Thursday, January 28, 2010

The view from the other side of the economic crisis

This isn't the first time I've been unemployed, but it's the first time I've had to (or been able to) apply for unemployment. Props go to NY State for putting it all on the Internet, except for the need to fax my last paystub to Albany, which is just silly. Who still faxes?

It's also the first time that I've had a HD cable package with some ungodly number of channels and nothing to watch but, my goodness, daytime television is a vast wasteland. I would have thought that, with a 10 percent unemployment rate, there would be money to be made in making programming for people that don't normally stay home and watch "Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee," but apparently unemployed people don't have enough spending money to make it worth advertisers' time.

Anyway, I've been keeping busy, other than in just bemoaning the state of the American entertainment industry: last weekend, I guest-edited Jezebel with Moe Tkacik, and last night I live-blogged the State of the Union for the same (see the archives of both here). I've got a magazine piece I am writing, a bunch of pitches I need to send out and a stack of papers to go through. Since I often deal with stress by cleaning -- it's really one of the few times I go to town with regards to cleaning -- I have a feeling my apartment will look really nice in about a day. And I will probably even find room for all the stuff I cleaned out of my desk. The plushie flower from Target can, I'm sure, be worked into my decor.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Do you have any tips for overcoming the sort of (mostly unintentional) boys-club atmosphere that can (in my experience) hamper young women just starting out in political or journalistic careers?

Doing your job well is always great revenge. The axiom about working twice as hard for half the credit usually applies. Lots of studies and anecdotal evidence points to the fact that women tend to be less self-promotional and self-aggrandizing than men, and it works against them, so work on being your own cheerleader. And then don't take shit work or shit talk from people if the dudes around you would or do stand up to it themselves.

Other than those work-arounds, work for social justice and gender equality, because that's the only real way to "overcome" it in the end.

Ask me anything

Can you & Moe do a postmortem on DoubleX this wknd? Obviously, terrible to have jobs evaporate, but I admit I was really off-put by the site. I think Moe once said XX should try to cultivate a Carolyn Hax voice, but hooo boy did they go in a diff directio

Well, I think it's a leetle early for a post-mortem, as Double X did technically just get folded back into the Slate family, and not shuttered. I'm not totally sure that anyone lost their jobs-- I know, for instance, that Jess Grose still has one.

But if I were to make an assessment of why it never went through the roof the way I do think it had the potential to, it would be as follows. The founders said that they wanted to make it something like Jezebel for an older (read also: smarter, more erudite) crowd. And, let's be frank: my writing and Moe's (to a lesser degree, I think) wasn't necessarily aimed at nor read in great numbers by the 18-25 set, especially in comparison to Tracie's video clips, or the fashion coverage or the gossip coverage. I wrote about politics, feminism, international women's issues, the violence visited upon women and, when I got tired of the horrors of the world, what it's like being a single woman over a certain age. Moe wrote a lot about economics and politics and, even though she wrote more retail pieces, wrote in a voice and a style that was, say, more literary than conversation -- and I doubt that the readers who bitched about not understanding were women in their 30s.

So, if I had been planning for the Double X launch, I would have said: if it's my goal to get a more erudite, feminist readership and write about serious and less serious women's issues, the readers I should be trying to poach from Jezebel are the ones who read Megan and Moe, who are frustrated by some of the more fluffy coverage, etc. It wouldn't have been the most awesome business decision ever -- I was rarely the most trafficked blogger on the site, even for the few months I was full time -- but between that, the Slate brand and maybe targeting the millions of older women who want to vom reading wowowow's site, I think they would've been in a good place.

Instead, their splashy launch was marred by a personal attack on Moe and I, inspiring a backlash by our readers, friends and writers-in-arms that managed to tarnish its reputation among the very readers they wanted to attract (let alone some of the writers they wanted to attract) -- even the ones who might have felt the frustration at Jezebel for which Double X was supposed to be the antidote. Worse yet, it's a little difficult to play More-Feminist-Than-Thou with a name that denotes cis-gender privilege.

I certainly understand the attraction to trying to knock Jezebel down a peg, and brand yourself as different, but the kind of different the Hirshmann piece branded them as wasn't helpful. And then to follow it up with a couple of pieces about how feminism is dead and the writer hates feminism probably made it worse. Lots of people, me included, never added it to our must-read list and I rarely looked at it even for story ideas, despite liking the work of several of the writers and having worked with Jess Grose. I'd guess that I'm not totally alone in that, and, on one level, that sucks. I think there was totally room for both publications in the blogosphere, and for the competition, and I think having a publication that claimed to be feminist fail isn't the best thing for feminism or feminist writers.

On the other hand, if the number of people who write about why I'm a "bad" rape victim for whatever reason in order to generate traffic and publicity slows because it's proven to hurt more than it helps, hey, you know, hard to complain too much.

Ask me anything

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dogs have become the new kids. And no one smart is really having many kids anymore. Why is this?

I have neither a dog nor kids.

Demographically speaking, increasing women's access to education, decreasing infant and childhood mortality rates, increasing access to birth control and increasing economic power and potential reduces the number of children women choose to have. In other words, decrease the procreative necessity to have enough children to guarantee their survival to adulthood, and increase women's ability to fulfill and define themselves outside of their biological potential, and women--regardless of background, ethnicity, religion or economic status--on the average choose to do so.

Ask me anything

Who has really led a good life? Can people with ordinary talent ever really live a truly great life?

What's a "good" life? And what's a "great" life? I don't define either of those by notoriety, or the number of people affected.

And, frankly, what's "ordinary talent"? A talent means you can do something out of the ordinary.

Anyway, I think anyone can lead a good life, or a great life, and I think a lot of that has to with how you choose to minimize the damage you cause others and maximize the benefit you bring to others' lives.

Ask me anything

What's your favorite cocktail? And more importantly, why?

I go through stages with this. Currently, if I'm in a fancy cocktail bar, I end up with an Old Cuban in hand because I love rum and champagne. In less fancy places or at home, I remain in a White Russian phase because I find dairy settles my stomach. If the bar can't do either, I have a rum and Diet Coke.

Ask me anything

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More Britishisms

More stuff I've written for The Guardian, where my moronic commenters include a dude whose icon is a Confederate general and a bunch of truthers. Guess the Internet does make the world smaller.

Hope but no change
The new Know Nothings

Friday, January 15, 2010

How does one become a lobbyist? Or, how did you?

This is, to date, still one of the most popular questions I get to my old Anonymous Lobbyist e-mail address. Seriously, I wonder some times if the fact that I quit lobbying, burned bridges and wrote a column for two years about how much it sucked to be a lobbyist actually penetrated anyone who read them.

Again: lobbyists aren't all Abramoff, pulling in a few mil a year. Most people make office-type, middle management in a small company salaries when they finish moving through the ranks, if they do.

Anyway, I went to grad school full time, worked 2-3 internships a semester (i.e., 30-35 hours a week) at different places to get experience and realized when looking at my resume that most of the internships I was landing were in government affairs as opposed to the more serious think-tanking, national security stuff I was interested in, and then I adjusted by job search accordingly. Then I landed a job, got cut to part time, landed another, got laid off, landed a third where I was finally forced to register as a lobbyist, left for another that paid better, left for another than paid better, quit because that one sucked so bad, went to a think tank where I didn't lobby as much as did PR, got laid off and finally looked at my life and decided to do something else.

Most people put in time on the Hill at really low salaries for a few years in order to land a middle management gig; if they are lucky, worked for someone important for a long time and have a reputation, they'll get a bigger gig. Or else you start low, as I did, and move up. It's like any other job.

Ask me anything

Can people ever really be taught to write well? Or is it just something we have or don't, like being double-jointed?

I don't think that writing is about writing per se, but about how one is taught to think and express oneself. This, for me, was the great value of my hugely expensive (and paid for with student loans and scholarships) liberal arts degree and more professional Masters degree: it taught me how to think my way through things and express them well.

(Side note: the art of thinking through a problem is something I believe gets lost in our new testing-at-all-costs educational culture.)

There are also different types of writing: I consider myself a horrible poet, a decent persuasive writer, a hack reporter... So it depends a lot on the kind of writing a person wants to do, in my opinion.

That said, some people don't think clearly, even to themselves, and writing and communicating requires, for many people, linear thinking to be understood. "The Sound and the Fury" would be virtually impenetrable if Benjy narrated the entire thing, for instance. Some people aren't good at making a point, explaining a thought, making you see from their point of view, because they can't take the mish-mosh of thoughts that go on in all of our heads and translate it for a more general audience. I think that is teach-able, but maybe not to everyone.

Ask me anything

Is it true that women generally like to travel more than men? If so, why?

I don't believe in generalities. Most of the people I know like to travel, both men and women. I would say that people that enjoy traveling probably hang out with people who feel the same as they do, and vice versa.

If there was anything that I would say about travel that differs between genders it would be that, for reasons of personal safety learned from bad experiences, I prefer to travel either in the company of others or stay places that I feel secure in (i.e., not hostels) or with friends and find that many of my female friends feel the same way. I find some of my male friends more sanguine about that for obvious reasons. Other than that very learned difference, I'd say the differences in those that like to travel and those that don't aren't ones that break across gender, and that there are exceptions even to the difference I've noticed.

Ask me anything

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Which other feminist writers and philosophers published on the internet (news, blogs, etc.) do you enjoy reading the most? Which ones do you find inspire and inform your own writing process?

This is a hard one, actually. In no particular order, with a ton of people left out because this is just what I've read in the last two days or so. Latoya Peterson. Ann Friedman. Dana Goldstein. Amanda Hess. Katha Pollitt. Kate Harding. Amanda Marcotte. Lindsay Beyerstein. Pilgrim Soul and Sarah MC over at Pursuit of Harpyness. Pam Spaulding. Jill Filipovic. Katherine Joyce. Rebecca Traister. Clara Jeffrey. Katie Halper. Everyone else I left off.

"Writing process" seems like such a foolish way to talk about the job of blogging. I mean, my process is often something like "There's a good story! Must write it! Faster! Faster! Publish! Find something else! Write more!" And because I write for a more general news site now as opposed to a feminist one, some times those stories I have to write have a feminist angle, and some times they are just about news or politics. It's hard to call my process either informed or inspired, I guess. I just write like I talk, and I talk like I think.

I like women writers who can function in the vitriolic, hate-filled, misogynist world of writing for blogs and do so without fear. I like women who examine their own biases, who try to live what they write and believe, who write over and over again without resorting to cliches or bending to the rules of how women "ought" to behave or write. And I like women--because I count many of those women among my friends-- who can then, in private moments, talk honestly about the things we all struggle with, but without feeling that either of us is weak.

Ask me anything

Megan, FlyingChainSaw here. What was the name of the place in DC we went for the rather good caipirinha in Washington, DC. I forgot and I have to meet some people in DC and wanted to revisit the place for one meeting.

Indeed, it was Zengo. Fogo de Chao is supposed to have better ones...

Ask me anything

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do you ever miss writing at Jezebel?

On the one hand, yes. I loved working with Moe, Anna, Dodai, Sadie, Jenna, Maria, Anna N., Jess and Margaret; I loved writing about politics, sexuality and everything else for women from a woman's perspective; and I appreciated the mostly-supportive commenting community.

On the other hand, I must admit, I don't miss only working and only getting paid part-time, which is what happened post-election-2008. So, it's a bit of a trade-off.

But, I find that I miss writing when I spend too much time editing at Air America, and I miss having the time to think and write about women's issues in a more thorough way.

Ask me anything