You’ve got to make time and space in your life for the people you care about: a Q+A w/ Ann Friedman of Call Your Girlfriend

Quick note: Several of the questions in this interview were submitted by writer, long-time fan, and Sinclair’s super close friend, Kelsey Oppenheimer. 💛

Sinclair:  What advice do you have for young women who want to fiercely practice shine theory

Ann: Shine Theory is a term I coined with my friend and co-author and podcast co-host, Aminatou Sow. Practicing Shine Theory means investing in other people. You can just briefly meet someone at a networking event and expect to have each other’s backs forever and ever! Shine Theory is helping your people be their very best, and accepting their support in return.

It means leaning toward openness and collaboration rather than a scarcity mentality—committing to share resources, contacts, support. It doesn’t mean you’ll never feel jealous again, or that you’ll never be in direct competition for a job. But if Amina has taught me anything through her friendship, it’s that there are great rewards when you work and wish for someone else’s success the way you wish and work for your own.

Sinclair: Aside from writers , where/who do you draw inspiration from?

Ann: It’s super important to me to maintain close friendships with many people who are not writers or journalists. I love hearing about what they find important, which problems and news items are eating at them, and what art they’re obsessed with lately. I draw a lot of inspiration from watching my friends work and talking to them about their practices.

Sinclair: Considering the privileges you hold, how did you get so lucky?

Ann: Where do I even begin!? I’m a cisgender, heterosexual white woman from a family with lots of economic security. I have no history of trauma or mental illness. So those are just a few of the privileges. As for luck, I am grateful I started my journalism career when I did—in 2004. During my first years in the profession, digital spaces were still relatively unrecognized as powerful, and also not monetized.

Meaning that my work could kind of grow up within and alongside the consumption of digital media. If I’d entered media five to ten years earlier, I would have probably struggled to adapt. If I’d entered five to ten years later, digital media would have been far more developed and I would have struggled to gain attention for my work as quickly. So I definitely credit that timing as lucky.

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Sinclair: In interviews and in podcast episodes, you talk about your strong group of friends/support. How have you cultivated this over the years?

Ann: I just try to keep showing up for people I care about, and ask them to do the same for me. When I’ve been new to a city, I’ve been sure to get out of my house a lot, and to make an effort to accept any and all invitations to hang out. Many of my close friends in Los Angeles can be traced back to just a few early friendships I made, because I kept showing up when those friends invited me, and so I became close to their friends, and on and on.

I also make an effort to hang on to friends who live in other cities—which is the founding premise of our whole podcast. You’ve got to make time and space in your life for the people you care about. You can’t expect friendships to stay strong if you’re letting them run on autopilot. Amina and I are writing a whole book about this right now!

Sinclair: Speaking of podcasts, I really enjoyed the Pooptastic episode of Call Your Girlfriend. Pooping is ridiculously stigmatized and gendered. What response did you all receive from this episode?

Ann: We love tackling topics that are taboo for no reason. The best feedback we got on that episode was from a person who works as a bike messenger. She said she’s pooped in every high-rise building in her city!

Sinclair: Which episode of the show do you think back to often? 

Ann: I probably think most about our Businesswoman Special episode, which is all about how we run and have scaled the business side of the podcast. When people inevitably get upset that we are not covering every single issue of importance, or when they call us sellouts for accepting certain advertisers, I love having this episode to refer them to, because it lays out very clearly and conversationally all of our decision-making criteria.

Sinclair: What books are you currently reading?

Ann: An advance copy of Talent, the forthcoming novel from Juliet Lapidos, who was until very recently my brilliant editor at  The Los Angeles Times. Michael Arceneaux’s delightful memoir I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé. And Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, a collection of John McPhee’s New Yorker essays about the craft of nonfiction.

Sinclair: How do you get so much reading done? You spoke a little about this in your Extraordinary Routines feature.

Ann:  Some weeks are more reading-heavy than others. But the main thing that helps me is to use a link-saving app (I use Instapaper, but a lot of people like Pocket or Evernote). I save interesting articles as I come across them during the day, then read on my phone or my Kindle at lunch or in the evening. When it comes to books, the most important thing for me is to pick up a new book right after I finish one. If I wait, often I end up letting my reading really lag.

Sinclair: What’s something we can do to create a safer and more inclusive world for women?

Ann: Oh, SO many things! There were a lot of good what-to-do explainers written earlier this year when the MeToo movement was very much in the public eye. For me, I think it’s important to realize that sexist beliefs and gender stereotypes don’t only worm their way into mens’ brains. They affect all of us.

And so breaking down gender-based oppression often begins challenging assumptions—both our own and those made by others. Asking hard questions about what we believe and why. Reading, listening, and learning. And then refusing to stay silent about what we continue to learn.

Sinclair: Your weekly newsletter is dope af, masterfully curated, and socially conscious. It’s also how I first heard about you. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself since starting it?

Ann: The newsletter has become my way of making sense of the week. Because of the way it’s structured—I have to write a subject line, I have to pick and choose what things to highlight, I have to write a short intro—it forces me to spot narrative themes and motifs in the mess of news and articles I’ve consumed over the past seven days.

I already knew I liked to do that, because I was an editor for years before I was a writer, but the newsletter has helped me realize that I love this as an ongoing practice: Thinking about what has really mattered lately, not just in my own life but in the wider world of media I consume.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn? 

Ann: I think I talked about this on an episode of the podcast recently, but I have a very ingrained idea that people who really care about their brains don’t really care much about their bodies. Of course this is bullshit! We all need our bodies—we’re not brains in vats.

But I think what happened is that I took lots of cultural messaging about women’s worth being tied to their ability to meet some pretty exacting physical standards, and I thought, “That’s a losing game. If I focus only on my brain and my brain only, then I can sidestep that whole problem.” As if. I know now that there are real consequences to trying to separate your mind and body in that way.  

To do things well, you can’t do everything. But I truly hate having to choose. – Ann Friedman

Sinclair: It seems that you live your life very intentionally how did it come to be this way?

Ann: In some areas I do, but in others I don’t. I think it probably looks like I live life intentionally because the most intentional parts of it are on public display. My writing is intentional, most of my career choices have been pretty intentional. Those are the visible parts of what I do.

But I make foolish choices all the time. I go on autopilot when I should be actively trying to change things. I’m definitely a human being who is, like all of us, intentional in some important ways and a hot mess in others.

Sinclair: You’ve interviewed a ton of amazing people (like yourself). What are some interviews you’re proud of and/or particularly enjoyed? 

Ann: I had a great conversation with Alicia Garza last year that has really stayed with me, especially as I think about how I live my beliefs. And recently I did a live conversation at Skylight Books with my pal Thomas Page McBee about his new book, Amateur. It was just great. I love Thomas’s brain (and his writing!) and could talk to him about masculinity and bodies all day.

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Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Ann: I have a hard time cutting things out. I’ve been interested in almost every opportunity that has ever come my way, and I’ve also worked hard to create many opportunities for myself. I find myself wondering, “What if I pursued the newsletter to its fullest extent? What if I only worked in audio for a year, no writing? What if I only wrote books?” To do things well, you can’t do everything. But I truly hate having to choose.

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

Ann: On Friday, I took the afternoon off and went to my friend Nikki’s house. (NB: Nikki has an incredible forthcoming novel you should definitely check out!) She made gazpacho and we watched Valley Girl and just were lazy together. It was great. I felt totally renewed when I drove myself home, as if I’d just spent an afternoon at the beach or the spa.

For me, self-care often means letting my brain and my body rest together. It’s important because I don’t think my inbox or my to-do list will ever be at zero. So I have to know how to create breaks and hit pause for myself. I really try to protect my non-working hours. I worked on the morning of Labor Day, so I gave myself all Friday afternoon off in exchange. I try to be a good boss to myself.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Ann: These expensive sheet masks. Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lifting each other up. The unseasonably mild Los Angeles summer.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Ann: The fact that Brett Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Ann:  After I graduated college, I didn’t get a single job or internship I applied for. They were mostly at newspapers, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter, anyway. But I also didn’t want to do nonprofit-comms work either, and I thought that was my “other option” if I were to pick a job that was more explicitly about advancing my beliefs.

I now realize it was a total false binary (as most binaries are). At the time, though, it felt like I would end up being a underpaid, unhappy fraud no matter which path I picked.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Ann: This is such a big question! I do an annual “personal strategic plan” (sometimes it ends up only half filled-out, but at least I always attempt it), and I pulled this list of values from my 2018 doc: Living my beliefs about justice and equality and the change I want to see in the world. Kindness and empathy. Making time for the people I love. Doing work I am proud of. Being paid commensurate with my effort and experience. Working hard but smart.

Being nice to my body and remembering it’s there. Doing things that scare me / not stagnating. Saving 20% and donating 10%. Fully owning the things I’ve poured the most of myself into. Reading books. Being able to enjoy what I do and what I have. Not working nights and weekends. [Note: Wow, this is so much of what I’ve been talking about in this interview!!]

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why? 

Ann: Well you have to follow Amina on Instagram and Twitter (@aminatou). I’ve been getting style and life inspo from Alok Menon (@alokvmenon) and Virgie Tovar (@virgietovar). I love Miriam Perez’s @houseplantparenthood account, too. And I’ve been listening to Bitchface, Sweet & Sour, and First Draft podcasts.

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to a writer struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on her dreams?

Ann: I return to Cheryl Strayed’s “Write Like a Motherfucker” essay again and again. Whenever I feel angry that my work isn’t better, her words really help me. And I’ll say this, too: All you have to do to be a writer is to write. We’re lucky enough to practice an art that is relatively cheap. Very few materials needed other than time and effort. So stop waiting for the exact perfect opportunity or platform. Write for yourself. Write for your friends. Even if you think it’s awful or you’ll never share it or you can’t see where it’s going. Write write write.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Ann:  I didn’t get here alone.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Ann:  Stories.

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Ann Friedman is a journalist who covers gender, politics, technology, and culture. She also co-hosts the podcast Call Your Girlfriend with Aminatou Sow, and together they are working on a book called Big Friendship. It will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2020. Instagram. Twitter. Website.

Featured Awesomeness: Ann says, “Appolition, an easy, set-it-and-forget-it way to use your spare change to help incarcerated people make bail. It rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and donates the change.

This post contains affiliate links. 🎁