Businesswoman's special

I read JD Samson’s post about the crappiness of having to psychologically and practically reconcile her early financial success with her current financial struggles with cringey mixed feelings.  It reminded me of a post I wrote for the Hairpin about a year ago. I am so embarrassed by this post that I can’t even reread it now but I think it was about how the mere existence of Tavi’s internet enterprise is somehow unfair to writers who are twice her age because, basically, it’s annoying that we’ve worked hard in various ways for years and now a teenager is judging our worthiness.   I wrote it at my desk at my temp job.   You can absolutely tell.  You don’t have to do much reading between the lines to get that what I was really saying was: “I’m temping and broke and so confused and bitter about how I got here from the places where I’ve been, I thought I was done with this but apparently I will spend the rest of my life struggling, I don’t deserve this, how did this happen?”

When you’re any kind of artist and you’re having your first taste of success, it’s easy to forget that financial success and artistic success don’t often go hand in hand—that, actually, it is super rare for someone who does work in any artistic discipline to be paid what that work is worth.   Some of the people whose writing and music have changed my life and many other people’s lives are living in rental apartments with pee-smelling hallways or drafty houses in cold upstate college towns. Some of them are living in Greenwich Village brownstones.  There’s no logic behind who gets what; we want to believe that there is because it makes us feel like we’re in control, but we’re mostly not.  Sometimes, some people will draw a winning hand.  The Internet will reliably get its collective panties in a twist whenever an author, god forbid, gets paid six figures (of which 15% goes to his agent and 25% goes to the IRS) for the novel he’s spent years working on.  When hedge fund criminals make that same amount of money in a lucky minute, it’s not the same people who get riled up, if anyone even gets riled up.

Even if you’re a big fan of capitalism, you’ll at least concede that its greatest strength is probably not its capacity to reward artistic virtue fairly.   It’s important for artists to remember this—and then it’s important for us to stop dwelling on it.  “I can’t make coffee,” Samson writes; this was probably where I sympathized with her–and also cringed–most.  I spent a lot of the past year trying to figure out what, besides writing, I could do to make money. Besides temping, I tried to trick myself into thinking that I was on the verge of becoming various kinds of consultant.  I do teach yoga, but the kind I teach is not really a cash cow.  (Cash cat-cow? Yoga joke.)  I had lunches and informational interviews. I found out about the viability of selling my eggs (I have one more year!) I kicked myself for not taking freelance assignments that would have been right for 25 year old me but would have been torture for present-day me (“Interview your exes about what went wrong” was a memorable one). Mostly, though, I wrote things no one paid me to write and borrowed lots of money just to be able to live.  Sometimes I bailed on plans with more financially stable friends because I knew we’d end up eating food  I’d be paying 16% APR on for years to come.  Other times, I didn’t bail, then didn’t enjoy my friends because I was thinking about money the whole time. I complained, complained, complained about it all to anyone who would listen (mostly Keith and Ruth, and also my therapist, to whom I also owe money.)

And then finally, long after I had given up, I had the idea for a business!(that will probably not make money anytime soon.)  But just realizing that there was something I am capable of doing besides writing was enough to give me hope that I will, piece by piece, begin to figure out the rest of my life.

Financial self-sufficiency is a big deal, especially for women, whose liberation has historically coincided with their financial freedom.  It takes courage to admit that you’re not doing okay, and to begin doing something about it.  It’s complicated, though, because I’m not at all saying “get a day job!” to people like JD who feel like making art is the only thing they’re capable of doing.  I’m more saying, keep your mind open about what you might be capable of doing.   A lot of us grew up hearing “Do what you love and the money will follow,” which is great advice for people who love neurosurgery or filing briefs.  “Do what you love 70% of the time and spend the rest of the time doing various things you hate, or that are difficult for you, and see what happens,” might be better advice.  It was for me, I think.  I don’t know! I’ll keep you posted.

Rugelach with Jon-Jon Goulian

I’m told that I mispronounced “rugelach” throughout this episode but otherwise I think this is a good one. Thanks as always to Val and Andrew and very special thanks to honorary associate producer Kate Gould, who provided moral support, cleanup and pizza on the day of filming (also gave birth to me, rendering this entire enterprise possible).

New Vid

After you watch Bryan Charles’ Cooking the Books you should spend some time poking around the new Blip show-page. It is nice there but it kind of has the eerie empty-building feel of a website that is unused to receiving visitors.  Like, there is one comment on any of the videos and I believe that comment is “first!”  We cooked a Mark Bittman recipe that involved frying pieces of chicken and their skin separately, to create crunchy chicken-skin topping.  We learned that I need to sharpen my knife.  Bryan’s book is sold here and no chickens were harmed in its manufacture.


longer than you'd think!“Back in the early days of New Narrative,” writes Dodie Bellamy in her book of blog posts The Buddhist, “when we were all wanting to be in one another’s work, I complained to Kevin, why don’t you write about me, and Kevin said he didn’t write about me because writing was an exorcism, and he didn’t want to exorcise me.”

To prevent myself from looking at the Internet yesterday I went to PS1 in Long Island City.  I went to the Laurel Nakadate retrospective for the third time, probably not the last, either.  I watched a video I hadn’t watched before, one where she dances in the desert to exorcise sadness from Britney Spears. (It worked!) Afterward I went downstairs to the art bookstore where I scrutinized the contents of every shelf before finally casually passing the shelf my book is on, a little treat. But seeing it there yesterday, knowing in advance it would likely be there, didn’t feel as good as the first time I spotted it there unexpectedly.  The diminishing returns of the Internet are like that too, but I will probably still keep visiting that shelf.

I left the museum and sat in a cafe near the Pulaski bridge.  The cafe has a laptop section and a “dining room” and I sat in the dining room.  The laptop section was empty. Trucks were rumbling onto the bridge a few feet away.

Reading The Buddhist momentarily gave me back my old feeling of bloggy first-person urgency — the feeling that all my sensations deserve description and dispersal.  One aspect of this feeling I’d never identified before is the sense of furious competition — like if I don’t publish these thoughts immediately after having them, someone else might beat me to it.  (What a weird illogical feeling! Like someone is going to beat me to a photo of my own cat!  But you know what I mean.)

Leaving the café I took a circuitous route down an ugly sidestreet and said “bless you” to an old lady up ahead of me who’d sneezed.  She turned to look at me with a look of shock and fear that dissipated immediately when she saw me (in a dorky raincoat, extra nonthreatening).  Long Island City seemed like a movie set, maybe because of how often it is one. I passed the pet store that had been my excuse, years ago, to walk across the Pulaski bridge from Greenpoint.

Back then I’d thought my biggest problem was that I felt unloved but in retrospect the problem was more that I didn’t love anyone, not in any real way.  I didn’t know how to give or receive anything good. I walked around all the time feeling like a giant black hole of need that other people’s good feelings would occasionally get sucked into by accident.  On the weekends I would cross the bridge as though that meant escape. I’d buy some cans of cat food and then walk back to Greenpoint.

Lately I have noticed, walking around, that I am less prone to dashing forward, anticipating my arrival at whatever destination. Sometimes I can even walk down the street slowly enough that I start to feel my surroundings pressing in on me, slightly overwhelming in all their details.  It’s okay not to do this all the time.  It’s better, actually, not to do it all the time.


is not an adjective that describes Cooking the Books — yet.  I’m sure once they start having an Emmy category for Lo-Fi Internet Cooking Show we will be a shoo-in.  It is however an adjective that describes A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which won a Pulitzer!  To celebrate let’s all re-watch her episode of Cooking the Books.

Sigrid Nunez on Susan Sontag

A great excerpt from this book is here

How should a person blog

Just a quick note that I will be in Chicago for the second time in my life on March 13, talking about blogging, literary fame, and the new play Sex with Strangers with author and blogger Claire Zulkey at Steppenwolf.  If you’re a Chicago-based Emily Magazine reader, do stop by!  It’s only $5, which I guess is probably $10 in Chicago money but still.

The second quick note is that on 2/17/2011 I decided not to use Tumblr or Twitter or blog (obviously this right now doesn’t count) until I finish a draft of the book I’m working on.  “Putting all my emotional content behind a paywall. Trying to find a business model that works,” as Colson Whitehead once tweeted.  The first week was horrible but it’s getting easier.  I have been baking a lot. And then sending photos of the baked goods to friends and relatives.   Let me know if you would like to receive photographs of baked goods via email!

The third thing is, here is part of my response to my friend Rachel who recently started a great blog called Quaint as Fuck and wanted help figuring out how to write a column about the same topic for free for a larger site.  It is somewhat of a reversal from my earlier stance re: Writing For Free so I thought I would post it here:

“I don’t think you should write or make stuff for free for popular sites that pay their owners, parent companies, and some or all of their regular contributors, even though it’s a good way to get people to read your blog and become familiar with your name.  I totally understand why doing this appeals to people who are blogging and making stuff purely for the thrill of having someone read and see said stuff.  But the problem with that approach is: it leads nowhere.

People who read your stuff at the big site that used your content for free will continue to read that big site — and maybe also your blog, but maybe not.  Meanwhile, people who write on- and off-line for a living will continue to have an increasingly hard time making money because of the huge numbers of people who are willing to “syndicate” their content to bigger sites in exchange for cachet.  Cachet is great, but it does not rule everything around me (unfortunately!)

Luckily, there are still ethical ways to get attention for your awesome blog.  You can get one of those big blogs to link to it, directing readers to your site, where it is still 100% ok to do whatever the hell you want for free because you have total control of what goes there and how much time you spend doing it and it is a wonderful art-place that exists outside of commerce.  Or you can get one of those big blogs to pay you for something you are doing elsewhere for free — with the understanding that this will probably mean reshaping it slightly to suit their editorial voice and standards.”

For a more concise version of that rant you can of course consult Jessica Hische’s perfect “should I work for free” flowchart.  And if you want to hear more of my slightly informed, evolving and occasionally contradictory views about blogging, you can come see me in Chicago!