Ask AHP Anything
It's a Wednesday, why not
I get asked a lot of questions, formally and informally, in DMs and emails and even, occasionally, in person. The vast majority of the time, it’s pretty fun to answer them. It’s also a good reflective exercise — gratifying, clarifying, and challenging — and after this past week, I’m grateful for the brief opportunity to think of, well, other things. If you’d like to ask one for a future installment, the link is there for paid subscribers at the end of the piece. (And happy to elaborate more on any of these, too, in the comments!)
What is your process for collecting all of your material and then formatting it into a draft? I know you spoke to some of this in your “Behind the Scenes of a 5000 Word Draft” post, but I was curious if you could elaborate on just how you use your notes to write a draft. Do you categorize by theme? Copy and paste word for word? Immediately after reading, take notes in your own voice? Id’ love to know how you note taking transforms itself into a first draft of something.
For those who haven’t read that post, it broke down how I organize my notes in Scrivener, how I find sources, how I think about interviewing and the mix of conversations and books and articles that I read in order to write about a topic. If you’re curious about any of that, go read it. I like this secondary question because it makes me think about a process that I’m still really trying to refine.
I like to buy books, and because I can “expense” them as a freelancer (deductible business expense; if you object to this practice I recommend checking out the freelance tax rate) I buy a lot of them. The academic in me really loves the process of sitting down to gut a book with no distractions: close the laptop, put the phone in the other room, and just read and underline and write little notes and star various paragraphs, rewarding yourself with a wee bit of internet between chapters, until you’ve made it through. That’s how I read the dozens of books I read for Can’t Even and, more recently, for the parts where I took the research lead in Out of Office.
There’s a problem with that style, though. When I write, I like to have all of my resources right there with me — preferably very accessible in a section of the Scrivener. And that means that I spend a lot of time transcribing the underlined portions of my physical book into a digital file on the computer, usually under bold headings like THIS IS THE HEART OF IT or SPECIFIC HISTORY OF GERANIUM CULTIVATION or USE THIS FOR KICKER.
I am a fast typist, but this still takes a significant amount of time. I don’t hate the process — in fact, it’s useful, kind of like copying your notes by hand, something I used to do when I was studying for tests, just to really pound the information home. But sometimes I just don’t have all the time I’d like for a project, and I’ve been experimenting with what Ezra Klein does: reading on Kindle, doing a lot of highlighting, and exporting those highlights into a document.
I still don’t like this approach, in part because not all the books I want to read are even available in Kindle formats, but I also find that the information doesn’t stick nearly as well. I highlight too much, forget why I highlighted it, and if I’m trying to read something with Kindle App on my computer, it’s complicated to even export. (I actually spent a significant amount of time screenshooting little portions and then putting them into the Scrivener files; WOULD NOT RECOMMEND).
So what’s the solution? Probably figure out a way to give myself more space to transcribe, so I can keep doing what works. If someone else has a better idea, please feel free to save me from myself.
I am an unmotivated person by nature. I have so little gumption when it comes to meeting goals I set for myself. I sometimes feel like I am tubing on the lazy river of goal setting. And since I don’t have a traditional job and am pursuing creative endeavors a a ‘job,’ the days often see very little productive value. I see this a a rebellion from the product-driven, capitalist job I had for 20 years. Now I am retired and very tired. I suppose this is a question in two parts: How do we retrain our brains after being drive by productivity for so long, and how can I get motivated to pursue some of my create goals when I am my own (very lenient) boss?
To me, it sounds like you are of two minds when it comes to productivity — as I think so many of us are. You both do and do not want to be free from the productivity mindset: it flattened so much of your life, but it was also the thing that gave a whole lot of structure to your life. It wrung you out but it also helped you to do some of the things that made you, well, you. Maybe you never really learned what it felt like to do something just because you liked it, or even when it felt like to like something, just generally, outside its placement within the productivity mindset.
So now that you’ve taken away that structuring stimulus, the engine, the catalyst, whatever you want to call it, you have to figure out what does make you feel like you again. I don’t know if that means that you need to be motivated in a traditional productivity sense, though — and I think it might be worth revisiting your “goals.” Are they goals because they’re achievements? Could a goal be to learn how to rest? Or to listen to yourself more? Or even just to listen to others? What if a day of “productive value” was a day of observing? There are days for acting, and days for being — and seasons for acting, and seasons for being — and neither is more valuable than the other. I say that earnestly, and I say it repeatedly, and I say it with great compassion, because it’s something I’m constantly trying to internalize myself.
Do you ever get tired of being extremely online? How do you recharge?
Interestingly, I have become significantly less online over the last few years — largely the effect of feeling like I have more control over my time (and have less need to constantly monitor the internet, and check into Slack, and generally LARP my job) since effectively becoming my own boss and going full-time with the newsletter.
But I also understand that my understanding of “less online” is still other people’s understanding of “extremely online,” so I’ll answer with how I try to temper my engagement. I quit using Facebook, even though I had a very active group of more than 40,000 people there, for all the reasons I wrote about a few months ago. I don’t follow people who retweet super toxic shit into my feed and mute people who consistently make me feel self-conscious, less-than, or generally the worst version of my teenage self. (That’s different, of course, than not engaging in good faith criticism).
I don’t take my phone with me when I go on a walk, or if I do, I try to exclusively use it as a photo taking device, not an internet device. I found peace in not being caught up with every cool new thing, every new podcast, or reading every new book. I’m not ashamed if I don’t know what the latest TikTok meme is; I can always….Google it? I seek out activities (like gardening) where my thoughts can kind of rattle around in my own head, or that allow my brain to slowly blank itself.
Part of the antidote to onlineness is, as the internet itself would say, “touching grass,” but part of it also cultivating solitude — which doesn’t necessarily mean always being by yourself, but allowing your mind freedom from exterior outputs.
Forgive the prying into your domestic life, but what do you and your husband tend to fight about? What do those fights look like? What is helpful in resolving them? What does the aftermath feel like? What is helpful in preventing them in the first place?
First off, not married, just partnered, but judging by Google’s autofill function I know a lot of people assume the former. The number one thing we fight about is the mental load — more specifically, when I start carrying a lot more than usual, and then struggle to communicate my resentment for doing so, and the pot boils over, etc etc. (If you don’t know what the mental load is, this cartoon is the gold standard when it comes to explaining).
This dynamic is pretty classic in heterosexual couples (and a lot of queer couples, too). One partner (almost always the woman in a heterosexual couple) has been socialized to take care of shit. All of the shit. The invisible shit, the visible shit, the stuff that needs to happen in order for the household to keep running, because if you didn’t do it, who in the hell would? Maybe your partner?
Or maybe no one would and you’d end up canceling a trip because no one thought to renew the passports, or paying for significant home repairs because no one thought to figure out what to do about that leaking corner of the tub, or forking over thousands because your car insurance lapsed and you got in a fender-bender.
There’s a key phrase in that hypothetical: “no one thought to” — aka, no one, save the bearer of the mental load, has made it part of their routine to think of these sorts of things. The result is what’s often referred to as “learned helplessness” (aka, one partner holds all the keys, all the passwords, all the background knowledge, because again, who else would — but shouldering the burden alone also means that the other person doesn’t even know how to bear weight on their shoulders when and if the time comes).
I digress! I’m supposed to be talking about the fights, not the content! In short: we’ve talked about this issue so much that we both understand that it is a systemic issue, that a lot of it also has to do gendered socialization but a lot also has to do with how long each of us spent living on our own and/or wholly responsible for our own shit (me, a long time; him, not nearly as long).
So we spent a lot of time talking about the dynamics: why we end up in the patterns we do, how we can work to correct them, how those fixes fail, why it can feel infantilizing or patronizing to not be allowed to shoulder some of the load and why it feels crappy and naggy to have to remind someone of a task they said they had handled but did not in fact handle. We often come up with a plan for distributing more of that mental load, but also acknowledge it as part of a much larger, probably life-long project.
As for preventing fights, just generally? When it comes to the mental load, I try to articulate my frustration before collapsing under it. (Earnest phrases like: “I feel like I’m taking on a lot of the mental load right now, can we talk about how to redistribute some it?”) We also try to ask questions when someone seems off instead of assuming what might be causing it. (A fav in our house, especially since we both work from home, is “are you mad at me or just concentrating?”)
But the best way to prevent fights? For us, it’s having meaningful conversation about a whole cornucopia of things, and not feel like we’re errand and bill paying and newsletter writing ships passing in the night. And the best way to do this, I’ve found, is to go regularly go on a walk with the dogs — there’s something about walking side by side, on a route you know by heart, that creates a real and enduring intimacy that doesn’t necessary inoculate a relationship from disagreement, but ensures that when it does happen, you feel safe within it.
How much time per day do you spend ‘consuming’ media to stay attuned to the world you write about? Is there any time left to ‘consume’ for relaxation? How do you stop working when you are watching for fun?
I used to tell my media studies students that once you learn to think critically about the culture around you, it’s not something you’ll ever really be able to turn off ever again. I think you could say the same for students in pretty much any discipline or trade, though — once you learn about engineering, or architecture, or botany, or sociology, or just how a car works, whenever you’re around that thing, you think about its “innards,” for lack of a better word.
But I don’t think this is a bad or even an exhausting thing. Analyzing a text makes it richer, not poorer. Even so-called “problematic” texts become far more interesting the more you think about them. When people ask me if I can “turn it off,” I think I usually want to respond “why would I want to?”
I’m starting a new job this week — what questions should I ask my supervisor/management team to learn about organizational culture and how can I begin setting firm boundaries to protect my non-work time?
I could give some general answers but this is such a perfect question for the Culture Study Job-Hunting Thread (which is also often a very good a Job-Advice Thread), particularly in the small sub-groups. If you’re a paid subscriber and haven’t joined yet, just email me and I’ll get you set up.
Whatever happened to the family estrangement piece you were thinking about? Did I miss its publication? I was really looking forward to it but I also totally understand if it was too difficult to write.
You can find it here!
This isn’t very specific but I would love to hear more about what life is like on your island. How did you choose it? How do you meet people? Is it as idyllic as it sounds? Is there anything you don’t have easy access to that you miss? I used to live in Seattle and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has imagined (and, yes, romanticized) what it’s like to live on one of those islands.