18 / Ask for What You Want

When editor of FastCompany.com Anjali Khosla was in her late twenties, she was finishing up an MFA and contemplating starting another, this time in animation and film (she was really into making rudimentary stop-motion videos inspired by high-minded concepts like Gilgamesh). She happened to apply to the Studio 20 program at New York University, even though, she admits, she was never a big fan of the media. Inspired by the citizen journalism that was popping up around 2008 (and at the urging of her dad, who told her to check it out), Anjali ended up going.

During one class, the executive editor of the New York Daily News came to Anjali's class to give a talk. Even though she wasn't familiar with the Daily News, she got his card, studied what the paper was doing on social media, and wrote to him. This was before papers had social media editors, but Anjali pitched herself anyway—and they let her join the team as a consultant.

I asked Anjali if she was scared to put herself out there like that. It was nervous-making, yes, but she knew she had to get a job in journalism. Plus, "a little bit of fear can be pretty healthy if the fear is driven by yourself and not by other people," she told me. She worked at the Daily News full-time for six months while going to school because she wanted to be brought on permanently...and she was.

Anjali and I also talk in this episode about how important it is to keep learning at your job and to ask for the raise you want—don't lowball yourself, and don't unnecessarily justify it. Plus: Just how hard is it to get a journalism job if you don't have an "in"? Pretty hard—and that's why it's up to managers to go outside of referrals and read applications, especially if they want to diversify their offices. Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin and Sunday Lights. This interview was recorded with the help of Google Hangouts.

17 / Call Yourself a Writer

How much does the Life TK audience know about being a professional dominatrix? That was one of the first questions my interviewee—the remarkable Melissa Febos—had for me when we recorded today's episode. I don't have that data, unfortunately, but it's a fair question because Melissa is the author of the amazing memoir Whip Smart, about the time in her twenties she spent as a college student and professional dom, one of the best books I read last year. Whip Smart is about so much more than the world of domming; it's about power, desire, control, and Melissa's struggle with drug addiction. Get it. Read it. Love it.

Also one of the best books I read last year: Melissa's powerhouse essay collection Abandon Me, which chronicles an emotional, intimate, fraught long-distance relationship she had with a lover, and her reconnection to her birth father. Abandon Me was named one of the best books of 2017 by Esquire, Refinery29, BookRiot, Electric Literature, The Cut, and more, and The New Yorker said that the "sheer fearlessness of the narrative is captivating." What I love about Abandon Me is not only does the subject matter invoke this incredible feeling of vulnerability, but also Melissa is a master of form. A lot of the essays are braided and the prose is amazing, dipping into religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture—this is a book that will turn you inside out emotionally and intellectually, and leave you wanting more.

So here's some more: Today Melissa and I are talking about the process of writing, how Whip Smart poured out of her—and how Abandon Me was different. Whip Smart started as a five-page memoir assignment for a nonfiction survey class, and when Melissa handed in hers, about her first session as a dom, her professor recognized she was on to something. Melissa was told to drop everything and write this book. "Anyone who finds the work they are called to do will recognize this feeling," she told me. "When I started writing that story, it just—it was writing me. It just came out. It wasn't easy, but there was an engine in me for it, and the story wanted to be told."

If you're wondering, like I did, whether Abandon Me felt just as urgent to write, it did—but it was different because Melissa was still living through some of the experiences she was writing about. She didn't know how the book was going to turn out because she wasn't sure, well, what she was writing to. "I just knew I had to examine it in order to move through it," she said.

As I often do on Life TK, I asked the million-dollar question: Did Melissa ever feel like giving up? Here's what she told me:

"Oh God, I felt like giving up yesterday. It's so lonely sometimes. I can't really speak for other kinds of writers, but because I'm writing memoir or work based on my personal experience, I spend a lot of time alone, re-living and examining the most painful, sort of incoherent parts of my experience. Which is a lot. It's not required. It's not even recommended for a lot of people. It's really painful. I have often wanted to give up. ... In my early twenties, when I had graduated college and I wasn't writing and I wasn't reading and I was an active drug addict working as a dominatrix, I was like, 'I feel so far from the life that I thought I'd be living, and from the person I am.'"

But how did she get through it? By getting quiet, she told me, and listening to the inner wisdom that's underneath the fear we all experience. "For me, even in those times when I felt incredibly hopeless, far from where I needed to be, if I got really quiet, I could hear it. It's like those moments when I was like, 'You have to get clean.' 'You have to quit this job.'"

One of my favorite parts of Whip Smart is when Melissa, wanting to use her degree, takes a break from domming and starts a new job working in editorial...and it blows, so she quits. You know I'm the A-number-one fan of hanging in there, but Melissa's confidence made me think twice about my "no quitting" policy. We talk about how she knew that job wasn't the right fit, and what she did after she left (dog walking, assistant to a really rich lady).

And finally, I ask Melissa for her advice for Life TK listeners. Keep going, and call yourself a writer even if you don't write for a living. "Tell people about your work, even if your heart is broken out of rejection, send it back out again," she said. "It doesn't feel good, it feels like the wrong thing to do, but we have to do it anyway." Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin, Drifting Spade, and Vulcan Street. This interview was recorded with the help of Google Hangouts.

16 / The Anti–Five Year Plan

A first for Life TK—we're dipping into engagement this week with Rubina Madan Fillion, the director of audience engagement at The Intercept. There, Rubina runs social media; works on SEO, analytics, newsletters, membership, and more; and is charged with not only growing the number of people who are engaging with The Intercept but also making its content more shareable.

Rubina pretty much always knew she wanted to be a journalist, but it took her a little while to figure out just what type of journalist she was going to be. After a couple of impressive internships, she landed a job as an education reporter at a small newspaper in Georgia—but it didn't feel quite right. She didn't like the daily grind of churning out words and words and words, and was more interested in alternative storytelling. "When I was reporting in Georgia," she says, "I read the book called Quarterlife Crisis, and I was convinced I was going through one because I could not figure things out. I was so unhappy, but I couldn't really figure out why. I knew I needed to leave my job." Sound familiar? Listen here for Rubina's surprising anecdote about which Comedy Central TV show inspired her to get a master's degree from Columbia University's journalism school.

Once at Columbia, Rubina took a graphics class—alternative storytelling!—that set her on the path to the career she has now. Her professor liked her final project so much that she asked Rubina if she'd be interested in freelancing for the graphics department of The New. York. Times.

But before she ended up at the Times, Rubina faced another career challenge. She interned at the Associated Press and hoped for a job there...but they weren't hiring. However, it only freed her up to permalance at the Times, which led to a full-time job at The Wall Street Journal, where she spent most of her twenties.

I assumed that someone who ticked off the New York Times and WSJ boxes—places where journalists dream of working—before turning 30 must have had an intense vision board, but that wasn't necessarily the case for Rubina, and she lets me in on the perk of not making a five-year plan. "If I had a five-year plan, I would have always been a little bit unhappy with what I was doing then, and thinking about what I would do in the future," she says. "Whereas I feel like for most of my life and most of my career, I've been really appreciative of what I have and been able to go with the flow with whatever the next step would be."

In this episode, Rubina also talks about the toughest career decision she ever made: leaving her job at WSJ, a place so comfortable it felt like home, for one at The Intercept...when she was five months' pregnant. Job uncertainty—my favorite subject, and I share a little bit on this, too. Oh, but one happy update: My job situation is not as precarious now as it was at the time of this recording, and, in fact, things are improving for me. This is journalism, folks. Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin. This interview was recorded with the help of Google Hangouts.

15 / The Go-Slow Approach

My interview today is with Melissa Ludtke, a journalist who has reported for Sports Illustrated, been a correspondent for Time, worked at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, and is also the creator of a transmedia project called Touching Home in China. But in today's interview we're talking about life in her twenties, and Melissa's was marked by the famous 1978 court case Ludtke v. Kuhn in which she, a young journalist backed by her employers, Sports Illustrated and Time Inc., sued the Major League Baseball Commissioner for the right to report from players' locker rooms. Melissa is at work writing a memoir about this experience, and I can't. Wait. To. Read. It.

Melissa didn't fall into sports reporting so easily. She had graduated and wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do next when she had a chance encounter with football player and commentator Frank Gifford, who told her she knew a lot about sports—for a girl. Melissa decided that sports journalism was going to be it, and Gifford invited her to New York City to tour ABC Sports.

Despite having a foot in the door, Melissa didn't get a job at ABC Sports right away because—twist!—the women's movement had started, and companies were coming under fire for putting women who had college degrees in administrative work. First she had to pay her dues as a secretary for Harper's Bazaar (which, I guess, didn't care about that). But when Melissa wasn't working, she'd shadow at ABC, absorbing as much as she could.

Melissa ended up at Sports Illustrated as a researcher/reporter, and using her press pass, spent night after night at the ballpark. There was just one problem: Because she was a woman, Melissa wasn't allowed to go into the players' locker room for interviews before the game started (this was after batting practice—no one was naked!). If one of her male cohorts couldn't persuade a player to step outside and do an interview with Melissa, she didn't get any work done that day.

But Melissa didn't make waves—it wasn't her style—and she didn't stop showing up. And then, a breakthrough that signaled her go-slow approach was working: Mickey Morabito, the Yankees' PR director, asked her if she'd like to join the men reporters in Yankees manager Billy Martin's office after games to do interviews. And for the 1977 World Series, both teams—the Yankees and Dodgers—agreed to allow Melissa access to their locker rooms to report.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't come to pass. The baseball commissioner banned Melissa from the locker rooms during the World Series because she was a woman.

And so, Melissa became the face of a lawsuit against Major League Baseball for equal rights. To find out how the judge in her court case ruled, listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin. This interview was recorded with the help of Google Hangouts.

14 / Waiting for Life to Start

My interview today is with Mandy Len Catron, author of How to Fall in Love with Anyone, a memoir in essays, and a professor of English and creative writing at the University of British Columbia. You might be familiar with Mandy's name because she wrote one of the most popular Modern Love columns of all time: "To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This."

As her book's title might let on, Mandy studies love—what makes love work? What makes it last? Does it really work the way we see it working in the movies?—so not only is this interview appropriate for Galentine's Day, but also, as Mandy tells me, a lot of the decisions she made in her twenties were because of a relationship she was in.

"When I was in my twenties, and I was trying to figure out how to be a person in the world, I had this idea that if I attached myself to other interesting people, then suddenly I would become interesting, and I could count somehow," she says. "My primary way to do that was through my romantic relationship. If I could go back and do it differently, I would invest more seriously in my own interests. I wish I had just said, 'F*** it, I'm going to be a writer,' and writing is a legitimate way to spend my time."

Mandy and I discuss struggling with the belief that the only path to writing legitimacy is getting an MFA...and the downside to starting an MFA program when you're 22: You might not have as much life experience as your older cohorts. Actually, make that the downside of your twenties in full: no life experience, zero patience, and, as Mandy says, "I was constantly waiting for my life to start."

Mandy also talks about jobs she held while writing (competitive barista-ing to interning at National Geographic Kids), the best thing she did for her writing career (pushing through the fear of sharing unpolished work via a blog), and what Day 1 of Writing a Book looks like (a lot like Day 10).

I asked Mandy if, in the years she spent shaping her book manuscript, she ever felt like giving up—and she remembers a time when she, well, did. Mandy went to a retreat where Cheryl Strayed was speaking, and asked the famous memoirist if she had any advice for someone who was writing and just felt grossed out by her own voice. Mandy's fix was to take a year off, and in that time, she read a book by Queen Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, that gave her an idea on how to structure her own. What she ended up publishing didn't follow that structure, but it moved the needle.

For more, listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin. This interview was recorded with the help of Skype.

13 / The Next Step

Vanessa Hua has done something most of us never will: She's traveled to faraway places including China, Burma, Panama, South Korea, and Ecuador to report. Here she shares what steps she took to transform a career working in business and tech journalism (at the L.A. Times, Hartford Courant, and San Francisco Examiner and later Chronicle) into her dream job of reporting abroad. How do you even conceive of an overseas reporting project? Vanessa shares smart tips for getting started and applying for fellowships.

In addition to being an accomplished journalist—read her column in the San Francisco Chronicle—Vanessa is also a fiction writer (seek out her book of short stories, Deceit and Other Possibilities, and watch for her novel, A River of Stars, coming this year). Listen to her tell me how to get started on your book, and let's make #buttinthechair happen this year. Plus: thoughts on getting the most out of a mentoring relationship and finding your writing tribe. Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin.

12 / Let the Others Be Average

Life TK is breaking the rules this week, because Caitlin Kelly's career didn't begin in her 20s—she started in high school. The award-winning journalist and author of two books recounts how she got her first assignment and a fellowship that changed the trajectory of her career, and tells us how to write a good profile when your subject won't even talk to you. Plus, thoughts on micro-mentoring, the detriments of cheerleading culture, and a dose of tough love. Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called Colrain and The Zeppelin.

11 / Ask and Give in the Same Sentence

Freelance entertainment, culture, and travel writer Valentina Valentini (Vanity Fair, the BBC, Departures, The L.A. Times, VICE, Refinery29, the list goes on!) was 19 when she abandoned the political science degree she was pursuing at a school in Boston and moved to San Diego without a plan. Valentina and I connect on a spiritual level about our love of organization, and we discuss how scary it was for her to find a job in the middle of the L.A. writers' strike, how she made her first story happen, her best pitching advice, and much more. Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin.

10 / Don't Get in the Elevator with Anna

Deenie Hartzog-Mislock, formerly the copy director of Vogue, now a full-time freelance copywriter, essayist, and blogger, has one of the most unique "how did I get to be a writer" stories—it involves auditions and fishnets as much as it does F. Scott Fitzgerald. Here's Deenie on how "I don't have time" really means "I don't want it enough," the fine art of politely needling your way into getting an assignment, and, of course, what it's like to work at the one-and-only Vogue with the equally one-and-only Anna Wintour. Listen below, or subscribe in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

This episode was produced by Erin McKinstry. Our music, from Blue Dot Sessions, is called The Zeppelin.

9 / Work Harder! Lean In!

Vanessa Grigoriadis, contributing editor at the New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair, and author of the new book Blurred Lines, on reporting about sexual consent on college campuses, the glory days of magazine journalism, influencers, why working in your twenties is so important, meeting Harvey Weinstein, and chillaxing with Mariah Carey. Listen below, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

8 / Badass, Renaissance, Whatever-You-Need Editor!

Happy Friday from Life TK—here's a jazzy little bonus episode, an interview with my dear friend Ettie Berneking! Ettie, a food and drinks writer and social media consultant, had the poor luck of visiting me in Brooklyn the week she turned 30. So I stopped her from enjoying an egg sandwich and made her talk to me about this EXCITING life transformation. Plus: the weird way we met, finding the courage to go full-time freelance, and the importance of selling yourself. Listen below, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

6 / Fear and Doubt at Every Stage!

Poet Arisa White goes deep in this episode of Life TK, discussing her early days as an arts coordinator—wrangling dancers and writing poems on command—the magic of collaboration (and the one that didn’t quite work at first), what it’s like to be an opera librettist, projects that are daunting throughout the entire process, and finding inspiration in the childlike question of “Why?” Listen below, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

5 / Go to the Damn Job!

This is a very special episode—it's my call with Linda Ellerbee, award-winning journalist (seriously, pick an honor...she's won it) and my introduction to current events (Nick News, anyone?). I talked to Linda about the jobs she's never told anyone about—these are not on the résumé—getting fired from the AP, plus sexism, feminism...all the hard-hitting -isms. Please read Linda's And So It Goes and Move On. They. Are. So. Good. Listen below, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

4 / Things Are Going to Start Happening to Me Now!

It's a reference from The Jerk, everyone. Channel your inner Steve Martin with the Emily Gould episode of Life TK. Emily, co-founder of feminist press Emily Books (emilybooks.com) and author of And the Heart Says Whatever and Friendship, talks to me about what it's like to work in book publishing, when it's time to give up and when it's time to lean in, finding your writing people, and astrology. Spoiler alert: Saturn returned in her twenties, and, according to Emily, the worst years were between 20 and...31. Yikes. Listen below, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

 

3 / Tenacity...Some People Call It Stalking!

Life TK hero and author of more than a dozen books, Laurie Notaro (humor essay collection The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club, more recently historical novel Crossing the Horizon) cracks me up over trifocals, mullets, unattended babies, the accident that got her back to college, and being tenacious AF (aka Never. Giving. Up). Listen below, or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

2 / If It's Not a Hell Yes, It's a No!

Writer Leigh Stein (The Fallback Plan, Dispatch from the Future, Land of Enchantment) talks about a stint at the New Yorker, starting a nonprofit, the burden of being the hardest worker in the room, feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable, and “Just Ask!®” culture. Listen below or subscribe in iTunes.