Postmortem: On moving

I moved to New York City when I was 23. I kept few belongings, so I could move easily, and I moved often. When I did, everything I owned couldn’t fill a van—a mattress, two suitcases of clothes, one box of books, one box of art supplies, and a very ugly turquoise lamp that I’m still very attached to. 

Every move came with a safe kind of newness—new windows, new roommates, new neighbors, new perspectives, and new possibilities. It was never scary, but I always felt the quiet thrill of fresh, albeit unremarkable, beginnings. If rent got cheaper, I could plan savings or vacations. If the subway got closer, I could dream about a 20-minute commute. And I didn’t have to think about why I felt so restless and what I was desperately, frantically attempting to move away from.

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When I was nine years old, I walked in a line of fourth graders to recess. As we walked past a large window, I saw a boy's reflection, three girls' reflections, and mine. I was wearing light jean shorts and a pink and white striped shirt. I was the same person I always saw in that window, but this time I thought, "I am the biggest."

That afternoon, I looked in a full-length bedroom mirror and turned to see my profile. I inhaled and patted my belly full of air. Then I exhaled and sucked it all in. I looked at my hipbones, my waist, and my ribcage.

Although I looked like the other girls in photographs, I started to see myself as "fat," and I have ever since. One therapist explained that I was experiencing something called body dysmorphia—a concept I understand but to this day cannot fully accept. I can say in a reasonable and convincing tone "How I see myself is not how it is," but I do not yet believe it.

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How to Work with Other People and Make Content Happen

I just emerged from two large website projects. They're special to me for two reasons. First, they were built to help promote something I'm excited about. Second, I was the only writer on both projects. This does not mean I was working alone. My biggest takeaways from the past few months are actually all about working with other people. They include "all copywriters should learn GitHub" and "JavaScript doesn't like commas so sometimes a comma change isn't a quick fix." But here are by far the four biggest lessons I've learned. 

Have content first

For some organizations, getting content ahead of design is just a really funny joke. And sure, it's not easy, but it's important. Every other thing in this post hinges upon having content early in the process. Whatever content you end up sharing with designers doesn't even have to be final, as long as it says kind of what you want you want it to say in a sort-of-right order. 

Under a tight deadline, I write out matter-of-factly what I want each section of content to communicate, along with ideas for images and layout. Even clumsy sentences and headlines that are too long are clearer objectives to design around than lorem ipsum or dummy copy. It's fine if your content starts messy and ugly, as long as it starts early. 

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It's OK to Not Want to Be a Programmer

This is probably my fourth attempt at learning to code. I have a good chance this time. There is a teacher. His name is Jon. He knows what he's doing and laughs at my jokes sometimes. I'm learning for my job—which I enjoy. It is 2014. There is a whole Internet out there dedicated to helping people learn programming. It is not just me braving too-thick books and my own boredom, mindlessly typing "Facebook" into the command line—no! This time is different. 

Or is it? In a ridiculously critical inner monologue, I have always told myself that my lack of stick-with-it-ness when it has come to coding is a character flaw. Rationally, I know this is some kind of raving, because if it were a deeply personal character flaw, why wouldn't we have more programmers?

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User Research for People Who Don't Like Talking to Other People

A few months ago, I gave an internal presentation on research methods for the folks at FreeAssociation who hadn't participated in research yet. It covers basics of the initial user research we did at the beginning of one of our more recent projects and (of course) contains goats. Need more context? I have a whole other blog post on the same project right here.

I'll drink to that

My grandfather's 98-years are obituary-defying. He served in British-ruled India around the time Gandhi gave his Quit India speech and climbed the Himalayas decades before the first successful Everest ascent. He also managed to take a 7-year military tour in Brazil, raise five kids, care for a swimming pool with painstaking exactness, plant an oak tree illegally, and install several solar panels on his roof. 

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The day I decided not to get a PhD in Shakespeare, I rode a bus across London twice.​

​It was the number 24, the one I took to class and to the rare books library where I worked. When I got there, I would climb a few sets of stairs to dust 18th century mathematics books. I would push a button, and shelves of maps and incunabula would open to me like sesame. Three times a week, I'd pluck them off and clean.

At the time, I had little professional experience beyond all that vellum, those yellowing ​pages that smelled like earth. But when I decided not to get my PhD, this didn't cross my mind. I just didn't get off the bus.

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What writing for the Internet taught me about writing

​A professor I had in grad school once told me that my papers were "caught up in your own rhetoric." I'm still not 100% on what this means, but here's what I'm assuming: I invited my readers onto this sick-ass roller coaster of 17th Century criticism, but did not invite them into my head. Too many words with too little explanation. 

After about 2 minutes in the real world, I learned that all my sweet puns and thesaurus adverbs weren't going to fly online. It was a good lesson that I've taken to all my writing.   

​I'm still learning, but between newbs, here are 5 things I have to tell myself every time I write anything.

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