art. Some can and do it brilliantly; I couldn’t.

I then spent the best and worst four years of my career building a company that specialized in social media marketing. This was a time when social was relatively free. There existed no algorithms to game or pay-for-plays to consider. Social media was unchartered, messy, and I loved it. I loved experimenting in an era when people didn’t take what we did all that seriously. This was a time when sending someone product was good enough to secure a review.

Then something happened. So quickly I was nearly bowled over by it. Overnight, the people who were once content with receiving free product were commanding fees equivalent to a month of my income. Fees for a single photo or appearance. Fees for a return (qualitative or otherwise) of which we were uncertain. It was as if the industry moved from 0 to 90, bypassing a cruising speed. The industry shifted from slightly advantageous to grand larceny. Suddenly, I was dealing with agents who acted as if their clients were the modern day Linda Evangelista–refusing to wake up for less than $10,000 a day. And while I believe that people should be compensated well for their work, some of these fees were a laugh riot. I’d pass on proposals to my clients, to which they’d respond: you must be joking.

This was the new era when everyone was an expert and everyone was in the business of brand ME. This was the era when kids became props and sales vehicles, and some bloggers were duplicitous when it came to disclosure or even their true feelings about a product or brand. If I hear one more time: I’ve been using X product for Y months when they signed for the Fedex package yesterday, I’m going to scream. This was the era when several friends were shocked that I didn’t add affiliate links to the cookbooks I posted or for the books I read. Why would I do that? Just because there’s money to be made doesn’t mean I need to make it.

Lately, a lot of my friends who are trained and established in their fields are losing out to the flavors of the moment. They’re losing out to outfit bloggers who have 500K Instagram followers and LikeIttoKnowIt affiliate links that serve as permanent wallpaper on their sites. They’re losing out to bloggers who have little design experience, training, or point-of-view claiming they designed collections that we know they didn’t design. They’re losing out to “social media experts” who undercharge and overdeliver. “Marketers”, who don’t fundamentally understand basic marketing principles or the complexities of a business, are creating challenges and friction for everyone else in the field. Beware of anyone who calls themselves a “growth hacker”.

The establishment had a dam for a reason. No one wanted to drown in the event of a flood.

And while there are incredible writers and artists who’ve found audience and livelihood as a result of social media, most bloggers are pale photocopies of extraordinary originals. New bloggers immediately ask: How can I make money? When can I get free stuff? When can I get a book deal? Since publishing a book these days is as meaningful and disposable as a business card.

How do you explain that nothing is truly free and that making money comes at a cost and the result of hard work? I don’t dismiss the hard work of so many talented people online, but I question and challenge the sea-of-same which has become increasingly ubiquitous. The flood of beige drowning color. I worry when one blogger is completely indistinguishable from another, down to their peony bouquet and Old Navy comped clothing. And the business side of me, the one who has to pay rent and student loans, has to play into this to some degree (hence, why I can never give specifics or name names because I would actually like to pay off my debt while I am still alive) while the other side of me is washing the taste of all of it out of my mouth. Recently, I attempted to negotiate a deal on behalf of one of my clients for a cause campaign and the person on the other end of the correspondence wrote that the influencer could only write about a cause in the context of an outfit post. I paused and re-read the email several times, wondering if the person on the other end didn’t see this as incredibly inappropriate. Can no one take a day off from affiliate links to use their influence for something good? Must every post and moment somehow contribute to brand ME? Must everything bear a price tag? Are people lauded for weekly “coffee talk” posts because our bar for storytelling is set that low? Does that one slightly revelatory, yet highly edited, post elevate one’s perception of authenticity? Is faux-real the new real?

Behind the scenes, in texts and chats, many of us wonder when this bubble will burst. When the next wave of anti-establishment shakes down this Beige New Order, possibly normalizing it or at least alleviating the insanity of it. A time when my friends will actually get work again and not have to side-step those who have unfathomable fan counts. A time when people stop monetizing life’s real moments. A time when people will create for the sake of creating without thinking about ways in which it can be transactional. I don’t want to be sold to, indirectly or directly, every single day. I get enough of that from the world around me. Blogs used to be my refuge, but now most of them are walking advertisements. Maybe the voice is more conversational (although not really because brands are basically in the mimicry game of what’s working with influencers), but the message is still the same. Buy this because I’m obsessed with this thing this week until I become obsessed with that new thing next week. 

Tell me stories. Don’t sell me things.

 

freelance life + careers the gathering kind

grain-free sweet potato waffles

sweet potato waffles

Yesterday, I hit the pause button. I woke to see many of my friends arguing in a private online group about an article that had circulated overnight. I’m pretty desensitized (I mean, the first film I ever saw was The Shining at age 5), but when I clicked over to xojane to see what the kerfuffle was all about, I felt ill. I felt as if someone kicked me in the stomach and kept on kicking. A woman penned an essay (which has since been taken down, but I’ve heard a cached version still exists) essentially calling her “friend’s” (and I use that term loosely since they were clearly not friends) suicide a blessing. The woman continued to kick dirt over her friend’s face by slut-shaming her, airing unnecessary dirty laundry, and in the end, the woman is better off as a result of taking her own life. 

You let that sink a little. 

I messaged one of my friends with, this is a joke, right? Because what kind of heinous sociopath would so callously capitalize on a woman’s suicide? Imagine if the victim’s mother read this. Imagine if her friends read this. Imagine if people, who already believed their life would be better if it were snuffed out, read this as an affirmation of what they already believed. That their loved ones would be better off if they were no longer here even though decent human beings know that this is a cruel fiction. 

I read horrible things every day. Yesterday morning I read a man’s response to Oklahoma’s desire to make doctors who practice abortions illegal. Rape ’em, I say. Send them to Mexico and rape ’em because they deserve it for killing a baby. I read posts from people who eviscerate strangers. I read Adam Gopnik’s Trump piece and I close my eyes. I scroll through hundreds of Facebook posts where women practice a form of feminism that disturbs me–applaud women regardless of their actions. Ignore culpability and basic human decency because our role is one we must always assume. Smile and play nice. I thought: are you fucking kidding me? Feminism and sociopathy are mutually exclusive conversations.

The ugliness is ubiquitous and pungent, and it’s easy to feel as if you could so easily suffocate from it. 

But this essay put me on pause. It altered my day. I talked about it with a friend during lunch. I talked it about with a friend from NY on Facetime. I chatted with friends on Facebook messenger. I cried. A lot. And then I read this and this and thought thank goodness the world isn’t a complete and utter ruin. 

There were many times in my life when I contemplated taking my own life. I was very well near it months ago until the compassion of those whom I love was enough to make me get my life back on track. And I’m grateful every day for that. I’m grateful for being here. I’m grateful for psychiatry and Wellbutrin and people who don’t carry a stigma against mental illness.

The cruelest thing you could say to someone is: You’re not necessary. You don’t need to exist. You take up too much space.  

I could go about is this Trump’s America rising up and waving their bleached-white flag, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell everyone I know and love, regardless if they have a form of mental illness, that they deserve to exist. That it’s a gift that they’re here. I’ll remind myself that every single day is a gift, and that might sound trite or fatuous, but it is. 

I had plans this weekend but I cancelled them to stay in, read, work, lay low and quiet, and make food that gives me pleasure. Do the things that give me joy, and cooking is one of them. 

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, with slight modifications for my taste
1 small white sweet potato or 1 cup mashed sweet potato
3 large eggs, room temperature, whisked
4 tbsp maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 cup almond flour
1/3 tapioca flour/starch
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

sweet potato waffles

DIRECTIONS
You can be crazy and roast your sweet potato for 30-40 minutes at 425F. I mean, it’s your life, you can be all laissez-faire, however, if you crave sanity, put this bad boy in a bowl in a microwave for four minutes. Let the sweet potato cool to the touch. Peel off the skin, put it in a small bowl and with a fork, mash until smooth.

In a large bowl, mix in the eggs, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and coconut oil, and whisk until smooth.

Add the flours, baking soda/powder, and cinnamon and mix well. You might have lumps. It’s not that serious.

Heat up a waffle iron and add about 1/3 cup of the batter (I did not because I like big waffles and I cannot lie…) into the iron. Cook until crispy and golden brown on the outside. Set aside and repeat with the remaining batter. You’re supposed to get 6 waffles out of this recipe, but I got 3 and I have no regrets.

Serve with maple syrup. If you have leftovers, these waffles freeze really well.

sweet potato waffles

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pancake + breakfast recipes

the gift that distance (and life) brings

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, I sat in a coffee shop and wrote a story collection in two months. I remember arranging printed pages on my floor, growing increasingly disturbed by how swiftly the stories came. Writing for me always felt a bit like surgery–although ultimately rewarding, the creation process existed as a series of stops and starts, and the editing process always proved far more unrelenting. There were days when I’d read through a manuscript and press delete on whole chunks of it. First readers of my new novel were shocked to see hundreds of pages excised in subsequent drafts. I was merciless on what needed to be cut for the sake of telling a good story.

But these new stories were different–they were dark, acerbic, and they excited me in ways I couldn’t understand at first.The voices were clear and puncturing, bordering on a violent tone I hadn’t explored previously or perhaps felt too frightened to. The story collection, Women in Salt, was a loose re-telling of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a group of friends meditating on their friend’s suicide. I felt Salt was better than my second book, a novel that took me years to write and re-write. A novel that will be published nearly a decade after my first book–that’s how long it took me to find new characters on which to fixate.

When I write, I think about the characters for a long time before I even sit down in front of a computer. I originally conceived of the principle characters in my new novel, James and Gillian, when I attended Columbia’s graduate writing program. Fifteen years ago. I’m methodic when it comes to my characters and they’re nearly realized when I set out to write a story.

Not this time. Half the time I wrote these stories without thinking. The characters arrived, fully-formed, and they were filled with rage. And when I first sent this book to my agent his response was measured–I think perhaps he was surprised that I managed to write a story darker than what I had just written.

I set the book aside for months and yesterday I spent the day re-reading the stories. To say I was disturbed would be an understatement. Although I loved what I composed on the page, I had to put the book down at times because it was just so fucking bleak. And it occurred to me that what I had written was a mirror of my depression, a lifetime coping with a condition that had only recently been diagnosed and treated. For years, I never understood when people told me what I write is sometimes difficult to read. My characters, while interesting to read, were helpless, hopeless. I’d laugh, confused, because it wasn’t as dark as it could be. Actually, the fact that my main character in my novel could be described as Ted Bundy with a whisk was kind of funny.

What started as a 230-page manuscript is now down to 120 pages. And I sat on my couch, I sit in this cafe, wondering where to take this. I have a 120 good pages but what do I do with this? How do I dig them out from the graves I’d dug with corners pristine and neat?

When I started taking anti-depressents I had the worry that most people have–would I change? When people ask me how now is different than before, the only way I can explain it is that there’s this door that never opens. I can feel sad, I can cry, I can hurt, but I don’t spiral. I’m not able to return to that dark country I’d once considered home. It’s like standing in front of a door while you’re crying, knocking, and someone on the other side telling you there’s no vacancy. There’s no room for you here. Go back to where you’ve come. And without drink, with therapy, I’m able to deal with all the things that I’d spent a lifetime avoiding. I uncovered aspects of my character that made me wince. There’s a reason for me being difficult but I can’t go on using it as an excuse. That’s the work I do, every day, and it’s hard.

And it’s hard to explain that while I’m in a much better place that I sometimes miss access to that place. I can write those 120 pages over but it would be different. I would be writing from beyond the place not in it. It would be seeing the dark from a distance rather than having it rise up all around you.

I don’t know how to write about the space I occupy–a place that temporarily exists between before and later on. It’s unfamiliar and requires a whole new vocabulary. Being here feels like a new language I have to learn and here’s me stuttering, messing up the verb tenses and conjunctions. Here’s me feeling my way around new words and being surrounded by kind people who help me with its pronounciation. That’s what three months back on track feels like.

So I wait, I guess. I wait until I can stop staring at a blank page, not knowing what to say and how to say it. I focus on getting better.

book buff depression

the grain-free granola you need in your life

Grain-free granola

This post was a series of starts and stops. It was a stutter that got silenced, a long note that ended up being deleted, and I’m finding it challenging to translate my offline life to my online one. Yesterday, I bumped into a friend and she told me I had this glow. I shrugged it off, made a flippant joke about being on anti-depressants, and she said that what she’s seeing is so much more than a pill at work. It’s more like a life well-lived, and I’m inclined to agree.

I’m really good at settling into dark spaces and sitting uncomfortably in them. The dark is familiar territory to me, a terrain I’ve devoted my life to navigating. Fancy publishers have remarked on my talent and skill as a writer, but her work is so relentlessly dark. For a time, this baffled me because when your life is reduced to night vision you can’t fathom people who complain about not being able to see their hand in front of their face. I can see just fine, you think, and you never consider that the dark has its own capacity to be blinding.

I spent most of my days at work. Working on client projects and working on myself. On paper, my days are seemingly unremarkable but they are because I don’t feel the way I did three months ago. I don’t sleepwalk through my days. There exist a calm and a centeredness I hadn’t felt previously, and I’m finding it hard to write about this in a way that doesn’t seem trite or fatuous. Maybe it’s best to simply live through it and write as plainly and simply as I can. Forget about advancing the plot or language.

When you’re writing a book, it’s a given that the first draft will be garbage. It’s the kind of work you don’t show anyone, and you spend what might seem like forever cleaning up the mess you’ve made. And in that cleaning, in that work, the story will invariably emerge. Just keep at it. Keep doing the work.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Nourish
1/4 cup (50g) raw coconut oil
1/3 cup (80m) honey
1/3 cup (85ml) maple syrup
2 cups (200g) coconut flakes
1 cup (115g) almonds, very roughly chopped (I used cashews, as that was what I had on hand)
3/4 cup (80g) sunflower seeds
1/2 cup (80g) pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon rosewater (I didn’t have this on hand)
1 1/2 cups (200g) dried apricots, roughly chopped (I used mixed dried berries instead)
2 tbsp hemp seeds
2-3 tbsp dried rose petals (who has this?)

grain-free granola

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 325F (170°C/gas mark 3) and line 1 deep-sided baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the coconut oil, honey and maple syrup in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble and simmer, then turn off the heat.

Combine the coconut chips, pistachio nuts, dried fruit, hemp seeds, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a largish bowl. Add the honey mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. There should be enough of the honey mixture to lightly coat all the dry mix, but if you feel there is not enough just add more honey mix using equal amounts of melted honey and coconut oil.

Spread the mixture onto the lined baking tray, making a layer that isn’t too deep, otherwise, it won’t all crisp up. Bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 3-4 minutes so that all the mix turns a lovely golden color and doesn’t burn, which it can do easily due to the coconut. I actually cranked up the heat to 350F five minutes before I took it out of the oven. Remove from the oven, allow it to cool for ten minutes then sprinkle over the rosewater if you’re using it. Lastly, stir through the petals if that’s your life.

grain-free granola

gluten-free

herbivore botanicals

Herbivore botanicals

Let me preface this review by saying you can probably get these products at Whole Foods (minus the wallet cleanse) or you can make them if DIY is your bag. Got sugar, oil, and fragrance? Boom–there’s your scrub. I’ve no patience for making anything other than a meal, and I admittedly get seduced by the tranquility beautifully packaged and fragrant bath products bring (a marketer duped by other marketers), so here I am with body polishes and jasmine oils.

I need to also share that the number of blogs I read for personal pleasure can be counted on one hand. For work? Different story, different post. However, I’ve gotten burned so many times by people who promoted products without actually trying them. Roundups baffle me–have you actually felt the fabric/tried the fit of that dress or were you more fixated on the affiliate income that Shopbop link yields? Have you used a skincare product for six weeks or are you telling people that this product is one which you’ve used forever, forever being a few months from the last time you talked about your forever mainstay products? And so on. My bounty would arrive in the mail at the behest of a “trusted” blogger’s recommend and invariably I’d do that twitchy thing I do with my face, roll my eyes, say, this is shit, and bicker with a retailer over their return policy. I’m STILL angry about my Chicwish purchase and how I had to PAY to return a garbage product.

Now, I text a few of my friends who are bloggers (or just normal, non-incentivized people) and ask them what they think of a certain product. Do they love it? Does it work? Is it worth spending their hard-earned $? And if they’ve received the product for free, would this be something they would buy in the future? I text’d my friend Amber who’s a beauty writer and blogger about Vintner’s Daughter. Is this serum worth $180? To which she responded, hell no. It’s an oil marketed as a serum. That’s it. You can get the same product somewhere else for a fraction of the cost. Yet every magazine editor nearly labeled this “serum” the second coming. It was life-changing and insert more bullshit adjectives. There I go again, getting deceived by the promise of seemingly poreless skin at 40.

There I go again, getting deceived by the promise of seemingly poreless skin at 40.

Paranthetical: Granted, I know a lot of bloggers are legit–I’ve just gotten burned by too many shilling to make the effort to place my trust (and income) in the hands of another set of bloggers all over again.

I heard about Herbivore Botanicals from magazines, bloggers I sort of trusted, and Instagram. Everyone prattled on about its austere and luxe packaging (glass with a white label–maybe I’m missing the revolutionary part?), yet NO ONE had actually tried these products possibly because they served their purpose as a “like-worthy” Instagram photo. I queried my usual suspects via text and everyone had “heard good things” but no one I loved actually bought the products. I read an interview with the founders and I’m reminded of Kinfolk. Consumer Affairs calls the formulation legit. And this review felt the most honest. I also found this YouTuber and loved her vibe. Check out her natural skin-care routine (she made her own toner, people).

So I closed my eyes, bought it, and hoped for the best.

I purchased the Jasmine Body Oil and the Coco Rose Body Polish + received the products the other day and while I was annoyed with the wasteful packaging (see above photo), I was delighted my products arrived in-tact.

Although the scrub smells nothing like roses (more like coconut mixed with something that doesn’t smell like a rose), I loved the feel, the granules that exfoliated my skin in the shower (it wasn’t harsh or abrasive) and the oils that kept it soft after. The product works but I’m not that keen on the smell so I don’t think I’d buy it again. But that jasmine oil. Oh, dear god this is a keeper. How do I explain this? The oil smells and feels pure. I don’t get a synthetic floral/alcohol smell, rather, I get unadulterated fragrance and oils that set in my skin pretty quickly and my skin immediately felt soft, not greasy. I love!!! this product. This is definitely a keeper. A lot of people have proclaimed that a little goes a long way. Hmm… I’m not so sure of that unless you use this right out of the shower while your skin is still damp. The jasmine scent doesn’t last the day, but my skin is still soft–a plus. Would I purchase this again? YES. Do I know that I can probably get this product somewhere else for a fraction of the cost? ABSOLUTELY. However, if you want an oil that’s potent and efficacious and you crave the feel of luxury/indulgence (e.g. Friday night bath routine, etc.), then I’d recommend this product.

If you’re into the natural beauty game, drop me a line in the comments re: products that you’re using that work.

style

the benefits of reciprocal mentorship: be good to the kids, you need them

Untitled

There’s a reason for the peonies, I assure you.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was kind of an asshole. It was 2009, and I’d just accepted a role in an agency after a career on the brand side, a career dominated by companies that recycled old ideas and were frightened of progress, so much so that the state of stagnation had become tragically ubiquitous. I wanted velocity and risk after years of being methodic and measured. Up until 2009 it had been rare for me to work with people who were younger than me unless they were interns or assistants. Most of my coworkers were older and their most beloved word was no. As in, no, this can’t be done. As in, no, who else has done it, first? As in, no, we’ve always done it this way, so why try something new? It became such that I wanted to staple things to their heads and bang my head against my desk while pleading for progress.

After a career of being the youngest person in the room, I was excited about being one of the OLDS. I was proud of my tenure and believed I had a thing or two to teach the youngsters who’d taken up residence on my lawn. Little did I know that after a career working for people who believed that one spent decades paying their dues, and junior employees didn’t speak until spoken to, that I would adopt this dangerous way of thinking. I’d come to this new role with a five-piece luggage set of baggage. While I was initially excited to work with kids in their 20s, I quickly became astonished. Are you telling me you want a pay raise and a title change after 2 years while I waited FIVE YEARS to be promoted to manager? How do you not see the benefits of slaving over excel sheets and doing those staid, repetitive tasks because I had to endure daily paper cuts filing papers in cabinets back when one used paper–a time when everyone used a fax machine.

You want purpose, mentorship, and a clear path for advancement? Surely, you jest.

For a time, I grumbled with the OLDS I once admonished. Who do these kids think they are? They’re in diapers and they want to run companies and enjoy their work? My generation never enjoyed their work, rather we were told that work afforded you money for the life you were supposed to have: kids, the car, the house and the fence–all aging remnants, an eyesore from a generation where women swallowed voice and served frozen dinners to the men who came home from the office secretly frightened that the best they could ever be was second-rate. I never wanted that life and here I was clinging to it. Here I was telling people who wanted progress! change! to swallow their voice. To speak unless spoken to.

It took a few years to undo the damage inflicted by my previous generation, and when I left the fancy job it occurred to me that I had much to learn from those who were younger than me. Never would anyone in my generation leave a good job for uncertainty. We would never be consultants. We would never pursue a life of purpose and professional fulfillment. We took what was given and swallowed our medicine with tepid glee, like the good children we were raised to be.

Why not design a life you want to live since we have so few years in this life to live? Why not buck complacency? Why not question that which has always been done? Why not view failure as a means of inevitable success?

Now, the great majority of my friends are under 30. And I’ve so much to learn. When I first left my job years ago and considered going back to full-time, a friend suggested that I stay the course and go out on my own. What’s the worse that can happen? You try and fail? So then you know. A few weeks ago, my friend Jenna gave me a refresher course on the more sophisticated ways one could target consumers on Facebook. She spent an hour of her time on Skype answering all my dumb questions. My other friend Jennifer, an insanely smart and passionate marketer who once reported to me, patiently showed me how to use Snapchat. This may all seem small, insignificant, but I owe much of my success to the fact that I’m humble enough to learn what I do know. I’ve become smart enough to see the value in reciprocal mentorship, the hey, I’ll teach you how to lead teams and grow a business and you’ll explain every nuance of every new technology and how people are shopping today. You’ll inspire me to want more, to question everything and think differently. This is what has kept me fresh and competitive while some of my peers continue to struggle.

I really hate the sound of my own voice. 

For every project I take on, I usually partner with a subcontractor, and it’s rarely a peer. Granted, I’ll punt things with one of my two mentors. I’ll gut-check a strategy or an approach with those who’ve done what I’m trying to do before and have done it successfully. However, I have SO MUCH FUN with smart people who are younger than me. I’m working with my friend Jennifer on a beauty project and we spend a few hours each Friday (or Saturday) brainstorming ideas, staging photo shoots (like the peonies business above), and talking about trends, and I always leave those afternoons smarter and inspired.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past five years, it’s this: be good to people. Not because you never know if they’ll be your boss, client, or a decision maker, but because you should want to be a good human. Being humble and receptive to learning from the younger set has made me smarter, kind and patient, and nearly all of my projects this year have come as a result of referrals from my millennial friends.

I loathe the word expert because I firmly believe that one is constantly a student and a teacher. We always have more to learn, and the more you open yourself up to alternative sources of knowledge, the more you grow professionally and personally.

And you end up taking really nice snaps of your client’s product for social media. So there’s that.

freelance life + careers

I’ve got a brand new look + vegan chocolate mousse!

Chocolate mousse

You might have noticed I’ve done a little sprucing around these parts. Well, that’s actually a lie–my dear friend Lorissa Shepstone (psst. hire her!) did all the heavy lifting while I sent emails asking if we can make the link color blue and could you remove that film in the header photo because it’s driving me bonkers–that kind of nonsense. I’ve known Lorissa since 2002, and she designed and built author sites when I worked in book publishing, and she’s my go-to designer/developer for all my client work not simply because she’s talented, but because she’s kind. She cares about her work and it shows. While this site was down for a couple of days, she panicked, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, it’s not that serious. I love what she’s done with this space and I feel this spring cleaning is a minor prelude to some of the big overhauls on the horizon.

If you’re one of the five people wondering why I made the change, I could share any number of reasons but mainly I wanted a change. I grew tired of the inflexible WP.com platform and wanted all the bells and whistles of WP.org. I craved something simple, warm, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t have to click to read more because that irritates the fuck out of me. I’m not here for page views.

More importantly, I’m thinking ahead and considering the bigger picture. I’ve got plans to build a separate site under my own name, which will focus more on my work (writing books + composing marketing plans–all under a storytelling arc) — a virtual shingle to hang my hat if you will. I’m thinking about how I can merge two seemingly disparate worlds–marketing + business with writing fiction–and it occurs to me that both worlds rely on a certain level of suspension of disbelief. People will always cleave to a good story.

pasta salad

Last night, I invited a friend and her husband and daughter over for dinner, and it occurred to me that I’ve entertained more in Los Angeles in one month than the whole of my last year in New York. I no longer feel the need to recede, to hole up in my home as a form of escape from everything that lies on the other side of my front door. Call it space, clarity, or the right dosage of anti-depressants, but I feel present and focused in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. When a check I direly need to pay my rent arrived two weeks late (thus making me two weeks late in paying my rent), I didn’t freak out like I normally would–I knew the money was coming and what would I achieve about freaking out over that which I can’t control. Nothing. Over the next six months, I plan to work a lot (and consult with a debt counselor) because I really would love to feel what it’s like to not have debt. I want to be at the financial place I was before I moved to Los Angeles with the calm I occupy now. Granted, achieving this balance requires a lot of work and humility, but it’s worth the stretch.

I had planned to make my friends a homemade pizza, but the dough fell on the floor and then the cat decided he needed a new toy, and I subsequently found myself back at the market, covered in flour. Instead of pizza, I took all the ingredients and transformed it into a spicy pasta dish (basil walnut pesto coupled with chorizo and sliced pepperoni). My starter was a kale and baby arugula salad topped with sliced fresh apricots and blueberries dressed in a honey-shallot vinaigrette.

After talk of politics, books and rape culture (good times, good times), I served up this chocolate mousse, which wowed the crowd. My friend’s daughter wiped her ramekin clean and my friend’s husband was pleasantly surprised by the avocado, which he couldn’t detect. Frankly, this was the highlight of the meal. I’ve made vegan chocolate mousse before, but this version is more substantial–more pudding than whipped mousse, more nuanced in flavor (the almond butter helps balance out the avocado taste)–and it was such a hit that I plan on adding this to my dinner party dessert repertoire since everyone is allergic to something these days.

If you LOVE chocolate and want a little protein in your life, make this mousse. It’s THAT GOOD. Hope you enjoy the recipe and my new digs.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
2 tablespoons almond butter
Sea salt
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla powder or vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup brown rice syrup 1⁄4 cup maple syrup
1⁄4 cup raw cacao or unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1⁄4 cup almond milk
1⁄4 teaspoon liquid stevia (I didn’t use this because I didn’t have it, and the recipe turned out fine)
2 tablespoons coconut oil (this doesn’t need to be melted)

DIRECTIONS
In a blender or food processor, combine the avocado, almond butter, a large pinch of salt, vanilla powder, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, cacao, almond milk, stevia, and coconut oil and blend for 2 minutes, or until very smooth.

Divide among four ramekins; cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

dairy-free recipes gluten-free pudding recipes

black bean taquitos with black bean guacamole + some thoughts on the big gooper's latest cookbook

chicken taquitos

There’s something about Gwyneth Paltrow that reminds me of dissecting earthworms in the 11th grade. The innards are gruesome to look at, but you can’t seem to turn away. In fact, you’re compelled to dive right in. Or maybe this is just the part of me who secretly wishes she had the drive and competency to be a surgeon finding its way into a blog post. There’s so much about Paltrow that’s worthy of ridicule: the patrician insouciance, the lithe frame, the pizza oven in her backyard, the unconscious coupling nonsense, the bad acting, the why-is-she-famous-while-Winona-stews-in-obscurity questions, Contagion, our laughter during Contagion–the jokes write themselves, so much so that it’s almost too easy. I unsubscribed to Goop two years ago because I couldn’t read her newsletter without wanting to take a shower afterward it was so banal, basic and out-of-touch. Paltrow-bashing, for most, has become a pastime sport.

But those fucking cookbooks.

Mostly I tell people that I like Julia Turshen’s (Gwyneth’s former collaborator) cookbooks. When I had to abstain from gluten, dairy, yeast (gluten-free bread was verboten FOR A YEAR), and 37 million other foods, Paltrow’s It’s All Good was a gentle reprieve. That and the Oh She Glows Cookbook whispered: you’re not going to die, face-down, in a bowl of gluten-free pasta. Not yet, anyway. Finally, I regarded cauliflower with a reaction that no longer resembled disgust.

Yet, I read her cookbooks with a perpetual side-eye. From the Kinfolk-esque photographs of her dreamily staring off into her multi-million landscape that breeds that “simple life” and the endless name-dropping (we get it, you’re besties with Beyonce) to a pantry that costs multiple paychecks to stock, it’s hard not to drop-kick her cookbooks while eating the delicious meals I made as a result of said cookbooks. It’s really hard.

I’ll be honest–I was looking forward to It’s All Easy because I wanted simple, healthy recipes that I could make at home on the days I have back-to-back conference calls and Powerpoint has me seeing double. But then I got the cookbook and sighed because, oh, it’s her interpretation of easy. Easy for the patricians, but rough for the plebeian-crunching lot. I cook often and have a pimped-out pantry, but some of the ingredients had me doing a double-take: who has Gochujang paste, Ponzu, Sambal oelek, kuzu root, and Bonito flakes on hand? I don’t even know what these ingredients are (although I’m clearly curious) much less have confidence that my local grocery will have them in stock. The point-of-view is curious–a mish-mosh of Tex-Mex, Korean, and vegan fare–to the point where the book felt a bit ramshackle even if the most of the recipes score well in terms of ease and flavor.  I paged through the book, read through her insufferable name-dropping and did that squinty thing I do with my eyes when I’m confused.

But some of the recipes (at least the ones with ingredients that were easy to procure) are pretty good. I’ve made her falafel (I did the chickpea soak thing and I am DONE with peeling shells), chicken salad, acai bowl, and eggs, and so far, so good. But still. I was disappointed with her follow-up to It’s All Good simply because these recipes aren’t easy, aren’t meals you can wrap up and store for later. However, if you love Goop, love Gwen, love this Kinfolk aesthetic, live your life and fawn over this cookbook.

These taquitos were really tasty. I changed her recipe a bit for my spice and flavor level, and they ended up being DELICIOUS. I have leftovers in the fridge, and I’ll update this post if they’re crap upon re-heating.

INGREDIENTS: Taquito recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Easy, modified. Of note, I like this cookbook but it’s kind of comical to call it “easy”. I quite liked the spot-on L.A. Times review, and this recipe road-test was hilarious. // Guacamole recipe is my own
For the taquitos: This recipe serves 4
1 package of corn tortillas
1 15oz can of black beans, drained + rinsed, reserve 2 tbsp of the beans
1 cup Mexican cheese blend
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp chipotle chili flakes
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt, for seasoning

For the guacamole
1 ripe avocado
juice + zest of one lime
1/2 tsp chipotle chili flakes
1 tsp onion powder
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt/pepper to taste
Reserve 2 tbsp of black beans

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F, and grease a baking dish or baking sheet. Set aside.

Mix all of the ingredients for the taquitos in a large bowl. On medium/high heat, add 1 tbsp of olive oil to a small, non-stick pan. Add one tortilla at a time, and cook for 30 seconds on each side. Once the tortilla is cooked, quickly transfer it to a plate. Add 2-3 tbsp of the taquito mixture. Wrap tightly, tucking in the mixture as you wrap, and place the filled taquito, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining 7 tortillas. Midway through the process, I had to add another tablespoon of oil to avoid smoking out my apartment.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the taquitos are cooking, mix all the ingredients for the guacamole. I like my guac smooth, not chunky, so I really get in there with the fork. Stir in the beans so as to not break them.

Once the taquitos are out of the oven, let them rest for 1-2 minutes. I love stuffing the guac inside the taquito like it’s a little cannoli. Chow down and serve with arugula or your favorite mixed greens.

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chicken taquitos
chicken taquitos

cookbooks gluten-free vegetable recipes

life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

I was once part of a turtle rescue in Prospect Park. It was a Friday and I walked the length of the park when I encountered a large turtle crossing the bike pathway, making its way to the street. Right before the encounter, I saw a man shove another turtle in a bag and I shouted at him as he walked out of the park. All of this was odd–the man in a cloth hat, a random turtle in Brooklyn–and I paused, unsure of what to do. As luck would have it, a woman riding her bike stopped and told me that she’d just a job at an animal reserve, and we stood as she tried calling her boss to find out what we should do with said turtle. For an hour, we guarded the creature amidst catcalls from boys on bikes and strange looks from passersby. Finally, the woman got through to her boss and promised she would foster the turtle for the night until proper arrangements could be made. The woman and I exchanged numbers and she walked, turtle in tow, back to her Coney Island apartment.

I followed up with the woman on the bike and she sent me photos of the turtle at the reserve. Safe. Seemingly happy.

I love animals, irrationally so. My pop and I used to joke that we preferred animals over people because animals don’t know artifice–they’re primal in their wants and honest about their affection. I’ve always had a pet, cats mostly, and I regarded every one of them as part of my family. Long-time readers know how devasted I was when I lost my Sophie in 2013. Even though she paw-swatted, hissed and had her way with my carbs, I adored her. At the time, I couldn’t fathom having another pet, and then I met Felix, my sweet boy, and I often joke that he’s a dog in a catsuit. Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting him a companion. The shelter, from where I adopted Felix, warned me not to get another cat because Felix experienced early trauma in a multi-cat household and became an alpha feline. I couldn’t imagine Felix hurting anyone (he doesn’t even hiss!) until a dog entered our home (long story), frantic, and Felix made sounds I never conceived he could make. Recently, I’ve been talking to local shelters and animal behaviorists, and it is possible to introduce a new pet, but the integration would have to be mindful, slow and it’ll require a great deal of my time. I’m saving $ for a money to a small home where I could have a little yard so that Felix would roll around in the grass (#goals, etc), and I’ve been thinking about adopting a young dog.

So when my friend Alexis text’d me with a photo of a puppy pile and a message that she was fostering 7 pups and one mom until Sunday, I replied back, inviting myself over. Alexis is this incredible human, and she’s been working with Social Tees NYC, an animal rescue, to foster dogs–even from Los Angeles! If you’re one of my unlucky followers on Instagram or Snapchat (I’m @felsull!), I spammed you with an endless stream of puppy videos, because when you’re with cuteness for three hours you tend to cuddle with one hand and snap photos with the other.  I actually fell for the mother, a pup with fox ears and a mean little strut, and I told Alexis that I would be interested in adopting her when she’s ready to be weened from her pups in three months time. And even if I don’t get this pup, at least I’ll have time to research how to acclimate Felix with a new friend without him going on rein of terror. (Any thoughts/advice are welcome)

I’m still baffled that these pups were in a kill shelter. They’re so sweet and beautiful and if you don’t fall in love after feeling their small hearts beat in your hand, you’re the worst kind of animal.

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I arrived in California, fit and healthy, and over the course of seven months, all of my hard work from the past year went asunder. I ate baguettes slathered in butter. I ordered personal pizzas on the regular. Cheese became my primary food group. A bottle of wine a day was par for the course. And then I went into therapy, got on meds, regained my sanity, got off the sauce, re-entered the world, scored two amazing projects, and decided to get my health back on track. After enduring a skin blitzkrieg (raised burning hives, anyone?) and a skin reaction that followed as a result of the medication to alleviate the hives, I made some rapid changes in my diet and life. I nixed gluten and dairy from my life (although I do have small amounts of cheese a week), I resumed blitzing my morning protein smoothie, replaced all my household cleaning products and skin products with ingredients I could read. Greens resumed their role as the headliner rather than the backup dancer on my plate, and I’ve returned to my meditation and exercise practices. Again, this is not about being skinny or depriving myself of food, this is about making it to 90 (isn’t this woman INCREDIBLE?) and still be spunky and aware, and have the ability to punch people in the face if I needed to. So I’m returning to healthy eats and I’ll be sharing recipes on this space.

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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california living smoothie recipes

don't be funny about asking for money: I'm answering your questions

freelance money questions resolved

Years ago, ages it seems, I had a job where I had a great deal of control over how much people were paid. I conducted performance reviews, sat in on budget meetings, and fought for comp increases for valuable employees. Even though money in and of itself isn’t the only way to retain employees, it doesn’t hurt to recognize and reward hard work. However, what I started to notice was that the talented women on my team weren’t raising their hand and asking for what I thought they deserved. Their anxiety in broaching the question of title changes and quarterly increases was palpable and I remember at the end of one review me saying, that’s it? That’s all you’re going to ask for? From then on, I made a point of mentoring women to fight for what they deserved. It seems counterintuitive, right? Companies want to keep costs down (especially salary + benefits), and here I was teaching my team how to ask for more. However, it was important to me because only one person in my career taught me how to fight for myself. He taught me to ASK for what was my due. My mentor coached me on salary and benefit negotiations (and contract negotiations, in general). From him I learned about BATNA, and more importantly, I learned how to be assertive and bet on myself. Because, quite honestly, in enrages me that men–when acumen and experience are leveled–make more money than I do.

After my recent Great Depression, I made it my mission to give the people I care about more of the kindness I’d received during those dark months. I passed around resumes, reviewed Statements of Work, and even though I’m not a lawyer I explained the importance of IP and indemnification. I told several of my friends they were underpricing themselves, that they should ask for 50% of the project fee, up front, that they should bill project with an hourly cap because hourly doesn’t always cut it especially for those who have tenure and years of experience.

I scanned Facebook group posts where women were trepidatious when it came to asking for more. After sharing one of my contracts with a few of my friends for reference, it put me to thinking that it behooves all of us to share information and be helpful where we can. It behooves us to price right for the work we do so that we don’t get taken advantage of.

So…I’m here to help. Here’s what I know:

  • How to create air-tight Statements of Work/MSAs (Master Service Agreements)
  • How to price for marketing and writing projects
  • When to use hourly vs. project fee
  • How to negotiate (I’m pretty ruthless)
  • How/when to renegotiate and ask for more

If you have any questions related to the above, drop them in the comments (you can leave a comment anonymously), and I’ll do my best to answer all of them in an upcoming post (or point you to the right resources), and if you see questions and you think you can help, chime in!

Meanwhile, here are some great resources:

 

freelance life + careers