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Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do — But So Much Easier By IM

In behavior, culture, men, news, Technology, women on November 30, 2010 at 2:35 am
Broken Heart symbol

Image via Wikipedia

My best-ever breakup happened on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris with my ex-beau, the bald American antique dealer ten years my senior, chasing me down that elegant street shouting. The worst might be the night I came home from Salt Lake City (depressing enough) and my then-husband grandly announced: “I’m leaving.”

At 10:00 pm on a Wednesday night? Leaving to go where? Oh, out of the marriage.

Now, as The Wall Street Journal so helpfully points out, with graphs and everything!, people are breaking up by instant message — 14 percent of those born after 1984, versus only three percent born before 1975.

Bloody little brutes!

Thirty percent of the younger crowd are fine dumping someone by telephone — versus 16 percent of the older folks. (The man who did that to me at 4:30 during my workday does have a special spot in hell.)

Less than half — 47 percent  — of young un’s will actually break up with someone face to face, versus the 74 percent of those of us willing to do it in the same room, maybe better prepared to handle whatever emotional mayhem may ensue.

An analysis of 10,000 Facebook breakups that offered this data also offered the following reasons:

30 to 32 percent for “other”; 25 to 28 percent “lost interest”, 18-22 percent because their partner cheated, 16 to 21 percent because of distance and only (well, whew!) 3 to 4 percent because their parents or friends disapproved of their partner.

Have you been dumped by email or IM or phone?

Better or worse than in person?

If you’re doing the dumping, will you man up enough to do it face to face?

Feeling Foreign

In behavior, business, cities, culture, immigration, travel, US, women, world on November 25, 2010 at 12:18 pm
American students pledging to the flag in a fo...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s taken a while, but I’ve started to find blogs written by other women living outside their home countries — one in a regional Spanish city, one in a small Italian town and even a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia.

I love their posts because hearing other women describe their lives in a country other than the one in which they were raised helps me feel less foreign. I live only a nine-hour drive away from my hometown and a six-hour drive to the border, but sometimes it feels very far away.

I left Canada, where I was born and started my journalism career, more than 20 years ago to live in the U.S. in a small town 25 miles north of New York City.

I love it — I stare north up the Hudson River to astonishingly beautiful views, can enjoy all the things Manhattan has to offer and have a town so charming its main street has been featured in several films, like The Good Shepherd and The Preacher’s Wife and Mona Lisa Smile.

But even after all these years, I still sometimes feel foreign. I love Thanksgiving — family, friends, gratitude, pumpkin pie — but am left cold by the insane commercialism of Black Friday. (Although Canada, and others, has instead the commercial insanity of Boxing Day sales, which have nothing to do with sports.)

I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I can sing the national anthem. I now know what a “do-over” and a “Hail Mary pass” and “step up to the plate” mean — all these sports references! I know that New Yorkers stand “on line” and that ordering a “double, double” (two sugars, two milks in coffee) or a bloody Caesar (a cocktail) here will elicit only blank stares.

It’s easy enough to memorize the number of senators or why there are so many stars or stripes in the U.S. flag. It’s much more  challenging to play cultural catch-up!

But I never (thank Heaven) had to write the SATs nor freak out over which college to attend and whether or not it was affordable — I attended the University of Toronto whose annual cost (no, this is not missing a zero) was $660 my first year. It now still costs only $5,000 a year for Canadian residents.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe, as I keep a running video in my head of what life might have been like had I stayed in Canada. Of course, there’s no way to know, is there?

I visit Canada up to six times a year, as my parents live there (in separate provinces), as well as dear friends going back decades. Every time, someone asks if or when I’ll move back. With a green card, I can only leave the U.S. for  year at a time, so it would take an amazing job offer to lure me north, and for the moment, none is forthcoming.

In my adolescence, I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for four months and, at 25, lived in Paris for 10 months. In Mexico, men hissed at me on the street and in buses, two words: juerita and fuerita: little blondie and little foreigner. My very appearance marked me as foreign with my waist-length blond hair and pale skin.

Both experiences changed forever how I saw the world and my place in it; once you’ve made the break away from everything you know, you discover how adaptable you are. You find kind people live everywhere and realize that you can thrive many time zones away from where you’ve always felt best understood.

Have you ever lived outside your native land? Did you enjoy it?

How has it changed you?

Why I’m Not Married — Right Now

In behavior, men, news, women on November 24, 2010 at 2:52 pm
Bride and groom, California

Image via Wikipedia

Why get married? Some people have decided it’s just not worth it, prompting a national frenzy of hand-wringing.

This very long, statistics-laden piece from Time examines who still marries and who, increasingly, does not.

The conclusion, for those in a hurry, are that those with higher educations and incomes stand a better chance of marrying and staying married, partly because they’ve learned how to compromise and negotiate.

I was married for two miserable years, ages 35 to 37. I didn’t even get to my second anniversary because my ex-husband walked out and re-married a colleague from his office within a year. But, to be factual — and which echoes the statistics on who initiates most divorces — it was my unwillingness to limp along inside a dead shell of  a relationship that also propelled him out the door and into her waiting arms.

I’ve been living with my fiance for 11 years, engaged for — can’t remember! — six or seven of those years. He is more eager to marry than I, partly because his first marriage ended a decade before mine started. I’m getting there, slowly.

How, if at all, would a legally recognized union change us? Not clear. We own a home together, have signed all our assets over to one another in case of death and have no kids.

Just because someone takes vows with you wearing fancy clothes in front of a lot of people doesn’t mean they will live them.

I think many people are hungry for love, for attention, for some sort of financial and emotional security. And marriage holds out that tantalizing promise.

But promises are broken every day, as the divorce rate makes clear. I wonder, truly, how well many couples know one another before booking a hall and cooing over dresses and cakes. After eleven years, I am still learning about my sweetie, and vice versa.

Despite our pretty clear and long-standing commitments to one another, we’re often asked: ” So, when are you getting married?”

Which I find odd and, however well-meant, intrusive.

Are you married?

Do you wish you were?

Do you think everyone should marry?

The Man To Whom I’m Most Grateful

In behavior, business, education, History, Media, men, politics, travel, women, work, world on November 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

My photo, from 1982.

He’s someone you’ve likely never heard of, although he’s a well-known and beloved figure in his native France. I dedicated my first book to him and include him — more than 25 years dead — in my second book’s acknowledgements.

Philippe Viannay, (the photo here of him is one I took),  is the most inspiring man I’ve ever met. He founded a newspaper, a sailing school, a journalism school, an international journalism fellowship and a home for wayward boys.

All this, after being a Resistance hero during World War II.

He was in his 60s when we met in Paris, when I was chosen as one of 28 journalists, aged 25 to 35, from 19 countries as Journalists in Europe, an eight-month fellowship that forever changed my life and my notions of what was possible in it, both professionally and personally.

His idea, simple but complicated to fund, was to find the world’s best and most eager bilingual journalists to come and live and travel all over Europe, learning about its people and politics by living them, not parachuting in for a week or studying it only in a classroom.

We each took a 10-day reporting trip, alone, four times, some of which scared us to death — and often produced our best work. No one thought I’d survive the eight-day truck trip from Perpignan to Istanbul with Pierre, the 35-year-old trucker from Rheims. Best trip ever!

Our group, which still remains in touch, included men and women from countries including Brazil, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Togo and Sweden, forging deep and ongoing international friendships.  I now consider Paris a second home and plan to retire to France, at least part-time.

That year also taught me the world is filled with kind people, many unusual ways to get around, amazing and untold stories begging for passionate narrators. The greatest skill we brought — or developed, fast — was se debrouiller — to fend for ourselves. To figure it out. To be resourceful and get it done.

Viannay was joyful, demanding, impatient, demanded the best of everyone. He called me “le terrible Caitlin” — which I finally realized was a great, affectionate compliment, meaning “terrific”, not awful.

He died in 1986. I’ve never cried at work, except for the day I came back to the Montreal Gazette newsroom to hear that news. Amazingly, that room contained two other former fellows, two men who also knew the extraordinary gift Viannay and his progam had given us.

In June 2007, I made the pilgrimage, long overdue, to his grave in his hometown of Concarneau, in Brittany. It was a hot day when I entered the small graveyard and began searching for his final resting place. Surely, given all his extraordinary accomplishments, it was marked with a slab of gleaming granite or an an enormous angel.

I couldn’t find it and finally asked the guard to show it to me.

It was simple and understated, easily missed, just a flat, jagged slab of raw stone, a rock from his beloved Glenans, the sailing school he founded.

I slapped his stone, sat down beside him, and sobbed for a long, long time. My career had nosedived and I felt little but despair at the lost early promise he saw, and nurtured, in me.

More than anyone, he believed in me and my talents, for which I remain in his debt.

Viannay now lives on in every single person whose life he touched.

I remain forever grateful I’m one of them.

As Thanksgiving Nears, Ten Ways To Be A Gracious Host

In business, food, parenting, travel on November 22, 2010 at 1:32 am
New welcome mat from my parents

Image via Wikipedia

Being invited to someone’s home — as many of us will soon be for the holidays, whether for a party, a meal or a few days — is supposed to be a wonderful thing, a gesture of affection and hospitality. As we all know, it can also lead to sulks, sighs, flounces, shouts or worse.

Herewith a few rules for the host:

Make it fun. Really. Too many people stress themselves out to create Martha Stewart-esque perfection, determined to get it right, or else. I love to entertain in style, with candles and linen napkins, but if my guests aren’t having a good time, there’s not much point. Great music and soft lighting help. Delegate as many tasks as possible and allow plenty of time between the house-cleaning, food shopping, prep and cooking — and your meal or party. A pooped-out host(ess) is no fun!

Offer a wide array of beverage choices. Pellegrino, lots of lime and lemon slices, fresh ice, freshly-squeezed orange juice, V-8 juice and brewed tea make a nice break from sugary sodas or liquor. (Most fruit juices contain way too much sugar for those trying to lose weight.) If you’re serving tea or coffee, it’s great to have half-and-half and skim milk available as well.

Determine food allergies — but set your limits. This is really tricky in an age of vegans, gluten-free adherents and people choosing to follow any number of exotic diets. I once prepared a great salmon dish to have my 25-year-old guests sniff “I don’t eat fish.” Yes, we made them something else, but they haven’t been invited back since.

Be clear about your expectations. If the cat will rush into busy traffic if a door is opened, make that known. If you won’t tolerate anyone else disciplining your children, say so. If the apartment door must be double-bolted upon exiting to be secure, tell your houseguests, preferably a few times.

Write stuff down. If you have guests with you for a while, a written list of tips can’t hurt — where to find the coffee, whether you compost or recycle, the location of the nearest pharmacy or grocery store. Most people hate to snoop or nag, and everyone runs their household a little differently.

Anticipate disaster. If you really don’t want a red wine stain anywhere, don’t serve it. If your best crystal is irreplaceable, don’t put it within anyone’s reach.

Stock your medicine cabinet. No one wants to come unprepared, but emergencies happen — aspirin, Pepto-Bismol, bandages, sanitary supplies, extra razors or toothbrushes are all very much appreciated by needy guests.

Don’t assume your guests know how to (safely) operate any of your technology. Explain clearly anything they might find confusing. This might be anything from your remote to your coffee-maker to your music system.

Let your guests know it’s OK to do their laundry (if it is) and have extra soap on hand. If they’ve been on the road for a while, or have little kids or work out often, it’s a relief to be able to keep up.

Make houseguests truly feel at home. Nice towels, a few new magazines, a box of chocolates, a pitcher of ice water and some pretty fresh flowers in their room will make them feel pampered. If you really don’t want people around, don’t invite them, or limit their stay. They can feel it. Fake or forced hospitality is a misery for everyone.

Nice Girls Finish Last — Financially

In behavior, business, Health, Money, news, parenting, women, work on November 18, 2010 at 1:06 pm
My Grandfather (†); photo from January 17.JPG

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a cheery reminder from a Globe and Mail story — Canada’s national daily — that women are screwed financially in old age if they devote their midlife time and resources, as many now do, to caregiving.

I’ve spent much of my workdays, (which is my only source of income as a freelancer), on the phone and email so far this week dealing with social workers, nurses and lawyers to discuss what happens next to my mother (divorced, few friends) who lives a six-hour flight away in Canada and who is now in the hospital.

It remains to be determined whether she will be able to return to living alone in her home.

As her only child, I can’t turn to anyone but my partner for help. We’re lucky she gets as much free government-supplied help and health care as she already does.

Another friend my age, a woman who is also a writer, devotes many hours every week cooking and caring for her in-laws. Her two sons, looking for work, are back at home.

We’re both very fortunate in having husbands and partners who earn a decent wage and, while our labor is necessary to the family income, it is not the primary or exclusive one.

(This lowered family income does not come without conflict. I could certainly earn more and spend less if I ignored my mother’s complicated needs.)

Every hour and dollar spent, lovingly or not, devoted to the care and needs of others is wage-earning (or re-charging) time lost to oneself or one’s other current and future financial needs.

The less money women earn (and we out-live men, statistically which means we need to earn, save and invest even more than men while typically working fewer years and earning less), the poorer our old age will be.

Caregiving often means financial disaster for the person giving it.

To whom does your duty lie?

What if your parent(s) were neglectful or abusive? Made lousy choices financially and with their health, and now, as a result of those choices, need (your) help to survive?

Too many of us are struggling in a terrible economy, with little or no leeway for our own needs, now and in the future.

What’s the answer?

Turn your back on your aging parents and/or your needy adult children?

Just say no?

The New Middle Class: Drowning, Not Waving

In behavior, business, education, Money, news, work on November 15, 2010 at 1:35 pm
Ten-dollar bill obverse/reverse

Image by LividFiction via Flickr

Here’s another grim report on what’s happening to the middle class in the U.S. — sliding beneath the waves.

From the New York Post:

She’s $16,000 in debt to credit card companies. One of her local grocers, who once let her buy food on a running tab, now has a bill collector after her. She has her résumé up online, but when headhunters call and ask her age, “suddenly they never call me back,” she says. “I’m depressed. None of my friends are able to find jobs. I am living day-to-day.”

Anne’s biggest fear is that her daughter finds out how dire the situation is.

“She’ll say to me, ‘Are we poor?’ And I keep lying,” Anne says. “I think it’s a very traumatic thing for a child. I don’t want her to feel like she’s the only one, or a victim.”

When the recession does ease up, Anne fears that she will emerge as a permanent member of the lower class.

“The world kind of betrayed us,” she says. “The salary I was making — I don’t think I’ll ever make it again.”

There are several women like Anne in my book,”Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio/Penguin), now gone to press, which looks at the single largest source of new jobs in the United States — retail. Most of those jobs pay $7-12 an hour, poverty level wages. No commission, no bonuses, no raises. A dead-end job for a whole new set of workers, people who once believed they had vocational choices.
The American Dream of upward mobility is dead, if not dying, for millions of educated, hard-working people, many of them workers over the age of 40, most certainly those over 50. People who have kids or grandkids who need their financial help to complete their college educations.
Who’s got an extra$20,000 to $30,000+ to head back to school full-time to get a shiny new career and start all over again at…55? 60? 47?
That’s not how it’s supposed to work. By your 40s or 50s, life, as it once was for many of us, was supposed to be a little calmer — your home bought and maybe paid off; your kids launched into financial independence, retirement a mere decade or so away.
No longer. Millions of us have lost good jobs,  can’t even get an interview for the next one, can no longer imagine when or how things might ever get better, when we might feel safe or calm or happy about our economic situation.
Are you feeling financially secure these days?
If not, what would it take to get you there?

The Pleasure Of A Four Hour Lunch

In behavior, business, cities, food, travel, urban life, work on November 13, 2010 at 1:04 pm
The Standard Grill - Meatpacking

The Standard Grill, NYC. Image by thms.nl via Flickr

I finally ate yesterday at the Standard Grill, one of Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants — the scene at the front door a dazzling blur of entitlement, of leopard coats and Goyard handbags and great jewelry and the set jaw of the people who expect everything now having to actually wait a few minutes for their pleasure.

But it was worth it. I’d made a reservation five days earlier, sitting on hold for 10 minutes, to meet a young friend there visiting from Ottawa. He’s a stylish guy and I knew this would be a good fit.

(One of the greatest pleasures of living in New York is deciding which bar or restaurant to take someone to who is visiting from elsewhere; tonight we’re heading to Toloache, our favorite midtown restaurant, which is a gorgeous room, serves amazing, fresh small margaritas and serves beautiful Mexican food.  Our guests tonight are friends from small-town Rhode Island, an artist and her professor husband.)

Our lunch was perfect, as much for the waiter’s patience as for the food and ambience — the penny tile on the floor actually was pennies. We had only met once before, last July in Vancouver, and we are still getting to know one another. Plus we’re both journos, both Canadian and love to read. I think we must have talked for at least half an hour before we even ordered.

The food was simple but good, and my martini blessedly powerful. We suddenly noticed the lights changing — and, having met at 1:00, it was now 4:40 and the sky outside was darkening.

My lunch companion was a young man half my age, someone (yay!) whom I recently found a job for through — who else? — a man who took over my Montreal apartment in 1988 and found me this summer on LinkedIn. We met on-line as bloggers for the same site, now defunct, and decided to have dinner when I visited B.C.

As someone self-employed, a long lunch and lazy afternoon are my best work-related “benefits”  — not a 401(k) match or paid sick days — but the ability, when and where possible, to savor a great leisurely meal in lovely surroundings with someone whose company and conversation I enjoy.

One new friend, who lost her job two months ago, meets me once a week at a local diner where we catch up. She is OK financially, if bored and restless, and only now — now that she has time to sit and relax and not rush off — are we finally getting to know another.

Time to enjoy one another has become the ultimate luxury.

Do you ever take long, lazy lunches? Who do you have them with, and where? What do you eat?

What Three Months On Crutches Taught Me

In behavior, design, Health, Medicine, men, sports, travel, urban life, women on November 11, 2010 at 7:23 pm
Crutches against orange wall

They rock! Image by net_efekt via Flickr

This has been my first week, literally, on my own two feet since August 8. It is an odd feeling to readjust to ambulation.

I’ve been relying on a pair of amazing short crutches that I bought for $200 on-line that are light, strong, comfortable and made those three months as easy as they could possibly have been.

You can buy them here.

I’ve been fighting arthritis in my left hip, but some dead bone in there is more the issue. Now we’re hoping it won’t suddenly chip off, which will force me into the OR right away for the inevitable hip replacement.

What did I learn?

People are wayyyyy too nosy. I am now so glad that total strangers can’t grill me about what happened and when did I have surgery and why not and tell me all about theirs. Boundaries, people?

People are often incredibly kind. Many times, strangers in grocery stores (as I crutched with one hand, stuck the other crutch in the cart and pushed it, ugh) offered to help me or even do my shopping for me. Many opened doors and held them, men and women. Some even rushed to do it.

Most people have never heard of short crutches. They rock! Light, easy, portable. They don’t hurt your arms or shoulders or hands or armpits. They don’t hurt at all. Yes, you do develop insanely strong triceps and very thick calluses on the heels of your hands.

They see short crutches and assume they are permanent. I received many pitying looks from people who mistakenly may have assumed I must have had polio or suffer from MS.

Life goes on, crutches or no. While on them, I flew out to Las Vegas and spoke to a major conference. I scooched fast, sideways, in movie theaters, up stairs, down super-steep parking garage entrance ramps, up wet, grassy hills.  I even used them to get in and out of the swimming pool. It is damn challenging to move across wet, slippery tile!

Life also moves a lot more slowly. This is not a bad thing, but it becomes necessary. Everything takes longer than normal.

Rainy or snowy days are a drag. With both hands used for crutches, you’ve got no hand left for holding an umbrella. They are also frightening as you pray not to slip or slide into concrete or in the road.

You will develop triceps of steel. Seriously!

It’s only crutches. On my most fed-up days, I was still glad it was nothing more serious. Many people are facing much worse.

My surgeon didn’t believe I’d do it. So he told me. Of course I did!

I can’t say I will miss them, but I am deeply grateful I was able to enjoy three pain-free months of such well-assisted mobility.

No Kids? No Problem

In behavior, parenting, women on November 8, 2010 at 1:08 am
Cover of "I Love You, Mommy (Little Golde...

Cover of I Love You, Mommy (Little Golden Book)

Here’s another salvo in the mommy wars, from writer Erica Jong, in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.

And a great recent essay on not ever wanting to be a mother, by Nanette Varian, in More magazine:

It’s not as if we “intentionals” are so rare. According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of women ages 40 to 44 who’ve never given birth has doubled over the past 30 years or so, and studies have finally begun to separate the nonparents-by-chance from the nonparents-by-choice, an important acknowledgment that, yes, some of us actually did want it this way. When the National Center for Health Statistics broke out the voluntary non-moms in 2002, it found that among women ages 35 to 44 who had never given birth, 7 percent (1.5 million) had chosen that route. And that 7 percent is making itself heard. In the past few years, there have been many cultural expressions of this choice: books, websites, blogs, newsgroups, Facebook pages, even entertainments like “Breeder Bingo” cards and drinking games (mark a box or down a shot every time someone chides you with a platitude like “It’s different when they’re your own!”).

As I face my progeny-free middle and older age, it’s comforting to see I’m not the only one waving good-bye, dry eyed, as the baby train leaves the station for good. But who are the other women on the platform with me?

I have no kids and, except for a brief period at the point at which the idea was largely moot — without $10,000-a-pop IVF interventions or international adoption — never wavered from that stance.

The insane fetishization of mothering/parenting/mommyhood is such a powerful way to (re)focus attention away from the larger political and economic forces that still make motherhood, for many women, exhausting, expensive and overwhelming. Peer pressure only adds to this.

Have I regretted not having kids? No.

Do I occasionally wish I had someone with my genes and values in the world, someone who would have whispered “I love you, Mommy” and hugged me fiercely? It’s not that simple.

Watching my friends negotiate motherhood has been instructive; for every woman who loves it, another struggles with wildly unequal childcare duties, career conflicts and children who bring as many intense, life-long challenges as joy, whether mild autism or severe mental illness, to name only two.

Many adult kids are now unemployed, some even flat broke and homeless, those who can even now moving back home with their children. The cycle now never ends. Independence is ever more elusive.

Motherhood has become proxy for caring, mentoring, giving of yourself, as if women without kids are incapable of this.

One new friend, a woman in her 40s who lives in Europe, has been called a bitch — to her face! – because she does not have kids (which she had very much hoped for.) Only raising children offers incontrovertible proof to the world (whose business it is because…?) you’re not selfish.

Hah! As if.

I grew up as the only child of a divorcee with chronic health issues and with very few friends in her town. I have never felt free of her needs. As I type this, she is in a hospital bed far away recovering from a broken hip. I’ve flown cross-continent twice for her various cancer surgeries, happily.

But now it never stops….and most of her poor health is self-inflicted.

That’s been quite enough stress for me, thanks.

No kids?

No problem.

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