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Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

So, What Did I Learn?

In behavior, education, life, religion, travel, women, work, world on July 31, 2011 at 11:11 am
Reclining Buddha

Reclining Buddha, in Bangkok. Been there, saw him! Image via Wikipedia

Hard to believe it’s all over.

There were times I had no idea what day it was, even when I kept counting them off on my fingers, like some crazed prisoner. A nine-day silent retreat is its own sort of marathon, intellectually, spiritually, physically — and if you’re not a vegetarian, culinarily. (If that’s a word.)

We broke Noble Silence Saturday at 4:00 p.m., finally able to talk to the many people who most intrigued us all week, and vice versa.  Our group included teachers, a lawyer, software engineer, an artist. They had come to the Hudson Valley from California, New Mexico, France, Colombia and Canada.

Oh, the chatter!

Within a few hours (sigh) we’ll soon be back in the heart of all of it:

the partisan insanity running the country; finishing up my book proposal; finalizing my keynote speech to retail executives on August 10 in Minneapolis; making social plans; trying to plan a fund-raiser for the writers’ grant-making group on whose board I sit; the usual aaaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhh…..

What do I carry home?

A renewed appreciation for silence.

A reminder of how much I love and appreciate ritual: the bells, the gong, candles, the prayer wheel, the gesture of namaste.

Some cool new friendships.

A bracelet of wooden skulls strung end to end, a gift from Lama Surya.

Story ideas! Maybe even a new book idea.

The knowledge of how a week without any animal proteins except butter, eggs, yogurt and cheese affects my body.

Discovering I really don’t want to eat kale or quinoa again. Ever.

That, despite my hatred of most things institutional, routine, managed, scrutinized and communal, I actually had a great time.

That Buddhism is the spiritual equivalent of freelancing. You may have a whole network of fellow path-followers, striving at their own skill level, but you’re on your own, baby.

That elegant and sensual austerity — fresh flowers, pretty bedspreads, gorgeous/simple bathrooms — is not only possible but very pleasant.

That I crave brie, hummus, nuts and beer.

The absolute thrill of meeting and hearing from a brilliant woman I’d never heard of before, Mirabai Bush. Hearing teachings from a woman who is deeply spiritual and smart as hell and able to work in the real world is soooo cool!

A small folding fan, pressed into my hand at breakfast by Alice, an artist here who noticed me fanning myself in meditation with a folded prayer sheet.

A fervent hug, offered in the dining hall by a young woman we had dubbed Pretty Girl, after I revealed in a  Q & A that I was trying to find ways to comfort a friend whose Mom is newly diagnosed with cancer.

Realizing that everyone is here for their own reasons, moving at their own speed; PG fled Friday, never to return.

Wonderful photos: of the lama and Tulku Dorje (another teacher, a reincarnated lama) sitting on a bench beneath the bamboo, laughing; of the sweetie and the lama, laughing; of the bad bunny I found in the garden; of the flowers there.

A glimpse of a possible way to blend the spiritual and practical, the intellectual and emotional, the bodhisattva and the blogger. I’ve always seen the two in opposition, and maybe they’re not.

How much I enjoy being a room with people excited about the same ideas.

How hungry I am to find a way to live and work that’s both ethical and fun, earns me the sort of living I want but doesn’t poison me with material obsession.

That time flies when you’re totally absorbed in what someone is saying. I normally want to jump out a window if someone tells me to sit still and listen for two hours to dense stuff. Here, I can’t get enough of it.

Realizing how spiritually parched I often feel.

Finally — ka-ching! — a much clearer understanding of the duality I struggle with more and more: between my cerebral/intellectual/competitive/money-making/I want to write a bloody best-seller dammit self and my softer/emotional/striving for social justice self.

And my new refuge name….Urgyen Gyalmo…Dharma Queen.


No pressure!

Oh, I Am A Weak-Willed Wretch

In beauty, behavior, education, religion, travel on July 29, 2011 at 11:31 am
thailand buddha wat phra keo

So, what’s it like to leave behind the everyday trappings of life?

Mixed bag.

I’ve been a bad girl in connecting to the Internet to blog, read Facebook and answer and send email. We have broken silence by whispering to one another. I have listened to music, using earbuds, on my laptop.

Technically, I should not be doing any of this. But I am not a practicing Buddhist, more here to support the devout faith of the sweetie. And, yes, I am sufficiently weak-willed that I cannot fill 6+ hours a day merely staring at the trees.

I’m learning.

I attend the teachings, of which there are two or three a day, beginning with chanting and meditation, and which last 60 to 90 minutes. It can get very esoteric, with endless examination of concepts like mind, clarity, self…It’s both stimulating and a little exhausting.

The lama, who’s also a friend of ours, is funny, down to earth and everything he says makes perfect sense in the “real world” beyond the stone walls that enclose us.

It is odd to be surrounded by 64 strangers, from teenagers to seniors, with whom we’re (blessedly) forbidden to speak. It’s such a relief to not have to talk or listen or react or remember. To drop all pretense of being social or friendly. But we’ve also been admonished to be even quieter, as some of us have been whispering to one another while outside away from others, or in our rooms.

It’s also interesting to be surrounded by people with little or no way to assert status: their schools, graduate degrees, job titles, neighborhood, clothing, jewelry, handbags, cars, shoes. What we see is what we get. What we see is all we know. What we “know” is only surface anyway, here and elsewhere.

We watch one another and wonder what their story is, with students here from Europe, Canada, South America: the beefy, the lame, the bald, the long-haired, the lithe.

It’s an elegant, self-imposed house arrest, our only allowed territory the halls, rooms and grounds. The highway is just at at the end of the driveway and our car sits right there, for once — yay! — undriven.

(I know others are breaking the rules by actually going off-campus, using cellphones, etc. I’m not the only one succumbing to temptation [she said defensively].)

So, here, we look inwards or outwards, sky-gazing.

Remove the usual distractions of kids and pets and work and commuting and movies and shopping  and ATM withdrawals and buying gas and groceries and paying bills or playing Angry Birds — and you suddenly find time to read, think, paint, draw, take photos, sleep and — of course, pray, listen to teachings and meditate.

It will be a challenge for all of us to re-create that sacred quiet space within the craziness of “normal” life. It’s also quite moving to share space and time with others on, for this week anyway, the same path of questioning and learning. Five students have left along the way. Without ever having exchanged a word, you notice their their silent absence immediately.

On Thursday, a new influx appeared, a spiritual shift change.

The physical space enclosing us all is lovely, a four-story former Catholic monastery now open to other faiths, and a frequent site for Buddhist retreats. It faces — what else? — West Point across a narrow stretch of the Hudson River.

You have to love the irony of prayers and chanting and meditation literally facing the academy training soldiers to kill and be killed. The hiking trail through the woods includes (!) Benedict Arnold’s escape route.

We eat vegetarian food, four choices at every meal, at long communal tables, sitting on wooden chairs. Everything is spotless, polished, cared for. There are vases of fresh flowers and bamboo from the gardens, so there is, everywhere, something beautiful to look at, touch or smell.

The garden has a huge lavender bed filled with bees, a wild garden with green peppers and sunflowers and gerbera. A huge bamboo grove looms over a bench where you can sit and read in the shade. I enjoyed an hour there watching a bad bunny eating anything he could find.

Such a calm and quiet place to escape the relentless chest-beating of ego assertion!

I’ll miss this as I plunge back into the elbow-in-the-eye world of professional journalism in New York.

But boy am I ready for a tuna melt with fries and a cold beer! (Or a steak and a martini.)

The Sounds Of A Silent Retreat

In beauty, culture, life, religion, travel on July 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm
National Register of Historic Places listings ...

The Hudson River, which we overlook...Image via Wikipedia

The humming of fans

Kids’ shouting and laughter from the nearby park

The gurgle/splash of tea/coffee filling a mug

A bullfrog at the pond

Cicadas

Crickets

The scrape of a chair against the floor

Gunfire — target practice across the river at West Point?

Rain

Wind in the trees

A lawnmower

The scrape of the greenhouse door against the slate doorstep

The thunk of a softball landing in my mitt (What is the sound of one glove snapping?)

The beep-beep-beep of a delivery truck

Someone tapping stone

The ribbit-ribbit-ribbit of frogs in the dark

An occasional airplane

The shushing of a riverside waterfall on the opposite bank

The flapping of flip-flops

The sweetie’s breathing in the  bed next to me

The rustle of foliage as a bad bunny eats the garden’s lettuce

The echoing horn of a freight train on the opposite shore

The commuter train thundering up and down the valley

The buzzing of motor boats on the Hudson River below

The whine of mosquitoes

Birdsong

Bees buzzing in the lavender beds

The pealing of the hand bell used to signal prayers, meditations, teachings and meals

The clinking of cutlery against china at mealtime

The whoosh of the dishwasher’s hose

The ringing of the gong to start meditation

The clicking of mala beads

Om Mane Padme Hung and other Buddhist chants

Taking A Break From Charm

In behavior, life, women on July 25, 2011 at 11:31 am
Pink Charm 2

Image via Wikipedia

Are you charming?

Do you value it in others?

I do. Only when I encounter people with zero ability — or interest in trying — to charm, do I realize how much I appreciate it.

By charm, I don’t mean flattery or obsequiousness, or schmoozing or gossip or small talk, all of which I really dislike.

And charm, without underlying character and decent ethics, means nothing. But I do enjoy the company of people, of any age, who know that many of us are shy or private or perhaps feeling a little sad or depressed and make it their job to ensure we are happy in their presence. I grew up in a family of people, several of them very accustomed to public attention, who valued this ability and so I, too, have grown to value it myself.

Having said all that — a silent retreat means a blessed break from the need to talk, smile, chat, impress, charm.

I spend a lot of my time and energy making sure the people in my life are onside: friends, family, neighbors, clients, editors, colleagues.

Exhausting!

To sit in a room, then, as we do at the retreat, mere feet away from someone — in the meditation hall or at large shared tables at breakfast — and not have to smile, nod, chat. What a relief.

There is a cultural piece to this as well.

I grew up in Canada, a more emotionally reserved nation than the U.S., a place (why?) where we all constantly being exhorted to “Have a nice day!” by people who wouldn’t pull us from a burning building. I loathe faux intimacy, and America’s confessional culture rewards it, punishing people who prefer a slower burn to the sparkly, chatty, engaging persona that marks the verbally facile and generally celebrated.

I just don’t want to know half the things that total strangers feel somehow compelled to tell me here.

(How about you?)

Many times I’ve been chided here for being “unfriendly”, and in so doing breaking the social rules everyone else follows so obediently, when it’s never been my personal goal to be friendly. I choose my friends and intimates very carefully. I don’t need or want everyone to like me. The idea, in fact, somewhat horrifies me.

A journalist since college, I’m professionally skilled at creating brief and powerful intimacy. I love that it requires me to win the confidence of strangers, of all ages and kinds, from convicted felons to elected officials (sometimes in the same person!) But it does mean I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure they feel comfortable with me, and will share with me as much as possible in the limited amount of time we have, whether by email, phone or face to face.

To not interact, to not have to manage my facial expressions or smile to cheer someone up who appears down or reassure them I am not down myself, is a release.

I’d forgotten how private I am and how much I dislike being in large groups of people I do not know well. Remaining silent and apart is a welcome break from having to — or feeling I must — charm.

No Meat, Conversation Or Liquor — Will I Survive?

In behavior, blogging, culture, religion on July 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm
Padmasambhava, a picture I, John Hill, took in...

Padmasambhava...Image via Wikipedia

Well, my dears. Off today on a 10-day silent, vegetarian, Buddhist retreat about a 30-minute drive north of my home.

The idea was the sweetie’s, this year’s birthday present.

He’s been a devout Buddhist practicing Dzogchen since he spent six terrifying weeks in 1995 in Bosnia at Christmas, shooting photos for The New York Times.

His mini-altar in the hallway has a small Buddha wrapped in a prayer scarf. A laminated card tucked on the driver side of our ancient Subaru is that of Padmasambhava.

When we started dating, in March 2000, the difference in our faiths — I attend an Episcopal church, albeit not every week — seemed like a potential stumbling block as he is so much  more devout. But it’s not a competition.

And he’s always been really supportive of me, attending my church for more than a decade.

I’ve met and enjoy his lama, Surya Das, author of several books, with a new one out, “Buddha Standard Time.”

He and I even went to see “Mamma Mia” together a few years ago. Namaste on Broadway!

The retreat offers three teachings a day, the only time we’ll be allowed to speak. The food will be vegetarian. There will be no cocktail hour, or wine at dinner, both something we usually enjoy daily at home.

Steak? TV? Three daily newspapers? No, no, no. Ah, the things I cling to.

We’re taking my softball glove and ball, and my bike. I’m taking my camera and watercolors, and plan to write a speech due August 10 in Minneapolis.

I’ll sit in the teachings and meditations and chanting as much as feels comfortable. He and I will share a room, and plan to write notes back and forth. It will be very odd — and difficult — not to talk to him. We typically talk several hours a day and I really enjoy it.

So it’s already a powerful meditation on the loss of that comfort. We may whisper to one another in our room. We’ll see.

I’ve been the butt of jokes for weeks now. “Buddhist,vegetarian, silent — I can’t think of three words less likely to describe you,” said one friend.

If I can get access to the Internet, as yet unknown, I’ll blog during that week. If I can’t, hang tight! I’ll be back here on my regular schedule, posting every other day, starting again on July 31.

Wish me luck!

Jazz Dance = Joy!

In aging, beauty, culture, film, Health, life, women on July 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm
Billy Elliot the Musical

Image via Wikipedia

When I tell people I take a jazz dance class — while limping with every step — they think I’m nuts.

Which may well be true!

I’ve been dancing in classrooms, (and even for a week on the stage at Lincoln Center, as an extra), since I was a little girl who, like many, dreamed of becoming a ballerina.

As if.

I auditioned several times for the National Ballet School, a highly selective process that anyone who’s ever watched Billy Elliot might appreciate.

Unlike Billy, I didn’t make the cut, being told, firmly, I had the “wrong body” for ballet. Um…it’s the only one I have! Ballet is severely unforgiving in its demands of a highly specific body type: high arches, terrific turnout, a long waist, tiny hips and breasts (that must remain so after puberty.)

So I added jazz dance to ballet in my 20s, taking five classes a week. If you’ve ever watched a musical live or on film, you’ve felt the infectious joy of jazz dance — edgy, quick, sexy, playful.

I only take one class a week right now, as it’s all my wretched left hip will allow. And my battements, (kicks that should skim my shoulders or at least get that high), look more like degages at this point. But still, I can do a lot more than any physician would think (or suggest) and the benefits are many:

I’m sweat-drenched within 15 minutes.

I loathe” exercise” and machines but have to lose weight and stay strong somehow.

There’s a wide range of body type in my small class, mostly women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Several of us are definitely larger than others, yet all of us move with grace and style, our feet and hands able to flash and flicker in time with the music, the rhythm as much a part of us as our eye color.

People are glad to see me there, encourage whatever progress I make, and miss me when I’m absent for a while.

Great music!

A huge gym flooded with light all to ourselves.

Twenty minutes of stretching, something it’s too easy to overlook when doing other forms of exercise.

A link to my athletic, carefree past.

A weekly reminder that, whatever my current physical limitations, they’re not 100 percent. That reminder inspires me out of the studio as well.

Here, my aging and injured body is still strong, flexible and graceful — not just damaged and painful. Women in an era that loathes anyone female over a size 6 who is not highly decorative, (that’s just about any era of the 21st and 20th centuries for North Americans!), need a place where their bodies are useful to themselves, a source of joy and power, not just something their husbands, children and/or employers rely on.

We use our head, shoulders, feet and arms, often independently, for beauty and pleasure — not for mere locomotion or other basic functions.

It’s what we do with our muscles and limbs — not just the size or shape of our hips and breasts — that matters here.

Movement! There is much we can express through our bodies. What a blessed respite from words.

Here’s a recent review of a book about one of the greatest jazz dancers ever, Fred Astaire.

What sport or physical activity brings you joy?

Just Say No

In aging, behavior, books, business, children, domestic life, family, life, love, women, work on July 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm
Conflicting Emotions

Image via Wikipedia

It’s two letters, one syllable.

Why is it so hard to say?

Because we have conflicting needs and desires.

I recently turned down three offers to speak to audiences about my new book.

One would have had 3,000 people on-line; another 30 people in a room a 45-minute drive from my home and the third maybe 60 people in another country. None of these people thought it odd, or rude, to ask that I speak without any compensation or any guarantee of book sales. Just “exposure.”

Of course I want to sell lots and lots of my books. I want and need to meet new readers. But with gas at $4 a gallon and my time billable at $150-200 hour, being asked to just give it away really annoys me.

Why exactly am I expected to donate my time, energy and skills?

So now I don’t.

It feels really good to finally start saying no. (It doesn’t have to be rude or have any affect at all. It is, as they say, a complete sentence.)

We’re all trained in the art of nay — or yay — saying. I grew up in a family of people who were/are extremely determined to get their way. People who consider me stubborn and hard-headed, who’ve also met my family of origin, get it.

There was little negotiation, often their way or the highway. So “no” became a fairly useless response, if I wanted to have a family at all.

The first man I married won my heart through his unblinking ability, on Christmas Eve after a toxic little maternal encounter, to say “No” to the whole thing. We left. I would never had mustered up the nerve to tell her enough! Thank heaven he did.

Women are heavily socialized from childhood to make nice, keep everyone happy, givegivegivegivegive (in), no matter our true, private feelings on the matter. The woman who dares to be the first to buck that trend, to ask for a raise, refuse to make team snacks or host Thanksgiving is often vilified for being so….demanding!

One of my favorite books is “Women Don’t Ask”, which explores this issue in detail.

It can take years, decades, even a lifetime to locate your spine and keep it as stiff as rebar when needed. Saying no, despite the conflict, anger, frustration and recrimination it can create, (and, oh, it does!) is a powerful choice if all you’ve been saying — reluctantly, resentfully — is yes. (Sigh.)

So much easier to avoid conflict by caving, keeping everyone else happy, wondering when you might finally muster up the nerve to say NO and mean it.

What have you begun saying no to?

How does that feel?

We’re Actually Not All Entrepreneurs

In behavior, books, business, education, Money, US, work on July 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm
Horatio Alger, Jr., Harvard Class of 1852

Horatio Alger, a Harvard man...Image via Wikipedia

I weary of this trope, that — because there are so few new jobs available in the ongoing American recession — we’re all entrepreneurs now!

Guess what?

We’re not.

Saying so flies in the face of a pile o’ American myths:

the rugged individualist; the Ipad-toting Paul Bunyan; the bootstrapper; Horatio Alger; the endless, seductive, oooooooh-can-I do-that-too? allure of reinventing yourself over and over and over and over because….

It works really well for employers who don’t want to invest their money in tedious things like a stable workforce, health benefits or pensions.

Have you gone out to price market-rate health insurance lately?

That’ll send you right back to your miserable little cubicle in gratitude, missy!

Working for yourself, as those of us who do know, means paying our own FICA and, unless we can get health insurance through a spouse or domestic partner, paying through the nose for the privilege of not ever being able to file for unemployment benefits or sick pay.

Better not fail, kids!

I simply don’t buy this shiny new paradigm, that we’ll all meant to job-hop on a second’s notice, with whatever shiny new skills we’ve just acquired (at our own expense, natch!), while corporate fat-cats suck up increasingly huge salaries and the middle class and below, often those without the shiny skills and degrees to do the job-tap-dance, falls deeper into debt and despair.

Some people are really lousy at running their own business!

They’re lazy or undisciplined or not very well educated or have a million distractions or (imagine this!) other interests beyond working 24/7…so a job that is defined and waiting for them on Monday mornings (or Sunday afternoons, whatever) is just the ticket.

Millions of people are simply not at all suited to waking up alone in their home, figuring out exactly what is necessary to:

find clients; please clients; complete excellent work on schedule, never missing a deadline (hello, people and their families get sick!); revising the project as needed; invoicing it; getting paid promptly; finding new clients….Rinse and repeat!

I grew up in a family where no one ever had a paycheck, pension, sick days, paid vacation days. We were all freelance creatives, working in print, film and television. So I’ve lived for decades the life of the self-employed (but entrepreneur sounds so much sexier, doesn’t it?) and it is really not nearly as cool or free or carefree as the cube-bound fantasize.

This, from Tom Friedman in The New York Times:

This is precisely why LinkedIn’s founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley…has a book coming out after New Year called “The Start-Up of You,” co-authored with Ben Casnocha. Its subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old midcareer professional! Here’s how you build your career today.”

Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone,” he said to me. “No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”

To begin with, Hoffman says, that means ditching a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don’t write a 100-page business plan and execute it one time; they’re always experimenting and adapting based on what they learn.

It also means using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities. Hoffman adds: “You can’t just say, ‘I have a college degree, I have a right to a job, now someone else should figure out how to hire and train me.’ ” You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.”

Finally, you have to strengthen the muscles of resilience. “You may have seen the news that [the] online radio service Pandora went public the other week,” Hoffman said. “What’s lesser known is that in the early days [the founder] pitched his idea more than 300 times to V.C.’s with no luck.”

Don’t get me wrong.

I am all for independence and self-reliance. I have zero tolerance for people unable, on a decent income, to save money, who have no idea of their finances.

But, you know, there’s no VC out there funding my work. Ever. “The muscles of resilience” are meaningless without, say, six months’ living expenses sitting in your bank account at all times, because many of us will need months, if not years, to find a new full-time job or get the cool new gig we’ve invented into the black. Not everyone has the financial resources to boot-strap.

What if (we have no kids or dependent family members) you are already saddled by the multiple financial needs of others? There’s no one-size-fits-all here.

This growing demand — sanctioned here by a columnist with a six-figure income — that every worker be all-nimble-all-the-time — with zero help or investment on the part of those whose corporate profits will only grow as a result? This doesn’t work for me.

Writing Books? Waste Of Time, Argues NYT Editor Bill Keller

In behavior, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on July 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm
This miniature of Jean Miélot (d. 1475) depict...

Image via Wikipedia

Nice.

Here’s the editor of The New York Times in this week’s Times Magazine on the utter folly of writing books:

So, why aren’t books dead yet? It helps that e-books are booming. Kindle and Nook have begun to refashion the economics of the medieval publishing industry: no trucks, no paper, no returns or remainders.

But that does not explain why writers write them. Writers write them for reasons that usually have a little to do with money and not as much to do with masochism as you might think. There is real satisfaction in a story deeply told, a case richly argued, a puzzle meticulously untangled. (Note the tense. When people say they love writing, they usually mean they love having written.) And it is still a credential, a trophy, a pathway to “Charlie Rose” and “Morning Joe,” to conferences and panels that Build Your Brand, to speaking fees and writing assignments.

His larger argument — an extended whine about losing his staff to the distraction of writing books instead of filling his pages — is that writing books (and we’re speaking here of non-fiction) is a waste of time because they don’t get reviewed, (or get trashed), don’t sell, don’t make money.

So, why exactly do we authors keep stepping up to the craps table, eyes agleam, a stack of chips clutched between our fingers?

As author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, and a former reporter for three dailies, and a 20-year Times freelancer, a few reasons:

Writing books means a respite from the endless hustle of pitching ideas

Writing books means not cranking out endless articles of relative meaninglessness for as much freelance pay as offered in the 1970s

Writing books means fleeing the bizarre, tyrannical or petty demands of the worst editors

Writing books means finding and working with an experienced agent whose skill and enthusiasm will champion your work, not a revolving door of editors half your age

Writing books means reading and speaking with your audience face to face, finding out who actually reads your work and how they feel about it

Writing books means your success (or failure) is wholly yours, not the reflected glory and easier access to sources of working for a Big Name Organization

Writing books means finding a welcoming tribe of fellow authors, generally happy to share information about how they got there — a break from the elbow-in-the-eye competitiveness of writing for a daily newspaper

Writing books means, after months of thinking deeply and broadly about an issue or a person, you’ve thought it through enough to possibly offer something new, lively and provocative – – not “just the facts”

Writing books means having months to think, research, read, interview, write, edit, revise — not minutes or hours

Writing books means breaking as far away from the pack as possible, not running as fast as you can to keep up with it on Big Stories that are often, within weeks, forgotten

Writing books means taking an idea and exploring it from every angle your editor and publisher — and word length — will allow. Journalism these days simply does not offer anyone sufficient real estate to explore anything beyond, at most, 5,000-7,000 words, the length of a book chapter

Writing books means exploring an idea or person or issue about which we are passionate — getting paid to learn

Writing books can give you access to grants and fellowships to help you do the work

Writing books means sharing your ideas and passion with readers who care as much, or soon might thanks to you, about this stuff. Intellectual evangelism!

Writing books means creating and enjoying intense relationships with your agent, editor, publisher and publicists. While writing and revising remain intensely solitary work, the production and promotion of your work, relying on the skills, experience and enthusiasm of others, becomes a team sport

Writing books means creating new, and often astonishingly intimate, relationships with total strangers — your audience. It’s fantastic to open your email and read, as I have with Malled, “Your book bolsters me” or “Have you been sitting on my shoulder for the past 23 years?”

Writing books means finding new, unlikely and unexpected alliances. I interviewed a man in Canada for a guest blog for the Harvard Business Review. “I want to promote the hell out of your book,” he said after 10 minutes of conversation. And so he has, to his large and international network

Writing books places your books and ideas in libraries worldwide. Talk about a global economy!

Writing books, as Keller grudgingly admits, can create entirely new (and lucrative) opportunities for the lucky few. “Malled” (did I tell you this yet?) has been optioned by CBS as a possible 30-minute sitcom. That’s pretty cool.

A Little Boy Lost — Murdered And Dismembered

In behavior, children, cities, Crime, domestic life, family, news, parenting, urban life, US on July 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm
13th Avenue in Borough Park

Borough Park, Brooklyn, scene of the murder. Image via Wikipedia

It takes a lot to shock New York, but the city and its suburbs are gasping today in shock, horror and fear at this week’s death and dismemberment of Leiby Kletzky, an eight-year-old boy kidnapped while walking home — for the first time — from day camp.

From today’s New York Times:

The funeral for the boy swelled to capacity before its scheduled start time at 8:30, prompting many of the thousands who could not get in to gather behind police barricades, crowding neighborhood streets as they waited to pay their respects to the young boy, Leiby Kletzky, whose remains were discovered earlier in the day. Throngs of police officers and members of a local security patrol group, the shomrim, kept order as a steady stream of visitors poured into the courtyard, adjacent to a school between 16th and 17th Avenues, within two blocks of where the boy lived. One of the shomrim volunteers estimated close to 8,000 people were in attendance.

That the alleged killer is a fellow Jew, that it happened within the confines of Borough Park, a heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood where many small children live, has made the horror even worse.

The murder is terrifying for every parent, every child, everyone — and I have no kids — who deeply values trust, kindness, the benevolent stranger who will, when you are wandering and scared, help you.

Not kill you.

This story hit me hard because I have, many times, placed my trust — as a woman, alone, often in foreign countries — in strangers. I have gotten into their cars and trucks, have accepted spontaneous invitations into their homes, stayed in their apartments and houses. In not one instance, ever, was I scared, threatened, propositioned, aggressed.

I made friends, ate some great meals, had wonderful adventures. In Palermo, 26, alone, I met two men in the vegetable market, the Vucciria, like me out taking photos. When I ran out of film (these were the 80s) one gave me a roll, a generous gesture when color film overseas was costly. Astor and Nini invited me to their apartment for lunch. I was alone, female, carrying Nikon cameras. A total mark.

I went. Lunch was amazing: fun, a few others for company, and then they dropped me off at the TV station where I had an interview later that day.

It could have ended very badly. It did not.

The problem every parent faces, and each of us must negotiate — at every age — is when, where and how much (if?) to trust someone we do not know, have recently met and whose motives appear kind and helpful.

They can be evil. They can be a predator.

I know this, too, having become, home in New York, the victim of a con man, a convicted felon who brought me a pot of homemade soup, who showered me with affection and lavish praises…all in order to gain access to my credit cards, finances and who knows what else.

The police and DA laughed at my naievete, shrugged off the fact he’d committed six felonies in the time I knew him (from opening my mail to using my credit card to forging my signtaure) — and left me with the sad, dark and undeniable knowledge that monsters do live among us.

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