Monthly Archives: April 2012

how to talk to other human beings

When I phrase it like that, it seems like something that should come standard in the toolkit for Being A Person (along with How To Breathe and How Not To Spill Water On Yourself While Drinking*). But it’s hard! People are scary, unknown entities. But the fact of the matter is than unless you’re resigning yourself to an unfashionably ascetic lifestyle, you are going to have to talk to people. This is the dread networking that no one wants to think about and everyone has to do.

But it is not that bad! A few strategies and you’re set. Let me, a newly-minted extrovert, give you all the hot tips. Listen up!


  • Find a place. Every night, in every city, people are hanging out somewhere. Go on Reddit. Go on Twitter. Read email list hosts. Grab your city’s alt-weekly. Pick something appealing, pull on your bootstraps and go. Take a friend if you’re nervous.
  • Actually talk. That means stop checking your phone, nursing your drink, hanging back in the corner. Be bold, take the plunge. Stuck for an opener? Try “Hi.” And tack on a question: “Who are you?” “What do you do?” “Why won’t that waiter give me more than one mini-quiche?” etc.
  • Use a name tag. Well, if appropriate for the situation. Read people’s names off their chests and call them by it. Indicate your own. Try not to stare at boobs.
  • Prepare some log lines. You can probably anticipate the kind of questions you’ll get asked (see above), so get your pithy responses ready ahead of time so you don’t have to flail verbally. And be aspirational! I say something like “I’m a writer and journalist who hosts my own podcast” because, well, I am and do. Bring up your student status later (if applicable) and watch people be impressed at your initiative. Get elevator pitches in shape for your novel/screenplay/fusion restaurant concept and then impress.
  • Plant seeds. This is Actual Advice I think I got from “How To Win Friends and Influence People for Teen Girls” (which does exist, ahem). When you first arrive somewhere, do the proverbial making-of-the-rounds, visit each cluster of people, and give them a little remark to come back to later, like “Bourbon, straight up? Excellent choice” or “I love your TARDIS necklace!” or “Where did you guys get all those mini-quiches?!” Then, if you come back to talk to them later, you can riff on what you first said. It’s a conversational callback! People like those.
  • Dutch courage. I never said I was a role model! But seriously, there is a reason that cocktail parties are the locus of so many socializing events. A sufficient amount of judiciously-applied booze makes talking easier. Don’t fight science (and don’t go overboard, for God’s sake. Eat a snack beforehand!)
  • Ask more questions. People like talking about themselves and what they like doing (a-duh). So ask, nod, listen, ask more. Jump in if you’ve got something really cool to say, but the secret to good conversation is that you don’t do all the work.
  • Promote. If you’ve got a project (like a blog! like a podcast!) and you’re talking to the kind of people who might dig it, by all means TELL THEM. If they don’t want to read/listen, they can ignore you, but if you never tell them in the first place, they will not know about it. I like to say things like “I’ve just started a podcast and I’d love to hear what you think about it,” because 1. flattery of their opinion! and 2. if they do end up listening, they’ll do it with an engaged and critical ear, which is a win-win.
  • Corollary to the above: business cards. I don’t care if you think it’s dumb. It’s the easiest way to get your information to someone. Get fancy pretty ones if you like or just buy the freebies from Vistaprint. Name, email, twitter, website, and a joke for good measure. Boom. And then give them to people. Exhort them to stay in touch.
  • Believe in yourself, ’cause that’s the place to start. And I say hey! But seriously. You’ve gotta muster some self-confidence one way or another because if you, as the person who spends the most time around you, do not think you are interesting and have something to say, you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing anyone else.
The end! More or less. Anyone else got some secrets? Or just want to say hi? True story: this blog has comments enabled!**

*Which, okay, not all of us have mastered
**I know you’re out there! I can hear you breathing on Google Analytics!!

effective writing

Recently, I have gotten three different, good chunks of writerly advice, and I’m going to attempt stringing them together on a common thread.

A while ago, I emailed Kate of Eat the Damn Cake for some wisdom from a real-life, freelance-writing, blogger-type. She was wonderfully friendly, and gave me excellent guidance, including this, paraphrasedly: “Your blog needs to be about something, and, at first at least, that thing cannot be you, because people will not want to read about you.”

Good advice–so good, in fact, that I couldn’t make myself follow it. I like writing about myself! I can’t help it. I’m 22 and the tiniest bit narcissistic and I love to riff on the absurdities I experience firsthand in my day-to-day life (because there are so many?). But though I say that this is a blog about living while writing and vice versa, and it is, I guess, that can really mean anything in practice.

Now, please read this article on Boing Boing. The advice is all so, so good: timely, relevant, practical. Especially this:

You’re only as interesting as the things you do, find or say. Even if you’re a fantastically gifted writer, if you make your work solely about you, you won’t just bore your readers: you’ll eventually get bored of yourself and give up.

It’s true! You, me, the creative types and writers especially, need to do. Make. Not just describe or transcribe or subscribe, not only render and wrangle but literally create some things that we can write about. Do you forget, like I do, that the word creative doesn’t just mean eccentric or caffeine-addicted or good at painting but describes something transitive, the action that comes from create?

Well. The last surprise of the week was when I got an email letting me know I was one of 30 kids nominated to speak at commencement. I was floored. And thrilled. And terrified. And definitely in need of advice. I could write about so many things! Be funny? Tell a story? Talk about the future? I found some guidance, no-nonsense and useful, from a speaker last year, and it’s totally shifted the paradigm in how I look at writing.

“Do not start by saying my speech is about,” she told me. “Your speech can be about anything. What do you want your speech to do?”

Pow. Writing that does things. I had never thought of it that way. But so much of my writing, of anyone’s writing, is supposed to do: my newspaper reviews tell you if concerts sucked or not, my BA paper convinces you that the medieval author of the Roman d’Enéas was trying to educate his audience in courtly love, my culture articles show you why the things we like to read or see or listen to matter, even the shitty ones. This is the ultimate goal of nonfiction writing, isn’t it? Acting on the reader.

Ergo, this blog needs a job (kind of like its author! ha ha ha). So: I want this writing to inspire you to make things. I want to make you care about the details and dig into the nitty-gritty and grind it yourself, pickle your ownget the hell outta Dodge. And then write about it. Send postcards. Get all those wonderful verbs into the first-person past tense and then keep on keepin’ on. I’ll lead by example, fingers crossed, and I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

And the subject of my putative speech? I don’t know yet. Little ideas are knocking around my brain like rocks in a tumbler. But I hope it makes you think. I hope it makes you grateful. I hope I spit out a gem.

turn, turn, turn

The weather this week! It has been of two minds. Likewise my food:

Sunday, it was Spring, so a frittata with actual asparagus. Because it’s here, it’s here, spring is finally coming back for real and asparagus is no-pun-intended springing up nearby! And frittatas are a great and easy kitchen-sink-y kind of meal strategy for when you have produce you don’t know what to do with (method: sauté things in ovenproof skillet, add shredded cheese, beat four eggs and dump ’em in, let the bottom get set, then pop into an oven at 375 and bake until puffed up and golden. Boom!)

Today: practically winter and a decidedly wintry root vegetable chili with some pumpkin biscuits (the pumpkin was supposed to go in the chili, but then my poor dutch oven was thisclose to no-pun-intended-again spilling the beans, so: carbs). My blood sugar while making this chili was so low that I forgot all the spices until it had been simmering for like 20 minutes and couldn’t figure out why it tasted so bland. A-durp durp.

Eating seasonally has all kinds of political, moral, organic-and-crunchy reasons going for it, but the reason I like doing it (besides the fact that I want as much of my food bux as possible to go directly to farmers) is because it’s a way to get in tune with things. Seasons are constantly changing, but they always change predictably, in a cycle. Medievals were up on it! Fortune was a wheel, turning: regnabo, regno, regnavi. Now things are more static, the changes unpredictable jolts, like a windowless office with a flickering fluorescent bulb. When I said today, perhaps with too much glee, that asparagus season was starting, I was met with replies like “I didn’t know asparagus had a season.”

Do people not read the Bible? Or listen to the Byrds? Spring isn’t just when flowers bloom and CVS runs out of Benadryl, it’s when green vegetables finally return and we can stop eating nothing but potatoes and turnips! If you buy all your produce vacuum-sealed at the Megamart, you are missing out, and missing the point. You won’t get excited about the return of spring because inside the produce section, it’s always spring. Which is both boring and eerie, if you think about it.

Anyway, the happy ending is that even though we had a warmish winter, crops don’t seem to be too worse for the wear. I have perused the weekly email from Green City Market, and you guys, microgreens! More asparagus! Rhubarb! Stuff is coming back to life, myself included, and I’m so excited that I have to listen to this movement of Carmina Burana while dreaming about compotes and vegetable tarts. Eeee.

we need to talk about new york

Most of my life, I had this problem where I did not like New York City. What I can remember from visits as a kid is that it was 1. full of buildings that are tall enough to blot out the sun 2. usually raining and 3. very dangerous (even though I’d never personally felt threatened, I’d figured out that statistically, everyone in New York has to be victim to a crime in order to supply Law & Order with an adequate stream of plot lines). My experience was limited to the inside of Penn Station, Waldorf=Astoria*, and a single Broadway Show**.

The part that always bothered me was that there were zillions of neighborhoods and subway lines and literally everyone seemed to know which was which. Things like Upper West and Lower East side made geographical sense, if I thought about it, but then there were places like Hell’s Kitchen and SoHo and Greenwich Village*** that just had these connotations and everyone seemed to know them and love or hate them. I’d read enough Woody Allen and absorbed enough Sex and the City by miasma to know that this was not just a city, this was the city. It was supposed to be utopia for writers and neurotics, and yet, as an 11-year-old on track to become both, I declared myself too hopelessly unsophisticated for New York and resigned never to live there. To paraphrase Boromir, one did not simply move to New York City.

And then, last summer, I simply…moved to New York City. The exact reason lies somewhere between “to be with my boyfriend” and “to have an internship in publishing” but in point of fact I’m still not quite sure how I got there. My best friend had just spent six months there and survived, which planted the idea that hey, maybe you could just go there and live, like it’s any other city. And hadn’t I just confirmed in my brush with Paris that these mythical cities with streets of gold were actually just as strewn with trash as any other? I convinced myself that working at a literary agency would train me to be a better romance novelist, packed up a suitcase, and went.

I found a bedroom in a tiny, tiny walkup in the East Village. I slept on a bare mattress, wore wobbly heels down to the L every morning, and worked at a job where I was terrified of failing or spilling my water bottle on the conference table. I survived on hard-boiled farmers’ market eggs, microwave oatmeal, and mac and cheese. My boyfriend was very busy, and I didn’t know anyone else, and I was alone, a lot.

But I was determined, after my semi-failure in Paris, to make good use of my time in the city, to channel Fran Leibowitz more than Sylvia Plath. I went out every night, because you can do that in New York, to shows and bars and cafés and parks and movies and restaurants, taking myself on dates to eat vegan cupcakes or hear Ira Glass tell stories in Brooklyn or see some banjo music. Or else I’d go to free yoga classes, pick up some fruit-flavored beer, and sit on the roof of my building and watch the sun set behind the silhouette of the Chrysler Building. I realized why my uncle had once said that you can get the best or worst of anything, 24 hours a day, in New York, and it was great.

I figured out the neighborhoods, mostly, at least far enough to know which ones I liked. I explored. I did okay at my job. I never got mugged, though I did see an episode of SVU being filmed. And then I got it, just in time to leave, and just enough to make me want to go back.

*Yes, they use an equals sign instead of a hyphen. The extra line is for luxury.
**The Music Man. I still have the CD
***Pronounce the w. That’s what real New Yorkers do