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Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Lights, Camera, Action! My Movie Star Moment

In behavior, business, Media, photography, Style, women, work on August 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm
Woman's one-piece bathing suit, 1920s, USA
Image via Wikipedia

I’m pooped! Who knew that having your photo taken could be so tiring?

One of the fun things about writing for a living is, occasionally, getting your photograph taken by seasoned professionals, people who fly to the Bahamas for shoots and snap celebrities, not just…you.

Yesterday afternoon I met the photographer, his assistant and the art director. I’d done my own hair and make-up and brought two bathing suits for them to choose from. Our location was my local YMCA.

Yup, I was to be photographed for mass viewing in a bathing suit.

Shriek!

Luckily, I recently bought a gorgeous new suit, a soft coppery colored ruched design that looks like something from the 1940s, and had shed about 15 pounds, so felt much more confident than I might have otherwise. But I am so not a size 0! Or 6 or 8…My left leg might be a size 6.

The shoot took three hours, much of which involved setting up and moving all sorts of accessories for the lighting, from a thin white silk scrim to soften the bounce flash to a metallic stand-alone screen to a white bedsheet. I spent most of the shoot in the pool, getting all wrinkly, demonstrating exercises, reassured that my best bits were visible, the rest semi-obscured by the water.

Then it was time to bring the gorgeous young lifeguard into the picture to pose with me. Lucky again — he’s a dear friend with whom I’ve been playing softball for years — so I felt comfortable looking into his eyes, leaning into him and joking.

I still can’t quite believe I posed in a small amount of wet clothing in front of four men. But the shoot was a lot of fun, relaxed, taught me how to manage my expressions and body from one shot to the next. It also left me with a lot more respect for models. It’s work. Staying focused for hours, taking direction and running through a wide range of poses and expressions is more tiring than you’d imagine.

“That’s a wrap!” they said.

Home for pizza.

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Why I Talk To My Pharmacist More Than My Doctor(s)

In behavior, business, Health, Medicine on August 15, 2010 at 12:59 pm
The mortar and pestle, an internationally reco...
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Turns out I’m part of a larger trend. Reports The New York Times:

“We are not just going to dispense your drugs,” said David Pope, a pharmacist at Barney’s. “We are going to partner with you to improve your health as well.”

At independent drugstores and some national chains like Walgreens and the Medicine Shoppe and even supermarkets like Kroger, pharmacists work with doctors and nurses to care for people with long-term illnesses.

They are being enlisted by some health insurers and large employers to address one of the fundamental problems in health care: as many as half of the nation’s patients do not take their medications as prescribed, costing nearly $300 billion a year in emergency room visits, hospital stays and other medical expenditures, by some estimates.

The pharmacists represent the front line of detecting prescription overlap or dangerous interaction between drugs and for recommending cheaper options to expensive medicines. This evolving use of pharmacists also holds promise as a buffer against an anticipated shortage of primary care doctors.

“We’re going to need to get creative,” said Dr. Andrew Halpert, senior medical director for Blue Shield of California, which has just begun a pilot program with pharmacists at Raley’s, a local grocery store chain, to help some diabetic patients in Northern California insured through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Like other health plans, Blue Shield views pharmacists as having the education, expertise, free time and plain-spoken approach to talk to patients at length about what medicines they are taking and to keep close tabs on their well-being. The pharmacists “could do as well and better than a physician” for less money, Dr. Halpert said.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time this year at my local pharmacy, run by a veteran named Aqeel, a warm, plain-spoken guy with three daughters. His store is tiny, two aisles wide, and sits two storefronts away from a CVS, an enormous chain of drugstores. But since January, having to take a variety of serious medications for the first time to manage my osteoarthritis — from steroids to Fosamax — I don’t have the time, patience or interest in running back to my doctors every time I have another question about my health.

I first spoke to him a few years ago, when I asked which vitamins to use, and why. He actually sat me down on one of his folding chairs and explained how they work and would affect me. Some people don’t want that much explanation or want to take the time. I loved it. Someone who spoke to me like a fellow adult!

His friendly, open manner, combined with decades of experience, makes me feel safe asking him questions. When I took one drug recently (all of them new to me),  I felt so incredibly lousy — disoriented and highly anxious, this on a weekend — I went back to ask him about it. That side effect was indeed unpleasant, but not unusual, he reassured me.

He’s one of three local merchants in my town I interviewed for my new book about working in retail, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 14, 2011.)

Patients live a weird existence. Away from the few, hurried minutes with our busy physicians, some of whom are brusque and intimidating, we wander about in a fog of confusion. Yes, I read the accompanying literature so know what side effects to expect. But I didn’t know that, (hopefully) on the second dose of Fosamax, for example, a drug meant to build bone, I might not feel so dopey and tired.

Do you have a pharmacist you like and trust?

Eat, Pray, Love: Why A Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off

In behavior, entertainment, travel, women on August 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm
Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

I haven’t yet seen the film, but I did read and enjoy the book, a true story of a middle-class white woman who leaves her marriage and wanders the world to find happiness. You’d think she’d killed and eaten a few babies along the way, so vicious are some of the reviews and commentaries.

Now the film is out, starring Julia Roberts as author Elizabeth Gilbert, so are the haters. Selfish! Self-indulgent! Whiny!

All this faux outrage is sooooo predictable. Writes A.O. Scott in today’s New York Times:

The double standard in Hollywood may be stronger than ever. Men are free to pursue all kinds of adventures, while women are expected to pursue men. In a typical big-studio romantic comedy the heroine’s professional ambition may not always be an insurmountable obstacle to matrimony, but her true fulfillment — not just her presumed happiness but also the completion of her identity — will come only at the altar.

This paradigm is, of course, much older than the movies, but it can be refreshing, now and then, to see something different in the multiplex: a movie that takes seriously (or for that matter has fun with) a woman’s autonomy, her creativity, her desire for something other than a mate.

The scarcity of such stories helps explain the appeal of movies like the two “Sex and the City” features, “Julie & Julia,” “The Blind Side” and now “Eat Pray Love,” a sumptuous and leisurely adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir of post-divorce globe-trotting. Directed by Ryan Murphy, who wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Salt, the film offers an easygoing and generous blend of wish fulfillment, vicarious luxury, wry humor and spiritual uplift, with a star, Julia Roberts, who elicits both envy and empathy.

Women who flee the usual yoke — work, children, parental responsibilities, cooking, shopping, cleaning — are an easy target. Other women, especially, huff with indignation. How dare she!

Gilbert did. And in so doing, her choice challenges safer, more conventional choices. Instead of demonizing her free spirit, why not celebrate it? We can’t. What if everyone behaved that way?

What indeed?

I loved The Motorcycle Diaries and Easy Rider, two terrific films about two men exploring the world on their motorbikes.

Guys are allowed this freedom. We expect it of them.

Look at Thelma and Louise, a raucous road movie  — until the women have to drive off a cliff to atone for all that independent fun.

Women need a break from one another’s finger-waggling. So Elizabeth Glibert left her husband and traveled the world and came home with a sexy Brazilian man.

The problem is….?

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Sharing A Room With Strangers

In behavior, travel on August 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm
New Bunk Bed, with sheets
Image by goldberg via Flickr

I recently visited Vancouver, a popular city in the summer, and decided to save a little cash by staying — as I had before — in one of the city’s three hostels. I chose the downtown one, set on a pretty and quiet street filled with tall trees and upscale apartment towers. The beach and waterfront was a few blocks away.

People often think of staying in a hostel, sharing a room with people who might (gasp!) snore or smell funny or stagger in at 4:00 a.m. (most likely), as something only 20-somethings do, and only in far-away places like Prague or Beijng.

I’ve stayed in hostels — way past the age of 20 — in Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Ottawa and Baltimore; Ottawa’s is legendary, set in the thick stone walls of a former prison.

In many hostels, anyone can stay as long as they have government-issued photo ID and the money; in Vancouver, this was $38 for a room shared with three other women, all strangers, in four bunkbeds. There was a sink in the room, a moveable fan (no AC) and four hopelessly small lockers.

Vancouver that week was brutally hot and humid. There was a shared set of showers and toilets, several of which were out of order.

Why on earth would a sane adult choose to share space with people they’ve never met?

I’d rather go cheap than sit at home never traveling.

And, having attended summer camp ages 8 to 17 for eight weeks at a stretch, and boarding school ages 8 to 13, I’m used to sharing a room with people I don’t know.

At the hostel, two of my roomies were young European girls, one of whom had just moved from a small town in Germany, alone, to work for six months on a visa in Canada, then in L.A. Within minutes of meeting, her, I liked her enough to make an introduction to a young friend of mine in L.A. and one in Vancouver — instantly finding her two new, nice contacts.

I enjoyed meeting her, enjoyed remembering the terror/excitement of moving overseas for a long time in your youth, (I moved to Paris for eight months when I was 25), and openly admired her chutzpah for so doing.

I was an only child, and had never had to share a room at home.

Now, it seems pretty normal.

Here’s Maureen Dowd in The New York Times:

The serendipity of ending up with roommates that you like, despite your differences, or can’t stand, despite your similarities, or grow to like, despite your reservations, is an experience that toughens you up and broadens you out for the rest of life.

So I was dubious when I read in The Wall Street Journal last week that students are relying more on online roommate matching services to avoid getting paired with strangers or peers with different political views, study habits and messiness quotients.

A University of Florida official told The Journal that a quarter of incoming freshmen signed up to a Facebook application called RoomBug to seek out a roommate they thought would be more compatible than a random selection.

Other students are using URoomSurf. It makes matches with questions like these: How often do you shower? How neat are you? How outgoing are you? What’s your study/party balance? Is it O.K. for your roommate to use your belongings?

…But co-habiting with snarly and moody roomies prepared me for the working world, where people can be outlandishly cantankerous over small stuff.

So true!

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Steve Slater — Hero!

In behavior, business, travel on August 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm
JetBlue Airways logo Category:Airline logos
Image via Wikipedia

If there’s a popular hero right now, it’s Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who hit his last nerve, cursed at a plane full of passengers and fled, beer in hand.

My retail memoir has a chapter devoted to Customers From Hell. I always had a running list of the brutes, morons, divas and princesses who made our lives behind the cash-wrap toxic and wearying. It took a lot to make my top five, but there was — sadly — plenty of competition.

We live in a country where the rich see the rest of us as peons, weird little creatures scurrying beneath their feet. Outtamyway! The income inequality is growing while millions of others are losing their homes and jobs, with no idea how they will find a new job or home or pay their most basic bills.

I saw this princess-iness firsthand while selling T-shirts and ski jackets to the wealthy shoppers in my suburban area. Their sense of entitlement was relentless and anyone who dared oppose it does so at the risk of losing their job.

I was in a fabric store the other day and shared war stories with an employee there. We all have war stories! She is in her 60s, elegant, calm, helpful — and told me that a young woman who couldn’t find what she wanted (but could not even describe it) snapped her fingers at her. Then, still unable and unwilling to tell the associate what it was she looking for, complained to management that this employee was unhelpful.

If this behavior was occurring anywhere private, sharp words would be exchanged and the offending diva put neatly in his or her place. But, no, when it’s public, the worker has to suck it up and the offending party can safely revel in their temporary power.

Pathetic.

Slater faces criminal charges. His profanity offended many people. His reaction was intemperate.

But every single person working in a service job knows exactly how he felt.

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Crutch Life — Disability Chic!

In behavior, design, Health on August 10, 2010 at 3:18 pm
Line art drawing of two forms of crutches.
Image via Wikipedia

It’s stick time!

My glam new crutches arrived last week and are now part of my every movement for the next three months, which will include a train trip to Boston and a flight to Las Vegas.

Of course, because I adore all things French, they turn out to be made in France, of aluminum.

I’m trying to give my arthritic left hip a break while I take Fosamax, so cannot put my full weight on the joint. It’s the first time since January I have been pain-free and am sleeping soundly without painkillers or the old pillow between the knees. So sexy!

The crutches are short, only to the forearm and I paid $100 extra for soft padded leather inserts to protect my arms, spongy, ergonomically shaped handles and wide, reassuringly thick pads on the bottom of the poles.

The challenge is…life! I managed to sweep and mop and vacuum yesterday (stork-like on one leg) and this morning got a lot of ironing done while sitting on the bed.

It’s getting stuff like books, magazines, the phone, the remote, whatever from one room to another hands-free so now I use a big soft bag as a backpack.

I have a meeting today in Manhattan, in 95 degree heat and humidity, so am dreading that. I’ll drive in, in AC, and pray for a parking spot or garage very close to my meeting. But I may arrive drenched in sweat anyway.

I was having a bit of  a pity party yesterday when I spoke to a photographer who needs to come and take my picture for a story I’m working in. He was on crutches, living alone, for two years.

Have you managed with them? Any tricks you can share?

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Learning To Drive When You’re Not 16

In behavior, cars on August 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm
Car upside down.
Not optimal…Image via Wikipedia

Can be scary as hell.

Fun piece in The New York Times by Frank Bruni about his recent re-learning to drive and take a driver’s test, decades past the age of 16:

This is a cautionary tale. Like too many harried New Yorkers without cars or much cause to use them, I let my driver’s license expire — in October 2006. Then, in an unlucky development the next May, I was pick-pocketed. The double whammy of an expired license that I could not physically produce meant I could no longer right the situation with a written exam and a vision check. I was effectively 16 again, on the hook for a five-hour class and the dreaded road test, which I came to fear I’d never reach, given the labyrinth of civil-service incompetence, bureaucratic nonsense and simple misfortune I had tumbled into. Kafka could have had a field day with me.

Granted, the stakes weren’t so high. Many people don’t drive, and on most days, not having a license hardly inconvenienced me. But there were vacations and work assignments that required rental cars — and travel companions fed up with my inability to share the burden.

Bruni had to re-learn in Manhattan, which is indeed one of the scarier places to drive. Cyclists swerve and swoop in front of you and pound on your vehicle if they think you’ve transgressed their trajectory. Deliverymen and couriers ride on the wrong side and head straight for you, forcing you into the wrong lane where you, too, can have and/or cause a really bad accident. Hand must be ready to honk horn at all times. Decide, immediately, when it’s OK to cross the intersection and squoosh in behind the furthest vehicle — and when you’re going to get stuck there, blocking the box, liable for a very expensive ticket.

I learned to drive when I was 30, in Montreal, a city whose drivers are every bit as aggressive and impatient as Manhattan’s — but in French and with some very steep hills. I was taught to drive stick.

One night we were on a hill, in the dark, during rush hour. I can’t shift gears because I can’t even find the damn gears!

I started cursing. The instructor cursed back. We finally got up the hill and around the corner.

“You’re such a bitch!” he shouted.

“You’re a terrible teacher!” I shouted back. “I’m only being a bitch because I’m so scared of having an accident. If you were a better teacher, this wouldn’t be happening.”

That cleared up, from then on we got along great.

Like Bruni, I was terrified of taking the driver’s test, especially since I was going to be tested on an automatic, not stick shift. I’d never driven an automatic transmission car and here it was, in French. I got in, stared at the gear shift.

“P…that’s Park, right?” I asked. Thank God she answered, and didn’t flunk me on the spot.

I’ve since driven in a few places legendary for their danger: a mo-ped in Corsica, a rental car in rural Mexico, at night through Kingston, Jamaica (other side of the road.) I think I’m proudest, so far, of parallel parking in Dublin, which felt like doing a back dive it was so totally disorienting.

When did you learn to drive? Who taught you? Was it scary for you, too?

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Ditch Your Stuff!

In behavior, business, Money on August 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm
my own picture, to be added to cookware and ba...
Image via Wikipedia

We recently spent three eight-hour days doing the job we had put off for a decade — clearing out our rented storage locker. (Confession: some of it went into a smaller space, the rest of it into the garage. And, yes, there are four small lockers with other stuff — out of season sports gear and clothing, suitcases, etc.)

In so doing, we immediately saved $150 a month in rental fees, plus the $350 we netted for selling 24 boxes of books.

Here’s a thoughtful New York Times piece about what museums, so politely call, de-accessioning:

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Now the couple, debt-free, lives on $24,000 a year.

It’s not a new idea, living on less, although it’s rapidly gaining currency. In a 1992 book, “Your Money Or Your Life”, Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin pointed out you’re spending time or you’re spending money. Save one, and you save the other.

I’ve chosen, deliberately, to stay in a one bedroom apartment for 20 years. In flush years, I could have traded up to something bigger, maybe even a house. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want: to buy a lot of stuff to fill it with; maintain and clean all that stuff; clean gutters and shovel sidewalks or mow a lawn; the daily anxiety that, if I lost that job or income or client(s), I’d lose it all. Even in the leanest times, and they have gotten lean, I could manage to stay in my home, building equity.

I loathe debt.

We drive a nine-year-old car, paid for.  We are trying hard to find new and better ways to earn and save in order to pay down the mortgage as soon as possible. In line with popular sentiment, we’re now much more focused on experiences over stuff. We threw a party and invited friends to celebrate the completion of my book. The money we spent for food and drink that night might have bought two of three pairs of shoes or 10 new or 20 used books or CDs or…more stuff.

These days, I want more life and less stuff in my life.

And yet, and yet…how does one turn a blind eye to all those delicious temptations?

Have you downsized? Plan to? How has this changed your life?

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Making A New Friend

In behavior on August 8, 2010 at 12:31 am
my best female-friends :)
Image by GoodOldCitizen via Flickr

One of my favorite reads is the weekend Financial Times, and its many columnists. The latest column by Mrs. Moneypenny, a pseudonym clearly, looks at the challenge of trying to make a new friend:

Where do you meet new friends? Does it just happen by chance? You could be forgiven for saying that I don’t need any – these days, it’s hard enough to find time for work, home and other crucial activities such as shooting guns and flying aircraft. But life evolves and, like it or not, people move away, get married and find other friends. The result is that even I occasionally have vacancies for New Girlfriends.

I thought I would look back at the past few weeks and think about potential Girlfriends I have met. How did I meet them? The tried and trusted way, of course, is to put New Girlfriend (or NG) screening in the hands of others. Existing Girlfriends, especially very good ones, are usually excellent sources of NGs.

The opening weekend of the football World Cup, when England played its first match, was a good time to meet NGs. Very few self-respecting girls of my acquaintance were really interested in the football. So my Canadian Girlfriend, who has a wonderful house in Hampshire, complete with a heated outdoor swimming pool and unlimited supplies of ice cream, invited a select group of us girls down for a sleepover. I knew two of the other three guests well; the third was someone I had met infrequently…

By the end of the anti-World Cup pyjama party, where we stayed up late eating ice cream and talking about sex, I realised that the girl I had not known well before was definitely a candidate for a New Girlfriend. The formula for finding NGs became clear – let mutual friends identify them, and then meet them over an extended period of time.

A new memoir, Take The Long Way Home, by Gail Caldwell about her late friend Caroline Knapp, examines a deep female friendship that ended with Knapp’s premature death from lung cancer.

I’ve recently — yay! — made two new girlfriends, which comes as a pleasant surprise. I moved to New York in 1989 and have found it the least friendly place I have ever lived. People are crazed: work, commuting, family, taking classes, work, work, work.

One of my new friends is a younger woman with two little kids, but not obsessed with her family life and somehow willing and able to carve out a bit of time for a new person, me. We met at a conference where, oddly, she was pitching me a possible story about her company and its products. The other was a fellow blogger with me at True/Slant, a fellow journalist ten years my senior.

I think the best of friends come in all age ranges. This week I’ll finally catch up with Jess, one of my journalism students a decade ago. I tend to remain friends with people for decades and recently caught up with Laura, who I’ve known since eighth grade, and who lives so far away from me I am lucky to see her every two or three years. She, too, has two boys, but we still have lots to talk about beyond family.

Irene Levine, a professional colleague and psychologist, has a smart and helpful blog (and new  book) devoted to female friendships.

How have you made a new friend recently? Where and how?

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Paying Dues — But Whose?

In behavior, business, Media on August 7, 2010 at 7:25 pm
Trade-union stamp of the USSR, 1 rub. 1961
Image via Wikipedia

I had lunch yesterday with a smart, talented, ferociously ambitious journalist. He’s 31 and desperate to “make it.”

“I’ve paid my dues!” he said, exasperated.

Fact is, he had paid plenty of dues, in his own way. In a media world where few definitions remain static — a story, a journalist, a clip, a body of accomplished work — this won’t get easier anytime soon.

One of the problems with dues, unlike the classic definition of the word — as in union dues paid to an organization that clearly wants your dough and loyalty and numbers you in its ranks — is its fluid meaning. My friend has worked in two challenging places and produced consistently excellent material. Wasn’t that enough?

Not to the editor he called at a Very Big Magazine who drawled (ouch): “I’ve never heard of you.”

Dues are a currency whose value fluctuates wildly. One day you’ve got enough to buy a house — and people you want to work with are calling you. The next day it’s barely enough for a bagel, and you’re the one whose name rings no bells.

In the world of journalism and publishing, at least, whatever you think you’ve achieved means nothing — until someone agrees with you.

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