10 Jun 2014

on perception, and the delicate dance of masks

I had dinner with a new friend the other night–someone whom I’ve admired for a while–and she told me that she was delighted that I turned out to be warm, funny and accessible in person, because while she loved reading my blog and found me intelligent, she’d gotten the impression that I was intimidating and aloof. What a wonderful surprise, she thought, because normally she’d encountered just the opposite; she’d fall in like with someone who possessed an effusive online persona to only discover, in real life, the person was a raging asshole. We laughed and traded stories about relationships we’ve cultivated by being online, and…

WAIT. HOLD THE PHONE. I’m ALOOF? {sniff}

Truth be told, I’ve heard this before. From former coworkers who’ve become close friends to acquaintances who appear relieved that I don’t quote sonnets over pasta {brief digression: I’m barely surviving my second week without pasta}, people have expressed their glee over the fact that I’m not as esoteric and intimidating in person. My response is normally one of a fierce twitching. On a scale of 1-10, my discomfort registers at about 40 {HOW AM I INTIMIDATING?}. But here’s the thing — if you immediately balk at constructive criticism or observations that give you discomfort, part of what you’re receiving is probably true, and getting defensive only serves as a mere distraction from that truth. On my way home from dinner, I gave my friend’s words serious thought. I thought about the masks we wear and how and when we switch them, as if we’re performing some sort of elaborate, delicate dance.

For most of my life I wore the just fine mask. The I’m okay, don’t worry, I can handle it mask. To an outsider, I was a successful, prolific overachiever–I was my finest photograph. Yet as soon as I came home and the door closed behind me, I fell into dark. The world behind me receded, and I felt crushed by the weight of having a double. All I wanted for people to know was that I was the complete opposite of not okay, but the risk of that vulnerability and the perception of weakness was unimaginable. Coupled with the fact that I published a memoir about very personal aspects of my life {some of which I regret writing, in retrospect}, I felt caught between tectonic plates. I was revealing the things that I didn’t want to share, but at the same time hiding the things that I wish would come to light. As a result, I spent the better part of a decade reconciling this, mostly in private, and when I resurfaced, I created rules for this space. Perhaps not realizing I’d created another mask. Oh, the irony.

I read somewhere that your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

For me, this space is about art. I conduct minor experiments with language and merging image and type, and I’m also trying to find the art in talking about food in a different way. The dozens of drafts of posts {the rewriting and rethinking of lines and ideas}, and the hundreds of images I take, are examples of the mess in this art. Yet in the end what you see is the edited version of things. You see a representation of myself that is one aspect of who I am but not the whole of me, if that makes any sense.

For me, this isn’t artifice. Part of me constantly calls to references in art and literature because I’ve been reading and creating since I was a toddler. Words help me make sense of the world, and when I call to an artist it reminds me that I’m less alone. If I think about all of this in terms of geography, this blog is my living room while Twitter is me at the bar–acerbic, wry, passionate, outspoken. Instagram is my playground and bedroom, as I can show you photographs of things closest to my heart without actually talking about them. Pinterest is me dreaming. LinkedIn is me working and not sharing pictures of my cat. In real life I’m a mix of all of these rooms, and perhaps a bathroom thrown in for good measure because I’m not always on, sometimes I tire of the performance, and I just want to laze on my floor and reveal parts of myself that aren’t necessarily pretty or well-kempt. I feel privileged to have friends with whom I can share comfortable silences. These are people who love me even if my jokes fall flat or if I’ve stolen cookies off their plate.

Part of me is starting to wonder how I can bring all of these rooms into one house, because much like I’ve realized that fragmenting my career is ridiculous, fragmenting aspects of my character is exhausting and perhaps misleading. As this space evolves, I want to be conscious of sharing all of these rooms on all of the places I play online. I want people I care about to know that I’m not aloof; I’m tremendously shy, extremely bookish, and when I write these posts I’m in my prefered state: home, alone, settling into quiet. Because that’s when the magic happens. That’s when I’m able to be still enough to create. I want people to know that every post is the moment before the storm.

Obligatory shot of my FELIX. Isn’t he a MOVIE STAR?

57 Comments

  1. jessica wrote:

    The last time we saw each other, we were each in heartbreak city. but you were nothing if not exceptionally warm to me – a near stranger. perhaps introverts see each other more clearly, or are familiar with that particular misperception. but thank you, regardless of the cause.

    Posted on 6.10.14 · Reply to comment
    • Jess wrote:

      Dear Felicia,
      I’ve beenbin awe of your writing and can relate to you in many ways that I won’t mention here. Your memoir is a constant on my syllabus (I teach at a community college outside of Boston). I look forward to your next book and perhaps get a chance to exchange emails. Some of your posts are like looking into a mirror. Thanks for being so honest and such an inspiration to me and my students! Are you at all familiar with the writing center Grub Street in Boston ?
      Best wishes ,
      Jessica (Jess)

      Posted on 6.11.14 · Reply to comment
      • Jessica – You’re so kind, thank you! I’m really humbled that you would share my work with others. I’m indeed familiar with Grub Street (I might have done a reading there once). Great work indeed. Warmly, Felicia

        Posted on 6.12.14 · Reply to comment
    • You’re quite welcome, lady. xo

      Posted on 6.12.14 · Reply to comment
      • Jess wrote:

        You are very welcome! I would love to meet up for coffee if you are ever in the Boston area? Feel free to shoot me an email whenever (the one above)!
        Warm wishes,
        Jess

        Posted on 6.12.14 · Reply to comment
  2. Felix is gorgeous.

    I feel the same way as how you have presented yourself. I have lots of masks too and different people who I interact with at different levels. I don’t mind wearing many different masks (or hats). Some days I’m a foodie, other days a graphic designer and other days just another girl who loves stuff or gets mad at stuff.

    I’ve had someone I work with stalk me online, following me on websites I did not invite him to. It felt like an invasion of privacy, even though the internet is a public place. I think we all cherish our own corners of the internet where we can be free to geek out on one particular niche or another. You are still you, it’s just one of your many masks.

    Posted on 6.11.14 · Reply to comment
  3. Tam317 wrote:

    The irony of the fact that I am reading this as I am in the middle of creating the mask of my Professional Twitter Account is not lost on me. I used to blog pretty freely, for over 6 years, until a friend linked to my blog using my real name. Googling myself to find my blog as the third listing, directly under a copy of legislative testimony, freaked me out, and made the blog private with the quickness, only to complete delete it within months. Since then, I’ve tried to forge a delicate balance between real and work life in social media, and deemed Twitter as the space that I get real. Where I can “let my crazy show”. Now, I’m realizing that Twitter is where a lot of work and connections happen and I am deleting and shifting things once again.

    Though I recognize the value of the masks, the splitting of identities, it sure is tiring trying to maintain boundaries. I’ll stay tuned as you try and figure it out.

    Posted on 6.11.14 · Reply to comment
  4. This was so beautifully put and I think that you articulated something hard to pin down that a lot of us are struggling with in our modern live/virtual/friendship/blogfrienship existence. I live overseas and many of my contacts are virtual ones – I am all too aware of the masks that I have to hold up until my hands are tired at times and am so grateful for when I am can just “let my hair down” even if no one can see it…

    Posted on 6.11.14 · Reply to comment
    • I actually told my daughter to wear a mask to help her understand what people do in life. As I said it, I hated myself but knew it had to be said. Your writing reveals the aching beneath it all.

      Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  5. So much of what you say here had me nodding along. I think we all do this, to varying degrees, whether we blog or not, have an online presence or not. We do it without realizing it. We are the “work person” at work, the “home person” at home, etc. It is usually only a select few that we allow to truly see us, or to see all of us, all the personas we house within this one body we travel around in. I’ve started and stopped two blogs before, and have just started a third. Hopefully this one will be the one that will stick, but at the same time, I know it will only work if, instead of trying to carve myself up into pieces and show only certain things, I am able to be all of who I am, and let that show, even if I am the only one that ever reads it.

    Posted on 6.11.14 · Reply to comment
    • Your words so eloquently describe why I keep this blog going — I write for myself and if I’m the only one to read it, I’m okay with that. And thanks for the Felix love, he’s SO SPECIAL 🙂

      Posted on 6.12.14 · Reply to comment
  6. Oh, P.S. – Felix is gorgeous!

    Posted on 6.11.14 · Reply to comment
  7. I too found myself nodding in agreement at this Felicia. I love the way you compared your twitter/instagram/LinkedIn profiles to rooms- what a great metaphor!

    When I was in college I worked as a teller at a bank for a while. All the workers absolutely hated the branch manager and had horrible things to say about her- she picked on them, was consistently rude and overbearing, etc. I mentioned one day that I hadn’t ever had a problem with her and my co-worker, who easily had 30 years of age on me, said that I didn’t have a problem with her because I was “intimidating”. I was baffled! I’d never thought of myself in that way before. At the time I was only 20 and didn’t even know what to make of it.

    I’ve realized that my nervousness and my, as you SO well put, “vulnerability and the perception of weakness” can be hidden by my need to be organized and always professional/formal, to a fault. It can come off as cold, which is not how I intend.

    Though we’ve never met, I definitely thought of you as bookish, and very intelligent, but something seems very warm and comfortable about you and the way you come across in your writing. I hope to meet in person some day though!

    Posted on 6.16.14 · Reply to comment
  8. Not sure what to put here, this part is new to me.
    Evelyn

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  9. Dube wrote:

    This is soooo great! It’s tough to know the line between what is good to reveal and what you may regret later, but not going so overboard that you create a fake mask.

    Btw, I clicked on this post because of Felix. He’s a beautiful cat! 🙂

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  10. Perhaps this is a bit too revealing, but this so very much reminds me of an issue I had in therapy. I had literally fragmented my personality into pieces, and it took a lot of work to feel like one whole, acceptable being. But writing in a community like this where there’s so many supportive and like-minded people seems so ideal. But so glad you are sorting it out and expressing you! Very nice of you to share all of yourself with us.

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  11. Marie wrote:

    In so many ways we all choose which room to invite others to occupy – some we simply keep nearer to the door than others.

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  12. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  13. I know what you mean about masks. I try to be honest and real all the time, but sometimes we put on facades without even realizing it. When I’m at work I’m usually the happy smily girl behind the cash counter who’s always ready to hear a story. When I’m with my friends, I’m more like a teenager; wild, rambunctious, and sometimes acting like I’m drunk when I’m completely sober. Online. . . well, on my blog I try to be more eloquent, at least in my journaling posts.
    The thing is, when I’m at work, I’m not always happy, but I have to pretend to be because that’s my job. Everywhere else, my mood and my behaviour reflects different sides of myself that I deem to be appropriate in certain situations.
    In the end, the goal is to always be myself.

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
    • Absolutely. We have assume masks to a certain degree. I worry though about the severity of the degree, and our reliance on our masks to hold us up. Thanks for sharing your honest words. Warmly, Felicia

      Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  14. I am in like with you. 🙂 This is a beautiful piece. Vulnerable and real and authentic. I relate, even if I don’t posses your eloquence, to needing to be okay for everyone else. Thanks

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
    • Matilda – Thank you so much for your kind words! And know that we all possess eloquence–we just have different ways of showing it. 🙂

      Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
  15. Thank you for writing about this. I’ve always been told that I look rather frown-y and bored when I’m simply neutral (b****y resting face anyone?) so sometimes I find myself trying to compensate by putting on my different “masks” just so people aren’t put off. And while it’s worked in some cases, it gets so tiring to constantly have to adjust your face to match what others deem as happy or content.

    Posted on 7.10.14 · Reply to comment
    • I have a friend who has the same situation. Part of me thinks that we should all do work for the affection of those we want in our lives. So that may mean a little more effort to make someone easeful, but also a little more effort on someone else’s part on getting over the RBF. I think the greatest joy is breaking through what you thought was a wall, but wasn’t.

      Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  16. Nida S. wrote:

    I wrote something similar a while back, about our many faces, each describing an important facet of our personalities. Putting on masks after masks trying to make sense of who we are. I didn’t get many answers except that this multiplicity should be celebrated, not scorned. It keeps the excitement alive don’t you think? I loved reading this and will be coming back. For sure!

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
    • Thanks, Nida! I’ll have to check out your post.

      While I do think it’s natural for us to have different faces for different environments and situations, I worry (as I’ve mentioned above) when those faces consume or overtake the people we truly are. If we use them as a crutch or something to which we hide behind. That’s where the danger lies, I think.

      Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  17. I love when my perceptions of a person is entirely unexpected. Especially when they turn out to be delightful. Thank you for sharing this post with us 🙂

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  18. PoshPedlar wrote:

    Carapace in place – rhino skin ready – I’ve forgotten who the real me is, but your post certainly triggered a search. Really enjoyed reading….

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  19. This is such a beautiful piece, so poignant and vulnerable and true. It made me think about my own self, the walls I’ve put up and the facade that I often find myself hiding behind. Thank you for sharing, I really enjoyed this.

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  20. Oh, the comfort of wearing multiple masks!

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  21. jethag wrote:

    I love your Felix. His handsome face made me click on your blog. Your post is exceptional; I can relate, as many who are now close to me told me I was intimidating and bitchy when they first met me. I think it’s due to my insecurity, but I’d love to also attribute it to my shyness. Luckily, cats don’t care about these types of things.

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
    • Haha! So true. If only we all had the Felix lifestyle. I’m very shy around new people, and people often mistake that for bitchiness. SIGH.

      Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  22. Therese Lu wrote:

    I can quite relate. There are times my “mask” works to my advantage and sometimes it works otherwise. I have found to be quite comfortable with it over the years. Luckily I have a handful of people around me who simply don’t care about the mask I wear. I loved your post. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  23. I find this well written and I feel a sense of your mask.

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  24. This was an interesting read, I really like how you write, and masks are something we all wear I think. Thank you for the good read.

    Posted on 7.11.14 · Reply to comment
  25. pezcita wrote:

    I learned about this concept in literature class as “the fragmentation of the psyche”. Your comparison fits better though. Personally, I love being alone because that’s the only time I really feel 100% myself. It’s sad because there’s so much you can only do with someone else. It’s a small sacrifice on some days and a bigger sacrifice on others.

    Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  26. I love how honest you are in this piece. I think people sometimes feel a need to appear professional in their blogs.. but it’s the human in us that makes them interesting! I have been called cold and determined because of my professional approach and desire to achieve in a no fuss way. I don’t think that means I’m cold.. when I’m at home or with friends… like you I just show a different room/element of my character!

    Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  27. Amy Schmid wrote:

    Hi! I loved your post, I really connected with your dilemmas. I am also very shy, and have just started blogging to release my creative side.

    Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  28. I totally relate. Thanks for sharing in such an eloquent way.

    Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  29. Dani wrote:

    What a beautiful post, Felicia. Thank you so much for sharing your heart in authentic fashion. Refreshing. Truly.

    Blessings,
    Dani

    Posted on 7.12.14 · Reply to comment
  30. Wonderful post…you are a wordsmith….expressed beautifully….following you for further blogs

    Posted on 7.13.14 · Reply to comment
  31. I can totally relate to what you wrote! I absolutely love discussing things, and it’s how I learn about what I really think….to consolidate it or change it, but a friend recently said summat like “To you, your way is the ONLY way”….well, that had me flummoxed! Am I too dominant? Too emphatic? On reflection, I think her remark applied to her too…so I’m not worrying overmuch, but I hope it will make me more self-observant in discussions!
    I don’t suppose I’ll relate much to food posts, but more posts like this one would be welcome!

    Posted on 7.13.14 · Reply to comment
  32. I enjoyed this piece immensely and could identify with some of it. Wonderful writing, thought-provoking and eerily close to the bone in parts. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted on 7.14.14 · Reply to comment
  33. adeltjie wrote:

    I definitely nodded in agreement as I read your post. I have also been called aloof etc. by colleagues; what they don’t know is that I am the first one to cry when a movie or a book tugs at the heart strings. I wear my “mask” as I need to be assertive in the male dominated industry that I operate in.

    Posted on 7.15.14 · Reply to comment
  34. blueneely wrote:

    great article. From personal experience wearing a mask takes a toll on you in every which way… 🙂

    Posted on 7.15.14 · Reply to comment
  35. jorja40 wrote:

    Your post mirrors something I wrote about masks recently. Only you are so much better at writing than I am lol

    Posted on 7.16.14 · Reply to comment
  36. The best part is when you realize you pick your roles and can play them anyway you want. It’s such a fun adventure!

    Posted on 7.16.14 · Reply to comment
  37. Funny how that happens sometimes, isn’t it? That people’s perception of you turns out so vastly different from your perception of yourself.. It just goes Boinggg! in your head. A new friend told me recently that he was pretty sure I’d make a good sociopath, an observation based on what he describes as my cold and calculated lack of immediate response to anything anyone said to me. When honestly? I’m such a hyper little chatterbox that I have to rein the lips in, most of the time. It’s weird, isn’t it?

    Posted on 7.27.14 · Reply to comment

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  • New post up on medium. Link in bio.
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“If I had my way, I’d never leave my house. My home is small, and I know every inch of it. An 800-square foot box with two windows, walls, and a doorbell that plays instrumental Julio Iglesias. Half the rooms are cloaked in effulgent light and the other a cool charcoal black. I’ve become fluent at oscillating between the two. I don’t even love the space in which I live, but I’m hard-pressed to leave it.”
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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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I’m considering another move when my lease is up to a small AF town in California not too far from the Redwoods and the ocean. I LOVE California, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the US. And I love the idea of FEWER people. Quiet to write. Maybe I can get a dog friend for my Felix! .
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My dentist tried to reassure me, after rejecting my pleas for a fifteen-year repayment plan, that this particular tooth had already booked a one-way ticket to a root canal, so I ended up saving $2,000! Oh, cool. So, instead of dropping ten grand on two teeth, I was only paying eight. Like I have eight thousand dollars just laying around, waiting to be flushed down the dental toilet. Apparently, the hazelnut was my salvation. I started laughing and continued laughing. For a while. To the point where everyone in the waiting room was uncomfortable.
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Today, I wrote a tutorial about crafting plots. Instead of vivisecting plot arcs — because frankly, I’d rather gouge out my eyes with an acetylene torch — I invite you to consider three simple questions: what story will sustain your interest for 70,000 words? Can you commit to your story and the sequence of events that unfold for months or years of your life? Does your novel have the weight to capture and hold your reader until the end?
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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Today, I had a call with my friend @luciaioevans, and we started talking about a podcast idea we’ve been toying with—something news something you have NOT seen before I guarantee you. And it occurred to me that they’re myopic, borderline photocopies of a bland original. They’ve internalized brand consistency and continuity so much that they’ll build a whole world for themselves in their box and never have any desire to peer out and see what’s outside.
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These podcasts invite guests who look and sound just like them. They regurgitate the same bullshit business advice that Seth Godin wrote a decade ago, and pithy platitudes because it got that influencer turned entrepreneur rich on Instagram, and now she sells courses for $600 a pop when she’s never done the thing she teaches for anyone other than herself. These people are so obsessed with building their brand that they forgot to be human.
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And then I realized that since we have so little time, why not spend it being our truest selves. Why not fuse all the things that make us weird, strange, and unique, and bring them to bear on our work.
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Don’t listen to people who tell you that you should act or be a certain way. They’re telling you to behave in their way, in a way that’s safe, conforming, and possibly boring. They’re not wrecking things. They’re not thinking about the feel of every inch of our life slipping, slipping, slipping by. They clock-watch. They speak in coded jargon or vernacular. Plain English frightens them. People who are different paralyze them. And they’ll poke fun and use you as a prop for their amusement, but they’re small. And they’re not doing much with their life except for complaining about it.
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Over the next year, I have BIG sweeping plans. Education, podcasts, writing. And I plan to ignore what everyone else is doing, will give zero fucks about what people think of me because I think we’re our most brave when we are our most real, vulnerable selves.
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#realtalk #freelancing #bosslady #beingboss #nofakeshit #entrepreneurlife #femtrepreneur #freelancewriter
  • When you’re deep in the throes of doing work, hatching plans, and thinking, thinking, thinking, it’s SO important to make sure your brain RESTS. When I do this, I find I’m brimming with new ideas.
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Every day I do something that doesn’t involve a device to EXPERIENCE the world. Today, it was getting into a coffin with a friend and checking out re-enactments of The Shining.
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#myhappyplace #redrum #horrorart #freelance #freelancelife #checkyourhead #freelancing

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