October 17th, 2017 in
Today. I am 29.
The last year of my 20s. I keep wondering what would I wish I would have known during the beginning of this decade? A decade of exploration and naivety? The decade in which I finished a graduate degree, worked at a startup, then start and grow my own company with no capital and all hard work.
Recently, I sat on a panel discussing my industry and something stuck with me. Walking to the event, I felt nothing but nerves. I tried to clear my mind but was disrupted by catcalls at 8am from construction workers. When I arrived, I was the only women on the panel. In the crowd a very powerful man in Detroit began asking specific questions about features he should have in his work spaces, what he could take from mine. This happens all the time but the boldness of it bothered me that morning. This man never remembers from meetings, but always remembers my male partner. In the last meeting, it ended with a: “What do you do again?” and a “Give me a hug sweetie.” (I am the CEO and Co-founder, not the secretary or assistant or sweetie hug giver).
After, the panel I called him out for what his questions were. He seemed to see me for a moment. Until a beautiful blonde woman said hello to me, and all focus dissipated. I felt better that at least I was bold, at least I saw it clearly now.
What stuck with me was anger, anger at myself. Why was I quiet and smiling in past meetings? Why was I not surprised that no matter how long I do the work of entrepreneurship, I may not be taken seriously by some people? I started writing this article prior to the #MeToo posts, which focus more on sexual harassment and assault, but I believe the foundation, the normalization of sexism and objectification, is what often leads down a more dangerous route.
So 20 somethings with bold ideas and filled with blind naivety like myself: Just expect it. I’m not sure I know how to deal with it yet but I certainly learned to expect the following:
1. People won’t take you seriously in business because you are a women. Those who pretend to support you will tell others you just want to run a “nonprofit” and aren’t capable of “building a business”. Despite that your resume shows you have the most startup experience. Despite that you will take over and grow a business and quadrupal revenue in the following year. Despite any facts. They will still cover their tracks with disbelief that you are capable of doing business well. You have to out perform. You have to ignore. I also prefer not do business with those who don’t believe in me or my work.
2. Men won’t remember you at meetings they invite you to. They will ignore what you say at the table. You will have to repeat yourself. You will get used to repeating yourself a lot. You might say exactly the same sentence as a male counterpart. He will be heard and respected, and you will be ignored. He will not realize it in the moment, but you will. You will not be recognized for your ideas and contributions. He will.
3. Men will walk into your place of business and doubt your ownership. One day a man will come in unannounced for a sales call, asking who the decision maker is. When you kindly respond that you are, and ask why they are here at your office? They will ask you again: Who is the decision maker here? You will repeat yourself again. Like I said, you will get used to repeating yourself again.
4. When you win awards and news features, you will get emails and comments asking if you're single. My boyfriend won a local honor, and told me it opened so many doors and meetings for him. I remember receiving the same local honor earlier this year. I received many emails and comments, asking if I was single or available, inside the emails complimenting my work. It was not the same experience. It was not the same recognition at all.
5. Men who state frequently they are feminists, are sometimes the overcompensating sexists. There was one man I did business with who would often state: I’m a feminist. He would then go on to spread rumors, to debase me as a woman who didn’t know anything about business. He would take credit for my work and continue to take what he could anywhere. He would overly compensate for his sexism and distrust of women with the phrase: I’m a feminist. I’m a big feminist. He said it all the time. Just remember that actions speak louder than words. A real male feminist doesn’t need to you remind you all the time that he cares. He will show it.
6. Men who support you will be often be blindly unaware of sexism, at first. Even the ones who love you. They won’t realize what’s happening. They don’t have to experience it themselves. My boyfriend in particular is always surprised. His response is to always immediately shrug it off.
Until last week in the car after the anger that stuck with me from that day. I told him: No. I’m not ignoring it this time. I just want you to listen. That’s all.
We want you to listen. We want to be heard. Not told to ignore it again and again and again. Do you know how much energy it takes to ignore others who are ignoring you? Listening is the first step to learning, to taking the right action to stop this behavior around you.
I do know that to some degree that my boyfriend is right. That to overcome sexism you might face on a daily, weekly, or however often.... you just have to keep going forward. It’s easier to ignore it, until it’s just not easier anymore.
I hope my thirties are filled with more awareness and strength to just keep going.
Spring came sopping in. The water pools on the top of our garage, forming slow and lanky shapes alive only in this brief watery world.
It bubbles, tiny drops each crash into the cement, a capture of the soul before flight. The moment before the next moment. There are a hundreds of bubbles across a dozen pools. I want to watch them all.
This is how I felt these first few months that have transformed, alive for a moment, the timing and temperature and placement of everything just right.
We signed the lease for the Bamboo move and did everything in two very quick months, all construction, all purchasing, all weekends with friends and family stepping in to meet an unrealistic deadline. We hung the decor, added the custom woodwork to the walls, and somehow finished just before the first of the year. We set our equipment down on new year’s eve, went to dinner, and called it complete. It was a tremendous amount of work on a shoe-string budget in a short time.
Now months later we are full and looking at adding one more floor. Then, what will be next? Other spaces. Other cities. Other communities. Other products. Other people. But those days in this first space, everyone coming together to make something happen, will be a special pool of memory.
No matter how long it takes you to grow, you will get to where you need to be. You will not forget the journey. That is what I want to tell myself.
One evening alone in bed with rain in the background and the sound up high from the podcast. A discussion on the east and west, Daoism, to sit back and know it will all be alright. That it will all happen on its own due course. To stand up and know it will only happen if you steer the way. I need a balance of views. If a creator does not constantly push forward their idea or belief, then what is needed for it will not appear. But a creator must also keep faith, almost a blind faith, or one will easily get lost and washed away.
I often fail to enjoy the moments along the way. I stay focused on what’s next, the next steps, the next place I want to be. I want to be inside the physical place of my full vision. I want to be there, even when I am already in a beautiful phase of it.
What is a full picture without a present moment to view it from?
Sitting at a table to candlelight, writing. Standing for a moment in a garage most see as dirty, run-down, watching bubbles come up from the ground.
Marseille is a port town on the south of France, and there is some sort of parting energy here, always moving from shore to lanes to people. We stay on a main road in a hotel outside of what sounds like a busy freeway at all hours of the night. There are hundreds and hundreds of boats in the port, sitting, waiting, pointing up like reeds to the sky, arms up, praying. I am inhaling. If this is the end, then I will stay here in the pleasant sun and sea and mediterranean coast filled with pleasure.
There are parts of the city that are not so pleasant to gaze at, parts lined with graffiti, with thick steel bars etched nicely over their windows, parts with their metal shadows drawn down. No one lives here, perhaps. No one lives here now in the off season. No one wants to get robbed, my love tells me. There are people who are suspicious but I don’t notice these people. My traveling partner does. It is usually the opposite, I am the worrier but I am also the naive one. He is savvier in any new surroundings. While I daydream, Marc is busy looking out for me.
On our first day we walk over thirty minutes through the long and winding side streets, up towards the hilly parts where the Basilica rises. It is their Eiffel Tower, a large and beautiful domed church on the highest point of the city, the holiest place to be closest to the sky where heaven may be seen and felt. I am very thirsty. I cannot walk on without something to drink. I am wearing boots with heels not made for walking up a hill. I am growing tired quickly. I must have water on me at all times in case of the end of the world. I must have everything on me at all times traveling to feel safe and comforted. With the largest hill in front of us, the hill with the Basilica, I must stop for thirst.
“I need something to drink,” I say. I turn away from Marc and walk towards a fruit stand, no bigger than a garage or a bedroom. One man is working the stand, cutting a large fruit into pieces. It is orange and fleshy at it sides and looks large as a pumpkin. He doesn’t speak English. I pick out a small bottle of juice. One Euro. He has no change. He goes back to his safe and my love immediately turns to me.
“Never walk away from me again,” he says.
I am confused. This is a dire need I must fulfill and I am anxious to walk up the hill. Not only am I slightly afraid of heights, but I’m definitely not going to keep walking up a steep hill feeling thirsty. There are hundreds of steps left. We take our juice and our change and we leave.
“He could have robbed us,” he says with such might that I almost believe him for a moment. The safe tucked in the back of the store gave him a moment to arm up. The empty street around us made us vulnerable. One man speaking another language. Us looking so much like American tourists in a foreign place, my bags, my confusion and exhaustion. Our intention to purchase a drink, but my purse out with me.
“He was nice,” I said. “And besides he had a large knife out the whole time anyways, cutting the fruit. Remember? If he wanted to do anything he would have.”
We continue walking up the hill and when we get to the top we can see the whole port town around us, a blur of sky and sea and sand colored houses in the hills. The mediterranean. The juice in my hand. Perfect. No need to come back down to to the bottom of the hill. I’d prefer this unknown world first, fear and hunger and thirst for it all.
I feel alone when I am one in a crowded room. But I am not. I am a part of something like a drop in the water or the fine line of a sentence to the whole. We are all a part of something.
"You are not alone," the editor says on stage. "That's why we come here."
But I have just stepped in, stepped away from the screen, away from the room where it is quiet and still and the story mills. I always feel a shift to the internal, the emotional, and become quiet in large settings like this one. Perhaps processing to much, listening to deeply, and wanting to understand on the inside what it all means for me.
Anyways, here's what I learned at AWP to share with those who couldn't join. My biggest takeaways:
1. Focus on moments. There is power in the events you write. Worry about editing into sequence later, especially if a novel or larger piece of work feels intimidating. From a discussion on writing flash. This tip is especially helpful for me. With larger pieces, I tend to not write literally but follow the character and feel their tensions.
2. Use real emotions. I had recently learned this tip. When writing fiction, infuse your work with your emotions so it comes to life. Imagine that time you felt heartbroken or insecure or anything? This was a discussion on what can be learned from non-fiction into fiction writing. Other tips included learning how to use ideas more into one's fiction work. For the essayist, the idea rules, and then so does the telling. For the fiction writer, drama rules, but telling can have it's place too.
3. On Editing: trust the gut. It was wonderful to hear one of my favorite pulitzer prize winning authors on stage, someone who's inspired me to push and write and strive for innovation in art. And it's always humbly to hear they go through many of the same struggles to. For this author, she shared that she receives advice widely to try to determine what's working for others. However, many others emphasized you have to trust your gut when it comes to feedback and accepting advice.
4. Structure, say what? It was odd and frustrating to hear from a couple different discussions that structure just falls into place after a few drafts. I would have loved more feedback than that. However, I agree too. It's hard to know when structure of larger narrative will form. There seemed to be no strategies, just keep writing through a few drafts and it will show itself to you.
5. On Publishing: it's business. That was a theme that I heard over and over. Remember that when you do get an agent or a contract it is a business relationship with certain professional expectations. In this way, I feel good. I have learned a lot about business, marketing, sales, publicity, on my own through my own business. Writers must remember this is all important too if you want to ship a book to market.
6. On Life: No squandering, no letting up on yourself. Two full time authors who have been able to make a successful living at writing shared on stage how they balance that in their life. One, a young mother, says she has learned not to squander a single moment. The older writer with no kids said she learns to watch out for her own self. She knows when she gets tired or wants to stop or start a new project, and keeps here eye out for these distractions. Both good tips.
After this my notebook was left behind and because we were at a writer's conference actually returned. I am grateful, but have no other notes to share with you.