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Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Hospital Thoughts

In aging, behavior, family, Health, life, Medicine, men on June 29, 2011 at 11:30 am
A Greco-Buddhist statue, one of the first repr...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s been a nerve-wracking few days.

The sweetie needed some tests, and one of them involved a CAT scan with a dye injection. (Looks like he’s OK, thank heaven — only a kidney stone. I shouldn’t say only, as everyone who’s had one or knows someone who has says it is excruciating.)

I’m the one who’s usually lying on the gurney/MRI platform/X-ray table. We’ve been back and forth to our small local community hospital so many times in the past decade — thankfully, for nothing serious — we’re on a first-name basis with the doctor who works the overnight shift at the ER. On one of our last visits, he asked: “So, whose turn is it now?”

It was my turn, then, with a fever of almost 104 and a spot on my lung so dark and ominous he drew the curtain and said it might be lung cancer. The sweetie, a photographer by trade, asked to see the films, as he can read negatives with the skill of a radiologist, even if he doesn’t know what he’s looking at.

It turned out to be only pneumonia, but it still meant three days on an IV, sharing a room with a 95-year-old who startled awake at midnight, sat on the edge of my bed and tried to pull out her tubes. I coughed, as one does with that disease, so hard my body ached from exhaustion; I wrote an essay about it for The New York Times.

This time it was my turn to watch the phlebotomist wheel in her cart and overhear her explaining to him how his body would react to the contrast dye. I kept him company as long as I could. In our 11 years together, I’d never seen him lying flat inside a diagnostic machine, grateful for this and shocked at the sight.

I sat and waited, staring at the lavender wall trim and burgundy cupboards and a cheerful British print on the opposite wall, aware for the first time how soothing it all was and how much I needed it to be so.

My last ER visit was January 2009, the beginning of a five-month odyssey to figure out my painful/arthritic/inflamed left hip — I was in so much pain I could barely walk and I do remember admiring the handsome design of our shiny new ER.

When I’m scared, and I admit to not loving going anywhere near that hospital by now (three orthopedic surgeries since 2000, a hip replacement my next, and more than five times to the ER, for everything from a broken finger to a mild concussion the sweetie incurred in a biking mishap) I do not want to be soothed or distracted by television. Old copies of People don’t do it for me either.

The sweetie, a devout Buddhist, did a lot of deep breathing to stay calm.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time around hospitals, thanks to my mother’s various illnesses, which included a mastectomy and a brain tumor (both of which, 10 years apart) she survived. I’ve seen her in hospitals from London to Sechelt, BC, and have learned to make medical staff crazy when necessary with my direct questions and insistence on information.

We’re glad we have a good hospital nearby, deeply grateful for good health insurance and generally good health, and knowing we can get there within a 10-minute drive.

Wish we didn’t know it quite so well!

Is College (As We Now Know It) Dead?

In behavior, education, journalism, work on June 27, 2011 at 11:25 am
Victoria College in the University Toronto tak...

Victoria College at the University of Toronto; my alma mater, Image via Wikipedia

What’s the future of post-secondary education?

I think about this, although many decades out of university, perhaps because college classes in the U.S., where I live, are so expensive for many students, with no — of course! — jobs guaranteed at the end of it all. I never continued on to any form of graduate study for a variety of reasons:

I loathe debt and could not imagine how I would pay for it

I saw no need for it in journalism

I attended a school with 53,000 students and, while I am very happy with its high standards, did not enjoy feeling largely ignored and anonymous. That put me right off any more formal education

I attended the University of Toronto, for years deemed Canada’s most competitive and demanding school. I loved having super-smart, terrifyingly erudite world-class experts in their fields as my professors. I still remember their names and their tremendous passion for Victorian poetry or Chaucer or history and the excitement they were able to convey to us about it all.

I enjoyed having super-smart fellow students, knowing some of them — as they have — would go on to lead some of my country’s financial, intellectual and cultural institutions.

In the 1990s, determined to leave journalism (and then having an MD husband’s income, certain this was possible), I studied interior design at The New York School of Interior Design. Loved it!

What a totally different educational experience:

Small classes. Nurturing teachers fully engaged in making sure we were succeeding. The inspiration of talented classmates but no cut-throat sharks.

It also showed me something really important about my learning style. I need it to be hands-on: drawing, painting, drafting….all were challenging but also engaged my brain in wholly new ways. I liked learning!

Like many people, I’m more of a visual and tactile learner and sitting in a lecture hall for hours  — what most college classes still consist of — was deadening.(Which is also why journalism has always felt like such a terrific fit. It’s life-as-classroom.)

I have very mixed feelings about learning away from a school and classroom and campus. Yes, online learning is democratic.

But I think we also need to learn how to defend your ideas in public, that little knot of fear in your belly before you speak out in front of a room full of smart fellow students. You need to work face to face. You need to see how ideas play out in person.

And I loved the campus and its beauty and history and the clubs and activities I took part in at U of T, and my equally demanding and passionate profs at NYSID at their charming Upper East Side building. I was terrified there when, as we all had to in our Color class, I presented my designs to a room full of fellow students (just as we would have to with clients in the real world.)

But I managed to score an “A” (yay!) from the very tough professor. It still remains one of my proudest moments.

Yesterday’s New York Times ran this piece arguing in favor of getting a college degree, although I completely disagree — with plenty of anecdotal evidence to back me — that cashiers and clerks with a college degree earn more. In my time at The North Face, (the subject of my new memoir of working retail, “Malled“), I didn’t see this among our college-educated staff, nor have the many emails I’ve received since then from fellow associates, current and former, suggested higher earnings elsewhere.

Here’s an interesting essay from an Australian university.

Theoretically, tertiary study could become an opportunity to choose your own adventure. Innovative universities might form select international consortiums that would allow students to tailor degrees; with on-campus stints in Sydney, London and Beijing, for example, and a huge array of subjects offered on-campus or online from the entire list of combined course resources.

Yet universities jealously guard their individual reputations and their place on the competitive, global-rankings ladder. Everyone knows all degrees are not equal; their value depends on the reputation, history and standing of the university that confers them.

For individual institutions, with their campuses physically anchored in one place and their budgets built around the face-to-face delivery of core programs, its likely to be a very complex way forward.

At the same time, the internet is facilitating the entry of private players into the local and international education market, some of which will compete with universities for paying students.

Postgraduates, in particular, want access to experts from the professions and industries they aspire to join.

So when a group of globally renowned, private-sector achievers offers user-pay courses online, for example, which way will future students go?

Did you enjoy college?

What did you study and why?

Would you do it differently today?

How Many Communities Do You Belong To?

In behavior, blogging, books, domestic life, family, life, love, men, sports, urban life, US, women, work on June 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm
1987 GE Softball Team

Go team! Loving the camaraderie...Image by Bitman via Flickr

I loved a recent post by a young Canadian man teaching English in Korea, about his belated discovery of belonging to a trivia team and its pleasures.

I grew up in a family of, if not lone wolves, non-joiners.

Team spirit? Not so much.

My father, mother and stepmother were all freelance creatives: film, television, magazine journalism, almost always done working from home, sitting at a desk piled with papers, an ashtray overflowing (step-mom), a cold cup of milky coffee defining our “office.”

No one ever worked for The Man, or could count on paid vacation and sick days or a pension.

No one went to church or synagogue or played a team sport or joined a club or organization. My two brothers and I have all been nationally ranked athletes and super-competitive jocks, but usually in individual sports (riding, rally car racing, skateboarding, fencing.)

So it’s been an eye-opener to see what pleasures lie within community, not defined geographically — as it classically is for most of us — but through interests. After my divorce in 1994, alone in the ‘burbs with little cash and no pets or kids to pull me into those groups naturally, I started racing on sailboats of all sizes as a crew member, and did that for about five fun years.

My communities, now, include:

– the board, and 1,400 membership of, the American Society of Journalists and Authors

– the board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, a body that grants up to $5,000 quickly to writers in desperate financial straits

– a co-ed softball team that includes a literary agent, a pastry chef for a Big New York restaurant, high school teachers, a medical editor, a retired ironworker, an orthopedic surgeon and a cantor. We’ve played Softball Lite for more than eight years right until the ground freezes and the snow flies, and I love them dearly. Here’s my love letter to them that ran in The New York Times.

– my Episcopal church, an uneasy fit  for me and my sweetie (both career journos) in that most of its members are wealthy, conservative and work in finance, law or high-level corporate jobs. But I’ve been there since 1998 and have made a few good friends. St. B’s and its pastors and assistant ministers has seen me through some major crises

I never really thought about “community” in this way until I read the obit of the sister of a dear friend of mine. When I called him to offer my condolences, he said, “I never knew how many communities she had.” It made me realize how many we enjoy, far beyond our traditional and individual roles of friend, daughter/son, wife/husband, partner, employee/boss.


Being a member of a community, de facto, shapes you. Every group has its own character, standards, acceptable (and not) forms of behavior, interaction and address, how to handle conflict or disagreement.

In Softball Lite, for example, we all know (and love) that cell phones are verboten and no one is allowed to freak out or berate a fellow player for a bobble or error. The operative word — in hyper-competitive New York where we are all so hungry for a friendly break — is Lite.

What communities have you joined?

What do you get — and give — as a result?

Has it changed you?

The Third Rail Of American Discourse

In behavior, books, business, journalism, news, women, work on June 23, 2011 at 2:30 pm

My new book about working for 27 months as a retail sales associate has been out for two months, and the 40+ amazon reviews are insane — love it, hate it, love it, loathe it.

I’ve been called a princess, racist, slummer, bitter, pretentious, “lazy, lazy, lazy”, elitist and accused, falsely, of despising the very people — my retail co-workers — I say clearly how much I admired.

It’s been an exhausting rollercoaster, with a pendulum of opinion swinging so widely, and wildly, it’s hard to believe.

It took a fellow writer to calm me down, pointing out that “Nickeled and Dimed“, a best-seller from 2001 by Barbara Ehrenreich (to which my book has been compared) is equally provocative and divisive.

Both books are similar in one key respect: middle-class, educated white women — with economic freedom to leave the jobs we described — worked for minimum wage in thankless, difficult, demanding low-status jobs.

Our crime in so doing? Poverty tourism. Slumming it for a book deal, as one WNYC listener commented. We weren’t destitute.

Why did we need to be?

Would this have altered our observations or the accuracy of what we saw and heard?

We’re writers and our goals were the same: find and tell powerful stories that had not been told. The people living these lives, working these jobs, do not have the time, skill or freedom from the shackles of their jobs to tell it as it really is.

I’ve also received extraordinarily personal and heartfelt emails almost every single day since” Malled” appeared:

“Have you been sitting on my shoulder for 23 years?”

“I feel bolstered by your book!”

“I got a raise last year….of 10 cents an hour.”

The filthy secret of American life is economic disparity, the great myth that we are all equal and racing one another along a smooth and level playing field to the equally-accessible goodies of income/home/education/raises/promotions/career success.

Go to college! Work hard! Suck up to your boss! That’ll do it.

Nope.

The reality is that there is no level playing field. It looks more like a greasy pole, the rich at the top, the poor at the bottom and many of us now, four years into a recession filled with record corporate profits and sluggish hiring, scrambling desperately in between.

Here’s a sobering piece in Mother Jones on how much dough corporations are raking in, and how workers aren’t getting the benefit of their labor.

I think speaking truth to power, despite its putative appeal, makes Americans deeply queasy. What if I somehow wrecked your chances, or your kids’, by being rude to the Guys With The Money?

Bowing and scraping to anyone with a payroll is the new black.

I worked for The North Face, owned by the VF Corporation; in January 2009, our hours were cut because the company could not afford them…then sitting on $382 million in cash. (They just spent it to buy Timberland.)

Look at the WalMart class action lawsuit, thrown out this week, screwing thousands of hardworking women employees out of the hope of justice. Of working a full-time job and not needing food stamps to supplement their wages.

Which is worse — ignoring these behaviors and letting business reporters keep fawning over eight-figure-earning CEOs?

Or have people like me or Ehrenreich try our best to open the door to the creepy, greedy, nasty behaviors that drive so much of this economy?

Either way, millions of workers are being screwed.


Don’t Know Much About History…

In books, children, culture, education, History, journalism, Medicine, politics, world on June 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm
Edith Cummings was the first woman athlete to ...

Athlete Edith Cummings, the first woman to appear on Time's cover. Image via Wikipedia

American students, it seems, are not terribly well-educated when it comes to their country’s history.

This, from the Boston Globe:

Not even a quarter of American students is proficient in US history, and the percentage declines as students grow older. Only 20 percent of 6th graders, 17 percent of 8th graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrate a solid grasp on their nation’s history. In fact, American kids are weaker in history than in any of the other subjects tested by the NAEP — math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics.

And here’s historian David McCullough on the same issue, from a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal:

Another problem is method. “History is often taught in categories—women’s history, African American history, environmental history—so that many of the students have no sense of chronology. They have no idea what followed what.”

What’s more, many textbooks have become “so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back”—such as, say, Thomas Edison—”are given very little space or none at all.”

Mr. McCullough’s eyebrows leap at his final point: “And they’re so badly written. They’re boring! Historians are never required to write for people other than historians.” Yet he also adds quickly, “Most of them are doing excellent work. I draw on their excellent work. I admire some of them more than anybody I know. But, by and large, they haven’t learned to write very well.”

I really enjoy reading history, and have for years. As a geeky only child with little or no access to TV, reading was one of my pleasures, and one of my favorite books ( I can see your eyes rolling!) at the age of maybe 12 was a history of medicine. OMG!

It was soooooooo cool: Galen and Hippocrates and Semmelweiss and Harvey and Jenner….all giants who made our lives safer.

Semmelweiss is my favorite, the man who in the mid-1800s discovered that women were dying after giving birth because surgeons — !!! — were not washing their hands between patients.

Some of my favorite books in the past few years have been histories:  Roy Porter’s social history of 18th. century London; different histories of Paris (there were icebergs in the Seine once many centuries ago!); of Elizabeth I, and all the Western women’s history I read while researching my first book, about women and guns.

Did you know that entire chunks of the American West were homesteaded exclusively by women? Glenda Riley is one of my favorite historians for this topic, with 11 books (so far.)

I love Vincent Cronin’s writing; he’s a British historian who died this year at the age of 86.

And yet…I remain woefully ignorant of Canadian history (where I was born and raised) and not great either on U.S. history (although I know some of the players, like Col. Andre [captured about 200 feet from my town library!] or the Roebling family, who designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge.)

I admit it — much classic “history” — written and edited by men about men, focused on economic, military and political issues — bores the bejeezus out of me. I want to hear about women and kids and clothing and science and medicine and what they read and ate. Call it “social history” but I want to feel, smell, hear and taste what everyday life was like, not just the Treaty of This and the War of That.

What sort of history — if any — do you know best and why?

What would be a better way for American kids to learn and really care about their own history?

You Call That Hard Work?

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Money, photography, television, the military, work on June 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm
“]Cover of "Gorky Park [Region 2]"

We watched the terrific 1983 movie “Gorky Park” on the weekend.

In it, a young and handsome William Hurt, playing a Moscow cop, decides to reconstruct the facial features of two murder victims. In order to do so, he has the coroner (of course!) saw off their heads, which he then transports in two plain cardboard boxes tied with string.

Hm.

Carting about severed heads strikes me as a fairly tough day at the office….

Journalists’ jobs often throw them into bizarre and dangerous situations. You never really know what to expect when you work at a newspaper or wire service: might be a plane crash, the aftermath of a hurricane or another lying politician weeping to the cameras about his mistakes.

You learn to keep a fresh shirt and tie in your desk drawer and women, depending what sort of stories they’re covering, learn to wear flats and clothing you can run, squat and even climb in comfortably. (Yes, that would rule out pencil skirts and stilettos.) You discover that ink freezes taking notes in sub-zero temperatures.

The sweetie faced a much tougher gig than I — six weeks in Bosnia at Christmas, alone, shooting photos for The New York Times. He slept in an unheated cargo container, almost died in a snowdrift at dusk and ate a cup of dried chicken soup as his holiday meal. Like a soldier, he slept in his long underwear for weeks. Showers were rare.

My toughest? I’ve had a few, more emotionally draining than physically demanding or frightening. Sent on a midtown stake-out, I had to stalk a Quebecoise tourist who’d been stabbed in the ass (welcome to New York) — because I was the only Daily News reporter who spoke French. I hated chasing her around a local deli asking questions as much as she resented the intrusion on her privacy.

In Montreal, the night before I took my driving test, I had to cover a horrific car-bus head-on collision, the car’s windows sheeted with blood.

In Winnipeg, interviewing a woman whose life had been turned upside down by a terrible drug side effect meant watching her shake and cry, her Parkinsons’ disease aggravated by the very stress of talking to me about her nightmare. I felt like a demon. It was the only way to get the story.

Here’s the classic whine, “Money for Nothing” from Dire Straits:

Now look at them yo-yo’s that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free
Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb

What’s the hardest thing you ever did and got paid for?

Twelve Things I Can’t Live Without

In antiques, art, behavior, culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, food, life, Style, travel on June 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Iridium fountain pen nib, macro.

Old school, elegant, lovely! Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite columns is this one, in Elle Decor, called Twelve Things I Can’t Live Without.

It’s too often something of the esthete’s Olympics — Pratesi or Frette sheets (check), Cire Trudon candles (check) — with every Stylish Person selected vying for the podium position of Most Elegant Designer In The World.

Here are my twelve:

The anticipation of an imminent journey — preferably one overseas, (preferably to a country that rhymes with pants)

Earl Grey tea, loose and fresh, in a glass jar

A bone china teapot in which to brew tea and a bone china teacup from which to sip it slowly

Fresh baguettes

Pale pink silk lampshades

The weekend Financial Times

A bottle of Blenheim Bouquet cologne, (a 109-year-old scent, officially for men, but so delicious!)

A Big Turk candy bar: pink Turkish delight surrounded by dark chocolate = heaven

Candles: scented, votives, tapers…everywhere, used nightly. 

My Moroccan lantern, (which I painted a soft red), whose candle-cast shadows make my suburban New York living room feel like Fez

My passport and green card

My Lamy fountain pen and some beautiful stationery on which to write thank-you and congratulations notes


How about you?

What are some of the lovely necessities of your life?

Define “Successful”

In behavior, books, business, domestic life, family, journalism, life, Money, women, work on June 15, 2011 at 12:39 pm
The New York Times

Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

I found out this week that my new book won’t be getting a review from The New York Times. For ambitious writers, a review — even a crummy one — in the Times is a sure sign of success.

So, I’m disappointed.

But…maybe I dodged a bullet. Some of “Malled’s” reviews have been so vicious they’ve left me gasping.

And yet almost every day since it came out I’ve also been getting private emails from fellow workers in retail, like the one that arrived this morning asking: “Have you spent 23 years sitting on my shoulder?”

To know I’ve been able to tell a complex story well and to connect emotionally with readers is success for me.

I’ve been struggling for a while to write a guest post about “the writer’s life”. There are many!

The reason I can’t figure out what to say is that we all define success so differently.

I received an email this week from a young woman who described me as very successful. In many ways, on paper, that’s true; I’ve punched most of the standard tickets.

But how do I feel internally?

Hah!

Because “Malled” has gotten a ton of press attention, many people consider this success. But for a writer trying to find thousands of paying readers, it’s only one crucial piece of it…success is actually selling books.

Success, for me, is the ability to wake up in the morning and not worry about where the next set of bill payments is going to come from, and freelancing without any steady income means almost constant anxiety.

Getting a job doesn’t feel like it would solve the problem; my last staff job, from 2005-2006 at the New York Daily News, was a terrible fit and an extremely stressful experience. No job can be better than the wrong job. And at my age, in this hard-hit field, getting a staff job feels next to impossible.

Success to me, then, would mean freedom from financial anxiety.

For others, it’s another day simply being alive and/or healthy, or their child’s achievements or finding and keeping a partner or a home…

How about you?

How do you define it?

Have you achieved it?

Or is it…I suspect!…a constantly moving target?


Risk Is Not A Four-Letter Word

In behavior, books, business, culture, design, domestic life, education, family, journalism, life, love, Media, men, women, work on June 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Trapeze artists Kia and Lindsay at Circus Smirkus

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about risk a lot these days.

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was born of risk. It began as a personal essay I wrote for The New York Times, published in February 2009. I was absolutely certain that publishing it would kill my writing career, as in it I said that working retail was better than working as a journalist.

Wasn’t I torching all my bridges?

In fact, I was on CNN two days later discussing it; then on the Brian Lehrer Show and, within months, had found an agent and sold a book based on my oddest risk of all — taking a low-wage job and being willing to talk about it for publication.

I had no clear idea why I worked retail, other than — like many others — I needed steady cash. There was no Grand Plan, just needing and valuing a new job where I might re-build my shattered confidence after my Daily News debacle.

The irony?

Taking these risks has now brought me, and my work and ideas, far more attention than anything smaller and safer and more conventional I’ve also produced. I’ve spoken at a Marie-Claire staff event, keynoted a major retail conference (with another skedded this summer) and, if the stars truly align, may see my name on the small screen.

I recently took a few more risks, some big, some small:

– I cut my hair really short, not the prudent choice given my current weight. I feel so great and so liberated I also now feel a lot more motivated to shed the damn weight, instead of dutifully waiting until I am thinner to reward myself with a pretty cut.

– I met up again for the first time in decades with a few former beaux, a high school crush and the man I’d lived with in my 20s, now divorced. I wasn’t at all sure how these meetings would go, but am really glad I went to both. I’m happily partnered, and it was good to catch up with two men who meant a lot to me in earlier days, who are still funny and attractive and with whom I share some serious history, growth and memories.

– I asked a stranger on LinkedIn for help making some connections for Malled and he made a great introduction. Now I have to find the cojones to ask for the business!

– I’ll be going on a silent Buddhist retreat July 23-31, a gift from my partner. I can’t decide what freaks me out most: not working (tough for a full-time freelancer); no liquor; not talking; being surrounded by people who fervently believe in ideas different from my own. It’s all good. But a little scary!

In this relentlessly awful economy, it’s very tempting to avoid just about any risk — whether confronting a toxic friend or love relationship (I could end up alone!), dealing with a bully boss (I could get fired!) or ditching an annoying client (I could starve!)

I think it’s at times like these it’s even more essential to choose a few risks and take them.

Courage is a muscle — use it or lose it.

I like this blog post from a businesswoman who urges us all to use a little “creative chutzpah.”

As Seth Godin writes here, taking a risk can be the smartest choice we make.

Here’s a great story from the New Yorker about a Hollywood therapist who urges his patients to eat a “death cookie” — take a risk!

When did you last take a risk?

How did it turn out?

Do you regret it?

Or did it jump-start your life in some unexpected and lovely way?

Happy 82d, Dad!

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, love, men, seniors on June 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm
A view of Galway Bay from Salthill Credit: A P...

Galway Bay -- full of mussels! Image via Wikipedia

Four score plus two — score!

His father died at 59, just after he retired, so this ripe old age — full of health and friends — is an additional gift for him.

We’d hoped to spend today together, but he’s in Toronto.

As Dads go, he’s been an interesting one. He won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962 for a documentary he made about young British rebels.

Here’s his Wikipedia entry!

A documentary film-maker, he was gone for weeks at a time when I was a teenager living with him. But he always brought home intriguing pieces of the world when he returned: Olympic badges in 1964 from Tokyo, elbow-length sealskin gloves from the Arctic and a thick caribou rug, an Afghan rifle case.

All of which ignited my own lust for global discovery and adventure, equally eager to find and tell great stories for a living.

He’s blessed with incredible energy; on our last trip around Ireland, in his 70s, he raced up the hills ahead of me, and set his usual blistering pace. On our cross-country trip when I was 15, knowing I am not a morning person, he’d pretend it was 7:00 a.m. and get me up an hour earlier. We attended pow-wows in Montana and North Dakota, finding a steak and a bag of sugar at our tent door, a gift for everyone attending — he would film and I would sketch.

We’d set up our little tent wherever looked good. One morning we awoke to find a farmer staring down at us from his tractor, as we’d picked one of his fields.

We’ve driven through rural Mexico, picked mussels in Galway Bay, skiied in Vermont, forged through rain across the Great Dismal Swamp, had a terrible shouting match at midnight in Antibes. We’re both driven, ambitious, stubborn, relentlessly curious. After the French fight, we didn’t even speak for years.

Both mad for antiques, we once stood outside two store-fronts in Wilmington, N.C. — one a diner, one an antiques store, torn between the boring need to eat and room full of possible treasures.

As always, he dresses with impeccable elegance: silk pocket square, gleaming lace-up shoes, navy blazer, ties and tattersall. His library, before he sold his house, ranged from archeology and theology to art history. He paints, sculpts, works in silver.

I wrote about him in my new book and was worried he’d be angry at the unexpected loss of privacy, but he was fine with it.

He likes the book a lot. Which, even at midlife, matters to me. Having lost too many years to anger and conflict, I now especially treasure whatever time we have to appreciate one another. It finally feels like he knows me.

For years, I could never find a boyfriend.

My late stepmother finally nailed it: “Your Dad is a hard act to follow.”

True!

Happy birthday, Dad!

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