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Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

The inner hippie emerges!

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, US on April 11, 2012 at 12:11 am
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA.

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever found yourself in a landscape that transforms you?

I recently returned from one amazing day spent driving through Marin County, which is across the Golden Gate bridge, north of San Francisco. I went with a friend and her tiny daughter, who turns 3 in June. It was so lovely I’m counting the minutes until I can get back on the plane for the six hour ride from my home in New York.

Marin is bathed in golden light, its velvety hills a mix of Ireland, Scotland and Vermont, dotted with black cows and brown horses. Thick groves of redwoods. A winding road that led us through Dogtown, pop. 30. (The official sign later hand-lettered, amended to 31, 32, 33…)

I felt like a chorus in a Joni Mitchell song.

We stopped in Point Reyes and bought ice cream. Four men asked me to take their photo outside the Western Saloon, which looks exactly as it sounds.

I posed them in the narrow doorway of the saloon. “You look like a rock band,” I told them, and they laughed. Until they looked at the photo on their Iphone.

“We do! Great photo!” one said, delighted.

Thick afternoon light coated the red bricks and the emerald-green California I highway sign.

The last place that had so profound an effect on me was Taos, New Mexico. Like Marin, it’s a favorite of some big name celebrities — Julia Roberts lives there, at least part-time. Taos is tiny and filled with eccentric details. (Yet, like many of these idyllic rural areas, almost a quarter of its 4,700 residents live in poverty.)

Here’s a recent essay about Taos from The New York Times:

I had come to this far-flung desert town to write a memoir about searching for traces of one of the heroes of my English adolescence, D. H. Lawrence. Taos was the only place where Lawrence had ever actually owned a house, and I suppose, as a visitor, I was hoping some of the inspiration he had drawn from the land and people might rub off on me. I had imagined the landscape would all be bare desert and mountains. The last thing I had expected was to find it reminding me of England.

But all around town there were grassy fields, tussocky, mostly flat, with patches of shorter grass where horses and cattle had grazed. They were no different from the fields back home where I had grown up, playing soccer with friends, walking the dogs, rambling, sleeping out in summer. This one near my apartment was no exception.

An unexpected sense of intense familiarity with a foreign place has been felt by other travelers in other lands, but I was surprised by how completely at home I felt in this field: the long grass, the faint scent of hay, the trees hissing softly in gusts of breeze. Of all strange things, this meadow in Taos had exactly the same rough grass stalks, feathery at their tips, as the field next door to my childhood home in the Cherwell Valley north of Oxford. And the path, beaten smooth as hide, was just like the path that ran through that field, too. And the tremendous ribbed trunks of the cottonwoods that ringed it were like the boles of old English willows.

The day we arrived in Taos I ran out and bought a tie-dyed tank top, astonishing Jose, then my boyfriend of only three months, (now my husband, 12 years later.) In New York, he’d been dating a woman who appeared buttoned-up and conservative, a WASP — me — who showed up on dates wearing turtlenecks.

Who, suddenly, was this hippie chick?

Blame it on coming of age in the 1970s, but I’m often deeply happiest in a place where I can ride horses, pick up fossils from ancient riverbeds and let my eyes roam across empty miles. Where the air smells of dry earth, old stone and sagebrush and eucalyptus. Where the light is so exquisite I’m torn between my camera, sketchbook — and simply letting it soak into memory.

I found the same qualities of Taos and Marin — of light, rugged landscape and timelessness — in Corsica. I wept when I left, in June 1996, and dream of returning to explore it much more.

How about you?

Have you been somewhere that so moves and touches you?

Ten warning signs you’re an adult

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, Medicine, women on April 9, 2012 at 12:07 am
My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert

My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

We all know the standard metrics: graduate college, grad school, marry, have kids, acquire property and a vehicle.

I never had kids, so that typical dividing line into Maturity escaped me.

But for many of us, different moments mark a definite end to innocence.

Here are ten that resonate for me:

Taxes!

I grew up in a family of freelancers whose approach to paying income tax — which is never deducted at source, for those of you who’ve never done it — was, hmmm, variable. One day my Dad said, “I have two pieces of advice for you about taxes.”

“Running and hiding?”

Suffice to say I now have a very good accountant and genuflect to him deeply.

A mortgage

In New York, getting a mortgage is like some bizarro obstacle course littered with lawyers with out-stretched hands. Check, check, check, check!

Knowing — and caring about — your FICO score

For those of you outside the U.S., this is your credit score whose quality determines whether life is pleasant (low interest rates on mortgages, car loans, credit cards) or a hell of slammed doors refusing you access to any sort of credit. Surprisingly few consumers realize what sort of leverage you have with a good score — a lot!

Giving informed consent for my mother’s brain surgery

That was very weird, given how deeply private she always was. I looked, literally, into her head, staring at the four-inch tumor on X-ray that soon, successfully, came out.

Putting my mother into a nursing home

Pretty much the hell you’d expect: having to sell 95 percent of her things and make consequential decisions quickly. Being an only child makes it both easier and harder.

Getting a colonoscopy

For those of you under 50, something to look forward to! (And those putting it off out of fear, it’s no big deal. You have one wearying day beforehand to cleanse you colon, go to sleep during the procedure. Done.)

Knowing your neighbors

When you’re young, single and often behaving badly, you may not want to know your neighbors. Who was that guy/girl skulking out of your apartment? What were those weird noises at 3 a.m.? Once you’re a bit older, maybe traveling for work, maybe with a place you own and/or value more than a dive shared with six roomies, having kind and watchful neighbors is a wonderful thing.

Regular mammograms/Pap smears/prostate exams

I’m always a little stunned when I hear of someone, (who has health insurance, which in the U.S. means these are no-brainers), who skips these essential tests. No one wants to hear bad news. My mother has survived breast cancer, so mammo day is always a little shaky for me. But seriously? Just do it!

Joining a faith community

No disrespect to atheists and agnostics. But for many of us, finding a congenial place to nurture your spiritual growth is a major step. It’s easy to focus solely on family/work/friends/fun — until the shit hits the fan.

Making a will/living will/power of attorney/health care proxy

So cheery! But if you have been fortunate enough to have accumulated anything of value, it’s worth deciding who to leave it to. And facing any sort of major surgery — even childbirth, my mom-pals tell me — means facing the scariest of fears about mortality or severe injury.

How about you?

What milestones have marked your path to adulthood?

Ok, so that movie was worth about $7.63, not the $11.25 I paid

In art, beauty, culture, entertainment, film, movies on April 7, 2012 at 12:19 am
Cover of "The Deep Blue Sea (Nick Hern Bo...

Cover of The Deep Blue Sea (Nick Hern Books)

Sigh.

I love going to the movies, even when I am disappointed. It gets me out of the house, off the sofa and into the current cultural conversation.

Even when I’m not loving the movie, there’s usually something worth my cash. It’s not all or nothing.

I recently saw The Deep Blue Sea, a new film made from a 1952 play by British playwright Terrence Rattigan.

I mostly hated it, because the central character — Hester — is one neurotic mess. I couldn’t, ever, work up much of a head of sympathy for her, even though she’s married to a boring man with a nasty mother. When she runs off with a hottie named Freddie and shacks up with him, we all wait to see if passion beats out duty.

I love the actress Rachel Weisz. I really enjoyed the costumes and production design. Freddie is delicious. One can see why she’d flee to his wiry smooth arms.

But, over the course of the film, it’s immediately clear that:

– this is a period piece. What was emotionally compelling in 1952 is, in this case, much less so

– women, certainly those without children, have more choices now, so watching one who is arguably educated and intelligent make an utter fool of herself over a ditzy-but-cute boy isn’t terribly attractive

– the post-war British period feels too distant and hard to empathize with

this is a play, with theatrical timing, dialogue and structure. It’s not sufficiently cinematic to make an effective transition to film

I don’t resent the difference between my $11.25 worth of expectations and the $7.63 value, or so, I feel I got from this film.  “Value” is pretty subjective whether we love, like or meh a film, book, play, song or concert.

One reviewer on amazon.com slammed my new book by saying she’d only read about 64% of it (on the Kindle) before giving up in disgust. Hey, better than 21%!

Do you ever just walk out of films, concerts or shows you find disappointing?

What’s your breaking point?

Are women writers being ignored?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, men, news, women, work on April 5, 2012 at 12:04 am
0New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper. Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting to be sent out. Rewrite man in background gets the story on the phone from reporter outside. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The latest American National Magazine finalists are in, and the list is — as usual — heavy with the names of male writers, whose work appears predominantly in the Big Name Magazines, the ones that every seriously ambitious writer here eventually, (or even initially) aspires to: The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, Esquire and The Atlantic, to name a few.

Here’s a piece in the American monthly magazine Mother Jones on this issue:

And now the problem has once again reared its head: On Tuesday, when the 2012 National Magazine Award finalists were announced, exactly zero women were nominated in the big brass-ring categories—reporting, features, profiles, essays, and columns. (Some women did get nominations in other categories, most encouragingly two nods in public interest journalism, although more typically for pieces about breast-cancer economics and “mommy tucks.”)

Erin Belieu, founder of a group whose goal is to encourage women writers, VIDA, tells MJ:

A friend of mine defines this kind of intellectual segregation as the “tits and nether bits” ghetto, a place in which women only speak to other women. Meantime, men are allowed and encouraged to speak to whomever they want. These issues and questions are ones we at VIDA hope editors may think through in the future when assigning articles to reporters. And we also want to give women writers the confidence to say, “Hey, I can write about whatever I want. I have authority. I have expertise. I have a unique perspective as a person, first and foremost.”

I’ve seen this firsthand, having worked in New York as a journalist since 1989. Read the cool magazines and year  after year the majority of bylines — and their editors — are men tackling the serious, smart, lengthy stories — of 3,500 or 5,000 or even 25,000 words.

Women’s magazines very rarely offer that sort of real estate to any writer, simplifying most stories into 1,000 to 2,000 words, barely enough to scratch the surface of a complex story.

And, frankly, many of us do not wish to write primarily or exclusively about health, nutrition, kids, celebrities, sex or marriage — the go-to evergreens of women’s magazines. It’s somehow (insultingly) assumed that women only want to write about womens-y stuff.

Which means that tough, complicated stories, the kind that only get coverage (and budgets to do it right) in the Big Name Books are hard to get your hands on. Unless you get the assignment — and enough pay to do the work well and enough room to tell the story intelligently — you’ve got nothing to show in order to win the next challenging assignment.

As much as this may horrify some of you, I did some of my best magazine work for Penthouse magazine, including the story that led to my first book.

Men and women writers all know why this issue is so important — being published at this elite level of exposure matters, a lot. Once your work has appeared a few times, sometimes even once, in the Big Name Books, book, film and TV agents come a-calling and other editors add you to their Rolodex. You need those names on your book jacket to prove you’ve got some heft, that your ideas are worth $26 and a few hours of a reader’s time and attention.

You need that level of challenge, to prove to yourself and to editors, agents and publishers, you’ve got the goods.

Being ghetto-ized into writing about mascara or breast-feeding won’t cut it.

Ambitious writers — of any gender — all want, and need, that street cred.

And women’s books aren’t getting reviewed either, according to VIDA, writes novelist Meg Wolitzer in The New York Times:

This is a tricky subject. Bringing up the women’s question — I mean the women’s fiction question — is not unlike mentioning the national debt at a dinner party. Some people will get annoyed and insist it’s been talked about too much and inaccurately, and some will think it really matters. When I refer to so-called women’s fiction, I’m not applying the term the way it’s sometimes used: to describe a certain type of fast-reading novel, which sets its sights almost exclusively on women readers and might well find a big, ready-made audience. I’m referring to literature that happens to be written by women. But some people, especially some men, see most fiction by women as one soft, undifferentiated mass that has little to do with them.

It takes some serious cojones to keep on pushing when you get the distinct impression your voice, ideas and perspective — whether “female” or not — isn’t wanted.

Guns + Mental Illness + Public Apathy = Violence

In behavior, cities, Crime, culture, Health, news, politics, US on April 4, 2012 at 12:17 am
Venn diagram ABC RGB

Venn diagram ABC RGB (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day in the U.S. — another mass shooting on a college campus, this time (you can’t make it up) at a Oikos, a Christian university in Oakland, California. It happened Monday in Oakland, a city right next to San Francisco, whose airport I flew back to New York from this morning.

This time, seven were killed and three injured when a former student, One Goh, opened fire.

As usual, the cliches spill forth: “senseless tragedy”, “just like a movie”, “I thought I was going to die.”

etc.

I don’t write this so cynically out of any disrespect for the dead, injured or their families.

But it’s going to happen again, and again and again and again.

It’s never if, but when.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of American homes contain at least one firearm, some with a virtual arsenal. It’s also estimated that 25 percent of the population, during their lifetime, will suffer a mental illness.

If you know Venn diagrams, you quickly realize this is a lethal combination, one I described in my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. In it, I include the stories of women whose sons and husbands and fathers committed suicide or homicide using a firearm.

There are many reasons that such mass murders simply never budge the needle in American public policy, from an economy still in tatters for millions — placing gun control at the bottom of a very long to-do list — to a nation deeply divided, sometimes even within the same state, on the need for an armed populace with the right to carry or to shoot to kill, even if someone is trying to steal your vehicle.

The case of Trayvon Martin is currently testing the limits of the public appetite for private self-defense — a young man shot dead while walking through a gated Florida community. His shooter was Hispanic, the victim — unarmed — black.

I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1988. I understand why gun violence is so much a part of this society.

I don’t understand, viscerally, why it’s still considered acceptable.

My greatest weakness is…

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life on April 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm
La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La ori...

La bildo estas kopiita de wikipedia:fr. La originala priskribo estas: Six fromages (du centre, puis dans le sens des aiguilles d'une montre) : Valençay, Ossau Iraty, Bleu d'Auvergne, Époisses, Cœur de Neuchatel, Saint-félicien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking to a friend who’s a doctor who admitted he can’t be safely left near any large container of ice cream. It’s all or nothing.

Made me think what my weakness(es) might be.

Sadly, it’s a long-ish list, including:

Tabletop. Anything used to set a table, from bowls to linens to candlesticks. Yes, yes, all of it! I love to set a pretty table and entertain, so I collect anything charming in aid of same. Jose threatens often to de-bowl me as I keep bringing them into our small apartment.

Antiques. Specifically, jewelry, textiles, prints. Anything from 1860 and earlier, and 18th century and older is a big draw, if more difficult to find here in the New World.  We live in a one bedroom apartment, with very limited space to add anything new. But (yes, I admit) we also have a garage. And a storage locker. OK, several storage lockers. Small ones.

Scarves. As someone who loves to travel and pack lightly, scarves are a fab way to make the same outfit look different every day, doubling as shawls or even sarongs when necessary, adding warmth and style.

Almost anything French. My new hip even has a ceramic head made in France. Chic! Having lived in Paris for a year and traveled to France many times, j’adore les choses francaises. These include everything from my polka-dot apron and mini-juicer, both bought in Paris, to a funky little Art Deco perpetual calendar to my super well-cut black cotton jacket whose elegant proportions are so utterly not made in China.

If you’ve never heard the late, exquisite chanteuse Barbara or the raspy Mano Solo, check them out.

– Cheese. Speaking of things French. My friend who loves ice cream went into a little lusty haze as he began rhyming off some of his favorite French cheeses: Brie, Camembert. I’d add Cantal, Roquefort, Gouda, Cheddar, fresh creamy Mozzarrella. Yum!

– Beer. As a Canadian, this is a legitimate weakness, as some great brews come from my home and native land. If you ever get to Quebec, try to find this gorgeous apricot tinged ale. Love Magic Hat No. 9, Hoegaarden and Blue Moon (even though it’s really made by a major manufacturer of really bad beer, Coors.)

Jewelry. Thank heaven for a husband who indulges me! I buy a ring to mark major life moments, like the silver one I bought at Saks when I sold my first book and a gold ring, with the impression of an ancient Greek coin, bought from a local designer, when it was published. I love wearing my Deco earrings from the LA flea market, my pottery ring from Mesilla, NM and my pendant charms found in Atlanta.

‘Fess up, mes cher(e)s…what are some of your weaknesses?

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