Friday and The Infinite Wisdom of Others

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on November 24, 2007
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friday wisdom.
Some people have been saying that this whole Internet thing is the wave of the future, so it occurred to me that I could turn to the world of web publishing for advice every once in awhile. And so I bring you … Friday and The Infinite Wisdom of Others.

This week:

Gretchen over at The Happiness Project posted on the three types of fun: challenging, accommodating, and relaxing. For example, those three hours I spent watching re-runs of Project Runway the other night could be considered relaxing fun, as I didn’t really have to exert myself in any way, except when I ran out of root beer and had to get my butt off the couch and go get myself a refill. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to attempt some more challenging. Like maybe I should get my tush in gear and learn how to sew so I can put together this year’s costume for Santacon. Gretchen also gives some tips on getting up the energy for that challenging fun-stuff.

The hilarious Lucy Lastic over at recently posted on taking on too much…and then accidentally letting things fall by the wayside when the latest obsession comes along. As I told Lucy, I tend to have this problem a lot. I fixate on newly acquired interests, to the detriment of all other things. Which is why I have a belly dancing skirt stuffed into my pajama drawer, a basket of yarn and fabric under the end table in my living room, and the bookshelf contents of a sexual deviant (don’t ask). Lucy also gives some tips on how to overcome such single-minded obsessions, thank god. Check it out.

I stumbled upon this post using StumbleUpon. The posting frequency of the site overall seems sporadic, but I was interested to see that Ralph’s insights on how to start a meaningful conversation dovetailed with my own previous thoughts on the intersections between journalism and communication.

And finally, if you’re feeling a bit forsaken because I’ve taken a break from the printed page, not martha just started spreading the word about a special sale at Chronicle Books. I know. I can’t stay away either.


How to Achieve Self-Enlightenment

Posted in Uncategorized by Steph Auteri on November 21, 2007


Okay. I know. I know that Eat, Pray, Love isn’t actually a self-help book. But from my earliest days, as a kindergartner, swiping John Saul books from my father’s closet…as a junior high school student, stealing moments of reading time while I was supposed to be doing my homework…as the woman I am now, still the same big old booktard I always was, fiction and creative/narrative nonfiction have always held a type of inherent truth for me that scrapes against the heart and the pit of the stomach in a way academically written how-tos never could.

And so I ask you to indulge me for the moment in the use of the memoir as a source of self-enlightenment.

Elizabeth Gilbert was a woman with all the trappings of success: the husband; the well done-up home; the writerly career. Following a divorce, however, and a depression that left her feeling lost, she began to re-evaluate her life, and to re-evaluate the definition of success itself. In the end, she resolved to leave her conventionally successful life behind, and to pursue something deeper.

What follows from this is quite the impressive journey — written in lovely language, and with plenty of humor — in which Gilbert travels to Italy to indulge herself, to India to find the benefits of pure devotion, and to Bali, to study under a medicine man.

Aside from the fact that Gilbert’s story makes for an incredibly fascinating read, there is more to notice here.

  • Re-evaluate what you’re working toward: As the author of Your Money or Your Life asked, are you working for a living, or working for a dying? Does your work fulfill you, on a more personal level? Are you putting more energy into it than you’re receiving in payback? When I looked at the career I had made for myself in publishing, moving quickly from marketing assistant to marketing coordinator to marketing associate, I had to consider where it was all leading and, as a result, admit to the fact that the outcome wasn’t even desirable to me. It led me to take a career risk, and I’ve been grateful I took it ever since.
  • Find what makes you happy: In Gilbert’s memoir, she literally takes a (very extensive) journey, eventually finding her way to a more balanced and happy life. Not all of us have the ability to do something so drastic but, in keeping within a somewhat practical plan, we can still experiment with the things that interest us, whether through part-time jobs, internships, freelance gigs, continuing education classes, etc.
  • Incorporate what you’ve learned into your life: These life experiments can aid you in finding something you love, or make it very clear to you what you hate. Both are very useful. For example, through my time at three very different jobs, I found that I loathed the corporate environment, but enjoyed working for small presses. And so my search becomes more targeted. I find that working from home full time makes me lonely. So I mix things up a little. Take what you learn from your forays into different worlds and juggle things around until you find yourself living your ideal life.
  • Career isn’t everything: My bullet points seem to focus mainly on career. It’s a problem of mine, as I tend to self-identify by what I do for income, more than anything else. It’s a flaw, I suppose. But endless productivity and the search for self-fulfilling work are the things that drive me and energize me. But I’d like to make it clear that Gilbert’s story is obviously more about the life/work balance, and that it’s important to fill your life with more than just “work.” Become a belly dancing hula hooper, a nightlife photographer, or a creative tutu artist. Plan date nights with your significant other (otherwise, you may never see them). Take time out to read something for pleasure. For the love of god, live.

Out of curiosity, what are some of the things you wish you had the time to try on for size? I seriously do want to take hula hoop dance lessons, and I have the materials together for the purplest tutu ever. I also want to go hang gliding. What do you daydream about when you’re trying to escape from your day-to-day?

How to Get Some Sleep

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on November 13, 2007
Tags: ,

counting sheep.

The other week, Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project linked to an older post of hers on getting better sleep. As I’ve had trouble turning my brain off as of late, spending a good portion of my evenings tossing and turning and generally agitating my exhausted husband, I read Rubin’s post with great interest. A number of her suggestions made absolute sense to me, and I’ve started putting some of them to practice:

  • “Exercise most days, even if it’s just to take a walk.” (Does my power walking through the subway tunnels count? I’ve also started doing 20-minute callanetics sessions in my living room three mornings a week.)
  • “No caffeine after 7:00 p.m.” (I’ve actually just recently started drinking coffee more heavily. I’m trying to rein myself in to no more than two cups a day, with absolutely none after 7 p.m.)
  • “If your mind is racing…write down what’s on your mind.” (This is an awesome bit of advice, though that one night i kept flipping on my lamp and jotting down notes for the next day’s editorial meeting probably made my husband near-homicidal. But the racing mind is one of my biggest problems.)

There are a number of other suggestions Rubin has, some of which I struggle with (the far-from-tidy bedroom, for one). You should check out her post if you struggle with sleeplessness as I do.

The problem of insomnia is a common one, as evidenced by recent articles like those in the New York Times, which touts the positive effects of cognitive behavioral treatment:

The behavioral strategies for better sleep are deceptively simple, and that’s one reason why many people don’t believe they can make a difference. One of the most effective methods is stimulus control. This means not watching television, eating or reading in bed [oy, the hubby yells at me for these last two all the time!]. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Get up at the same time every day, and don’t nap during the day. If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed after 15 minutes and do something relaxing, but avoid stimulating activity and thoughts [does this mean the crossword puzzles are a no-no?].

So-called sleep hygiene is also part of sleep therapy. This includes regular exercise, adding light-proof blinds to your bedroom to keep it dark and making sure the bed and room temperatures are comfortable. Eat regular meals, don’t go to bed hungry and limit beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime.

Such tips seem simple enough, but I can’t help wanting to find a self-help book that will cure me entirely (it’s my nature). So homework assignment #1: I’ll try these tips for the next week, and you give me all your best book recommendations on the topic of insomnia.

How to Communicate by Thinking Like a Journalist

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on November 9, 2007
Tags: , , , ,

audio recorder.

Once upon a time, the editor of a small, community, mom-and-pop magazine convinced me to stop studying journalism when he told me I wasn’t aggressive enough to be a reporter.

Five years later, that same editor was offering me a staff reporter position at the mag, trying to convince me to leave my stable marketing gig in the world of academic book publishing, apparently having completely forgotten that young college student whose dreams he had so thoughtlessly dashed.

In the interim, I had read The Art of the Interview by Lawrence Grobel, and had since made use of the skills I’d learned therein on stories I’d worked on for this editor’s magazine. The interviews I were conducting by then were a lot of fun…long and languorous and fascinating. I credit this book to some of my improvement and success on this front.

One of the most important lessons I learned when reading Grobel’s book was to be prepared. “The most important thing going into an interview is your knowing so much about it that you wouldn’t even need the interview,” he quotes from another notable in the field.

Not only does thorough preparation allow one the time for more in-depth discussion, but the mere fact that one is prepared allows one a greater confidence in approaching their subject.

Since self-confidence in general has never been my forte, I began thinking of how I could apply lessons learned about journalistic practices to my everyday life. Which made this quote leap out at me upon my second reading of the book: “‘Your class wasn’t about meeting celebrities,’ one student e-mailed me. ‘It was about learning how to communicate. It was about confronting new comfort levels. It was about self-confidence.'”

And so, what you can learn from the journalistic masters:

  • Take a Deep Breath. As terrified as you may be, your interview subject is often just as nervous. If you can remember that, the balance of power will shift to something a bit more equal.
  • Don’t Worry About Stumbling Through Small Talk. Just touch upon everyone’s favorite subject — themselves! Not to say that we’re all a bunch of narcissistic fools, but we’re often more comfortable and confident when talking about what we know best. So ask a lot of open-ended questions of your subject, and the conversation follow smoothly from there.
  • The Well is Bottomless. Like the most tenacious investigative reporter, dig deeper. Follow lines of conversation and interesting asides through to their logical conclusions. Not only will you learn things you may not have known before, but it will prove you to be a fine listener.
  • Be Sure That This is the Next Big Story. Improving your listening skills will only make you a better conversationalist in the long run. If you are truly concentrating on your subject — rather than waiting for your chance to jump in with your own one-up story — your partner-in-discourse will eventually return the favor. So treat the person your talking with as if they’re your most fascinating subject ever. If you learn to enjoy conversation, you’ll completely forget to worry about it!

How to Start a Reading Series (or Other Regular Events That Showcase Your Inherent Artiness)

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on November 2, 2007

crowd shot.

Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

Just the other day, I posted on leading a slash life, and mentioned a lingering desire to start up a regular reading series (this born of my love of lit events in NYC; perhaps I could do something local, in New Jersey?). Quite serendipitously, I recently got my hands on a copy of Molly Crabapple‘s Dr. Sketchy’s Official Rainy Day Colouring Book, wherein Crabapple reveals her tips for starting your own Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (Dr. Sketchy’s is an alternative life drawing class masterminded by Crabapple). A short and quick version can be found here, but the book itself goes into much greater depth.

Of course, these tips are meant to be used for the anti-art school specifically, but most of the advice can be used for our own purposes.

Wooing a Venue:

Crabapple suggests scoping out local hot spots, such as bars, cafes, bookshops, and the like. Once you’ve settled on your dream-venue, get to know the crowd, the owners, etc. Allow them to see that you’re a regular, admiring, mostly-normal patron. This will make them more amenable to hearing you out when you eventually propose your wacky yodeling night, weekly talent show, juggling circus, what have you.

Once familiarity is obtained, prepare your strategy (much like a business plan). Map out the particulars of your event, how many audience members you expect to draw in, how you will be drawing said audience members in, cover charges, etc. This will be helpful when you finally e-mail the owner, deferentially asking if the two of you could chat about your little idea.

Wooing a Sponsor:

Once permission has been granted, it’s time to move ahead with finding a sponsor for your event, in order to cover any costs you may incur through supplies, space rental, etc. Think about what you can offer a possible sponsor. Space advertising on a flyer or website? Event products with the sponsor’s logo? A lifetime customer?

You should also carefully target your possible sponsors. Look for the connection between various companies and your event. Perhaps a local music shop would be willing to sponsor your open mic night, for instance.

How to Get People to Show Up:

  • post to websites in your area of interest: If I ever get that reading series idea off the ground (but let’s not hold our breath), I’d post on the various North Jersey websites, and on lit blogs, perhaps.
  • e-mail bloggers: For single-blogger/administrator sites in your area of interest, send an e-press release promoting your event, or even a more personal e-mail kindly asking if your event could be written up.
  • listings: Publications like Time Out New York, Flavorpill, DailyCandy and, in my case, Steppin’ Out Magazine publish listings for local events. Make sure yours is included.
  • flyers & postcards: Do them up nice, and plaster those flyers all over town. As for the postcards, carry them with you everywhere and force them upon every person you happen to interact with.
  • mailing list: For future events, pass around a mailing list form at every event, allowing audience members to join your e-mail alert list.


It’s difficult to incorporate contests into certain events, but the idea so tickles me that I wanted to include it here. For example, at the Anti-Art School gatherings, Crabapple conducts drawing contests. She look to companies/retailers to donate prizes, hopefully with a tie-in to the event itself. In her book, Crabapple mentions approaching art supply shops for donations.

Such innovations allow the audience members to become part of the event. I like the idea of such interaction, and enjoy attending events where such things occur.

To shake things up at the Happy Ending Music & Reading Series, Amanda Stern requires that readers take at least one public risk. In the past, Steve Almond has read allowed his teacher evaluations. Gregory Maguire sang a little hymn he had written (in a beautiful baritone, I might add). There were even several candy making nights!

At a reading at McNally Robinson NYC, John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise, read aloud his list of hobo names to the accompaniment of a guitar-rendered “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” which we were all expected to sing along to.

God I love this stuff.

If you’re interested in reading about the history of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (or of the various chapters; or playing with paper dolls), check out the full book. In the meantime, lots of luck with starting up your own local event based around your biggest performative passion.