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Author Anna Sale Encourages Everyone To 'Talk About Hard Things'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you've heard WNYC's podcast "Death, Sex & Money," you know the host, Anna Sale, is into the tough stuff, the challenges in life that are universal but experienced in such different, highly personal ways. So it makes sense that her new book is called "Let's Talk About Hard Things." And she talked about the hard things with Noel.

ANNA SALE: These hard things are happening in our lives. We are in grief. We are experiencing loss. We are having tensions in our relationships. We are noticing change that we don't know how to put words to. And really, my argument is it can feel a lot better when you open up and invite someone into that process. It reinforces the relationship you have with that person. It creates something that wasn't there before.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Death and sex are hard enough to talk about. But I feel like money is its own universe of difficulty.

SALE: Yeah.

KING: I want to read a line from your book. You write, quote, "I host a podcast and make more money than my husband, who spent seven years getting graduate degrees and usually puts in more hours a week teaching, advising, fundraising and writing." Was that a difficult thing for either you or your husband to be public about?

SALE: No. I think it's something we're pretty comfortable with because it's just so, like, part of our life. And so I think it's just, like, I wanted to say that to say, like, there's a lot of this that's going on here with money. It's hard to talk about for a lot of reasons, one of which is it doesn't make a lot of sense when you say part of - how it works out loud.

KING: It doesn't make a lot of sense. Yes. I mean, that is a very good point. One thing that you suggest in the book that really struck me is you say when you make a new friend, talk about your money story. Talk about whether or not your parents helped you pay for your house. Talk about whether or not you paid off your student loans on your own or whether you had help. And I was surprised to read that because there's so much awkwardness that comes along with being honest about things like that. But I imagine that's advice grounded in experience. Where did it come from?

SALE: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, for me, it came from kind of being an early career journalist and looking around and saying like, wait, how are people making this work? Not just financially, but I also had a lot of questions for my older women colleagues. How are they making it work if they have kids? Like, what's their childcare situation? How is this all happening? And so when I would get to know people, I would sort of share and maybe hope that they would also share. And I think that our financial paths are a huge plot driver, you know? And when we leave that out, we're leaving out just a huge part of the story. Like, it's OK for me to say - you know what? - my parents paid for my college. And I am so grateful for what it took them to do that. And I also really recognize how not having to pay student loans when I was in my 20s and 30s, what that meant for the kinds of risks I could take, the money I could save. And I recognize that people that don't have that advantage have a really different path. And it's harder.

KING: Let's talk about sex. There is a very funny moment in this book when you have gone to visit your OB-GYN after having your first baby. And the doctor seems to know that you host this podcast...

SALE: (Laughter).

KING: ...That involves talking about sex very openly. And he is talking to you very openly about your sex life. Talk to me about why that moment made it into the book.

SALE: I loved that moment with my doctor. And I want to say, it was a male doctor. So it was even more uncomfortable.

KING: (Laughter).

SALE: But I - what I really loved about that moment, I was - I'd had a baby. I was talking about, you know, wanting to have a second with my husband. We're trying to figure it out. And I kind of made a joke about, you know, not really needing to worry about birth control, ha, ha, ha. After you have a baby, we all know what happens. And he - instead of sort of, like, just laughing and moving on, he said, well, let's talk about that. And it opened up this really wonderful conversation, where he was just saying, like, look; you know, things change. It's OK. Here's some ways to talk about it. Here's some ways to think about it. And it was just really like, oh, yeah. We'll just talk about it.

KING: There is a section of your book entirely about identity, entirely about how to talk about identity. And you write, quote, when I go into a hard conversation about identity, "I have to be prepared to feel more unsettled than I was before, which, I think, is exactly why people do not like talking about identity."

SALE: Yeah (laughter).

KING: I think there is genuinely - and I know this from personal experience - a hunger to not be constantly asked things like, what are you? Or where are you from? And that is often the way conversations about identity, whether we like it or not, in this country begin. Do you ever feel yourself asking and then thinking, oh, geez. I shouldn't have gone there quite yet. It was too early, or it wasn't the right time.

SALE: Yeah. I mean, I've certainly messed that up before. For me as a white woman to say, like, huh, I notice you're different. Tell me - like, how are you different? Like, that's not what I want to say when I'm talking about identity. But it's about kind of, like, getting to that moment, you know, if I'm like, I wonder what it's like for them to work in this newsroom. Wow. So much is happening. And there's so much that we're covering about race and racial justice in America. I wonder what that's like for them. And so it's about just kind of instead saying, like, tell me about your family. That allows the person you're talking to and you're asking to decide, like, OK, I'm going to tell you the things that are important to me and how I identify. It's a much more empowering way to ask the question.

KING: Anna, let me ask you, lastly, what do you think we lose when we don't have honest conversations? And what do you think we gain when we do?

SALE: I think we feel less alone and isolated in our pain and struggle when we talk about hard things. And I think when we don't talk about it, we are withholding from each other the ways that we can help, you know? When you open up conversations about this stuff that's unsettled or painful, when you find ways and words to talk about it with the people in your lives, whole dimensions open up about what you can compare notes on and what you can feel. Oh, that's normal. That's not - that happened to me. And instead of being like, (gasp) - like, seized up with shame and trying to pretend it's not happening, and instead open up a little bit more space to help each other through.

KING: Anna Sale is host of WNYC's podcast "Death, Sex & Money." Her new book is called "Let's Talk About Hard Things." Anna, thank you so much for being with us.

SALE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTH LAGOON SONG, "POSTERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.