The Map is Not the Territory: A review of “Come As You Are”

Warning: I’m going to talk about vaginas, penises, arousal, and other sexual things.

If you’ve ever looked at your sex life and wondered, “Oh my god, what is wrong with me?” this book is for you. (Btw, the answer is: probably absolutely nothing. You just think there is, and that’s the real problem.)

Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. is so much more than a sex book. In its 300-some pages of well constructed chapters, notes, and appendices, it manages to do away with a wide array of harmful myths about sex, encourage radical self acceptance, and teach mindfulness and stress-management techniques that help with basically everything. While the book is mainly written for cisgendered women in monogamous relationships, Nagoski shows how her studies have been helpful in the sex lives of hetero and homosexual couples in a range of ages, and the principles are heavily applicable to all humans. After all, as you learn in the early chapters, everyone has the same partsjust arranged differently.

The premise of the book rests heavily on the “dual control” model of sexuality and the brain, which is explained by the author pretty clearly in this comic (fair warning: if you click around on that site it can get pretty explicit). It gives a really useful framework of sexuality as a set of “on” and “off” switches, or as things that hit the “brakes” or the “accelerators.” She brings in several different women who have sensitive brakes with non-sensitive accelerators, or vice-versa, or any other combination. It becomes abundantly clear how important context is for sexual desire to healthily flourish (and despite this brake vs. accelerator metaphor, desire for sex is not a “drive”).

Why I think everyone should read this book is because of its effort to correct harmful myths we’ve all come to believe about what is “sexy” and how someone should be as a sexual person. Nagoski talks about how the myths come from pop culture, from the ways in which we grew up, and from our early experiences of love, affection, and sex. A phrase that keeps popping up in my life over and over is “the map is not the territory.” And synchronously, she talked about this very concept in one of the concluding chapters of the book:

But perhaps the biggest challenge is that when the map and the terrain don’t match, our brains try to make the map true, forcing our experience into the shape of the map. “No, no, this is the trail,” we say as we stumble through the thicket. “It says so on the map.”

We find this recurring problem in so many parts of our lives, and our sex lives are no exception. To that point, a major-major PSA that everyone should know is that non-concordance is a thing. That is to say: Genital arousal and sexual desire often don’t match up.

In fact, for people with vaginas, only about 10% of the time that a vagina self-lubricates does the person find the stimulus actually sexually appealing. It’s about 50% of the time for people with penises (which is still not actually that much if you look at the situation objectively rather than subjectively). Because we’ve come to think that these physical signs are really what matters, and because we can be so out of touch with what we actually want as people, we culturally buy into this myth that if a vagina is “wet” or a penis is “hard” then the person really wants to have sex. It should be clear how this lie plays into sexual assault and abuse. There’s really nothing that beats clear communication and a safe, healthy sexual context where people feel like they can express what’s happening in their brains instead of fumbling for misleading genital cues. And this is actual science, not just my opinion as a feminist and former sexual assault victim advocate.

For my part, I found Nagoski’s chapters about creating a proper context for healthy sexual desire to be really useful just for day-to-day happiness. Everyone talks about how stress should be “released” but rarely do we really look at what that means. Nagoski explains stress as something that is cyclical: it’s instigated, it builds, and if there is no completion of the stress cycle, it just continues to build until it damages us. In the modern world, we have a lot of chronic stressors that take us to that second part of the cycle, but unlike the “acute stress” of physical danger, there is often no escape from the predator or vanquishing of the enemy. Activities that “release stress” are simulating the relief you feel when you realize that you’ve run inside and locked the door before the rabid beast can catch you. Crying instead of repressing your feelings of sadness, roaring through a workout after a frustrating day at work, and jumping sky-high when Pennywise pops out of the storm drainthese are all ways to complete the stress cycle. And I’m finding that this really practical approach to stress management is making my life better in many ways (and a lot of those ways are not-NSFW).


What Does an “Assistant to the Publisher” Do?

A story has been circulating the internet about Elon Musk’s firing of his assistant of 10 years that business websites/magazines have been psychotically passing off as a “business lesson.” Long story short, when the assistant asked for a hefty raise, Musk told her that she should take two weeks off and he’d do her job for her to see if the raise was warranted. When she came back, he offered her a different position and said her job wasn’t necessary anymore. The “hard business lesson” is, according to some of the journalists who have been repeating the story, that you have to make yourself indispensable that you can never ever be fired.

So, a couple things.

This isn’t my main point, but I think there are few things more obnoxious that someone who approaches work from a position of making themselves unfireable. Mostly, that attitude doesn’t make people work harder or be kinder. It makes people hide passwords, keep bad records, develop elaborate, unnecessary systems that only they understand, and when they move on to a different position, makes life a living hell for anyone who needs to step in to fill in the blanks. And chances are if they wanted to “stick it” to somebody in the organization, they will not be the ones cleaning up the mess.

My main point is: Of course he could do her job. Of course he could do her job. Her job was to help him do his job.

So Musk has come out and said the story is misleading and untrue. You can go look it up yourself, because I don’t need to waste my time defending him (and he doesn’t need it either). The frustrating thing is that business publications treated this like some kind of magical billionaire fable from which everyone who thinks they deserve a good quality of life for loyalty and working hard should learn.

And now, stepping down from my soapbox, I’ll tell you what I do as assistant to the publishers at a book publishing company. It’s probably similar to what a Publisher’s Assistant does at another company, but I’m sure there are some differences. Notably, the heads of each of these different departments could probably do what I do. But if they had to do all of the things I do, there wouldn’t be enough time for everything that they want to get done. This is why assistants exist, which seems pretty obvious to me, but apparently not to some of the people who write for Business Insider.

My main reason for writing this is to be helpful in providing some realities of a day-to-day, 9–5 job in publishing, as well as a little encouragement for people who are stressed about finding and keeping work that provides a decent quality of life. Celebrity culture trains us to disproportionately value billionaire superstars and to believe that certain people “deserve” things more than others, and I think that’s a problematic attitude that’s all tied up with racism and sexism and most of the other problems we’re facing today. I’m not my job (and neither is Elon Musk). I have many criticisms of a system where I need to have a Master’s degree to be competitive for a job as an assistant, and I’d be a lot more anxious about my future if I weren’t so privileged as to have a partner with a higher-paying job. But at the most basic level, I’m very happy for the job I have.

And no matter what your current level–even if you don’t have a job right now–you are valuable too. Don’t let any gullible business blogger tell you that you’re not.

Administrative Assistance

I thought when I started my job that I would be the person who answers the phone all the time. While I do that sometimes (and should probably do it more), the phone-answering duties are distributed throughout the office. My administrative assistance is more relegated to:

  • Making appointments for the publisher and creative director
  • Sitting in on meetings and calls and taking notes
  • Reminding my bosses when they’re supposed to be somewhere
  • Updating the editorial calendars with changed pub dates and specs for all the books, card decks, and movies (we distribute some DVDs in addition to publishing books)
  • Gatekeeping
    • Someone called asking for my boss recently and refused to give me her name. It felt a little weird not to be helpful and obliging, but it also felt pretty righteous to exercise my “NOPE” muscle on her.

Marketing and Technical Assistance

I don’t do as much in the marketing arena as I have at other jobs, but I do help out from time to time. My boss got an idea recently to do an “old-fashioned” marketing campaign where I mailed a letter and a single “oracle” card from a recent deck we had done to about 400 specialty bookshops across the country. Since the marketing coordinator was busy coordinating, I took on that job (and enjoyed more than a few podcasts in the process). Other things I do include:

  • Sending out sales letters
  • Mailing galleys
    • Those are the advanced copies of the books that people who host radio shows, podcasts, TV morning shows, and other publications read and review
  • Updating customer databases
    • Our sales/accounting people are busy and often need someone to clean up and organize stuff

 Editorial Assistance

  • Our managing editor is on leave, so I was able to help project-manage one of our in-progress book projects, interfacing with the author and making sure that everything was where it was supposed to be.
  • Recently I was able to copy edit an upcoming deck of cards that has inspirational phrases and the book that went along with it.
  • I also do a lot of random proofreading and copyediting.
  • Our developmental editor for adult books has been copying me on some of her recent emails (at my request), so I can learn more about what she does.

Acquisitions Assistance

The acquisitions at my job are a little different from what I learned was done at other publishing houses. Instead of an “acquiring editor” we have a Creative Director who both reads manuscripts and watches films that we might want to distribute. A very large part of my job is reading potential manuscripts and researching authors, which is actually what I would have envisioned back when I was a younger person thinking about what “working in publishing” might entail. And that’s kind of fun.

  • Reading the slush pile
  • Helping to get pitch documents together
  • Comp title research
    • “Comp” as in comparable books or competing books–sort of the same, both relevant
  • Author research
    • Finding out how big their platforms are
    • Researching whether they’re famous for something already…take that to whatever extreme your imagination can dream up
  • Embracing my number-crunching side and taking the first run at Profit and Loss Statements
  • Sending out the rejections to both literary agents and unsolicited authors (yes, we still read unsolicited manuscripts where I work)

Miscellaneous Projects

Since the publisher and creative director also run the company in this case, they are out of the office at conferences and for other business trips frequently. When I’m not helping them organize their time, I also do other random projects. It’s in these unusual areas that I’m excited about learning and growing more.

  • Sourcing, designing, and installing custom pages for books
    • We (mostly I) personalize books for people who want to give their loved ones a fancy gift and for companies who want to do the same with their customers and employees.
  • I’m currently transcribing some conference calls for one of our authors…I’m guessing this isn’t a traditional task for a Publisher’s Assistant, but I’m hourly and it’s kind of interesting.
  • My bosses know I can make ebooks, so there’s at least one title in my near future that I’m ready to convert to EPUB and MOBI.
  • We put on an event every February that adds some slightly un-bookish aspects to my job and might even lead to adventure.


An Attempted Podcast Murder: A Review of Kathleen Barber’s “Are You Sleeping”

Full disclosure: I got this for free from NetGalley. I probably don’t need to disclose that because this isn’t a glowing review.

An intriguing premise: Josie Buhrmann, who has changed her last name and moved to New York to escape bad memories in her small town, has to face her past when it’s turned into a hit podcast. As a HUUUGE true crime podcast fan, I was ready to read something showcasing modern tech and storytelling in a book. But then the predictable happened: my “insider” knowledge led me to be extremely critical of this book.

But seriously.

are you sleeping cover

A go-getter “journalist” (annoyingly named Poppy Parnell–uuuugh too much Harry Potter, everybody) who runs a conspiracy-driven true crime site magically gets the funding to create this week-by-week investigatory podcast. Please. We know you only get that kind of funding if you have worked for Ira Glass. And she is so much ruder and more invasive at Josie’s mother’s funeral than Sarah Koenig would ever dream of being. At one point, she shoves her arm through a closing door and pushes her way into Josie’s aunt’s house, you know, as you do to extremely traumatized people. She’s supposed to be an unsavory character, but it made me wonder if the author has ever listened to any true crime podcasts other than the first season of Serial. I can only think of one podcast host who might do something like that, and even he hides behind his computer and has a multitude of haters. And also he has a Patreon, not a corporate sponsor.

Also, the murder victim is Josie’s FATHER, who is a philandering college professor, not a pretty teenager with her whole life ahead of her. We are shown every (extremely short) podcast transcript and at no time does Poppy follow rule number one of any ID Channel episode or true crime Netflix documentary or podcast series: make people sad or at least interested in the fact that the victim died. I barely know anything about Josie’s dad. I think his name was Chuck?

My most petty complaint is about the use of social media as a storytelling tool (something that I normally give all the chances to because I think it’s so integral to modern fiction). Imaginary Reddit is used well, but the other interspersed “real world” social media conversations are supposed to be from Twitter. All the real down-and-dirty talk about true crime cases happen in secret Facebook groups. I recently had to leave one where one of the killer’s survivors was actually posting in the group and I bailed because they were extreeeeemely nasty and victim-blamey to her. Her being the survivor of a serial killer. This book thought it was getting real with a few fake mean-Tweets though. Cool.

As far as the actual content and story go, it would have been a better decision to double down on a literary fiction, character piece. I got the impression that the author was attempting to create sympathetic characters, but these attempts were dampened by the attempt to create a gripping thriller. As it ended up, the characters were well-defined but somewhat uncanny like realistically drawn cartoons, while the suspense was almost non-existent. If anything, I was just impatient for them to reveal which of the only possible three scenarios could have been the real cause of Chuck’s death. Also, they cut away from the only sex scene at the last minute, so it doesn’t even have that going for it.

Well. That Was Something. Now what?

murder mystery party
Why yes, I did end up being the killer at the murder mystery party. I’m not that hard to figure out.

Being a part of a publishing graduate program had the desired effect. Since November, I have gainfully employed as a publisher’s assistant at a Big 5 imprint. I redid two websites and built one WordPress site from the ground up and took a lot of photos. My classes taught me about all of the detailed research that needs to get done when one considers acquiring a book, including how to do a P&L (which I did six of just yesterday at work). I learned real life design, ebook-making, and copyediting techniques. You can see evidence of these gains all over the website that has been redesigned to showcase all the work I did this year. High up there on the list of important things is that I cultivated a posse, which me and my main girl commemorated in ink.

bff tattoo pic

A month is probably enough time to exist without stewing about the next step, right? As far as a big picture “next step” goes, I don’t really have one. Unfortunately I still find myself struggling to settle on a specialization, something that’s always been a characteristic. Here are a few things that are happening and that I’m also asking myself about:

  • There’s a possible backlist ebook conversion project at work. I’m going to call dibs on it since I think that we are currently only outsourcing frontlist titles.
  • New editions to my copywriting portfolio are already in progress.
  • I’m finally going to get back on those Netgalley reviews (yusssss).
  • There’s an entire self-publishing world out there that I’m intensely curious about. (If I were going to make a criticism of my program, it’s that there wasn’t nearly enough information about those important, disruptive trends.) I’ve joined a couple of forums and am strategically following a few blogs on social media in hopes of continuing my education.
  • I’ve signed up to volunteer for a local literacy council that teaches adult ESL classes. Not sure if I’m actually going to teach the classes yet, but we’ll see.

Lastly, I’ve been wondering how can I make this blog valuable to other people? What can I write about that will be good for anyone who stumbles upon my little patch of internet? If you have any thoughts to that point, please don’t hesitate to comment.

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Ill Will by Dan Chaon: Don’t Trust Your Memories

Full disclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley.

My first exposure to Dan Chaon was through a disturbing short story called The Bees, and it freaked me out so much that I was very excited to find out that I’d been approved for an advance copy of his latest novel.

Dustin is a psychologist whose past creeps up on him at the worst possible moment: concurrent with the death of his wife from cancer and the coming of age of his two sons. His adopted brother Rusty, who Dustin testified against as a 13 year old, is exonerated for the murder of their parents and released from prison. At the same time, Dustin is pulled into a mystery by one of his patients, and former police officer, Aqil.

Young men have been mysteriously disappearing only to have their bodies found days or weeks later washed up on the shores of rivers. Police say they are drunken accidents. Aqil is convinced the ill fated young men are victims of a serial killer. Dustin, as he follows the clues Aqil presents to him, hardly knows what to think, but he can’t stop his plunge into the conspiracy.

This is a story for someone who likes both true crime stories as well as psychological horror. Some people like to use “thriller” as a euphemism for literary books with horror elements, but I don’t want to do that. Horror shouldn’t be a bad word. Ill Will incorporates depictions of the Satanic Panic of the 80s both during the time that it was happening and during the fall-out. Dreamlike sequences unfold in three places at once, realistic and non-sensationalized depictions of heroin use and physical injury are at once tasteful and cringe-inducing, alternate realities converge to throw the reader off the scent of what might or might not have happened.

Chaon hammers hard on the theme of unreliable memory. “This was the thesis of my dissertation, in some ways,” Dustin narrates, “that experience is so subjective that multiple things actually do happen. That we can’t experience objective reality.”

Outwardly, Dustin’s career is damaged by his participation in repressed-memory-retrieval and a resulting lawsuit. Inwardly, Rusty’s release from prison causes him to question everything that he remembers about the night his parents were murdered. Did he even see Rusty there that night? And if Rusty is not the killer, who is?

What might on the surface seem like a typical whodunnit turns into an eerie, non-linear nightmare. There were entire chapters where I couldn’t be sure whether a particular character actually existed or not. There are large missing pieces that are presented just completely and incompletely enough that the imagination rushes in to fill the vacuum. Like any good scary piece of fiction, this lingers.

My only complaint is technical: sometimes the format of the book changed into something slightly avant-garde that included two to three columns of separate stories all running at once. The content itself was excellent and the format was in keeping with what I perceived to be the book’s intended effect, but unfortunately due to it’s being turned into an image for the ebook format, I had trouble seeing the very small type.

Other than that, I can strongly recommend Ill Will, especially to fans of psychological indie horror films like The Pact and Resolution. For avid readers, if you liked Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, but want more chills and a less neatly tied-up plot line, you’ll really like this.

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Three Lessons from Transmit Culture: “Portland’s Publishing and Maker Communitites”

On Tuesday, May 3rd, Ooligan Press put on its third “Transmit Culture” panel of the 2015-2016 year, which explored our publishing community in a “maker” context.

The term “maker” evokes diverse pursuits from mobile-app making enfants to overalled artisans sliding ceramics into kilns. For all intents and purposes, this panel referenced both sides of that gamut and everything in between, but put special emphasis on making books–only appropriate considering the historic DIY book and zine culture that’s thrived here for so long.

Photo courtesy of @AlanScottHolley
Photo courtesy of @AlanScottHolley

Asst. Prof. Kathi Berens hosted the panel which included Kelley Roy of ADX Portland, Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing, Rick Turoczy of the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), and Charles Heying, a PSU professor and author of the Ooligan Press Book Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy. ADX is a workspace and resource locale where people can craft and build products as well as take classes to build their skills. PIE is a “startup accelerator” that touches the tech realm, but wasn’t defined as precisely as I would have wished. Microcosm’s mission focuses on “empower[ing] readers to make positive changes in their lives and in the world around them.” As the book’s title implies, Charles Heying has spent a lot of time studying the maker culture in Portland and was an excellent addition to the panel.

The conversation touched on some widely applicable entrepreneurial/business lessons that could be distilled to fit the publishing industry:

  1. Embrace niches: Joe Biel of Microcosm pointed out that developing titles into specific pieces conscious of their specific audiences is an important way for a press to make money. “4,000 books are published every day…the niche-ier the book, the better the sales.”
  2. Value oneself and one’s work: Kelley Roy consistently drove the conversation forward with optimism about the value of lovingly and skillfully made artifacts. She said that people constantly complain about two things: being busy and being broke. “Let’s not be broke,” she said, “let’s thrive!.” And one of her most emphasized suggestions for how to do that was for artisans to take time-spent into account when figuring out a price for their products.
  3. Be intentional about preserving place: a conversation arose over fears that the “Portlandia” effect had brought so many people to the city and that it was at risk of losing its identity and becoming just like any other city (and not in good ways). In a panel that had been so full of optimism, this was the most anxiety-riddled topic, but the panelists encouraged community engagement and creative thinking to come up with ways to Keep Portland Weird.

“Makers” is such a broad title for a number of different modes of creating and manufacturing that even defining the term itself could take up an entire panel. In the future, I would love to see the topic revisited and refined, and I think its an important continuing dialogue for the homegrown publishing culture that’s so prevalent here.

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