#Gethooked

An E-Series about Wall Street, Silicon Valley and life in the digital age. #GetHooked March 5 on www.theunderwriting.com.

One Love

One thing I didn’t fully appreciate about writing before I started was how emotionally consuming it is. It’s really hard to describe a character’s feeling without feeling it yourself, and so I’ve found myself having days where I’m sitting at the coffee shop writing Todd and feeling quite awesome and days where I’ve had to have a drink to make my brain stop after spending a day in Tara’s world.
And then there were the days where I sat at my computer and wept as I tried to get to the core of what it was like to be Kelly Jacobson’s mother.
There are a lot of pieces of The Underwriting that I’m sad are true to life, but the one that is the saddest to me is the way Kelly – and the real life pretty girls victims of tragedy whom she represents - become objects in the media. It never ceases to amaze me the way someone always pops up to blame the girl for getting herself into whatever trouble befell her, and the way the 24-hour news doesn’t hesitate to validate that viewpoint by broadcasting it.
At the same time, tragedies like Kelly’s do ask us to come to terms with the dangers that exist on college campuses. I think most of us, when pressed, can admit we did some pretty stupid shit at certain times, and that the pace and scale of those dangerous situations – be they drugs or alcohol or sexual encounters – are on a rapid rise.
For all these reasons, Kelly’s storyline was one I hesitated to write because it felt so heavy, and one that made me nervous for people to read because it felt so dark. So when Brooke called me, after having read the first draft, and said, “You know I was friends with Yeardley Love, right?” my heart stopped. I knew that Brooke was at UVA, and I’d thought about “that Lacrosse player that died a few years ago” when I was writing, but I’d never pieced the two together.
It’s funny how the universe works, isn’t it? Discussions with Brooke and her friends about the events surrounding Yeardley’s death – the real pain and trauma of knowing such tragedy firsthand, and of then having to watch it play out in the insensitive hands of the media – changed me in a very permanent way. It made me angry and sad and hopeful all at the same time, but most of all it made me realize how much I wished we as a society could put humanity back into our news reporting.
I feel so blessed that the One Love Foundation, which was established in Yeardley’s honor to help end relationship violence through education and technology, was willing to partner with us. All proceeds from the sale of Episode 11 this week will go to the Foundation, and I so deeply hope it inspires people to take a minute to revisit her story, honor the life she led, and acknowledge the work we all still have to do.

Looking Glass

When you write fiction set in an environment where you used to work, you get a lot of questions about “whether or not it’s true.”

The Underwriting is not true, in the sense that the events didn’t actually happen and the characters do not actually exist. But I want to believe it is true in the sense that my characters’ feelings and struggles and temptations are real and an accurate reflective of the modern world they’re meant to represent.

Making that claim, however, is a terrifying thing: what if I’m wrong? What if my observations and sense-of-things is not correct, and putting it out there does nothing more than expose my ineptitude?

Enter Dom Hammond. Dom was an old pal of Si’s, the good pal of mine who is half the DJ duo who put together the (extraordinary) TUW playlists (check them out here: LINK).  Si and I were musing about a theme song for The Underwriting and Dom - who gave up his corporate career to pursue his music – seemed like the perfect person talk to about it.

Dom and I met and chatted about our own paths – his in England, mine in the States – and they felt surprisingly similar. I sent him the first draft of The Underwriting and we talked about what I was hoping for for the theme song and I flew back to New York and he got to work.

A few weeks later he sent me the cut of the piece I’d asked for, but he also threw in another, with a caveat along the lines of: “I know this isn’t what we talked about, but I was thinking about Tara and this world and it just kind of came to me….no pressure but maybe there’s a place you can use it.”

The song was “Looking Glass.” I remember sitting in my apartment listening to it and feeling not only overwhelmed by Dom’s talent and the funny-way-life-works that you find people like him, but also a huge sense of relief that a sentiment I tried to express in The Underwriting  - one of the ones I wasn’t sure was true, or just me - came through to him in reading it.

You see, I think it’s really easy to write characters like Tara and Nick off: they have privilege and opportunity and, from the outside looking in, don’t exactly warrant a lot of concern. But for them, their paths are lined with pressure and expectation and fear-of-never-being-enough. When I wrote Tara and Nick, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make anyone feel empathy for them, but Dom’s song captures their struggles with such kindness and care. He got it, and understood, and then turned into a new medium, and I felt so relieved that the truth was true to at least two of us.  

It’s also just a listen-twelve-times-in-a-row worthy tune, so check it out here and keep an eye on Dom Hammond – I’ve got all my bets on him as the next British singer-songwriter hearththrob.

 

There are few moments in my life where I realize how much I hate making decisions as much as going to the nail salon. Choosing a color should be such a mind-blowingly un-stressful thing, yet there I stand, for minutes and minutes on end, trying to contemplate what my choice of Russian Navy versus Ballet Slipper versus Samoan Sand says about me as a human being. And don’t get me started on these gel manicures….that’s a two week commitment. Needless to say, this photo totally stresses me out, but I still think it’s very cool, and a great representation of the Nail Salon scene between Tara and Neha in Episode Seven, which was one of the most challenging – and ultimately rewarding – pieces of dialogue to work out in The Underwriting.

There are few moments in my life where I realize how much I hate making decisions as much as going to the nail salon. Choosing a color should be such a mind-blowingly un-stressful thing, yet there I stand, for minutes and minutes on end, trying to contemplate what my choice of Russian Navy versus Ballet Slipper versus Samoan Sand says about me as a human being. And don’t get me started on these gel manicures….that’s a two week commitment. Needless to say, this photo totally stresses me out, but I still think it’s very cool, and a great representation of the Nail Salon scene between Tara and Neha in Episode Seven, which was one of the most challenging – and ultimately rewarding – pieces of dialogue to work out in The Underwriting.

Musical Highlights: Episode Seven

I love the moment at the end of Episode Seven when Tara is in the car on the way to the airport, just a little drunk from the wine, thinking about Callum. I imagine it’s one of those perfect spring evenings where the temperature outside is the same as your own body temperature such that you feel totally light and like there’s no difference between you and the air. It needed the right musical accompaniment, and Si and Hayden nailed it with this tune from Kyle Hall – it’s just the right amount of airy and sexy to perfectly encapsulate Tara’s toying with the idea of falling in love.

Regarding the Redacted Text

I got a question on FB about whether the Redacted text is intentional. The answer is yes, and that there’s a specific reason for it.

One of the things that is most important to me about Todd Kent is that he doesn’t see himself as a bad guy. And that’s important because I don’t think anyone in the world thinks of himself as a bad guy.

I thought a lot about this during the financial crisis, when so many Wall Street executives sat, befuddled, while people accused them of being villains: a lot of them could see that not all their actions were perfect, but they couldn’t recognize those actions as having bad consequences for which they were responsible (or that made them “bad men’). I think this same principle applies to a lot of people dating in big cities: they treat a partner badly, but - because the city is so full of other people - can move on without ever having to recognize (much less deal with) any potential ramifications from their actions.

And so, in thinking about all of this, and about Todd, it occurred to me that this is a form of self-censorship. Todd censors the dirtiness of his actions from himself so that he doesn’t have to acknowledge the potential meaning of the behavior he wants to pursue. To acknowledge the ugliness would make him culpable, responsible for their outcomes: by censoring those from himself - by redacting his own text -he can continue doing what he wants to do without having to consider that doing so might actually qualify him as a bad guy.

What’s poignant to me is how much dirtier the scene feels with the redaction. Especially in the audio, the censoring is blaring and uncomfortable to the point of being hard to listen. Which was very much the point: a redaction here and there is human nature, but the tragedy in Todd’s character lies in his inability to reign it in, or to consider the impact he has on others’ lives, whether or not he ever intended harm.

Introducing the Muppie, the Post-Financial Crisis, Millennial Take on the Yuppie Lifestyle

So grateful to Huffington Post for ushering in the concept of the Muppie

What I love about the Internet

What I love about the Internet

You know what I love about the Internet? How absurdly easy it is to have a million lives. I’m currently running three – last month, Hazel got a death threat for a blog post she put on Wordpress, Lori got asked to speak on a Tech panel in London for a post she put up on Quora, and Amanda got asked out 107 times on Tinder. And Google asked me, Michelle Miller, whether I knew any of them and suggested I add them on Google+. #SoFun. #GreatTimetoBeAWriter

Ego v Confidence v Self-Assurance

I got this text this week, and couldn’t agree more: Rachel Liu is so rad.
Why? Because she’s self-assured.
The words “ego,” “confidence” and “self-assured” are often used interchangeably, but they are very different things, and I tend to divide people by them.
Let’s say a person is presented with a question:
The Egotistical person says “I already know the answer”
The Confident person says, “I know I can figure out what the answer is”
The Self-Assured person says, “I’ll think about whether it’s a question I care to engage in, and know that if the answer is ‘no’ it won’t in any way impact my value as a human being.”
In The Underwriting, Josh is egotistical; Tara is confident; Rachel is self-assured.
I thought a lot about this in the context of women because I was so often told that “men really like confident women.” But that self-help magazine favorite didn’t feel true to my experience at all. What did feel true, though, was that men like self-assured women.
God bless her, but Tara can be really annoying. Her confidence is so dependent on accomplishment “I did these things, therefore I am a good [fill in the blank]”; Rachel might be less accomplished, but she has a sense of security about her that makes her not only less anxious, but more attractive to both men and women.

Tara’s character arc is one of moving from confidence to self-assurance, which I think is a critical evolution that women don’t always get – they get stuck in confidence, which requires more and more external validation to maintain, until they eventually break or just become really unhappy.  Largely because of Rachel and Callum, though, Tara starts to de-emphasize accomplishment and begin to understand and trust her own wants (the root of self-assurance). And, in so doing, she becomes a much more likeable character and (dare I say it?) attractive woman.

Ego v Confidence v Self-Assurance

I got this text this week, and couldn’t agree more: Rachel Liu is so rad.

Why? Because she’s self-assured.

The words “ego,” “confidence” and “self-assured” are often used interchangeably, but they are very different things, and I tend to divide people by them.

Let’s say a person is presented with a question:

The Egotistical person says “I already know the answer”

The Confident person says, “I know I can figure out what the answer is”

The Self-Assured person says, “I’ll think about whether it’s a question I care to engage in, and know that if the answer is ‘no’ it won’t in any way impact my value as a human being.”

In The Underwriting, Josh is egotistical; Tara is confident; Rachel is self-assured.

I thought a lot about this in the context of women because I was so often told that “men really like confident women.” But that self-help magazine favorite didn’t feel true to my experience at all. What did feel true, though, was that men like self-assured women.

God bless her, but Tara can be really annoying. Her confidence is so dependent on accomplishment “I did these things, therefore I am a good [fill in the blank]”; Rachel might be less accomplished, but she has a sense of security about her that makes her not only less anxious, but more attractive to both men and women.

Tara’s character arc is one of moving from confidence to self-assurance, which I think is a critical evolution that women don’t always get – they get stuck in confidence, which requires more and more external validation to maintain, until they eventually break or just become really unhappy.  Largely because of Rachel and Callum, though, Tara starts to de-emphasize accomplishment and begin to understand and trust her own wants (the root of self-assurance). And, in so doing, she becomes a much more likeable character and (dare I say it?) attractive woman.

No, Really. Stanford Actually Is That Great.

When I started writing The Underwriting, I had Kelly as a student at Princeton. It worked a little better with one of the upcoming plot lines, and I was self-conscious that if I put her at Stanford readers might think the book was overly autobiographical. But in the end, I gave up and gave Kelly all the joys I had in undergrad – Band Run and freshman dorm life and Pi Phi and uninhibited exploration in this glorious environment that was free of judgment and pretension. Someone asked me about this post recently - http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-08/stanford-outshines-harvard-as-applicants-favor-innovation-focus.html - and congratulated me for being an alum of a University that “beat Harvard.” But “beating” Harvard is so totally not Stanford. I can’t imagine anyone at Stanford really cares about the post’s nod – they’re all too absorbed in the possibility of their ideas, or in running around campus in their underwear fountain-hopping because it’s 80 degrees and sunny out and what else would you do on a day like that? Certainly not worry about how you rank against other institutions.
            That might seem, to an outsider judging it with traditional views, like a lazy thing: shouldn’t students be inside studying? But what they miss is what Stanford nails: that fun breeds ideas and creativity and that, when unleashed on a population of overly motivated undergrads, creates alumni who not only do really cool things, but who are genuinely good people.  I can’t think of a community I’d rather be a part of, or one who not only motivates me to be a better person, but to do it with a sense of humility and fun.

            The Stanford band, dollies and trees in particular taught me about Stanford’s brand of spirit, and running back into so many of them in the process of launching this project has been one of the greatest delights of my year. Thanks, guys xx  

No, Really. Stanford Actually Is That Great.

When I started writing The Underwriting, I had Kelly as a student at Princeton. It worked a little better with one of the upcoming plot lines, and I was self-conscious that if I put her at Stanford readers might think the book was overly autobiographical. But in the end, I gave up and gave Kelly all the joys I had in undergrad – Band Run and freshman dorm life and Pi Phi and uninhibited exploration in this glorious environment that was free of judgment and pretension. Someone asked me about this post recently - http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-08/stanford-outshines-harvard-as-applicants-favor-innovation-focus.html - and congratulated me for being an alum of a University that “beat Harvard.” But “beating” Harvard is so totally not Stanford. I can’t imagine anyone at Stanford really cares about the post’s nod – they’re all too absorbed in the possibility of their ideas, or in running around campus in their underwear fountain-hopping because it’s 80 degrees and sunny out and what else would you do on a day like that? Certainly not worry about how you rank against other institutions.

            That might seem, to an outsider judging it with traditional views, like a lazy thing: shouldn’t students be inside studying? But what they miss is what Stanford nails: that fun breeds ideas and creativity and that, when unleashed on a population of overly motivated undergrads, creates alumni who not only do really cool things, but who are genuinely good people.  I can’t think of a community I’d rather be a part of, or one who not only motivates me to be a better person, but to do it with a sense of humility and fun.

            The Stanford band, dollies and trees in particular taught me about Stanford’s brand of spirit, and running back into so many of them in the process of launching this project has been one of the greatest delights of my year. Thanks, guys xx  

Love in the Italian Embassy

Last August, I’d been holed up in East London writing all week when I got a text from my friend Alex inviting me to a “Confectionary Launch Party” in Belgravia. No matter how much time I spend in the UK, I still get tickled over the use of words like “Confectionary” and places with names like “Belgravia,”and so I headed west to the Italian Embassy, where I immediately fell in love with everything about Lavolio. After a decadent cocktail, Lavinia – who is the kind of stunningly chic woman who still smiles and makes you feel welcome - opened the doors to a room full of samples of all the lines of her Italian sweets company.  Two hours and four thousand calories later, I was on the most magnificent sugar high and positively in love with Lavinia, Italians, Coconut Follies, and the man on the Tube next to me, with whom I shared a tin of Lavolio samples….until he took the last Dark Chocolate Hazelnut and then pretended not to understand why I wouldn’t give him my number. As if.

Anyway – could not be more thrilled to have Lavolio as this week’s brand partner (http://www.theunderwriting.com/partners/8), and strongly encourage you to take advantage of the 10% discount with purchase of Episode 6 to order in time for Easter.

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