Category: Writing

Four Burners

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.” 
― Bram Stoker, Dracula

Pull up a chair, kittens, and let’s chat about how you prioritize your time and emotional resources. This has been on my mind lately as I’ve taken on new work, observed friends go through highs and low, cheered triumphs, and commiserated during setbacks.

Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton had a discussion on their podcast, The High Low, which touched on the notion of “having it all,” as being antiquated or inadequate to the various tradeoffs women (and indeed everyone) make in navigating modern life. A part of the conversation stuck with me in which they referenced a piece by author David Sedaris which, paraphrased, goes along the lines of: “A person has four hobs: work, family, friends, and health, and you can only have two or three of them going at any one point before things start boiling over.” It’s called the Four Burners theory and I have not been able to stop thinking about it for days now.

I think it’s made such an impression on me because it strikes me as generally accurate, but it also was a handy way to summarize a lot of my own thinking and struggles. In fact, looking back over recent years, I can see exactly which hobs I’ve had cooking and at what heat levels. I can tell when I’ve tried to have too many going at once and I can also tell which ones I’ve switched off.

I’ve called 2018 my Year of Health because I’ve made dedicated time and space in it to improve my wellbeing. It’s been a roaring success in many ways, which I’m sure I’ll get to writing about as 2019 looms, but I have switched off other areas of my life to provide the time and attention that I needed to get healthier. Some aspects of my friends and family relationships have changed as a result–I am less social than I used to be and treasure a smaller number of close friendships more rather than trying to constantly make new ones.

My work burner has been on full throttle for a couple of years now…because it’s had to be. London is not a place in which you have the luxury of getting complacent and as I’ve made certain choices around freelancing and contracting, I have had to stay hustling. Other passion projects have taken a back seat as I’ve needed to establish and reestablish myself over and over again, other priorities have had to give way in order for my work (and bill-paying) ambitions to be realized. I’ve had some amazing jobs and opportunities as a result…but might I have done something different? Or would I have needed to focus on my health the way I have if a few toxic scenarios hadn’t bled from my work life into my personal and wreaked havoc with my wellbeing?

The trouble with this metaphor is that I think it’s fundamentally correct–at least for me–in that it honestly deals with humans beings as somewhat limited creatures. I want to turn other burners on, but know I might have to switch others off first. Which do you pick?

I don’t have the answers, but I am thinking about this a lot at the moment.

Which burners do you have “on” at the moment? Which have you switched off, recently or in the past, and why?

I Miss Style Blogs

“Create your own style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others.” 
― Anna Wintour

Quick question, those of you kittens interested in fashion, beauty and style: which bloggers and channels have you followed for years, and why? I’ve unfollowed a lot of style blogs over the years–not because I don’t like or want to support them as a medium, but because I’ve gradually found so many of them to be less and less interesting or unique. In fact, in retrospect, I think I have tended to unsubscribe in batches when I just get bored of certain sites. I saw too much repetition, too much similarity of content, and too many overlapping aesthetics. Instagram and other social media have compounded the problem, both in the fashion and beauty spaces and (off the back of a chat with Katarina), I’ve been thinking about this lately in the wake of last month’s Week of Outfits project.

Frankly, I miss the “old” style blogs of about a decade ago. The ones where (mostly) women and girls crafted unique and instantly recognizable fashion senses, sometimes with a lot of money but often without. I never begrudged them the odd PR gift or contract because I trusted them to blend the items they received for free into the style they had taken the time to publicly develop, curate and share.

Of COURSE there are still people out there creating beautiful images and good writing around style and beauty, but I’m surprised by how few writers and videographers I follow now than what I used to. There are plenty of stylish (mostly) women out there who do really good and thoughtful writing about style but the rise of monetization and blogger-directed PR has complicated the kind of writing I see. The beauty space is sort of notorious for this. You can tell exactly when the PR machine has kicked in for a new launch because quite suddenly every single blogger and YouTuber will produce content raving about a product or line at exactly the same time, usually using very similar language. NARS just launched a new mascara and every beauty blogger and their photographer boyfriend seems to have ended up in Ibiza for the press party. I don’t necessarily begrudge them their good fortune either…but I’m not going to watch a dozen vlogs of the same event featuring the same people and rave reviews of a product they couldn’t possibly have road tested.

In some ways this new reality isn’t massively different from the magazine model, but I think that blogs and magazines are different platforms in key ways and that has always informed the kind of coverage they did. For a long time, editors were seen as arbiters not just of good taste and style, but also good judgement and trusted recommendations. PR has obviously affected this too and it is increasingly easy to either see or at least make informed guesses about how PR money is influencing coverage.

I get it, it was always sort of inevitable that a full blown business model would emerge around “influencers,” and as I’ve said I don’t really fault the women who are able to make livings off of it. Good for them! I sure as hell don’t think I could do it! But I still miss that era of internet writing and visual display all the same.

A few writers and YouTubers I still follow these days include…

Audrey a la Mode – writes about and films content on “slow fashion” and thoughtful shopping. Because her style is fairly classic, she is able to really demonstrate the value of second hand shopping and building an intentional wardrobe. A lot of her outfits are straight from Town and Country at any point in the last 50 years, but her content has always struck me as very authentic and genuine.

Where Did You Get That – equally enthusiastic about vintage and ready to wear, her enthusiasm for shopping and style is infectious and, because she makes a point to mix old and new pieces and buy what she loves, she has cultivated her own aesthetic. She loves clothes and it shows.

Sea of Shoes – one of the OG style bloggers who is famously eclectic in her tastes, mixing couture and eBay finds.

The Anna Edit – a British beauty blogger who has since branched out into a lot of style and lifestyle content, but one I’ve followed for a long time. She’s another example of a blogger who has maintained what feels like a very authentic and consistent voice, which I like, and she also writes thoughtfully on mindful consumerism and how she makes certain business choices.

The Frugality – Alex is another British blogger who I’ve met and briefly got some work experience overlap with in my freelance days at Red Magazine. These days she a full time freelance stylist and writer, who blogs about style but also the London home she and her husband are renovating together with a newborn in tow.

I clearly have certain “types” when it comes to the women I follow. I am interested in self-aware and authentic women who like what they like without excuses, and are intelligent and intentional about their lives and respective styles. I am interested in women who have something to show or say, and not just sell.

So again, who do you follow in the “style and beauty” world, and why? What about their content speaks to you? Let’s chat in the comments.

Late night rambles on the C-word

“I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.” 
― Mel Brooks

Samantha Bee used the C word to describe Ivanka Trump this week on her show and, like unto Roseanne Barr, it caused something of a kerfuffle. More in the links post tomorrow.

But in the meantime, and while I have this on the brain, do you know what? I HATE the C word. Hate it. It’s slung around in the UK like loose change in a way I never experienced in the States, and I haven’t gotten used to it in five years. I still feel a full body cringe at its ugliness whenever someone uses it. If TBS chose to reprimand or punish Samantha Bee like ABC chose to do with Roseanne, I wouldn’t like it, but I’d grudgingly admit it’s the network’s prerogative to make that kind of call.

I similarly think it’s the NFL’s right to try and set certain boundaries the speech of its players. I further think that deliberately defying rules is literally the point of a protest so we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples. Nevertheless, the Twitter wars rage.

The difference between a comedian and a president is that one of those people is expected, even encouraged to be vulgar. The other, historically, is expected to set an example to the nation state. One is expected to set standards, the other to push boundaries.vWhich brings me to the broad point I can’t shake.

Anyone who tries to defend the current political administration (the target of the comment in the first place) with the claim that vulgarity (as opposed to racism, for instance) should cost someone their job needs to have an intellectually honest conversation about the dude in the White House and how he got there. He weaponized vulgarity and rode it all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.

You do not get to cheer a man who kicked off his political life by calling Mexican immigrants rapists, has a history of sexual assault allegations, and been caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by their “pussy,” and then cry foul when an entertainer uses foul language towards one of his administration officals. One side does not get to say that Roseanne Barr’s statements on her twitter feed, filled with antisemitism and conspiracy theories, are jokes and then turn around and say that an unfriendly comedian’s jokes are beyond the pale.

Pick a lane. Either offensive jokes are acceptable more broadly or they are not. If you insist on your side’s right to be offensive, you should in turn be prepared to buckle up and be offended right back.

Here’s the thing. I believe wholeheartedly that the overall coarsening of our culture and public discourse is not a good thing. We’re all worse off for it. But spare me the moral hand wringing if your whole ethos and political strategy is built around “triggering” other people. These are your rules, it’s your game, and you’re in charge. Either toughen up and take what you sling out, or do your best to claw back the moral high ground if you can.

But to say that systemic and historically racist speech and vulgar speech are on par is a false equivalence. Both are bad. Both may incur consequences on the speaker. But one traditionally operates from the vantage point of power which could be interpreted as punching down, while the other is “punching up.” Ugly language may be frowned on but as a society we agree that there are places where it’s appropriate or at least acceptable. Antisemitism on the other hand, is not welcome. Unless you agree that there are “fine people” who believe in it.

Here. Someone smarter than me said it better.

Bank Holiday Thoughts: Long Term Goals

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.” 
― Gloria Steinem

Gather round, ducklings, for a rambling post of a topic that’s been on my mind lately and that I did some thinking about as I sat in the (rare!) British sun for hours this past weekend.

Scene of the crime.

For someone who is a Grade A organizer and planner, I’ve come to the realization that thinking in terms of long term goals is not something I have ever been very good at. I can project about 3 years out at a max but beyond that is difficult for me to conceptualize.

I’m pretty sure this has to do with being a military brat who never lived anywhere longer than 3 years until I went to university. Growing up, my life was routinely segmented off by frequent moving dates and it’s only in my 30s that I’m understanding how this may affect my worldview. In some ways, it’s deeply positive! Barring personal or natural disaster, you can survive anything for a set period of time with an end date so I think I developed a robust ability to endure less then ideal circumstances and have a genuine attitude of “this too shall pass” to most challenges.

On the other hand, things like 5-10 year plans have never really played a starring role because they have never been or felt relevant to my circumstances. If I was eventually going to be in another school, another state, or on another continent, it never seemed like a good idea to conceptualize things that required any kind of permanence. Again, in my early 30s, I’m only really starting to understand some of the connectivity of this to my life choices. And also again, in a lot of ways this is positive! It’s allowed me and my partner to dream big and take chances that we might not have had we organized our lives in more “traditional” ways, at least according to how we grew up. But it’s also meant that I’ve made a lot of non-strategic choices over the years, some of which have had long lasting ripple effects. Frankly there have been whole months and years that I felt like I was “winging it” as an adult. I still do!

But I’m feeling myself go through a mentality switch these days where I’m starting to be able to conceptualize a future a few years down the road. I’m doing work I enjoy and can see myself doing for a long time, Jeff is in a good (if still busy) place with his career as well. Knock on wood, but it feels as though we are slowly moving out of the “hustle and grind” phase of our work lives into the “work smart” phase where we will (hopefully) begin to build our savings and make the big decisions adults make around where to make a permanent home, what that home looks like, and who we want in it.

I’m still pretty present-focused in that I’m starting to feel like a lot of hard work is paying off. We live in one of the most amazing cities on earth, we’ve put the time and energy into our careers and it’s starting to pay off, our marriage remains strong, we’re healthy–all pretty damn good things. Let’s be honest, it’s taken a decade to get to this point and we’re still not as insulated from shock as I’d like to be….but we’re getting there.

And so, slowly, things in the more distant future are starting to come into focus. We spent some of the bank holiday weekend planning out the rest of the year in terms of work and budgets, and even did some planning for holidays. We’ve learned how important those are to us over the past two years and how grateful we are to live somewhere and in a culture that encourages us to take them rather than making us feel guilty for doing so. We picked some mutual goals to work towards, and I’ve got my own weird and fun projects going on in the background to keep me entertained and grounded. I’m looking forward. And at the moment, things feel good.

Anyone else gone through this particular transition? Any wisdom to share? 

Quick Check In

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
― Henry David Thoreau

In my 101/1001 list I have a number of goals that seem to fall into themes, and picking an overarching theme (“Money”) to write about publicly and focus on personally for a month has been a great way to jump start my creative energy towards some personal development. I’m on track to tick off a lot of these individual goals in January. Plus, it’s been fun! I’ve enjoyed putting together a series of posts on a single topic over a month tremendously. I’m thinking of trying to do this or similar projects often throughout year.

And so, SDS Nation, lend me your thoughts in the comments and let me know what you’ve liked about this project, didn’t like, or want to see more of moving forward on this and other topics. Health, style, more adventures in finance, what would you like to read and talk about here?

Emails With Friends: The Waiting Game

“I love how we are both so very quick to over-analyze silence. As if [agent’s] lack of check in email = so many rejections that she threw herself off the empire state building rather than even look at my email address again.”
“Wagner should have written some kind of opera about our writing emotional cycles.”
“DISSOLVE THE WORLD IN ASHES, I HAVE RECEIVED NO CALLS.”
“[sent gif below]”
“I am sipping red wine”
– Katarina and C.

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