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Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

They Taped Their Roommate And Outed Him On The Internet. Now He’s Dead.

In behavior, Crime, education, Media, men, news, parenting, politics on September 30, 2010 at 11:48 am
George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson ...

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the price of intolerance — death:

“Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened,” said Lauren Felton, 21, of Warren. “He wouldn’t have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life.”

Gay rights groups say Tyler Clementi’s suicide makes him a national example of a problem they are increasingly working to combat: young people who kill themselves after being tormented over their sexuality.

A lawyer for Clementi’s family confirmed Wednesday that he had jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. Police recovered a man’s body Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.

Clementi’s roommate, Dhraun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi’s privacy. Middlesex County prosecutors say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi’s suicide.

The death of a Rutgers University freshman stirred outrage and remorse on campus from classmates who wished they could have stopped the teen from jumping off a bridge last week after a recording of him having a sexual encounter with a man was broadcast online.

Words fail me on this one.

Fat Women Pay More For It, Study Shows

In behavior, business, design, Fashion, food, Health, men, news, women on September 29, 2010 at 1:19 pm
Silhouettes and waist circumferences represent...

Image via Wikipedia

Interesting study published in today’s New York Times:

While a man racks up $2,646 annually in extra expenses if he is obese, a woman’s obesity costs her $4,879, almost twice as much.

Much of the gender gap is due to lower wages for obese women, who earn less relative to similar working women who are not obese, according to the analysis, by researchers at George Washington University.

The report is one of the first to calculate the economic toll of obesity on the individual, including both direct costs, like medical expenses, and indirect expenses, like lost wages and reduced work productivity. (The study did not account for many other personal consumer costs, like clothing, because data are not available.)

Based on a median annual wage for women of $32,450 in 2009, the report found that obese women who work full time earn $1,855 less annually than nonobese women, a 6 percent reduction. By contrast, studies have found that the wages of obese men are not significantly different from those of normal-weight men.

This doesn’t surprise me. Overweight women are often demonized as fat slobs, and have a terrible time finding clothing that is affordable, stylish and comfortable.

When I worked retail, it didn’t escape my notice that our brand had a man’s XXL — you have to be mighty fat, not simply tall, to need that much fabric — but nothing beyond an XL for women. And the XL was still mighty tight on most of the women who tried to fit into it.

Try to buy women’s clothing in a size 14 or beyond — the average American woman being a size 14 now –  and is on-line or catalog sales for you, missy. No fatties allowed in the store.

A six per cent reduction in wages, especially on an income of $32, 450, is significant.

Women wanting to shed weight crave slimmer bellies and thighs — not their paychecks.

Ten Ways To (Seriously) Improve Your Writing

In behavior, business, culture, entertainment, Media, Money, work on September 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm
Author Margaret Atwood attends a reading at Ed...

Margaret Atwood: "Put your bum in the chair!" Image via Wikipedia

It’s commonly said, (among writers who do it for their living), that blood to a surgeon is like rejection to a writer — a necessary part of every day’s work.

Whether a surgeon likes blood is irrelevant. Do professional writers — and ambitious amateurs — enjoy rejection? Irrelevant.

It’s not a game for delicate souls, whether you are paid for your work or hope to, or do not.

I’ve earned my living selling my writing since my sophomore year of college; here are ten issues professionals/ambitious writers take seriously:

1) Study writing. No, you don’t have to sign up to be an English major or get an MFA or try to get into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But if you truly want to improve your work, you’ll put your bum in the chair (as Margaret Atwood told me when I asked her how to write) and put your work before the skilled, experienced eyes of a teacher. That might be a workshop, a writers’ group led by a professional, an on-line class. Great writing, like everything that’s excellent, demands discipline and some training.

2) Study with more than one teacher. Every writing teacher has his or her quirks and habits, and the worst students learn to mimic them in order to curry favor. Bad idea.

3) Know what you want to say. Simply emoting about your mean Dad or drunk Mom may feel terrific and be cathartic for you, but without adding clarity, insight and polish, it’s rarely sufficiently satisfying to your readers. What larger, ongoing, universal truth(s) do you also plan to elucidate?

4) It’s all about the reader. Not you. Not impressing your BFF or writing pals whose enthusiasm and support are lovely, but ultimately totally distracting. They are to a writer’s growth as a Mom’s cheering your soccer game are to a coach’s whistle, drills and experienced observations.

5) Who is your reader? Who do you want to read your material? Everyone. Bah! Think again. Car manuals and cellphone instructions and IKEA literature are written to appeal to “everyone.” Who’s your best reader? Do you crave the undivided attention of suburban moms? Ex-addicts? Current addicts? Fellow lovers of hummingbirds/hiking/sushi/petanque? Decide who you most want to grab by the lapels and write for them. Because not everyone is going to love your work. If they do, be very nervous. It’s not necessarily a good sign.

6) Read your work out loud. Yup. Your dog/cat/budgie won’t mind a bit.  Artists look at their paintings in a mirror to catch it from a different angle. Reading your words out loud immediately alerts you to their cadence, rhythm, alliteration. Do they sound good? Do you want to hear more?

7) Let it cool down. Baked goods removed from the oven and consumed too soon — before cooling into the finished product — shred, crumble and waste the energy you spent creating them. Good writing should wait a while before it’s consumed by anyone other than yourself. Great writing can wait even longer. Write something and put it aside for 20 minutes, two days, two months. It will always read better after distance and reflection because you’ll see its flaws and have the dispassion with which to fix them.

8) Criticism is key to success. You’ve got to put your work out there — for review, criticism, thoughtful replies. Your work must be read by serious and ambitious writers/teachers/agents/editors. Some of them will have the skill to offer helpful insights, (some of which may surprise you or make you uncomfortable), and the generosity to do so.

9) You are not your writing. Until or unless you can separate yourself from the most intimate and private thoughts you share publicly, you’re toast — because you’ll overly personalize even thoughtful-but-challenging comments on your work as an attack on you. Wrong! As one pro writer friend told me, when I had to revise 10 chapters (there are only 12!) of my new memoir: “You’re a mechanic. Fix the engine.”

10) Rejection is essential. For many reasons. It means you’re actually putting your work and ideas out into the intellectual marketplace. Picture a bustling farmers’ market. Is everyone selling the same amount as quickly? Probably not. They know, and hope for, the best — a percentage of their goods to sell. If they go home with an empty truck, score! But they are wise not to expect it because they, like many others, took the risk of working hard to grow it, truck it and put it out for sale. No farmer expects buyers to coo over the beauty of their rutabagas. They have nutured their products with much hard work — but are able to remember that they are selling a product.

I have sold two non-fiction books to two commercial publishers. (And written another four or five  full-length book proposals, circulated to many editors, that did not sell.) I’ve been through six agents, three of whom were very good, one of which — the final one — is truly excellent.

She’s very tough! We’ve even had shouting matches on the phone, as two hard-headed perfectionists hammer it out. Better to have so demanding an expert than some chatty, happy milquetoast who can’t sell my stuff.

Every day, these editors and the agents who put our work before them, are inundated with competitors. Both of my books were rejected by 25 others before they were bought. My agents kept on plugging because, as good agents do, they believed in the projects and in me.

What if  I’d just given up, in floods of weeping and teeth-gnashing despair, after the 11th or 14th — or second — rejection?

Here’s a great post on this subject. And another.

Salt, Fat, Sugar: The (Un)Holy Trinity Of Comfort

In behavior, business, education, food, Health, Medicine, parenting, science, women on September 27, 2010 at 4:57 pm
Cover of "The End of Overeating: Taking C...

Cover via Amazon

I just devoured a great book, albeit something of a horror story — David Kessler’s “The End of Overeating.”

As someone trying to shed more weight before hip surgery, (which I am postponing as long as possible), I’m newly focused on food and what it does to the body.

Most importantly, I’m newly focused on when, why, how and where I make poor nutritional choices, especially how I feel emotionally when I reach for a food that is laden with what he agrees is the mood-altering soothing trinity of salt, fat and sugar.

I’ve been so good — eating much less and much healthier than ever before.

But I’m also now acutely aware how comforting this combination is, which is one of the compelling pieces of science in Kessler’s important, highly readable book.

When I do fall off the wagon, I can barely see it receding in the distance.

My worst binge in recent months was the July day I had to say goodbye to my Mom, who I see, at most, once a year and sometimes only every two years; we live very far apart and the costs of hotel, (small apartments for us both with too-big personalities), make it a challenge to do it frequently.

She lives in Canada, and I in the U.S., having traded our native countries.

I hate that goodbye, not knowing when, or if, I’ll see her again. She’s 76, in not-great health, living alone. I’m her only child.

She beat me bloody at gin rummy and I trounced her at Scrabble. That’s a good visit for us.

So it was a plate of Belgian waffles, (whipped cream and strawberries), that morning on the ferry ride back to Vancouver. It was a beer at lunch, and some of the fries that came with my fish and chips. It was a package of wine gums, (a chewy candy I can’t find in New York.)

Yes, dammit, all in one day.

Comfort food. It didn’t heal my sadness, but at least I’m now quite conscious when I make lousy choices and why.

My second most recent, about two weeks ago, was a double scoop of gelato consumed in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel after surviving the toughest speaking engagement (so far) of my career. Creamy, salt, sweet. Pure (caloric!) comfort was close at hand, literally, as I was feeling shaky, tired and uncertain how the audience thought of my presentation. (Turns out, most liked it very much.)

What’s your comfort food? What pushes you to (over) indulge in it?

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A Mosque On Permafrost

In cities, culture, design, religion, urban life, world on September 26, 2010 at 5:08 pm
Overlooking Inuvik with the fall colors in the...

Inuvik, in the fall...Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a seriously cool story – a mosque built in Winnipeg and sailed north to its permanent home in Inuvik, making it the world’s most northerly.

I once visited a town in northern Quebec, Salluit, which was built on permafrost. It’s a whole other world north of the tree line!

From The Globe and Mail:

Over 23 days and 4,000 kilometres, the mosque avoided several such calamities as it meandered toward the Arctic, capturing records and the national imagination along the way.

That’s what made its final arrival on Thursday evening all the more sweet for the 40-odd Muslims who greeted it, as crews hauled the 1,500-square-foot structure off a barge to a site where it will start welcoming worshippers by the end of October.

“We didn’t clue into the symbolic meaning of this mosque at first,” said Abdalla Mohamed, a local businessman who helped co-ordinate the move of what’s now considered the world’s most northerly mosque. “When the community realized that it was history in the making, it became a huge point of pride. I mean, this is the world’s only mosque on permafrost!”

Canadian Student Makes Aviation History With Flapping-Wing Plane

In business, design, History, science, Technology, travel on September 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm
Ornithopter Flight - July 08, 2006; Registrati...
An earlier protoype….Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a video of a plane you’ve never seen before — one that, like a bird, flaps its wings.

The 94-pound ornithopter flew on August 2, the invention of University of Toronto Phd Todd Reichert. (My alma mater!)

From the Montreal Gazette:

Todd Reichert, an engineering graduate student and PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, accomplished the feat when he flew the aircraft “Snowbird” for 19.3 seconds on Aug. 2 at the Great Lakes Gliding Club in Tottenham, Ont.

The 42-kg plane made from carbon fibre, balsa wood and foam, travelled 145 metres at an average speed of 25.6 km/h during the flight.

“Our original goal was to complete this sort of, original aeronautical dream, to fly like a bird,” said 28-year-old Reichert on Wednesday. “The idea was to fly under your own power by flapping your wings.”

The four-year project, a brainchild of Reichert and student Cameron Robertson, was worked on by 30 students, including some from France and the Netherlands.

The plane, with a wingspan of 32 metres, was powered by Reichert, who pedalled with his legs, pulling down the wings to flap. He had to endure a year-long exercise regime to bulk up on muscle and lose nearly 10-kg so he could fly the aircraft.

I live to travel, love aircraft and have visited Kitty Hawk, N.C., the site of the Wright Brothers’ first short flights 107 years ago. Wish I’d been there!

More details here.

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$250,000 Isn’t Rich? Riiiiight!

In behavior, business, culture, Money, news on September 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm
Without money
Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Here’s a recent blog post that makes me want to throw a chair:

But for all the moral outrage one can level at a person bitching about making “only” $250K, know that $250K per annum is much closer to the minimum starting point you need to bank in order to have a shot at “making it” in the expensive cities of America. Living the dream requires a whole hell of a lot more…. if you are earning $50,000 a year, the prospect of earning $250,000 a year probably seems like a panacea. Think about it: you’d be earning five times as much! I’ve yet to meet the person who wouldn’t love to quintuple his or her salary. From the perspective of a person making $50,000 a year or less (the subset could also be called “most Americans”), the person or family making $250,000 a year is rich.

Except he’s not…

In fact, most people who make $250K aren’t even sitting there thinking: “Ooh, if I bust my ass and play my cards right, being ‘rich’ is just around the corner for me and my family.” If, God forbid, $250K also represents all you have, being truly rich is probably not even an option for you. You can’t “invest” in anything with the piddling savings you’ve stowed away. You can’t “buy” anything, other then maybe a family home and a some consumer assets that will start to depreciate the minute you breathe on them…

No, if you are making $250K a year, what gets you out of bed every morning isn’t even the desire to become rich. Instead, you’re motivated by the white-knuckle fear that something will go wrong and you’ll be cast back down with the sodomites who struggle valiantly to eke out an existence on $50K or less. You are certainly not rich, but you are terrified of becoming poor.

This is why living in New York City, and its self-regarding suburbs, makes for such delicious comedy. On a combined income of $250,000, it’s true — that a $5 million home is out of reach.

Boo hoo.

There is nothing more terrifying to the better-off, (as the writer, a Harvard-educated attorney at least admits), than the notion you might slide back down that greasy pole.

Then what? A cardboard box under a bridge?

Our household income, with no kids, is less than half this amount. That’s still a fortune to many people in this country.

In downstate New York, sadly, it’s a bit of a joke. Crossing any bridge costs $3 to $9 in tolls, one-way. Two hours’ parking in a Manhattan garage can easily run $20-40. My sweetie takes a commuter train to work — at an annual cost of almost $3,000, none of it tax-deductible. The maintenance on our one-bedroom suburban apartment is now almost $900 a month, with three increases in the past three years. No choice in the matter; if we don’t like it, sell and move!

We own one vehicle, paid off, nine years old. My income is less than half what I made in my last staff job. Good thing I didn’t buy a bigger home or take out huge loans…

The problem of talking about money is that it’s rarely just about money. It’s really about entitlement. It’s about Who You Think You Are. The gut-grinding knowledge that all that Ivy League striving may leave you owning only one home (not the two or three or four owned by the people you attended school with and, for many of the strivers I know, spend their entire lives comparing themselves with.)

Keeping up with the Jones — certainly when, as one attorney I know is doing, schooling four children privately ($100,000 a year in tuition alone) — can kill you.

I wake up daily deeply grateful for: safe, clean housing, healthy food, caring neighbors, my health, a functioning, insured vehicle, health insurance, some savings. It’s a lot.

It’s enough.

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FiredoverFifty.com: It’s Time!

In behavior, business, Money, news, women, work on September 21, 2010 at 12:14 am
Unemployment rate in Europe (UE) and United St...
Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve been fired and you’re over 50, you’re screwed.

So says the front page of The New York Times:

Since the economic collapse, there are not enough jobs being created for the population as a whole, much less for those in the twilight of their careers.

Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older. Nearly half of them have been unemployed six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate in the group — 7.3 percent — is at a record, more than double what it was at the beginning of the latest recession.

After other recent downturns, older people who lost jobs fretted about how long it would take to return to the work force and worried that they might never recover their former incomes. But today, because it will take years to absorb the giant pool of unemployed at the economy’s recent pace, many of these older people may simply age out of the labor force before their luck changes.

In my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, I include the depressing, terrifying stories of two women, both in their 50s and single, who have plunged from middle-class incomes, hopes and expectations, to frustration and poverty. One, formerly earning $35,000 working for (wait for it) Habitat for Humanity, now makes $7.25 an hour as a retail clerk at a southern department store.

She is furious, and ashamed that she must rely on her 81-year-old mother for financial help every month.

What I don’t get is this — age discrimination is, technically, illegal. Yet, as usual, anyone who’s played that shave-the-resume/dye-their-hair game knows it’s happening every single day in every single state in the nation.

The U.S. is a country predicated on the mythology of the individual who does it all by themselves. Bootstrap city!

As if.

Many forces are shoving 50-somethings to the economic margins, in the very years they are hardest-hit by the trifecta of their own need to save for retirement, the increasing needs of their aging/ill/distant parents and their own college-age or young adult children — the ones saddled with educational debt who are returning to the family nest, wanted or not.

It is an unmitigated disaster.

And interest rates are now so absurdly low that retirees can’t live on their savings — and many are now seeking jobs to supplement their paltry incomes from hard-won, carefully-saved investments. More competition for fewer jobs!

If the Tea Partiers can get it together, why not these millions of fired 50-somethings?

Is there no collective political will that might conjoin them into concerted action?

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One In Seven Americans Is Poor: The Frog And The Scorpion

In behavior, business, cities, Crime, History, Money, politics, work on September 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm
American Poverty
Image by Monroe’s Dragonfly via Flickr

Nice statistic that.

The Census Bureau reports that one in seven American is now living in poverty. Millions can’t find work,  are losing their homes, living in their cars, bunking — when they can — with relatives. Millions are reaching for the thin, weak strained social safety net of food stamps and homeless shelters.

The shocking part?

That this should surprise anyone.

Recall the old joke, the friendship between the frog and the scorpion; as the frog swims across a river with the scorpion on its back, stung and dying. betrayed, he asks why. “I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.”

In a nation where CEOs now crow with glee that they earn 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers, why would anyone find the growing chasm between the happy haves and the terrified have-nots unexpected?

The U.S. is a nation of laissez-faire capitalism. It’s a system as brutal and impersonal as a combustion engine. If you can find a way to accommodate its needs, you’re set. If not, you’re toast.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But no one, anywhere, should gasp in shock at the ruin so many people now face. They played “by the rules”.

There weren’t any.

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All Mentors, All The Time

In behavior, business, education, Media, men, Money, parenting, science, women, work on September 14, 2010 at 12:07 pm
"A Helping Hand". 1881 painting by E...
Image via Wikipedia

Much is made of mentors — finding one, keeping one, making sure you have the right one.

Many younger and/or less experienced writers look to me for help. I just got an email from another of the many Caitlin Kellys out there, this one a college sophomore who hopes to become a writer or editor and asked my advice.

I, too, look to my peers and colleagues for their wisdom. I turn in the final manuscript (yay!) of my second book today, and it’s much stronger for the generosity and skill of my four “first readers”, fellow professional writers who made the time to read it and offer their comments and insights.

The secret of mentoring is that we’re all doing it, all the time.

My two most helpful mentors, recently, are women both 10 to 15 years younger than I. In this economy, even the most seasoned of us have to change gears mid-career — ready or not!

Where to find wise and generous help? Maybe not from the equally dislocated people our age, but from those successfully navigating different fields or industries a few steps down the ladder.

It’s counter-intuitive to look down instead of up, but these two women have taught me a lot. One comes from the world of business and corporate life — where people use words like “value-added” and “deliverables” — helping me prepare for a speech this week to some of the nation’s largest retailers.

My other friend is a successful blogger who began her career on-line. When True/Slant, my paid blogging gig for a year, was sold and 95 percent of the contributors who had built its value to 1.5 million uniques a month were tossed away, she consoled me. Print is brutal, but editors have loyalties. Not so in the online world, she explained.

This week, my partner spent an hour on the phone with a young photographer who turned to him for his wisdom — while he, too, is being mentored by several veterans of the new niche he is moving into.

No one succeeds alone.

Who do you mentor? Who mentors you?

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