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Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Some of the books I love

In books, culture on May 11, 2012 at 12:10 am
Cover of "Are You Somebody?: The Accident...

Cover via Amazon

To older followers of Broadside, a thank you — I loved hearing all your book recommendations!

Here are just a few of the many books I’ve read and loved, with the nationality of the author.

Most are memoir and non-fiction, with fiction listed at the bottom:

Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller. A memoir of growing up white in rural Zimbabwe with a mad mother. (British.)

When A Crocodile Eats The Sun, Peter Godwin. Another memoir of Zimbabwe, after its terrible wars, by a journalist now living in the U.S. (British.)

Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol. If you want to understand American apartheid — the stunning lack of social mobility that starts with often appallingly weak public education for the poor — read this powerful book. A classic. (American)

Random Family, Adrian Nicole Leblanc. The best book likely written in the past 30 years about the daily life of the American poor. The writer spent the better part of a decade getting to know the women she writes about here, low-income women living in New York City. (American.)

The Creative Habit, Twlya Tharp. This legendary choreographer has tremendous drive and ambition, and her book offers many ways to tap and harness your own creativity. Life-changing book. (American.)

My War Gone By, I Loved It So, Anthony Loyd. A very dark work, this will make immediately clear the psychic costs of covering war. Not an easy read, but powerful and unforgettable. (British.)


Are You Somebody?“, Nuala O’Faolain. An midlife female journalist talks about her life in no uncertain terms. She died of lung cancer in 2008, costing us a terrific voice. (Ireland.)

Brown“, Richard Rodriguez. Cranky, smart, provocative, elegant. Must we view everything through the filters of race? Rodriguez told an audience at a writers’ conference he felt he was crying in the wilderness when writing this excellent book. (American.)

No Logo“, Naomi Klein. This young writer has made the globe her niche. This fascinating book addresses the many political, economic and psychological effects of corporate control and globalization. (Canadian)

“Blown Away: American Women and Guns”, Caitlin Kelly. My first book, which examines how women and guns intersect — whether a woman is a police officer, FBI or military using it for her work or has been the victim of violence or a loved one’s suicide or a hunter. The book has 104 interviews from 29 states with women of all ages, races and income levels. Booklist called it “groundbreaking and invaluable.”

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, Caitlin Kelly. Out in paperback July 31, 2012, this book has been compared to the best-seller “Nickeled and Dimed” about what it’s really like to work at a low-wage job in the United States. I worked part-time for 27 months in a suburban New York mall selling clothing and accessories for The North Face. It is being published in China in September 2012 and was nominated for the Hillman Prize, given annually to a work of journalism “in the service of the common good.”

Fiction:

Lost Illusions“, Honoré de Balzac. This classic novel, written between 1837 and 1843, works just as well today as a guide to the symbiosis of ambition and greed binding would-be authors and their publishers. Follow the trials of Lucien, a naïve and ambitious poet. “You bite the hand that feeds you – and you can toss off an article as easily as I can smoke a cigar”, says a newspaper employee when Lucien struggles for decent pay. Plus ça change. (French)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery. I love this book so much. Barbery is a professor of philosophy and a keen observer of human nature. Her story about the inhabitants of a French apartment building, and its concierge, is a wondrous work. (French)

Come, Thou Tortoise. Jessica Grant. The author is not a big name and this is her only book. I found it charming and touching, quirky without being cute or twee. (Canadian.)

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood. She has written many, many books, but this one is my favorite, deeply evocative of my hometown (and hers), Toronto, and what it’s like to be a little girl. (Canadian.)

In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje. Life in Toronto in the 1920s. His writing has a distinctly poetic, dreamlike quality. (Author of “The English Patient”, much better known.) (Canadian.)

The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman. A fellow journalist and University of Toronto alum, he’s written a charming and touching fictional portrait of life at an overseas newspaper. This is one of my absolute favorites of recent years. (Canadian)

The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov. Loved this book! I literally could not put it down. (Russian.)

The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob deZoet, David Mitchell. If you, as I do, love Japan, the 18th. century and deliciously descriptive writing, this is a book you’ll hate to put down. It’s a slow, gentle, lyrical book, like entering a dream. (New Zealand)

Falconer, John Cheever. One of the great American writers of the late 2th century. (American)

Triomf, Marlene van Niekerk. An astonishing book and thick as a doorstop. It’s graphic and shocking, but unforgettable portrait of a poor Afrikaaner family in the post-apartheid world of Johannesburg. (South African)

Anything written by Ray Bradbury, (American)

Anything written by Nadine Gordimer (South African)

Anything written by Thomas Hardy (British)

Anything written by Virginia Woolf (British)

Why struggle? Drop that crocodile!

In aging, behavior, business, life, women, work on May 9, 2012 at 12:31 am
American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). This p...

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). This photograph was taken at La Manzanilla, Jalisco State in Mexico, on the Pacific Coast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the umpteenth time, my life felt like I was wrestling a large, wet, thrashing and dangerous creature — a crocodile, as it were — that was the drama du jour. It might have been the crappy relationship with my mother, half-brother, stepmother, an editor (or three).

It might have been a fight with my sweetie, now my husband. It might have been my own insecurity or fear over my weight or my work or my income.

The more I wrestled with it, the more it thrashed, its scaly and powerful tail smacking me in the head, metaphorically speaking.

Hold it tighter! Make it submit! Then I had an epiphany, one that’s shaped my life ever since.

Drop the damn crocodile!

Just drop that slimy scaly sucker and walk the hell away.

Oooooh, that feels so much better.

It’s counter-intuitive for some of us to let something drop, to allow it to simply not matter anymore. We’re taught never to give up. To try our best. To work at things.

But, you know, sometimes that damn crocodile will kill you if you keep hanging onto it, its ferocious strength draining all of yours as you keep wrestling it.

Here are just a few of the crocodiles I’ve dropped in the past few years:

— obsessing about my income. And, funny thing, it’s rising, up 40 percent in 2011 over 2010. I expect 2012 to rise even further. Neurosis is rarely appealing to anyone, especially clients.

– whining about my weight. I need to lose 40+ pounds. I could go nuts or just try to do it in my own way. I’m working on it. It will take months. Whatever.

– worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to sell my  next book. Probably will.  If not, something else will come along.

– caring what my Dad thinks. Yes, I still do. But not nearly as much as I used to.

– keeping a spotless home. I used to waste a whole ton of productive work-time on house-cleaning. Now we have a maid coming twice a month, for a total cost of $110, which is less than my lowest hourly rate. I have more time to make more money.

— fretting over the normal costs of running my business, like my web designer and hiring paying assistants and lawyers and others for their help and expertise. Outsource! It’s all a tax deduction next year anyway.

– managing some of my business associates. Too difficult. Time to move on.

– trying to please my mother. Impossible. We no longer have any relationship at all. Sad to say, I have never been happier.

– keeping up friendships that actually left me feeling miserable. Just because someone was once a dear friend doesn’t mean they’re going to remain one. You change, they change and habits that might once have seemed normal can become unworkable. If you’ve tried to resolve them and it’s just not going to happen, time to drop that croc.

– getting my hip replaced.  Two years of increasing pain, exhaustion, depression and frustration are gone since I had a new hip implanted in February 2012. I was terrified of the surgery and a poor result. I have my life back! I’m happy and strong once more.

What crocs are wearing you out these days?

Can you drop a few of them?

Being alone is an art

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on May 7, 2012 at 12:11 am
Tattered Trunk Sadly this major oak in a pastu...

Tattered Trunk Sadly this major oak in a pasture North of Abberton Manor has given up the ghost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My 8th. most popular blog post — with 578 views so far — offers 12 tips on how to travel alone as a woman.

For me and for many women I know, of all ages, it’s just no big deal. For others, going to a movie or concert or eating a meal in public, certainly at a good restaurant likely filled with couples or groups of friends, remains a prospect so intimidating they refuse to even try. They feel conspicuous, lonely, out of place.

Pshaw!

If you fear doing things alone, you’re always going to be clinging to others, seeking the comfort or validation of their company, like a small child with a tattered blankie. Or, as many women do, choosing to hang onto any man with a pulse because then they’re not single and alone anymore.

(So not true. I was the loneliest of my life when married to my first husband.)

I think it also depends on the friends, family and community you live in, and your ability to ignore or withstand peer pressure. Not to mention housing costs!

I’ve spent many years alone, living alone, no man in sight , or certainly none who would be around for very long. I grew up an only child and grew accustomed to amusing myself — with books, art, music, friends, stuffed animals or Legos.

I left home at 19 and lived alone in a very small studio apartment. I did that until I moved in with a boyfriend at the age of 21 or 22 and lived with him until I was 25 and moved to France for a year. I returned to Toronto and we broke up and I lived alone til I was 30 and met the man I would marry. He and I divorced when I was 37 and someone else — seriously! — proposed to me within the month, a much older man who’d been lusting after me (who knew?) for decades.

I said no thanks, and lived alone until I was 43 when Jose moved into my apartment.

I never hated being alone. But it’s not easy.

Living alone costs a fortune, especially in the United States where, if you are self-employed or out of work, you must buy health insurance for yourself and it’s insanely expensive; in the late 1990s I was then paying $500 a month.

It can get really lonely, certainly as you age, if your pals are booked solid with caring for their husbands or wives and kids and grand-kids and work. Finding, creating and nurturing your own communities is essential to your mental and physical health.

Being alone, for older women especially, can mean descending into terrifying and degrading poverty, a very real issue for those who earned little, saved little and/or spent many unwaged years (without earning Social Security) to bear and raise children.

Being alone is apparently the new norm. From a recent issue of Time magazine:

The extraordinary rise of solitary living is the biggest social change that we’ve neglected to identify, let alone examine.

Consider that in 1950, a mere 4 million Americans lived alone, and they made up only 9% of households. Back then, going solo was most common in the open, sprawling Western states–Alaska, Montana and Nevada–that attracted migrant workingmen, and it was usually a short-lived stage on the road to a more conventional domestic life.

Not anymore. According to 2011 census data, people who live alone–nearly 33 million Americans–make up 28% of all U.S. households.

Here’s a fellow blogger who thinks this is a sad trend, especially for older people.

And here’s a new book on the subject.

Do you live alone?

How do you like it?

Talk to me! (Please)

In blogging, journalism, life on May 5, 2012 at 1:19 am
Durrell in his final years, with Cottontop Tam...

Durrell in his final years, with Cottontop Tamarins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Broadside is blooming — with 939 followers worldwide, and a 50 percent increase in only a few months.

I’d love to hit 1,000 by my birthday, June 6.

If you’re a fan, I hope you’ll consider re-blogging, tweeting or linking!

Long-term commenters include three Australians: Charlene, a feisty photographer; Nigel Featherstone, a writer of the most lyrical and lovely posts and Belongum, a military veteran who shares my love of Gerald Durrell, a British writer who made me want to do what he did for a living, even if I’d never reach his level of skill!

C. has a witty blog, Small Dog Syndrome, which strikes the perfect balance of tart and amused. Lisa Wields Words makes me think of  an Amazon whose shield may resemble a thesaurus.

Matthew Wright, a New Zealand historian and writer, knows well the challenges of this business we both chose; his latest book, about Kiwi criminals, is out in July. He has written (does the man sleep?!) 45 books. So far.

Andi M. has shared some great stories, and I’m curious to see how Kate, a young Irish journalist, is faring in our mutual field. LKD, newly engaged to the stellar Sarge, whom she has blogged about at Gin and Lemonade with a twist, met me for a drink in Manhattan last year. So good to put a face to an on-line name.

We have an Edmonton Tourist and Susan from Scotland and Geoff, yet another Australian…

I love hearing from you!

So, those who have yet to comment, especially — please tell me a little about yourself.

Like…

Where do you live ?

What sort of work do you do?

What are some of your passions?

Any topics you’d like to see more of here (or less?)?

What brought you to Broadside?

And what three books MUST I read, of any period? I’m always hungry for new stuff.

Honoring brave journalists with the annual Dart Center Awards

In behavior, blogging, books, business, Crime, culture, education, film, Health, journalism, Media, news, photography, science, sports, the military on May 3, 2012 at 12:22 am
journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1

journalists_guide_to_firearms_ak47_glock1 (Photo credit: gnotalex)

It’s a fact easily overlooked — the news we read and hear and watch is brought to us by human beings with hearts.

Some of the stories they gather, and some of the very best in my view, are the ones we skip over because they’re dark, disturbing and deeply painful.

Journalists who gather this material often end up suffering from a condition known as “secondary trauma” which can cause insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and depression. It’s a form of PTSD, which soldiers experience after the violence and brutality of war. I experienced it myself after writing my first book about American women and guns, after steeping myself in reports and interviews of violence, suicide and homicide for months.

A female friend who returned from Haiti after reporting there for weeks began telling her Facebook friends she couldn’t sleep, night after night. I suggested her insomnia was quite likely the result of secondary trauma. Another female friend wrote a searing book about MRSA, the flesh-eating infection, and she too experienced the aftereffects of recounting terrible stories, receiving a Dart Center fellowship to deal with it.

Most journalists aren’t trained in any way to know that this even exists. They work in, or return to, newsrooms filled with colleagues who have no experience or understanding of the horrors they may have seen, smelled, heard or survived, and few bosses with training to recognize or handle it either.

The very compassion and empathy that leads journalists into this tough work can also leave them shattered by it.

The Dart Center is an American non-profit organization whose focus is helping journalists prepare for, and recover from, reporting stories of this nature. I admire them and the men and women who do this work.

A panel discussion is being held tonight from 6 to 8pm at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York City honoring this year’s winners.

From the Dart Center website:

The New York Times received the Dart Award for “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer.” (John Branch, reporter; Marcus Yam, photographer; Shayla Harris, videojournalist; Josh Williams, multimedia producer.) This searing three-part investigative series tells the story of Derek Boogaard, one of the N.H.L.’s most feared “enforcers,” who died with massive brain injuries at age 28. The series reveals the consequences – physical, psychological and social – of the adulation of violence surrounding the sport.

Judges called “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer” a “groundbreaking” and “exemplary piece of accountability journalism.” They praised Branch for his “masterful storytelling” and “tender objectivity,” and for focusing on “human beings, science and anguish instead of thrill, agony and defeat.” They commended the series for “taking on the sports page” and “drawing attention to sanctioned violence of fans.” Judges also recognized the far-reaching, and wide-ranging impact of the series that has made it nearly impossible for those most vested in hockey to turn a blind eye to its cruel reality and disastrous impact.

WNYC received the Dart Award for “Living 9/11,” which was presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange (Marianne McCune, reporter and producer; Emily Botein, producer; Karen Frillman, editor; Fred Mogul and Beth Fertig, reporters; Eric Leinung, Jillian Suarez, Erin Reeg, Norhan Basuni, Radio Rookies; Courtney Stein, Sanda Htyte, Radio Rookies producers; Kaari Pitkin, Radio Rookies senior producer; Chris Bannon, executive producer; Andy Lanset, original 9/11 recordings; John Ellis, composer; Paul Schneider and Jim Briggs III, mix engineers.) This hour-long documentary guides listeners through the stories of people who were deeply affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks and who are still struggling to make sense of the events.  The documentary is built around a diverse range of viewpoints, capturing visceral and immediate emotional reactions to the attacks while also illuminating universal truths about 9/11’s lasting impact.

Judges called “Living 9/11” “insightful,” “hard-hitting” and “deeply sensitive,” going far beyond more conventional anniversary programs in its integration of history, science and narrative.

From tip to print: how I scored my Google exclusive for The New York Times

In blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, Technology, work on May 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm
The New York Times building in New York, NY ac...

The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an era of 24/7 media coverage, it’s not easy to get a scoop. But it’s far from impossible.

I did it with my Google story that ran in The New York Times four days ago. It was the paper’s 5th. most emailed and 5th. most viewed story for many hours.

Forbes.com picked it up and got 1,000 more views within hours.

So how did I get this story as mine alone — and how can you, an equally ambitious writer, do something similar?

It started, randomly, when I attended an eight-day silent Buddhist retreat in July 2011, a birthday gift from my Buddhist husband, which I wrote about for Marie Claire magazine.

One of the visiting teachers there was an extraordinary woman who I saw at once might be both a kindred spirit — albeit 20 years my senior — and a terrific magazine story in her own right. I asked for a private meeting with her, which was the one time we were allowed to speak.

She told me she’d been working with Google to help engineers develop their emotional intelligence. Boom! That’s a story.

I stayed in touch with her over the fall when she mentioned Meng, (the subject of my Times piece and a Google engineer), was writing a book and was someone well worth media attention. Story value confirmed.

I then reached out to his publisher and to Meng himself, letting him know that I knew personally two people he admires and has worked with. Done. The story was mine, he said.

Not so fast. Months of negotiation ensued between me, his publisher, the book publicist and the Times. Months.

I also faced major surgery and recovered enough just in time to fly to Mountain View to report the story with enough time to write and and edit it.

Google isn’t known for being a chatty sort of place, so getting access to half a dozen employees and two days on campus required some arm-twisting as well. I spent two intense days on-site, conducted more interviews by phone, wrote it and went through at least six revisions as the story passed through various editorial hands and questions.

Here are some things I did that could help  you snag and lock down a great story of your own:

Take a risk!

I didn’t even want to attend the Buddhist retreat for many reasons and went into it very reluctantly. But I went and learned a lot and met some truly amazing new people there.

Put yourself out there

I was nervous asking for a private meeting with this woman. What if she didn’t say yes? What if she didn’t like me or my ideas? You don’t know until you try.

What is the story? Can you sum up in one tight sentence?

An experienced reporter sniffs a great story right away. Even if you’re on staff, you’ll have to persuade your editor to let you write it. If you’re freelance, as I am, you’re asking for a big space and the budget to send you far away to get the goods. You’ve got to pitch it persuasively.

Access

Without it, you can’t get a scoop.

Passion for your idea

If you’re not super-psyched to do the piece, how can you persuade your editor?

A clear understanding who you need to interview and what you’ll ask them

You may have very little time in which to get your reporting done.

Persistence and tenacity

It took many months of calls and emails to get this story nailed down. I have more than 100 emails in one folder alone from my contact at Meng’s book publisher.

A terrific editor

You need someone to green-light your idea and make sure it gets the art, photos and play it deserves as it competes for space with all the other stories on that site/newspaper/magazine.

A clear idea of the scope of the story

How many words will it really need to be well-told? Do you have to travel? How cheaply can you do that? How are the key players in this narrative and will each of them speak to you? How much time will all that require — and do you have it or can you get it?

Self-confidence

I don’t write about tech. I don’t cover Google. I’d never written a story quite like this one. But I understand, and deeply value, mindfulness and meditation. That was enough to launch me. I’d figure the rest out as I went.

And I did!

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