Going through years-old photos, ticket stubs, letters, and notes gives a body a strange nostalgic weight. The reminder that you lived all that time and loved all those people has a physical remainder — these things. These things you are sorting, some of which will end up in a landfill, some of which will make art, some of which will go back into the box or tin to be rediscovered the next time you move (which will hopefully be never).
The tuft of cotton he forced me to pick alongside the highway the very first time I visited him in North Carolina. He goaded me get out of the car, run to the edge of the field, grab a tuft of someone’s ripe crop. And I did it because I’d never seen cotton in person before, not as anything other than clothing I purchased in a store. The tuft hung from my rearview mirror for the duration of our relationship, two more years. It stays.
The letters she wrote me when they were first starting to date, when she was borderline obsessed with my friendship and I was too insecure and alone to recognize her instability. She sounds manic in every single one. They go.
The Jump, Little Children burned CDs she sent me in 2003, along with a few letters she had accrued over the course of months. We’ll meet for the first time this year, when she comes to the east coast for grad school. It stays.
The pictures of my first love with our cockatiel, Sebastian. The last phone conversation we had was after Sebastian died; he wanted to know what year we’d gotten him, so he could calculate his age and decide whether he’d been a good bird-father. I Google his full name and try to find him in the internet white pages so I can mail the images without disturbing his new life. They go.
When I do book signings, most of my line is made up of young girls with their mothers, teen girls alone, and mother friend groups. But there’s usually at least one boy with a stack of my books. This boy is anywhere from 8-19, he’s carrying a worn stack of the Books of Bayern, and he’s excited and unashamed to be a fan of those books. As I talk to him, 95% of the time I learn this fact: he is home schooled.
There’s something that happens to our boys in school. Maybe it’s because they’re around so many other boys, and the pressure to be a boy is high. They’re looking around at each other, trying to figure out what it means to be a boy—and often their conclusion is to be “not a girl.” Whatever a girl is, they must be the opposite. So a book written by a girl? With a girl on the cover? Not something a boy should be caught reading.
But something else happens in school too. Without even meaning to perhaps, the adults in the boy’s life are nudging the boy away from “girl” books to “boy” books. When I go on tour and do school visits, sometimes the school will take the girls out of class for my assembly and not invite the boys. I talk about reading and how to fall in love with reading. I talk about storytelling and how to start your own story. I talk about things that aren’t gender-exclusive. But because I’m a girl and there are girls on my covers, often I’m deemed a girl-only author. I wonder, when a boy author goes to those schools with their books with boys on the covers, are the girls left behind? I want to question this practice. Even if no boy ever really would like one of my books, by not inviting them, we’re reinforcing the wrong and often-damaging notion that there’s girls-only stuff and you aren’t allowed to like it.
I hear from teachers that when they readPrincess Academyin class (by far the most girlie-sounding of all my books) that the boys initially protest but in the end like it as much as the girls, or as one teacher told me recently, “the boys were even bigger fans than the girls.”
Another staple in my signing line is the family. The mom and daughters get their books signed, and the mom confides in me, “My son reads your books on the sly” or “My son loves your books too but he’s embarrassed to admit it.” Why are they embarrassed? Because we’ve made them that way. We’ve told them in subtle ways that, in order to be a real boy, to be manly, they can’t like anything girls like.
Though sometimes those instructions aren’t subtle at all. Recently at a signing, a family had all my books. The mom had me sign one of them for each of her children. A 10-year-old boy lurked in the back. I’d signed some for all the daughters and there were more books, so I asked the boy, “Would you like me to sign one to you?” The mom said, “Yeah, Isaac, do you want her to put your name in agirlbook?” and the sisters all giggled.
Good bosses and mentors take a stand on how they want things done, which sets the standard for the organisation at large. No manager’s style will make everybody happy. The key is to be consistent, so that employees learn how to operate within your particular approach.
While at McKinsey, I worked on a project for a manager with incredible attention to detail. His reports were premeditated and polished to a tee: the structure of the document, the choice of words, the rigour of the analysis, even the labeling and placement of the footnotes. At first, I grumbled about his “anal-retentiveness.” But I soon learned that his painstaking approach drove real results and I benefited greatly from employing it throughout my time at the company.
In my next job, I made investments for a billionaire entrepreneur who was a risk taker, unbound by process, structure and other norms. At first, this was chaotic and confusing. But he, too, was incredibly successful and he taught me to be comfortable operating in an environment in constant flux. I learned how to anticipate the unpredictable. And without this guidance, launching and running an internet start-up would have been a daunting task indeed.
The key is: whatever your style, teach it and bring others onboard. They may not love your approach, but they will adopt it. Nobody respects a flip-flopper.
2. Inspire through conviction.
The best mentors and bosses are those who inspire through passion and conviction. Marvin was a master at getting people to do things they normally wouldn’t do because he believed in his ideas so strongly. He got Diane von Furstenberg to ride an elephant to a Bloomingdale’s store opening event. He convinced the city of New York to change the direction of traffic on a major avenue so that the Queen of England could visit Bloomingdale’s. For Marvin, the sky was the limit and his passion inspired those around him to dream big. Whatever you believe in, whatever you stand for, broadcast it with all of your heart. Conviction is infectious — demonstrate it and your people will dream big with you.
3. Give honest feedback frequently.
You need to be extraordinarily honest and forthcoming about the feedback you give your mentees, positive and negative. Your people can’t be proud of what they don’t know they’ve done right and they can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. A month into my job at McKinsey, I was shocked by a performance review from the partner leading my first project, detailing my need for improvement in several areas. But I sucked it up, made changes and came to really appreciate granular criticism on a regular basis as critical to my growth. I probably would not have progressed at the company without the constant, tell-it-like-it-is feedback loop.
Last month, when M’O completed its latest round of financing, I received a message, out of the blue, from that same partner who gave me my first performance review. “I am so proud of you,” it said. So the cycle of feedback continues. Be honest, be critical, be forthright.
4. Share yourself
Have the confidence and willingness to share your experiences and relationships with your people. That’s half of what they are looking for.
Marvin Traub went out of his way to share with me his vast network of contacts. Over daily breakfasts at the Regency and lunches at the Four Seasons, Marvin and his business partner, Morty Singer, introduced me to hundreds of colleagues and associates — including my co-founder, Lauren Santo Domingo. Many of these introductions have formed the basis of my professional community. And Marvin’s generosity in this regard motivated me to work even harder for him. The point: be generous with your network of knowledge and contacts and your mentees will bend over backwards for you. Hoarding only slows their growth and fosters resentment.
5. Encourage debate
Just because you are the boss, it doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Sure, you know that, but you really have to believe and show it. Encourage debate among your people. Get them to speak up and voice their opinions, even if they’re unpopular opinions, particularly with you. Let feisty people tell you your idea is stupid. Help timid people articulate their support for your idea. Good mentors listen and learn and develop outcomes that take into account different personalities and all sides of the argument. To be clear: this is not about letting people be rude — it’s about enabling people to say whatever they think about the idea at hand.
HOW TO BE A GOOD EMPLOYEE AND MENTEE:
1. Debate respectfully
In keeping with the previous point, when your mentor encourages debate, be vocal in expressing your opinions. Articulate your point and provide evidence to back it up. But don’t get out of line if your boss doesn’t see it your way. Your boss is usually your boss for a reason. Pattern recognition and concern for other factors may influence the final decision, even if the outcome seems counter-intuitive to you.
2. Learn from the good and the bad
Nobody is perfect. All bosses and mentors have good and bad qualities, just like you do. Don’t lose sight of the good because you are preoccupied with the bad. And try to learn from what you don’t like: make a note of what you don’t agree with, so that you might do differently when you find yourself in a similar situation. If you’re not also a mentor already, you will be one day and you’ll want to draw on all of these notes.
Make sure you share the work you are doing. Your mentor isn’t psychic. So share loudly and share often. Provide regular updates and schedule frequent one-on-ones. Pick up the phone, pop into the office. Do not wait until a mentor or boss has to ask about something. Indeed, if he or she has to ask, it’s a clear sign that you are undercommunicating.
4. Ask for help
Always ask your boss or mentor for help when you need it. Whether you don’t fully understand a task or feel stretched by your workload, it’s your obligation to ask for back-up. If you think you might need help, then you need help. Said differently: it’s unacceptable to not ask for help and then miss a deadline. That’s a sure fire way to get fired. No boss should be upset with you for asking for help. A boss will, however, look at you critically if you overpromise and underdeliver. Don’t mess this one up.
5. Your boss is human too
Just as you want your mentor to take a genuine interest in what you are doing, take a genuine interest in return. It can be lonely at the top and there is often a lot of good that comes from trying to get your boss to open up in an appropriate but personal way. Having a relaxed human dialogue with a boss or mentor is often the best way to strengthen your relationship and make the most of your learning. But be honest and respectful about how you reach out. Idle chatter or kissing-up is interpreted as just that and may do more harm than good. Better to pick a topic of common interest and dive deep, batting stuff around over a period of time, like an extended chess game. Bosses need love, too, and sometimes the best form of love is a conversation with about something where both parties temporarily put business aside and lose yourselves in something personal or even frivolous.
Will getting an education help you achieve the American dream? College graduates still earn twice what their peers with only a high school diploma earn, but if you don’t have the educational and social opportunities you need to actually get into college and graduate, your chances of raking in a higher salary are pretty slim. Indeed, in an appearance this week on The Daily Show to promote his new book The Price of Inequality, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Jon Stewart that the life chances of “a young person born in the United States” are “more dependent on the income and education of his parents” than in any other other advanced country in the world.
Although the 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth have access to better education opportunities, we still tell ourselves that kids growing up in low income communities with parents who don’t have an education can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and end up as a Harvard grads if they just work really hard. We saw this attitude at play earlier this year with Forbes columnist Gene Marks’ much derided “here’s how you poor minority children should try to get an education” advice column, “If I Was a Black Kid.” And, although there areincredibly inspiring of examples of kids making it out of the hood and getting accepted to top-notch schools, that’s not the norm.
Stiglitz says the inequality of opportunity we’re facing now is worse than it was in Old Europe, which means the American Dream has become a myth. His conversation with Stewart raises some great questions about why we’re accepting an institutionally driven system that lets people who have wealth play by and create a different set of rules. Stiglitz also goes on to question the way banks were bailed out in the financial crisis but student loan debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.
So stop fucking talking about “bootstraps,” alright?
“The world is not full of Attractive People and Unattractive People. It’s full of people who are attractive to some and not to others. I hear from trolls all the time who complain that they don’t want to be “forced” to find nasty, ugly fat women attractive–which utterly baffles me, since the last thing I want to do is encourage fat-hating dicks to date fat women. You don’t find fat people attractive? Fabulous. Don’t date them. I will find a way to pick myself up and move on without your love. But to assume your lack of sexual interest in fat chicks must be universal–or that the mere existence of self-confident fat people having healthy relationships somehow “forces” you to find fat attractive–is the height of fucking narcissism.”— Kate Harding (via Bon-Bon)
PHILLY FOLKS. if you know any rooms for rent starting in august for under $400/month (including utilities), hit me up? things that would be awesome:
roommates who are sober
being vegan or at least vegetarian is also awesome, but i’m not sure of how many xvx folks are in philly.
somewhere that’s okay for a cat. riot is mostly an outdoor cat but if there’s lots of feral dogs/cats in the area or nowhere with a bit of greenery for him to play in i guess that i’ll have to make him an indoor cat.
preferably near a subway station. but i’ll have my bike, so this is a secondary sort of thing, i guess.
roommates who are okay with my gendery stuff and don’t make rape jokes and do other fucked up stuff
‘The Lone White Gunman’ is a half-truth. They are never lone, but they are always armed. And they are always armed because America has no qualms about arming them. Arming them is, in fact, the America way—coddled and enshrined in the Constitution. White Supremacist Capitalist Heteropatriarchy prevents us from analyzing the pathology of these young white men and their sexual obsessions with weaponry, forbids us from seeing them as a part of a frightening continuum, blocks us from recognizing white male bodies as infinitely dangerous, and distracts us from seeing the American government’s complicity in their carnage.
I’ll tell you this: When I enter a public space, whether it be a movie theater, an airport. a political rally, or school grounds, I’m not really looking out for black boys or Arabs; I’m looking out for white boys.
This is the realest shit ever. As much as it’s portrayed everywhere that POC are armed and dangerous, I will go on to say that I’ve never been worried about a POC being armed. In all my years of living (which isn’t very long), I never knew a single POC with a gun, but I knew all the white people in my life that had guns…and there are many. Maybe it’s all the pictures they take of themselves at the shooting range. But we’re worried about “Daquan with the dime bag of weed”
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico, I felt the life sliding out of me, a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear. I was seven, I lay in the car watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass. My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
‘How do you know if you are going to die?’ I begged my mother. We had been traveling for days. With strange confidence she answered, ‘When you can no longer make a fist.’
Years later I smile to think of that journey, the borders we must cross separately, stamped with our unanswerable woes. I who did not die, who am still living, still lying in the backseat behind all my questions, clenching and opening one small hand.
“Yes, we live in a sexist culture, in which women have no good choices when it comes to our bodies. We live in a sexist culture in which women are valued primarily as sexual objects, and at the same time are shamed for our sexuality. It seems to me that we have two choices as to how to respond to this. We can try to navigate the narrow, essentially impossible shoals of these contradictory expectations, and try to find that perfect, socially acceptable line between slut and prude.
Or we can say, “Fuck it. There is no way I can win — so I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want. I’m going to wear overalls, or I’m going to wear high heels. I’m going to have sex with twenty strangers in a night, or I’m not going to have sex with anyone. I’m going to dress conservatively and professionally in public at all times, or I’m going to sell naked pictures of myself on the Internet if I bloody well feel like it.”
And in saying, “I can’t win, so I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want to do,” we can create the beginnings of a victory. We can create the beginnings of a world where we really can win. We can create the beginnings of a world where we’re a little more free than the women who came before us… and where the women who come after us are a little more free than we are. We probably can’t create a perfect world, where women’s bodies aren’t commodified in the slightest (not in this generation, anyway). But we can create a better world: a world where women’s bodies and minds belong less to the patriarchy, and more to ourselves.”—Greta Christina (What I May Do With My Naked Body: A Reply to Azar Majedi About the #NudePhotoRevolutionaries Calendar)
I created a blog for the WOC Speculative Fiction Book Club. Please signal boost.
It is at motheroctavia.tumblr.com
For anyone better than me at keeping up with online projects who wants to participate in a book club/blogfest with my friend Thomas. She is smart, the reading list will be great, and I’m sure the discussions will be awesome as fuck.