25 And Thriving: 20 Questions With Aspen Matis

25 And Thriving: 20 Questions With Aspen Matis

The young author discusses what it was like writing her first memoir.
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Aspen Matis was Salman Rushdie’s plus-1 at the PEN World Voices Festival earlier this year. She sold her book to HarperCollins on a proposal alone. She was invited by Lena Dunham to the set of "Girls" (she even has a book blurb from Dunham). She’s been published in the New York Times. Her book has been reviewed in practically every major newspaper and magazine: Cosmopolitan, Elle, NPR, among others. And she's only 25 years old.

I sat down with Aspen one rainy evening at a cafe in the Village to talk about writing, networking, and hiking.

Christina Berke: What happened between the end of the book and now?

Aspen Matis: After the trail, I just knew I wanted to be a writer. I was naive and ambitious, but knew it's not a practical way to make a living. I would show up to these "shut up and write" groups in San Francisco; everyone was fairly lost. Then I realized all of the amazing, accomplished writers were not at these things, and certainly not looking for a mentee. So it became apparent that the way was to go back to school.

CB: You left college after your first year. What was the process of reapplying to schools like for you?

AM: I applied to 10 or 11 and got into exactly two: Mills and the New School. I wanted to study fiction. As a transfer student, we were in this lecture hall for registering. I signed up for intermediate fiction workshop, but when I got to the front of the line, they said you need to take the beginner fiction workshop first. That's how it works. And she asked me, what do you want to take instead? I didn't want to go all the way to the back of the line, so I quickly flipped through the catalogue and found the longest course title-- "The Susan Shapiro Instant Gratification Takes Too Long School of Journalism." The description was the very shortest--all it said was the goal of this class is to write and publish a beautiful piece to pay for the class. You can't get an A unless you publish. So it was a vocational approach to writing. From that class I sold The New York Times "Modern Love" article. And I wasn't even special. I was one of seven to get into the Times. But Sue's the world's greatest mentor. And the class isn't even through the school, but through the continuing education. She line edits right there in class.

CB: Your book has a bit of everything in it--mystery, adventure, romance... How did you manage to capture such vivid and detailed accounts of your journey?

AM: The journal I kept was more about what was going on in my mind and in the world. What helped me was Google Earth and I'd zoom in to help with the memory. I also took a lot of photos. And the Hiker's Companion. It's a guidebook I didn't carry on the trail, but my parents have a copy of it and it narrates the entire trail.

CB: What is your writing process like?

AM: I used Microsoft Word. Some people have told me that's weird but I don't know what else to use. I would never set an alarm, and wake up naturally with the light, then go to a cafe. I worked three or four hours in the morning. I'd write until I hit a wall. Then I'd take a break and go for a walk. Then I'd go to a different cafe and do it again. I wouldn't socialize until I did my writing for the day. I treated it like a full-time job. My responsibility to myself was to show up every day with my full intelligence. One day off really is two days lost. Writing spawns writing.

CB: What was the hardest part about writing this book?

AM: The very hardest thing was writing about falling in love with Justin as I was mourning our marriage. When I sold the book we were still married, still together. The book was going to end with our wedding. But then he disappeared while I was writing the book. I had to write about finding this love and meeting him and falling for him as I was missing him, for my first book, on deadline, and the stakes were my book deal and my ability to finance me staying in New York. I lost my love and potentially my work. Getting through that is the thing I'm most proud of because I could have given up but I rose to the occasion. The worst part of a relationship is remembering the beginning when everything is beautiful. All I wanted to do was write about the end. I could write thousands of pages about that. It was therapeutic and cathartic. That was the hardest part. I don't know how I did it.

CB: How did you get through it?

AM: I had support from family, friends, and therapy. I locked into everything that was good and stable and kind and compassionate and still loving in my life.

CB: How did you find your voice after the rape?

AM: I wasn't vocal and open and healthy right away. The only way to change is to change. Understanding will follow. You change when not changing becomes more unbearable and lying and wallowing and staying stuck becomes more shitty then just standing up. A rape is too big a secret to hold inside your body and still be healthy. It will consume you. To speak openly and truthfully is so freeing. It lets it out, and puts it in its place, somewhere outside of you. If you don't speak about a rape, you don't differentiate about the disgusting terrible thing in yourself. To call a rape a rape is to put it in its place. It shrinks it. I felt unlovable. But it feels so good to have these real conversations. This is what happened to me. A rape is not who I am. It's not what I am. It is something that happened to me. And the more I talked about it the better I felt. The more I understood it wasn't my fault. And that I didn't cause it and that I was lovable.

CB: What did you think would happen when you told people about the rape?

AM: The thing that was stopping me from telling my story in the beginning was the fear of judgment, that they would hear that I asked the boy who raped me to sleep over. And that they would say to me, Well you asked him to sleep over, that's not rape. You're an idiot, you deserved this. But no one said that. It just became so unbearable to not tell my story that I did anyway in spite of that fear. And when I did, the response that I got from hundreds of woman was I also asked the boy who raped me to sleep over or I wrote him a poem. This was incredibly common.

CB: What advice would you give to people who have suffered from abuse, domestic violence, or rape?

AM: You're never the only one. Staying in the wrong relationship will actually make you physically ill. I know because I was married. Let yourself know what you already know. You know in your gut, in your body, when something's wrong. And honor that. And you will blossom. You are strong enough to leave that terrible relationship. All the tools, every element already exists inside of you. You are brave enough. You are strong enough. You are enough. Even alone.

CB: Would you recommend the trail to others?

AM: I don't think hiking the trail is right for everyone. But certainly it is time with yourself. It's not a destination. It's how you use that time with yourself and what you do with that time, that's the question. You can show yourself again and again that you are strong enough. And capable of taking care of yourself in this world.

CB: Do you have any plans to do another trail hike?

AM: I have no hard plans to hike again right now but I would love to hike the Camino Trail in Spain. And Switzerland in the Alps.

CB: Where did you normally work?

AM: Joe at Waverly and Gay was like my office. It was my favorite place. Renting a space for writing is for people who want to work in isolation and I'm much more about being around energy and people working together in solidarity. I find it very exciting and feel most productive when people are productive around me. Most of my closest friends are writers. That's why I have work dates with my friends. We will just show up to a cafe and write.

CB: What was your editing process like?

AM: I would write the stories that were burning in me, the stories I couldn't possibly forget. The original draft was 1200 pages and the published book was around 370. I really had to write all of these stories before I could discern which ones were necessary. The stories that are the most interesting and exciting and important to me aren't the most exciting to anyone else. So I had other readers. Corrina Gramma, who I call the aerialist, would tell me this is too elliptical, this is another story, you're obsessed with lost boys...

CB: What was your parents' reaction to the book?

AM: I'm actually very close with them. My parents have been incredibly generous and magnanimous. They're very private people and felt terribly exposed by this book and rightly so. But at the same time I didn't write this book for them. I wrote this book to help the people who had been in my position, other girls who had been sexually assaulted, people who were trying to find their place in the world. I'm not a PR machine for my family and I can't live my life the way that my parents would have lived theirs. I think they're proud of the accomplishment even though they are cringing at elements of it. And I think my dad feels like it's a love letter to him. Just like my Times piece, it’s about my dad's brilliance and professorship.

CB: As a young author, how did you build your connections with so many well-known public figures so quickly?

AM: When "Modern Love" came out, that was the biggest thing for me. I heard from hundreds of people, some of them famous, some of them not. A lot of famous people shared it right when it came out like [Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist] Nicholas Kristof and I asked if I could use it as a blurb and he said yes. He's amazing. People are generous when they believe in a project. Successful people are generous because they have so much to give. Plus I met so many tremendous people through cafes. I met Lena Dunham through [actor] John Cameron Mitchell, who I met at a cafe.

CB: You also acknowledge Salman Rushdie. How did you establish that relationship?

AM: Salman Rushdie is a mentor of mine. It was through Facebook that we met originally. I reached out to him just saying I was a huge fan and read him as a child. He responded. This was back when I was 21. And when my book came out, we had the same publication date of September 8. And he sent me a message on Facebook saying congratulations. If you believe in your work, they will find you.

CB: What's your next project?

AM: My next project is about my marriage with Justin and his withdraw from the world of work then his withdraw from the world of people and his disappearance from Mystic's funeral. It's called "Cal Trask," about how my nature is evil but I have tremendous self awareness and want to be good.

CB: Do you already have a contract?

AM: I could sell it if I wanted to but I don't want to do it that way. My first book I sold on proposal, but then you get deadlines from your publisher. It was so tremendously stressful. I don't regret doing it that way because it made me write the story quickly. I was writing eight hours a day every day and took two and a half years to finish.

CB: What are you doing right now to stay in the writing world?

AM: I'm reading [Milan Kundera's]"The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and taking Sue's workshop. She has a writing group with close colleagues. We critique everyone's work, including hers. She's my guide.

CB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

AM: I tell everyone I care about who wants to be a writer to take Sue's class.

Cover Image Credit: Christopher Lane

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35 Major Life Facts According To Nick Miller

"All booze is good booze, unless it's weak booze."
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Fact: If you watch "New Girl," you love Nick Miller.

You can't help it. He's an adorable, lovable mess of a man and you look forward to seeing him and his shenanigans each week. While living the infamous and incomparable life of Nick Miller, and obviously Julius Pepperwood— he has learned many valuable laws of the land. And, although Nick refuses to learn anything from anyone besides his mysterious, old Asian friend Tran, he does have a few lessons he'd like to teach us.

Here are 35 facts of life according to 'Nick Milla Nick Milla':

1. Drinking keeps you healthy.

"I'm not gonna get sick. No germ can live in a body that is 65% beer."

2. Dinosaurs never existed.

"I don't believe dinosaurs existed. I've seen the science. I don't believe it."


3. A paper bag is a bank.

"A bank is just a paper bag but with fancier walls."


4. Having sex is similar to delivering mail.

"I'm like a mailman, except instead of mail it's hot sex that I deliver."

5. Moonwalking is a foolproof way to get out of any awkward situation.

Jess (about Nick): "Now he won't even talk to me. I saw him this morning and he just panic moonwalked away from me. He does that sometimes."

6. Using a movie reference is also a great way.

Cece: "Come on, get up!"

Nick: "No, I don't dance. I'm from that town in "Footloose."

7. There's no reason to wash towels.

Nick: "I don’t wash the towel. The towel washes me. Who washes a towel?"

Schmidt: "You never wash your towel?"

Nick: "What am I gonna do? Wash the shower next? Wash a bar of soap?"

8. Exes are meant to be avoided at all costs (especially if/unless they're Caroline)

"I don't deal with exes, they're part of the past. You burn them swiftly and you give their ashes to Poseidon."

9. IKEA furniture is not as intimidating as it looks.

"I'm building you the dresser. I love this stuff. It's like high-stakes LEGOs."

10. You don't need forks if you have hands.

Jess: "That's gross. Get a fork, man."

Nick: "I got two perfectly good forks at the end of my arms!"

11. Sex has a very specific definition.


"It's not sex until you put the straw in the coconut."

12. Doors are frustrating.

"I will push if I want to push! Come on! I hate doors!"

13. All booze is good booze.

"Can I get an alcohol?"

14. ...unless it's weak booze.

"Schmidt, that is melon flavored liquor! That is 4-proof! That is safe to drink while you're pregnant!"

15. Writers are like pregnant women.

Jess: "You know what that sound is? It's the sound of an empty uterus."

Nick: "I can top that easily. I'm having a hard time with my zombie novel."

Jess: "Are you really comparing a zombie novel to my ability to create life?"

Nick: "I'm a writer, Jess. We create life."

16. All bets must be honored.

"There is something serious I have to tell you about the future. The name of my first-born child needs to be Reginald VelJohnson. I lost a bet to Schmidt."

17. Adele's voice is like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.

"Adele is amazing."

18. Beyoncé is extremely trustworthy.

"I'd trust Beyoncé with my life. We be all night."

19. Fish, on the other hand, are not.


“Absolutely not. You know I don’t trust fish! They breathe water. That's crazy!"

20. Bar mitzvahs are terrifying.

Schmidt: "It's a bar mitzvah!"

Nick: "I am NOT watching a kid get circumcised!"

21. ...so are blueberries.

Jess: "So far, Nick Miller's list of fears is sharks, tap water, real relationships..."

Nick: "And blueberries."

22. Take your time with difficult decisions. Don't be rash.


Jess: "You care about your burritos more than my children, Nick?"

Nick: "You're putting me in a tough spot!"

23. Getting into shape is not easy.

"I mean, I’m not doing squats or anything. I’m trying to eat less donuts."

24. We aren't meant to talk about our feelings.

"If we needed to talk about feelings, they would be called talkings."


25. We're all a little bit too hard on ourselves.

"The enemy is the inner me."

26. Freezing your underwear is a good way to cool off.


"Trust me, I'm wearing frozen underpants right now and I feel amazing. I'm gonna grab some old underpants and put a pair into the freezer for each of you."

27. Public nudity is normal.

"Everbody has been flashed countless times."

28. Alcohol is a cure-all.


"You treat an outside wound with rubbing alcohol. You treat an inside wound with drinking alcohol."

29. Horses are aliens.

"I believe horses are from outer-space."


30. Turtles should actually be called 'shell-beavers.'

Jess: "He calls turtles 'shell-beavers."

Nick: "Well, that's what they should be called."

31. Trench coats are hot.


"This coat has clean lines and pockets that don't quit, and it has room for your hips. And, when I wear it, I feel hot to trot!"


32. Sparkles are too.

"Now, my final bit of advice, and don't get sensitive on this, but you've got to change that top it's terrible and you've got to throw sparkles on. Sparkles are in. SPARKLES ARE IN."

33. Introspection can lead to a deeper knowing of oneself.

"I'm not convinced I know how to read. I've just memorized a lot of words."


34. It's important to live in the moment.

"I know this isn't gonna end well but the middle part is gonna be awesome."


35. Drinking makes you cooler.

Jess: "Drinking to be cool, Nick? That's not a real thing."

Nick: "That's the only thing in the world I know to be true."

Cover Image Credit: Hollywood Reporter

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6 Ways To Decorate Your Dorm Or Apartment For The Holidays On A Budget

Baby, it's cold outside.

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As the holiday season approaches, it's easy to get sucked into the Pinterest vortex of holiday decorations, party favors, clothes and more. Unfortunately most of us college students don't have the money for all of this cute stuff so we have to watch for bargains or DIY it. Here are my six recommendations to get into the Christmas spirit:

1. String some festive lights in your room

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/199565827208188172/

I have Christmas lights hanging up in my room all year around because I love them so much, but you can find some cheap lights at Target or Walmart. You can get snowflake lights, lantern lights, normal Christmas lights or anything else that you want. Use command strips to hang them up, and soon it'll feel more relaxing and you'll be more in the Christmas spirit.

2. Use window clings

https://guide.alibaba.com/shop/merry-christmas-window-clings-north-pole-train-snowflakes-penguins-gingerbread-men-1-sheet-15-clings_1005699551.html

I love window clings! You stick them on from the inside (obviously) and then you can see them from the outside. I have different window clings for almost every season. If you have some old window clings that don't stick anymore, just put a little bit of water on the back of them and they'll stick like they're brand new.

3. Raid the Target dollar section

https://corporate.target.com/article/2015/11/bullseyes-playground

So, this depends on where you live and how often your local Target changes out their dollar section, but you would be surprised in what you could find there!

4. Hunt around for a mini tree (real or fake)

https://www.yourbestdigs.com/reviews/best-artificial-christmas-trees/?nabt=1&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

I used to have a fake little green Christmas tree with cute little ornaments but sadly I don't have it anymore nor do I have room for it anywhere in my room. A little Christmas tree in your room or on your dresser just makes everything a little bit more festive. I used to have my little Christmas tree on my dresser until my cat found it. Yeah, you know where that is going.

5. Make easy DIY decorations

http://findinghomefarms.com/10-minute-christmas-decorating-idea-chalk-pen-galvanized-buckets/

Pinterest is the best website for this, well actually they're known for DIY projects. Why spend $50 on one Christmas decoration when you can do a DIY and spend only $20?

6. Use Winter themed candles

http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/e/christmas-gift-guide.html

I love Bath and Body works because they always have the best sales and you can usually get something half priced or sometimes something for free! Plus everything smells so good in that store and it's so tempting to buy everything but if you come into the store with a goal, you'll leave with your goal.

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