Tech Detox: Week One

uggghhh…no phone….guess I’ll look at these dumb trees (Photo by  Rio Guruh Imawan  from  Pexels   )

uggghhh…no phone….guess I’ll look at these dumb trees (Photo by Rio Guruh Imawan from Pexels )

Last Thursday night I checked Facebook one last time before deleting the app. I did the same with Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Netflix. I plugged in my phone in my kitchen and went to bed, ready to begin my tech detox the following morning.

I am not a morning person. The fact that I live with THREE (3!) morning people + 2 morning cats is a source of some annoyance. When my kids & cats start banging around at 6:00am, I usually try to go back to sleep for a few extra minutes. When that fails, I further delay getting up by scrolling my phone, justifying it that the blue light will help me wake up…or something like that. Long story short: it takes me a loooong time to get out of bed and then I’m rushed, which just makes me feel worse.

So perhaps it was naive of me to expect that I would bound out of bed during my tech detox. Even absent my phone, getting up is difficult. Surprise!

And once I did make it out of bed, it felt odd not to be scrolling the news while eating breakfast, or listening to a podcast while I cleaned the kitchen and made lunches, but over the course of a few days, I have gotten used to it. We do subscribe to the Sunday paper, and I have a few free magazines that I can read during breakfast at least.

Another thing I expected during my first week of detox was to be full of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but the funny thing was that once I wasn’t checking Facebook and Twitter, I forgot all about it. Without the pesky notifications constantly popping up to tell me that so-and-so was going to an event near me or that you-know-who had added to their story, I actually felt calmer and more present. I had underestimated how annoying it is to be constantly interrupted. Once I figured that out, I began keeping my phone mostly on silent so that I could designate a few times a day to check email, messages, and texts, rather than stopping what I was doing to respond right away.

The other major change I made this week was to download Pocket, an app that saves articles and web pages so that you can read them later. Using Pocket, I can save an article that looks interesting and not worry about losing it if I don’t read it right away. Plus, it makes me pause and think “do I really want to read this later?” I have been reading far fewer articles like “10 Pizzas that Look Like Faces!” while still being able to catch up on interesting news and relevant professional articles, plus I’m able to share articles from Pocket with my anti-Facebook husband via text or email.

The main take away from this week is to do phone tasks, like reading the news or texting someone, during intentional blocks of time. I feel like I’m spending my time more purposefully and feeling time aimlessly distracted.

My main fail this week has been TV and podcasts. During the past few days I have exceeded my “one podcast per day” rule, mostly to listen to work-related podcasts. And, after a stressful Monday, I allowed myself to watch the finale of Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria. (Prince Albert is a hunk, don’t judge!)

To counteract this, I want to try and focus next week on spending more time in solitude and planning my free time to be more active/constructive.

Until next week!

let she who is without a crush on Prince Albert cast the first stone…

let she who is without a crush on Prince Albert cast the first stone…

How Can I *Possibly* Survive a 30-Day Tech Detox?

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My name is Katy and I am a Facebook addict. I’ve been on the service since 2004, and with each new feature I seem to go further down the rabbit hole. In college, it was primarily a way of leaving embarrassing notes on each other’s virtual walls, (as opposed to actually walking down the dorm hall to leave an actual note on a friend’s actual wall.) Give me the photos, the party invites, the article shares, the memes, give me ALL OF IT. I use Facebook as a way of making new friends (podcast fan group FTW!) I use it for networking, it’s an easy way to “get to know” other writers I meet at retreats or conferences, I use it to stay on top of the news. I justify my Facebook time because I am an extrovert who works from home and has limited non-kid human interaction. Using Facebook makes me feel more connected. (Or does it?)

But after installing a time-tracking app on my phone, I was HORRIFIED at how much time I was spending on my phone, specifically social media. It was usually between 2-4 hours PER DAY. I’m a part-time working mom with two small kids, I do not have that kind of time!

I began to wonder where that time was coming from. I noticed how distracting my phone was. While cooking, while playing with my kids, while writing, it was always calling to me. “Just a quick Twitter check! Maybe look up that fact you just pronounced to your kids to see if it’s actually right!” And once I was looking at my phone, it was often another several minutes before I put it back down. And I’m not alone: studies have shown that even having a phone in the same room as you is a distraction.

Enter Cal Newport. (Who is not the same person as Kal Penn, apparently?) I’d heard his book Deep Work recommended on the excellent #amwriting podcast. When he was interviewed on the same podcast about his new book, Digital Minimalism, I knew I had to pick it up.

When reading non-fiction, I generally get the feeling “this really should’ve been a pamphlet and not an entire book,” but not so with Digital Minimalism. Newport clearly lays out both the science and philosophy behind his digital minimalist lifestyle and offers practical steps on how the reader can purge electronic time vampires from her life.

The first step (it’s a doozy!) is the 30-Day Detox. One month without all those addictive little apps, without video games, and without streaming services. Newport urges the reader to go cold turkey on their empty tech habits. Gulp.

I am slightly terrified to undertake such a detox. But I like to live dangerously, so here I go. As of March 1st, 2019, my tech detox will be as follows:

-I will delete Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Netflix, and Pinterest from my phone.

-I will only check social media once a week from my laptop, for work purposes (I’m still doing some social media stuff for Kids & Race until March 19) I will not LIKE or COMMENT on ANYTHING (!)

-When I’m home, my phone will live on the kitchen counter. I will not sleep with it next to me or bring it into another room when I’m doing spending time with my kids.

-I will only watch TV for social purposes (i.e. with a friend or loved one)

-I can choose 1 podcast a day to listen to, as well as the podcasts my kids ask for.

In addition to those things I am taking away, I’m going to try to add more time reading actual BOOKS on actual paper, spend more time alone, take more (un-distracted) walks and try to connect more with friends via ACTUAL CONVERSATION. To that end, I will still use Facebook Messenger, Marco Polo, email, and text as a way to plan meet ups with friends.

I’m planning on providing weekly updates for my Tech Detox on this blog. If you want to connect, you can comment below or you know…call me!

Combating Creative Jealousy


This week I learned my breaking point, and it is FOUR SNOW DAYS. Yesterday I found myself yelling at my kids to pick up their toys and staring out the window at the foot of slush on our street which was NOT MELTING despite the weather man’s declarations, thinking MY GOD they can’t cancel school tomorrow, CAN THEY?

And then they did.

So I did what I do now when confronted with something which causes me extreme distress: mine it for comedy.

I sat down this morning prepared to write a zinger of a blog post about surviving snow days with kids, just as soon as I checked my Facebook, and then I saw that KatyKatiKate had beat me to the punch. I read her post. It was hilarious. No, not just hilarious, it was so ridiculously funny that I found myself reading parts of it aloud to my husband. Go ahead, go read it. I’ll wait.

Good, right? I read it and felt so irritated. Because, not only is she so funny and talented, but we even have the same name. Not only that, our husbands have the same name. And yeah, OK, if you run into a white heterosexual couple in their thirties, there’s a good chance that they are named Katy & Ryan, but still… I Google stalked her and wondered if she and I were the same person from alternate timelines, one where I hadn’t chopped off my hair and had developed a personal brand and built a platform.

But, as we say in recovery, “compare and despair.” (Recovery is full of such zingers, which are annoying AF when you hear them, but then you realize they actually are true, which is also annoying, but helpful?) Here’s another: I can’t compare my before to her after.

Jealousy is a teacher. If you can get past it, it can show you where you are dissatisfied with your creative output. So I sat with my jealousy this morning. I felt jealous that I haven’t done the marketing and business side work that accompanies my creative work. I don’t feel like I’ve achieved the level of success that I want.

But then I thought about where I want to spend my precious, limited creative time. And I realized that I was jealous of other bloggers’ (much-deserved) success, but I actually am pretty happy with my work right now.

I don’t have a huge output, I do have two kids who’ve probably gone to school for 12 total days in 2019. I have a husband I like to spend time with, who’s also recovering from surgery. And I refuse to sacrifice sleep, therapy, or self care in the pursuit of word count.

Could I be producing more? Could I spend more time developing my “platform”? Yes. But, for now, I think I am exploring a lot of different venues for my writing and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t. And that’s OK.

I came up with a creative mission statement the other week, of which I feel quite proud: “I want to create art that heals myself and others.”

So, when I get jealous that my blog isn’t shinier or my audience more developed, I just have to check the work I’m doing against my mission statement. Am I making art? Is it healing? Yes and yes.

And that’s what really matters to me. I can applaud the great work that others are doing and also know that while my work is different, it’s also valuable.

Do you get jealous of others’ work? How do you fight professional jealousy?

What I Learned in a Strip Mall Pho Joint


Last week I popped into a strip mall Vietnamese restaurant for a quick lunch. The place was pretty empty, with a single, young waitress handling the customers. Shortly after I came in, two men sat down at a table near me. The older man ordered oxtail soup. The waitress apologized and said they were out of oxtail. The older man replied, “Then I’m going to have to trash this place,” in a tone that was hard to decipher. Was he joking? Was he actually angry? Both?

The waitress looked down at the floor and explained that today was their last day, tomorrow the restaurant would be closing for a month for vacation, so they didn’t have the full menu available.

“Are you visiting Vietnam?” the younger man asked. She nodded.

The people in the restaurant were mostly eating by themselves, looking for a quick lunch. We sat alone at our tables, looking at our smart phones and tablets, slurping our pho. But after this exchange, the vibe in the whole restaurant changed.

“Are you going back for Lunar New Year?” Someone at another table asked.
”Yes, also to see my grandma, who’s recovering from surgery.” The waitress answered.

It was as if everyone’s expectations changed in this brief moment of interaction. People stopped looking at the waitress as THE PERSON WHO MUST BRING ME WHAT I WANT and started looking at her as A PERSON.

I remember reading this article about ‘The Restaurant of Order Mistakes’—a pop up in Tokyo which only staffed people with Alzheimer’s or dementia—as a means of inspiring empathy. While I was touched by the article, I couldn’t help thinking “shouldn’t all customers be as patient as these?” After all, you never know another person’s story. Maybe that waiter who screwed up your order stayed up half the night studying for an important exam but still showed up to work because bills. Maybe that scatterbrained sales clerk is one of the 25% of new moms who have been forced to return to work immediately after giving birth.

One of the things I don’t like about capitalism is how people are reduced to parts in a machine. Customers have this mentality that someone is always trying to rip them off, and customer service workers have to endure a daily barrage of abuse. When interacting with strangers, it’s always useful to remember I don’t know this person, I don’t know what their day has been like. Counterfactuals like the student/new mom scenario can be useful for expanding one’s empathy. Everyone deserves patience and respect.

What I Learned When I Stopped Shaving My Legs


I started shaving my legs in the 4th grade. My friend, a porcelain-skinned red head named Christina, had “borrowed” her dad’s razor and taught herself how to do it. She pointed out the dark hair on my own pale calves and told me I ought to do the same. It was spring time, shorts weather, and our whole class was excited about the new tire swing we’d just gotten. Each recess we’d line up and wait our turns. I looked at the other girls’ legs as they climbed into the tire swing. Mine were definitely the hairiest.

Three kids liked to push the tire swing. One was my crush and advanced math partner, Zach. Each day I’d wait in line and select Zach to push me on the tire swing. I imagined that if I started shaving, Zach would notice my hairless calves as I climbed onto the tire swing and be impressed by how mature I was. This would inevitably lead to him being my boyfriend.

My mom was reluctant to teach me to shave at such a young age, but my persistence won out. I began shaving at least every other day, even after Zach failed to take an interest. (He would, like most of my crushes, turn out to be gay. His opinion on hairy legs are unknown as of press time.)

That means that I have been shaving my legs and underarms for 23 years. That likely equals hours of my life devoted to hair removal (not to mention eyebrows, upper lip, bikini line, or other stray hair). Lots of money on little pink razors, lots of nicks and cuts. Once, I even contracted a weird bacterial infection due to shaving (dull razor + questionable lake water). During all that time I never questioned the idea that a beautiful woman is a hairless woman.

But lately I’ve been pondering all this time and money I spend to appear more feminine. Why am I scared of or ashamed of my body in its natural state? Who am I doing all of this for?

I stopped shaving 6 weeks ago. Dark hair has filled in on my calves and in my arm pits. I am simultaneously fascinated and disgusted by it. It’s so unfeminine, but it’s also kind of amazing. It’s like I have tiny cat whiskers all over my legs. When I walk outside bare-legged, I feel the slightest breeze.

hairy legs.jpg

When I was in middle school, I got really into Frida Kahlo. One of the things that initially fascinated me was her facial hair, which she made no attempts to remove, except when angry at her philandering husband (who, purportedly loved it). As I learned about her art, I saw how she explored many facets of her identity and experience—her facial hair seems an interesting symbol of her willing to play with overlapping identities. Learning about Kahlo as a teen helped me accept my body and view myself as artist, not object.

Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair.”

Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Cropped Hair.”

At this time in my life, I ought to be settled. I am, after all, a grown up, home-owning, PTA mom, yet I find myself questioning things more and more. Why do things have to be this way or that? Why do we have to be masculine or feminine? Right or wrong? Christian or unbeliever? These questions resist easy answers and deadlines to decide. And if Kahlo taught me anything, it was that it’s OK to dwell in the inbetween.

The Thing About Advice

I love to give advice. When I listen to someone else describe their problems, the solutions seem so easy. Of course you should go back to school, take care of yourself, or break up with that loser!! This is easy!!

It was surprising to me, then, that when I started attending a support group, there was an explicit rule against giving advice. The idea is that we listen to each other non-judgmentally, accepting what other people say “because it is true for them.” So while my gut reaction to someone’s problem may be, “duh, just do X,” I’m learning to sit and simply listen without offering advice.

Since joining this group, I’ve noticed how intrusive advice can be in the rest of life. Advice can often be a way of invalidating someone else’s experience. It often has more to do with the advice giver than the recipient. It’s as if we try to repair our own past by working on someone else’s future.

Which is not to say that I never give advice anymore. I’m still nosy and I often find myself offering blunt (OK, rude) advice, because focusing on someone else’s problems feels easier than focusing on my own. But I’m learning to keep the focus on myself in the here and now and take my own advice.

Do you have any rules about giving advice? What’s the rudest advice you’ve ever received?

Go Ahead and Call Me 'Wealthy'

me and my kids in our kitchen/dining room

me and my kids in our kitchen/dining room

A few weeks ago, I got into a fight with someone on Facebook because I claimed that certain parts of Seattle were “wealthy.” (My writer’s group friends would pipe in here and congratulate me for offending someone on the internet—easy to do, I know!) I tried to talk with this person and clarify what I meant, but at the end of the day, this whole discussion just reminded me of the bizarre ways we Americans talk and think about money.

70% of America thinks of themselves as “middle class,” at least 20% of them are wrong! But we don’t talk about how much we earn, or what we spend, so perhaps we can be forgiven for being ignorant on the topic. A recent Seattle Times article said that the median income in Seattle is now $120,000. And while Seattle is a very expensive city, (rent/mortgage can easily hit $2000/mo on a modest 2-bedroom, gas is $3.20/gallon, milk is $2.50-3.00) I think that if you earn six figures, it’s not a stretch to say that you are wealthy.

So why can’t people admit that they are rich? I think it’s because we are constantly comparing ourselves to those who have more. Every character on TV, whether they’re a barista or a public school teacher, seems to live in a massive house or apartment with giant, granite-topped kitchen islands. They wear expensive clothes and obviously have the time and money to hit the gym on the regular. Our TV and movies have become commercials, offering us an aspirational lifestyle always just out of reach. If we only buy this, our lives will look as beautiful as those we see on TV.

In the early nineties, I knew exactly zero people who owned designer handbags. Now dropping a few hundo on a purse by a name seems de rigeur. We are all, it seems, trying to keep up with Kardashians.

I don’t think most of our spending actually makes us happier. What does is the radical notion of being intentional about our spending. My husband is a methodical (some would say crazy) budget maker, and it really helps us to think about how we spend our money. While our budget still has a lot of silly spending in it, (was that takeout order really worth it?), we work towards being intentional—particularly about giving. We designate 10% of our income for charity, and spending that money actually makes us happier. It reorients our focus away from aspirational TV-land living and toward reality. The reality is that there are a lot of people who are homeless, hungry, and fleeing violence. When we give, it makes us feel grateful for what we have instead of wishing we had more.

Our combined pre-tax income is roughly $125k. According to the data, that makes us thoroughly Seattle middle-class. But I feel wealthy. And I think that if more of us “middle class” could focus on helping those who are less fortunate, we’d ALL be a lot better off.

Is it really "A Scary Time to be a Man?"

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This meme has been bouncing around my Facebook for the last week or two. I am a mother of sons, and I am often terrified, because my boys are full of terrible ideas. Ideas like: sledding down the stairs in Amazon boxes, putting our kittens in the baby stroller, sticking marbles into their orifices. Whenever it gets quiet in my house, I know trouble is brewing.

I am not scared that someday a woman will make a false rape allegation against them. The odds are ridiculously small, even smaller than them being kidnapped by a stranger, or being drafted into the NFL.

Mostly, I feel (very selfishly) relieved that I do not have a daughter. Because, as much as I hope that the #metoo movement has changed things, I still see a lot of evidence of how scary it is to be a girl or a woman.

Growing up, there was this story. Yes, rape and harrassment happened, but not to “good” girls. All I had to be was good and I’d be safe. And I was very good. I went to parties in college and spent the whole evening nursing a single Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I started dating my husband when I was 19, got married at 22. I didn’t hang around bars or go home with strangers. I protected myself.

And yet, I’ve been sexually harassed more times than I can count.

When I tried to summon all the instances to mind, it started to sound like a Dr. Seuss book. In the rain, on a train, in a bus, on a Christian college camp-us. Once while I was pushing my babies in a double stroller. In one terrifying instance I was in the changing cubicle at a tailor’s shop. In all these instances, my immediate urge was to minimize what had just happened, to tell myself I was overreacting. I hadn’t been raped, so I was just scared for no reason, right?

This impulse to minimize was matched by those around me. Once, on a subway, a man followed me through the car. I took a seat next to one man and across from another, thinking the harasser would leave me alone. Instead he took the seat across from me, and spent the rest of the ride faux-masturbating and making kissy faces at me. The men next to me said nothing. When I finally asked the masturbator what the hell his problem was, he just said “Nothing,” and kept on with this intimidating display until I left the train. Everyone on that train ignored what was happening. I felt disgusted and afraid and also wondered if I was crazy. Did the mad masturbator just have some kind of strange form of Turretts? If no one else had been bothered, why had I?

I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just went to work and carried on with my day. This is what it’s like to be a woman. I have put up with harassment in many forms through the years, beginning as soon as I hit puberty. It doesn’t get easier, but I have to carry on. That’s what women do, we swallow down our anger again and again until we can’t take it anymore.

The Kavanaugh confirmation feels like a breaking point.

If our politicians think the women of America are going to forget about this, they’re dead wrong. We’ve been collectively disbelieved, minimized, and called liars often enough. These incidents are branded on our psyches. We will not forget.

The Robots Know Who We Really Are

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I’m old enough to remember Facebook before ads, and then the first several years of ads. The most common ads I saw were for Israeli Mossad t-shirts—I have no idea why. After Mossad, I got ads for t-shirts that said, “I’m just a Montana Girl in a Canada World.” Isn’t our AI better than this? I wondered.

I don’t wonder anymore. Now most of my Facebook ads are things I’d actually consider clicking on—high-end bras and fair trade subscription boxes. The other day I Google image searched “mahogany four poster bed” for a short story I’m working on, now my browser is filled with ads for $10,000 beds.

After Cambridge Analytica, a lot of people are concerned about privacy. Can I concede that they understand more about this than I do, but I’m not particularly worried? I didn’t click on anything stupid, I don’t spend my money willy-nilly, I feel like I retain control over my online presence for the most part. I like getting ads that are specific to my interests.

But after reading Dexter Palmer’s Version Control, I’m having a few second thoughts. This literary sci-fi adventure deals extensively with AI avatars and online dating. The book posits that in the near future we will be online dating avatars animated by computers and voiced by actors, deceived into staying on platforms where no one is actually interested in us because we are valuable eyeballs for ad dollars. (Mostly the book is about time travel. It’s probably the best book I’ve read all year, go read it!)

The invasiveness of technology was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I installed the Marco Polo app. My friend, Jessica, recommended it to me as a way to keep in touch. Users send each other video messages, so it acts like a delayed FaceTime. I was impressed and immediately “invited” several friends. One friend texted me a Reddit thread which discussed how the app texts your contacts without your consent. Reddit users suggested boycotting the app and giving it a 1-star rating.

I had noticed the pushy texts. Did my Dad really text me three times to let me know that he’d sent me a video message? No, it was the app. I was annoyed and unnerved, but ultimately not enough to stop using the app. I’ve reconnected with two friends and spoken more to them in the past two weeks than we’d talked in years.

But, as the saying goes, “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” What is Marco Polo getting out of hours of me looking into a selfie cam and detailing the mundanities of my life to friends across the country? Are the robots learning how to better imitate human speech? (Perhaps we must start inventing strange words to teach them, as a kind of shibboleth.) Are they memorizing the way facial muscles move? Is it bad to say that I don’t know, and for the moment anyway, I don’t really care?

The Case for Dressing Like a Weirdo

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My best friend, Taelor, was probably what pushed me over the edge into dressing like a weirdo. Shortly after we met in World History sophomore year, we agreed to attend the Fall dance together, him in devil horns and a flame shirt, me in a giant white tutu, halo, and wings.

From then on, it was go-go boots, pleated skirts, 70’s polyester for days. I only shopped at thrift stores and wore things that were interesting. Most of the kids in our high school bought striped sweaters from the Gap and flared jeans. Taelor, me, and our gaggle of friends just dressed however we wanted. Every so often, one of my more conventionally-attired classmates would walk up to me and say, “I love your ____, I wish I could pull that off.”

I always felt sad for them. It was like they assumed I had some kind of secret well of confidence that would allow me to wear whatever I wanted. The secret is that dressing weird makes you more confident.

That may sound backwards. But I was listening to an old episode of the Hidden Brain podcast this weekend where Francesco Gino of Harvard Business Review talked about people who practiced “positive deviance.” These people succeed by breaking the rules. In one experiment, students were made to perform karaoke in front of their classmates. Some had to wear a silly bandana while doing it and some didn’t. Those who wore the bandana actually performed better and stayed on key more than those who didn’t.

Think about it this way. If I walk into a meeting dressed in normal business wear, I code myself as just one of the group. If I walk into a meeting with something slightly off—dressed too casually or too formally, wearing sneakers or something, it’s kind of a power move. I can break the rules.

Reclaiming my old sense of fashion has been difficult for me in adulthood. The stakes seem higher than in high school. But every time I put on a bright lipstick, a weird legging, or a bold shoe, I feel more confident. I feel more myself.

Waiting for My Pitch

I am a theater nerd, and sports metaphors make me nervous. I always wonder to myself did I use that correctly? But I did play some backyard baseball growing up, and so my advice to writers this week (and let's be honest, to myself) is to wait for your pitch.

I'm a goal-oriented, type A person. I set goals, I break those goals down into smaller steps, I make a plan and schedule it and I finish my projects ON DEADLINE. That is who I am, I can be no other way. Maybe it's my theater background--it's a "the show must go on" mentality.

And yet...writing doesn't always work on deadlines. Yes, I can aim for a daily or weekly word count. I can make sure to write my morning pages everyday. I can turn out drafts and even finished articles on time, but with my novel things are different.

The biggest struggle I've had with the book is deciding when it's done. I want it to be, if not perfect, then pretty darn close to what I originally envisioned. I've written probably 4-5 complete drafts at this point, it's been read by a dozen helpful beta-readers and I've revised, and revised, and revised until I've become sick of it! But it's not DONE.

I started querying the book last Spring under the guise that I needed to practice querying and wasn't likely to get any responses anyway. WRONG. The FIRST AGENT I emailed requested a full manuscript THE NEXT DAY. I sent off a complete, shoddy draft, rife with typos and even a few embarrassing continuity errors. (GAH!) I did another revision and queried a few more agents after that, getting several requests but no offers.

My gut told me that the book didn't hold up all the way through.

I rewrote more this summer and in August entered the illustrious Pitch Wars competition. The "prize" in this comp is a mentor relationship with an agented author who can help you revise and pitch your book. I don't know if I will get a mentor out of this competition, but either way, I'm determined to finish revising before I query the book again. I want to "wait for my pitch" rather than swinging wildly.

To that end, one of my writing buddies recommended an outlining book Take Off Your Pants. I am generally more of a free-spirited "pantser" than a "plotter" and I rarely outline, but this book has been super helpful and has made me rethink the actual goal of my main character. If you are writing or revising, I definitely recommend it! (Plus it's SHORT!) 

Whether it comes to writing or other creative projects, it's good practice to wait for your pitch. It means letting go of control, letting life (and inspiration) happen at it's own pace. I am waiting for my pitch and hoping I used that sports metaphor correctly :)

Long Live the Multi-Cultural Rom-Com



My fascination with love stories was probably inevitable; I was raised on Disney. I knew from an early age I wanted a love that could overcome all obstacles. As I grew, so did my interest in love stories. But by the time I was finally allowed to watch PG-13, I found most romcoms dismal. A clumsy, attractive heroine falls for a bland-but-hunky hero, but there is a very minor obstacle (usually A BIG SECRET) which is inevitably resolved with a sprint through the airport and an embarrassing proclamation.

The problem with most of these stories is that they are so broad: Kate Hudson could be replaced by Meg Ryan who could replace Rachel McAdams without much difference. They are meant to stand in for the “every woman” which is a fallacy in itself. We are all very specific, interesting humans. We have real flaws and real obstacles in our lives, but, traditionally, the American romcom has not been very interested in dealing with that.

Luckily, as our films have become more diverse, our romcoms have markedly improved. This perhaps started with with Nia Vardalos’ fantastic “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” but came more into full bloom with last year’s “Meet the Patels” and “The Big Sick,” about an Indian-American and a Pakistani-American man, respectively, who fall for White American women. The romantic conflict echoes their inner struggles to reconcile their multiple identities, as both Americans and 2nd generation immigrants. Big questions arise: Who am I? Who will I marry? How will my family deal with that?

As impressive as those previous films were, “Crazy Rich Asians” goes one better. As American-born Chinese (ABC) Rachel Chu meets her Chinese-Singaporean boyfriend’s friends and family, she must not only struggle through these identity issues, but the impact of romance on her intersectional identity as an Asian-American woman. Who is Rachel? Asian or American or both? Can she be ambitious and get her happily ever after? Or will she be cornered into a supporting role, like Nick’s mom, Eleanor? Will she hide a part of herself so as not to “emasculate” her husband, like Astrid chose to do?

“Crazy Rich Asians” is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination—the film glamorizes conspicuous consumption ($1.2 million earrings, anyone?) and pushes darker-skinned Malays and Indians to the margins. It does not represent THE Asian-American experience (there is no such thing), but by centering the stories of Rachel, her mom, Eleanor, and Astrid, it places intersectional identity at the heart of the film.

So long live the multicultural romcom! Give me storied traditions, give me families who stuck together to overcome racism and poverty. Give me fish-out-of-water heroines who don’t fall for Matthew McConaughey, but rather the Pakistani-American standup. Give me laughs and love and Singaporean food porn. Give me characters that don’t reflect some bland imagined American experience but rather real characters who represent a wide range of real experiences. These characters may not reflect my personal experience, but through their eyes I gain a new lens on the world. And isn’t that what stories are for?


Overcoming my Literary Snobbery

In 6th grade I traded in middle-grade fiction for the likes of Jane Austen and Shakespeare. I even lugged a Complete Works of William Shakespeare with me on a family trip to Florida the following year. It weighed almost as much as I did, and it was abridged! Classics and "literary fiction" has always been my jam. I liked to tell myself that classics were classics for a reason and that any genre fiction was beneath me.

I avoided Harry Potter because it was "children's literature," The Hunger Games because it featured a teenage love triangle. I have openly laughed at people reading Nicholas Sparks novels. I thought that these books, and many, many more, weren't worth a second look. Or perhaps I was just so worried people wouldn't think I was smart that I needed to slog my way through Anna Karenina to prove it.  

And I was totally wrong. At a friend's insistence, I started reading The Hunger Games and I couldn't put it down. I devoured the Outlander series (all eleventy billion pages of it), and worst of all, this summer I started reading romance. And I liked it!

Romance and women's fiction are typically looked down on by Serious Literary Types. Even Iowa Writer's Workshop authors like Curtis Sittenfeld are critiqued ruthlessly for concerning themselves with romantic relationships in their work. If you aren't convinced that the Literary Canon is sexist, think of how many classics actually deal with the experience of motherhood. This incredibly common human experience is so rarely depicted on the page that every time I find a decent book about motherhood I add it to my list (Afterbirth, The Ten Year Nap, The Sunshine When She's Gone, anything by Maria Semple)

Some classics are great. A lot of literary fiction is interesting. Some classics are boring AF. Some literary fiction makes me want to claw my eyes out. There is value any genre. The only limitation we should place on our reading list is what brings us pleasure and what helps us grow.

Here's what I've read so far this summer:
-Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
-Assassination Nation
-The Female Persuasion
-The Kiss Quotient

Plus some great yet-to-be-published books from my critique partners, which were both romance! 

What's your summer reading list? Do you have any genres you refuse to read?

Fair-Trade Back-to-School Shopping

Abraham models his new favorite outfit: second-hand t-shirt and Beru sweatpants

Abraham models his new favorite outfit: second-hand t-shirt and Beru sweatpants

I'm really passionate about Fair Trade shopping. There are a plethora of cheap, fast fashion clothes on the market that are bad for the environment and bad for workers. Several years ago I started a blogging project Life's Not Fair Trade as I researched different products I buy and their impact. When I started that project, finding fair trade clothing was next to impossible. I found one shop in Vancouver and there was American Apparel, which had its own problems.

Thankfully, a lot has changed since then. It's now easier than ever to find Fair Trade clothing. This summer I set myself a challenge to only get second-hand or Fair Trade clothing for myself and my kids. 

How did we do? I started with the fantastic blog, Style Wise. This is a great directory which breaks down companies by what they sell. Part of sustainable fashion to me is only buying what you need rather than anything that pops into your brain, so I bought underwear and a bra from Pact. When they sent me a coupon for free socks, I bought some socks, too. I really like them! Their clothing seems to be high-quality, very comfortable, and reasonably priced. On vacation I hit up some second-hand stores for a blazer, a top, and a super adorbs British sun hat.



Shopping for the kids was tougher. I have successfully second-hand shopped for them before (pajama pants are the best 2nd hand--does anyone else's kids blow out the knees of their pjs???) but I'll be honest, sometimes you luck out and sometimes you don't. And shopping with kids is trying at the best of times, so I decided to try online Fair Trade. 

I downloaded an app, even though I hate apps, called "Good On You" which is pretty helpful in rating conventional and Fair Trade clothing brands. I could see it being very helpful if you're headed to the mall anytime soon. Unfortunately, most of the kids' Fair Trade sites I found were geared toward ridiculously cute baby clothes or little girls' clothing, neither of which I was looking for. I basically just needed boys' pants and socks.

I hit pay dirt when I spotted a blog that mentioned Beru. This is organic cotton clothing made in Los Angeles AND it's reasonably priced?!?!? What kind of witchcraft is this???? I loaded up on chinos and sweat pants (my 3yo ONLY wears sweatpants). They arrived quickly and are very comfy. PLUS they came with cool silver tattoos! I only wish they did denim.

All that being said, I did cave and get the kids some jeans and one t-shirt at Uniqlo, and I will have to buy them some probably non-Fair Trade socks pretty soon. Progress not perfection, right?

Do you have a Fair Trade tip? What kinds of things are important to you in a clothing brand? Leave a comment below!

One Thing Must Change After the Hijacking at SeaTac

Content warning: suicide.


Last Friday night a SeaTac Airport ground crew employee named Richard Russell stole an empty Horizon Air plane and flew it around the Puget Sound before crashing it on Ketron Island. 

In the wake of this incident, officials are meeting at SeaTac to discuss how to prevent incidences like this in the future. You can bet there will be new waves of security measures just as there were after 9/11 and the "shoe bombers" a few years after. This will lead to more delays, fewer flights, and heightened security theater at our nation's airports. Meanwhile, Americans are many times more likely to die falling out of bed than being killed by a terrorist.




It strikes me as ridiculous that we keep enacting security measures at airports. There will always be flaws. Our airports can never be made 100% safe and the odds of airplanes being used for terrorism is incredibly low. 

What, then, could have prevented this hijacking and the death of Richard Russell? Better mental health care. Listening to the cockpit audio of Russell's flight, it seems clear to me that he was suicidal. Profiles of Russell have painted him as a quiet, religious guy, who was very kind. He was a Young Life leader. In case you are unfamiliar, Young Life is a high school youth group-type organization. Russell was not some isolated loner, he had community.

I didn't know Russell. I don't know what his mental health was like and whether he made attempts to get help. But I do know that churches far too often fail to identify people who are struggling with mental illness. In many churches things like depression and anxiety are treated more like sins to be prayed away than serious illnesses. If a parishioner is brave enough to tell a pastor that they are struggling, they are often offered counseling by pastoral staff, who rarely have any background in clinical psychology. In many churches taking psychiatric medication is seen as a sin.


mental ill.jpg

We have a long way to go in recognizing and treating mental illness. People do not have to die of their mental illnesses. We need churches and communities that recognize that mental illness is an illness just like diabetes is an illness. We need a healthcare system in which EVERYONE can access therapists and psychiatrists. Until then, no amount of airport security will prevent hijackings like this from taking place.

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

all dressed up at Sterling Castle in Sterling, Scotland

all dressed up at Sterling Castle in Sterling, Scotland

I found myself surprisingly anxious before we left on our four-week trip to Europe. Maybe I had good reason: a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, jet-lag, eating in restaurants, sleeping in strange beds, and no hope of a peanut butter sandwich anywhere.

Traveling with children rarely feels like a vacation.  What to an adult looks like a plush hotel room feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable to kids. Even if you do manage to get them to sleep there, odds are good they'll be up before sunrise. Young kids, especially preschoolers, love routine and must therefore hate travel where everything is so different. But we weren't doing this trip for the kids, we were doing it for ourselves my husband and I would periodically remind each other. 

This was a selfish trip. Yes, we took our kids to many playgrounds and even Lego Land in Windsor, but this trip wasn't fundamentally for them. If it were up them we would've just stayed home and visited the Lego store every few days. 

I have no regrets about taking this completely selfish trip. We reconnected with old friends. We overindulged in delicious food and drinks. My husband and I reminisced endlessly. Our kids came along with us, and we tried to share things with them, but like all kids, their interest is random and therefore almost impossible to satisfy. The Tower of London was meh, the double decker bus was amazing. The Deutsches Museum (possibly the world's largest science museum) was OK but "the wave" on the Isar River where surfers practice was spellbinding

There were tantrums in picturesque piazzas, there were many requests to "go back to Seattle," and there were two incidences where we had to physically remove them from restaurants; but for the most part the kids adapted well. Even though they complained, I think they did enjoy the trip, as did my husband and I. My only regret? Not being even more selfish.

Before we left, I told my husband that I thought it would be a good idea for us each to take some time to ourselves during the trip, to be able to go the more boring sites sans kids. He was genius enough to plan a date night for us in London's West End, complete with babysitter he found online, and I asked a friend to babysit one night for us while we were in Frankfurt so we could go wine tasting with friends, but other than that, we forgot to take time for ourselves until our last two days.

In fact it was the very last day of vacation that I relinquished some family time (a visit to yet another "dino museum") to go to City Beach, a rooftop beach bar in downtown Frankfurt. 

City Beach Frankfurt

City Beach Frankfurt

It was heavenly. I ate lunch without worrying about anyone else's behavior. I ordered an outrageously priced raspberry mojito and finished my vacation read. The whole time I was thinking why didn't I do this sooner? After a few hours, Ryan and the kids joined me on the roof and I felt relaxed and happy to see them.

If I learned one thing on my summer vacation it's this: it's OK to be selfish. It's good to take time away from being a parent. Not everything needs to revolve around the kids all the time. 

I'm hoping to be more selfish in the future. I've started by taking advantage of our preschool's parents night out this week to go on another date with my husband! (That's 3 in 5 weeks, look at us!) And right now I'm making my children do "quiet independent play time" in separate rooms. It's good for them and me.

Our current culture of paranoid perfectionist parenting, admitting to not centering my children's desires feels scary. But it also feels right that they learn they are not the center of the universe. By "taking turns" doing things I want to do, I'm teaching my kids to be considerate of my needs, just as I am considerate of theirs. 

Fashion File: Packing for a Month in Europe

My husband and I have made the (possibly insane) decision to battle jet lag with small children and take our family to Europe this summer. If you know me at all, you know I am an obsessive list-maker, so it comes as no surprise that I've started packing already. But since I have some experience in this arena, I decided to share some of my vacation packing tips.


1. Ditch the sneakers. The "American tourist" uniform goes something like this: sneakers, visible socks, shorts, sweatshirt, baseball cap. Europeans tend to be dressier. I'm swapping out sneakers for some comfortable Birkenstocks and these Alice & Whittles ankle-height rain boots (because, Scotland.) If I weren't going to be spending so much time at the playground on this trip, I'd be going more skirts and dresses rather than shorts, too.

2. Pack light! When I first started traveling, I'd bring enormous suitcases filled with outfits for every possible occasion. But schlepping suitcases is no fun, and it turned out I didn't even wear a lot of the things I brought. This trip each member of the family is limited to one carry-on. The photos above are pretty much all of the outfits I'm bringing. Mixing and matching is fun, and since we're staying mostly in VRBOs or with friends, I can do laundry once a week and save myself a lot of hassle. Another good rule of thumb is: Europe has stores. I don't need to bring giant bottles of shampoo or whatever, because if I don't pack it I can always pick it up in Europe.

3. Mix, match, layer. Packing light is a lot easier if you keep your patterns in one area of your clothing. I picked two pairs of patterned shorts and a polka dotted dress while keeping my tops solid colors. I'll probably also pack a polka dotted scarf to jazz up some of these outfits and for an added layer in Scotland. I also made sure to pack layering pieces, like the denim shirt which can double as a beach cover up. I'll be bringing a compact rain jacket too. 


packing list...what am I forgetting?

packing list...what am I forgetting?

Can Makeover Shows Be Feminist?

from Barbie to Real Housewife: Jade, contestant on episode 1 of "100% Hotter"

from Barbie to Real Housewife: Jade, contestant on episode 1 of "100% Hotter"

I love a good makeover. In fact, I just had my own hair makeover yesterday! I think playing with fashion is really fun, and I'm intrigued by the way our appearances influence how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. Back in the day I'd gladly binge hours of shows like "What Not to Wear" and its ilk. So when "100% Hotter" popped onto my Netflix recommendations, I was STOKED. Not only is it a makeover show, but a BRITISH one. When I lived in the UK I really admired how put together British women tended to look (at least more so than the average Seattleite). But as I watched, a knot began forming in my stomach. I began to realize that my evolution has a feminist may very well have ruined makeover shows for me.

The premise of "100% Hotter" is that women are selected for looking "too extreme." Three stylists show their picture to a bunch of strangers who rank them on a scale of 1-10 for "hotness." Then they are set a series of fairly embarrassing tasks, before being madeover, revealed, and re-ranked. It's like the show was dreamed up by all the mean jocks in your high school.  

The judges attempt to soften this bullying by assuring these women that they are actually "quite pretty" but that they currently look slutty, fat & trashy. Yes, it's the unholy trinity of slut-shaming, body-shaming, and class-ism. Why did Jade have a cheap DIY bleach job instead of a "classy" blond bayalage? Probably because she can't afford it. 

The judges often mock the contestants for wanting to emulate beauty standards like Barbie or Alice in Wonderland while shoe-horning them into other, equally restrictive beauty standards. The judges treat fashion as if there were a morally correct way to dress.

If fashion is an art (as I'm sure these judges would say) then why isn't there room for people to express themselves in unconventional ways? In the whole makeover process all of the emphasis is on impressing others, not on what the women themselves actually want. It all feels very regressive, like "these young women must be brought in line."

I can't help but contrast shows like this to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," which provides not just fashion and hair advice, but also helps its contestants accomplish a personal goal. The men's interactions are framed in a funny but loving way, with far less bullying, and they use their advice as a means to an end. The assumption of women's makeover shows seems to be that looking good is the goal; perhaps the only and ultimate goal for any woman.

The final straw for me was that the hairdresser clearly put Jade in a wig for her final reveal (see above) but pretended like it was her own hair. I enjoy a wig as much as the next gal, but seriously, does they think we're stupid?  

I hope that someday we can have a makeover show where the contestants are in the driver's seat rather than the object of ridicule. Fashion should be fun, it should be a means of self-expression, not some way of forcing women into the narrow confines of someone else's standards. Until then, I will be giving "100% Hotter" and its ilk a pass.