Reading List: 32 articles about productivity

Big picture:

How smart people get things done:

Advice:

 

Four quick pieces of advice for recent grads

  1. You’re graduating into a decent economy, so you’ll have options. Take the job where you'll learn the most - find a good boss who'll let you fail and learn and try things. 
  2. Spend an hour a month on long term career tasks - polish your linkedin profile, network, learn about your industry and how it’s changing. 
  3. Don’t worry about career development too much. You'll figure it out. Don't look for a master plan - you can work hard, have fun and seize opportunities as they present themselves. That's enough. 
  4. Follow your instincts and your interests. 

We don’t need another conference on violence against women

There’s a certain kind of activism that revolves around organising conferences to deal with big, intractable societal problems like violence against women. On the surface, it seems like a good idea. Gather the relevant people together, make connections, hear what works in other countries. There’s a community aspect to it and an ego gratification showy part, both of which feel good. 

But it does a huge disservice to victims not to make that work about impact. 

It’s easy to imagine a utopian vision of Ireland as the first small country in the world to eliminate violence against women (which, btw, ain’t never gonna happen). But, it’d be much more useful (& more difficult) to start challenging our own internalised misogyny, to interrogate the thousand tiny ways that a patriarchal mindsets shapes our country and our culture.

I think it’s the cognitive dissonance that really bothers me. Just how far the experience of violence feels from conference rooms and fancy biscuits. Just how divorced from reality all the kumbaya-ing seems compared to the devastation of violence and the slow, windy path back.  The seat covers and the break out groups and the flip chart paper feel so hopelessly naive next to that reality. 

There is a place for speeches, sharing ideas and networking, but not at the expense of tangible action. At the very least, let’s not pretend that talking (usually to the converted) is the same as action. 

 

Blogroll

WAS I THE ONLY ONE WHO THOUGHT THERE WERE TOO MANY MEN IN WONDERWOMAN?

There was the blissful lesbian utopia at the start - hot warrior women in Xena costumes, not a man in site (realtalk: that is not how women would dress if left to their own devices/freed of the male gaze, but WHATEVER) but once she left the island paradise, it was all men, all the time. A racially diverse set of complex men, sure, but men. Except of course for the sassy sidekick who was buxom and quirky in the exact same way that sidekicks always are. 

Also, wasn’t mad on the whole ‘love conquers all’ vibe of the ending but I guess that’s what you get from a superhero film. 

Still, let’s set the sequel in that woman-only utopia and have her fight her inner demons or something. The men can have literally every other superhero movie that exists. 

ON ‘THE RULES DO NOT APPLY” AND PRIVILEGE

There’s something about the internet’s quickness to reach for the ‘check your privilege’ card that makes me very uncomfortable. Take this piece, reviewing Ariel Levy’s heartbreaking memoir about the loss of her baby, marriage and home. I read and loved the book, though I think the article captured something more viscerally arresting. (As you would expect it to - the article was a short piece written in close proximity to her experiences. The book was editorially sculpted to make an argument.) I enjoyed the book, but it hasn’t lodged itself in my brain the way the article did. 

Privilege has become such an easy, predictable argument. If you don’t like something written by a person with a relative amount of privilege (as almost all authors have), the line of attack is to undercut their authority to speak to their pain at all. 

The reviewer quotes a statistic that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Because it’s so common, she argues, it’s not a particularly worthy subject for a book. The fact that miscarriage is heartbreakingly common doesn’t make it any less devastating for the individual woman involved. You don’t get to say that women who’ve suffered a loss that is profoundly female in nature just need to get over it already and stop whining. We should encourage conversation about something that has historically been considered a shameful, private loss. You don’t need to be suffering more than everyone in the world to say that you are suffering.

Levy has done us all a great service in writing about the pain of having a female body that just won’t do what it’s supposed to do. (Obviously, female bodies are for more than baby-making but that is one of its biological functions.) By sharing that particularly female trauma, she expands a conversation that’s often held at an antiseptic distance. 

It’s worth mentioning too that though what Levy experienced was technically a miscarriage, giving birth at 19 weeks alone on on the floor of a Mongolian hotel room following a placental abruption is rare and deeply tragic. It’s not the same as a woman quietly miscarrying at home in the early weeks of pregnancy. One is not necessarily less devastating than the other but the scientific term (‘miscarriage’) keeps both experiences at a safe, clinical distance. Getting into the gory reality of female bodies is something we rarely do in polite conversation, and to me, it’s a profoundly feminist act. 

Because it’s a well-written memoir, this book reaches beyond the personal to touch on broader societal trends. But, it’s not supposed to be a seminal feminist text. Many reviewers have tried to jam this book into an idiotic ‘can women have it all?’ conversation where a memoir about loss really doesn’t belong. Surely it’s not because it’s written by a woman and about “female” experiences that it must be judged against some idiotic “is it feminist enough?” metric. Or is it because the protagonist is an independent women who didn’t orientate her life around a man? I’m sure there’s some dude writing about breaking his leg in timbuktu that isn’t required to speak to the broad political realities of being a man. I can’t believe we need to say it, but maybe we do: just because a book is written by a woman doesn’t mean that it needs to be explicitly feminist in order to be considered worthwhile. 

There’s more than one way to write about privilege. You don’t need to hit us over the head with it the way the privilege police seem to want. Sure, you can cherry pick lines to illustrate Levy’s obliviousness or you can acknowledge that her privilege (no matter how extensive) doesn’t protect her. Privilege isn’t a static thing, it ebbs and flows. And regardless of how it insulates you, you’re still at the whim of life. This is a book about our essential human vulnerability, about the limits of our control.

I do understand the impulse. It drives me round the bend to see people so full of privilege and opportunity be so oblivious to it. But, they are no less deserving of their own pain and they are certainly no less entitled to talk about their experiences. You don’t have to read them, obviously, but they’re just as valid. There aren’t many male authors in my reading lists, for very good reason. Men get enough of a say in life, so I devote my reading time (& book buying budget) to women’s voices. I try read diversely too, but because I try to be interested in lots of things and not because the privilege police will get me if I don’t. 

A richter scale of privilege/suffering is not a useful metric to judge the value of creative work. Writing (and in particular writing by people who identify as women) deserves a more thoughtful critique than that. A book should be reviewed on its own merits, measured against what it tried to accomplish and the extent to which it achieves that goal. Levy’s book is well written, thoughtful and reaches beyond her own experiences to make broader arguments about the nature of life on this planet. I really recommend it. 

THE TALKING HEADS ARE TALKING ABOUT CHILD ABUSE

Just a quick note to acknowledge just how MADDENING it is to listen to the same old talking heads talk about child abuse as if it’s some unfortunate bad thing that just happens and not something we can and should prevent. This time, it was about the horrific news that emerged from Tuam*.

As a country, we’ve been having the same conversation for thirty years and yet media commentators still manage to be genuinely baffled, both by the scandals and how things haven’t changed. They seem oblivious to the fact that you know, someone has to actually change it in order for it to change. 

You only get to say ‘I can’t believe it’ the first ten times it happens. After that, you start to sound like an idiot. There’s been 22 reports into the systemic abuse of children in Ireland. The circumstances differ, but the core message is the same. Children are treated like shit. And if there are women involved, they are also treated like shit. This is what happened in Ireland.

The same talking heads shake their heads at how it’s a “systemic problem” and “ordinary people in Ireland are really shocked”. Voices go up an octave, everyone gets whipped into a flap and then they go to a break and come back to talk about the afternoon’s sports fixtures. Or worse, they pause for the fucking angelus.

* A quick explainer, for non-Irish readers: for most of the 20th century, Irish women who became pregnant outside of marriage were sent to homes run by religious orders. Sex outside of marriage was considered deeply shameful, and they were sent away to have their babies. Usually, their children were taken from them and adopted/fostered. It’s now emerged that “significant quantities” of human remains are buried in the sewage systems of a home in Galway. The bodies of babies and small children were dumped there. 

P.S. I also read this whole statement (12 pages!) about how the religious orders feel that “a great wrong has been done to them” and how it has been “very painful” for them. I wanted to understand how they could feel that it was appropriate to think (not to mind say, not to mind issue a public statement) about how upsetting the scandals have been for them. These are the people who were guilty of/complicit in the systemic abuse of women and children. I read their statement in a vain attempt to understand their point of view. Needless to say, I didn’t get any answers. 

HILLARY CLINTON'S LOSS *HURT*

I don’t think people really understand just how psychologically wounding Clinton’s loss was. 

There’s a strong rational argument for why she was a bad candidate. But I’m not really available to have that argument because the loss was just so viscerally devastating. Most women have had that experience - being the most qualified, performing whatever ‘likability’ is required, the very best girl in the class - and still not getting the job because there’s a less qualified man available.

I’ve mapped all the shitty ways I’ve been treated in work onto her experience and your talking about her ‘unlikability’ or her voice or even her emails makes me want to flip the table. ALSO, she didn’t loose the election. (Hey there Russia, hey there popular vote.)

There’s an almost mythological hatred of Hillary Clinton - that she is a monster. Sure, she’s not the best campaigner and she’s made some bad decisions and I’m sure she farts now and then too, but she’s not a monster. She is a woman though, and maybe that’s worse. 

(She’s fine, btw.)

My favourite Tinyletters/newsletters

As you know, I read a lot of internet. Below are a round up of newsletters/Tinyletters that are constantly in my ‘to read’ pile. I like short essay-y newsletters or linky ones. I especially like when the archive feature is enabled so I can view in my browser and save to instapaper and thus not ruin my beloved reading system. God, I love systems. And reading. And when the two collide.

Some of these are weekly, some are occasional, all are great. Enjoy!

Round-ups of things to read from aggregators, publishers etc: The Sunday Longread, Longform, Longreads, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, my weekly Medium digest.

Round ups of things to read from people who are smart and interested: Ann Friedman, Marin Cogin, Caroline Crampton, Jessica Stanley, Rosie Spinks, Jessica Furseth.

Personal essay-style newsletters: Emily Gould, Ruth Curry, Ana Kinsella, Anne T Donoghue, Helena Fitzgerald, Doree Shafrir, Morgan Jerkins, Jessa Crispin, Dolly Alderton, Jess Grose, Rachel Hills, Jenna Wortham, Maud Newton, Larissa Pham, Anne Helen Petersen, Kate Carraway, Amy Jones, Tina Athena, Schmancy, Hannah Giorgis, Rebecca Onion, Emma Roller

Misc:

P.S. I’ve just started a newsletter called ‘Trauma and Recovery’. I’ll be writing over there every week or so. You can sign up here, if you’d like to. It’s gonna be FUN! (Really it will - I know that trauma doesn’t sound like it’d be fun to write/read about, but I promise it’s interesting!) I’m going to focus on the newsletter for the next little while, so this blog will be more dormant than usual. 

It’s the little things

An incomplete list of things that make me feel good.

  • Being awake before the world starts to stir. Seeing birds chirping away in their own bird universe. When you’re swimming and feel weightless. When you’re writing or reading and the warm sun lands on your back, or you turn your head just so and a slice of sunlight lands on your face.
  • When you feel that what you’re writing is maybe good and that whatever impulse made you create it is leaving your body. You feel lighter and happier all at once.
  • When something that’s been floating around in your psyche for weeks/months finally bubbles to the surface and you manage to capture it on the page.
  • Taking my red pen to the newspaper because it really shouldn’t be written that way.
  • Discovering a writer who’s work you love and then falling down a giant internet hole trying to consume everything they’ve ever written.
  • Chats with someone you share a sensibility with. You finish each others sentences, trip over each other's punchlines, echo the rhythms of each other’s speech patterns. You can see the joke he’s planning to make 3 moves down. It’s fun to watch his face contort into the micro-expressions of taking a run up to his joke. Once he gets to the punchline, you still surprise yourself by giggling more than you should. It’s the pleasure of knowing that he has enjoyed the moment. It’s the comfort of a brain that’s familiar to you.
  • When an artist/director/writer tugs at your emotions with such deftness and skill that you just melt into a puddle of mush. Creators who are allergic to making art that is gauzy, false, earnest or empty. When you are in the hands of someone who has taken your time and your feelings and expanded them both.
  • Art that helps you forget your pain. Art that helps you feel not alone in your pain.
  • The moment after a workout when you feel calm and glad that you pushed through whatever  inhumane resistance was trying to talk you out of it.
  • When you have to order way more food than you need to qualify for delivery and it arrives (with 3 sets of cutlery!) and you eat it all anyway.
  • Being a good eater. The first bite into a fresh piece of fruit. The first slurp of hot tea on a cold morning.
  • When you get home from a trip and do the whirl of disrobing, unpacking, running a shower, disinfecting electronics and ordering take out to make you feel happy and safe at home again.
  • Getting packages in the post - the adult equivalent of Santy visiting.
  • Everyday moments that are unifying.The curt-but-warm nod of a fellow country walker. 
  • Genuine un-ironic enthusiasm in the smallest things.
  • Making lists. Ticking things off lists. Deputising technology to take over tasks that used to be my responsibility (remembering things, washing clothes etc).
  • Teasing someone you love for a thing you love about them. Teasing that shows that they are known.
  • Passing a runner on the road while driving and silently cheering them on.
  • Opting out of dumb shit.
  • When things dawn on you, when something intellectually/emotionally click into place.
  • When I map out my emotions, like Magellan trying to cross an ocean.
  • A conversation that feels like an unloading, a stiff valve slips open and lets out some of the hot air that was making you feel stuck and staticy.
  • Flashes of girlish defiance and steely determination. (“Go on, underestimate me, that’ll be be fun.”)
  • The (occasionally existential) effort toward something you believe in, pulling out all the stops to make it work, feeling pulled into the dynamism of doing the work not thinking or talking or worrying about the work, but actually doing the work.
  • The good kind of exhausted, that comes with hard labour and seeing your efforts reflected back to you.
  • When you lift your head after many hard months of life or work and realise, I am not where I was.