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Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Light A Candle

In antiques, beauty, behavior, domestic life on January 30, 2012 at 12:17 am
Candle light

Image via Wikipedia

Do you ever wonder what life was like before we — in the more developed world at least — took electricity for granted?

Mirrors mattered, for their ability to reflect and magnify every available source of light. The crystal prisms of chandeliers amplified the glow of candles — chandelles, hence chandelier.

Candles were carefully trimmed and hoarded.

Traveling through inky darkness, whether by horse, carriage, boat or on foot, was a perilous undertaking as pirates, animals and highwaymen lay in wait. Not to mention perilous roads and conditions.

One of my favorite movie scenes ever is in Cabaret, when Sally and Brian sit on the floor in a room exclusively lit by candles.

I often start these long, cold, murky winter days by lighting candles on the shelf beside our bed. It’s a gentle way way to ease into the day, without the sudden, harsh illumination — wake up!!!! — of simply snapping on a light.

It’s also a lovely way to soothe yourself after a crazy, beeping, buzzing, over-caffeinated day. I love the snap of the match, the delicate blue moment of a wick lighting up, the surprising amount of light a cluster of candles does offer, enough to read by — preferably something written in the 18th. century!

We light candles every evening as we sit down to eat, votives whose glow softens the room.

When I visited Stockholm in late November — where the sun rose at 8:30 and was gone by 2:30 — candles were everywhere, even on the restaurant tables at lunch, creating a wholly different, (softer, gentler), mood for even the men in their suits having business lunches.

There is something centering and calming about staring into the flickering flame of a candle.

Crayons and paper and pens — oh my!

In art, beauty, design on January 29, 2012 at 1:04 am
Art Show - DSC 0035 ep

Image by Eric.Parker via Flickr

This week I did one of my favorite things ever.

I ordered personal stationery for myself, and another set for Jose and I, at Scriptura, a lovely shop in New Orleans where I last bought these things in 2004. Some stores are so perfect you can’t wait to go back, and this is one. You perch on a cane stool at a wide wooden table and their helpful staff spend as much time as you need — while the letterpress printer from 1906 clanks away in the back room.

Now that’s my kind of shopping: personal, attentive, quirky, historic and stylish!

Mine will be white cards with a lime green border, my name printed in a soft orange. Ours are kelly green (!) printed in navy blue. Total cost, just over $100. Score!

I stocked up in Chicago in November at Blick, a 101-year-old store that was totally intoxicating. I bought felt pens with brush tips, an art book, several great binders to hold my loose recipes.

There are such lovely papers to be found, everywhere I travel. Toronto has the Japanese Paper Place, Florence offers gorgeous marbled papers at Il Papiro and the art supply section at Paris’ BHV. Ooooh la la!

There are few things that make me so completely happy as knowing I have lots of gorgeous paper, pens, watercolor, pens, brushes, and my camera…beauty just waiting to explode out of my fingertips.

When we have dinner parties, I make individual place cards for everyone. At Christmas, I make and send out some of our own home-made cards as well. This year was a fun photo I took of Jose — who is not a huge hulking guy — carrying in our tree on his shoulder. Another year it was a photo he took of two canoes, one red, one green.

I grew up in a home full of creativity and feel bereft if I don’t have ready access to the tools of making stuff. My Dad paints, sculpts, works in silver, oil, etching, engraving….The only medium he doesn’t work in, ironically, is photography (although he was a film director for a living.)

We traveled across Canada by car the summer I was 15, sleeping in motels or our tent, and he filmed and I drew. I treasure my drawings from my travels as much as my photos: a temple in northern Thailand, a glass of Guinness in the Aran Islands, a sculpture in Paris, a courtyard in Queretaro.

Drawing, and painting, makes you sloooooow down and really look at whatever it is you are appreciating.

Here’s a fun New York Times story about one of my favorite art supply shops anywhere, Lee’s, on 57th. Street in Manhattan.

Do you love art supplies?

Have a great source to share?

Talent Is Not Enough!

In blogging, books, business, work on January 27, 2012 at 12:11 am
Labour law concerns the inequality of bargaini...

Image via Wikipedia

I have a book that someone gave me, by feminist icon Gloria Steinem, with the fateful and inaccurate (if deeply optimistic) inscription: “All it takes is talent.”

I wish!

A recent op-ed by New York Times writer Tom Friedman makes the point even more strongly:

In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to. It can’t when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius. Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them stand out in whatever is their field of employment. Average is over.

Scared yet?

Unless you have amazing skills or a white-hot degree (engineering or computer science, to name two), you might be.

I work in a field — journalism/publishing/online media — changing at warp speed. In one year, 2008, 24,000 journalists lost their jobs. That’s a lot of people shoved hard out of work they had done well and enjoyed for decades into….who the hell knows.

I took a retail job in 2007, seeing how crummy things were getting, and it brought in gas-and-grocery money, for which I was damn grateful, for 27 months. I’d never had a low-wage job and it was often hard and exhausting, physically and emotionally.

Fortunately, it led to a book that’s been well-reviewed, television rights option (additional income) and paid speaking engagements — none of which were a guarantee and all of which might never have happened. It’s a life, like that of a polar bear in the melting ice cap, of leaping from one moving slab of income to another.

Talent, i.e. being really good at what you do, is the least of it!

You need:

A way with words. Can you write a compelling and persuasive pitch letter or email? Can you describe what you do best in two or three sentences, tops?

Charm. No kidding. You can call it “people skills” but if you’re witty, fun, funny and simply an interesting person to engage with, your odds quickly improve of finding paid work. People hire those they find companionable and sympathetic, not just grunts with a resume. I got my retail job with zero experience because I was able, easily, to engage the two men doing the hiring in lively conversation focused on their needs. That’s what salespeople do.

Stamina. I’ve been an athlete since childhood, and competed in sailing, swimming and even fencing at the national level. If you’re going to work for yourself, or compete for a good job, you need stamina — physically and emotionally. There is a tremendous amount of rejection in many endeavors and those able to best withstand pain will move past those who easily crumple, then whine in the corner.

Learn something new all the time. If your technical skills are weak, you’re falling behind. If you can pick up a new skill every few months, or yearly at least, you’ve got something added to offer beyond the basics. I speak fluent French, decent Spanish and can take excellent photos that have been nationally published. On a few occasions, that combination has been more than my nearest competitor…

Hustle! I grew up in Toronto and was out on my own at 19. I learned to hustle hard, often and relentlessly to earn a living freelance. I wasn’t scared, even then, to offer my skills and services to top editors and my confidence grew with my portfolio. One of my photos was published in Time when I was an undergrad. I never ever take a contact, job or assignment for granted. Too many people are chasing the same dreams.

Know your industry and what matters within it right now. Read trade magazines and websites and blogs and know who’s who and what they need. Go to conferences and attend meetings and read the smart thought leaders in your field so you know what they’re saying. Join as many professional groups as you can and be as generous with your time, talent and skills as possible. People refer people they know, like and trust to their colleagues — not some random needy person on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Go to the places you can meet some of the players face to face. Not a job fair! Think like a reporter and find out where you might run into a few of the decision-makers you need to meet: conferences, public events, a political rally, a school sports match.

Travel. Even if it’s an hour or two outside your usual routines. Fresh ideas and insights are harder to acquire if you keep treading familiar ground.

Meta matters. If you’re blogging or maintaining a social media presence, make sure every post, tweet, message, photo and idea you leave permanently out there conveys the underlying meta message you intend.

Apple products are cool not just because they’re Apple, per se…they’re very deliberately hyper-designed to feel good, sound good, look good. And we like to show them off as metaphors for how cool and put-together we are.

What meta messages are your clients and audience picking up about you? Are they consistent, memorable and compelling? Every single aspect of your presentation, from your handshake to your tone of voice to the shoes you choose to the colors on your website is sending (unspoken, immediate and indelible) messages about you!

Consume a wide array of media and information. If you’re politically liberal, read what the right-wingers have to say, and vice versa. Read media in your language from far beyond your region — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland and Scotland (and South Africa) will offer ideas and points of view that your local, regional or national press may well be ignoring. Trends bubble up worldwide in a global economy.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Once you find some clients who value you, treasure them and give them your very best. I frequently turn in material ahead of my deadlines. In 30 years I think I’ve missed two.

Read smart business publications/websites/blogs consistently. If you really want to understand where jobs are going (or coming from) and why you’ve got to understand the movement of capital, investment trends and global markets. It’s not terribly complicated and might help you see what’s happening before it hits you personally. ( If you’re got a secure government or academic job, lucky you!)

What advice would you offer?

Want The Writer’s Life? Here’s My Week…

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, work on January 25, 2012 at 12:36 am
English: Scout at Ship's Wheel by Norman Rockw...

Image via Wikipedia

So you want to be a freelance writer?

For many people, it’s a cherished dream: work at home, no commute, wear PJs til noon, no crazy boss or office politics!

I’ve been writing for a living for 30+ years, and have been freelancing, this time, since 2006. Here’s what my week this week — typical in some ways, very unusual in a few others — looks like:

Sunday

I normally don’t work on weekends but I’m facing multiple deadlines and have to interview people this afternoon — including boys ages 8 to 11 for a story for Boys’ Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts, for whom I’ve been happily writing for years. With no kids of my own or nephews, I need some great quotes from these boys, one of whom has a shrieking sibling in the background during our conversation. I email several clients to track down late payments and invoice a few others.

I check in with the Hollywood scriptwriter who’s been writing a pilot script for “Malled” for CBS for months. It’s now, finally, with the network executives who can give it a green light — or not. How weird it might be to have a television character based on…me.

Monday

Eight hours at the hospital getting every bit of my body tested for upcoming hip surgery.

I’m home by 4:00 p.m., worn out from listening carefully to so much complex information. Terms like “blood loss” don’t help my nerves.

I still have to finish up my Boy Scout story; invoice Reuters.com for an op-ed I wrote last week; try to find out the status of two stories I pitched to The New York Times (for whom I’ve been writing since 1990.)

Working freelance means wearing a dozen hats at once: marketing, coming up with ideas, finding editors to buy them (at the right price!), billing, pitching, researching, interviewing, reading, writing, finding sources and — the worst! — chasing down late payments. One client screwed up so badly I still haven’t been paid for a story that ran in November.

So, like every freelancer I know, I hustle for work constantly — and use a line of credit to pay every bill promptly. My bank charges 19 % APR (!) and $12 every time I use the overdraft protection, which these late payments force me into.

I can only afford, finally, to get this surgery because I’ve saved enough to take 4-6 weeks off entirely for my recovery. Freelancers have no paid sick days!

The anesthesiologists’ office warn me that a typical bill for my two-hour operation is $3,800, of which our health insurance will pay, at most, $1,000. I’m in no mood to wake up facing a $2,800 bill. One more thing to try not to worry about.

Tuesday

Into New York City for a haircut. Next week my husband, (a professional photographer and editor), will take my new headshot, which I need for my websites, blog, book events, speaking engagements and other professional gigs. I get asked for it a lot, and everyone who runs their own business should have a good, recent, flattering one.

I’ve tried to clear the decks of work almost completely, so I can go into this major operation without worrying I will disappoint someone or miss a deadline. I still have two paid blog posts left and five days to get them done. I’ve been trying to sell a story about the surgery, but no one has bitten. (Yet!)

Wednesday

I fly to New Orleans, where I’ll attend a cocktail party at a conference of retail business owners. I’m excited but nervous. I hate turbulence and my last flight (home from Chicago in November) was horrible. I enjoy doing public speaking, but writers generally like to have our words speak for us, and giving a great speech isn’t a natural or obvious talent. Last year I hired a terrific speaking coach whose advice and tips made me much more confident.

Thursday

At 1pm eastern time, I join an hour-long conference call of 15 fellow writers all across the U.S. who serve on the board of the American Society of Journalists And Authors, a 1,400-member group that advocates for writers’ rights, improved working conditions and pay. I’ve served on the board for five years and am leaving it in July. I’ve enjoyed it, but I’m pooped. At 3:30, I’m speaking on the topic of how to hire, manage and motivate low-wage employees, something I learned firsthand when I worked for 27 months as an associate at The North Face, an outdoor clothing company, and which formed the basis of my latest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

Friday

Play day! New Orleans is one of my favorite cities to visit. I’ve been there twice before, once in the spring of 2002 to interview men and women for my first book, about American women and guns. It makes a city a very different place when you’re there to work and try to get to know even a little of the political and economic structure and whose opinions matter most there.

Ten Mid-Winter Cheer-Ups

In art, beauty, behavior, domestic life, entertainment, life on January 23, 2012 at 12:51 am
NYC: Porto Rico Coffee Reflection

One of my favorite NYC stores! Image by Professor Bop via Flickr

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and are heading into our fourth month of cold, snow, ice and short days, it’s time for a cheer-up!

Here are ten ideas:

Spend as much as you can afford on fresh flowers. Even $20 or $30 will fill several containers with living color, scent and beauty for a few weeks. I snagged $16 worth of white lilies from the supermarket last week and they’re still blooming and fragrant in the bedroom and dining room. So lovely to open the front door to a hit of scent! If you have nothing to put them in, check out your local thrift shop.

A long walk, preferably with a camera in hand. Snow and ice transform the landscape in unexpected ways. The jagged stone walls surrounding our apartment building, covered with snow, look exactly like a row of teeth!

A long talk with someone you adore. Make a phone date  — or face to face, better yet — and settle in for a good 30 minutes or more. Forget email and Facebook.

Bake! This morning I cranked out blueberry/banana muffins and spice muffins. Easy, fun, something nice to look forward to every morning for a week or more. If you haven’t replenished your pantry, make sure you’ve got the staples on hand for when inspiration hits.

A small pretty treat for your home. Check out the sales at old favorites like Pottery Barn, Home Goods, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Anthropologie, Wisteria, Sundance — a few of my on-line favorites. For even $20 or 30, you can enjoy a new set of hand towels, a few new dishtowels, some pretty candles, a 2 x 3 foot cotton throw rug from Dash & Albert, some fresh pillowcases. Check out Etsy for affordable and charming choices. Here’s the Dash & Albert rug we ordered for our living room.

Make fresh tea — in a teapot. Enough with this awful Americanism of “tea” being one sad teabag stuck in a mug of hot water. I think not! You need a proper china or pottery teapot; here’s one shaped like Big Ben! Some lovely teas, maybe a few you’ve never tried before. I love Constant Comment (with orange and spices), cardamom/chai, Earl Grey and even (wild stuff) Lapsang Souchong, whose smoky, tarry flavor makes me feel like I’ve been licking the deck of some 17th century frigate. If your local store doesn’t have these, order from my favorite New York purveyors, both of which are more than 100 years old, Porto Rico Coffee & Tea, (try their pumpkin spice or chocolate raspberry coffee), and McNulty’s. Even better if you’ve got a lovely bone china teacup with saucer; check out this one, in blue toile, for a mere $9.75. Aaaaaah.

Something cashmere. A pair of socks, or gloves, or a watch cap or scarf, or a turtleneck sweater. The sharp-eyed can always find one affordably in a local thrift or consignment shop.

A massage. If you’re really lucky, your sweetie knows how and is happy to provide. If you can afford it — usually $65 or more — a scented rubdown is sheer bliss after months of being swaddled in wool and rubber, our chilled muscles stiff and sore. My local drugstore sells a bottle of eucalyptus scent for a few dollars…add it to some light oil and you’re good to go.

A stack of library books you’re dying to read. Make them two-week returns so you won’t procrastinate! I recently read, and totally loved, “The House in France” by Gully Wells, a memoir.

Get out your pens, pencils, watercolors, oils, paper, wool, threads, fabric, dye….and create! Borrow your kids’ Legos or Barbies or trolls. Turn off every single electronic “toy” and use the best one of of all — your brain!

Bonus: Paint something: a bathroom, a funky chair from the thrift store, a bookcase you’re sick of, (one of ours recently went from deep olive green to pale yellow/green to match the walls. Big difference!) A fresh coat of paint in a new-to-you color is a guaranteed happiness-inducer: quick, cheap, eye-opening. Here’s a $10 guide from House Beautiful magazine with some wonderful choices. The British company Farrow & Ball makes the yummiest colors ever. They’re expensive, but even a sample pot will give you enough to re-do a lampshade or lamp base or a small table top. Here’s a sample of Straw, a great neutral mustard tone which we chose for our very small (5 by 7)  and only bathroom; two years in, we still love it.

Why We Love (Or Hate) Downton Abbey

In culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, life, television, women on January 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm
Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey Image via Wikipedia

The big deal here in the U.S. these days is a series being shown on PBS called Downton Abbey, filmed at a breathtaking enormous and beautiful country house, and centred on an aristocratic British family at the start of World War I.

It’s also created some controversy, as the larger cultural dialogue here is also increasingly focused on the 99% versus the 1%, i.e. the wealthy versus…the rest of us.

Why are we all eagerly watching a show about lazy rich people?

I admit to really enjoying DA, and look forward to it every week. Some fellow New Yorkers are even having British-themed parties and dinners to celebrate watching the show together, from Pimms cups to Eton mess.

Here are the reasons I like it, and think millions of others do as well:

Who doesn’t crave a life of leisure? Seriously. As Americans slog through their third recession in 20 years, millions out of work and losing their homes and trying to get a new job, never having to work ever again at all looks mighty alluring. We can easily resent today’s plutocrats, but watching long-dead British aristos lounge about? Not so much.

The production values! Anyone who loves beautiful design and vintage objects is loving the elaborate costumes and set design.

We can still identify with and cheer for the women’s wish for a less-constricted life. It’s an interesting plot line to watch all the women, servants and their employers, struggle to re-define themselves as workers, voters, something more than decorative or drudges.

Meals, eaten together. I don’t need footmen or candleabra, but I do love eating my meals seated at a proper dining table with linen napkins and china. In an era when so many families eat microwaved junk, fast food or rarely eat a meal at the same table together, the banter and baiting that happens at the Abbey dinner table is central to the story.

The Granthams have character flaws. Republican candidate Mitt Romney —  worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars, paying only 15 percent tax on his income and refusing to reveal his income tax returns — leaves many voters are deeply uneasy with his hail-fellow facade and his photogenic posse of handsome sons and blond daughters-in-law. We know there’s dirt in there somewhere; on Downton Abbey, those beautifully dressed and bejeweled sisters hiss and scratch at one another like…some sisters really do.

There’s never a mention of religion. Thank God! It’s interesting that none of the Grantham family, nor their servants, ever attend church or show anything resembling a spiritual life, ensuring no viewer can tune out for them professing the wrong faith. Whatever else the Granthams do, they’re not spouting pious platitudes, (like those Republican millionaire candidates), about how much they love God.

They talk to — and listen to — their servants on a personal level. Completely unrealistic, but makes for a set of relationships that go beyond silent, servile hair-brushing and silver-polishing.

They gainfully employ, house and feed a dozen adults. I’m in no way romanticizing the servants’ life below stairs! But when the valet Bates offers to leave — and is offered two months’ wages — we gape in envy. Virtually no American worker can rely on even a day’s severance pay, even after decades of loyalty to their employer. Given the growing and persistent income inequality now dividing American society, a family actually employing, feeding and housing workers seems a welcome anomaly. (They exist here. We just don’t hear much about them.)

So that’s how the 1% really think. In an era when we’re obsessed with the wealthy — and our irrelevance to them politically and economically –a television show offering a peek behind the velvet curtain allows us to eavesdrop on their private lives and pillow talk.

We already feel like servants. Many of the Republicans now running for President in the U.S. are so wealthy it’s absurd;  Mitt Romney has spent $35 million of his own money so far. Many of us feel as distant, and irrelevant, to these men  — who want to represent us politically — as DA’s servants do to their employers. Yet the servants at Downton share physical space with their employers, while today’s wealthy usually live very far away from the many minions tending to their needs. $35 million of disposable income? The toffs of DA look like pikers in comparison.

Here’s a published dust-up over the show — their knickers in a serious twist, as the Brits might say — between historian Simon Schama and creator Julian Fellowes.

Here’s a recent radio interview with John Lunn, the composer of the show’s music.

And a post about DA by a fellow fan.

If you’ve seen it, what do you think?

The Alphabet Soup Life

In culture, domestic life, Medicine on January 19, 2012 at 4:46 am
English: Alphabet pasta Deutsch: Buchstabensuppe

Image via Wikipedia

When I lived in France in my 20s, I arrived speaking the language pretty well. The toughest part of reading the newspaper was learning all the acronyms that were familiar to natives: FNAC (a book and music store), SNCF (the railways), FO (a union) and IVG (abortion), among many others.

These days, it feels like my life is an alphabet soup of acronyms. They include:

REIT and ETF, two forms of investment I recently added to my portfolio. In Canada, I bank with TD, the shortened form of Toronto Dominion.

I rely every year on the STAR, a tax refund that helps to lower my property taxes.

I often travel by MTA, the official name of the New York subway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

While working on various high-level projects, I’ve had to sign an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement.

IV, MRI, AVN and NSAIDs. The first I’ll need for my surgery, the second diagnosed the problem, the third is the problem (dead bone in my hip) and the latter are painkillers.

NYT, ASJA and WEAF are key in our household. The first, The New York Times, is my husband’s full-time employer and one of my regular freelance outlets. The ASJA is a 1,400-member writers’ group, on whose board I’ve served for six years. I sit on the board of WEAF, which is an amazing source of aid for writers who find themselves in terrible financial straits. We can give a grant of up to $4,000 within days.

DH and DL. When I’m healthy and strong, I’ve been chosen by my softball team — a mix of men and women ages 20s to 70s — as the DH, or designated hitter, a position of some honor. It means they know I can smack that sucker far enough to get a man (or woman) on base. But thanks to my damned hip, the one that has sidelined me for two seasons, I’m on the DL, the disabled list.

The FT. We love the weekend Financial Times, and look forward to it every week. This British daily is unapologetically elitist, but still stylish, witty and fun.

CBS, a national television network. I’m praying hard they greenlight the pilot for “Malled”, a sitcom based on my retail memoir that came out last year. It won’t make me rich, but would add a chunk to my savings and be a lot of fun.

Given how international Broadside’s 588 readers are — scattered worldwide — tell us some of your local acronyms.

Which might confuse us if we visited your country?

Winter Sounds Like This

In beauty, culture, domestic life, life, nature, Weather on January 17, 2012 at 2:21 am
Ice Ledge

Image by Bob.Fornal via Flickr

The radiator hissing

The whirring hum of the floor heater

Howling wind

Bare branches clacking like some spooky typist

Groaning, cracking sheet ice on the river

The crackling, popping and hissing of a fire

Coffee gurgling in the pot

Clink of a teaspoon against bone china

Scraping of skates against fresh ice

Skis swishing through snow

Frozen feet stamping

The muffled thump of mittened hands slapping one another for warmth

The ker-thump! of a snowball hitting its target

The slhllllllump! of a wet pile of snow slithering off a roof

Crunch of feet across salt/gravel

I know that some of you — lucky things! — live in warm places, or places where our North American winter is your summer

What does winter sound like where you live?

My Soundtrack — And Yours?

In music on January 15, 2012 at 12:05 am
Nick Drake, c. 1969.

Nick Drake, 1969. Image via Wikipedia

I rarely go through a day without listening to music.

As I write this, I’m listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Soundcheck with John Schaefer, now in its 30th (!) year on-air from WNYC, 93. 9, in New York. John always has something fun to offer — today’s show included a version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, sung in (of course!) Klingon.

Follow that link and you’ll find some of his shows, whether featuring Gaetano Veloso or Courtney Love.

My taste in music is pretty eclectic, from Baroque faves like Couperin to Japanese shakuhachi, a haunting bamboo flute you might have heard in tunes by Tangerine Dream, Dave Brubeck, Peter Gabriel and Sade.

My classical favorites include Erik Satie, Aaron Copland, Bach, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Smetana, Rodrigo; I never tire of Concierto de Aranjuez or the Brandenburg Concertos.

I don’t listen to rap, hip-hop, country or Top 40 stuff.

Here are some of my favorites, some of which you’ll know and maybe some of which will be a discovery:

Bruce Cockburn is a Canadian whose music I’ve loved since the 1970s. Try to find some of his earliest albums: great guitar, haunting lyrics.

Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Jane Siberry are all Canadians whose music I enjoy.

Acoustic guitar music is a favorite: Leo Kottke, John Renbourn, Richard Thompson, Kaki King, David Bromberg.

Singer/songwriters: Canadian female singer Feist, the late super-talented Englishman Nick Drake, American Duncan Sheik, Katell Keinig, Joan Osborne, Ricky Lee Jones, and Irishman Luka Bloom, among many others.

Nina Simone!

Instrumental music, like this amazing CD I keep playing over and over, La Valse Des Monstres. I have some odd affection for accordion music.

Genesis — 1970s British prog-rock. Check out The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a double album, and set aside a few hours to disappear into it.

A local New York band, whose vocalist and washboard player is a friend of mine, The Hot Sardines — who play music from the 1920s and 30s. Great fun!

The Waterboys. I was bouncing on my seat at The Beacon in NYC when I heard this terrific Irish band.

What songs, bands, musicians or composers do you love best?

Do you have a great radio station we can listen to on-line?

I’m desperate for some new-to-me tunes!

The Touch of Fire

In behavior, business, journalism, work on January 13, 2012 at 5:51 am

If we’re lucky, at some point in our lives, we’ll feel the touch of fire — time spent with someone so inspiring, accomplished and genuinely interested in us and our talents, however latent — that brands us forever.

It’s happened to me twice (so far) in my life, both when I was in my mid-20s. The first was on my fellowship in Paris, founded and run by a charismatic, bossy, imperious, charming legend named Philippe Viannay. The man, even then in his 60s, dressed elegantly, laughed often and had created more social value in his lifetime than almost anyone I’ve had the privilege to meet since: he was a Resistance hero; co-founded a major newspaper; founded a home for wayward boys; founded a sailing school; ran a journalism school and, (whew) founded and ran Journalists in Europe, the program that chose me and changed my life and worldview forever.

We had an immediate rapport, and he introduced me to everyone as “le terrible Caitlin!” I was deeply offended until I realized it meant terrific. The fellowship changed everything for me: how I felt about myself as a person, as a writer, showed me I could thrive in another language and culture. I’m honored to have known him, and that he shared some of his time with me.

When I returned to my native Toronto, and got my dream job as a writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I briefly met Jill Krementz, a photographer whose work is well-known to Americans, and the widow of writer Kurt Vonnegut. She came to Toronto for a day-long photo shoot for a book called A Day in the Life of Canada and, as a reporter, I shadowed her throughout the entire day.

I’d started my career eager to become a photographer and then — in the mid 1980s — there were relatively few women working at her level in that field. The notion of meeting her, let alone spending an entire day with one of my idols? Swoon!

It was amazing to me, (even with parents working in film and television), that people of this stature would make time to talk to me, get to know me a bit, share some of their wisdom and insight. At the end of the day, back when shooters used film, Krementz sat cross-legged on her hotel bed as she counted film canisters, and I pelted her with questions about her career and how she’d achieved what she had. She was tough as nails. Is that what it would take?

(Yes!)

I have a young friend in Tucson, far from the bright lights and easy professional contacts of a New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris. Roxana is quiet, pretty, soft-spoken, Hispanic, not a culture that necessarily “gets” a young woman eager to sell her news photos for a living. In her social circles, the odds of meeting a world-famous, globe-trotting star of her industry is slim-to-none.

But she did, and her meeting with Chris Hondros — killed April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya while on assignment– touched her deeply. They spoke, emailed, stayed in touch.

With her permission, I include her account of this amazing and life-changing experience:

In 2007,  my first semester in journalism, I took an ethics course. One day we were viewing one of Chris Hondros’ famous pictures, the one with a little girl covered in blood where all you can see next to her are the boots of a soldier. Powerful, powerful image and story.

We were discussing in class about how it should be published. My opinion was front page and in color — people need to know. For the course I decided to write my report on war photography and focus on Hondros’ work. One day, I friended him on Facebook just in case. Maybe I would be able to ask him some questions personally instead of citing a book.

Five minutes later, he messaged me back. He wrote, “Perfect timing.” He was going to be in Tucson a few days working on an economy piece for Getty Images. I was so excited, I jumped from my chair, smiling ear to ear.

Minutes later we were talking on the phone and I was helping him with information about Tucson, while another of my friends, also a great photojournalist, James Gregg, teamed up to help Hondros find what he was looking for. When he arrived it was like meeting a celebrity.  He was in Tucson for four days. I went out photographing with him one afternoon and felt so lucky. I kept blushing and was nervous.

But Hondros was so down-to-earth. Every time I asked him about his work he gave short answers, very to the point. He was more interested in talking about my work.

The last night he was in town we had coffee and I brought my work for him to see it. It was my first real news portfolio, mostly pictures taken for my college paper. I was very nervous. He glanced at them very quickly closed the book and kept talking about something else — before we left I asked him about my work. “It’s a first portfolio. Mine was bad when I started.” We laughed.

But he told me that I was very passionate and he believed that I would become better. We walked to his hotel, he gave me a huge hug and told if I was ever in New York City to look him up.

I don’t have a picture of me and him, and I wish I did. I felt too embarrassed to ask.

I never knew that I wouldn’t see him again.

After that visit I was in constant contact with him through Facebook, email, sometimes Skype. We chatted online when he was sent to Baghdad, or Afghanistan on assignment and I was always picking his brains.

The last portfolio I sent him to see, he said it looked good and sharp. He once told me that when I was ready he would take me to Getty Images. I was honest with him and shared my frustrations with journalism and finding a place to publish me. He would tell me not to give up on photography because I was good at it.

The day he died was so tough for me. I had never had anyone close to me die so suddenly.  I turned on CNN and there it was Tim Hetherington, confirmed dead, but Chris was still in critical condition. At the same time I was chatting online with a photographer from Kosovo living in France. He knew Chris too, and had helped him in Kosovo.

This community of war photographers and foreign journalist is small. Most know each other, and I’m so glad to be linked to them.

I prayed for Chris all morning and I didn’t leave my house. The hardest moment was seeing the woman on CNN say, “We have confirmed that Chris Hondros has died.” My mom held me tight.

I had spoken to him a couple of weeks earlier when he was in Cairo covering the revolution. All I could think of was our last chat. I didn’t think that he would leave so soon. I miss him so much. I still feel that he’s still out there photographing the world.

He is my drive and inspiration.

Have you been touched along the way by someone like this?

What effect did it have on you or your career?

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