Meet Clarence, the self-doubt toad that sits on my shoulder

Photo: Holger Langmaier/EyeEm/Getty Images

A couple years ago, I asked one of my clients for a quarterly review. She wrote back, “I’m not just pleased with how things are going—I’m thrilled.”

Only I misread, and my heart trip-hammered. Could I be getting fired after just three months? What I’d read was this: “I’m just not pleased with how things are going.”

I felt like I’d been sucker-punched — all the blood drained from my head and I immediately began to wonder if they’d let me try and improve before they replaced me. And then I read again and slowly returned from my black hole…


An encounter with a mystery novelist changed the way I work. Maybe.

Mystery writer Elizabeth George came to speak at my MFA one year. She was super nice and then she said something in her lecture like, “Writing is a joy. I don’t know why everyone says it’s so hard.”

After we had patiently waited out the moment where we wanted to put her in stocks, she clarified: George, writer of the Detective Lynley series, is an inveterate outliner.

headshot of white woman with short spiky brown hair wearing orange scarf w black polkadots and rimless eyeglasses. big earrings. smiling at camera. she’s sitting in a library with a ladder for reaching books.
headshot of white woman with short spiky brown hair wearing orange scarf w black polkadots and rimless eyeglasses. big earrings. smiling at camera. she’s sitting in a library with a ladder for reaching books.
photo: ElizabethGeorge.com

You’re thinking, what does wailing away on your keyboard like a baboon on ice pops* (“Writing is a joy”) have to do with outlining?

Sometimes you have to really knuckle down to find joy

Writing was always a joy, said Elizabeth George, because…


Everything I learned about concision I learned from Elaine Benes

Photo: NBC / Getty Images

Back in the mid-’90s, I pulled the trigger on what had been a pipe dream: I applied for a job as a freelance copywriter for the J. Peterman catalog.

You know the one: A year or so after I’d signed on, it made an appearance as a running gag on Seinfeld. John Hurley played Peterman, and, well, Elaine played me.*

At the time, I was the youngest-ever writer for the catalog, and I loved writing for it. It was one of a kind — printed on thicker-than-usual stock and folded into a narrower-than-normal format, it used watercolor and gouache to…


I heard a news report yesterday about Idaho’s latest court battle over transgender women and girls participating on women’s sports teams. The plaintiff is a transgender girl who wants to participate on her school’s track and field team; the defense is Idaho’s transgender sports ban.

Transgender flag against very light blue sky
Transgender flag against very light blue sky
“File:NPP NATIONAL PROGRESS PARTY FLAG 4.jpg” byUser:torbakhopper is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The defense is backed by a Christian advocacy group called Alliance Defending Freedom. The group’s name is deeply ironic — defending freedom for specific people is probably more accurate. And I’ll presume that there’s some sense out there of how incredibly dehumanizing and bigoted this whole issue is.

But one specific part of Alliance Defending…


This is good news, and I applaud your efforts, but I don't see much by way of encouraging talk or diversity efforts around disabled people.

Disability is the most intersectional of all the demographic markers. I urge you to consider adding it to your definition of "impact" you can make on DE&I efforts.

Thank you.


Oh, sure, you’re thinking to yourself. You put on your sarcastic voice. Have to have a Mac device, or whatever. Need to buy into the iOS cult. And it’s only audio-based. How’s that for your inclusivity?

You’d be 100% right. No one is saying Clubhouse is perfect. But here are the reasons I’ve been enjoying my time on Clubhouse so far.

First, some parameters. The interests I checked off when I was building my profile involve different ethnic and demographic identifiers as well as topics like inclusivity, entrepreneurship, and culture. My bio clearly identifies me as being someone who is…


Art historian Amy E. Hermann uses fine art to teach everyone from FBI agents to ER nurses how to be better at their jobs. I use some of the methodology described in her book, Visual Intelligence, in my classroom, to help my students to become better observers of life — and, consequently, better writers.

One of her exercises involves using words to describe a painting they’re looking at to someone who’s never seen it before. To test the accuracy of what they’ve told their partners, they’re meant to draw what they think was described to them. …


What I’ve learned so far.

Six months ago, we got shelter-in-place orders for the state of California. And, like a lot of you, I made some changes. I wrote more letters; wrote more in general; signed up for a great many more classes, and checked in with people more often.

I also adopted a new-to-me budgeting system that I hoped would finally cure me of my fear of my own money. The fact that it was invented by Japan’s first female journalist was a pretty big selling point.

I’m six months in now, and I wanted to tell you all how it’s going for me.

Easy Wins


Echo chambers and information bubbles: An inadvertent experiment

In the last two months, the mister and I have been exploring a new-to-us neighborhood on our daily walks with the dog. This is a neighborhood full of front-yard seating areas—we see lawn chairs or bistro sets on nearly every porch. The front yards are shallower in this development than they are in our development; one can easily imagine the neighbors sitting on their porches with their morning coffee or with their evening cocktails, waving at each other or at passers-by, like us. …


In which I finally explore minimalism

You probably all know about minimalist wardrobes by now. This is that admirable thing in which you have a very limited number of clothes. The benefits, they say, are many; everything from taking better care of the clothing you do have to getting way more creative with how you’re styling your limited options.

President Obama did it too, but not because he felt the need to get more creative. During his presidency, he only wore grey or blue suits, so as to not to experience decision fatigue. He’s a smart man.

Well, guess what, everyone? I’m finally on the bandwagon…

Yi Shun Lai

D&I educator; writing & editing. Author, Pin Ups (9/20). Columnist, The Writer mag. theGooddirt.org; @gooddirt on Twitter. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!

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