What is the most unusual story you’ve written about?
I taught myself to lucid dream—which is when you realize you’re dreaming and can control your actions and the context of the dream—for a piece I did in The Atlantic. My first lucid dream (which I describe in this story) was an incredible experience. I had another lucid dream a few weeks after the story was published, in which I walked through a wall and flew to the moon, but haven’t had one since I stopped researching and thinking about the topic.
What advice would you give to someone who was trying to break into the online journalism and freelance writing business?
Freelance writing is one of those awesome things that you can just dive into and start doing—pitching story ideas and/or submitting on spec, applying for jobs or internships, doing research, interviewing people and writing for anyone who will publish your stuff (or publishing it for free on your blog, etc.). It doesn’t take much more than good ideas, a willingness to annoy strangers and an ability to write to put together a story.
But that’s also a curse as well as a blessing, because the industry is inundated with people who want to be professional freelancers, many of whom who are willing to give away content for free.
In order to succeed in the highly competitive environment, you need to get your writing up to snuff (which you can do through formal education, working with editors, writing groups, etc.), read a ton, both to improve your own writing style and to understand the changing media landscape and separate yourself from the crowd through your style, niche and/or unique skill set.
It’s a cliché but you really have to have a thick skin and not be afraid of rejection. It’s all just a part of the game. If you’re not failing some of the time, you’re not aiming high enough. (Though if you’re not succeeding at least part of the time, you might want to rethink your strategy and/or career.)
I’m super excited to start a new column at BBC Future early next year in which I get to turn myself into a lab rat and experiment with research-backed methods of living for a month at time.
I also have a few book ideas I’d like to pursue—including one about Israel and one about how people approach food all over the world.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to do a piece of long-form about the psychological tactics used by cult recruiters to target and brainwash vulnerable populations, especially youths, into joining their organizations, and get recruited into a cult as part of the investigation. But I’m a little scared I’d accidentally join the cult for real and I think I’m too old to pass for a youth.
What would your last meal on earth be?
YES! Someone finally asked me this!
I’ve given this question a lot of thought over the years and I think my strategy would be to pick a food-coma inducing comfort food because it would relax me prior to my demise. My top choices come down to sushi and steak teriyaki; my mom’s rice porridge (called congee in English) or hot pot with my husband (who I married in part because he’s excellent at sharing food and always lets me have the last bite).
How would you describe yourself in 80 characters?
Not the kind of person who can easily describe herself in 80 characters and terrible at, what I refer to as, ‘The Twitter.’
Apple or Windows? Apple
Picasso or Matisse? Picasso
James Franco or Seth Rogen? James Franco because he went to a high school in Palo Alto near my high school in Los Altos, and even though I’ve never met him, we kind of consider him one of our own.
Sun or snow? Can I have sunny day on a mountain immediately following a snowstorm, and be equipped with a snowboard please?
Paris or New York? Paris
Falafel or shawarma? I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in Israel who doesn’t truly love either.