Revisionist History

I met him while doing a juice cleanse. On a boat, that then ran out of gas in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. We then crashed a wedding and slow danced to some song I don’t remember now but if I was writing this professionally, or telling the story to others, I’d say it was to Love Bites or Every Rose Has Its Thorn or something equally amazing. Because that’s what we do: we glamorize. We embellish and we condense and we weave the story into a lovely little romantic package so people can relate to it, can use it as an example of things working out how they should or proof that the Universe works in mysterious ways. That’s what we do.

All of those details – save for the song that escapes my memory – are true. What is also true, that I would exclude from the romantic story had it worked out differently, was that he broke my heart. Because I let him, not because of any malintent on his part or even naivete on mine. I let him break my heart because I wanted the story to turn out differently. It’s a risk with us writers; we can craft something out of nothing, choose what details to include and others to leave out. We make our living being convincing and sometimes – too often – we convince even ourselves of our own versions of the story. 

This morning I started reading 40 Days of Dating. It inspired something in me, when they listed out all of their previous dates, condensed each one down to a sentence and then illustrated their relationship history. For me, I’ve been doing something similar, only in prose. And – truth be told – with revisionist history. I err on the bright side, embellishing near-truths to create a sunnier result. Perhaps part defense mechanism, part habit. Yet in doing so, this maligns the authenticity of whatever it was that we had, be it a flirtation or a few dates or three years, on and off, never really having the conversations that mattered and paying the price as a result. Were I to write this story – any of these stories – what would I really say, being truthful to myself and to the relationship? Can we ever really condense the intimacy and vulnerability and love and sadness and ego into a sentence or drawing or story? Should we?

So yes, we met on a boat. But perhaps that story didn’t need to be written, after all.

Right to Write or *the* Right to Write? Right.


The irony doesn’t escape me. Look no further than my bedside table, and it’s right there, taunting me. The titles of the concepts I strive towards, the sense of *being* I strive towards, sitting there, complacent. Pages not turned back, no bookmarks, nary an underline in sight. Like discarded toys of our youth, the reality that is not remains, next to me, waiting. For its time. Perhaps it’s now.

I recently left my job. I’ve never done this before, willingly departing something that – for all intents and purposes, both me and the company for which I was working – was going quite well. Very successful, even.  I chose the harder of the the options (those options being ones I presented myself) to honor some choices I was questioning…the nuance or perhaps the vast disparity between complacency and happiness. If not now, when? It was time to see how vast that chasm actually was.

So I left. I’ve spent the last month or so on a self-declared Sabalatical (much more clever written; pronouncing it basically defeats the purpose), traveling and doing that thing you do when you’re 36 and single and living in the best city in the world and having every opportunity in front of you and not knowing what makes you happy anymore. I think they call it introspection. Or mid-life crisis. Tomato, tomahto. 

I took the leap, jumping on a plane with no agenda, turning off my phone and leaving the computer behind, writing in my journal (I believe that’s compulsory in these situations, no?) and asking myself all those hard questions you’re mandated to ask. Yet…it wasn’t the questions. It wasn’t the revelations, however plenty or few they were. It was the medium. And the sharing – or subsequent lack thereof – of the epiphanies. If you arrive at your life’s purpose alone in the woods – with no digital mechanism from which to share – does anyone hear you? Do you?

We don’t write for ourselves anymore. We write for others. Perhaps we always did this, but never more evident than when I removed any implications of my writing going further than pen on paper that I found myself being honest before clever. Not concerned about the delivery, mechanism or words or, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, character limits, of what I was thinking. My thoughts were my thoughts, and they were for me, bumpy, train-induced handwriting notwithstanding. And yet…they *still* weren’t. I wrote, on July 2nd, on a plane, about this very concept: 

“I suppose writers have always struggled with this, knowing that their pieces would likely be consumed by others. In many ways, that is the whole point. But with the rise of social, everyone is a ‘writer’. And the social, interactive nature of the mediums inherently rewards those who are the most clever, most pithy, most controversial. But are they the most honest? Are we creating a society of oversharing a facade, preaching a fascilime of the truth or saying anything just to get a reaction? Even as I’m writing this with my Pigma Micon 1.0 pen in my Moleskine, I think of how this could exist online. Would I submit it to TechCrunch or GigaOm or Medium? And why? For what purpose? Recognition? To own this idea? Ego? To start a discussion?”

I go on from there (and on, and on.) And the predictability of me reciting this here also doesn’t escape me, while the question remains. Are we sacrificing authenticity for our now-ingrained desire for recognition, for feedback? Are we carefully crafting our innermost thoughts to reach the Twitter perfection of 140 characters, adding the preferred Instagram filter, to get stars and hearts to stroke our own egos, to feel like someone, somewhere, hears us? Are we sending a digital message into the ether, only to create a physical manifestation of the rose-colored glasses into all aspects of our being? And in doing so, how far away from the truth have we strayed?

The three books on my bedside table are finally getting read. Chapter by chapter, exercise by exercise, as I question the gap between what we feel and what we say (not to mention how, where, or why), maybe sharing less – and listening, especially to ourselves, more – is the key. 

Or maybe I’ll hit publish and I’m the biggest hypocrite yet.

“Don’t waste your time on me, I’m just an architect. I have built nothing.

Please take my arms in assistance if I offer them, and I can salve that sting.

Your life held in low regard beneath low ceilings, they are designed by fate.

Tonight, we can tear from the roof from this existence, I tear it all away. 

You told all of your friends, you told all of your friends, you told all of your friends, and no one came. No one came.”

I asked a woman in an interview today “What is a common misconception of you, and why is it false?” I still consider it the hardest interview question anyone has ever asked me (see also: interview eleven of twelve at Google in 2002) and I believe my answer – old age and spotty memory notwithstanding – was “people assume I’m always in a good mood. I have my bad days too, but try to keep that to myself so it doesn’t affect my work.” Good job, Aubrey of yore, how you pulled that one out of your ass is further reminder that you were much smarter back in those days. But, at least conceptually, it holds true. I’ve come to realize that I wear my heart on my sleeve, and know that if I’m having a rough day or are under stress or pressure, often the best thing I can do for the team that I manage is leave & internalize it. I know my demeanor is affecting and when I’m upset or stressed, they know it and it rubs off on them. Sometimes you just need to know when to leave (a rule of thumb I employ in many areas of my life.) 

And yet. Sometimes it’s not that easy. Running away doesn’t help anything, and you find yourself in a situation where you’re upset, discouraged, uncomfortable. Angry. You’ll know you’re in these situations (or at least *I* know I’m in these situations) because your first inclination is to run. “This feels bad! Get me OUT OF THIS,” my inner pain-aversion mechanism screams. “Abort! Abort!” Then: “OOH, wine & oysters may help!” (Which, frankly, it does, for about an hour. Then…back to that feeling of “oh shit, I hate this.”) Having gone through situations such as this a mere one thousand sixty seven times in the past years, I’ve developed a strategy to try to keep myself on terra firma and avoid my Vibram Five Fingers* from taking me to my nearest watering hole. (*GROSS. As if I’d wear those.) But instead of fleeing, I try to figure out what I’m actually feeling. Fear? Insecurity? Pain? What is the situation causing and what am I trying to avoid? It usually then lets my Type-A, love-me-an-Excel-Spreadsheet-Action-Plan self to see the situation more clearly and come up with a plan on how to start to remedy whatever is happening. 

And yet. Sometimes you’re just discouraged. Sometimes you feel like nobody is seeing you for who you are and what you have to offer, both personally & professionally. Sometimes you don’t want to Excel spreadsheet the fuck out of it, and sometimes you just want to be frustrated and hurt and hope that this isn’t in fact a midlife crisis but it’s just a bad day that you told your Google interviewer that you don’t let affect you. Sometimes you just need to let it affect you, and hope that tomorrow isn’t the Mondayest Monday in the history of all Mondays as today is.

And treat yourself to some oysters. There are worse strategies, after all.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. LOVE THIS.


In my ongoing quest for the perfect framework for understanding haters, I created The Disapproval Matrix**. (With a deep bow to its inspiration.) This is one way to separate haterade from productive feedback. Here’s how the quadrants break down:

Critics: These are smart people who know something about your field. They are taking a hard look at your work and are not loving it. You’ll probably want to listen to what they have to say, and make some adjustments to your work based on their thoughtful comments.

Lovers: These people are invested in you and are also giving you negative but rational feedback because they want you to improve. Listen to them, too. 

Frenemies: Ooooh, this quadrant is tricky. These people really know how to hurt you, because they know you personally or know your work pretty well. But at the end of the day, their criticism is not actually about your work—it’s about you personally. And they aren’t actually interested in a productive conversation that will result in you becoming better at what you do. They just wanna undermine you. Dishonorable mention goes to The Hater Within, aka the irrational voice inside you that says you suck, which usually falls into this quadrant. Tell all of these fools to sit down and shut up.

Haters: This is your garden-variety, often anonymous troll who wants to tear down everything about you for no rational reason. Folks in this quadrant are easy to write off because they’re counterproductive and you don’t even know them. Ignore! Engaging won’t make you any better at what you do. And then rest easy, because having haters is proof your work is finding a wide audience and is sparking conversation. Own it.

The general rule of thumb? When you receive negative feedback that falls into one of the top two quadrants—from experts or people who care about you who are engaging with and rationally critiquing your work—you should probably take their comments to heart. When you receive negative feedback that falls into the bottom two quadrants, you should just let it roll off your back and just keep doin’ you. If you need to amp yourself up about it, may I suggest this #BYEHATER playlist on Spotify? You’re welcome.

** I presented The Disapproval Matrix to the fine folks at MoxieCon in Chicago yesterday, and they seemed to find it useful, so I figured I’d share with the class. It was originally inspired by a question my friend Channing Kennedy submitted to my #Realtalk column at the Columbia Journalism Review.

Literally counting the days until The National’s new album, Trouble Will Find Me, is released. (37, should you be curious. May 21st.) This is the second single they’ve put out, and by the magic of the interwebs, I have the MP3. And it is playing on repeat. It’s very reminiscent of Boxer with a little bit of High Violet (Lemonworld-ish) thrown in. It’s impeccable.