How to Act Like a Professional
And when it's better not to.
I’m having a ball participating in artist’s 30-Day Drawing Habit. I’ve been wanting to resume learning to draw since the pandemic put an end to the $10 weekly in-person sessions I was participating in locally here in Kingston, N.Y., at what was then called The Draw, but is now called The Department of Regional Art Workers (D.R.A.W).
I’ve heard again and again that it’s good to have a creative side-pursuit you’re not especially good at, and drawing—with crayons, colored pencils, and markers—serves that purpose for me. Plus, I’ve just always loved it, so much so that I keep a small box of Crayolas and a tiny sketch pad in my weekend bag for when I visit my mom on Long Island, spend time in the city, or make short trips elsewhere. I find it soothing and meditative to draw, even badly, and to color in my drawings. I love the feeling of dragging a crayon back and forth across a piece of paper.
I don’t have enough time to get good at this creative side-pursuit—and I’m a long, long way from anything resembling technically “good,” so I’m in no danger of this ever becoming a professional pursuit. Although I did draw the cherry blossoms on the cover of my memoir, and a few illustrations inside the book.
My style is characterized by juvenile, cartoony, rudimentary forms, and by “style” I mean all that my current limitations allow for. I don’t really have time now to appreciably improve, nor to obsess about creating perfect or even recognizable likenesses of my subjects, and so it’s helpful that Wendy offers daily prompts for which you’re asked to allot just ten minutes, using a timer. No time for perfectionism. Just ten minutes of a meditative act that briefly shifts my brain away from all the other crap gumming it up.
As I was flipping through one of my sketchbooks to find a clean page, I stumbled upon this little drawing I probably made sometime between June, 2020, when I left Longreads, and May, 2021, when I took over what was then called “Memoir Monday” fromand later expanded it from a once-weekly roundup of essays from around the web, to a full “magazine” now called , with three verticals (“Memoir Monday,” “First Person Singular,” and “The Lit Lab”). (Thank you for the hand-off, Lilly. I’ll be forever grateful. 🙏 🙌🏼)
I have absolutely zero recollection of making this, by the way, which is a little scary at 58, given that I used to be known for my razor-sharp memory, and one of my late grandmothers suffered from early-onset dementia.
If I know me, and I believe I do, I probably drew it as part of some New Year’s creative visualization exercise. I do remember wishing I could resume the kind of work I’d done at Longreads, curating and editing personal essays from a diverse assortment of writers, but also digging into behind-the-scenes stuff like process and prompts and “craft,” (although I’m with my talented cartoonist/essayist friendon not being 100% sure what the term “craft” actually means).
I also remember at that time taking great pains to buy the domain name “Memoir Junkie,” with the hope of creating, well, basically what has become. I wasted a bunch of time with a domain-name broker who helped me get the seller down from $50K (lol) to $300—“wasted,” no pun intended, because as soon as the sale was complete, I realized that for a non-addict like me to use a term like “junkie” so casually is (rightly) considered ableist. So, I still own the domain. I’ve just never used it, and probably never will.
Memoir Land has grown a lot in the past year. It’s got about 25K subscribers, a small but respectable percentage of them paid. But it has definitely been a stepchild to my sort of flagship newsletter,, which has over 35K subscribers, a healthier percentage of whom are paid. I don’t want Memoir Land to suffer for my being over-extended, so I’ve begun giving opportunities to guest editors for the “First Person Singular” vertical, which features original personal essays. So far I’ve included pieces selected and edited by and my former Longreads colleague .
This week I’m going to put together The Memoir Land Questionnaire—an analog of the popular Oldster Magazine Questionnaire—which will live in “The Lit Lab,” and will make it easier for me to produce more interviews there. Hopefully I’ll get the first one posted in late January or early February. Stay tuned…
It feels a bit insane for one person to be running two “magazines” plus one “blog” (I think of Adventures in *Journalism* that way), but they each give me something different that means a lot to me, so I’ll keep going with all of them, and keep trying to improve them, especially Oldster and Memoir Land.
I want them all to be good enough to stand on their own, beyond any newsletter platform. I’ve never wanted them to be limited to wherever they might be hosted.
To that end, I recently tried to get the Oldster Magazine Instagram account verified. Of all my properties, I have the biggest plans for that one. Next week I’m going to the city to start scheming the first Oldster Live event. I’m still in the process of writing a proposal for an Oldster print anthology. And I’m considering making an annual print “yearbook” in the style of a 90s ‘zine.
At the moment I’m kind of big in Canada (and I’m soon going to be interviewed on a big Canadian radio station), but I’ve been hoping to attract some more major mainstream American media coverage for Oldster, and I thought a check mark on Instagram might help it look more professional.
A weird thing happened in the process though: Because that account is tethered to my personal account—after I filled out online form after form, then redid it over and over because it wasn’t going through, and finally changed my profile photo to a recent selfie because they said it would help them identify me as the owner—the check mark landed on my personal account instead.
(I’ve since learned that to put it on my Oldster account, I’d have to incorporate, show articles of incorporation and ownership, change to a Meta Business account, etc., which, honestly, are all things I should probably do if I’m serious about growing Oldster so that it’s not merely a newsletter. It’s all on my to-do list…)
Instantly I was confronted by a wave of impostor syndrome. The old WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? routine. I started to panic, worrying that people would see me as a self-important shmuck, and tried to undo it, but it turns out it’s not that easy.
Although, you know who was thrilled by this turn of events? My inner 10-year-old, the kid who secretly subscribed to the theater trade rag Leo Shull’s Showbusiness!, splitting the cost with her best friend across the street—two frustrated child actors whose parents would allow us to go to first auditions, but never take us to call-backs when we got them, so we could become the stars we were surely meant to be. (THANK GOD.) This kid:
‘Tween Sari saw the check mark and was instantly taken in by it, as if someone else, some arbiter of worthiness, had placed it there. I’M SOMEBODY! she thought, before rehearsing her Oscar acceptance speech. Then current-day Sari interrupted ‘tween Sari’s ego trip, resuming her panic over seeming like a self-important shmuck.
I found myself torn between the two warring versions of myself, and got lost in an obsessive internal point-counterpoint. In the midst of it, I was reminded of the time I hired book publicist extraordinaire Lauren Cerand for an hour-long consultation about how to boost my book’s profile. After reviewing my social media, she told me that above all, I needed to take myself and my public image more seriously—to stop being self-deprecating and making fun of myself. (My session with Lauren was so fruitful, I later hired her to do a brief Publicity 101 for Writers seminar for Memoir Land, the first post in The Lit Lab.)
I emailed Lauren asking whether to keep or ditch the check mark. I wasn’t surprised when she wrote back, “Keep it…You are as important as your work.” Then I looked around and noticed that several friends and colleagues also brandished check marks on their Instagram accounts. I considered interviewing them for this, but then I thought better of essentially asking them, “How’d you like to contribute quotes to a piece about something I’m doing, which you are doing, too, that’s making me feel like a complete asshole?”
So, now I’m one of those “blue checks.” I hope it won’t change how you think of me—unless it’s to think of me as more of a professional, more of a grownup, more of a writer/editor/teacher who believes in herself.
In other news…
On February 7th at 7pm, I’ll be in conversation with Jennifer Keishin Armstrong about her great new book, So Fetch: The Making of Mean Girls (And Why We’re Still So Obsessed With It) at Tinker Street Cinema in Woodstock, where we’ll also screen key clips from the original 2004 film and discuss them, along with the “Mean Girls” chapter of my memoir, And You May Find Yourself…Confessions of a Late-Blooming Gen-X Weirdo.
On February 9th from 12:10pm - 1:25pm CST, I’ll Zoom into an AWP panel moderated by Susan Ito, also featuring Sejal Shah, Susan Pari, and Terry Tierney. We’ll talk about how damn long it took us to write and publish our books after overcoming an assortment of internal and external obstacles.