So, I am lost. But I need to be useful more than I need to confess feeling lost. So, here I am, telling you what I’m doing to get through this, because I think you and I have an agreement that you’ll put up with me being lost and not posting very often, as long as I’m useful.
1. Find beauty in the process of being lost.
So here it is: New York Magazine. I love it so much. Some people turn to alcohol when they are lost. I wish I could use that. Or drugs. I wish I thought it would work. But nothing works better for me than words. I will read anything. Here’s an article I read in The Atlantic that calmed me down when the farmer had a fit that I left the bottle calf out in the hay field for three hours.
But New York Magazine is the best at taking my breath away, every time. Jennifer Senior is so good that I save every issue with her story on the cover. (Here’s one: All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting.) Also, the ads in the back of the magazine for things that cure ailments like sagging labia help me to keep perspective on problems coming in the pipeline.
But the thing right now that is saving my life is an article by Jerry Saltz. He is their art columnist, and last week he wrote a roundup about his favorite paintings in New York. (Click that link for a great slideshow.) I wish I could reprint the whole thing here. I have memorized it.
There are photos of nineteen paintings, and the captions he writes are phenomenal. For this Malevich painting
Saltz’s caption includes, “the Cubo-Futurist masterpiece depicts gleaming robot peasants in curved metallic shards.” Who has been more poetic about Malevich? Ever?
When you are lost is when you need art most. Art is the process of showing what lost looks like: on a blog or a painting or even a caption for a painting. Here is what Saltz says about this Hartley painting:
“I am so overwhelmed by the wounded otherness in Harley’s art that I can’t write about it or him. He defeats me. This is the work that I would most want to live with.”
New York Magazine is my roadmap for being lost. No one writing in New York Magazine moved from NYC to a farm. No one in New York Magazine writes about the struggle to get their son to be brave enough to put his hand under the hen to collect the eggs. But the topic of the magazine is being lost, and finding beauty in being lost, and thank goodness someone is making me feel like I am going to be fine, one day.
2. Focus on transition points. Do a little each day.
I have been reading a lot about how it's hard to identify women with Asperger's syndrome because they are so much better than men at mimicking social norms. Women are more likely to ask for help from friends, and women are much more likely to stand at the side of a room and try to figure out what's going on than men are. (Men will either give up and walk away or do something fast and inappropriate.) But one of the telltale signs of women with Asperger Syndrome (that’s me) is an inability to switch tasks (technical term: set-shifting).
We are not talking about that problem that Lifehacker addresses every week —how to switch tasks effectively and how to stop procrastinating. I am talking about being three hours late, routinely, because the brain is literally stuck. For some people with Asperger Syndrome, this looks like obsessing about trains. For some people it looks like not being able to stop eating. For me it's not being able to shift focus from the project I'm on.
I spent three years doing nothing but building Brazen Careerist. Hundred-hour weeks. Forgetting to sleep or change clothes for days at a time. Then I spent three months moving to the farm. Redecorating. Becoming friends with my designer, Maria Killiam (I love her), becoming friends with antique dealers (“what year was this made?” is my new favorite game), and hanging out with the electrician until I could get him to graze the very edge of the code.
It was hard to go back to my blog. It was hard to shift. Almost impossible. I can't stop thinking about the house even though the house does not require full-time thinking any more. So I am focusing on making a change. I am listing what a shift in focus would look like.
1. Adding a new feature to my blog each week.
2. Changing my schedule to make specific time for blogging.
3. Shifting to writing more for other outlets.
So I'm linking to the stuff I'm writing at BNET. I used to write at Yahoo finance and I learned so much from that gig. About headlines (study their home page), and finance advertising (I got fired for that), and writing for audiences who don't know me (so many people telling me I’m an idiot that Yahoo removed the comments). I think I'm going to learn a lot at BNET because the editorial team is so cool. Here's how I know: I told them I wanted my blog there to be called Free Beer. They laughed. I said, “No. Really.” I told them that the title of a blog only matters the first time you see it listed somewhere. After that the title is irrelevant—you go to a blog because of a good recommendation, not because of a good name.
So my blog there is called Free Beer.
And I'll be posting on this blog when there's a new post on Free Beer. And, look, I'm accomplishing numbers one and three from my list right here. Yea.
The important thing, I think , is that I'm being honest about what is change and what is not. It's so easy to stay in one spot, and for someone with Asperger's it's even easier. I write down, each day, what I did to change. That helps me see if I'm really doing it.
3. Risk standing out and being weird.
There are degrees of change. At some point, change is so small that it's irrelevant and it will never be enough to get you unlost. I am never totally sure when I'm doing this. It reminds me of times I have told my therapist I think I'm getting nowhere and she reminds me of all the hard work I've done.
I always worry that I'm getting nowhere because, as a career advisor, I'm besieged by people who are no making any real change in their life and they are flummoxed over why nothing changes, and I'm scared to be like them.
So I have a role model. I always have had role models. At one point it was Heidi Miller. I was young, and there were very few high-profile women in business. Later, my role model was Madonna, when I was not young, and she seemed always young. Now, I have a new role model: Tavi Gevinson.
She is a fourteen-year-old blogger. She writes the blog The Style Rookie. What I love about her is that she is totally herself. She writes about Rodarte’s fall collection and starting high school in the same breath. She writes about fashion in a way that opens my eyes and she writes about high school in a way that reminds me how vulnerable we all are. Even the fourteen-year-old ingenue who is the darling of the fashion media after only 18 months of writing.
Here is a photo of Tavi: She wears what she wants to.
She comes up with her own ideas about what works and what doesn’t.
And she lets her real self show through. This is what we have to do to get unlost. She was a dork in school, probably too smart for fitting in, and had too much time on her hands. This is how we find ourselves so many times in life. Maybe not the too much time, but the other stuff. The not fitting in, not knowing what to do next, the not knowing how to be our true selves.
We should all throw caution to the wind like we’re Tavi. She jumped in, tried something, gave herself permission to fail colossally, which also made space to succeed colossally.