November 28, 2016

An Interview with Designer and Artist Elizabeth Williams

Today's bitch has one of my favorite nicknames:  Squibbin. It's so fun to say! I've only officially known Squibbin for about a year, but we've been internet friends for awhile. We finally met at a friend's open studio night last year and connected over a shared love of vintage clothes, preferably at the ridiculous end of the spectrum. I can't believe it took us so long to meet because our friend circles overlap, plus our menz work in the same industry and are friends / sometimes work on the same projects.

The first night I met Squibbin she asked me to teach her how to do "lady makeup" and I asked her to please be my friend and teach me how to be cool. Elizabeth is insanely talented (have you seen her wallpaper?), plus she's warm, kind, and really funny. We never followed up on our promises, but I have slowly weaseled my way into her friend group. I love artists and I'm so in awe of what Elizabeth creates, not to mention her ability to tuck vintage sweaters into high-waisted jeans. Meet today's bitch, Elizabeth Williams!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

Okay, semi-complicated start... I make conceptual wallpaper/wallcoverings/art installations. I make graphic arts, digitally and otherwise. I (try to) make fine art projects: all mediums that suit me. I co-run a business called New Hat Projects, New Hat for short, with my friend and biz partner Kelly Diehl. This is where the conceptual wallpaper, wallcovering, art installation part comes in. As a freelance designer and artist, I call that part of my business life “ibotherme” under which the monikers include but are not limited to:  J.E.Williams and squibbin. I also make bad pottery, weird decisions and a delish guacamole.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Well, I learned about graphic design as an “honest” profession in college, as many people do, after taking art classes, loving it and then talking to my parents who advised me to channel my “creativity” “practically”. Which made lots of sense to me at the time because I had zero self-confidence in actually being an artist, I just liked the way it made me feel. I was also really good at writing research papers, but it made me feel nothing/terrible, so I realized I didn’t want to spend my days as an academic or a lawyer. In addition to college education, I got my “real life masters” at Isle of Printing. I learned more about art installation work, public art and translating bigger ideas into reality under the tutelage of Bryce McCloud, whom I worked with for about four years.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I didn’t. Just made the decision during the first semester of my sophomore year. I like to blindly leap into things. Big ambition, bad planner.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

What a question! Where to start!? Okay, so I decided to go to an all women’s college in Atlanta, Agnes Scott College, which seemed like kind of a big deal for me because I was from a small, conservative town in East Tennessee. All the dummies (boys) started calling me a lesbian after I announced my collegiate affiliation, which was totally great and complimentary in my mind, but it just illustrates the small-mindedness of quite a few of the people I was surrounded by. Anyways, learning there was such a great and hard experience, everyone was very focused, smart and interesting. I see Agnes Scott as a turning point in who I was to become as a person. I had the typical moment of leaving my small town and having a completely 180, transformative college experience.

So seeing as how I only equated happiness with praise, choosing a career was going to prove to be difficult for me. I thought I would be an English major because I was okay at writing (at the time) and I had a badass, young AP English teacher my Senior year of high school who got me all riled up about literature, poetry (S. Plath style, you know…) and creative writing. However, an art class derailed me, and I had much more of a passionate reaction to visual communication. It’s worth noting that I HAD NO IDEA what graphic design really was or meant or why or when or any of it.

Next step, I needed to transfer to a college that offered a design degree, unfortunately Agnes Scott did not. In the meantime, this is where the story gets even more cliche: I met a boy from Nashville. He came down to visit a friend and hypnotized me with this weirdness. Fast forward a year later, and I’ve made the educational transfer to Belmont University. My parents insisted that I go to a liberal arts college and disapproved of my moving to Nashville for a boy (as they should have! What a weird decision!). For the record, eleven years later, we’re still making life together.

Back to path: during college I thought I would move to NYC and work for Vice Magazine or some sort of cool, weird publication. However, I did no work and put no effort into making that happen, graduation came and I applied to one place, got the job and was there for four+ years. The “there” was Emma, here in Nashville. I started as an email template designer and ended as Art Director of the Emma brand. It was a very, very good experience for me on many levels. I learned how organizations can work, I learned how to be an employee, I learned that I was organizationally ambitious and most importantly, I learned that I didn’t want to follow the path that lead to being a Creative Director which seemed to be the path I was on. I had no desire to spend my life in meetings putting out political fires, and honestly I wasn’t very good at that part (too emotionally involved). That looked like it would lead to a life of immense stress and depression, and my boy from Nashville was very supportive by helping me understand that I didn’t have to live that life. I was able to hop aboard the aforementioned Isle of Printing train which gave me more confidence to focus on my creative endeavors.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

Well, I had worked in the corporate setting, the small shoppe setting and I just realized the next viable option for me was self-employment. I sort of woke up one morning and said to myself, “it’s time.” I had gained (earned) the confidence of looking into the void without crippling fear outweighing my desires -- which might be the coolest thing/feeling that’s ever happened to me.

Additionally, the opportunity to start working intentionally with Kelly came up and it was kind of kismet. It's rare to find a collaborator that swells where you tend to fall flat.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

Eighty percent or more of small businesses fail, just so you know. The chances are very high that this won’t work out for you. But go on ahead and try.

-- dad (financial planner with masters in counseling), and big brother (CFO and CPA)

Their realistic advice has correctly set my expectations to keep-your-head-down-work-as-hard-as-possible-say-yes-do-more mode. I definitely romanticized the idea of being able to do what we’re doing in the beginning. I was kind of drunk on the dramatic change my life would take, so I needed to hear that as we began so I could properly expect failure as a way to trick myself into working hard. I’ll poke my head up if I can’t buy groceries or when I feel like we’ve done something really amazing. Otherwise, I just keep working and things just keep happening.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

Funnily enough, the most difficult things are the things that I struggled with while working for other people: understanding the right priorities and doing them in the “correct” order. Focus. Fighting self-hatred when I get or feel lazy (I think there is a difference -- feeling lazy is just a badge you wear when you want to be sad and mad at yourself to justify inaction, “of course it’s too hard for me because I’m the worst!”).

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

I think the biggest lesson I learned so far was that there are no secrets or special skills. I think I was waiting for a sign or the exact right thing to fall in my lap or reveal itself to me, but I was lucky enough to recognize an opportunity and decided I had enough guts to work to make it happen. Also, I had learned how to live in basic poverty for several years, so economic crisis was no longer a deterrent to dreams. That’s probably a big detail?

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I fucked over a friend who asked me to do a really cool project. I got self-conscious about it and just ended up compartmentalizing it and never doing it. I still struggle with over-extending myself and falling short on things from time to time, but I remember specifically after that experience saying to myself, “You can never do that to anyone ever again. That was your one ‘free’ pass.” Gotta be a woman of your word.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Write beautiful, complicated letters to my friends and family, bike/move body more, cook more delish, complicated meals, paint without an intended result, more pottery making.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

Economic security. Boring but very true answer.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

Feel like that hasn’t happened yet -- I feel like it will though! When it does, can I tell you and update this part??

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Ugh. Email, Instagram.

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

The history books. Uline catalogs. Talk to Kelly Diehl. Take a shower.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Sitting alone in silence and/or bad television. The zero-effort-escapism of the TV stories is appealing. Lately, a little bike jaunt along the Cumberland river section of the greenway has been very therapeutic.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Oh, you mean besides time management, having no one to blame but yourself and having to constantly do things you’re bad at out of necessity -- well, I guess I’d say retaining the ability to trust your instincts. You have to make so many decisions and, personally, my brain can get over saturated by that and sort of just turn off which then makes it difficult for me to see what reality is and to remember that I typically have the answers. Have I mentioned yet that I have a mantra I say in the shower? Well, I do and it’s: “Confidence and Power, Power and Confidence”. There’s a bit of a sing-songy cadence to it that makes it extra effective. It was inspired by Pantera song “A New Level” off of their early 90’s effort, “Vulgar Display of Power”.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

TV shows:

  1. Breaking Bad
  2. Six Feet Under
  3. The Wire
  4. The (British) Office
  5. The Wonder Years

  1. Lil snack bites that I’m addicted to: off brand (Kroger or TJ’s) Triscuits with avocado and shaved Parmesan (must be shaved) - this is sometimes dinner if I’m being honest.
  2. White cheddar popcorn
  3. These spiced party walnuts that Kelly makes. UGHHH. Too good. 
  4. All cheeses
  5. Dark chocolate, sea salt, turbinado sugar covered almonds (from TJ’s)
All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Williams

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  College English Teacher, Amanda Salmon!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

November 21, 2016

An Interview with College English Teacher Amanda Salmon

My path to friendship with today's bitch is long and ridiculous. In 2003, I was dating a guy who lived with Amanda's 2003 boyfriend. Amanda and I were around each other, but in that weird way you're around your boyfriend's roommate's girlfriend. Soon thereafter, I met John and moved out of that circle of friends. In dating John, I gained one Katie Haas, and Katie's sister Courtney is Amanda's best friend. So Amanda was back, but she and Courtney were/are crazy football people and I am not, so our paths still didn't cross. A few years ago, I ran into Amanda at Publix and we realized that we're basically neighbors, so we found each other on Facebook and started talking and going to each other's parties. Then Amanda asked if she could go with me to twerk class, and we became legit friends. We've spent the last eight months carpooling to twerk class, spilling our guts to each other in the almost two-hour roundtrip car ride (2-3 x week). Well, until recently, as Amanda has betrayed me for procreation.

It only took thirteen years, but Amanda is one of my closest friends. She's not only lived a lot of life, she's put in the work to get perspective on it. And that perspective has helped me immensely as I've hit some of these things later than she did. She also shares my insane, unbridled enthusiasm for Halloween and rap music. Amanda is all of my favorite adjectives: kind, smart, funny, and wholehearted. There's no one I'd rather not meet Kanye West with. Meet today's bitch, Amanda Salmon!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am an Adjunct English Instructor at Belmont University and Nashville State Community College.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I knew I wanted to teach English during my Honors Writing for College class during my senior year of high school, taught by one of the most memorable teachers I ever had at any level, Jay Callis.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

So naturally, like any college student, after one year as an English major, I switched to Journalism. I enjoyed the telling of stories and the putting together of a tangible product that my fellow students and the faculty/staff at our university could engage in. My senior year I was named editor of our school paper, The Belmont Vision, and while that was one of my most treasured memories from undergrad, it also helped me realize something valuable -- my heart was not in journalism as a profession. I took two English writing courses that semester -- Writing about Politics and Humor and Writing about Faith -- and I was jolted back to my senior year of high school when I first thought of being an English teacher. Very helpful for a college senior to realize that in her last semester!

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

Long and winding and confusing. Because I had not really followed the traditional path to becoming an English teacher or professor, I knew I wanted to go down that road, but was fearful of doing so at 21 years old. So I took a job working in marketing and communications at Belmont for the first five years after I graduated. It was a great first place to work and I got to work on many incredible projects (producing two shows at the Ryman and helping coordinate the 2008 Presidential Debate), but the longer I stayed there, the less my heart was in it. I had never known an environment other than Belmont, but I knew I needed to try something different.

Trying to shorten this up, an opportunity became available for a high school librarian in Sumner County. As I researched and learned about what school librarians do now (I have zero memories of the librarians when I was in high school), I thought it may be a good fit and a good way to discover if teaching truly was something I wanted to pursue. The first two years were great, though it never felt exactly *right*. It wasn’t teaching English and I found myself envious of the English teachers when I heard them talk about their classes. By my third year, I went through a lot of changes, both positive and horribly negative, that left me feeling empty, exhausted, and unable to pour into my students in a position I was not sure was even a good fit for me. So, I resigned and with the unbelievable support and encouragement of my husband, I finally decided to chase the calling I had felt since I was 18. I went back to school to receive my master’s in English (back at Belmont) and began teaching adjunct after I graduated in May. I’m in my first semester and this is, without a doubt, what I am supposed to be doing.

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

There is no such thing as a wrong decision. The consequences may be different based on what path you choose, but you’re never making the wrong choice if you approach the problem or opportunity with humility, grace, and a sense of humor.

Also, quitting is often the most courageous thing we can do. When I quit those jobs at Belmont and at the high school, I know for certain some co-workers (and let’s be honest, some family and friends), looked at me like I was a failure, like I couldn’t just buck up and get through it -- it’s just a job, right? For me, I knew there was more that I was capable of and more I wanted to accomplish, and the only way to get there was by quitting those jobs.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

When I taught high school, one of my earliest goals was to make sure my students liked me, that I would be considered the cool, fun teacher. Total rookie mistake! I was often taken advantage of and zapped of all energy as I tried pouring every ounce of myself into them.

Now with my college students, I have a much healthier sense of my boundaries (and also -- why do I want to be friends with college first year students?). My priorities are to help them become better writers than they were on the first day of class and to help them learn the essential skills of critical and creative thinking and not being afraid of asking themselves tough questions. They know I support them, but I am not there to be their pal.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

I’m really really REALLY proud of my master’s thesis. I was able to combine three of my loves (Greek comedy, modern sitcom, and feminism) into an argument that the resiliency women show when they are able to laugh in the face of allllllll of the crap flung at us allllll the time (hello, Donald Trump!) is actually our most powerful form of rebellion. I got really sick a few years ago and it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I was actually able to take control of my physical body again, and writing my thesis through that time was both a professional and a personal victory.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Fitbit (I gotta know how much sleep I had, it’s weird), then e-mail.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Well, that's recently changed. My answer used to be going to twerk class with Kim or meeting up with friends for happy hour and tacos. I also have a committed relationship with my DVR. I am pregnant with my first child, so on days that I teach, the only thing on my mind is how soon can I go back to bed, so naps are my new decompression. I'm looking forward to evenings of twerking and tacos after this baby's here!

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

I thought this when I taught high school, and still believe it to be true now. Every person who teaches should also be given a counseling degree. Our students’ lives are hard and that affects their work and their ability to cope with so many of the changes they are going through -- especially students in their first year of college. Helping them through the muck and mire without letting it take a personal toll on you is heavy sometimes.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

That students today are just inherently bad writers and it must be like pulling teeth to get an actual coherent thought out of them. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, they have toooo many coherent thoughts and need to be reined in a bit! My job is to help them hone in on what is important and learn how to communicate those ideas effectively. I’m not jealous of them. I can’t imagine growing up with the Internet being ever constant. They’ve never known life without it, and that’s hardly their fault.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Favorite TV show of all time: Mad Men. Favorite show currently on the air: Jane the Virgin.

I’ll give you two answers for my favorite snack: when I’m not pregnant, nachos, all the time. Now that I’m pregnant, alllll I want for every meal and snack ever, is a glass of orange juice, a bowl of broccoli, and Cheetos. I don’t understand it, but that trio is the quickest way to my heart these days.

All photos courtesy of Amanda Salmon

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Baker and Writer, Lisa Donovan!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

November 18, 2016

Friday Links


Much needed perspective on how we got here and how we move forward. Baratunde Thurston: Empathy isn't a favor I owe white Trump voters. It has to go both ways

Ouch:  "An America where we are all entitled to our own facts is a country where the only difference between cruelty and justice is branding" via Shirtless Trump Saves Drowning Kitten: Facebook's Fake-News Problem and the Rise of the Postmodern Right

A great list of how to help locally by Nashville Scene.

Artists, get back to work. Toni Morrison on artists' task in troubled times via brainpickings.

And lastly, a palate cleanser:  How To Get the Cool Dog at the Party to Notice You


Trixie Mattel
Katya Zamolodchikova
Grace Jones



Like all white people, I love Bryan Cranston (s/o Breaking Bad!) and I watched this weird Netflix movie called Trumbo that he's in. It was great. It led to a two-hour conversation with my flesh-and-blood, walking Wikipedia husband having to explain American communism to me. I also watched the PBS documentary, Hamilton's America twice. If you have a Roku, you can add a PBS channel and stream it.

I have three podcast recommendations. The last two stand-up sets on this episode of 2 Dope Queens had me legit lol-ing.



the Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova YouTube channel
bringing City House cookies to Thanksgiving, a la Rebekah Turshen

P.S. Still reeling from the election? Here are 4 ways to practice self-care.

November 14, 2016

An Interview with Baker and Writer Lisa Donovan

Photo cred: Heidi Ross

It's fitting that today marks the one year anniversary of These My Bitches because today's bitch is both one of the first women I asked to participate, and one of the reasons I started this series. Like fellow Bitch, Agnes, I met Lisa when I joined a book club in East Nashville in 2007. Lisa probably doesn't remember that's where we met, but I remember because I was completely freaked out and Lisa looked me in the eye and smiled her warm, welcoming smile. She knew I needed kindness in that moment, and she gave it to me. That is Lisa in a nutshell.

Strength recognizes strength. I think Lisa saw it in me that day in 2007, and I've seen it in her more times than I can count. It continues to fascinate me that the most compassionate, warm-hearted women I know are also the strongest. I learned first-hand this summer how much bravery and strength it takes to walk away from The Big Thing. When that happens, you need people you can look to who are living their life with purpose and following their heart. Lisa is that to me. Meet today's bitch, Lisa Donovan!

Photo cred: Yve Assad

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I’m a baker and a writer. I don’t really have a business name, but a lot of folks remember the Buttermilk Road tag and so I have a hard time shaking that. I should probably do something more with it, but I get so disinterested in trying to feed (or understand) an online presence. I’m more interested in the work and the actual doing versus the talking about doing. The work is actually enough for me. I’m a terrible 21st century sales person. I long for the days when doing the work was what people cared about.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

Baking, specifically, came about very naturally and unintentionally. I sold baked goods out of my apartment when the kids were babies and I was a waitress. John was an adjunct professor at, literally, seven different schools and we could never make ends meet. Hell, we didn’t even HAVE ends to try to meet. We were scrapping hard and trying to stay true to our work WHILE raising babies.

At the time, I was so focused on visual art and writing and felt really strongly about going back to school to get a PhD in Art History. I wanted to be the next Dave Hickey and I was really dedicated to that. Life happens, you know. I loved baking. And people were responding so enthusiastically to it. It started to provide us a bit of income. And it made me really happy. All of the things I used to internalize and study deeply about art started to transition into thoughts on food, readings on food, studies on food, practice on food. It was some kind of cosmic push that lead me to Margot and working alongside Anne Kostroski and Tandy Wilson who were opening City House at the time. 

Anne really was the first one to tell me that I had talent, that I was good, that I could be a pastry chef. I had no idea. Once the veil was lifted, I, of course, clung to it with all of my heart and spent the energy that was on reserve for my work in the art world and poured everything I had into learning and teaching myself and watching and focusing. When I want something I can get intense and really impassioned, it’s the Scorpio in me. I want to be not “the best” but always “my best” and I took the work and being true to it very seriously. I’m making it sound super intense and not at all fun but I had so much fun during that process of learning. It was kind of pure joy. Hard, but pure joy.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I felt excited and moved. We all have something that lights us up, right? I would wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. I would tear through a five hundred page book on food history without blinking and eye. I started keeping notebooks about recipes and food thoughts as intensely as I had once kept sketchbooks. I loved it with all of my heart. The fact that all of this came to fruition while I was an exhausted parent of two toddlers who was filling out graduate school applications by the light of the moon was enough proof to me that it deserved all of the energy and spirit I could offer it and that it would require to do it well and right.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

Oh wow. I mean. Every detail is important. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to answer that question because I’d have to start storytelling about “that one time when I was wandering the streets of Belgium when I was 7….”

When you get to be my age - though I know I’m still young, I am approaching 40 and you start to think about the “how” and “why” and you start to shake off the unnecessary old tropes that you feel you have to tell everyone about who you “are” and about your past - I think the only way to answer this question is to say that it all counted, it all mattered. It still all counts and it still all matters.

Photo cred: Yve Assad

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I don’t think I ever decided that. Ha! If I’m Queen of anything, it’s making something great out of absolutely nothing. I’m the ultimate survivor mode person and if there is a way to make some scratch on something I’m good at, I will. I would say yes before someone changed their minds and do something better than even I thought I was capable of. I’m a perfectionist and, to a fault, do things with my whole entire heart. It’s fucking exhausting. I exhaust myself. I’m painfully enthusiastic. Somehow, businesses happened because I said yes to absolutely every damn thing and meant it. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m a shit business person. I’m really good at working, at making, at thinking. But total shit at being a business person. I’m still trying to get over that hurdle.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

I’ve always designated certain friends onto a superhero council. They don’t know it, I don’t tell them this but they are the ones I check myself with. Recently, a good friend who is also in the food business said to me and my husband, who is currently launching a big project that is requiring a lot of his nerve and patience, that we should have a group of people that we consult on big decisions. They don’t even have to be “good friends”, he said, just people who we value as good examples of where we want to find ourselves in our careers. 

This was a very similar concept to my council, except I appreciated that it was more deliberate and outward. It’s good advice. Especially if you find yourself in a position of great success or potential great success, which can be overwhelming and make you feel detached from your real life. Having a solid group of people to run big ideas and opportunities past and expect pure honesty from is solid. Even if you don’t agree with them, you are giving yourself a venue to see all angles of a decision and their outcome. 

I’ve seen a lot of folks become successful and surround themselves by total “yes men” and get swallowed up by their own egos and lives. What IS that? How do you detach yourself from the folks who likely know you best or who truly have your best interests at heart? I’ve seen a lot of folks stray very far from who they meant to be in the name of “success”. I think keeping a few solid folks’ opinions close at hand can help you navigate those waters in a healthy and happy way.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

I think as someone who doesn’t quite feel like I’ve started a business, the answer is just that: not really knowing how to be a “brand” in this world. I think I’ve lost out on a lot of opportunities because if something feels even the slightest bit disingenuous, I shut the whole thing down and hide like a weirdo until I can make sense of it again.

That aside, I think the equation to do the thing that I imagined possible (my bakery) barely exists anymore. It’s much harder to simply find an investor these days who genuinely has your best interests at heart and open the place that you know will be good and honest and draw people toward your work. The entire industry has become such a big business that expectations are so high and, frankly, a bit gross for something as simple and lovely as food should be. 

My daddy is really supportive of me, but he can’t write me a check or buy me a building to open the restaurant of my dreams. I ask a lot of questions and try to find the timeline of other people’s successes for a clue, a hint, some tool that maybe I can learn from, but most of the people and places I respect all started with a big chunk of family support, a total safety net, a big ass cushion that gave them room to build something real and honest. That’s not the case with the potential investors I meet. Everyone wants you to be fabulous and big and make them millions practically right out of the gate. And, worse, they want to take half of everything you’ve built and worked so hard and so long for - and sometimes MORE than half. It’s a weird game out there right now. So weird, in fact, that I think I might be done with it.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Well, I’m learning a lot about who I am. I think that I give myself grief for having such high expectations of myself and of just about everyone. Which is, in essence, me saying that I’m being hard on myself for being hard on myself. Jesus effin christ. Listen to me! Ha! I’m trying to be softer and kinder to myself and see that I have done a lot of good, hard work and that it has yielded good results - that I don’t have to be in such fierce survival mode anymore. 

My lessons right now are very different than what they were when I started this whole thing, obviously. Food used to be a way to reconcile a bit of a broken heart. It nourished me. Food brought me a sense of control over variables that felt like pure chaos at the time. It likely saved me in a lot of ways. Trust me, there is nothing I hate *more* than a damn sob story but, honestly, there were some terrible things that happened to me before I came to Nashville that I don’t really care about featuring as part of my persona because there are more important things about me than that, really. 

I fled here like a refugee with a two year old son, truly looking for safety and a better life. Thank god for what followed: John Donovan and food and the gift of the work that I was able to do. When I think about that girl, that 24 year old single mother, I feel proud that I worked hard enough that I currently get to think about something as luxurious as being “genuine” and “fulfilled” in my work. So, perhaps the biggest lesson is the one I just realized: I’m fucking lucky in so many ways and I should take a second to be damn proud for getting myself here.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

I’m a terrible manager of other people. I will always assume that you will do your best and be dedicated to being your best, without a lot of direction - simply, and wrongly, because that is how I learned most everything in a kitchen. And, some folks will rise to that, but a lot won’t. It takes time to learn how to deal with that in a way you’re proud of or, more importantly, in a way that is useful to your team. 

I had to admit, after Husk, that being a boss was my biggest failure. It was a big job and I fell short there. What I hope is, if I ever have the chance, that I can create a culture in my own bakery that provides me an opportunity to put my cooks in a position for success and happiness. It has to be the first thought, not something you’re trying to figure out when you’ve got two pastry kitchens in two different states at your behest and you’re buried in two services a day, seven days a week. I needed time to learn that. I know I expected too much of the people I hired and it makes me very sad to think of the lost opportunities within that. 

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I would read. And write. I would take turns reading and writing.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

I don’t work in that kind of currency. I can’t. 

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

I had this moment at the Southern Food Writer’s Conference a few years back where I read a piece that I wrote about how I came to food through a kind of strife and hunger and how I found an MFK Fisher essay called How to Cook a Wolf. I was the first speaker of the day and I had to put about three shots of bourbon in my coffee cup just to get through, I was so nervous speaking to that crowd! 

The conference was full of people I had admired and respected for so long. I made John Currence and Ed Lee cry. John T. Edge stood and applauded. Kate Krader at Food and Wine followed up by publishing a piece about women and their mentors and an edited version of my essay was published in that spread. It was a great moment of success because it married who I am, at the core, as a writer with the hard work I had been doing as a chef and I felt, for the first time maybe in my whole adult life, like I had OPTIONS and a door to walk through toward the things I always knew I was capable of.

Photo cred: Christina Oxford

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Usually BBC news, but the news has just been so terrible and hard these days that I try not to look until I’ve had enough coffee that I can brace myself. 

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

Travel is essential for me and I love it so much. But when I can’t travel, I take long drives with loud music. It’s my best medicine. 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

With John Donovan, on our couch, my feet in his lap and either hot tea or a gin and tonic. He’s my best everything. 

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

I’m terrible at gauging my own success or reach. I feel like I do things in a vacuum, sort of. I’m always surprised when I realize people are paying attention to what I’m doing, ha!

Photo cred: Cheryl Day

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Like, favorite TV show of all time? I Love Lucy. And, don’t even care, I love Quantum Leap like you wouldn’t even know. Scott Bakula in ladies’ dress? A hologram of Dean Stockwell smoking a cigar womanizing his way through space and time? That show seals the Lisa Donovan nerd deal. 

Favorite snack? Chips. I just want to eat all the chips all the time.

All photos courtesy of Lisa Donovan

P.S. Meet last week's bitch: Instructor, Katherine Tisha Wilson!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

November 11, 2016

4 Ways to Practice Self Care

With absolutely zero sense of hyperbole, the election this week gutted me. I was not prepared for this, and I've had a hard time rationalizing what happened. The morning after the election, I started a private Facebook group where my friends and I could grieve together and eventually talk about what comes next. The page has since jumped the shark, but while it was still being used as intended, it was a great source of community and healing for me, and hopefully for the majority of the almost 1,400 people who ended up being on it. Well, except for that one girl who called me a Nazi. You can burn in hell, Melissa Jones!

Like many of us, this election, and particularly the last few months of it, sent me back into regular therapy. One thing my therapist has been helping me with is meaning. One day, she had me rapid-fire all the words that popped into my head. I said:


Then she had me go down the list and answer these questions:

1) Not a threat to me because ____
2) What is my meaning that comes from ____
3) I am not a child, so ____ (I have some control via exposure)

The idea is joy + meaning = contentedness. I had to start doing one (free) thing a day that brings me joy. And I had to read Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Prior to this appointment, I felt under attack. I felt like other drivers were trying to run me off the road, people we goading me online - in general, it felt like a monster was trying to eat me. When I started to look for meaning and started doing one joyful thing a day, plus reading that book (my god, you guys, read that book), I started to feel better.

She also told me to look at these perceived attacks as an invitation - an actual, literal, paper invitation that you get in the mail. And to decline that invitation. Say no to people's invitation to their (fill in the blank) party, e.g. rage, insecurity, racism, lies, etc. When someone says something inflammatory online, visualize them walking up to you and handing you an invitation. And then visualization yourself declining that invitation and walking away.

So now here we are, with a President-Elect that many of us didn't support, and many of us are threatened and triggered by. There will be a time for organizing and action, but I'm still grieving, and I think a lot of you are, too. I've had to be taught self-care, but because I'm an over-performing perfectionist, I'm real good at it. Here are some things that have helped me this week.

4 Ways to Practice Self Care

1) Comedy

A lot of comedians are being very poignant right now, with just the right amount of funny. It helps.


Stephen Colbert night-of
Seth Meyers
Stephen Colbert night after
Samantha Bee
Iliza Schlesinger Confirmed Kills (not election related, it just made me laugh and took my mind off everything)


Call Your Girlfriend, Episode 68, Rage Phase
Put Your Hands Together, election night episode

2) Crying

Just cry. Cry for no reason, cry for all the reasons, cry any time, cry anywhere. Watch old episodes of Sex and the City and cry about a simpler time. Might I recommend the episode in Season 4 when Miranda's mom dies and Carrie jumps in during the funeral procession and grabs Miranda's hand?

3) Face Mask and Chill

Last night, John had to go out, so I ordered a pizza, opened a box of wine, put a bendy straw in my glass and then kicked back on the couch with a sheet mask on my face. Ladies, you're going to need moisture after all that crying. Hydrate! This is my favorite sheet mask. It's $7 at Sephora, but there's all these $1 sheet masks at Walgreens, too. I got you, ladies on a budget.

4) OG Communication

I'm talking phone calls and showing up at people's houses. I would rather get my teeth cleaned than talk on the phone, but a friend called me last night after her husband and kids went to bed and we talked for an hour and a half. Call your people! I also had a friend take her fury out via baked goods and casseroles and then she invited all angry, hungry people to come over and eat in fellowship.


Ladies, a handful of men I'm not mad at, friends:

This has been a hard week. You're allowed a grieving period. And you're allowed to still be in it. Take the weekend. Buy a sheet mask. Buy a box of wine, don't forget the bendy straws! And let yourself grieve. But soon, maybe Monday, maybe a week from now, we've got work to do.

P.S. I wrote about what it's like to be a woman in politics.

P.P.S. Did this election trigger your body shame? This may help.

November 4, 2016

Friday Links

Reading This Week...

If you read nothing else, read this article from Kim France on depression, success, and the fascinating behind-the-scenes world of Conde Nast:  The Holiday Lunch.

"From artists to activists, an homage to the unheralded hands and hearts who built one of humanity's most iconic cities:  The Women Who Made New York."

If you know anything about female start-ups like Birchbox, Nasty Gal, or Who What Wear, then you know how hard it is for these women to get funding. Here's a look at the process from two women trying to fund their first business.

Empire mother-and-son duo, Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett are the new faces of Viva Glam for M.A.C. Cosmetics.

Dear humans who have hate in your heart for Beyonce, please get right with God, and see a therapist.

If I Could Have A Picnic With Any 3 People...

Ira Glass
Cheryl Strayed
Steve Almond


Eyes And Ears...

Oy. Some heavy podcasts this week. This American Life covers the Republicans struggling with the split in their own party and the insanity (my word) around immigration and how facts don't matter anymore, even in journalism, which is supposed to be, you know, fact-based. Eye-opening and dispiriting.

On Dear Sugar Radio, Cheryl and Steve are talking about female friendships. They tackle some heavy shit, like feeling like your friends are too busy for you, feeling left out when your friends become moms, feeling left out when your friend group hangs-out without you, breaking up with friends, and whether or not a friendship can withstand a Trump/Pence yard sign. I'll probably listen to this three more times.


I Endorse...

Converse holiday collection
Kimchiji Stickers

November 2, 2016

4 Ways to Upgrade Your Denim Jacket for Fall

Obsessed with all the new enamel pins and patches? Me too. It started innocently enough. I bought a thrifted denim jacket and decided I'd finally buy this big "Whatever Hand" chenille patch that I'd been lusting over. But then the September issues came out and I saw pictures of jackets COVERED in patches and pins. Clearly, one lone patch wouldn't do. So I went kind of Etsy crazy and bought all the things. Let my manic online shopping spree be your guide.

First, you're going to want a denim jacket, preferably thrifted. Don't spend $70 on a jacket you're going to put a Gremlins patch on. Some tips for finding denim jackets in thrift stores:

  • Look in the women's blazers section
  • Look in the men's section
  • Look in the men's athletic/hoodie/sweatshirt section
  • If you're a lil' person, look in the children's section, #Caryn

This Saturday is the first Saturday of the month, so all Goodwill stores will be 50% off. This is a great day to buy a denim jacket, but go early.

You have your thrifted denim jacket, now you need some patches. First of all, if any of you buy my hand patch, I will cut you. You guys, there are so many awesome patches! And they're like $6, so go crazy.

Here are my favorite places to buy patches and pins:

Etsy, duh
World Famous Original
Friend Mart
Darling Distraction
Band of Weirdos
Explorer's Press

Patch Pro Tips:

  • If you see a patch you like, buy it. They tend to sell out, and a lot of times, once they're gone, they don't restock. 
  • Note who the original artist is and do a Google search for their name. A lot of them have their own retail site.
  • Search "#patch" and "#patchgame" on Instagram. And while you're there, search "#patchadams" because there are 41,936 posts, and why not?

I don't know that you need help finding enamel pins because like Hugh Grant tells us in the greatest Christmas movie of our time, "If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that [enamel pins] actually [are] all around." I will say this, enamel pins cost more, so I've bought a lot of buttons on Etsy to keep my flair game on point without breaking the bank.

Here are some neat pins that you may not have seen:

Lady Pin No. 2
Strange Women Society Initiation Pin
Unfriended a Racist Everyday Bravery Pin
Secret Society of Beyonce
Eat Your Feelings
Sanitary Pad with Glitter

Etsy is a treasure-trove of must-have buttons. Simply type in a search for "feminist buttons" and you will be rewarded with hours of fun. So many uterus buttons.

Also, fo sho search Etsy for patches and enamel pins. They have a lot of awesome stuff I haven't seen anywhere else.

Okay, so you bought a thrifted denim jacket, covered it in patches, pins and buttons, and now you're all set, right? Wrong. Don't even think about wearing that jacket into Mas Tacos unless you've had it embroidered. Decide on a word and/or an image and let Rangerstitch complete your jacket's transformation. The good news is, he's usually outside of Mas Tacos, so you can kill two birds with one stone. Follow him on Instagram to find out where he is, and bring cash.

P.S. I found my denim jacket in my fall thrifting extravaganza.

P.P.S. Need some fall fashion inspiration? Check out my September Issues post.


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