Episode 74: Pump up 2017
Published January 6, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda we are getting so pumped up for 2017. We talk about the future of pleasure this year with sex coach Myisha Battle and how to balance taking time for yourself with, I don't know, being out in the world and being political. In that same vein we also chat to arts consultant Beth Pickens who has been helping artists figure out how to be their best creative selves while at the same time getting political.
Ann: Welcome to 2017. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Happy New Year, all of those things.
Ann: I mean, yeah, I guess a few days deep.
Aminatou: I'm impressed, my first check that I wrote this year for rent I didn't mess up the date.
Ann: I weirdly have a bias against writing the number seven. Like I love the way the six looks but I hate writing 17 next to each other.
Aminatou: What are you even talking about?
Ann: I don't know. It's really . . .
Aminatou: Seven's the best number.
Ann: Listen, I know that this is a popular lucky number but it's not my favorite. But anyway, whatever, it's fine. I'm like I'm already mentally looking forward to eight. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm looking forward to when we never have to write checks again. Like this is -- it's crazy.
Ann: There's a shocking amount of physical check dependency in my life. I don't even want to talk about it.
Aminatou: Yeah! You know, I don't know what happened. The last month I've written more checks probably than the last four years and every time it cracks me up because I quit writing things probably like five years ago. I just don't write anything down. But the best part is that every time I write a check I don't recognize my own handwriting and when I hand it to the person I just smile like good luck cashing this. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god, wait, so is even your journal digital? Even like notes to self are all typed?
Aminatou: Oh yeah, no, now everything is digital. I just don't . . . I don't write anymore. I'm going to tell you a very embarrassing thing that nobody knows but now the entire podcast world knows is that a couple of months ago on Etsy I ordered one of those learn how to write books for kids. [Laughs]
Ann: The ones with really wide lines where you practice your letters?
Aminatou: Yeah! Because here's what happened, in my defense, when I switched over from French school to American school it was like a complete mess. We just don't write the same. And so my handwriting was handicapped from high school. And then when you stop writing, I'm telling you, just quit writing for a month then try again. It looks awful. It's like I have the worst handwriting of anybody that you know and I'm not being self-deprecating; I'm just being real. Like whenever I fill out forms at the doctor the nurses look at me like are you serious? [Laughs] And I have to dictate the whole thing to them. So it's not a New Year's resolution but at some point when I finish unpacking my boxes, when I find that Etsy box of learn how to write your own name again shit, I'll tell you my progress.
Ann: I think you should just embrace this. I think that bad handwriting is actually a transgressive quality in women, you know what I mean? In the classic finishing school women have to print nicely or write cursively nicely kind of sense. I don't know.
Aminatou: Yeah. I mean that's not the pressure that I feel. Also I think the reading and writing is over. Like 18 months tops. [Laughs] Unfortunately you have forms to fill out.
Ann: Okay, here's how I understand all of your prediction, which is you are typically between three and six years ahead of everything. So if you say writing is dead now it will actually be dead in three to six years. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I'm telling you, I've been teasing my young adult novel to you for years, the one where . . . have I not told you this before?
Ann: Yeah, yeah. Do you want to tell the world?
Aminatou: My like dream. Well, I mean, I hope somebody writes this or probably because it's YA it probably already exists and I don't read it so I don't know that it's out there. But it's like the end of the world. We stopped writing centuries ago and for some reason somebody has to read a scroll. That's the only thing that's going to save mankind.
Aminatou: And there are no more readers or writers left, and so these kids set out on an adventure to find the last reader. Somebody write this for me.
Ann: Oh my god, the last reader. I also love this idea as a nerdier version of epic journeys that are like the last warrior king or the last princess to whatever, you know what I mean? It's sort of a formula that . . .
Aminatou: No, this is just like the last gift. Like find it. [Laughs]
Ann: Final frontier.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's just like please find this. I'm telling you, reading and writing is over.
Ann: I'm just so refreshed to hear that you are not doing something like resolving to send more handwritten letters in 2017 which is where my natural inclination goes.
Aminatou: Hell no. That's why I get so mad when I send somebody a present, you know, and you click the gift box and it's supposed to say who it's from. [Laughs] And then they never send the fucking card with it. Nothing makes me angrier.
Ann: Okay, so that happens all the time and this is the number one case for callback to our gifts episode, the number one case for ship it to yourself then re-ship it and eat the cost, because they never include the gift message.
Aminatou: I know. But the reason that I don't ship it to myself is because I don't know how to write anymore, remember?
Aminatou: So I need the box.
Ann: Maybe you just need a calling card, like you can get pre-printed things that are like "Amina loves you" and just tuck it in.
Aminatou: Oh my god, that's genius.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: Yeah, because I'm always the person after question that's like "Hey, did you get your present from me?" And everybody is like "Oh, that thing showed up and it didn't have a note on it." And I'm like that's right, that's mine.
Ann: Do you remember once when I asked you did you get the present I sent you directly from a website and you mentioned an item that I did not get you and I was so mad because it was such a good gift that I did not think of for you?
Aminatou: [Laughs] No, I don't remember that at all.
Ann: This is a dangerous game where you were like "Did you get me the hippo tea diffuser?" And I was like no, but damn whoever did. That is a good gift. I was so mad.
Aminatou: Yeah! The hippo tea diffuser is so good. Thanks, Mercedes.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: I still use it. [Laughs] Oh man.
Ann: I was really tempted to claim it.
Aminatou: Oh, man. I depend a lot on other people writing for me.
Aminatou: So now you know my one secret.
Ann: Okay, so how else are you going into the new year?
Aminatou: I'm not a very big January reset person, and also I traditionally do not do well in Q1. Like I thrive in Q2 and Q3. I'm not one of those like I'm going to go to the gym every day. I'm not going to do XYZ or I'm going to do more of that. But I am setting some goals. I like to take January to just goal set for the year and be like this is what I want to do, but I don't feel any pressure to start on them until later in the year.
Ann: Yeah. I mean I think of it as more like -- I mean anything that's on a goals list is going to be a multi-year project and definitely not a calendar year project. And so I was like -- I actually this week looked back at a bunch of stuff I wrote in late 2015 that was ridiculously overly ambitious goal setting and it's like you know what? I scratched off maybe two of six, but I'm like the other four, there's no way this was ever going to happen in a year anyway.
Ann: They're like mandatory . . .
Aminatou: Become a mogul.
Ann: Exactly. Exactly. Get rich. [Laughs] Not a one year goal.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh man, can I tell you one thing that I did though? I checked my credit score. It happened accidentally very early in the year. It wasn't like I was planning on it, but I was reading something and there was a crazy stat that was like "Did you know 40% of Americans don't check their credit score?" And I was like I'm that 40% of Americans. I have no idea what my credit score is, just literally no idea, because I'm so afraid of debt. Like I don't understand how that works. And also I just blissfully didn't want to know. It just propelled me to check. And I was like oh, now I have more information to make better decisions about future goals and it was fine.
Ann: See, I think that those types of early in the year things are good in the sense of like okay, evaluate where things are. I think that's actually a pretty good regular practice which is really different than being like okay, exactly where do I want to be a year from today? If that makes sense.
Aminatou: Totally. Also credit score is easy, right? Because you're just like oh, I want this number to be better or this number is great.
Ann: I know, it's very black and white.
Aminatou: Do you know what your credit score is?
Ann: No, I don't. And you know what? It's because . . .
Aminatou: 40% of Americans don't. [Laughs]
Ann: It's a shameful story. I was thinking about this as you were telling this. I went to look it up at some point in the last year and they give you a series of questions to make sure it's really you or whatever and I . . .
Aminatou: Yeah, yeah. They're like have you lived on this street? Did you ever work here?
Aminatou: Yeah, that's where I got stuck.
Ann: And I totally failed to recall a previous address and then it locked me out.
Ann: It was like you aren't who you say you are. And then I was just like eh and closed the browser tab and never went back to it. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Ann, we're literally the same person because apparently I started that process a long time ago because when I got to the website the website that I used was like "Hi, you actually have already registered." And I was like lies, all lies. But then it's the first of the year, what else do you have going on? So I called them and I was like "Hi, your website is lying on me. It says that I've registered before." And they were like "Two years ago you tried to get in here and you didn't pass that screen." And so apparently I don't remember anywhere I lived in college. That was the problem. It was like my dorm address.
Aminatou: And I was like yeah, I don't know this.
Ann: Any street I've lived on that's a number like 22nd Street, 8th Street, whatever, I can't actually remember the numbers. That's my issue. It's like I'm blind to numbers. Yeah, so I guess I should do that in the spirit of where do we stand?
Aminatou: You should do that. That's a good resolution, get your money right. Also that is imminently doable.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: It's not like become Oprah in one year, you know?
Ann: How did you know that's on my five-year plan?
Aminatou: Become Oprah is my lifetime plan.
Ann: It's everybody's lifetime plan.
Aminatou: Some of us are closer than others but we'll see.
Ann: Listen, when you start importing water to wherever you live and start Oprah-style transcending major geological trends, like political trends, please take me with you. That's all I have to say.
Aminatou: Oh my god, whichever one of us achieves Oprah status first please take the other.
Ann: I mean actually that will be our definitive answer to who is the Oprah and who is the Gayle. [Laughs]
Aminatou: The Gayle, right? Is whoever starts importing their own water first.
Ann: Who has to bring the other one up to their standard of living? Which I have some suspicions on who it is at this point but, you know . . .
Aminatou: I don't know, Ann, your standard of living is pretty excellent.
Ann: I know. I know.
Aminatou: I would happily be the Gayle to your Oprah any day.
Ann: Listen, I think that's what makes this relationship work. Either of us would be totally content to be the Gayle.
Aminatou: [Laughs] It's like when we finally get our money, right? Forever. Forever financial goal. Like we'll figure out who is Oprah.
Ann: Oh my god, yeah. Well no, that's the lesson at the end of this Hallmark movie. It's like it didn't matter ever who was the Oprah and who was the Gayle because you both share the profits.
Aminatou: I know. But can I say, though, Gayle seems like she is having more fun.
Ann: I mean it's hard to say because Oprah is more well-known and has to keep it more under wraps.
Aminatou: Like how much fun she's having? She's keeping it under wraps?
Ann: No, I mean she has to do performative fun because of the magazine covers and stuff. Although that magazine cover with the lion . . .
Aminatou: I mean the magazine cover with the lion, that's my computer background.
Aminatou: It's excellent. But I don't know, like Gayle has so much fun. And also Gayle is so shady. Like I love it whenever Oprah is mean to her and she just pulls the rest of us in and she's like "You guys, Oprah said that my lipstick is not good today. You guys, Oprah said that she didn't like my necklace." Every time she does that I'm just like Gayle is winning.
Ann: Yeah, the case for being Gayle instead of Oprah is strong. It's strong. It's sort of like a lot of the benefits and none of the public eye drawbacks, you know?
Aminatou: [Laughs] Maybe one of our goals for 2017 should be to have a lion photoshoot.
Ann: Oh my god, could we make that happen? We could probably make that happen.
Aminatou: I mean have you seen the behind the scenes of the Oprah lion photoshoot?
Ann: No, I haven't. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Ann, I need you to Google it right now.
Ann: Okay, hold on.
Aminatou: Hold on.
Ann: Pause button. Okay, so pausing for people at home, it is Oprah leaning against a giant stuffed lion with a man who looks very much like Stanley Tucci adjusting the front of her dress.
Ann: Yeah, wow. So this is definitely possible with a stuffed lion, no question.
Aminatou: Yeah, of course. Amina and Ann with a stuffed lion is goals. [Laughs]
Ann: Next year's holiday card, done.
Aminatou: It's crazy. You know one good thing that you should do for yourself though is to follow Steadman on Twitter and to get mobile alerts for it. Steadman tweets like seven times a year and every time it's incredible.
Ann: Yeah, let's do a dramatic reading of Steadman's most recent tweets. [Laughs]
Aminatou: It's all inspirational.
Ann: Okay, this is really good. In 2017 try not to have the same problems as 2016. That's actually good advice, Steadman.
Aminatou: That's the best advice.
Ann: It's really simple. That's like not resolution-based in terms of big goals. It's just like let's try to strike some problems from the list.
Aminatou: I know. Play hard so you don't have to become an average player, that's great. Your most devastating weapon is your willpower.
Ann: Wow. Wow.
Aminatou: These are great.
Ann: Yeah, okay. Following. Following this right now.
Aminatou: I'm telling you, work on self so you can empower the people around you. If you fall down, get right back up. What if this is the entire mojo behind Oprah? You don't know.
Ann: I mean he is probably doing some whispering into her ear.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Behind every great woman there is a great Steadman.
Ann: There's a great mustache.
Aminatou: [Laughs] In 2017 try to not have the same problems as 2016 . . .
Ann: Is really good.
Aminatou: That's excellent.
Ann: Actually I'm going to retweet that right now. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Same. It's official.
[Music and Ads]
Ann: Okay, so speaking of very good 2017 advice, we have some really good interviews for this episode.
Aminatou: Oh, I'm so excited. Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.
Ann: Okay, so first we have our pal Myisha Battle who in addition to being a friend of the podcast IRL is a sex coast and general life pleasure guru in a very low-key, annoying way. I think we might've talked about her podcast before. It's called Down for Whatever. She's the best. So we talked to her about some ways of having a generally more pleasurable 2017/not having the same sex problems as 2016. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Right? It's like in 2017 try to not have the same sex problems as 2016.
Ann: Oh my god, this is like the fortune cookie. Like this Steadman tweet applies to any problem that you might be having, so yeah.
Aminatou: [Laughs] That's awesome.
Ann: Hey, Myisha. Thanks for being with us.
Myisha: Hey! So good to be here with you.
Ann: Maybe you can tell all the CYG listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Myisha: Sure. I am a sex coach. I'm based in San Francisco, California. I started my own business last year called Sex For Life and really with the goal of helping people have better sex lives, to really have full lives. I feel like our sex lives get sort of compartmentalized and we can bring a lot of sexual energy into everything that we do and just have that be a way for us to live in the world a little bit easier. And I know that that's something that people need especially right now. I work with individuals and couples and extended relationships as well. If you're in a triad or a quad I would work with you too. It's just a way to get some focused attention on your love life, your sex life, your dating life. I see clients who are looking to meet a partner so I work with them on their dating and their online dating in particular.
But with couples, I work with them around any number of issues related to issues that they're experiencing in their relationships and sex lives. But I also have a podcast that started when I was in grad school called Down For Whatever and I interview people about their sex lives. You know, we have a new season starting in March of that and it's really exciting work for me. Starting that was really to expose people to different types of sex and types of relationships so people could maybe feel less alone in their thoughts, in their desires, because I realized that people were not talking about how they do relationships and how they'd ideally like to be doing them. It's a way for me to sort of put that out into the world and it's a passion project that I love tremendously. I'm just trying to put a little good in the world. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh my god. And I feel like you have become someone who I look to in terms of the podcast -- your podcast for sure, but also your newsletters -- in terms of kind of pleasure as self-care I guess.
Ann: And that's something that I really want to talk about with regard to the new year because I know that when things are politically terrible and it feels like the world is kind of crumbling around you it is not the sexiest time for most of us.
Ann: So I wonder your thoughts about that, like headed into this particular political year.
Myisha: I do and, you know, desire is cyclical and that's something that I talk about with my cofacilitator for a workshop that I created for women where we talk about just all the factors that can contribute to whether or not you're actually feeling it, right? And one of the biggest factors right now is cold weather. Like that's I think compounding all of the things that we're already feeling with the political climate and upheaval and the just feelings of being unsure of the future. But it's also really fucking cold. That aspect of life which we just sort of weather literally, we are now feeling more isolated and more, for lack of a better term, frigid when it comes to sex.
And I also know and I've spoken with lots of women who feel isolated from their male partners right now. With Trump it really makes you take a step back and think what is he really thinking about this? Or he'll never know what I'm experiencing right now. How do I connect with this person? How do I let them touch me again? And these are really powerful things that people are feeling and thinking right now and it's not a sexy time at all.
You know, what I've been telling people is to be okay with that. So one thing to consider is that the cyclical nature of sex means you will start to feel it again, you know? There's some level of acceptance that has to happen that this is the way it is now but it will not be this way forever. So just allow that to unfold the way it will.
As you mentioned before, the pleasure as self-care, that is something that everybody has the power to take control over for themselves. And you don't need a partner. You don't need to be in a relationship. And if you're in a relationship you can really just force this issue that each of you needs to be masturbating, priming the pump as I like to say, just keeping some sort of connection to your physicality and your sexuality while all of this is going on. And it can just be personal. It can be your personal ritual of this is what I do just to stay sane. More of a maintenance and a tapping into pleasure rather than oh my god, I'm feeling so connected and attracted to you right now and so all my energy's going out. That energy can be refocused into yourself to just keep you afloat and we all need that.
Ann: Yeah, and I feel like I've also heard -- or definitely I read a really great essay by friend-of-the-podcast Calia Myerson (?) about the opposite being true as well, like looking for more outward, physical relationships with other people and being more interested in sex when everything seems to be difficult or crumbling politically. It seems like there's sort of a lot of different . . . maybe I was hyper personalizing too much before, but you know what I mean? Like it seems like the opposite effect is possible as well.
Myisha: Yeah, for sure. I'm seeing that as well with some of my dating clients where right after the election they contacted me and they're like "You know, I know I've been dragging my feet on this and I really need to put some attention into finding a person that I can go through this with." There's an understanding that in order to endure you do need a larger support system and you do need people that get you. So I think there's two sides of it for sure where that isolation if you're alone can feel even more exacerbated, but if you're in a relationship, that isolation, it's like you're kind of feeling it together and that creates its own set of issues. So if you're by yourself it's like oh, I don't want to do this by myself. I don't want to have to be going through all of these emotions and wouldn't it be nice just to come home to someone and be able to exchange a snuggle, a cuddle, a touch? Touch is super important right now so even if you are coupled up and you're not really feeling sex, those moments where you can just connect through touch non-sexually are really, really valuable. I think even more valuable at times than having that sexual connection.
Ann: Yeah, and it's really interesting. So I know you do online dating coaching. You were talking about that. And especially this time of year I find the ads for that stuff so oppressive and kind of like the worst -- almost the worst of the new year, new you bullshit.
Myisha: [Laughs] Yes.
Ann: So I guess what's your take on that that is different than maybe a really bad match.com commercial? [Laughs] How is your sort of philosophy about it different? Because I'm sure it is.
Myisha: [Laughs] What's my tagline? Don't do this shit alone. No, I think the way that I approach online dating is -- and my relationship, my current relationship, is a product of online dating so I can vouch for the horrificness of the experience, what it can be at times. And yeah, I give my clients real talk. This is not something that you jump on and you find your soulmate the next day. It requires a lot of work. And I think it can be fun work. I think it can be really sexy work, you know? It can be really exciting and you learn a lot about yourself and what you want through the process. But it's not like you start off the new year and you're like here's my perfect profile and this is, oh, yes, you. Obviously we all know that that's not the case because we have either gone through it ourselves or we've known people who have and they tell us all their stories. So it's a matter of meeting my clients where they're at like what are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to just put up a profile and start searching? Are you prepared to just put in a username with no information at all and start searching? Because the whole process can be really overwhelming and sometimes people just need permission to be like you know what? It's okay to use this tool, which that's how I consider these platforms. They're tools. They're not the end all, be all. But they're a great way to broaden your dating pool.
I want to give my clients the ability to use the tools in accordance with how they're feeling at the moment, and my personal experience with online dating was every time I de-subscribed and re-subscribed to a service I had a different perspective on the process. Sometimes I needed it just to feel validation for a few months and be like okay, I've still got it. And sometimes I really was like okay, this is what I'm focusing on. And there were definitely little tricks along the way that I learned myself of how to manage the sense of overwhelming responsibility that can come with being like I just signed up for a service to maybe find the person that I'm going to be with.
I'd say my approach is very tailored to the person I'm working with -- like what their needs and wants really are at the moment. If you're just trying to find a hookup we can do that and make it happen in a very safe and wonderful way. And if you're looking for the person we can figure out what's the best way for you to approach that? What are the time constraints you have to do that? And then work within that.
Ann: You wrote this thing in your New Year's newsletter about it being great to focus on being the same you, not a new you in the new year, but adding a bit more of the good stuff. And I'm hoping you can talk a little bit more about what that means and that particular philosophy about a fresh start.
Myisha: Yeah. In the last few years I've given up on resolutions. As a former and now occasional social smoker, you know, it didn't really work for me to ever resolve not to smoke. So super, 100% you in all aspects of your life. That is something that I think is an intention that you can set for the year that will result in more benefit to you in those 365 days rather than setting this very high goal and maybe not getting exactly what you want and being disappointed. When in fact you might've had all of these wonderful experiences along the way. That was something that happened to me. I guess I turned 31 and had this fantastic year of just being with guys that really enriched my life. And it was because I was looking for a partner. I was super open to the idea. But I was also not putting the pressure on myself to just have a man, like just have one and stick with him and be like we're making this work. Which honestly had been my approach in the past.
Myisha: You know, I'm being real. But it was really interesting to allow that energy to permeate and I think it made me more attractive to guys too because I was just very open, way more open than I had been about the experience of connecting with another person. And looking at what's the benefit of being with this man? What is he bringing to my life? And what are the things that are not so great too? I was very real about those things as well.
So the good stuff to me is those experiences that really can sustain you, and at this point in our lives more so than any other time I think for our generation we need those moments and we need that appreciation of those moments that we have with people. I'm kind of on the cusp of millennials being a little bit older but I definitely have that type-A personality where I want to get shit done and I want to be the best. [Laughs] And those aren't the types of mental spaces from which appreciation for the moment comes. I've really been working, especially after the election, to create communities that I knew were lacking in my life. In San Francisco that meant for me to reach out to other people of color and to form a meet-up group. It's a really terrible time for black people in San Francisco in my opinion, and having other people to commiserate about that situation with has been deeply moving and satisfying to me. It's one thing to have these very broad-sweeping goals for the new year. I'm going to be this; I'm going to do that. But it's I think way better to identify certain things that maybe you can just expand a little bit on and that can sometimes give you so much more value in the moment than constantly seeking.
Ann: Yeah, and I think also it's really -- it's funny because everything you're saying I'm nodding along with, but I think at various points in my life I've been better at actually living than others, you know? It's like all of this shit, I'm sure there's no one listening who disagrees. But in terms of practically making that the way you live instead of just a thing you believe feels like a bigger leap, you know? [Laughs] Like wanting to . . .
Myisha: It is.
Ann: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Myisha: It is. I went through therapy. I'm not going to sit here and be like . . .
Myisha: Oh, I'm totally enlightened now, you know? No.
Ann: Don't crush my illusions of you. [Laughs]
Myisha: [Laughs] But it's not selfish to take care of yourself, to really tackle the things that bring you joy on a daily basis. If that's starting every morning with your favorite cup of tea or coffee and just creating time and space for that, if just doing that and giving yourself that every day is the thing that you know will set you up for a better day just because you've had that time to yourself to not think about anything else, then allow yourself that. You know, it doesn't have to be these big changes. It really is small, incremental changes over time. And sometimes the tea aspect, the sitting down, the ceremony of doing something that is just for you, whatever that is, that can actually open up space for sex. That's something that I work with clients on a lot. It's like well what do you do in a day to make yourself feel good? If you never feel good why would you look for it? Why would you look for moments that make you feel good if you never have that experience? You know? [Laughs]
So sometimes it's retraining ourselves to look for pleasure, look for things that make us feel good, and then just try and get more and more and more and build on that. I live in California so it's how people live out here, but you know. [Laughs]
Ann: I'm so pleased. I was going to ask you to come back around to pleasure and end on that note and of course you did it without me even asking.
Ann: Because that's what you're all about. Myisha, thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Myisha: Well thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Ann: Tell everyone where they can find you and learn more about your work.
Myisha: Absolutely. You can find me at myishabattle.com. Sign up for my newsletter there and that will also give you information about my podcast, my coaching services, and you can also find me on Instagram and Twitter and that's @myishabattle and on Facebook at Sex for Life, LLC.
Ann: Awesome. Happy New Year. [Laughs]
Myisha: Happy New Year to you! I hope you're getting some form of pleasure.
Ann: Oh my god.
Myisha: I know you are.
Ann: I love that as just a general sign-off to friends, like Happy New Year. Hope you're getting some form of pleasure.
Ann: The other brilliant woman that I talked to this week is Beth Pickens who is not only a friend of the podcast but the woman who made me a feminist.
Aminatou: I know.
Ann: I met her, ugh, when I was a baby feminist and actually met her gearing up for the 2004 women's march on Washington so it's sort of a full-circle moment. Anyway, Beth works with artists helping them try to get their money right and get grants but she's also produced this small book and a series of workshops that are about being an active and engaged person while maintaining your creative practice and your well-being which I think is going to be a key theme for most of us in 2017, like balancing the stuff that feels kind of creative or apolitical with the political stuff with personal well-being.
Aminatou: That's really cool and super-important even for people who don't identify as artists, right?
Ann: Yeah. I mean basically anyone who is very talented at something that doesn't scream red light flashing politics or activism.
Aminatou: I'm super excited to hear about this.
Ann: Okay. Yeah, let's just listen to Beth pump us up. [Laughs]
Ann: Hi Beth.
Beth: Hi Ann.
Ann: Thanks for being on the podcast.
Beth: Thanks for the invite. Very happy to be here.
Ann: I know you're a podcast mega fan so . . .
Beth: Oh my god, mega fan. I follow at least 25 podcasts.
Ann: Ugh. Anyway, we are very lucky to have you here. I'm hoping you can start off by just telling listeners a little bit about what your work is.
Beth: Absolutely. I'm an arts consultant and what that means is I provide career counseling, strategic planning, and fundraising services to individual artists and art non-profits. And it's based on my background in counseling psychology. I went to graduate school to be a therapist and then I ran a couple of small queer arts non-profits. So I have a lot of experience in fundraising and management.
Ann: And managing artist feelings about funds. [Laughs]
Beth: Yes. Yes. I have definitely a holistic approach to working with the artists, and artists are my favorite people. That's the population I wanted to work with, so I put all of my professional skills into working with them.
Ann: Okay, so it's a bad time for artists and everyone in America right now.
Beth: We're mourning. It's still morning in America. [Laughs]
Ann: M-O-U. M-O-U.
Beth: Fuck you, Regan. Different kind of morning.
Ann: [Laughs] So I know you've been doing these workshops for artists at this particular time. Talk to me about that.
Beth: Yeah, so after the election, maybe five or seven days in when I was still in the denial phase/crying/angrily texting everyone I knew, I thought okay, what am I going to do? What's my first response? What's an intelligent response? One of the good things about being in a sort of helping profession, I have to get my head out of my own ass so I can be of service to my clients which is great because as soon as you help another human being it helps pull you out of whatever muck you're in. And so when I started working with my clients again after the election and they were collectively losing their shit I thought I should do something to be of service to the larger Los Angeles community beyond my own clients because I can only talk to so many people a week.
So I decided to just make a free weekly space that artists in Los Angeles could come to and talk about their reactions to the election, their fears, where they want to put their energy, solve problems, help each other with accountability and follow-through, and just have a social space to deal with this American crisis.
Ann: Yeah. I think one of the things that I've definitely seen happening with both friends who are artists and friends who don't work in overt politics or activism but who have other talents and specialties is feeling a little bit of a crisis of conscience of how to be true to their own skills and continue to do what they're good at but also speak directly to this political moment. What do you tell people with that concern?
Beth: Well, initially after the election maybe the first five artists I talked to all said something along the lines of "Beth, should I quit making art and go to law school? Or go to medical school? Or work in public policy? Or run for public office?" Any number of things. And then following up with something to the effect of maybe it's selfish now to make art or it's not enough. That was the feeling, that this isn't enough. This thing that I love, that I'm passionate about, isn't enough. And so I wrote up a pamphlet sort of responding to all of these fears. And I think it's applicable to people, like you were saying, not just in the arts but people who are not working directly in social justice or policy or politics, that people somehow feel whatever they're doing isn't enough. Which isn't a bad sort of catalyst inside of you, but I like to remind people including all my artist clients to think about wherever you are is the place to start. And art for one thing is going to help people through this time. Art is the most important thing in my life. I mean that's what gets me through everything. That's what gets me out of bed. That's why I work with artists. And from my vantage point artists have to make art to be on the planet. You know, we have to do the thing we're passionate about to be alive. It's the way we process life.
So the things that we're called to do and we want to do with our time, we have to continue doing them no matter the political reality because that will help us add new actions into our lives. So if a person's feeling called to increase their level of service or activism or do it in new ways, the first thing to do is make sure you're taking care of yourself so you have abundance to share. You know, so that you're not doing activism out of a negative space, an empty cup.
Ann: You know, this thing that you said about starting where you're at, are there tools or questions that you advise people to ask themselves to figure out where they're starting and maybe what a good first or next step would be?
Beth: Yes, I have lots of them. I wrote an inventory for people after the election to check in with themselves, really first reflect on where are they, what do they have, and how to act. So the first thing I would ask people to think of is what do you have to offer? Is it time? Is it money? Is it particular skills or tools or physical space? Is it previous experience in activism or leadership or organizing? That will also help you see what you don't have. If you don't have money to give then you're not going to give money. If you don't have a lot of extra time then you'll select something else to give. But it's important to check in to see what do I actually have to give and what do I currently not have to give? And that's a good first step.
And then I encourage people to think about what is an area of focus this year in 2017 that they want to focus on that directly affects them. So for instance for me I've always been interested in making sure abortion is legal and accessible to people in the US. That's been an area of focus for my activism and philanthropy since my early 20s. Actually since I was a teenager. I joined NARAL when I was I think 13 or 14. I sent my ten dollars in. [Laughs]
Ann: Oh, inspirational. Inspiration.
Beth: After reading an article in Seventeen Magazine in 1989 about Becky Bell who died of an illegal abortion in Indiana. Ever since then I was pro-choice. So picking an issue that directly affects you, that you want to give resources to, time, money, etc. Then choose an area of focus for the year that does not directly affect you in which you could be of service to someone more vulnerable or more at-risk than you. So one of the first things that comes to mind for me was sort of the growing sociological threat to Muslims in America and the threat of the oligarch during the election cycle of a list or registering Muslims. I think I saw floating around at one point the idea that all Jews could register themselves in front of Muslims in the US and I'm Jewish and I thought that's something I could do is rally Jews to protect Muslims. And I thought well I can really commit to Muslims in my community this year.
That issue doesn't directly affect me. Of course it secondarily affects me just like we're all interconnected. But I think it's important to think about how am I under threat and want to respond, and how can I be of service to someone more vulnerable than me?
Ann: Right. Take me the next step beyond that. I mean I know -- we talk a lot about self-care, and you can't help somebody else if you haven't helped yourself and you aren't coming from a healthy place.
Ann: But even that to a certain extent can feel kind of selfish or can feel hard to find where the line is between I'm just retreating, I'm making excuses for not getting involved -- I'm talking about myself now. This is like a highly personal dilemma. Versus I'm doing what I need to to shore myself up for further action. And I don't know, what's the advice that you give about finding that middle ground or where to push yourself and where to sort of give yourself space?
Beth: Yeah. I mean that's hard because many of us, and probably a lot of listeners, are socialized already to believe they're selfish and that taking care of themselves or focusing on their own wellness is not okay. And in our culture of hyper self-helpness it can go to the point of like I haven't had enough self-care today so I can't actually listen to you which then becomes non-productive.
Ann: Right, exactly.
Beth: We have to show up for ourselves and other people. Both things happen in concert. We show up for ourselves and take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, and there's probably one more. Mentally, right?
Beth: So you sort of check in with these different aspects of your life, but being of service to other people is part of that cyclical self-care. If the communities around you are well that supports your overall wellness. And a major clinically supported antidote to depression is being of service to another person. So volunteerism, helping someone actually helps pull a person out of their own depression which sometimes we're using self-care to try to treat that depression, rightfully so, but adding service can actually help you too. So I'd say start with yourself but don't forget step two is now how can I be of service to someone else?
Ann: Right, which sounds like in some ways the perfect advice for 2017 where it's like I'm depressed because the world is terrible, you know what I mean?
Ann: And it's like the antidote to the depression and in some ways the antidote to the world is terrible problem is getting active about it. That's nice.
Beth: Getting active, and I would say personally reading history. I read a lot of history to pull me out of the . . . we are in a crisis. In some ways we're always in and not in a crisis, you know?
Beth: So just reading, for instance, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Read about other presidencies. Read about global history. I'm reading right now about the 5,000 year history of Jerusalem because when you read about history you actually see the longer arc of okay, humanity is going towards this bend of more liberation for more people. More and more people are citizens of their countries. There's less violence, less disease. The overall arc of history is good. It's just the present that we're in this moment is really bad. So with that, selecting an issue or an area that affects you and one that doesn't affect you. A lot of people I encounter, like no way, I have six things I'm focusing on. There's no way I could choose. And that's totally fair. So what I recommend to those people is identify a skill or a resource that you can replicate over and over and over again to a lot of different areas that you want to give service to.
Beth: Whether that's giving money or offering a free service to organizations in your city that service those people or ideas or issues, or in Los Angeles people tend to have more space than other cities that I've lived in. so if you have a space that people could meet in, why not make it the sort of emergency meet-up impromptu space for a number of organizations that they could use? Or you're the person who always brings the PA system to a march for several different issues. You can think of things that can be replicated over and over.
Ann: Yeah, I love that. And one of the other things I was going to ask about is you mentioned in this booklet directly asking organizations and people you want to be of service to what do you need?
Beth: What do you need? Yeah. You don't have to guess. [Laughs]
Ann: This is radical to me.
Beth: Well, you know, those of us that have ever worked for non-profits or in any kind of activism, it's really hard when someone contacts you and says "Hey, we have 20 volunteers that are going to come for the day on Friday. Can you have them do something?" And you're like no, there's nothing I can make your 20 adults do for a day.
Beth: So yeah, just ask people first what they need. I immediately send -- I'm on this email list of all these female abortion provider docs in the US who were thinking about how to rally. So I contacted the coalition -- I can't think of the name of it right now, we can look it up -- but it's the coalition that sort of oversees all of the abortion funds across the US to kind of coordinate them all.
Ann: The National Network of Abortion Funds?
Ann: [Laughs] I love that organization.
Beth: NNAF. They're great. And so I contacted them and said hey, I know all these docs that are sort of loosely connected. Maybe we can sort of have a phone call meeting to figure out what do you need and what do they need and how can we be of service to each other here? So asking a group, no matter how formal or informal, whether it's a giant, national non-profit or if it's a local collective who's doing great activism you admire, just say what do you need? How can I be of service to you?
Beth: That's a great way also of not placing your imperialist beliefs about what they need onto them. Like let them tell you. They'll tell you if they need body power, if they need money, if they need equipment, if they just want you to show up and listen. They'll tell you exactly what they need.
Ann: Right. And often in organizations or places that are really strapped, especially in this moment, they're not going to be so organized that they're sending out a blast email of a bullet list of this is what we need. I think sometimes it's on us to ask and say.
Beth: Absolutely. How can I be of service to your organization or to this collective group? What can I do? And then when they tell you, decide if you can do it.
Ann: Right. I mean, yeah, which goes back to the what do you have time and resources for?
Beth: What do you have to give? What don't you have to give?
Ann: Yeah, totally. You know, and finally you have this note about organizing with small groups. I mean I think that right now one thing that's happening is a lot of groups of politically like-minded friends are probably hanging out or talking to each other about their feelings of frustration or agitation or wanting to get involved. What would you tell people, be they artists or not, be they already sort of activists or not, who have a group of three to five friends and colleagues who really care? What would you say to those folks to do with that?
Beth: I really believe three competent, committed people can pretty much do anything.
Beth: For real. All you need is three to five people and you can make anything happen. So if you have a group of people that you want to take the conversation out of just your little friend group in your living room or you want to actualize something you could follow the same guidelines. So does this group of three to five want to help implement something really big for an issue or organization you care about? Do you want to be of service in some impactful way that goes beyond a reverberating dialogue among you? Which is fine too because you can also use those small groups to have each individual go out into the world and do they work they want to do and then have a group to show up to and report to. An accountability group, you know? That's these weekly groups I'm holding in Los Angeles very much can act like that where people say here's what I'm doing for myself and other people this week and I'm going to report back to you next week and let you know how it's going or ask questions or give advice. So that small group of five, if they don't want to work in the world as a coalition, then they can help each other amplify their impact.
Ann: Right. Yeah, and setting a little bit of formality to it, like we are a group of people who are all working on -- maybe individually together -- and we're not just going to talk about it; we're going to report in. I love that idea.
Beth: Yeah. It's like going to the gym with another person is so much easier.
Ann: Right, right, right.
Beth: So same thing with every time I've ever done -- almost every time before this election that I've done phone banking it's because I went with someone else to do phone banking during an election cycle. This is a thing where you don't have to do it on your own. We're not going to get anything done on our own. So certainly if you know you want to be active in a cause this year and you have somebody else in your life who really does to, do it together.
Beth: Just use that resource of friendship and accountability.
Ann: Ugh, yes. Tell us where we can find more information on your weekly groups, where we can find this amazing booklet about making art during fascism, and where we can learn about all of the great things that you're doing.
Beth: Absolutely. My weekly group in Los Angeles is free and it's at the Women's Center for Creative Work which you can find easily online from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sundays, every Sunday. So this Sunday, January 8th, and every Sunday for a few months at least. As long as it seems to be of service to people I'll do it. And you can find me at my website bethpickens.com. After the election I made a pamphlet called Making Art During Fascism which is a really useful tool for artists and non-artists, people who are sort of feeling lost after the election, of how to get started and what to do next. And if you go to my website you can request a copy and I will send you a PDF copy of this I guess you would call it a zine. You print it out like a zine, fold it, and then you're free to disseminate it to your friends too.
Ann: Yeah, your first action is printing and folding the Making Art During Fascism zine.
Ann: It's a really helpful first step.
Beth: And I also have a radio show on KCHUNG which only has a listening radius of maybe a square mile in Chinatown in Los Angeles but you can go to KCHUNG's website. And the name of my radio show is Making Art During Fascism in which I invite an artist activist and I interview them for an hour about how they balance having a practice and being an activist, how they've done it historically, how they do it now, and you can listen. All of the shows on KCHUNG are archived so you can listen to old episodes there but it's live the third Thursday of every month at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. And the website is kchungradio.org.
Ann: Ugh, thank you so much Beth for all of your work and for being here.
Beth: Oh, thank you for your podcast. I'm a long-time listener.
Aminatou: Oh man, 2017. What a year. It's like all of your goals last year were like sleep more, exercise more, and this year your goal is dismantle fascism. [Laughs]
Ann: I know, it's really funny. The try not to have the same problem as 2016, i.e. electing a fascist dictator and wanton police violence. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah. This is like when hot daddy Von Trapp is tearing the Nazi flag in their driveway. [Laughs] I'm like this is the moment that we're all having.
Ann: Oh, yeah. So I mean obviously not the last conversation that we're going to have about this but I think the other theme of this year is turn to your friends that are smarter about some things than you are which, I don't know, I'm certainly going to try to do.
Aminatou: That's right. Let's all resist together.
Ann: With Steadman. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Listen. [Laughs] Steadman's going to be my shining light this year. I'm clinging on to his every word.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook -- look that up for yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Ann: See you on the Internet.
Aminatou: Have the best new year and see you on the Internet, booboo.
Ann: All year long.