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DIY Rules for a WTF World
How to Speak Up, Get Creative, and Change the World
By Krista Suh
Read by Krista Suh
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On January 21, 2017, millions of protestors took part in the Women’s March, and many of them created a “sea of pink” when they wore knitted pink “pussyhats” in record numbers. The pussyhat swiftly found its place on the cover of TIME and the New Yorker, and it ultimately came to symbolize resistance culture. Creator of the Pussyhat Project, Krista Suh, took an idea and built a worldwide movement and symbol in just two months. But like so many women, Krista spent years letting her fears stop her from learning to live by her own rules.
Now in DIY Rules for a WTF World, Krista Suh shares the tools, tips, experiences, “rules,” and knitting patterns she uses to get creative, get bold, and change the world. From learning how to use your own intuition to decide which rules are right for you to finding your inner-courage to speak up fearlessly; from finding what your passions are (this might surprise you!) to dealing with the squelchers out there, DIY Rules for a WTF World not only inspires you to demolish the patriarchy, but also enables you to create your own rules for living, and even a movement of your own, all with gusto, purpose, and joy.
A Vogue “Book to Change Your Life in 2018” Pick
A Bustle “Best Nonfiction Book of January 2018 to Get You Ready for the Year”
Lift the Haze
On January 21, 2017, half a million women’s rights supporters gathered in Washington, DC, enough of them wearing the now infamous “pussyhat” that they created a sea of pink. These handmade pink hats, knitted by women all over the country and all over the world, were spotted in great numbers at simultaneous marches across the globe. Total attendance at the marches was estimated between three and five million people—men and women—worldwide.
The pussyhat was on the cover of Time and the New Yorker, featured in countless political cartoons, and covered in publications all over the world. Jean Railla, quoted in the New Yorker, said the pussyhat is the “perfect symbol… It’s both wholesome and sexual, handmade but shared through social media, brash enough for the meme era but also somehow incredibly sweet.” Many writers, newscasters, and political commentators noted that the pussyhat became a successful symbol, despite early criticisms and mockery. The New York Times wrote “the handmade pink ‘pussy hats’ that marchers wore… had been sneered at in the days before the march. They were called corny, girlie, a waste of time. Seen from above, though, on thousands of marchers, their wave of color created a powerful image.”
The pussyhat, the sea of pink, the symbol of resistance, the “greatest performance art piece of our time” (said by people who are not my mom) made a huge public statement. As the creator of the Pussyhat Project, I found myself overwhelmed in the days that followed the Women’s March, beset by well-meaning ideas and opportunities from all sides. We could be a nonprofit, we could design hats for all marches and every cause, we could license the pussyhat and make a killing, we could send out daily or weekly calls to action to the resistance fighters, and so on.
All of these possibilities made sense, and I began to feel like following them was part of my duty. But my intuition was telling me otherwise. I didn’t want to operate out of scarcity (“There’s no time! You must capitalize on this moment NOW or it will go away!”) and I didn’t want to respond frenetically or reactively. The Pussyhat Project was designed to empower women, and after the Women’s March, I needed to direct that empowering attention and care to myself.
The more I listened to my inner voice, the more I felt that the calls I was hearing from the nonprofit sector—the ones laser-focused on daily calls to action and consistently keeping the troops rallied—weren’t really being directed at me. Knowledgeable, competent people were already doing this important work. They didn’t need me.
I felt I was most needed in a scary and often dismissed place: the personal sphere, the realm of the innermost thoughts and feelings of women who feel crushed by the patriarchy, restricted by their lack of choice, and tortured by feelings of self-loathing. I didn’t want to lead the charge in the way people wanted me to, even expected me to. Yes, the pussyhat made a big public splash and impressed reporters and attracted celebrated actors and thinkers and commentators and people prominent in the public sphere, but it also affected women’s rights supporters personally.
“Thank you for giving me a way to channel my grief,” many knitters told me. “I didn’t know what to do with myself in the days after the election, and the Pussyhat Project was the first thing that was able to lift me out of my depression and give me the feeling I could do something.” Knitting a pussyhat, contrary to its “frivolous” reputation, was an action that was deeply political and also deeply personal. We’ve all heard the slogan “the personal is political,” first used in the women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s. In our current movement, that sentiment is powerfully at play all over the country and the world.
My next step used the same blend of personal action for political change. I wanted to help women across the land be less afraid of speaking up. I wanted to help them to speak their minds, to live their best lives.
My instincts told me I should write a book—this book. I wasn’t always a confident, pussyhat-wearing revolutionary. For too long I was afraid to speak up about what mattered to me and why. I was a writer in Los Angeles who was afraid to use Twitter because I was terrified of sharing myself and my opinions. I was a Hillary supporter who gave her my money and my time, but not my voice. I was too anxious to explain on social media exactly why I supported her campaign. And then she lost the election to Donald Trump, and something inside me snapped. I knew I couldn’t let fear keep me from speaking up. I had so much to say, and I was ready to say it. I started writing a blog post and pressing “publish” every day for two weeks, until the Pussyhat Project launched, and that became an extension of everything I’d needed to say since the election.
After my experience with the Project’s great success, I believe that there are two things that need to happen next, and simultaneously. We need to:
1. Reach out to the other side, so they can know us and we can know them, and together we can start caring about each other.
2. Urge people already on our side to be politically active.
I’m focused on the latter, and that’s where this book comes in. In order for women to be politically active, they need to be confident in their abilities and confident in their bodies. To do that, we need to remove the patriarchal self-policing messages present in our minds (i.e., “squelchers”). I don’t need a six-foot, four-inch white man to loom over me and tell me I’m stupid; I’ve already got that voice inside of me. How did that happen and how can I stop it? How can I learn to listen to my own voice and follow it? That is the guiding philosophy behind this book, and in it I will share how I learned to embody this confidence, and how you can too.
I know that this book isn’t going to fit everyone’s idea of the “right” kind of political activism. People have complained that “preaching to the choir” isn’t the most efficient means of making change, but here’s the thing: I know that reaching across the aisle is important, but I believe that the more urgent problem—the one I believe I am uniquely suited to address—is rooted in that very choir. “Don’t preach to the choir,” people say. But what if the choir is afraid to sing out? What if choir members are choking at the thought of speaking up, and what if the choir is persecuted, put down, or in fear for their lives? I think preaching to the choir is essential. How else can they sing?
If I can help more women find the confidence to speak up and get to know themselves and their opinions—and feel steadfast and stand by those opinions—then I believe I can create more change on a more meaningful plane, one that will have ripple effects we can only imagine. What if millions of women broke free of their fears and started saying what they truly thought, stating what they truly wanted, pursuing ideas that truly inspired them? We would have a revolution. If the success and scope of the Pussyhat Project has taught me anything, it’s that we already have one. The idea of this book is to make that revolution even more far-reaching by starting on the deeply personal level.
Our personal journeys are important and exploring yours is essential preparation for living the life you want, essential maintenance for living your best life. Working on yourself is fundamental, and being the best you that you can be is only possible if you’ve got a solid grip on the fundamentals of who you are. That’s why working on yourself is not fluffy or trivial or a waste of time. You are your own foundation. Every revolution starts with you.
People also say that focusing on the internal processes that keep us down isn’t real activism. The fact is, all women are, in some sense, smothered by the patriarchy. Misogyny is like a haze; we can’t touch it or even see it, but it’s obscuring our vision, often without our realizing it. My hope is that this book will lift the haze so that women and girls from all walks of life can benefit together. I want this book to empower women to know themselves, and to put that knowledge into action. I want women to live their best lives.
After much soul-searching, this is my plan:
Krista’s Plan for World Illumination
1. Write this book to offer tips, opinions, and ideas on how to get rid of “idea squelchers” in our brains.
2. Inspire women to apply what works for them in their lives on a practical level, maybe even daily.
3. Start a movement for women and girls to be more fearless in their lives, to speak up, and to pursue their ideas and dreams—maybe the next Pussyhat Project, or a run for president of the United States, or a nonprofit that addresses and solves starvation, or any project or task that enables them to create a path toward change.
4. And inspire world peace, because why not think big? Why not imagine the best-case scenario?
That’s my why, and this book is the how.
You can read this book any way you want to. Front to back, back to front. You can flip to any page in the book and see what randomly comes up. Like a Magic 8-Ball, you can shake the book and see what chapter serves up the answer to your current questions.
The chapters are short and you can read one or all of them in whatever time you have—maybe you’re riding the subway to work or you’re in the car waiting in the pickup line at your children’s elementary school, maybe you are going to bed and want one last idea for your brain to play with before you go to sleep, or maybe you’re taking the day off and reading the book in one passionate swoop at a bohemian café—all ways are valid.
This book has two different types of chapters. The first is more philosophical, like a bedtime story or a Zen koan you can read and let settle into your mind. The second is more action-oriented, accompanied by an exercise. You can read the chapter and do the exercise right away, no matter where you are. If you’re in the mood for an activity, flip through the book and look for the boxed exercises.
The first six chapters are what I refer to as my “toolkit,” my core set of fundamental helpful rules and beliefs that the rest of the chapters are in some way based on.
1. The Bellows: Everything changes. You’ll need different rules at different times.
2. The Pharmacy: You can choose what rules to prescribe yourself.
3. Intuition: Use your intuition to decide what rule you need to prescribe.
4. The Science Fair: Treat the process of rule selection like a science experiment. You’re allowed to make mistakes.
5. The Valid Stamp: You choose what is valid. There is no official “right” way to do things.
6. Training Wheels: Treat yourself like a child, a beginner. Don’t dismiss helpful tools just because they seem baby-ish or you think you ought to know better.
When I first started the Pussyhat Project, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I used these ideas to get the project started, and a movement began.
Whatever you want to do in your life, I hope this book helps you do it, with passion, gusto, purpose, and joy.
I’d pat myself on the back for coming up with such a nifty idea as “The Bellows,” but it’s actually the main point of the oldest book of wisdom on record—the I Ching—which boils down to one message: everything changes.
Fire bellows look kind of like an accordion: when you expand them, they suck in lots of air, and when you contract them, they blow out a lot of air into the fire, feeding the flames with oxygen. Creativity is like the fire, and the bellows is your tool to keep the fire going. There are times when you will need to expand and inhale every experience you can, developing and strengthening yourself. And then there are times when you will need to contract and exhale every experience, producing and creating with every breath until you are empty again. And then the process repeats.
Human beings are not static. When we inhale and take in experiences, we’re saying yes to opportunities, but in doing so, we have a tendency to be hard on ourselves: Why am I not focused on one project? Why am I scattered everywhere? Why can’t I get my life together? Why do I not know what I want? You are in an inhaling and expanding stage—you are exploring your options, you are seeing what’s out there!
And yet, when we go into an exhaling stage—constricting, homing in on the thing we’re trying to create—our thought pattern unhelpfully changes to, Why am I so limited? Why am I not doing lots of exciting things like my colleagues? Why am I so boring? I’ve said no or want to say no to all these invitations, and now I have a fear of missing out. This is your time of intense focus, and there’s value and benefit in this action as well—it’s simply different from the action of inhaling.
A lot of times, our discomfort in life comes from either 1) needlessly questioning the stage of life we are in, or 2) staying in a stage too long out of fear of change.
If we can just acknowledge that the stages of our lives ebb and flow, and that we have about as much control as we do over the tides, we can troubleshoot our lives and much more quickly get out of the doldrums. Next time you feel stressed, a good question to ask is yourself is this: Are you inhaling or exhaling right now? And whichever stage you are in, can you accept that, or is it time to change it up?
I think of the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds, and the fact that there truly is a time and a season for everything. This includes all of your goals and passions, because whatever you want in life involves engaging with the creative process. The inhaling phase is a critical exploratory phase of this process. Exhaling is the execution part of the creative process. Both are absolutely necessary, but while the execution phase is lauded, the exploratory phase is mocked.
The summer of 2016 was an inhaling period for me, in which I explored lots of things, including knitting. At the time, a lot of my relatives judged me because it appeared that I wasn’t working or doing anything significant. But this period was significant and fruitful. Had I not spent that time inhaling, I would not have been able to exhale the Pussyhat Project in the fall. One of the biggest false assumptions we let ourselves be guided by is that we are consistent beings. It’s not true. We are constantly changing, constantly in flux. The trick is being aware of these movements, and leaning into them.
If you want to amp up your creativity and have a bigger impact on the world, understanding your own rhythms will be a big help. Get to know your rhythms, accept your rhythms (i.e., don’t assume your rhythms are worse than someone else’s!), embrace your rhythms, and then leverage your rhythms so you can be the best instrument you can to implement change in the world.
It’s kind of like when you go shopping: a big “aha!” moment for women is when they realize it’s up to the dress to suit the body, not the body to suit the dress. You want the schedule you “put on” to suit your natural rhythms, not the other way around. The expectations you have for yourself—about when you can produce good work and when you can breathe in and explore—need to match your unique natural rhythms, not some imaginary rubric of when it’s “acceptable” to do something.
Personally, it took me about ten years to understand the rhythms of my body and mind, and I think if I had removed guilt from the process, it could have taken me less than a year.
For example, if I simply noted and accepted I was in an inhale stage rather than beating myself up over being so unfocused, I might have made progress and met my goals more quickly.
I work kind of like a lioness, who sleeps fifteen to eighteen hours a day. When she’s awake, she hunts and takes care of cubs. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit that, because that means in a given year, I could spend 75 percent of it “sleeping”—relaxing exploring, inhaling—and only 25 percent on “output”—creating, earning, helping, exhaling. It’s why I like to work in sprints. I like to concentrate my time and effort and energy into one burst of exuberant hunting.
An inhale period for me could look like:
• Taking knitting and crochet classes at The Little Knittery
• Exploring new restaurants
• Taking a contortion class
• Going to the beach at midnight
• Meeting new people at mixers
• Reading YA fantasy novels
An exhale period for me could look like:
• Working on the Pussyhat Project
• Writing a screenplay
• Writing this book
Inhaling and exhaling isn’t just something that individuals do. This is a concept that (broadly) applies to grand-scale societal changes as well as personal life shifts. I find it especially useful when applied to teamwork.
When leading or working in a team, it’s helpful to note who is in inhale mode and who is in exhale mode. It’s also helpful as the leader to express what stage you are in and what expectations you have of the group—inhale or exhale? This helps calibrate as best you can the different stages of the team members in order to produce the result you want. An intern might be in inhale mode, and they simply want to experience all they can in the job. An artist might be in exhale mode, and they will approach the task by saying, “Give me the specs, I am raring to go, let’s put this vision together.” And remember, not only is each person a living organism, but the team itself is a living organism that is not going to stay consistent. When it works, it really works. You know when you are part of a group project and it feels great and everything just clicks? It’s probably because all of you are in “fuck yeah” exhale mode at the same time.
The trick to using The Bellows to your advantage is being willing to accept that forcing yourself into a stage you just aren’t in will only frustrate you. Your rhythms aren’t something you can will into being different. Accepting this about yourself, and learning to watch your own personal tide, will go a long way toward healing your broken expectations of yourself. So, are you inhaling or exhaling?
Remember, as the I Ching tells us, everything changes.
The second most basic rule I use is called The Pharmacy. Since we are not consistent beings (The Bellows), what we need to “prescribe” ourselves is constantly changing.
Statements of conventional wisdom don’t work for every experience. Instead, you have to cultivate the awareness to prescribe them when and where they are actually needed. For example, let’s take two different aphorisms:
1. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps! (Cousin of “No pain, no gain!” and “Power through it!”)
2. Know when to quit.
If I’m trying my darnedest at something and it’s just not working, and I’ve worked myself to the bone, I might need to prescribe aphorism #2. But if I’m dragging my feet about something because, although I want to do it, I’m afraid of failing and what other people might think, then I need to prescribe myself aphorism #1. There will be times when #1 is “true” and “right” or when #2 is “true” and “right.” Similarly, it’s worth noting that what works for someone else might not work for you.
The most important takeaway here is that it’s up to you to discern what is needed most in every situation. You are the pharmacist. You are the boss.
Speaking of that:
1. Listen to the advice of your elders, learn from their mistakes.
2. Listen to yourself, trust yourself.
It’s up to you to decide when to try someone else’s way and when to try your own. But remember: ultimately, it is still up to you! A woman’s right to choose goes so much further than reproductive rights; it’s also her right to choose how she frames her unique experiences and her own thoughts.
Because this is something we so often forget, we need reminders. So here is a friendly reminder for you: you prescribe your own thoughts.
How do you know when your life needs to change? How do you know when one good idea fits your situation or when it doesn’t? Should you go faster and urge yourself to “go for it,” or should you slow down and encourage yourself to “stop to smell the roses”? The answer is: use your intuition.
Your intuition will guide you and show you what thoughts will best serve you in any given moment.
Intuition as a concept is often maligned. There is a famous study in which researchers interviewed workers at a chick sorting facility.1 Cute, fuzzy, yellow baby chicks slide down a gently sloped metal chute where they must be sorted into male and female groups. There is no machine able to sort them this way, so human beings are used to determine the sex. At first the workers pick up each chick individually to examine their genitalia to see whether it is male or female. But after a while, every worker is able to sort the chick by sex without picking it up; in fact, they can tell from yards away if a chick is male or female, and their determination (aka intuition) is close to 100 percent correct. When scientists asked them how they knew the correct answer, none of the workers had an explanation. They could just tell. They just knew. That’s a prime example of intuition.
We do all kinds of things every day without thinking about it. For example, if you reach for a glass right now, you probably won’t notice that your hands automatically shape into a curve. That’s your body, your intuition, helping you to be more effective in the world, without having to be asked.
Your intuition resides in your body. I love Regena Thomashauer’s works, Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts and Pussy. She uses the word “pussy” as shorthand for feminine intuition as well as the part of a woman’s body that includes her vagina, vulva, and clitoris. When I created the pussyhat, “pussy” was a handy reference to counteract Trump’s deplorable comments, but I also loved that using the word “pussy” was a reclamation of feminine intuition, something that has been much maligned in our culture, probably because it is so powerful. When women embrace intuition, they can change the world.
The more we remove the patriarchal voices in our heads, the more we can hear our intuition speak its truth. When we act on our intuition, we make decisions quickly and we move through the world confidently and with purpose and joy, and isn’t that how we’d all like to live?
At the beginning of my journey, it was difficult to ascertain which voice in my head belonged to my intuition. I wish I could go back to that younger me and tell her that the intuitive voice is never
- "Creativity is a key component of the resistance, and Krista Suh's singular vision launched a nationwide community of women to craft arguably the most iconic visual of the Women's March. Watching the waves of pink hats spill over Independence Avenue as women, femmes and allies came together in numbers too big to ignore was an unforgettable experience. The future is female, and it is also DIY!"—Bob Bland, National Co-Chair of Women's March on Washington
- "Krista Suh wrote your best friend in book form - this book inspires and guides you to get to know yourself better so you're empowered to take on the world."
—Ann Shen, author of Bad Girls Throughout History
—Yumi Sakugawa, author of The Little Book of Life Hacks
- On Sale
- Jan 16, 2018
- Hachette Audio