How to give feedback 🗣️ & Baby Reindeer 🦌

Plus: a book declutter pop quiz.

Hello my darlings!

How are you? I’m doing pretty swell! I hope you enjoyed Seth Rubin’s Morning Diary on Monday. Personally, I lost count of how many times I laughed out loud reading it. Seth is like some kind of magical joke machine, and I am always in awe of writers like them.

Well, my husband Ross and I have started the process of packing up for our big move later this month to a new apartment about five minutes away. On Sunday, we both went through our book shelves (and for me, various book piles) and decluttered about four boxes’ worth of books.* It was much needed. I feel like, in my last two moves, I just threw all my books into boxes and didn’t bother to sort through any of them. For example, why did I ship all three of the Hunger Games books across the country from Brooklyn? Why did I keep every thriller I’ve read in the past eight years, even the mediocre ones? Why, dear God, WHY did I own Bethenny Frankel’s magnum opus Naturally Thin?!

Last weekend, I had fun quizzing my followers on my Instagram story to see if they could figure out whether the books that got decluttered were mine or Ross’s (shoutout to my friends Eliza, Kara, and Taylor for freaking NAILING those answers!). Well, for anyone who didn’t get a chance to play, or any player who wants another shot at perfection, I made a quick lil book declutter quiz where you get to guess whether each book we decluttered originally belonged to me or Ross. Yes, these are completely new books from the ones I quizzed on Instagram! Enjoy, and let me know how you did!

What are left after the declutter, for me, are books that fall into the following categories:

  1. Unread books I’m totally still going to read

  2. Read books I may use as a reference in a future project

  3. “Craft” books about writing or filmmaking or comedy

  4. Impressive trophies to have on my shelf

  5. Beloved favorites I might reread one day

  6. Gifts that I feel too guilty to get rid of

  7. Books by people I know! (a small but growing section!)

Here are some examples for each category:

  1. Severance by Ling Ma. I’ve heard such great things! But it’s a book about a global pandemic. Enough said.

  2. Post Office by Charles Bukowski. I find him to be an eye roll-worthy misogynist in general, but I might want to take another look at Post Office since I’m also writing about my day jobs.

  3. The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley is so helpful for all my random script formatting questions.

  4. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I actually listened to this as an audio book, but I wanted a physical copy to use as reference for my YA novel based on it and, okay, yes, mostly as a trophy to show off that I’d read it.

  5. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is the newest addition to this list. I think about it all the time.

One of the characters in Tomorrow… lives in the Ballerina Clown building, and it’s very dark

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama. I got it at a Secret Santa/Yankee Swap thing a few years ago and I still want to read it!

  2. New Erotica for Feminists by Caitlin Kunkel, Brooke Preston, Fiona Taylor, and Carrie Wittmer sits proudly on my shelf next to Truth in Comedy!

I can’t wait to reorganize all of these books in my new office. I’ve always just thrown my books all jumbled together in a bookcase, but now I have a chance to really think about how I want to display them. Alphabetically? By genre? By color? Funnn!

* By the way, if you live in Los Angeles County and have a lot of books you want to declutter (at least four boxes), Rebookit.org will pick them up for free and redistribute them to great places like libraries, shelters, hospitals, schools, and local used bookstores. Isn’t that fantastic?

Let’s get into some things:

- Baby Reindeer (Netflix). In case you have yet to watch this autobiographical breakout hit series from writer/performer Richard Gadd, please heed this content warning and note that the show deals in depth with stalking, abuse, grooming, and sexual assault, with on-screen depictions of all of the above. There is also a moment of violence against a trans character. It can get pretty intense at times, so just be mindful going in. 

I heard that the show was about a comedian with a stalker and was immediately interested because sadly, that is a thing that happens sometimes. When I was living in New York, I knew at least one woman in the comedy scene who dealt with a stalker, and she said it was really difficult because as a performer, you want to advertise your shows, but that was just giving that guy specific information that she would be at X location at Y time. When you’re getting started in comedy, you are usually broke and staying out very late doing shows and walking or taking the subway home, and that can be a really vulnerable position to be in as a young woman, more so with someone following you.

I also once worked with a writer/performer at one of my comedy jobs (being deliberately vague here) who had a longtime stalker who once escalated to the point of showing up at our offices. Luckily, we had security and they were told to leave and did not show up again to my knowledge, but I felt awful for my coworker. The typical advice to deal with stalkers is to delete all your socials and any online presence, but for writers and performers in the digital comedy space, that’s just not an option if you want to have a career. It’s hard.

I always felt very fortunate that no one ever glommed onto me that way. One time I did get a creepy email from a dude after my Anthropologie blog post went viral talking about how brilliantly funny I am (nice) and how maybe one day he would come kidnap me from Brooklyn, haha (not so nice). I never responded and nothing ever happened after that, thank goodness. I still am very careful about my socials and don’t post pictures from a visible location until after I’ve left, just in case anyone gets any funny ideas.

ANYWAY. All this is to say that I was downright GOBSMACKED when I watched Baby Reindeer and saw the main character, Donny’s, comedy act for the first time. I was expecting some kind of voicey, modern stand-up act, and then to find out this dude does fucking prop comedy?! Like Carrot Top?! You should have seen my face!

Despite “comedians bombing” being the absolute most painful thing for me to watch, I loved the show, it was heartbreaking and vulnerable, and while it did not make Gadd look good, he was ultimately a very sympathetic character. Without sharing major spoilers, I loved the way they waited to reveal key information about him that informs the way he reacts to his stalker. It was very smart storytelling. And the performances! Richard Gadd, Nava Mau, and Jessica Gunning need to win all the awards this year!

If you want to read more commentary about the show, I loved Brittany Tiplady’s recent conversation with Michel Ghanum about this series on Tiplady’s Substack We Must Discuss.

Just give her the Emmy now.

- I recently joined a (virtual) writing group with a couple other writers who are focusing on memoir. It has been really helpful, and is motivating me to work on my book. I LOVE getting to read what they are all working on, they’re all such different stories from mine and from each other.

One thing about a writing group? It’s really helping me develop the muscle of giving constructive notes. Giving creative feedback is something I’ve had a lot of experience with, from being a film student who participated in critiques, to working professionally as an editor, to, hell, even just being a member of a sketch comedy group that put up a new show every month. I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at it, so here are some of my tips:

  1. I think the ultimate goal, in giving feedback, is NOT to follow the golden rule of giving what you’d like to receive. Rather, think about how that specific person would like to receive feedback, and frame it that way. One way to help make this happen is to ask the writer if they have any specific questions for you or areas in which they’d like you to focus your feedback.

  2. A lot of people do the “compliment sandwich” (or, as it’s sometimes called by detractors, the “shit sandwich”) method, where you say something nice, then talk about what needs work, then say something nice again. Personally, I think most people see right through this. What I try to do instead is to make sure my feedback is at least 40% focused on things that were done well and that I want more of, and no more than 60% things I could see changing or cutting. I think it’s really easy to focus all your notes on what can be changed in a piece, but it’s so important to mention what worked well or spoke to you, too, so the writer doesn’t lose that in their editing process. That can be just as constructive.

  3. Whenever I identify a problem in a piece, I always try to also give a possible solution. They don’t have to use it, of course, but I think it’s such an important part of keeping the tone positive and productive. Not to get all improv-nerdy on ya, but I see this as a kind of “yes, and”-ing.

  4. That said, sometimes I think asking specific, guiding questions can be the most helpful way to give feedback.

  5. I grew up in New Jersey, also known as the Blunt State Area, so even “negative” feedback rarely bothers me. It took me a few years to figure out that uh, let’s say, not everyone else receives critical feedback like a warm hug from their mother. I usually think about what I want to say to the writer, then run it through a kindness and gentleness filter at least two levels above my baseline before sharing it. So, maybe think about where your baseline is as far as receiving feedback, then adjust your levels when giving it.

What are your best tips for giving creative feedback?

Run it through the filter, Larry!

- Cooking. I have quite a backlog of recipes to tell you about! A few weeks ago, Ross was feeling under the weather, so I made this Chinese chicken and rice soup. I wanted to make chicken soup, but with a twist, and this recipe delivered big time on flavor! The only unfortunate thing about it was that for such a flavorful soup, it was a real “bowl of beige” situation. Try it next time you’re feeling sick.

I haven’t written about it in here before, but I’ve started seeing a registered dietitian. Between her and my therapist, I have a whole team of experts working ‘round the clock to unfuck my relationship with food and body image! Incredible! Who knew I was such a project?

At any rate, a big part of the work I’m doing with the RD involves trying to eat a wider variety of foods, and I realized I rarely eat beef, so I decided to try making some simple steak sandwiches with arugula, caramelized onions, and a mayo-mustard spread. They were absolutely delicious! It’s unusual that sandwiches without cheese hit for me, but these sure did! We ate them with a pear and arugula salad with pecans and blue cheese. We would have also eaten them with mustard-roasted potatoes, but I had a huge fail when I tried to make them, and just burnt the shit out of them and set off the smoke alarm instead. I’m not sure what I did wrong, as I followed the recipe exactly! Oh well. I don’t think I will be eating beef more often, for environmental reasons, but it sure is tasty once in a blue moon.

Steak sammies, pear salad, and sparkling rosé

Then, last Saturday, I made these spinach balls as a savory vegetarian snack between lunch and dinner. That morning, we’d had a boozy brunch to celebrate our friends’ engagement, followed by checking out our realtor friend’s open house in Eagle Rock (he’s selling a house for the guitarist of THE garage rock/post-punk band of the early ‘00s, so we went to snoop and drink free wine spritzers), followed by margarita happy hour at a taco spot nearby. Needless to say, when I got home, I was starving and not very sober, so I decided it was the perfect time to make this recipe that I’d been eyeing for a few weeks. The spinach balls were really tasty, but that recipe made SO MANY balls. Like, almost 40 balls. And I wasn’t throwing a party or anything, I just wanted a snack. I don’t know that I would make them again, even for a party. They tasted great, but they were not very visually appealing, and there’s nothing worse than rolling up to a party with a huge batch of something-or-other and not having anyone eat it. The worst!!

Finally, I have a recipe with a story (oh, no! haha jk or??). Several years ago, pre-pandy, a friend from a different city came to L.A. to visit and we spent a lovely winter weekend down in Palm Springs at the colorful Saguaro hotel. If you’ve never seen pictures of the Saguaro before, it is a literal rainbow inside and out. It was a rainy off-season weekend and we had the Saguaro’s movie screening room all to ourselves, so we took mushrooms and watched Labyrinth and played Candyland, which was about as complicated of a game as we could handle on drugs. It was fabulous!

Off-season at the Saguaro

But what I remember the most from that weekend, aside from getting to giggle with my bestie, are the roasted carrot tacos with whipped feta that I had at El Jefe, the Mexican cantina inside the Saguaro. They were so good, I ordered them for two meals in a row! (I regret to inform you that they are no longer on the menu. 😭) I know it sounds weird: carrot tacos?! But they just hit.

So, I recently made an attempt to recreate them, and I think I did pretty well! I used this recipe as a guide for the carrots and tossed them with olive oil, S&P, dried oregano, a little cumin, smoked paprika, and brown sugar, then roasted them until soft and caramelized and a little charred. I made the whipped feta in our Magic Bullet using this recipe, which couldn’t be easier. And then I combined them both in flour tortillas with a dollop of guacamole. I also think a roasted tomato salsa wouldn’t have been out of place, red or green. I served them with homemade refried beans and a bagged Mexican street corn salad and honestly? I think I did a pretty good job! It was a delicious meatless meal! Also, if you’ve never made refried beans from scratch before, you really should try it, they’re so easy to make and soo much tastier than the pre-made ones.

And by the way, that dear friend from out of town who I told you about? She and her husband ended up moving to L.A., where we’ve shared many more meals together since. Ain’t life grand?

- Dear friends, I have a quick favor to ask. We are swiftly approaching the 10 year anniversary of this newsletter! I have some fun ideas in store for how to celebrate, but I’d love it if you’d help me by sharing some of your favorite memories in this handy anonymous Google form. It could be a favorite newsletter you’ve received, story I’ve told, something I recommended that changed your life, or even something totally weird and random that I don’t know about, like how my goofy oversharing inspired you to enroll in clown college (god, I hope someone has that story)!

You also have the opportunity to ask me anything (AMA)! Ask your burning questions about writing, comedy, cooking, Los Angeles, New York, my cat, whatever! Here’s the link to that form again. Thanks in advance!

Alright my dears, that’s it from me this week!

If you have a second, I’d love it if you’d like or comment on this post–just click this link to go to the post page.

Until next time—I’m totally still going to read that.

Love,

Liz

XOXO

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