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Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Weary, Happy, Ready To Surgically Detach From The Computer — My Book's Done

In Media on June 22, 2010 at 6:26 pm

It’s a weird feeling to know I’m done — although “done” is a relative term because that decision will be up to my editor.

Let’s say, I’ve finished writing, revising, writing and revising. For a few weeks anyway.

I attach a photo taken by the sweetie last weekend, a document of the revision process. I print out my work in hard copy, using both sides of the paper, then satisfyingly crumple it into a big ball when I’ve entered my corrections and changes. (Here’s a recent New York Times piece about John Updike and his writing process.)

Every writer, and book, is different. Some people have tremendously sophisticated filing systems; I have two sofas — notes used (check mark) and notes not yet used. Some people write the whole book and only then start revising it from first word to last; I write chapter by chapter, revising each one, then read several sequentially to see how (if) they flow smoothly into one another and then the whole book itself.

Many months ago, I chose five people as my “first readers”, four of them fellow professionals, two of whom have also written books, one of them a best-seller. If everyone hates the same paragraph or page or chapter, I’ll have to figure out what to do with it. If there’s anything more scary than writing a book, it’s turning it over for consumption and comment.

I’ve seen my cover and we’re tinkering with it. I love the title they gave it: “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

The challenge of finishing a book is, just when you really want to sleep for a month, it’s time to crank up the publicity machinery. I’ve registered the domain name malledthebook.com and have yet to design or build the site. Then, (sigh) Twitter.

I love writing books and hope to write several more — as journalism sinks beneath the waves, there are increasingly few places left to tell smart, serious stories in depth. Some journalists hate the idea of writing a book because they fear they’ll get too bored. In both instances, I’ve found the subject so compelling I hated to end.

I’ll keep you posted on the book’s progress; publication date spring 2011.

Divorcing? There's An App For That — But Are Guys Now Oversharing?

In business, Media, men on June 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm
Un divorce heureux

A happy divorce? Must be a movie...Image via Wikipedia

Getting divorced? Beware of overshare!

Here’s a Village Voice post on the issue:

The fact remains that regardless of scale (Time vs. Tumblr), it’s peculiar and makes a splash when adult men play this game. Maybe it comes from our own generational or technological biases. Our fathers didn’t grow up with feelings to be shared, let alone computers. Men shouldn’t whine or feel pain and they certainly shouldn’t fucking cry, according to left-over cultural expectations lodged in the heads of even social progressives, feminists, children of the liberal arts. And there’s a certain self-consciousness that comes with being a male online. Where have all the cowboys gone? What would our grandfathers think of us, pining for a partner or “Why me-ing?” about health concerns to strangers? And who do we look to for proper example? There are only so many words written by Dan Savage, and we’ve been told to avoid Tucker Max. I don’t have the answers.

“We’re learning how to draw the line” between extremes when it comes to oversharing, Johnson concluded in Time, “and it’s a line that each of us will draw in different ways.” For adult males, the line seems extra shaky, probably drawn lightly, in pencil. Examples are spare, critics come from every angle. Maybe it’s the job of boys then, growing up online, to become men in public, feelings and all, examples on the internet. It’s cheaper than therapy, but maybe we need both.”

And from True/Slant writer Elie Mystal at abovethelaw.com, about the new app to help you calculate the potential cost of ditching your spouse:

You can see where this is going. There will always be the high-level, contentious divorces between wealthy individuals that will require the expert advice of counsel. But a lot of divorces just involve two people who didn’t take “until death do we part” very seriously. Why should they have to hire expensive lawyers? Just upload your tax returns and pictures of the homewrecking hussy onto your phone, and bang, you’ve got yourself an iDivorce.

It could happen, which makes you wonder: What kind of person would start the lawyer haterade flowing? An attorney, of course.

I got divorced in 1995 and the only reason it was affordable was having a pre-nuptial agreement in place that laid it all out in advance. My lawyer, then, charged $350/hour and $50 for a phone call. I finally told him I couldn’t even afford to talk to him (fairly crucial) and he capped his fee.

I think an app giving you some idea how much it will cost to end a marriage is fair. Talk about sticker shock! I only had some idea because I’d hired the same lawyer to do my pre-nup and build right into it a few grand for his divorce fees. Most people spend  lot more time, energy and attention to cupcakes versus wedding cake — and have no clue what undoing the marital duo can cost. A little knowledge is worth a lot down the road.

Besides, who exactly is going to have the information you now need? Your divorced friends likely fall into a few typical categories:

1) burned, bitter, don’t want to talk about it (male version) 2) female version 3) starting the process and still hopeful for “victory” however they envision it 4) halfway through an embattled divorce and bleeding money and wondering if it would have been cheaper to just gut it out and stay together 5) freshly done and wounded 6) freshly done and on the market, baby! They know, or soon learn, that *any* discussion of “that greedy bitch” or “that lying SOB” is likely to ensure that a first date is a last date.

Someone calm, lucid and knowedgable? That would be….a divorce attorney.

If you think a wedding is expensive….

Missing Mike, Our Shoe Repairman

In business on June 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm
A Cuban cobbler works next to a poster of Cuba...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

I went into town this week for a coffee at the small and dearly loved cafe across the street from the shoe repair shop, run for years by a Russian guy from St. Petersburg — Russia, not Florida — named Mike. I suspect it wasn’t his Russian name, but it worked.

When I started freelancing and had few clients, and too much time on my hands, I’d sit with him for an hour and chat. We both loved to travel and he regaled me with stories of his native city, pointing out its best features on the huge map on his wall. I learned about his son and his wife, knew that he lived in New Jersey and had once been a white-collar executive in Russia. But his English was poor and he never managed to improve it enough to make that transition here, he told me, so he opened a shoe repair shop in our New York suburban town, to which he commuted every morning.

One of the reasons I so love my little town — having grown up in the big cities of Toronto and Montreal — are the store and business owners who keep it real. Mrs. Reali’s tailor shop is now (ugh) an art gallery, as is Alma Snape Florist. Who needs that much art? But Gregg still runs the hardware store his grandfather founded in 1904 and Hassan sells amazing cheese and Aqeel is a helpful pharmacist. I still miss Nikos, the gentle, talented jeweler who worked with Donna Karan — and who made to order a ring for the sweetie that I designed.

Of such men, and women, are communities made.

I was thinking of taking in my summer sandals this week. But Mike is gone. He had told me a year ago he wanted to sell his business, but there isn’t a stampede of people with his excellent skills willing to do physical labor. Now the shop is closed, a sign on the door telling us he retired May 29.

I’ll miss his cheerful hellos, his voicemail reminders — “I fix-it your shoes” — and his blaring Russian-language radio.

Dasvidiana, Mike. Spasibo!

When The Customer Is Totally Wrong

In behavior, business on June 21, 2010 at 7:10 am
Fast food in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Don't yell at him! Image via Wikipedia

Loved this rant in The New York Times:

Let’s face it, folks. The customer is not always right. In fact, some are just plain old abusive, cheap and crass. I say this not as a salesman but as a dyed-in-the-wool middle-class consumer.

I’m waiting in line at a fast-food restaurant while a coupon fight goes on in front of me, delaying me from my sweet, sweet weekly communion with a Southern Style Chicken Biscuit. No, the coupon does not say that you are entitled to a free iced latte. You show it to me as if I’m your lawyer, and it states plainly, “A free cup of coffee.” And, no, they are not the same thing.

Do you read? Do you think complaining loudly in front of others and belittling the teenage cashier is going to improve your situation? Why do you need a manager to come out and tell you what you already know, that you’re wrong?

I’m finishing my retail memoir this week and payback is a bitch — I’ve got a whole chapter devoted to the worst customers I endured in my time behind the register. I had a hit parade of the top five and it took some doing to make it into my short list. The champion was the woman my age who whined that I was being hostile.

I told her her she really had no idea what hostile really looks like — and quit two weeks later.

I think things are simply getting worse and worse. We live in a time of such staggering income inequality that some shoppers, people who have an entire army of the docile at their beck and call, are convinced that everyone, everywhere is their personal servant. I had customers (women were the worst, always!) demand I watch their purse while they walked away and hold down their T-shirt while they removed a sweater. What are you — three?

So I completely identified with this interview from The New York Times with the owners of Great Lake, a popular pizza house in Chicago:

Q. In online reviews, some customers have complained about rudeness or arrogance. Where do you think that perception comes from?

Mr. Lessins: I think that perception of arrogance has to do with the sense of entitlement and a lack of respect for someone wanting to do their job. We’re just trying to do the job the best we can. We’re trying to provide a quality experience for everyone who comes in. In the food service business, it’s assumed that the customers have a set of God-given birthrights when they come into an establishment. It’s like they’ve been wronged in a lot of parts of their lives, and this is their chance to even the score.

What’s the worst of this you’ve ever heard? Were you serving — or being served?

Did you say or do anything in response?

For Father's Day — My Dad's 13 Gifts

In behavior, men, parenting on June 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm
My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad

Image via Wikipedia

He turned 81 this month, an age he never thought he’d see — his Dad died at 59, so he spent his life until then fearful he might not outlive him.

He’s healthy as a horse, his arthritic hip much less painful than mine, bicycles every day, takes long walks with the dog.

He’s not big on giving gifts, but here are some of them:

Badges from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He went there to make a documentary and I became aware of the Olympics and Japan, at an early age. He gave the gift of curiosity about the world.

A pair of elbow-length sealksin mitts, again from a filming trip to the Arctic. And a caribou rug, sadly untanned so it shed like mad all over my teenage bedroom. The gift of wondering about entire swaths of my enormous country.

An Afghan rifle case, from another overseas trip. How many girls had that? It sparked my love of textiles, something I’ve been collecting for years.

A drive from Toronto to Vancouver, dipping into North and South Dakota along the way to visit Indian pow-wows; he filmed, I drew and painted. We set up our tent wherever he chose, sometimes in the middle of a farmer’s field. Those are some long drives. I think we played 20 Questions about 1,000,000 times. I love road trips!

Teaching me to ski, skate, play squash and badminton and remaining active his whole life. I’ve been athletic since childhood, and hope to remain so as long as possible.

When he had a house in Ireland, we went out for long walks, picking wild watercress from the creeks and mussels from Galway Bay, which we went home and ate for dinner. Bounty is all around us if we look for it.

He has always galloped off into the world, and still does, with unquenched eagerness to explore. A passport and the means to use it is a lifelong ticket to adventures and friends we have yet to meet. Get out there!

Teaching me – inadvertently — to stand up for myself, after I flew to France on his dime when I was 20 and we had a huge fight and I walked out and went home early. We have fought bitterly over the years, but he was no tougher than some of my bosses along the way. Man up, darlin’!

The end of the day means a single-malt Scotch or a great glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn. Pleasures come in a wide price range.

He’s always driven fun, used cars, today a black Jag. Enjoy life, affordably.

We love to prowl antiques fairs, flea markets and auctions in search of treasures. We once stood, ravenous, outside a Wilmington, NC diner — with an antiques store next to it. We had to force ourselves to eat first. Have a passion. Appreciate the beauty and utility of objects designed and made 100, 200 or 2,000 years ago but use and enjoy them. (I use the sterling silver soup ladle he gave me for measuring pancake batter.)

Growing up, watching him — as he still does today — create art in a wide array of media: silver, oil, etching, engraving, lithograph, his studio forever littered with canvases in various states of completion. Creativity comes from within, not just something you have to go out and buy. It can also bring you into community; at his 80th. , I met the much younger man who taught Dad how to work with silver.

I left home at 19, to live alone and put myself through university. He’s never given me a penny and it was always very clear I would never have the option of moving back home. No matter how much I resented it, and have struggled with debt or low income, it taught me self-reliance.


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Got Time To Read This? Two Meditations On How We (Should) Use Our Hours

In behavior on June 19, 2010 at 9:25 am
New P icon.

Image via Wikipedia

My favorite weekly read is the weekend FT, and its columnists. One, a 48-year-old executive named Mrs. Moneypenny, bristling with an MBA and Phd, a woman who refers to her three children in print as Cost Centres #1, #2 and #3, says every hour of her business time — and is there any other for the high-flying exec? — is worth 3,000 pounds — about $4,440. She dares not waste a minute and never takes vacation.

But a recent 360 review by her staff suggests she should “waste” some time posthaste:

The general consensus is that the pace at which I work and the number of things I take on alarms my colleagues, who believe it has the potential to be counterproductive. Above all, they fear for my health – and that is a commonly held view, not merely one aired by two or three people. So yes, perhaps I ought to slow down a little. And to show how willing I am to change, the very same week I was presented with these comments I had lunch at the Wolseley with a former Master of the Universe.

Normally, I hate lunch appointments, believing them to be a mammoth waste of time. If you include travelling time, it is likely to take up two hours, or a £6,000 opportunity cost to my business. But this MOTU was too charming to refuse. He pointed me in the direction of John Updike’s poem “Midpoint”, written at the end of his 35th year. I only ever read fiction and poetry when I’m on holiday – doing so at any other time is an extravagance (especially at £3,000 an hour). But after an hour with this guy, I would have tackled Plato in the original had he suggested it. The final lines of the poem read: “Born laughing, I’ve believed in the Absurd, / Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can, / I must impersonate a serious man.”

I am 48, not 35, and maybe it is time to start being serious.

Laura Vanderkam, another driven urban woman — mother of two small children, sings in a choir, attends church, runs every day — has written a new book called 168 Hours, the number of hours every fresh week offers us, if we would just stop wasting it.

I have mixed feelings about this notion of “wasted” time. I love the Italian phrase farniente -- literally — “do nothing” and aspire to a life with far more undirected time. I also love the British expression for day-dreaming — wool-gathering. We all need time to fantasize and imagine, to stare into the sky and let our weary, overcaffeinated brains….chill.

Last week, the sweetie and I took a vacation and drove to Quebec where we stay at a lovely, small, quiet lakeside hotel. Our plan of “action”? Eat, sleep, read, take photos, repeat. Plus a little antiquing — where the local shopowner remembered me from our last visit 3.5 years ago — and an hour’s canoeing.

This morning, (and it’s 9:11 as I write this on a glorious sunny June Saturday), I’ve: read 1.5 newspapers, watered the plants, made and consumed coffee and toast, blogged, washed the kitchen floor, discussed what paint we need to paint our terrace door. That’s in less than two hours. Yesterday, racing to finish my book, I worked at the computer for about 10 hours — I thought my eyeballs would melt.

I’m whipped and already ready for a nap. (And, no, I have no pets or kids, so my time is my own.)

Rest. Relax. Recharge. Restore. Revive. I think we all need more of it, and less of this boot-camp, finger-wagging instruction in efficiency. I plan to make highly efficient carefully-monitored use of my time when I am dead. I’ll have so much more of it anyway.

Do you waste time? What do you do with it? Do you think we should all be productive and organized all the time?

Golf Towel? Soccer Net? Cat Box Liner? How One Man Uses His Ex-Wife's Wedding Dress

In behavior, men on June 19, 2010 at 7:50 am
wedding dresses

Image by killrbeez via Flickr

June, the month of hope and cake and brides and dreams…

Not.

Gotta love this website, devoted to one young man’s idea of recycling.

En Garde! World Cup Fencing Today, Tomorrow In Brooklyn

In sports on June 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm
Pictograms of Olympic sports - Fencing. This i...

Image via Wikipedia

Hasten to the Brookyn Marriott if you want to see the coolest sport. Forget soccer!

Yes, I’m biased, having been a nationally ranked saber fencer for four years. Fencing is fast, exhausting, demanding both intellectually and physically — it’s called chess at the speed of boxing.

I took it up when I moved to New York and didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job. Stabbing strangers with a sword seemed like a good way to settle into this most competitive of cities.

I had no idea that Manhattan is filled with some of the U.S.’s very best fencers, from bronze medalist Peter Westbrook (who once judged one of my matches) to my former coach, who teaches at NYU, former Olympian Steve Mormando. I haven’t touched my equipment in more than a decade, but I miss this amazing sport and hope to come back to it at some point. Like skiing and sailing, you can do it as long as your body holds up, and the accumulated wisdom you bring as an older fencer can defeat younger, more impatient competitors.

Here’s the website with all the details.

Extra! Extra! New Agency Opens To Sell Celebrity Gossip. Now I Can Use Lady Gaga In My Headline

In entertainment, Media on June 18, 2010 at 11:36 am
DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 26JAN06 - FR: Angelina Joli...

Moremoremoremoremoremoremore!!!!!Image via Wikipedia

Here’s some deeply comforting news for anyone — anyone? – who still cares more about boring shit like the economy or healthcare or job loss or the BP spill, a new celebrity news agency!

Because, you know, we really don’t get enough news about celebrities.

From mediabistro.com’s blog FishbowlLA:

We began testing the waters and working with experienced U.S.-based freelance reporters, many of whom had either lost their jobs or had had their hours drastically cut back. The results were astounding. While magazines shutter in the U.S. and reduce pay, magazines in Britain and France, for instance, continue to pay rates that are twice the level of ordinary freelance news rates in the US. Average stories sell for $400 to $1,000. Bigger exclusives, such as a story on Tiger Woods, can go up to $3000.

What are some of the stories we have sold? We debunked the rumors about the Angelina Jolie Brad Pitt break up for More magazine in the UK, covered Lady Gaga’s penchant for green tea for Grazia Magazine, and explored the deeper meaning of medications Britney Spears might take for bi-polar disorder for Voici in France.

I can’t decide which makes me want to projectile vomit further: the insatiable appetite for crap about millionaires or the fact Europeans are paying so much better for “journalism” than American publishers.

If you need me, I’ll just be out on the window ledge, tap-dancing.

Judging A Book By Its Cover — Buy Me!

In design, Media on June 18, 2010 at 8:02 am
Soft drinks on shelves in a Woolworths superma...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m finishing my second non-fiction book this month, probably next week. I’ve seen its cover, sent to me in a few iterations. Unless you’re A Very Big Name, you get — in your contract — cover consultation, but not cover approval. Covers matter!

Yet it’s authors who get all the attention, more rarely the designers whose interpretation of what it is we’re really saying, is meant to get you, our desired audience, to reach eagerly for our work. It’s a bitter irony that a book that can take an author many years to complete gets mere seconds to try to grab readers away from all those other books, or TV or radio or a movie or…

Like cans of soft drink on a grocery store shelf, every book cover is competing for buyers’ brief and distracted attention.

If you — like me — care about design, you might enjoy this post, from Elle magazine’s new blog LitLife interview with illustrator Michael Kirkham.

When you’re browsing the bookstore shelves, what kinds of covers do you gravitate to? I circle the illustrated ones. Being in a bookshop is just like being in an art gallery. There are so many different approaches to art, so many different ideas. I like quite blocky, maybe a bit retro book designs, but a good design could look like anything. And I won’t turn my nose at a good bit of photography.

What illustrators inspire you? I think that pictures can tell stories, so artists like David Hockney are a big inspiration. His etchings of Brothers Grimm fairytales really got me interested in illustration, because I saw that pictures could tell stories in a completely different way than words. That’s why book jackets have pictures on them—they tell a story and then the words inside continue telling that story.

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