Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Q&A with Rani Shah

Rani Shah, photo by Utsav Shah
Rani Shah is the author of the new book Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish and Other Self-Care Rituals from Nature. She is the founder of the satirical news site Fuss Class News, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish, and how did you choose the animals to include?

A: The journey of the jellyfish all began with a trip to a winery. I was with a work colleague who mentioned it would be interesting to learn about how bees communicate with one another and how humans could incorporate some lessons from the bees.

Being an animal lover, it was the perfect topic to create a blog post around—a few weeks of research later, the inspiration of the book came about in the form of a blog post: Fascinating Productivity Routines We Can Learn From Nature.

The animals included were a product of a lot of research from various sources of inspiration—from nature documentaries, asking fellow animal enthusiasts and friends, furiously Googling.

I was constantly making lists of different animals to research in hopes that their behaviors, habits, or biology could inspire a lesson in self-care.

The opposite worked as well, I’d note self-care principles important for me to share and would try and research creatures that I felt could fit the bill to exemplify those principles.

Q: Did you need to do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: I’d say more than half of the time spent working on the book was actually spent researching.

The process of researching species was a chaotic one—not only was it trying to find creatures with behaviors that parallel with self-care and human habits, but also finding science journals with enough research to boot.

The most surprising (and inspiring) part of researching for the book was how many scientists are working on researching, documenting, and studying various facets of biological life.

For example, there are not only researchers studying sloth behavior—there are various people studying sloth eating patterns, and someone else studying the massive ecosystem that lives within sloth fur, and even a separate team that may be studying the bathroom patterns of a sloth.

Point being, scientific research is never linear, especially when studying the living world. The amount of information accrued never ceased to amaze me every time I stumbled upon another research paper.

Q: What do you think Gemma Correll's illustrations add to the book?

A: Gemma’s illustrations bring the book’s whimsical language to life. Similar to an iconic music album having the “perfect” cover to really set the tone,

Gemma’s contributions to Wisdom From A Humble Jellyfish set the colorful, youthful tone to not only the book’s design, but also its message: allow some delightful critters to guide you on a safari of self-care.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

A: I really hope there are two main takeaways from this book:

The planet and all its creatures are so much more complicated, intricate, and mesmerizing than we think. What we may think is a “quirky” behavior or a “boring” habit may actually be the exact thing that’s protecting a plant or animal from a predator.

What we know about the natural world is still very limited; there are so many creatures that are still undiscovered, so many behaviors we still aren’t quite sure about—I hope the complexity of our natural world is translated successfully, so we can begin rallying to protect it.

Self-care is not an Instagram trend; it’s not something we need to overcomplicate either. To me, self-care boils down to: follow your gut.

When we feel stifled by people in our lives or when you notice the stress building in your body, it’s about being able to identify those issues and be willing to put yourself first on your wellness to-do list.

In our culture of work, rest isn’t seen as something we need to do properly, rather, it’s seen as “what we do in-between” work. Self-care is about intention and listening to what your body and mind need, and truly taking an effort to get yourself to where you would like to be.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: While I was writing the book, my South Asian satire news site, Fuss Class, had to take a temporary backseat. Now that my “regular” schedule is back (plus a focus on social isolation) it means that I can jumpstart satire writing once again. With two years’ worth of ideas jotted down, I’m beyond excited to get back into it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Follow along with the humble jellyfish and learn about all sorts of fun creatures at our Instagram handle: @humblejellyfish

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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