30 Sep 2018

what I’ve been reading lately

VOX by Christina Dalcher: Imagine a world, a life, where you’ve been allotted 100 words a day. For context, humans average around 16,000 a day. A Fitbit-like tracker is affixed to your wrist and should you go over 100 words, you’re shocked. Surveillance cameras monitor for non-verbal communication. The voltage increases with every additional word. Imagine a 2.0 tracker that awards you “double damage” for cursing. In the 1980s, Margaret Atwood wrote a remarkable, possibly prescient book about the vision of far-right conservatives coming to pass–The Handmaids Tale. Christina Dalcher’s Vox is a worthy addition to the canon outlining our worst nightmare (or at least mine): a world dominated by the Christian right where women’s voices and rights–regardless of age–have been straight-jacketed.

Women don’t work, read, or write. Instead, they manage the home, keep up on their Stepford-like beauty routines, wear “Pure” pins declaring their support of the regime, and lay silently beneath their husbands during sex. Six-year-old girls compete for prizes on who can say the fewest words over the course of the day. And this society presses on until the president’s brother experiences a mysterious accident and Dr. Jean McClellan, a cognitive linguist specializing in Wernicke’s is given a reprieve to develop a cure. However, she soon learns the reality is far more insidious and horrifying than she could imagine, and she’ll do anything to save herself and her young daughter. I devoured this book in a matter of hours. The pacing is fantastic, the characters nuanced and complicated, and the ending is wholly satisfying. Check out this excellent WaPo review.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish: My friend Jenna posted on Instagram that she was giving away books and I quickly snatched up Haddish’s HILARIOUS memoir and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I am SO GLAD I did. In a collection of essays that range from her rough upbringing in L.A.’s South Central, including a mother who suffered from psychotic schizophrenia after a car accident, a father who maybe confessed to causing the accident, and a grandmother who tossed her out when she was 18 to her rise in comedy–and all the crazy jobs, relationships (including an abusive marriage) and bullshit misogyny she had to endure along the way.

Haddish has such a unique and arcane ability to find humor and light even in the darkest of places. I loved her voice (you can tell she wrote this, not some wack ghostwriter) and the fact that she lays her flaws out to bear because, like all of us, she’s a work-in-progress. If you’re looking for a great laugh and a lot of hope, definitely check out Haddish’s memoir. As the kids say, I STAN.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gaily Honeyman: Another gem of a find, Honeyman’s debut ranks as one of my top five favorite novels of the year and I have read A LOT of books (I’m up to 65, I think). Before I get into the plot, I was genuinely confused by the slew of reviews that called this book funny and breezy–including the jacket blurb from Reese Witherspoon. Maybe I’m getting soft at 42, but this book was not breezy.

While Eleanor Oliphant’s voice is wry, caustic, and funny–it’s mostly based on our perception of it. It’s sort of like someone who has Aspberger’s where there’s a disconnect between perceived and actual social behavior. They don’t know they’re being construed as socially awkward. While Oliphant hasn’t been diagnosed, per se, a history of severe abuse at the hands of a narcissistic sociopathic mother and being reared by the state as a result, combined with a reclusive life where her social interactions are limited to awkward work encounters and buying bottles of vodka from her Tesco cashier so she can binge-drink alone on the weekends, Eleanor isn’t like everyone else.

In a sense, Eleanor is uncomfortably comfortable, self-medicating her way through a lonely, isolated life until she meets Raymond, the bumbling unhygienic IT guy. After a random accident, the two–much to Eleanor’s chagrin–are thrust together, and soon she realizes that she’s worthy of love and a good life if she lets people in. I felt Eleanor’s loneliness so acutely, so painfully, and the journey from her very controlled world to one of freedom and self-actualization is a remarkable one. While I don’t consider this book funny by any stretch of the imagination, it’s incredibly hopeful.

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger: My reading preferences have completely changed over the past three years. I used to love reading experimental fiction–now I can’t stand it. I hardly read thrillers and now I can’t get enough of them. And The Banker’s Wife was totally satisfying. Remember The Firm? Well, switch out lawyers for international financiers and you have a story of a powerful bank that has some shady dealings (think terrorists, bad guys, CEOs, etc.) and will stop at nothing to eliminate leaks and informers.

You have the dueling narratives of two women out of sorts–Annabelle Werner, ex-pat in Geneva, who’s just learned that her husband has died in a fatal plane crash in the Alps and Marina Tourneau, a former investigative journalist who’s marrying into one of New York’s elite political families. She’s giving up her taste for hot stories until her boss ends up dead, she receives a flash drive with some pretty incriminating information. Annabelle doesn’t buy the plane crash and starts digging. Marina is also on her own excavation and the two narratives weave their way to the truth. The book goes the way you’d expect with a few surprising moments, but it was still a terrific, fast read. I’ve also become oddly obsessed with Nordic countries and Switzerland so I loved diving into a world so far removed from the U.S.

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward: My god, this book was like holding black diamonds in your hand. Every word, scene, and image was pure magic and something of beauty. I’m in awe of how Jesmyn Ward invites you so intimately into the worlds she creates and you feel so connected to them even if their life is completely foreign to you. Her 2012 novel is a Katrina story, and we meet a close-knit family, who, over the course of a week, unravels in the wake of the coming storm. Fourteen-year-old Esch is pregnant and keeping it a secret, Skeetah is fighting to keep his prized pitbull and her puppies alive even at the risk of his own life, and Randall and Junior are trying to find where they fit in a home that is short on parenting and money but rich in love and the bonds that tie a family.

I read somewhere once that fiction has the ability to be the ultimate truth-teller. Imagine the irony in that–you can understand the depths of something so acutely, so intimately in a way that the news fails you. In the wake of the recent hurricanes, much has been written about why families stay behind, why they don’t evacuate their homes and it wasn’t until I read Ward’s book that I truly felt it in a way that was more powerful than logically understanding it. I loved Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped, but this novel is my favorite.

Full Disclosure: I have included Amazon affiliate links, which means I make like $1/month when you buy one of these books. 

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Over the past year, I've seen faux marketers charge upwards of $2000 for courses on what I'm sharing for free. The difference being is that they haven't done the thing they're teaching for no one other than themselves and their personal brand. I've been doing this professionally for 20 years. And what makes me postal is the fact that what they're teaching is WRONG. If you don't know the difference between brand, branding, and brand platform, you shouldn't be selling a course on it. .

I also created this because $2,000 courses give access to an elite group of people. Not everyone can afford that kind of coin and I think knowledge should be shared and accessible by all. Especially if you're like me, privileged. I'm passionate about this to my core, and why you may think--meh, this is just a series of posts, it's so much more to me. It means people can learn for free or on the cheap. .

I'm sharing detailed tutorials, downloadables, graphics, and extensive vetted resources for further learning, including free online courses from MIT, Google, and more. You know, reputable brands.
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  • My freelance career is nearing its best-by date. This realization didn’t come from some climactic third act. Instead, it was an acknowledgment of a simple truth: everything expires. The shiny and new loses its sheen and pallor. What once made you bolt out of bed becomes the thing you run from screaming. You tally the things you keep losing, which loom large and incalculable. You’re bombarded by seemingly motivational Instagram quotes that tell you to keep working, keep hustling, keep pushing through it. What the platitudes neglect to add is that some battles should be abandoned. Sometimes it’s okay not to play your hand and to walk away from the table. There is a difference, albeit subtle, between what’s hard and what’s Sisyphean.
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Yes, I want to go back to full-time. Yes, I have no idea how I’ll pay rent this week but I’m surprisingly calm because there are some things out of my control.
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I do have a whole slate of morning interviews for a role back east later in the week so I’m pumped about that. Check out my new medium post (link in bio).
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  • I’m honestly crying tears of gratitude. I should tell you that I’m not a cryer. Unless it’s those Sarah McLachlan animal shelter commercials and then I’m a puddle. But I’m getting really excited about how this @medium series is coming together. I’ll probably top 50K words including the downloadable resources. And I’m even more humbled that my friend @lorissas (we’ve known one another since 2002 and we’ve worked together since my book publishing days) created these gorgeous custom graphics. I really want my collection branded in the blues and to reflect my vibe as much as possible. I’m spending my own $ to license photography and illustrations.
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All because I’m really fucking tired of faux marketers who don’t know of what they teach. Or they teach what has worked for them, their blog or IG, which doesn’t necessarily translate to big brands. Then you have scammers who make it hard for the legit marketers who have to go through hoops because companies have gotten burned by incompetence.
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I also want to make use of my educational privilege. I went to an excellent private college and Ivy League graduate school. I had the privilege of working for brilliant marketers, from whom I learned everything I know. And I want to share that as much as possible. For free. This is my goal in 2019–create and share tons of pedagogical content. For free.
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I’m so excited!!!!! Shout out to @omgstephlol for believing in my vision and putting up with my craziness.
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  • THIS WEEK. Well, let’s see... I wrote a total of 32K words, accepted an offer to be one of a few operating owners of a funded content start-up (no $ now but I think this will blow up), I had another interview with an agency in Philly and we talked money, balance, neuroscience and I like their vibe. I’m not moving cross country just yet so let’s all take a pause. I finished a good book, started another. Got my mammogram results back—no cancer! I got angry with my health insurance company like the rest of America. Part of me hopes I can get a full-time job so I can enjoy a consistent paycheck for a hot second. Celebrated a month off the sauce (let’s not get telenovela about this). I cleaned my house and burst into tears talking to my bankruptcy attorney because apparently no one cares that you’ve been making on-time payments for over a year and you’re going through a rough patch. It stormed and I loved it and prayed for more rain. It’s sunny now. I have a first line for a new chapter but I can’t write because all I’m thinking about is work and how I’ll make rent. But here it is: “Love in their home had become its own form of violence.”
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I met up with @bhatmon who always makes me smile and if I move back east she’ll be the one true thing I’ll miss. I listened to podcasts, read science articles, and wished that I could get a neuroscience degree but a kind reader pointed me in the direction of MIT’s free classes so I’m jazzed. I emailed a rescue service and filled out an adoption application but no one ever wrote my back so that made me sad.
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I have no idea how I’ll at for anything but I can’t freak out over that which I can’t control and like that. And love is kind of violent if you really get to thinking about it.
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I’m annoyed that I’ve lived get for over three years and I haven’t seen nearly enough. And on it goes.
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#weekendvibes #weeklyrecap #realtalk #instayum #thehustle #amwriting but am I?
  • Love can sometimes create its own form of emotional violence.
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I used to rummage through photos as a means of being cruel to myself. You used to be thin! You used to be slightly fashionable! You used to be disciplined! And as the edges softened, as your wont to do as you get older and let a lot of the hardness within you go, it occurred to me that the things I used to want and love were violent. I was ruthless to my body to get it to a certain shape instead of eating to sustain myself and moving to feel. I went at everything so hard! Then I worked all hours of the day and night until it made me literally sick. My hardness, my love and desire to look and be a certain way, was hurting me.
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Now. I’ve softened in all senses of the word. I’m calmer. I have a different (and healthier) view of my body and what it means to be beautiful, and I have strong boundaries that guard against the people with whom I work and the projects I’ve taken on. I’ve fired abusive clients. I make clear when and how I work. And I put me first. I have a lot of writing to do to make $ to pay rent this month but I rested yesterday because I need it. I didn’t realize how tiring writing could be when you’re doing it for 10-12 hours a day. Sometimes you need rest.
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Now, I look for pictures like this when I’m happy. When I’m laughing as feeling joyful and hopeful. Because I’m trying to be kinder to myself.
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#tuesdaymotivation #bekind #beingboss #boss #thehustle #amwriting

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