Inching towards non-conformity
May 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
So I’m pressing through this enormous task of writing a book. Being a writer is like playing a video game. Every time you succeed at something, you basically unlock a whole new level of mental illness. My book is my bipolar odyssey. I am manic when I am writing. Giant snowdrifts of index cards fill the room. Sentences come together, paragraphs disappear altogether. Accumulating words feel like my new life savings. 20,000. 30,000. 40,000. And then my knees knock as I lope down the mountain. When I’m not writing, I’m worrying that I should be. I think about writers who’ve built bigger platforms than I have, people who have an army of followers. Am I doing enough? “Enough” is the worst word there ever was.
Last week I finished reading Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity. It’s one of those books that most people will dismiss as being unrealistic. Yes, most of us cannot make many dollars traveling to every country in the world and running a self-help blog. But I decided to take it seriously. I take fictional people seriously when they veer off the map, so why not a real person?
About a year ago I decided to take my dreams seriously. I began to examine whether a life of private practice, or non-profit paper shuffling, or academic politics was really right for me. Sure I was making money writing articles and ghost writing for therapists, but that income was like the icing on the cake. Icing that I’d scoop off and dump in my student loan balance. And until my debts were paid, I was going to have to get a real job, in a real office, and watch my vacation days accumulate at a glacial pace.
Guillebeau writes, “Change happens when the pain of transition becomes less than the pain of the status quo.” That was certainly the case for me. Three years of indentured servitude in a doctoral program was enough status quo for a lifetime. So I never walked into that office. I took a job that mostly let me work from home. And I found a second one. I started teaching in the evenings. And I wrote. I wrote like there was no rejection in the world that was going to keep me from writing. And no rejection did. Now I wake up whenever I want. I make coffee and sit on the porch in my pajamas, writing about hairporn and anxiety. Nothing else can happen until those 1,000 words are typed. My morning sentences are tadpoles, but they have strong legs by the time I’m done with them every night.
I work when I want, and where I want. The fact that this is even a possibility tells me how many myths we are fed about extreme adulting. But I also work hard. Because I don’t get paid if I don’t work, there is a constant fire under my butt. And because of that, my income is twice what it would be if I were in that office or writing that research paper.
I share this not to brag, but to challenge others and myself to consider the narratives that hold us in place. Why do we seldom challenge those myths that there are certain ways life has to be lived? Ways that students, helpers, mothers, and even fangirls must follow, no matter what. These were the lies I told myself:
- I can’t pursue my dreams until I pay off student loans.
- I need to finish my dissertation before I can write what I want to write.
- Turning 30 means it’s time to stop fangirling.
- No one wants to pay me to write about what interests me.
- 40+ hours a week in an office provides stability.
That last one is the funniest. I feel more financially secure than I ever did with a single job. You don’t have to worry about having the rug pulled from under you when there are 27 rugs.
Inching towards non-conformity looks different for different folks. But I think most people can agree on this one simple radical act: make sure your direction for the day doesn’t get buried under a mountain of “shoulds.” Under busywork and Internet usage that distract us from where we want to be. My favorite exercise from The Art of Non-Conformity includes questions to ask yourself when you wake up and when you go to bed. This is something I’m going to try and keep doing until it starts to invade my thinking about my work and my life.
- “How am I feeling?”
- “What do I want right now?”
- “What is the single, most important thing I can do today?”
- “Who did I help today?”
- “How much time did I spent creating today?”
- “Did I move closer to one of my big goals today?
- “What do I want for tomorrow?”
Even if my morning answers are always, “Tired, Coffee, and Write,” I will keep asking myself what’s important instead of just what’s urgent. And then I’ll do exactly that. I won’t pay bills, I won’t sign paperwork, and I’ll try my best not to check Twitter until the most important task is complete. I climb back up the mountain, and try to descend with a little more self-compassion than I did the day before.
The Fangirl Resume
February 11, 2015 § 4 Comments
Hi. I have a problem with what career should I choose as a Fangirl. Can you help me?
Hai Amalia. Let me be your fangirl guidance counselor. Like Emma Pillsbury, I too have career advice and an unreasonable amount of enamel flower brooches.
Fangirls make great employees. I’ve been saying this for years on social media while I avoid my work. Our skills include:
- Googling. You cannot hide. We will find your email address and everything about you and encrypt our IP address. I’m not in Wales. Or am I? Muhahaha.
- Staying current. We know everything that happens the moment it happens. God Facebook, that was 3 weeks ago.
- Memorization. You want to know what happened in episode 3×13? Take a seat son.
- Crisis management. I made it through work today after a Good Wife promo was released with Diane Lockhart wearing a camo hoodie and a tiny fur hat. Look me in the eye and tell me that’s not a skill.
- 100% dedication. We will ride a sinking ship into the depths of an ocean canyon. We will stick with a show 7 seasons after a shark sails over the entire plot. Our loyalty rivals Hufflepuffdom.
Who wouldn’t want these skills in a future employee? Who needs social skills or basic time management when you have 100% DEDICATION, Amalia.
But let’s get serious. The reality is that a fangirl can be anything she wants. If her passion for a screencap is unrivaled, then imagine how far her dedication to a real cause will go? Here are a few tips you should take away.
1. Fictional jobs are not real life jobs. Surgeons are not having sex in the break room like they do on Grey’s Anatomy. Crime scene investigators are not flying around in helicopters. Professors aren’t flipping their chairs backwards to give impromptu library lectures in tweeds. Vampire slayers are not . . . well they probably are. Fiction can be a great starting point for brainstorming career ideas, but you’ve got to throw yourself into a real world environment first to see if you like it.
2. Practice getting rejected. Amalia, if you want to be successful, you have to become immune to the word “No.” Fear of rejection or failure should never be a reason not try something new or ask for an opportunity. I get many “No’s” from editors every week, and it keeps my skin thick. Your favorite character has probably failed at many tasks, so use him or her for inspiration in your journey. The sooner you can get comfortable with rejection, the faster you’ll progress in your career.
3. Find a real life BAMF. Fictional people are easy to summon for career courage. What would Laura Roslin do? is a question I ask myself daily. But I also have had mentors with skin who can give good advice and encourage me along the way. Find someone in a career you might like and ask them to be your mentor. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to share the knowledge they wished they had when they were your age.
Above all, Amalia, remember that you can change your career whenever you want. Sure you might have to keep the same day job to pay the rent, but as fangirls, our passions are constantly changing. So why should our hopes and dreams be any different? I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I’m having a hell of a time figuring it out.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Diane Lockhart, because they work way better than mine.
When the door you’ve been knocking at finally swings open, you don’t ask why. You run through.
Fangirl Spotlight: Lauren
February 4, 2015 § 1 Comment
A few months back I stumbled across a tumblr page and said to myself, “I need to know this human.” Every fangirl loves television, but very few are courageous enough to make the leap into the industry. Lauren is a lady whose unabashed admiration for BAMFs and A+ TV has translated into a burgeoning career for her 23-year-old self, and she was kind enough to let me interview her for the fangirl spotlight.
K: How did you become a fangirl?
K: Yeah folks, keep it classy. So no pressure, but what is the best episode of television your eyeballs have ever watched?
L: I am weeping. This question is worse than a parent having to pick a favorite child. Comparing 30 Rock to House of Cards would be like comparing apples to cardigans. I will argue that The West Wing’s “Two Cathedrals” has some of the most remarkable monologues I have ever seen. Orphan Black’s cinematography in the second season cannot be beat. The Good Wife’s “Hitting the Fan” just kills it in acting, pacing, plot, and score. Parks and Recreation has me cackling like an idiot each and every week because I find it so funny. The other night I watched episode 201 of House of Cards and almost literally lost my mind over what had happened in the episode. Can I plead the fifth for this?
L: As a writer, I try to remain cryptic when it comes to sharing pilot ideas, but I will say that I aspire to write a show about family. I come from a crazy, wonderful, dramatic, and hilarious family who have provided me with two decades worth of material. I also would love to create a TV show that passes the Bechdel Test. I love strong badass women and it would be a dream to create a show with lots of strong and diverse Lady BAMFs that will inspire people.
L: I have definitely sat on my couch passively watching exercise videos before without actually partaking in the fitness. Once while at a bar in New York with my colleagues from NBC, a perfectly nice boy asked if he could buy me a drink. The thing is, I already had a drink. I politely declined. Meanwhile, I was starving and wished he would’ve offered to buy me food instead. The third being that I interned in Studio 8H, the SNL studio, while in college. I would say that’s pretty Liz Lemon, yeah?
K: Any wisdom for a fangirl who’s not sure she’s got what it takes to translate her fangirl passions into a career?
L: For me, I gain inspiration from Lady BAMFs — specifically ones that work in my field. I look at Tina Fey, Shonda Rhimes, Amy Poehler, Emily Mortimer, and dozens other women making waves in the entertainment industry and think about their positive attributes that allow them to succeed. They’re passionate, wicked smart, have remarkable amounts of perseverance, and are unafraid to create content and put it out into the world. I find myself constantly thinking “what would ______ do in this situation?” and try to push myself to be half as good as these remarkable women.
My advice for the younger fangirl trying to turn her passions into a career is to find the people that inspire them. Find people they can connect to who make them want to be better and do better. Fangirls are passionate for a reason. It’s just a matter of taking that energy and excitement and channeling it in a productive way. Sometimes having that role model can ground a person, put their goal into perspective, and then set them on the right track.
K: God I feel like we’re in fangirl church right now. What are you doing twenty years from now? What fictional characters will you still be crying over?
What am I doing twenty years from now? I will be the Executive Producer of a 30 Rock reboot, probably, because the only person Tina Fey would trust with that kind of content and commitment is just another awkward brunette from Philly who isn’t afraid to shotgun a pizza or binge-watch Star Wars. On the weekends I will spend my time watching TV on some futuristic streaming service that plays directly out of my eyeballs.