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Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Ten things writers don’t want to hear — and five that we welcome

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, work on May 30, 2012 at 12:27 am
Merlin dictating his prophecies to his scribe,...

Merlin dictating his prophecies to his scribe, Blaise; French 13th century miniature from Robert de Boron’s Merlin en prose (written ca 1200). (Manuscript illustration, c.1300.) Arthur Cotterell, The Encyclopedia of Mythology, Lorenz Books/Anness Publishing Limited, 1996-1999, p. 114. ISBN 1-85967-164-0. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone who earns his/her living as a writer hears some mighty stupid shit along the way. Often.

 Like:

I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m going to do that when I retire. Because, you know, it’s dead easy, right? Maybe you haven’t heard that tired old joke about the neurosurgeon who meets a writer at a party and tells the writer, “I plan to take up writing when I retire.” And the writer says…

Who’s your agent? Will you introduce me to them? I know you’ll tell me because you want to share your contacts with me. My work is exactly like yours and every bit as good. I just know it. (While you’re at it, make a pass at my partner or spouse.)

How are sales going? Oh, really? But I plan to be a successful writer.

Have I read anything you’ve written? And I would know everything you read because….?

Who do you write for? Yes, an innocent question. But, all too often, a tedious demand to prove your credentials. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Are your books best-sellers? Of course. Not.

My last three books were best-sellers. I know, already. And you know that I know.

I loved my MacArthur grant/Pulitzer/Neiman. So much fun! Get the hook.

Will you read my proposal/manuscript and tell me what you think? Sure, for a fee.

Oh, you charge for that? Of course not. Money? Every writer gets a lifetime numbered card from the government. We show it every time we rent a home and buy gas and groceries and clothes and medicine. We get a 50% discount for being, you know, creative! Not.

Here are five winners:

I loved your book(s). My favorite part was when…The whole point of writing is being read. Carefully.

Will you come and speak to our book club? Many of us enjoy meeting enthusiastic readers face to face and answering their questions. (Other authors are too shy or busy.)

Will you come and lecture at my school? For a fee that includes travel time, sure. Every unpaid hour for someone self-employed is lost income. You, the teacher/professor are earning a salary, paid sick and vacation days and, if lucky, a pension. Yes, I get that being invited to share my knowledge is an honor. I do. But my bills don’t care.

Will you speak at our annual conference? Of course we’ll pay you a fee and all travel expenses. You got it!

Are you available to offer coaching or editing — what do you charge? $150 to 200 an hour. When do we start?

For those of you who may still want to write/sell a book or two or three — here’s a very cool blog post with advice from Joyce Carol Oates who suggests the best way to develop a strong sure authorial voice (and readers hungry for more of it) — blog!

Coming to New York? Go here!

In business, cities, culture, Style, travel, urban life, US on May 28, 2012 at 12:11 am
English: Interior of Oyster Bar Restaurant, in...

English: Interior of Oyster Bar Restaurant, in Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA. Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-12-29 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve lived in New York since 1989, in a suburb just north of the city. Ironically, I often introduce my city-dwelling friends to places they’ve yet to discover there.

I spent the weekend in the city, borrowing a friend’s apartment while they are away.

It’s a holiday weekend here and the city is filled with tourists — maybe even some of you!

Here’s my short and highly personal list of things I think worth discovering, some well-known, others much less so; you’ll notice these are mostly adult-only.

Many are old-school, 100+ years old and still going strong.

Feel free to add your suggestions!

Bars

The Pegu Club: elegant, a long gorgeous wooden bar, delicious old-school cocktails, on Houston. (pronounced HOW-ston street.)

Temple Bar: been there forever, marked only by a small white lizard light in the wall. The best bar for a sexy first date, it’s tiny, dark, cosy, grown-up.

King Cole Bar: in the St. Regis Hotel, on Fifth Avenue. Do NOT arrive in jeans, hoodie, sneakers. Dress up and enjoy the fantastic mural by Maxfield Parrish behind the bar.

Old Town: I love this place. Opened in 1892, its wooden booths and super-steep staircase are a step back in time.

McSorley’s Ale House: Originally open only to men, this scruffy spot in the East Village has been around since 1854.

Fanelli’s: Cut glass doors, tiny tables, a back room, a mix of tourists, businessfolk, NYU students, this one’s been going since 1863.

The bar at Fanelli’s

Dublin House: Dive bar!

Restaurants

Brabant Brasserie: Why eat Belgian food in NYC? Because it’s delicious, well-served and well-priced. I ate there three times in three weeks after discovering it this year. The East 50s are a food desert, so this is a real find for the area.

Lucky Strike/Pastis/Schiller’s/Balthazar: All owned by the same man, and all sharing a stylish weathered charm. Settle in at the bar with a magazine and a cold beer and watch the beautiful people (at Balthazar and Pastis) in those oversized antiqued mirrors.

The Red Cat: One of my favorites. Welcoming, good food, a pretty room, an old-timer with charm.

Toloache: We love this place! I’ve been coming here since it opened and its chef not yet well-known. A two-level room with an enormous mural of tile, gorgeous cut-tin hanging lanterns, welcoming service and such great food. This is Mexican food at its delicate, small-portioned finest. Good before the theater; right at the corner of 50th. and Eighth Avenue. (pronounced Tolo-ah-chay.)

The Oyster Bar: In the bowels of Grand Central Station (see below,), sit beneath Guastavino’s curved tile ceiling and enjoy an oyster pan roast or fish stew. Check out the overhead lights with their fleets of boats — shown in the photo with this post. Born in Valencia, Spain, Guastavino invented this handsome form of curved ceilings, patented in the U.S. in 1885.

The Hungarian Pastry Shop: Fuel up here with hordes of Columbia University students with an espresso and strudel. Then cross the street and visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

La Grenouille: Oh, go on. It’s wickedly expensive, but this is one of the classic New York City experiences: quiet, slow, delicious. It’s set into a former townhouse and opened in 1962. Huge floral arrangements, waiters in waistcoats. The real deal.

Museums

The Tenement Museum: This is truly a don’t-miss, if you want to understand something of this city’s history, and how America came to be. Tenements were narrow apartment buildings with shared bathrooms where many working-class immigrants settled after arriving in New York, fresh off the boat from Europe. The museum re-creates the period look of three families’ homes. Moving, emotional, this place isn’t — like most museums — a celebration of wealth and power.

The Japan Society: I so love this place. The building has an interior garden and pond. Their current exhibition, of Japanese Art Deco, is fantastic — on until June 10. The block also holds the UN’s church, a stunning 1960s period piece right next door.

The Neue Galerie: I’m crazy for Secessionist art, which is what you’ll find here in an exquisite Beaux Arts mansion. Have a coffee or lunch in its lovely Cafe Sabarsky and read a newspaper tucked into one of the classic wooden reading rods. Heaven! (pronounced Noy-uh Galerie)

New-York Historical Society. Check out their current exhibition — on beer-making in the state, with samples at the end! — on until September 2. Here’s a review of it.

Stores

Bergdorf Goodman: Such gorgeous stuff. (The Men’s store is across the street) The Fifth floor is marginally more affordable. Great shoe department. Eat in the cafe and sit in one of their adorable balloon chairs with the ladies-who-lunch. Elegant, old-school, fantastic views.

Macy’s: Still has wooden escalators. This place is enormous and exhausting, but offers a tremendous selection. Its red star on every shopping bag is a tribute to R.H. Macy, the former 19th. century whaler who had a red star tattooed on his hand before going into the retail biz.

Who doesn’t need a pop-up ES Building and a few taxis?

J. Crew: Not a New York company, but well-loved by the classicists/preppies among us. Cardigans, ballet flats, great shirts and T-shirts in the softest of cottons. The flagship at 44th and Madison is worth a stop. Men and women’s clothing.

Chelsea Market: This converted biscuit factory at 15th. and 10th Avenue is now an afternoon’s worth of fun: fantastic food shops, bakeries, florists, chocolate, a bookstore, a flea market. Love this place!

Aedes de Venustas: If you love exotic and unusual fragrances, this is not to be missed. Christopher Street has lots of lovely shops and this one offers brands you’ve never heard of. (No idea how to pronouce this one!)

Grand Central Station: This glorious Beaux Arts building, from 1905, has a brilliant turquoise curved ceiling with the constellations painted on it in gold. It’s where commuter trains arrive from New York and Connecticut. Renovated in the 1990s, it now houses a terrific array of shops and an excellent food court downstairs with Italian, Mexican and Indian food, among others. Posman Books is a fantastic indie bookshop; Cursive offers lovely gifts and Papyrus has gorgeous stationery. Try the Junior’s cheesecake. Yum!

Paul Stuart: OMG. Stroll through, quietly humming “If I were a rich man”….Triple-ply cashmere in jewel colors, gorgeous jackets, shirts, shoes. I want it all. An affordable piece are their knotted silk cuff-links. Men’s mostly, some women’s.

Brooks Brothers: I’ve been shopping at B-squared since I used to smuggle their cotton shirts back into Canada. Classic, great quality, this is an old-school piece of New York. Nothing is wildly fashionable, but the look is elegant and understated. You can find almost anything you need here, from a great-looking umbrella with a bamboo handle to a dopp kit to a silk scarf or a polo shirt for your 8-year-old nephew. Men,women, kids.

Tiffany: Oh, all right. I never go there because the tourist crowds are insane. But the place is gorgeous and the upper floors offer more affordable options. A sterling Tiffany keyring, $125, is a pretty cool souvenir.

ABC Carpet and Home: Not cheap, but well worth a visit, if only to the main floor. Lots of lovely items, from candles to stationery to china.

Edith Machinist. Go! One of the city’s best vintage stores, on Rivington Street in Nolita. Tons of great shoes, boots and purses. I scored a silk Genny dress (from the 1980s) for $180 five years ago…That was a bloody fortune in my world, but I’ve gotten a ton of wear out of it. Love this place.

Fishs Eddy: So fun! Pick up some glassware or a platter decorated with New York designs. Cheap, great quality.

C. O. Bigelow Apothecary.  If you can’t find it here, you don’t want it. Founded in 1838, it offers lots of great fragrances, Roger & Gallet soaps, Marvis toothpaste, even lovely jewelry and headbands. But no photos allowed! The staff is a little ferocious, but go anyway.

Porto Rico Coffee & Tea. I never fail to leave PR without a pound of Earl Grey tea or a mug or some allsorts or a pound ($9.99) of freshly-ground cinnamon or pumpkin spice coffee. Huge burlap sacks overflow with coffee beans and enormous battered tea tins line the walls. Pick up an iced cappuccino 0r, as I did this weekend, a fab string bag for your goodies, in a rainbow of colors, for a big…$5. Best part? Two large benches outside to sit on and watch Bleecker street parade by. This place has been in biz for 105 years. I hope it lasts another 105 more!

Don’t miss this one!

Yaso. Most stores in pricy Soho come and go with lightning speed — this one has been here since the 1980s. Women’ clothing only, the style is European, edgy, minimal, in linen, wool, silk. Clothing in neutrals: gray, black, cream, brown, tan with some great jewelery and scarves. Be prepared to spend — you won’t find much less than $175-350+ but these are investment pieces you’ll wear and enjoy for years to come.

Global Table. Run! If you love beautiful glasses, dishes, trays, anything tabletop.

Here’s a list of 38 indie stores here, 13 of which are in Brooklyn, from RackedNY. The list is brand-new. I have to confess, I don’t think I’ve been to any of them…But I’m not a huge shopper, have very specific taste and am larger than a size 12, which probably means a lot of their stuff isn’t for me. But accessories, yes…

Etan Patz’ Death Finally Solved — 33 Years Later

In behavior, children, cities, Crime, family, History, journalism, life, love, Media, news, parenting, urban life, US on May 25, 2012 at 11:10 am
Etan Patz

Etan Patz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It takes a lot to roil New York City…and hardened, jaded, always-in-a-hurry New Yorkers.

But today is one of those days.

Pedro Hernandez, who worked in a bodega, (a small urban convenience store) in 1979, confessed this week to one of the most famous, and heartbreaking, murders in New York’s modern history. He lured a small, blond boy named Etan Patz, who lived down the street in Soho — then a gritty artists’ neighborhood, now a sea of costly stores — with a promise of candy. He strangled him and threw his body in a garbage bag, and left it out with the trash.

Etan was six years old, on his way to school. For the past three decades here, he’s been a symbol of innocence stolen, a mystery unsolved in arguably one of the toughest and most sophisticated cities of the world.

The Patz family, who had only one child, still live in the same apartment on the street where he was taken from them. Their name, and that of Etan, has long been part of Manhattan lore, the mystery no one could solve.

He was the first child whose photo was put on a milk carton, now common in the U.S. with missing children.

I didn’t plan to blog about Etan but this brings back terrible memories for me of a young girl, Alison Parrott,  then 11, whose murder I covered, and whose funeral I attended, when I was a reporter in Toronto at The Globe and Mail. She, too, was lured to her death, by a man pretending to be a photographer who said he wanted to take pictures of her and her team before an upcoming track meet in New Jersey. He raped and strangled her and left her in a ravine.

It was almost unbearable to cover that story.

No one can read such stuff, or write it, without the cold fear that it might have been them or their child or someone they dearly loved.

No one can report such details impassionately without wondering what exactly happened that day and why no one stopped him or saved her.

No one, with a heart, can ever forget such a story, no matter how many more you hear and how much you wish to.

I attended Alison’s funeral and sat in the back of the small church, where every pew was jammed with mourners and press. I was there to take notes and to observe and listen, but cried and tried to keep my notebook pages dry as I scribbled.

“Love is stronger than death” my story began, the words the minister used to begin his address to the crowd. I had to fight hard with my editor to keep them. It was the last story I wrote on staff for the paper, and they did.

I love being a reporter.

I live to find and tell compelling stories.

But sometimes they sear you forever.

Three kinds of English, to start with

In behavior, culture, immigration, life, travel, US on May 24, 2012 at 12:45 am

Anyone who’s changed countries, even those speaking the same language on paper, find a whole new vocabulary awaits them. I grew up in Canada, lived in England ages two to five, then moved to the U.S. at the of 30.  One of my prized possessions is a navy blue T-shirt with a list of Canadian words, used here as an illustration. (In fact, the correct spelling is tuque…anyone know what that is?)

How many of you non-Canucks know the meaning of loonie, toonie, screech, deke or GST?

I know a few Americans now get poutine — gross! — which is cheese curds with gravy, for some reason trendy in hipster American neighborhoods. The round bacon which Americans call Canadian bacon is actually called back bacon in Canada.

We also read the Financial Times and the Guardian and see deliciously English words like nous, prat and naff(ness), none of which my well-read American husband knew the meaning of.

Since I moved to the States, (which only non-Americans call what Americans call America [as if there were no distinction between North, South and Central America. Hello, there are three Americas!]) I’ve learned phrases new to me, like:

– a do-over. You blew it: a date, a job interview, a first meeting. Ask for a do-over, a chance to get it right the next time.

a hail-Mary. A last-ditch and/or surprise attempt to salvage a bad situation. (Comes from football, a great throw that can save the game.)

-- step up to the plate. Take responsibility for something. (Comes from baseball, where the batter must step up to home plate in order to hit the ball.)

– hit it out of the park. A huge success. (Baseball, when the ball is struck so hard it leaves the stadium.)

— a full-court press. To apply every possible sort of pressure to a situation. (Basketball term.)

– hit a single/double/triple. To achieve at varying levels of success, from lowest to highest. (Meaning you got to first, second or third base.)

You can see that if you don’t play, or watch or listen to sports in the States, you’re toast! (The kind you make in toaster and eat hot, not left cold in a toast rack, like the British do.)

Then there are regionalisms, where some Americans say pop instead of soda for a soft drink or a cabinet instead of a milkshake or frappe. Here’s a funny blog post about this…

In my travels to Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, I’ve heard some other odd ones like chilly bin for what we would call a cooler. (Yet a cooler here can also mean a sugary, low-alcohol beverage.)

Electoral divisions in Canada are called ridings; in the U.S., simply districts. A Canadian MP is a Member of Parliament; here, a Military Policeman.

One American woman recently told Bloomberg Businessweek magazine how she’d totally embarrassed herself when interviewed on British television by referring endlessly to how her product, Spanx, made one’s fanny so much more alluring. Turns out (who knew?!) that fanny  there means vagina, while for Americans it’s a polite word for ass (the Brits would say bum and we’d say butt…)

What distinctive English words or phrases are used where you live?

Road trip!

In behavior, cities, life, travel, women, world on May 22, 2012 at 12:04 am
Open road, B6355 Big sky country, the road ove...

Open road, B6355 Big sky country, the road over the Lammermuir Hills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I looooooove road trips!

I took the first one when I was too little to even remember it — from my birthplace in Vancouver, Canada all the way to Mexico, in the back seat of my parents’ car. No wonder I’m always eager to get behind the wheel, crank up the radio and flee the jurisdiction.

The New York Times recently ran a great selection of their writers’ favorites, several of which I’ve also done and enjoyed, like Route 100 in Vermont.

Here’s a fantastic recent blog post about driving Highway 1 in California, a classic trip I’ve longed to take.

Some of my favorite road trips include:

— When my Dad and I took a month to drive from Toronto to Vancouver, dipping south of the Canadian border into North and South Dakota along the way to visit some Indian pow-wows. We camped, and woke up to find a large steak and a bag of sugar at our tent door. In one farmer’s field, we camped and were awakened looking up at the owner on his tractor. I think every 15-year-old girl should spend a month with her Dad on the road. You learn a lot about one another.

Like….I am not a morning person. So my Dad would set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and tell me it was 7:00 a.m. It worked, for a while.

— Our road trip from Mexico City to Taxco to Acapulco, in the mid-1980s. I speak good Spanish so, as the gas gauge fell alarmingly low, he said “There’s a house. Go ask where the nearest gas station is.” When we arrived in Acapulco, he remembered a cheap hotel from a decade or so earlier and there it was.

— My mom and I lived in Mexico when I was 14 and drove all over the place, which was vaguely insane for two women alone, one of whom was 14, with waist-length blond hair.

— Montreal to Savannah, Georgia, crossing — yes, this is its real name — the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina, with my Dad. We dipped into tiny coastal towns like Oriental.

— My first husband I drove south from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. where he tried to teach me to drive — why? — on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We visited one of my favorite places ever, Kitty Hawk, N.C. where the Wright Brothers got the very first airplane to fly in 1903. I adore aviation and travel, so these guys are real heroes in my book.

— In Ireland, my Dad and I drove the outer edge of the whole country in a week; as Europeans well know, you can cross several countries in the time it takes to get out of Ontario or Texas. Ireland, side to side, three hours. I’ve spent that in NYC traffic just trying to get home! We visited Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, where my great-grandfather was the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse.

— In 2002 while researching my book about American women and guns, I went to visit a cowboy who lived in the middle of nowhere, between Silver City and Colorado City, Texas. For hundreds of miles, all one could see were oil drills pumping up and down.

Out there, on a long bare and empty stretch of road, my cellphone didn’t work, my gas was getting low and I was a long way from help. Then a white pick-up truck pulled up beside me, with a weathered man at the wheel. “You the writer from New York?”

Um, yes. That lost-tenderfoot thing probably gave me away.

“Follow me!” And when I arrived, his wife Doris showed me a long, narrow, low wooden box. “You’ve probably never seen or heard these and I want you to be safe when you’re here.” Then she opened the box, using a long metal stick. It was full of….live rattlesnakes. 

— Jose, now my husband, took me from his native Santa Fe, New Mexico along the High Road to Taos, through the town of Truchas. Spectacular.

— Alone, in June 1994, I drove in a circle from Phoenix, Arizona north to Flagstaff, saw the Grand Canyon and the  Canyon de Chelly, (inhabited for the past 5,000 years), and arrived back in Phoenix against a sunset sky so yellow and purple and orange — cacti backlit — I felt like a character in a 1940s Disney cartoon.

— I had a great solo road trip, in my beloved red Honda del Sol convertible, (since stolen, from New York to Charlottesville, Virginia. I stayed in B & Bs. I visited Monticello, home to polymath, and its designer, the U.S.’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. I drove through lush hills and valleys in West Virginia that made me feel like someone in a Thomas Hart Benson painting.

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30, so I had a lot of driving to make up!

Go alone, or with your BFF or your sister or your nephew or Dad or Mom or husband or sweetie.

Pack a cooler with yogurt and green grapes. Bring binoculars and a sense of wonder.

Stop often. Eat well! Get up for dawn.

Drive in the cool of the night, as we did in North Carolina, the scent of dew-covered jasmine filling our nostrils.

But go!

What’s the best (or worst) road trip you’ve ever taken?

We won! Take the trivia test The New York Times team killed this week

In design, entertainment, journalism on May 20, 2012 at 2:58 am

So much fun!

On Friday night — in the same ABC TV studio on West 67th. where “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” was once shot — I joined The New York Times trivia team in the 16-team competition for Trivia Bowl, created in 1994 by the Los Angeles chapter of the Asian-American Journalists Association.

My husband, who works at the Times, told me they were seeking competitors and I had qualified for Jeopardy (a popular American quiz show), back in 2006, so what the hell?

Our team of 10 included a copy editor, a former page designer, a reporter and me, a 20-year Times freelancer. I knew only one person on the team, who I’d met a decade earlier at a picnic and hadn’t seen since.

This was the first time the contest was held in New York, and teams came out from CNN, ABC, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Time and others. It was fun to see colleagues…as I reached for a spring roll in the food line-up, a man reached in front of me — the former national editor at the New York Daily News, now at ABC. I hadn’t seen him since 2006.

We’d worked together on a bunch of stories, including one that the Times’ kicked our ass on, but we kicked back. (A helicopter had fallen off a mountain in Afghanistan and the Army refused to give the News access to the military base in NY where many of the soldiers’ families were from. There are few American cities as competitive for news than New York! I once did a stake-out for 12 hours in 80 degree heat outside a midtown hotel and it was crazy. The Times guy even followed me into the elevator to see where I was going.)

So you can imagine the geek-fueled adrenaline in the room on Friday. Of course, no tools or aids were allowed.

I loved that our judges were, in their daily life, professional judges — six men and women who adjudicate cases in housing court and even the Supreme Court of New York. Cool!

We competed in five rounds: Entertainment; Geography/Science/Literature; Current Events/Sports; History/Elections;Presidents; New York.

Yes, the questions are both North America-centric and New York-centric. Good luck!

So, (working from memory!) here are some of the 80 questions. The ones I knew are marked with a C:

What was the original name of New York City? C

Name two musicals that won both a Tony and a Pulitzer prize

Name the two men who won Oscars in successive years

What do you call someone who studies dinosaurs? C

In which state is the town of Truth or Consequences? C

Which president was born in New York City?

Of the city’s five boroughs, which is the smallest in area?

What is the name of Kate Middleton’s dog?

What is the title of JK Rowling’s newest book?

Which Presidents are on Mt. Rushmore?

Which magazine sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement? C

On the 1970s television show All in The Family, which Queens neighborhood did they live in?

Which Asian designer created Michelle Obama’s dress for the inauguration ball? C

Two First Ladies have graced the cover of American Vogue. Michelle Obama was the second — who was the first? C

Which two countries lie directly below Saudi Arabia? C

Which is the third most-spoken language in Canada?

Who first recorded the song “New York, New York?”

Which hockey team has won the most Stanley Cups? C

What is the chemical symbol for salt? C

Who were the Three Musketeers? C

No Googling allowed!

Your answers….?

Who’s on your personal board of directors?

In behavior, business, domestic life, education, journalism, life, Media, Money, work on May 18, 2012 at 12:31 am
Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

As Mark Zuckerberg awaited, hoodie-clad, today’s IPO of Facebook, The New York Times did an interesting dissection of the wise and powerful players who helped refine his thinking and strategy over the years, adding value to his vision and therefore adding value to today’s offering:

But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.

One venture capitalist tells how, when he met Mr. Zuckerberg in 2005, the young man wanted more than the V.C.’s money. He wanted an introduction to Mr. Gates. (He eventually got one, on his own. Today, Mr. Gates regularly advises him on philanthropy and management issues.)

“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Mr. Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”

Here’s a fun post on a similar idea by a young Australian businessman, Jimmy Florida:

To make life really interesting a friendship group would have at least one of everything including a doctor, global wanderer, nutritionist, entrepreneur, writer, stripper, drug dealer, dentist, restaurateur, stock broker, accountant, recruiter, masseuse, farmer, banker, bum,  blogger, athlete, celebrity, venture capitalist, monk, artist, politician, Chinese doctor, arms dealer, people smuggler, politician, and rock star  –  you get the idea. This mix would make for a hell of a dinner party and some great conversation!

Whatever you choose to call it — brain trust or friendship group or board of directors — everyone with a shred of ambition needs one. This can start as early as high school if you seek out and cultivate a few wise mentors.

No matter what you know or have studied formally, there’s always going to be a pile of stuff you don’t know, and may actually need to learn (let alone use or publicly discuss or present persuasively) within a few hours or days.

Then you need access people who know this stuff who will help you.

Unlike Florida, though, I don’t just turn to people I know socially. I’m completely fine paying people for their expertise and usually turn to those with excellent references from my posse; I write off their fees as a cost of running my business.

Until or unless you’ve amassed a ton of social capital, do whatever you need to get the smart advice you have to have.
In my 30+ years working as an author and journalist, here are some of those I’ve assembled:

Agent

I’ve been through seven. ‘Nuff said.

Lawyer

Useful for scaring the shit out of greedy lying publishers and others who’ve tried to stiff me out of fees they owed for work I completed under contract — and they reneged. It works. Also useful for reviewing the work of your agent(s.)

Speaking coach

I was about to go on the Diane Rehm radio show, with 2 million listeners — live for an hour, with call-ins. No pressure! I spent two hours the day before with a speaking coach. Helped a lot. Here’s the transcript of that show. Here’s my coach, Christine Clapp. A lively and lovely young woman, she works in D.C. but can work with anyone anywhere via Skype. She’s great.

Career coach

Whenever I or my husband feel like we’re hitting a wall, we give her a call.

Massage therapist

Colorist/stylist

I’ve done a lot of public speaking, teaching and TV. I also live and work in New York, where appearance matters a great deal. A reliable and affordable hair salon (I have two) is a must.

Investment adviser

Personal shopper

When my newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” came out last April I was catapulted from home-in-sweats-world to being photographed for national media and being well-paid to speak at conferences and events all over the country. I needed a professional wardrobe, stat! I did something I’d never done before and it was wise indeed — I went to an upscale retailer, Neiman-Marcus, and threw myself (not literally) into the capable hands of the department manager. I felt fat, horrible, insecure. With calm, cool competence, he brought into the dressing room three dresses, two pairs of jeans and two sweaters. I bought everything! And when Marie Claire magazine asked me, with two days’ notice, to speak to their advertising staff — talk about fashionable women! — I felt completely confident and ready to rock.

Therapist

Even New York dogs have therapists. If you can afford the help and need it, go! Nothing wastes more time and life energy than wallowing in misery and repeating self-destructive behavior patterns.

Nutritionist

Trainer

Book publishing PR experts

I have two dear friends who both work in publicity for major commercial houses. I’ve learned a lot from them that helps me position and sell my books.

Accountant

Physical therapist

After four (!) orthopedic surgeries since January 2000: both knees, right shoulder and left hip replacement this past February, I know a lot about PT. I like and trust my PTs and they’ve taught me a great deal about my body. I even wrote about them in The New York Times. You can do a lot of good for an aging/weak/injured body before and after surgery. You can even prevent it.

Who’s on your “board”?

Is a college degree worth it? Define “worth”

In business, education, news, parenting, work on May 17, 2012 at 12:40 am
Victoria College, University of Toronto, Toron...

Victoria College, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest issues in American public discourse right now is the ballooning cost of attending university — or “college” as it’s generally referred to here. The price is rising more than 5 percent annually and students are graduating with enormous debt into a marketplace with very few jobs open to an eager 22-year-old with, usually, almost no work experience.

The New York Times addressed this in a recent front-page story:

“I’ll be paying this forever,” said Chelsea Grove, 24, who dropped out of Bowling Green State University and owes $70,000 in student loans. She is working three jobs to pay her $510 monthly obligation and has no intention of going back.

“For me to finish it would mean borrowing more money,” she said. “It makes me puke to think about borrowing more money.”

‘Nothing Is Free’

Christina Hagan is an Ohio lawmaker who says students need to understand that attending college is not an entitlement. Last year, she was appointed to fill a seat once occupied by her father in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Ms. Hagan, 23, is also a college student.

She will graduate shortly from Malone University, an evangelical college in Canton, Ohio, with more than $65,000 in student debt (among her loans is one from a farm lender; she had to plant a garden to become eligible). Though she makes $60,000 a year as a state representative, she plans to begin waiting tables in the next few weeks at Don Pancho’s, a Mexican restaurant in Alliance, Ohio, to help pay down her student loans and credit cards. She pays about $1,000 a month.

“I placed a priority on a Christian education and I didn’t think about the debt,” said Ms. Hagan, who says she takes responsibility for her debt and others should do the same. “I need my generation to understand that nothing is free.”

For those of you who live beyond the U.S., this must seem an odd situation. In some nations, higher education is free or much more heavily subsidized by the government. Or only the intellectually elite get to attend university at all while others — wisely — move into study for work they’d enjoy and for jobs that actually need filling.

In the mid-1970s I paid — yes, seriously — $660 a year for my education at the best school in Canada, then and now, at Victoria College, part of the University of Toronto. I had a tiny stipend from my family ($250 to 350 a month) and paid the rest of my bills by freelancing as a writer and photographer, beginning the summer of my sophomore year.It’s now about $5,000 a year to attend the equal of a Harvard in Canadian terms; Harvard and its ilk are about $50,000 a year.

That’s a brand-new luxury car every year for four years.

To afford my life and schooling, I lived alone in a very small apartment in a bad neighborhood, then moved to a small apartment in a better one. (My parents had wandered off to live on a boat in Europe for a few years.)

By the time I graduated, I had no debt and many national magazine and newspaper editors who had already been working with me. I didn’t even look for a staff job until I was 26.

So what was the value of my college degree?

Hard to say. I loved the beauty of our campus, the many clubs and sports and activities, the diversity and intelligence of my classmates and the brilliance of my professors, who were scary as hell and expected a great deal from us. I did get some very good grades in my first year and was told that writing should be my career by one professor, whose praise meant a great deal to me.

I started writing for the weekly college newspaper before I even attended my very first class. Yes, I was that driven. I knew I wanted to become a journalist — let’s get started! I didn’t ever attend a journalism school but preferred a super-demanding English lit. program that taught me to think critically, write long, argue hard for my ideas and work independently.

All of which are exactly the skills I needed and still use today, 30+ years after graduation.

No employer has ever asked my opinion of Chaucer or 16th. century theater or Victorian poetry, that’s for sure. But the underlying skills and strengths that got me in and through are what mattered.

So that’s part of the challenge. You can get high marks and love your professors but come out clueless and awaiting direction rather than being a resourceful self-starter. The people who thrive in times of economic chaos.

Like now!

I don’t envy any student trying to choose a form of higher education they hope will lead to paid employment, sooner rather than later. Some Americans have chosen to study in Scotland at St. Andrews or in my native Canada, where they get a great education at a much lower price than even some state schools in the U.S. — plus the invaluable experience of living and working in another country and its culture.

If I were the parent of an independent teen heading for college, I’d ship them off to Canada or Europe in a heartbeat; they’ll be working and competing in a global economy anyway, so they might as well start to really understand how the rest of the world thinks and behaves!

Do you think college is worth it anymore?

“Are you still writing?”

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, family, journalism, life, Media, work on May 15, 2012 at 4:04 am
Homework Session

Homework Session (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They always ask this with a little chirpy voice. Like…really?

They’re usually people with office jobs and big paychecks and paid sick days. People who line up every morning to catch the bus or train or subway and some of whom pray for reprieve from the vocational choice they’ve made.

Writing for a living looks so damn easy. No stress! No boss! No demands or deadlines!

Anyone can do it, right?

I thought I was alone in hearing this annoying question after spending my entire life as a journalist and author.

But Roger Rosenblatt, a much bigger name than I here in the U.S., gets it too, as he writes in The New York Times Book Review:

And, as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it. This is the lot of the writer. You will hear someone referred to as “the writer in the family” — usually a quiet child who dresses strangely and shows inclinations to do nothing in the future. But when a supposedly grown-up writer is a member of the family, who knows what to make of him? A friend of my son-in-law’s asked me the other day, “You still writing?” — as if the profession were a new sport I’d picked up, like curling, or a disease I was trying to get rid of. Alexander Pope: “This long disease, my life.”

Writers cannot fairly object to being seen in this way. Since, in the nothing we do — the “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Wallace Stevens) — we do not live in the real world, or wish to, it is fruitless and dishonest to protest that we do. When family members introduce us to one of their friends, it is always with bewilderment camouflaged by hyperbole. “This is so-and-so,” they will say, too heartily. “He’s a great and esteemed writer.” To which their friend will reply, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” To which I reply, “How should I know?”

Everyone wants to be a writer — it looks like so much fun! Sit around the house in your pajamas all day waiting for inspiration. Sign me up!

Even the plumber who recently came to my apartment, and socked me with a $225.00 bill for fixing our only toilet, said “Oh, when I retire I want to be a writer.”

“You don’t,” I warned him, wincing as I wrote the check. “Most of us don’t make a lot of money.”

“Oh, I just want to be a successful writer,” he replied. “You know, like John Grisham.” (Who last year raked in a cool $18 million.)

Those of us who’ve been cranking out journalism or book-focused copy for a few decades, even with some nice reviews, (my first book was called [swoon!] “groundbreaking and invaluable” by one influential publication), know it’s a risky way to make a living. Because your “living” can vary from $4,000 a day to $4,000 a year.

Last year I made more money from public speaking engagements and a TV option from CBS for my memoir, “Malled” than I did from the book itself. It cost me 10 percent of the option income to have an entertainment attorney review the inch-thick contract with CBS negotiated by two agents — now taking 20 percent of the option cash for their input.

I waited 12 months after publication for the final instalment of my advance, which, after my agent took her standard 15 percent cut, came to $8,500. That’s a year’s income, or more, in sub-Saharan Africa. In suburban New York, (with no kids to support), that lasts quite a bit less.

Here’s a great list from Forbes.com, and fellow journo/blogger Jeff Bercovici, why journalism still kicks ass as a way to make a living. Because it just does.

(Here’s a brilliant blog post with a visual of how “success” appears to different people, including writers.)

So, why do so many people long to be writers?

People want to be rich. If writing doesn’t make you rich (and it certainly can for those who hit and stay on the best-seller list and/or sell their work to film or television), then why the hell are you bothering?

People want to be famous. If your book is on a shelf in a store, you’re the bomb! (So is weed-killer and diapers, but hey, retail exposure is cool, right?)

People want to be on TV/radio/blogs. They crave global attention. Because then life will be so different. (Not!)

People want to feel cool and creative. As opposed to cube life with 10 days of vacation.

People want to have other people quote them as wise and witty experts. Not just their Mom.

People want to feel validated as having something compelling to say, with millions eager to listen to them. Not just their Mom.

So, having published two non-fiction books (so far), is any of this true? Does it happen?

Sort of. I’ve met a few people who knew my name before I walked into the room. That can be pleasant.

I write because it’s how I make sense of the world.

I write because it stitches me back into the crazy quilt of other people’s ideas and feelings.

I write because my skill and talent and hard work, even working freelance for most of my life, have still allowed me to earn and save more than the average American with a steady paycheck.

I write because it allows me to indulge my insatiable curiosity about the world and get paid to do so.

I write because it has allowed me to meet everyone from Queen Elizabeth to convicted felons to Olympic athletes to a female admiral to the Inuk man who greeted me on a snowmobile when our tiny plane landed in his village just south of the Arctic circle.

I write because…

I’m a writer.

Why do you write?

Do you hate Mother’s Day too?

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, women on May 13, 2012 at 12:09 am
Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Sve...

Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Svenska: En mamma som kramar om sitt barn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bear with me.

Like many others watching the annual flood of maternal sentimentality, this isn’t a fun week for me. (It’s celebrated on May 13 here, but not necessarily in other countries.)

My mother lives in a nursing home in a city a six-hour flight away. I don’t plan to send flowers or a card, even though I know I should and would like to. I’m her only child. She has no grand-children and many of her friends have died or abandoned her over the years.

We haven’t spoken in a year, since our last verbal exchange consisted of her raging at me without pausing to draw breath. The Mother’s Day flowers I had sent went unacknowledged, then my birthday.

Like many mothers out there — not the cookie-baking, hugging, call me! text me! types — mine has no interest in my life. And she’s now doted on by a woman even the nursing home staff told me they found rude and weird, someone nasty to me whom I’ve never trusted.

So, Mother’s Day?

Meh. 

I know other men and women whose mother, for a variety of reasons, lost interest in their own children, no matter how well-behaved or accomplished or how hard we’ve tried, for a long, long time, to get closer to someone who…just doesn’t want it.

But we never talk publicly about it, the subject taboo.

I’ve re-written this post about 20 times, debating whether or not to even publish it. I am weary of secret-keeping.

My mother, who is beautiful, bright, sophisticated and charming, never re-married after divorcing my father when I was seven. She never seemed to miss emotional or physical intimacy.

When I was 14, we moved to Mexico. There, on Christmas Eve, she suffered a manic breakdown; I left within weeks to move in with my father and never returned to her home except for visits. I saw her first manic episode when I was 12, then again lived through them when I was 19, 25, 27 and beyond. She ended up in jails and hospitals all over the world, as she traveled alone and refused to stay on her medication.

For a long time, she wrote letters often and we spoke every week or so.

In 2003, a 4-inch tumor was pulled from her head and I asked the surgeon to “make her less of a bitch.” The words shocked me as they fell out of my mouth.

His answer shocked me even more. “Her tumor has made her aggressive for years, possibly decades,” he explained, thanks to its location in her brain. She was, for several blissful years afterward, loving, gentle and kind, the sort of mother I had longed for. (Here’s my magazine story about this experience, with a great pic of us when I was little.)

By the summer of 2010, when I flew out to see her on my annual visit, she had become unrecognizable to me, the amount she was by then drinking destroying what was left of her mental and physical health. I called my husband from the motel where I was staying and wept, in rage and frustration and despair, for 30 minutes.

When, if ever, would this shit stop?

The verb “to mother” implies nurture, care and concern. We automatically conflate the two, while “to father” often means simply to create a new life, not to stick around and take care of that child.

I’ve tried to be compassionate. I’ve tried to reach out, for decades. I’ve tried.

I’m done trying.

How’s your relationship with your Mom?

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