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Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

College Students Super-Stressed, Women Especially

In behavior, business, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting, politics, science, Technology, women, work on January 30, 2011 at 7:27 pm
Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive O...

Indra Nooyi, CEO, Pepsico. Image via Wikipedia

I found this recent report interesting, if unsurprising — that today’s freshmen are more stressed than ever.

What I really found intriguing, though, was how important to women’s mental health it is for their professors to take them seriously.

From The New York Times:

Linda Sax, a professor of education at U.C.L.A. and former director of the freshman study who uses the data in research about college gender gaps, said the gap between men and women on emotional well-being was one of the largest in the survey.

“One aspect of it is how women and men spent their leisure time,” she said. “Men tend to find more time for leisure and activities that relieve stress, like exercise and sports, while women tend to take on more responsibilities, like volunteer work and helping out with their family, that don’t relieve stress.”

In addition, Professor Sax has explored the role of the faculty in college students’ emotional health, and found that interactions with faculty members were particularly salient for women. Negative interactions had a greater impact on their mental health.

“Women’s sense of emotional well-being was more closely tied to how they felt the faculty treated them,” she said. “It wasn’t so much the level of contact as whether they felt they were being taken seriously by the professor. If not, it was more detrimental to women than to men.”

She added: “And while men who challenged their professor’s ideas in class had a decline in stress, for women it was associated with a decline in well-being.”

For many young women, college is their first experience of being taken seriously by an adult teacher, and one whose personal and subjective ranking of them can affect their future career — certainly for anyone hoping to enter medicine, law or other professions.

Yet those professors aren’t subject to parental interference or suasion, sometimes thousands of miles distant from any intervening influence.

It’s then up to young women to stand up for their own ideas and opinions, fighting for them verbally and in writing. Alone.

If you’ve been raised, as many young women still are, to defer to authority and especially male authority, challenging it can feel terrifying or even impossible. But any woman with serious intellectual or political ambitions must acquire this essential skill.

One reason women still shy away from STEM work (science, technology, engineering and math) is the paucity of female professors whose own behavior, and intellectual confidence, serve as powerful models. I’ve had young w0men write to me personally in despair after having male classmates, or professors, scoff or sneer at them in these male-dominated classrooms. The easiest choice is to flee, a choice that only deprives us all of terrific talent and diversity down the road.

Look at a Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi or Indra Nooyi or Carol Tome or Angela Merkel. Every woman who hopes to attain and exercise power and authority must become comfortable expressing her ideas publicly — which often includes hearing them torn to pieces — and figuring out the next step after that.

Bright, confident women scare the hell out of many people.

But staying silent and docile is not an option.

Ladies, speak up!

A One-Room Schoolhouse In Brooklyn

In art, behavior, children, cities, culture, education, journalism, life, Media, parenting, urban life, work on January 28, 2011 at 11:45 am
Looking south at southbound platform's ID mosa...

Image via Wikipedia

I first heard of Still Waters in A Storm– of course! – watching BBC, who interviewed its founder Stephen Haff about his unusual and innovative “one room schoolhouse” in a storefront in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Haff is a quiet, soft-spoken man whose life is dedicated to the admirable and challenging idea that low-income kids, and adults, need and deserve a clean, bright, welcoming physical space in which to gather, write, read, play, talk and grow together.

As I watched him on BBC, I emailed and offered to come visit and talk about my own work as an author of two non-fiction books, one about women and guns in the U.S. and one about working in low-wage retail work. To my delight, he emailed back that evening and said, “Come!”

So, last Saturday, I drove an hour from my home north of New York City to the storefront in Brooklyn. There I met a handful of female graduate students working on their MFAs in creative writing, who volunteer with and tutor the kids during the week. I also met about a dozen children and adults, ranging in age from eight to about 30, regulars there.

What I liked most, and found truly lovely, (albeit demanding of some patience with diversions and whispered sidebars), was the intergenerational piece of this — beyond classroom or family, when do adults and kids just sit together and get to know and trust one another’s creativity and possibilities?

I have no children in my life at all, not even nieces or nephews or friends with kids who  I am close enough to to be included in their family activities. I like kids, even though I chose not to have any myself, and miss their energy and humor and relative innocence. I felt lucky to be able to join them.

The afternoon began with fresh pizza and juice boxes. Then we settled in around a long row of tables pushed together and got down to it — writing. Whatever came into our heads. Then — gulp — we read it aloud to one another, and waited to hear what others saw, heard and felt. Criticism and praise are off limits, only honest reactions to content.

It was amazing.

One very brave girl shared a brutal story of a personal crisis. Two little boys, giggling and strutting, did a rap song about their teacher. I normally work alone at home and never share my work face to face with a soul! My editors and agent all work, as I do, by email or telephone so we never have the joy — or challenges — of seeing someone’s face crumple with dismay or confusion, or light up with pleasure.

There was an immediacy and intimacy to the afternoon, as the light faded outside into evening, that was powerful and extraordinary.

Stephen needs: two couches, violins, a floor lamp, more wooden tables and chairs — and donations for their $2,000 a month rent.

I hope you’ll consider helping!

Drop That Crocodile!

In behavior, blogging, domestic life, family, life, women on January 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm
Phylum : Chordata - Class : Reptilia - Order :...

Image via Wikipedia

Do you ever find yourself feeling like your life has turned into a crocodile — large, wet, scaly, heavy, unwieldy?

Thrashing wildly in your arms and trying to snap your hands off?

Time to drop that sucker, stat!

Right now, here’s what’s happening in my life, all at the same time:

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio) comes out April 14, and I have hired two fantastic assistants, paid from my own pockets, to help me promote it. That means: setting up events and readings, finding people to blog and review and write about it, finding places to promote it on-line, setting up a book tour, etc.

My mom is in the hospital in another country, a six-hour flight away, facing surgery then moving into a nursing home. That means, as her only child with a shared power of attorney with another woman, finding buyers for, and selling: her car, home, contents and finding a nursing home. And managing all her affairs.

My right hand has two weird things happening at once, including a finger that clicks internally and needs to be seen by a doctor and I am sick to death of doctors.

My left eye has finally stopped looking like Frankenstein, bloodshot for a week, quite likely (you think?) from stress. The doctor warned me that until the stress has subsided, it could happen again.

My left hip, which has dead bone in it, makes walking difficult and painful. Now that New York, where I live, is covered in ice and snow, I walk like a Japanese lady in a very tight kimono, praying I don’t slip, fall or shatter that dead bone, forcing me into immediate hip replacement surgery and an eight-week recovery.

I was threatened by a fellow blogger who said he wanted to “beat me bloody” . I don’t laugh such threats off, and called the police, who investigated him, even though he lives in Florida and I in New York. FYI, making such threats is a Class B misdemeanor and carries jail time.

It’s been fun!

But the point is….how to cope?

Drop the bloody crocodile!

By which I mean, and here is the real silver living in it all, it all teaches you to take a break from whatever stress you can. Heave it, like that nasty croc, as far away from you for as long as possible.

Because it will kill you.

I met a woman yesterday to talk business. She’s lovely and passionate and very beautiful, but has already had one heart attack from stress and, after we met, I can see the next one lurking. She is driving herself at industrial speed. She sleeps very little.

So here’s what I’ve been doing to de-stress, and all of it works really well:

Pedicures

Movies

Long lunches with very good friends

Long phone chats with very good friends

Sweating it out at the gym and dance class

Sleeping as much as my body tells me to, if that’s 15 hours in one night, so be it

Taking naps during the day, if necessary

Drinking a lot of water and fresh juice and being careful about caffeine and liquor consumption

Reading some terrific books (Keith Richard’s “Life” is one)

What are some of your stresses?

What do you do to cope with them?

What Defines An On-Line Community?

In behavior, blogging, culture, life, Media, women on January 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm
"The Social Gathering" a North Side ...

Image by Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest via Flickr

Because I’m forever interested in the notion of “community”, I sought a definition and found a bunch of them:

  • a group of people living in a particular local area; “the team is drawn from all parts of the community”
  • common ownership; “they shared a community of possessions
  • a group of nations having common interests; “they hoped to join the NATO community”
  • agreement as to goals; “the preachers and the bootleggers found they had a community of interests”
  • residential district: a district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences
  • (ecology) a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other
    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

I think the final definition here is the only one that applies to those who create and try to sustain community on the web.

And the challenge of simply interacting with people you do not know, have never met, may never meet and who may be creating utterly false identities is…who are you dealing with?

For me, a community worth being part of involves a significant level of trust: that is your real name, and photo, and these are your credentials or experiences. This may mark me as naive, or old-fashioned, someone unable to appreciate the wit and irony that so delight and amuse many others in this medium.

But I’m fine with that.

I’m a female Popeye — I yam what I yam.

I want to talk to, and listen to, and interact with, and trust (else why would I really listen to you or heed you?) real people.

How about you?

Eating Out In New York City? Go Here

In business, cities, design, food, travel on January 24, 2011 at 1:36 pm
This is actually Tom's Restaurant, NYC. Famous...

Tom's Diner, UWS, immortalized by Seinfeld and Suzanne Vega...Image via Wikipedia

Check this out — a new downtown Manhattan restaurant that will totally change its decor and menus every month.

That space has special meaning for me and my sweetie of eleven years, for in it we had our third date when it was a French bistro named Le Jardin. We loved eating in its grape-arbored backyard, a rustic rarity in downtown Manhattan.

Here’s a list of favorite New York City restaurants from one of my favorite blogs, Eater NY.

Some of my own hangouts made the list; I’ve lived just north of NYC since 1989:

Bars

Old Town Bar. Noisy and crowded in the evening, but great for a quiet lunch. Founded in 1892, its booths are battered and worn, like stepping into a sepia photograph. Head up the narrow steep stairs for a quieter experience in the restaurant upstairs.

Dublin House. Dive bar! Great jukebox. An unlikely find in the pricey upper West Side.

Fanelli’s. Love its heavy etched glass doors and narrow bar. Like Old Town, it’s more than 100 years old, so go for the setting, not the food.  Stop in for a Guinness as you stumble through Soho.

Temple Bar. Look for the small glowing lizard inset — no sign! — into the wall on Lafayette Street. This bar is a tiny, intimate jewelbox. Perfect for a romantic date. Dress up!

The King Cole Room. A drink will cost a small fortune, but worth it for a taste of true old-school elegance at the St. Regis Hotel. Savor the gorgeous Maxfield Parrish mural behind the bar that gives it its name.

Cafes

Cafe Cluny. Tiny, perfect, neutral colors. Not cheap but worth it.

Cafe Angelique. Perpetually jammed with bankers and European tourists, this pretty spot has good food in an interesting neighborhood, the West Village. Fuel up here for your shopping on $$$$$$$ Bleecker.

Caffe Reggio. Crammed with NYU students at its small tables, it’s the perfect spot on a cold winter’s afternoon for a cappuccino and cannoli. Opened in 1927, its ochre walls are covered with art.

Grey Dog. The best! I love its rustic interior, friendly staff, comfy tables. Settle in with your NYT and savor.

Restaurants

Gramercy Tavern. The room is gorgeous, the service elegant, the food delicious. Still thriving after 17 years!

La Grenouille. I had lunch upstairs last year and it was one of the loveliest experiences ever. Hushed, old-school, formal, delicious, expensive. Founded 49 years ago, it has an elegance hard to find and one to cherish.

Toloache. This three-year-old Theater District Mexican is one of my absolute favorites. I love their small, freshly made margaritas, their delicate hand with portion sizes and sauces, friendly service. I love the look of the two-story room, with its hand-painted tile mural. This is high-end dining, not boring old fajitas/tacos/burritos.

Red Cat. Few restaurants in Manhattan last, but this one has. Red Cat is welcoming, warm, lovely to sit in and offers great food at reasonable prices.

Morandi. One of Keith McNally’s faux-aged see-and-be-seen spots, I love it anyway. Sit at the bar and enjoy one of the city’s best spaghetti carbonaras.

Balthazar. Another McNally spot, opened in 1997. Heaven. Huge room, high ceilings, stylish crowd, great food. As close to Paris as you can get on this side of the Atlantic.

Cafe Boulud. We recently treated ourselves to the three-course prix fixe lunch ($35 pp) with a bottle of Cotes du Rhone for $28. The room is calm, quiet, lightened with antiqued mirrors and crisp, bright watercolors. The service is excellent, the food lovely, presentation fab — my vitello tonnato came on a slab of slate, my banana/ice cream dessert de-constructed into three pockets of a white china dish. Can’t wait to go back.

New York Noodletown. Cheap, delicious, cheap, delicious. The white plastic tablecloths and line-up of people eyeing your table reminds me of all my favorite (hometown) Toronto spots on Spadina.

Daddy-o. I just discovered this 12-year-old tiny little corner restaurant with a great burger. Any restaurant lasting more than a decade in Manhattan is doing something very right!


What are your New York favorites?

Design’s Grand Dame: Andree Putman

In antiques, art, business, culture, design, domestic life, women, work, world on January 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm
Cover of "Andree Putman"

Cover of Andree Putman

I’m a huge fan of interior design, one of the fields in which talented women have long held sway — Madame Castaing, Nancy Lancaster, Sister Parish, Victoria Hagan, Mariette Himes Gomez.

I studied at The New York School of Interior Design, and loved all of it. (OK, not drafting.)

At 85, Andree Putman is still going strong.

Here’s a link to news of her new show in Paris, on until February.

Why Do The Wealthy So Fascinate Us?

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, entertainment, film, life, Media, Money, movies, television on January 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm
The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Van...

A Newport, RI, "cottage." Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been watching, and enjoying, Downton Abbey on television the past few weeks, the story of an impossibly wealthy British family trying to protect their home and inheritance.

Why do we care?

Sure, the production values are high — the home lovely, the clothing meticulously re-creating Edwardian elegance. The servants’ intrigues and gossip mimic that of their employers, but still, what do we find so fascinating about the wealthy?

In an era today that has come to resemble the Gilded Age in its income inequality, where CEOs outearn their lowest-paid minions by 400 percent, it’s so much less…annoying…to stare in awe and envy at their gleaming motorcars, 20,000 square foot homes, billion dollar yachts, jewels and furs and nannies and neuroses than face our own frustrations and challenges.

As the U.S. recession drags into another year, now its third and with no definitive end anywhere in sight, the rest of us seem to take perverse pleasure in gawping at the rich, with television shows like “The Housewives Of...” ever-popular. Not to mention this show, in which spoiled brat daughters suddenly have to…gasp!…work for their money.

One aspect of Downtown Abbey is its timelessness — the family who own it are patrons of a local hospital that bears their name; I live a 10-minute drive from a hospital also endowed by the Rockefellers, whose enormous estate covers thousands of acres just up the road from where I live.

Their wishes have so altered this suburban New York landscape that my apartment building was re-designed — to be lower and flatter — so as not to spoil their magnificent Hudson River views. They even managed to shut down a local train line because it was…too noisy.

I worked retail from 2007-2009, the subject of my forthcoming book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 2011).

My greatest challenge? The sense of entitlement the worst of the wealthy carry with them, like some separate form of life support. They slap down their AmEx black cards, snap their fingers in your face, pout and whine when you say “No” to them.

No one says no to them!

Better we should focus our energy and our attention on less amusing sights — like our own work, families and income. After the necessities are covered, our real wealth isn’t material.

What Will We Leave Behind?

In art, behavior, business, culture, design, domestic life, education, entertainment, History, journalism, life, Media, men, Technology, women on January 15, 2011 at 4:50 am
Michel de Montaigne.

Michel de Montaigne. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a smart piece that addresses the issue, from The New York Times Magazine:

But increasingly we’re not leaving a record of life by culling and stowing away physical journals or shoeboxes of letters and photographs for heirs or the future. Instead, we are, collectively, busy producing fresh masses of life-affirming digital stuff: five billion images and counting on Flickr; hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos uploaded every day; oceans of content from 20 million bloggers and 500 million Facebook members; two billion tweets a month. Sites and services warehouse our musical and visual creations, personal data, shared opinions and taste declarations in the form of reviews and lists and ratings, even virtual scrapbook pages. Avatars left behind in World of Warcraft or Second Life can have financial or intellectual-property holdings in those alternate realities. We pile up digital possessions and expressions, and we tend to leave them piled up, like virtual hoarders. At some point, these hoards will intersect with the banal inevitability of human mortality. One estimate pegs the number of U.S. Facebook users who die annually at something like 375,000.

I think about this a lot, maybe because I write for a living as a journalist and non-fiction author. I like to think my work will live on for decades or more, stored as it is within the databases of the many newspapers and magazines I’ve written for since the 1970s. I’ve written many personal stories for publication in print: about getting married, getting divorced, returning to church, and know that millions of strangers who have read them, like those who read my blogs, “know” me as a result.

But I don’t have kids or even nephews or nieces, so I also know that all my beloved family photos, and those of my sweetie — my favorite image, being cuddled by his Mom as a baby — will end up as detritus or, maybe, in some flea market bin.

Same with my journals and notebooks, decades of insights and observations. Gone.

But I worry about the loss of all the paper artifacts so many of us now disdain and no longer use — letters sent through the mail and kept, whether love letters or documents — that make up our individual and collective histories.

On the morning of 9/11, one of the most poignant and terrifying artifacts were the burned shreds of paper that floated all the way into my sweetie’s Brooklyn backyard from the fallen Twin Towers: invoices, letterhead, faxes…

Think of all the men and women we’ve come to know only through their letters and journals over the centuries, even milennia, from Herodotus to Pepys, whose diary of daily life from 1660 to 1669 is considered one of of the world’s greatest. I love (geek that I am) Montaigne’s travel journal, from 1580.

One of my favorite songs, Virginia Woolf, by the Indigo Girls captures the profound connections we have with the long-dead through their writing:

They published your diary
And that’s how I got to know you
The key to the room of your own and a mind without end
And here’s a young girl
On a kind of a telephone line through time
And the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend
So I know I’m all right
Life will come and life will go
Still I feel it’s all right
Cause I just got a letter to my soul
And when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughs in my face
You say each life has it’s place

The hatches were battened
The thunderclouds rolled and the critics stormed
The battle surrounded the white flag of your youth
If you need to know that you weathered the storm
Of cruel mortality
A hundred years later I’m sitting here living proof

What will you leave behind?

Does it matter?

You Should Be Ashamed

In behavior, business, Crime, life, Money, women, work on January 13, 2011 at 1:35 am
Entrance to Lewis's department store, Liverpoo...

Image via Wikipedia

Want to score some freebies?

Try this — ripping off retail associates.

As suggested (nice work, fellow journos!) in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Yeah, screwing over low-wage employees in a recession is really a rockin’ idea.

The Introvert’s Nightmare — Promoting Your New Book

In behavior, business, culture, design, education, entertainment, Fashion, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on January 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm
Seated man reading a book

Solitude? It doesn't sell books!Image by National Media Museum via Flickr

Here’s a great piece by a writer friend in Psychology Today:

Writing seems a perfect career for introverts, since it entails many hours alone in a quiet room. That’s the fun part of the job. Easy, even. But once your book is published, the real work starts: Getting people to buy it.

The days of publishers spending big bucks on book promotion are long gone. Today, after you manage to sell the book to a publisher, you then have to sell it to readers. So people who have chosen the solitary life of the writer are forced not just to step into the spotlight, but to chase it down. Heck, you have to get your own spotlight, point it at yourself, and holler “LOOK AT ME!”

Ick.

But an author’s gotta do what an author’s gotta do. What’s it like? Here, from four introverted writers, is a mix of advice and fear and loathing.

Today is a day for me to sit still. I spent the last two days, from 9:00 to 6:30, traversing the enormous Javits Center, Manhattan’s conference center, attending the annual National Retail Federation Big Show.

There were 15,000 people attending and thousands of exhibitors, most of them people selling their products and services (from security cameras to signage to software) to retailers. As I stood in line to buy my coffee, Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, a huge celebrity in this world, walked right past me.

But who should I address? What should I say?

One of the people I interviewed for my new book is the CEO of a software company who invited me to be the keynote speaker at his users’ conference — with major players in attendance like Kohls, Home Depot, Old Navy. Being a keynote speaker, while a fantastic honor, was scary enough, and I even did it while on crutches.

Scary or not, for my new retail book to take off — “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 14, 2011) — I need to do much, much more of this sort of self-promotion, meeting senior executives with decades of experience.

No one could possibly work the Big Show alone, so two friends — bubbly, outgoing blonds my age — also worked the room handing out postcards for the book. I paid one of them for her time, $180 out of my own pocket for her labor and energy.

It’s not easy!

Approaching total strangers hour after hour after hour to explain why I/my book are fabulous requires a sort of psychic stamina few people possess.

Barb and Hannah did a great job and I’ve made some terrific new contacts for speaking engagements and book sales.

The whole thing is a little terrifying to someone who — today — is writing this wearing a T-shirt and sweats, no make-up, uncombed hair, face unwashed.

Writers do most of our work alone at home, interacting with sources by phone or email because so many of them live very far away; even if they’re an hour away, we often can’t afford the two hours’ wasted time traveling to and from their location. (Now that gas is already $3.35 a gallon here as well.)

So the HeyhowareyaGreattomeetyou! of determined, ongoing book marketing and promotion can be a real a shock to the system. Most writers are fairly private people, attached to a computer and printer for months, if not years, interacting for their book primarily with three key players — your agent, editor and publicist.

All of whom are on your side.

Then — boom! — you’re shot out of the editorial cannon and into public view, criticism, questioning and judgment. Fellow journalists whip out their notepads and cameras and it’s my turn to be listened to and quoted. Gulp.

I now carry hairspray and a mirror. (I normally often forget to carry a hairbrush, let alone my cellphone.)

I was interviewed for two videos yesterday and, totally by chance, by a reporter from Women’s Wear Daily as I sat in a hallway.

Here we go…

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