broadsideblog

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Sacrifice? Moi? Eight Things Successful Writers Learn To Lose

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on March 30, 2011 at 11:55 am
Bookstore HS germany

Ooooh, I want to be there!Image via Wikipedia

What do you mean sacrifice?

Isn’t becoming a successful writer — speaking here specifically of publishing your books commercially through major houses — all about winning? Money? Fame? A shot at being on Oprah?

Not so much.

Writing and selling your book, or books, is a terrific and exciting journey and one thousands of us make every year.

But even those who insist on self-publishing (even the super-successful like Amanda Hocking) learn the hard way it’s never an easy route.

Here, with my second non-fiction book out in two weeks from Portfolio, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, are eight lessons in loss I’ve learned along the way:

A fixed definition of success

The best-seller list? Only the tiniest fraction of us will get there. Huge sales? Ditto. The thrill of your family and friends beaming with pride? That’s a for-sure. Whatever you hope for your book, don’t attach your ego or future income stream to any specific outcome. Let the process unfold, even while working your hardest on every aspect of promotion, marketing and sales. You may not hit it out of the park the first, second or third time. But a solid single or double is something to be proud of and may still be sufficient to win your next contract.

Ego

This might be the biggest and most important of all. The paradox of writing a book for public consumption — and skilfully fielding the resulting media attention you need to sell it — demands an ego strong enough to firmly believe that there are readers out there eager to hear your ideas. But along the way, your ego is likely to visit the woodshed more than a few times. Your agent may ask for multiple revisions of your proposal. The proposal may never sell. The book may sell but require significant revision; one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read, “Absolutely American”, was rewritten twelve times, the editor told a writers’ conference, before it made the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Or the publisher might simply refuse it as “unpublishable.” It happens. You must be prepared to work closely for many months with your agent, editor, copy editor and publicist. It’s much more of a team sport than it appears.

Dreams

You might need to shelve fantasies you’ve harbored for years. It’s important to dream, and dream big. But the process of moving from idea to manuscript to bookstore can look a lot different from your cherished dream or that of your writing friends. Be open to it!

Expectations

Authors get book tours, right? Authors get on all the big TV shows. We travel far and wide on our publisher’s dime. Not! The average first-time advance for a new author of a trade book is low, as low as $15,000 to $20,000 — paid in four installments, each with 15 percent taken out first by your agent. Do as much homework on the publishing industry as you possibly can, attending writers’ conferences, reading wise blogs, devouring smart books like “Thinking Like Your Editor” so you’re heading into the fray well-prepared. The most successful authors are also those who know how to work within the system, and become the writers their agent and publicist and editor look forward to working with again. This tough business is no place for naievete.

Time

It is hard to overstate how much time it takes, usually, to get a book from the inside of your head into a bookstore. Like — years. Let’s say you have a fabulous idea and, within weeks of having it (and already having built your “platform”, the gazillions of readers who already know and love your work) you’re fortunate enough to find an agent you can work well with. (It’s not always automatic.) They will want you, for non-fiction, to produce a proposal, which can run up to 30 pages or more and must include at least one sample chapter. The months you spend polishing the proposal will require a steady income from elsewhere. Even after you have sold your book, the first advance payment may take several months to show up. Then, when you think the book is finished, you may need to revise it to your editor’s liking for weeks or months.

Money

If you have another steady source of income allowing you to focus solely on producing and polishing and promoting your book, terrific! If not, where’s that funding going to come from? This is the money you’ll need for a variety of expenses: researchers, assistants, FOIA requests, travel for your own research, creating and updating your book website, planning and executing a book tour, polishing the book between advance payments (that can take up to a year.) You may find funding from grants and fellowships, or teaching or a full-time or part-time job. But be sure to have several thousand dollars at the ready for all of these costs. You have one shot at making your book the best it can possibly be. This is not the time to cheap out!

Social Life

If you really want to produce, you’ve got to plant your bum in the chair. That means not: having coffee/lunch/dinner with your friends or colleagues, taking vacations, going to movies or shows or concerts. It may mean missing out on all sorts of fun things you’d really rather do. Not while you’re on a book deadline! That date is no joke — an entire team of people you may never meet (from the production editor to the sales team) — are relying on you. Your spouse or partner and your kids and friends and relatives may really not get it. Writing is easy, right? You can do it later, or tomorrow, or between the kids’ naps or playdates. Maybe. Maybe not. Stay in close touch with other ambitious and successful writers. They know what it takes, and will steer you back to the computer.

Competing projects

These range from laundry and exercise to a tempting new job or lucrative or fun assignment. Every writer knows we have to shut down other sources of income and projects demanding our time, energy and attention. Something, and often many things, are competing for our time, which is limited. If you’re an avid volunteer, you may need to withdraw or scale back for a while. No matter how tempting these sirens, stay focused on your book!

Here’s a great blog post about a new book that really explains the trade publishing industry in the U.S. and U.K. Every would-be author needs to read it!

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

In behavior, design, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, Money, women on March 28, 2011 at 11:54 am
The 'Glasses Apostle' in the altarpiece of the...

Time for a new vision? Definitely! Image via Wikipedia

I returned home a few weeks ago after a three-week absence, the longest I had been away for a few years in one stretch.

I suddenly saw the bedroom, robin’s egg blue, with fresh eyes, and I wanted a change, a big one.

Now it’s soft, warm gray — the same color we’ve had in our small dining room for a few years. It’s the exact shade of cigarette ash, soothing yet clean and crisp without being cold. (It’s called Modern Gray from Sherwin-Williams and the owners of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie [one of my favorite stores] have the exact same color in their country home.)

One of the great challenges of everyday life is being able to see things with fresh eyes. It all starts to blur after a while into a haze of comforting, familiar, routine sameness.

Putting my mother into a nursing home jolted me — hard — out of this stupor.

I sat with her at dinner, a silent room filled with nodding gray heads, and came home desperately grateful for my sweetie’s laughter and loud music and even the noisy small baby downstairs.

We sorted through boxes of her belongings, lovely things she had acquired from all over the world, from hand-embroidered dresses from India to a folk art wooden animal she bought in London. I came home determined to toss everything without meaning or serious value to me, from my old wedding ring to the armoire that’s been in the garage for three years.

The cost of her care every month is as much as we, combined, earn. Now we’re looking into long-term care insurance.

What has sharpened your vision lately?

Sniff! My Favorite Smells

In behavior, culture, design, domestic life, Health, life, nature, women on March 26, 2011 at 2:16 am
Grasse

Grasse, France, home to many delicious smells! Image via Wikipedia

As spring sunshine slowly warms the earth, you can smell the new season. Where I live, in  a small town north of New York City, the pungent and specific odor of fresh wild onion — their thin, bright green sprigs poking up everywhere — is one I look forward to every year.

One of my most powerful scent memories, decades old now, was driving through the North Carolina night down a winding rural road when a huge, delicious whiff of wild jasmine suddenly filled the car. Yum!

Some of my favorite smells:

Good leather

Clean dog

Warm horse

Old wool

Jet fuel (I’m going somewhere!)

Woodsmoke

Balkanie Sobranie pipe tobacco, lit or unlit

Lilacs

Hyacinth

Maja soap, a classic with the most elegant black tissue paper wrapping

Oilliet-Mignardise soap by Roger & Gallet, a spicy smell of carnations. Heaven in a box!

Tiempe Passate, a super-hard-to-find perfume made by New York perfumer Antonia Bellanca

Sun-dried pine needles

1881 cologne, the 1955 classic by Nino Cerruti, the one my sweetie wore the night we met 11 years ago

Cedar

The ocean

Moist earth

A well-made gin martini

Earl Grey tea, freshly steeped (yes, it’s the bergamot)

Grasse, in the south of France, has been a center of the perfume industry for many years and has a museum of scent.

Here’s a link to a Mallorca museum with some rural smells of the past.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Working Retail? A Shopper? This Book’s For You

In blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, news, women, work on March 24, 2011 at 1:37 am
Mall in Jakarta

Mall life....some of us survive it! Image via Wikipedia

Three weeks from today my new memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” appears from Portfolio, the imprint of Penguin Press focused on business.

It tells the story of my two years and three months as a sales associate at a suburban New York mall for The North Face, an internationally known brand of outdoor clothing. In it, you’ll also hear from many other associates nationwide, and from consultants, analysts and senior executives — like Richard Galanti, the CFO of Costco — working in the nation’s third largest industry and largest source of new jobs.

If you’ve ever worked in a retail job — or any job with the public (God help you!) — you’ll find something in it to identify with, especially customers from hell, whether entitled finger-snappers or the perpetually dissatisfied.

I started out, as many retail workers do, psyched. New job, new industry, new skills, new co-workers. It was all good!

A few years later, shaking with rage, I actually ran and hid in the stockroom one afternoon after the umpteenth whiny shopper hit my last strained nerve.

“You’re being hostile,” she sniffed.

Truthfully I replied: “You have no idea what hostile looks like!”

Please check out the introduction and chapter one here.

The book — yay! — is getting all sorts of media interest. I’ve already been interviewed, so far, by the Associated Press, Washington Post, WWD, Marie-Claire (May issue) and USA Today. I’m booked on NRP’s Diane Rehm show April 18, and will travel from my home in NY to DC to do it in-studio.

Entertainment Weekly just named it “an excellent memoir.”

Please cross your fingers for its success, come check out our FB page and, if you like it, please spread the word!

Broke and Pregnant In The Recession: Another Caitlin’s New Memoir

In behavior, blogging, books, children, domestic life, family, journalism, life, love, Media, Money, parenting, travel, women on March 22, 2011 at 9:52 am
Bar Harbor Maine, located on Mount Desert Island

Bar Harbor, Maine, the author's birthplace. Image via Wikipedia

Caitlin Shetterly, in her mid-30s, was a freelance writer and NPR contributor who decided — just before the recession bit so hard — it was a good time to realize a lifelong dream and move from her native Maine to California with her new husband, Dan, a freelance photographer.

Within weeks of moving to L.A., though, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant and so violently ill with morning sickness she could barely stand up, let alone earn a living.

Desperate and scared, she and Dan and baby Matthew finally called her Mom, living in a cabin in rural Maine, to ask for refuge. They then drove all the way back across the country and moved in with her for a few months while they got back on their feet.

“Made for You and Me” is the result, a recession memoir.

Caitlin’s story was broadcast in a series of audio diaries on NPR, prompting offers of money, jobs and a place to stay from some listeners — and opprobrium from others who felt her choices quixotic at best, misguided at worst.

Here’s an excerpt from the book.

I went into Manhattan a few weeks ago to hear her read and meet her for the first time; we agreed to blog about one another’s new books, both of which offer a personal window into this recession.

Q: Tell us a bit about your husband.

His name is Daniel E. Davis. He’s in graduate school getting an MFA in Photography. He hopes to teach.

Q: What made you want to write this book (beyond economic need?)
Writing this book was a natural outgrowth of my blog, Passage West, which I began when Dan and I first went west to California. Then, when my series of audio diaries aired on NPR it was every evident that there was a hunger for an honest story about how the recession was really affecting regular Americans.

Q: Give us a bit of your education and background
I was born in Bar Harbor, Maine. I was raised in Gouldsboro, Maine on sixty acres in the woods–my parents were part of the back-to-the-land movement. We moved to a small town down the coast from Gouldsboro when I was 7. I went to high school in Blue Hill, Maine and to Brown, where I majored in English and American Literature.

Q: Did you always plan/hope to be an author/actress/journalist?
I came from a creative family, so I don’t know that I really knew how to do anything else other than create. I published my first essay when I was twelve — writing for me was always an outlet, one that I needed. And, while at Brown, I fulfilled a second major (undeclared) in painting. In a way, I just followed what fed me emotionally and artistically, and I went with those.

Q: As you headed west to California, what did you expect to find or create there? Individually and as a couple?
Well, I had already been told by NPR that they needed me out there reporting on theatre. I’d already filed one theatre piece from L.A. and they had loved it. I had been filing on theatre for a while and they needed someone like me out west. Dan had already set up some work in L.A.
But I think in many ways we went west with all the bravado of the Pioneers; this is an iconic journey, one that one makes not only to work, but also to find themselves and, even more, to find themselves as Americans. And we fulfilled that.

Q: When you became pregnant (at what age?) did you never consider an abortion? Not even once discuss it? You do not mention this in the book. It was, as everyone knows, a very tough time to add another mouth to feed.
No, I would never have considered such a thing. First of all, when I became pregnant in the late winter/ spring of 2008, the U.S. had not yet entered the depths of the recession. We were just beginning something we did not yet know was going to really rock our foundations. But no matter what, I would have kept my child. Becoming a mother is the most important, most deep, most beautiful thing that ever happened in my life. The timing may not have been convenient, but I was always thrilled at the prospect of having my son.

Q: As you began your NPR audio diaries, how did that feel for you and your husband?
It was hard. Putting our lives out there was hard. But there were gifts because Americans all across the country reached out to us and that made us know, in our bodies, the goodness of people, the goodness of Americans.

Q: What surprised you most about the public reaction to your diaries and plight?
I was surprised by the men who wrote to me suggesting that my husband was a wimp or I never should have married him. I believe this recession has been called a “Mancession” by some people, and it really has been. More men have lost their jobs than women. So, to suggest that my husband was less of a man, was bizarre. I think it gets to something mean that can happen when people are down, there’s always someone who wants to kick them.

Q: What was the toughest single moment (if you can pick one) of this experience?
The days before we left California to drive back across America to move in with my mother in Maine, were the hardest.

Q: The best?
The whole experience was also the best thing in my life. I got a beautiful son out of it. I have a husband I love, and we went through this really important, hard time together, I came home to my family. There was so much beauty in hard times.

Q: How has this changed you?
I’m a nicer person. I smile at strangers –this is something I decided to do when our lives were going to hell in a hand basket. I started smiling at gardeners and people in cars next to me, at people on the street. I still do this. Our marriage is stronger and more honest. We really know each other now and we got through a hard time by talking to each other.

Take That Photo Today — Here’s Why

In antiques, cities, design, life, movies, photography, urban life on March 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm
Cover of "The Purple Rose of Cairo"

Cover of The Purple Rose of Cairo

My little town, 25 miles north of Manhattan, is so charming it’s been used as a set for several films: Purple Rose of Cairo, The Preacher’s Wife, Mona Lisa Smile and The Good Shepherd.

But Oliver’s Barber Shop, used in the Purple Rose of Cairo, is suddenly gone.

It had two huge, perfect 1930s windows, filled with plants and flags and signs. It was, in its own funky way, a set piece, literally.  I loved everything about it and even did a watercolor painting of it about six years ago, framed it and gave it to my sweetie for Christmas. Oddly, the brick around those windows remains a lighter beige, painted for the movie to look more photogenic.

But the barber shop (now a trendy hair salon) is gone for good and I’m in shock and in mourning. I will miss that window, in its ancient messiness, terribly.

I love old things and their patina of age, doors whose paint is alligatored and faded, porcelain that is crazed with a thousand tiny cracks, silver a little banged up, textiles worn thin by someone else’s skin. I can’t explain its hold on me, the ancient. Maybe because it helps me feel anchored by centuries past, not adrift in a world of noise, plastic and neon.

We tend to photograph the unusual and the special: births, christenings, graduations, weddings — but not the quotidian. We’re too busy or assume the things we love about our neighborhoods, our cities and towns and rural landscapes, will always be there.

The disappearance of Oliver’s was a great wake-up call.

Love it before it’s gone.

Take a photo — keep a memory.

On Assignment!

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, travel, work on March 18, 2011 at 12:19 pm
The offices of The Gazette newspaper on Saint ...

One of my former newspaper employers...Image via Wikipedia

Are there any sweeter words?

Not for me.

I’ve been writing for a living since I was 18 and almost every story gets me excited, still.

Last week, barely off the plane from Vancouver after three weeks away from home, I drove three hours each way deep into the Catskills to visit a maple syrup producer in Harpersfield, NY.

I grew up in Canada so the stuff flows in my veins. I so love maple syrup I carry a container of it whenever we go to a diner for pancakes.

Here’s the story, in today’s New York Times.

These are a few of the stories from my 30-year career I remember most:

Best

Crewing aboard The Endeavour, a replica of Captain Cook’s ship, for a week between Norwalk, CT and Newport, RI. Slept in a hammock every night, climbed the rigging dozens of times a day to 100 feet in the air to work enormous square canvas sails while standing on (shriek!) a swaying narrow footrope. A paid journey into the 18th. century.

A day in the Arctic village of Salluit, while a reporter for the Montreal Gazette. We landed in a tiny prop plane on an airstrip of ice, greeted by members of the village of 500, including the mayor on his snowmobile. The story we’d been sent, at $5,000 expense to report, so pissed off the village that I had to go on the radio (a particle-board shack) to be interviewed in English, translated into Inuktitut, to placate everyone enough to even talk to me. No pressure!

Interviewing Patty Varone, the female NYPD veteran who was the bodyguard for former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani for nine years, and who helped to keep him alive on 9/11, for my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns.” Everyone thinks he was the hero, while it was her job — while dodging falling bodies — to protect him and find somewhere safe to run to.

Bird-dogging Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for two weeks as they toured New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba. Such pomp! In the back of her car, a suitcase with one large red tag, with two imitable words: “The Queen.” Equerries, everywhere! A group of reporters were invited for cocktails aboard her (then) yacht Britannia and the engraved invitation, gold-edged, from the Master of the Household, still graces my kitchen wall. Her jewelry is gob-smackingly huge. Those are real emeralds and diamonds, kids!

Performing in “Sleeping Beauty” at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center with Rudolf Nureyev. I was a “super” (short for supernumerary, i.e. an extra), playing a Lady in Black, one of the retinue of Carabosse, the evil witch who casts the spell on the princess at her 16th. birthday party. Not being a dancer, not knowing the score (literally), not having had the benefit of a dress rehearsal (!?), I descended the set’s huge staircase about 10 bars too early on opening night. On another evening,  my costly, one-of-kind costume skirt got caught on a soldier’s sword as I was trying to exit. A traffic jam of pissed-off professional dancers behind me hissed “Hurry up!” behind me. Stress? Moi?

Worst

Grilling women who had suffered a variety of tragedies, from losing a husband to a heart attack in front of them to having their home burn down.

– Being sent on a “stake-out” to the Edison Hotel in midtown Manhattan in 80 degree heat and humidity to stalk and interview two Quebec female tourists, one of whom had been stabbed while crossing the street. This meant standing for 6-8 hours at a stretch, surrounded by a dozen competing reporters, on the dirty pavement and hoping to grab the girls, alone and first, whenever they showed up.

– Covering a bloody and horrific head-on crash between a bus and a personal vehicle, in Montreal on a winter’s night. The car windows were sheeted with blood. I had to take my drivers’ test the very next day. (I passed.)

I love the adventure, intimacy, travel and astonishing variety of people I’ve met on assignment — everyone from Prime Ministers to Billy Joel, convicted felons, Olympic athletes, politicians, physical therapists, Boy Scouts. I love stuffing a notebook and a few pens into my jacket pocket or bag and setting off to hear some new stories. I love the challenge of having to decide, on the fly with no direction from a boss, what’s important and what to leave out (knowing they can alway challenge me later!)

I love coming home with my head and my notebook filled with great details and quotes and sifting through them all to make sense of them.

Too bad that print journalism is a dying industry (and on-line writing pays much less.)

Have you ever read a story and wished you’d covered it?

Or — like Japan’s radiation crisis or the four missing Times journos in Libya, thanked your stars you weren’t there?

Six Behaviors That Drive Me Nuts

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, women on March 16, 2011 at 4:00 am
Liar Game

I think I'd rather not play this one, thanks!Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I’m probably guilty of them as well, and another dozen even worse.

But, I’m done!

In the past month, I’ve been pelted with bad behavior from all directions.

Like:

Failure to communicate

This tops my list. I grew up in a family of professional communicators — writers and film-makers and TV folk — who rarely-to-never told me much I needed to know. Like, how to drive or balance a checkbook or the fact our house had been sold and I had to move out within weeks, during college mid-term exams.

So this pattern of behavior, which also seems specifically and annoyingly Canadian, makes me crazy. I can’t get on with my life and make decisions, from when to book a flight to how much to budget this month, without data. It makes me feel powerless and that’s not a happy place.

When I ask someone for help, advice, an answer, a recommendation, a reference, a contact — anything! -- do me the basic courtesy of giving me an answer. Before the next milennium.

The reply might be: “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to” or “I can’t.”

Or “I’m just too busy right now” or “I don’t have the answers yet.”

But pick up that phone and send that email. Don’t leave someone just hanging who clearly needs to know something, sooner rather than later.

If you’re ambivalent, make a decision. If you’re terrified of confrontation, do it by email. But do it.

Lying

I was only slapped twice in my life by my parents, once by my Dad and once by my Mom, both times because I lied. I still remember each incident vividly and it made abundantly clear to me that lying is not an option.

Telling someone something you know for certain is not true can set into motion, as it often does and is intended to, an entire domino chain of consequences, most of which  — you know — will be lousy for that person. Don’t do it.

Deception

Ditto. I’m a straightforward person. I can only run my life efficiently, safely and happily if I know what’s really going on, not some wallpapered version you’re feeding me. Deception really means you’re happy manipulating me to your own ends. You’re really OK with that?

Entitlement

Ugh. I live in a northern suburb of New York City, where entitlement is like oxygen — everywhere, invisible and taken utterly for granted. Size 00 women drive $80,000 cars, live in 10,000 square foot mansions paid for by largely invisible husbands working 100-hour weeks. Yet their hyper-tutored SAT-prepped children are often such little social savages my gynecologist had to draw up a two-page single-space contract (!) explaining how they must behave in her office.

In my retail job, the subject of my forthcoming book, “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” I discuss the egregious attitudes of the hedge fund crowd who shopped in our store. We, as low-wage, low-level associates, were nothing more than that hour’s peon to them. In an era of growing, stunning income inequality, this gets old.

Just because you have a lot of money, right now, doesn’t mean you’re smarter/better/kinder/wiser than anyone else on this planet. It just means you have more money. Get over yourself.

Faux urgency

I recently re-connected, after a decade’s silence, with someone who had once been a fairly close friend. The next day, she asked for a favor on behalf of a friend of hers. Then asked again. You know, if I’ve been that invisible and unimportant to your life for ten years, it can wait.

Whatever feels reallyreallyreally urgent to us may barely register on someone else’s radar. I was shocked into this a few days ago when I called a dear friend, who’d been uncommunicative in response to a request, and discovered that his father had suddenly fallen ill and died.

When people don’t respond at once, (if they are typically courteous enough to communicate with you), there’s probably a really good reason. Their urgency outweighs yours.

Drrrrrrraaaaaaaaama!

Not acceptable. Ever.

This is, no doubt, due to my own upbringing in a WASP, Canadian family.

Feelings? Outwardly expressed?

I think not!

Kidding.

But seriously, there are very few situations that really allow room for wailing, weeping, the gnashing of teeth and the (public at least) rending of garments. Your inability to find a parking space or get a pedicure appointment or gaining 3.5 pounds are not in this category.

Hold it together — using whatever means necessary (yoga, prayer, Xanax, martinis) — and your calm, grace and class will always elicit much more help, kindness and action from others around you than hand-flapping and hysteria.

Everyone’s got something crappy happening in their life, too. It might be whole lot worse than yours, but they’re not whining about it.

Do tell….

What are some of the behaviors around you these days driving you mad?


Ten Things I Value Most

In antiques, art, behavior, books, domestic life, life, Style, women on March 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm
Canadian Passport

This is one of them! Image via Wikipedia

Having recently gone through all my Mom’s things, fast, as required to move her into a nursing home, I’ve been thinking much harder about what possessions I value most, and why.

I was awed, and saddened and humbled, by my Mom’s willingness to sort through soft red leather boots and Japanese prints and clothes and say “Toss!”, knowing there was simply no room in her new room and no extra storage space there.

So I returned home to my New York one-bedroom apartment and started thinking hard about what I value most, physically, and why:

Three small bears:

One is tiny, the height of my thumb, a Steiff bear in black and white with moveable arms and legs. I went off to boarding school at the age of eight, and every Sunday, was trotted off to church. I couldn’t stand it, so this dear small bear nestled nicely in my pocket or sat between the prayer books and hymnals in the shelf behind the pew. He kept me sane.

The small white bear is someone who’s been in my life as long as I can remember. He is very worn, his fur mostly gone, and has a quizzical expression I treasure, and often share. He’s been all over the world with me, stuffed uncomplainingly into a pocket of a suitcase, delighting and amusing chambermaids — who know I’m older than five.

The soapstone bear, aka Spring Bear, was carved in an Arctic village for me by an Inuit man my father met while making a film there. He fits into the palm of my hand and has a lovely shy aspect to him. I’ve had him since I was little, and he always made me deeply curious about the Arctic and all the people out there waiting for me to meet.

My passport

Indispensable. I’ve been traveling across borders since I was an infant and my parents drove from Vancouver, Canada (my birthplace) to Mexico (where I’ve since visited many times.) On any given day, I can easily misplace my cellphone or hairbrush but I always know exactly where my passport is and when it expires. Passport = freedom!

My camera

I started shooting when I was about 15, and wanted to become a professional photographer. A family friend loaned me his Pentax SLR and, while a high school senior, I sold three color photos to Toronto Calendar magazine. I realized early I had talent, and could sell it into a competitive marketplace. Cool! I’ve since had my photos published by Time, The Washington Post, New York Times and others. Some of my most precious items are the photos I’ve taken, whether the Eiffel tower under glass (in a Paris department store) or the Rockies at dawn. I use a Canon G7, digital.

My pen

I love my alumunim Lamy fountain pen, and its ink cartridges in blue, black and purple. As a writer, I always need a pen handy. I love how sensual and beautiful even the most mundane writing — the phone bill! — can be with a nice pen.

Scarves

These are my number one style signifier: silk, cashmere, wool, cotton, linen. I am rarely, in any season, without a colorful muffler or scarf of some kind. Faves include a leopard-print linen (bought at Nordstrom), two Hermes carres (Christmas gifts) and four crinkled silk mufflers so long and wide they double as shawls, in cream, dark brown, fuchsia and ashes of roses. (Banana Republic.)

Rings

I have a tradition of buying jewelry to commemorate special occasions, so have rings I bought for my 26th. birthday (Montreal, antique cameo and marcasite) and a sterling one (Saks, Barry Kieselstein Cord, on sale), I giddily purchased the day I sold my first book. I love the heart-shaped pearl and sapphire ring my mom gave me many years ago, the one I’d already spotted in a favorite store and never told her I loved. She knew! On the most stressful days, I armor up with a few of them.

Antique Textiles

This started with my Mom, who traveled the world alone for many years. She came home with mantas, molas and exquisite cashmere Indian shawls, the original pashminas. Her love for these materials ignited mine, and I now buy early textiles whenever I can find them, wearing some,  and using others to make throw pillows. These include an orange-and-cream crane-printed Japanese silk obi sash, 1930s blue and white check linen found in a Paris flea market and 19th. century paisley wool shawls, both printed and woven.

Cookbooks

I love to cook! Having happy people eating food around our table is such a pleasure. I knew the sweetie and I had a shot (now 11 years together) when we started dating and had the same, fantastic cookbook, Bistro Cooking.

What are some of the items you most treasure?

Why?

Trying To Remember, Hoping To Forget

In animals, behavior, domestic life, family, Health, History, life, travel, Uncategorized on March 12, 2011 at 1:03 am
Build a clock

Image by lisibo via Flickr

Today marks the 14th. annual USA Memory Championship, which pits high school students against one another to see whose brain retains the most. It’s held in Manhattan and open to the public.

What? You forgot?

I recently finished a three-week trip and my camera kept reminding me that its memory card was full, so — on the fly — I’d ruthlessly edit images I didn’t think worth keeping to capture a few more.

Memory is one of our most precious attributes.

One of my favorite films (and also my sweetie’s) is After Life, a Japanese film from 1998 about memory and how precious it is to us. The film’s premise is that, after you die, you will be forced to choose only one memory of all those you have accumulated. Which would you choose?

My mother was diagnosed this year with dementia, and I know it will likely worsen, so memory has become more of an obesssion with me. How much longer will she remember her life, her travels, her friends?

Her only child?

Here’s a new book, wildly and widely reviewed, about memory, “Moonwalking With Einstein” by Joshua Foer.

And what of hideous memories, the ones we so badly want to forget but which, so annoyingly, seem the hardest to get rid of? For me, these would include the night my husband walked out of our brief marriage, for good; the night my beloved red convertible was stolen; watching my Mom (who came out fine) heading into a six-hour neurosurgery…And our memories shift our perceptions, altering how we create and recall new ones.

I stayed on this trip at a resort hotel whose motto is that they create memories, an interesting idea. I brought home several from that trip, perhaps the most indelible being a dog-sledding expedition of about 90 minutes that took us along a tree-lined trail, across a barren, wind-swept frozen lake, alongside a river whose waters were so clear and blue we could see all the way to the bottom.

The dogs kept looking back at us as if to make sure we were still there. Wind clawed at my cheeks so viciously I feared imminent frostbite. A winter sky was as white and impenetrable as the snow on the Rocky Mountains around us.

Unforgettable…

I hope.

What is your most powerful memory and why?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,102 other followers