broadsideblog

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

For Christmas 2012 — 25 fun gift ideas (and a bonus!)

In beauty, design, domestic life, Fashion, food, Style on December 14, 2012 at 12:26 am

Enjoy!

For the home

There’s nothing nicer than a set of unusual and stylish plates — for hors d’oeuvres, salad, dessert — to complement your everyday china. These four black plates, all different and each resembling the face of a vintage watch, are stunning; new this season from Pottery Barn, $50,00.

I love ZaraHome’s products, newly available this fall in the U.S. These purple paisley towels are gorgeous and unusual, $18.90 for hand towels, $59.00 for the bath towel.

This 15.5 inch square throw pillow isn’t cheap — at $87 — but looks like something three times the price, embroidered in cream on white, also from ZaraHome. Pretty for the bedroom, or a nice touch on the sofa.

A glossy olive green enamel thermometer, made in France, $28, is a nice touch for your window; imported by Boston-based entrepreneur Kit Mitchell.

These 8″ plates — each painted in rich jewel tones in a geometric pattern — are $60, from Mothology, a fantastic house wares, lighting and furniture site with a vintage look.

I love an array of pierced-metal lanterns scattered throughout my living room, like these. Nothing sets so romantic and calming a mood.

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Here’s a terrific small lantern, with a glass lining, that’s round, soft, weathered green cut-work metal and looks like it was discovered at some Mongolian archeological dig. From Mothology, $34.oo.

For women

This black burn-out velvet dress — something Lady Mary from Downton Abbey might wear — is spendy but exquisite; $554.73, from Plumo, one of my favorite women’s wear websites.

These metallic silver slippers are pretty enough to wear outside the bedroom; from ZaraHome, $49.90.

Oooooh la la! These red and black panties, $52, from Bergdorf Goodman, are to die for.

If she has pierced ears, these stunners from Swarovski, $75, are a great choice; (in my photo on this site’s Welcome page, I’m wearing them.) In gray crystal, they’re a gorgeous neutral elegant enough for evening but simple enough for day. I get compliments every time I wear them.

For men

I love this Timex watch — with a Hudson Bay striped band, in classic primary colors. These are the colors of the classic “point blankets” introduced by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1780 to trade with Canadian natives.

If you’re going to wear a warm hat, go for a tuque, (pronounced took); this one has the insignia of the Montreal Canadiens, aka the Habs. If you can get through a Montreal winter, you’ve survived some serious cold. From Canadian retailer Roots, $30.00.

If you’re looking for a messenger bag, this is it! A man walking his dinosaur, $48.00, from Etsy seller Matt Snow.

A soft indigo henley is a classic; $59.50 from J. Crew.

For fun

I discovered this fast-paced word game this past summer. So fun!

Need help with your snow-ball-making skills? Buy this, $7.50.

Can you really bear to leave home without travel Scrabble? The classic holiday-at-home sanity-saver, $39.00.

Build your own cardboard biplane, from the fab Japanese chain store Muji, $12.50.

For pure pleasure

These handmade marbled papers from Thailand are gorgeous — use them to cover a lampshade, line a picture frame or wrap gifts. (I got this paper from Papyrus and painted some plain frames to match it.)

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Do you know the extraordinary scents of Paris-based Diptyque? Try a candle for $60.

I love this seasoning, from Penzeys’ spices, whose selection is mindboggling.

A box of Jacques Torres chocolates. Yum! $36.00.

For a good cause

Who wouldn’t like to adopt an orphaned baby elephant? Through the work of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who runs a foundation in Kenya, you can.

You can help prevent malaria — for $5 — by buying a bednet, through this organization.

This is the writers’ aid organization on whose volunteer board I serve; we can write a check of up to $4,000 within a week to established non-fiction writers who meet our criteria.

Please consider helping writers in your charitable giving this year!

BONUS: I’ll send you a signed copy of my new book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” — for you or as a gift, signed to someone else — if you donate $25 or more to WEAF, the writers’ aid organization listed above. Email me at caitlinvancouver@yahoo.com with your mailing address; checks should be made out to the Writers’ Emergency Assistance Fund, or you can donate directly to WEAF, here.

Thanks!

Life after being Freshly Pressed: tips, advice — and welcome!

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media on December 12, 2012 at 2:01 pm
English: Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité

English: Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whew.

More than 5,000 views (in three days) later, and 532 likes, life here at Broadside is back to normal. It’s fun to be featured, but the Niagara of comments is overwhelming if — which I do — you try to reply to each comment and visit everyone’s site who “likes” a post and/or who signs up to follow this blog.

For those new to Broadside, welcome! It’s a bit like throwing a party, happy to see old friends, and finding 300 people you’ve never met in your living room.

I blog every other day, sometimes a bit more often, on a variety of topics, often on writing. I am happy to hear dissenting views, but won’t tolerate rudeness, to me or others here.

If you want to argue a point, cool! But please do it with wit, facts and intelligence.

Insults are a direct route to the trash bin.

For those of you new here, I hope you’ll visit the blogs of some of the regular commenters here, like Nigel Featherstone, a writer in Australia; MrsFringe, a snappy mom in Manhattan, Michelle, a feisty, fun mom in Minneapolis; Rian, an expat American in Vancouver; the witty C, who I hope to meet for tea in London, Elizabeth, who traded Atlanta for Cornwall mid-life and the loquacious Rami, a student in Ohio.

A few thoughts on being FPed and how to get there, which Rami asked me about. I’ve been FPed six times, which is crazy, but flattering. The posts were about everything from why we need to thank one another, the lost art of conversation, how to write better to this most recent, about women’s obsession with their bodies.

I’m Caitlin Kelly, a Tarrytown, NY-based career journalist who writes for a living, and have been doing so since 1978, so blogging comes easily to me. I write frequently for The New York Times and have written two well-reviewed books. I hope you’ll buy them, and spread the word if you like them!

“Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” has sold well; it’s the story of my 27 months’ working in an upscale mall, and includes interviews with dozens of others nationwide, from the CFO of Costco to a woman who’s 51 making $7.25/hr — with a master’s degree and $60,000 worth of student debt.

Retail is the largest source of new jobs in this economy. Terrible jobs!

Here’s a link to both…

I’ve also sold personal essays to places like The New York Times and Marie Claire, so I have some experience writing for an audience about things personal. My second book, a memoir of working retail, is also filled with personal detail, interwoven with dozens of interviews.

So…how to get Freshly Pressed?

Be consistent

Blog on a regular schedule. People who start to enjoy your work want more! It’s frustrating to find a terrific blogger but never hear from them. People have short attention spans. Don’t let ‘em wander off.

Choose your tone

I think this is key. The blogs I linked to above each have a clear and consistent voice, some calm and meditative (Nigel and Elizabeth), some encouraging and upbeat (Rian), some funny and smart (C.) When FPs editors go looking for people to feature, they, too, need a good mix of voices. If yours isn’t clear and strong, your chances of being featured likely diminish.

Tags and categories!

Be sure you are adding these to every post.

Mix the personal with the universal

This is the toughest balance of all. Too personal is confessional and tedious. Too universal is too vague and no one can relate to it.

How about a call to action?

Several of my posts that have been FPed make clear I want readers to do something — Say thank-you! Start a conversation! Write better! They might not do any of them, but it’s clear what I want them to think about doing, at least.

What are people talking about?

Not the bloody Kardashians! But in a more general way, in the culture. It might be the U.S. Presidential election or Hurricane Sandy or unemployment or Christmas or Eid. People want to read something that’s current and meaningful to them.

Great headlines matter

Hard as hell to do well. Really hard. But the best posts draw in many readers with a funny, moving or quirky headline that make you want to read more.

Get angry!

One of the major changes I’ve seen recently in what’s featured on Freshly Pressed, (which I read every day), is their choice of material that’s more challenging and provocative, whether grief, divorce, politics. Women bloggers, especially, tend to be too polite. Say it loud and say it proud! What’s the point of blogging if you keep pulling your punches?

Read your competitors

This is pretty basic. If you really want your blog featured on FPed, you have to read at least some of what is chosen there to analyze what they’ve done so well. As a journalist and author, I read a tremendous amount, often envious of others’ clarity or turn of phrase. The only way to get better is to read the best.

Those of you who’ve been FPed — Rian, Michelle, others — what advice would you offer?

How about Plans C, D and E?

In aging, behavior, books, business, domestic life, family, immigration, journalism, life, love, Media, US, women on December 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm
University College, south side, University of ...

University College, south side, University of Toronto….My alma mater, (Victoria College, actually.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think many of us have a Plan B — or are already living it.

But how many of you have thought far enough ahead about plans C, D and E?

Here’s a recent blog post chosen for Freshly Pressed by a woman who’s 40, in Toronto, the hometown I left in 1986. In it she discusses how it feels to face a life she did not plan for:

Life sure hasn’t gone the way I planned. That’s an understatement. I thought things would be different. As a kid, I used to think that life got easier as you got older. Now here I am pushing 40 and boy was I wrong about that. The older I get, things seem to get more complicated and every decision I have to make feels like the weight of the world.

Being a grown up is hard.

Hell, yes!

I am now at an age that feels absolutely geriatric, 55. Ahead lies a diminishing number of years on this earth, and physical decline. Cool! If I don’t have a few back-up plans (what if I get really sick? what if my husband dies?), I’m toast.

I’m writing this post sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. I came by train from New York on Sunday to compete Monday for a fellowship that, if I win, offers $20,000 for six months to research an issue of interest to me. There are 14 finalists and they’ll pick maybe six.

I have to plan on not winning. Not to be negative, but realistic.

I have so many other ideas I can barely keep track of them all: writing (and I hope selling) two more non-fiction book proposals; three assignments from The New York Times and another which I hope will send me on my next trip; a conference I hope to create next fall; rustling up people to donate their talent for a fund-raiser; planning travel for 2013…

My point is that “planning” your life is truly a fool’s errand, no matter how comforting it appears. You can aim for goals, and likely hit many, if not most. But some you are going to miss.

If you do not grasp this reality, young, you may face a life of tremendous frustration and bitterness.

Some dreams will be snatched out of your grasp. Some people will disappoint you and betray you and lie to you and disappear. Some things are just shitty luck: infertility and/or miscarriage; accidents; disability or chronic illness. You still have to deal!

Here are some of the twists and turns my life took after I chose to leave my hometown of Toronto, age 30:

– Took a newspaper job in Montreal. Hated it! The winter was brutally long, cold and snowy. The crime rate was crazy, and frightening. The paper’s management were…not what I wanted.

– Moved to a small town in New Hampshire to follow the man I planned to marry, an American. I tried harder than I have ever tried in my entire life to make friends, and it proved impossible. He was doing medical training, so he was either gone, exhausted or emotionally withdrawn.

Moved to New York City to make it as a journalist. I was promised a month’s try-out, paid, at Newsweek International. When I called to confirm my start date (after we had moved to NY and bought an apartment and he had changed training programs) they said “Oh, we have an internal candidate. We don’t need you.” I insisted and still did not get the job.

And that’s only the first five years!

My life since 1989 has included a two-year marriage to the doctor; three recessions, four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, losing a few staff jobs, three days in the hospital with pneumonia, dating a convicted criminal…and writing two terrific books, finding a lovely new husband and enjoying my new left hip.

None of this was planned.

Sure, I had some hopes: good journalism jobs (check); get married (check, check); write a book (check, check). So I’m happy with this. But so many things have blown up in my face, metaphorically speaking, along the way as well.

If you are not ready — emotionally, physically and financially — to adapt to whatever life throws at you, you’ll waste a lot of time when things go south in a fog of cognitive dissonance, moaning “What happened?” instead of packing your parachute.

Here’s a great blog post by a young woman writer whose blog I enjoy, about being prepared and knowing she’s not a victim. It is a choice.

How has your life turned out?

As you’d hoped and expected? Or…?

A mini-van?!

In behavior, cars, design, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on December 8, 2012 at 2:38 am
2011 Dodge Grand Caravan photographed in Largo...

2011 Dodge Grand Caravan photographed in Largo, Maryland, USA. Category:Dodge RT Caravan Category:White minivans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you had told me that in this lifetime I would be seated behind the wheel of a Dodge Caravan, I would have said you were mad. Mad!

But this week I was. For those of you not in the automotive know, it’s a fucking mini-van! The sort of thing that soccer moms drive, full of screaming, squirming kids. The sort of vehicle that ends up in heart-warming commercials. (I hate heart-warming!)

We don’t have kids.

We don’t need anything this big.

I’ve only sat in a mini-van when I got into one that is a taxi.

Our ancient Subaru was in the shop for a $3,300 repair. Yes, you read that right. It took longer than our mechanic expected and — which is extremely classy — he paid to rent a replacement vehicle for us. But because of Hurricane Sandy destroying so many cars here when huge trees fell and crushed them, there’s been a local shortage of rental cars. So when I showed up to claim the Chevy Impala they had promised, there were four minivans and a huge truck.

Holy shit. Cars have changed a lot since 2001, the year ours was produced.

It’s new, it’s shiny, it’s huge. It tells me the temperature but I can’t find the clock. The rear visibility is a disaster — the window is too small and all those seats’ headrests block what’s left of it. I finally understand why women driving these things drive really slowly and cautiously and annoyingly. I started doing it too.

My Dad — at 83 — drives a black Jag. When I was 12, he had a gold Jag XKE, sex on wheels! My mother and grandmother drove sports cars into their 60s and I still mourn my beloved red two-seater convertible, a Honda Del Sol, that was stolen from our parking lot and pillaged for parts in 2003.

I saw my first super sexy sports car — a yellow Lotus — in my teens. That was it! I’m the girl who dreams of owning a Porsche Boxster, or maybe a Z4. I’d take a Mercedes or Jag if someone else picked up the payments and the maintenance costs.

But no econo-boxes!

I know, I know, it’s deeply shallow of me to care so much about what the car I drive looks like. Our Subaru is dinged and dented and gray and does its job well, for which we still appreciate it. But I am a total sucker for gorgeous, thoughtful design, whether in fashion, clothing, objects or cars. I was stuck in traffic a while back beside a Maserati — celebrity sighting!

Here’s Wall Street Journal columnist — and a fellow Tarrytown writer I see at Bella’s Diner all the time — Joe Queenan on how boooooring most cars have become:

Bond’s infatuation with his car underscores how little the average man has in common with 007 anymore. When the Bond movies first appeared in the early ’60s, the average guy might not own a Lamborghini or a Porsche or an Aston Martin, but it was still quite possible that he drove a car exuding a certain measure of style: fins, a convertible roof, a two-tone leather interior, fancy hubcaps, perhaps even wood paneling—inside and out. Because of this, he could deceive himself into thinking that there was a little bit of James Bond in all of us. Even if, like me, he was only 11 at the time.

But that was back in an era when men were men and cars were cars. Now all cars look the same. You can see it when the men come pouring out of the multiplex and pile into their automobiles. Honda Civics. Toyota Corollas. An assortment of vehicles that are putatively Ram-tough. And maybe, for the really daring, a Lexus. Which looks like an Elantra. Or a Sonata. Or an Acura.

But it doesn’t look like an Aston Martin.

don’t even get me started on the Priuses.

I myself am just as guilty of this failing as anybody. If Javier Bardem unexpectedly decided to rake my Sienna with merciless machine-gun fire, I’d say, “Be my guest. And strafe the Camry while you’re at it.” I feel the same way about the Nissan hatchback we used to own. A beige hatchback. Torch it, Javier. I’ll lend you the kerosene.

Do you love your ride? Or long for something dreamier?

If one more woman bitches about the size of her body…

In aging, beauty, behavior, blogging, books, culture, domestic life, Health, life, Media, women on December 6, 2012 at 12:51 am
What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am going to lose it completely.

Some of you read Kristen Lamb, who writes a blog about writing. It’s extremely popular and usually very helpful. But her latest post was a digression – an extended piece about being a size 10/12 and why she feels fat:

I am healthy, have beautiful skin and hair. I have enough energy to power a small city and am never sick, but I am still a size 10-12 and 170 pounds.

Why is it no one looks like me?

When we look on TV, we are confronted with extremes–super skinny or clinically obese. We are calling anorexics “beautiful” and calling dangerously obese women “curvy.” We are an a country that is dying because of euphemisms. I hear parents call morbidly obese children “husky,” “big-boned” or “muscular.” We have retailers calling anorexics “curvy.”

I get it. I’ve written about this as well.

But, seriously — it is time for women to move on.

Every time a healthy woman feels compelled to discuss the size of her ass or thighs or hips I want to throw a piece of furniture. Yes, being fat is annoying and unhealthy and no one makes pretty clothes for fatties.

I’m overweight, and have been since 2003 when I packed on 23 pounds in one year — the year I wrote my first book, traveling alone around the U.S., interviewing victims of horrific gun violence and crime, and dealing, alone, with my mother’s 3-inch-wide brain tumor and surgery in Vancouver. I was too damn distracted to even notice.

I’ve gained even more since then. Ugh. I’m not thrilled, believe me, to need to lose 40+ pounds. But we need to stop talking about this, and this is why I feel so strongly.

The larger issue here — pun intended — is this:

Whining about weight is the biggest fucking distraction that women indulge in! We have much bigger fish to fry!

Whining about weight is a huge time-suck.

Whining about weight teaches the girls in our lives, who look to us their role models, that this is just what women do, that focusing miserably and endlessly on our individual body size and shape is our most pressing issue as women — instead of political and economic issues that affect us all, size 00s to 24s,  like paid maternity leave or better domestic violence protection or access to birth control and abortion.

Whining about weight ignores and demeans the many incredible gifts we enjoy every single day. We are not living in Syria with government/rebel bombs exploding all around us, for example.

Whining about weight is the ultimate shiny object that women continue to focus their attention on, instead of:

– fighting for social justice, at home and abroad

– running for political office and kicking ass when we win

– creating astonishing works of art

– waking up every single day grateful for their health and strength, the not-so-simple ability to walk and stand and reach for things without pain

– knowing that women all over the world are dying of starvation, malnutrition and in childbirth at 14 or 16 because their young bodies are too weakened to do so healthily

– ditching the people in their lives who shame them by focusing on the size of their ass instead of what matters most, the size of our hearts and brains

– exploring the world, no matter our size, with excitement and anticipation

thinking, long and hard, about our legacies in this world

There is something ironic to me that Kristen’s blog post includes a photo of herself holding — of all things! — a very large gun. Having written a book about American women and guns, I know this decision isn’t one she made lightly, and showing her readers that she owns a gun takes serious guts. Shooting well also requires tremendous mental and physical control.

So, frankly, I don’t get it. You’re powerful and self-determining, or you’re not. A woman who knows how to handle a gun safely and shoot well is someone I respect; I’ve done a lot of shooting and know the power it conveys.

Labels are also something we generally choose to ignore after leaving the schoolyard, so why are women of all ages so eager to keep self-flagellating about how fat we are (or are not?)

At this point, I’m technically “plus size.”

Why don’t the curvy chicks start calling size 6’s and 00’s minus-size?

Give it up, ladies! This obsession is wasting our talent, energy, excitement and drive.

Give it up today.

Why we write what we write

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, culture, domestic life, Health, journalism, life, Media on December 4, 2012 at 3:52 am
Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

Great post from Romanian writer/blogger Christian Mihai:

A lot of writers out there, if asked, will say that writing isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the rules you have to obey, or the conventions, or the need of a vivid imagination. Writing isn’t easy because you have to relieve the most painful moments of your life, over and over again, and then you have to write them down, hoping that they’ll matter to someone else other than yourself.

I plan to write a second memoir, some day, about my family, as people have urged me to do and as I want to do. But it won’t be easy or simple or fun. I have three half-siblings, one of whom refuses to speak to me and one of whom I’ve never met; the only time we spoke, on the phone from London to Quebec in June 2003, she said “See you at the funeral.”

Like that.

Readers of this blog know I occasionally touch the third rail of true honesty about some of the darker, tougher stuff in my life, like this post about how my mother and I have no relationship anymore, and have not spoken since May 2011. That post has 66 comments, and prompted some of the most honest and compassionate conversation we’ve ever had here.

My mother and I probably won’t ever speak again. I’m her only child. It hurts every single day.

But I don’t write about it, here or elsewhere for a few reasons:

– There’s no solution. She has dementia and is attended to by a woman I loathe who has made sure to paint me as a demon and she as the avenging angel. That script is deeply seductive to my mother.

– She lives a six-hour flight away from me and my limited time and funds for leisure travel don’t make me eager to step back into that minefield. I spent too many miserable years watching her gulp alcohol while I waited for the inevitable shit to hit a very large fan. It did.

– I loathe confessional writing that’s supposed to tug at my heartstrings. I don’t write it and I don’t read it. If I even have heartstrings, they are wrapped in five layers of Kevlar by now.

There is much I will never write about here. One female reader, from Kenya, asked me to write more about my struggles. I wrote her back to ask what she meant, but she never replied to my email.

Frankly, I’m not persuaded that focusing on struggle by writing about it to an audience of strangers accomplishes much. Writing about it can feel whiny and self-indulgent.

Although this writer, (a journalist and Hollywood veteran), who has produced only a few blog posts — each of astonishing emotional clarity — makes me feel differently about this subject:

I don’t know what my boss saw in me but I was relieved some good quality shined through. It was clear on the first day that we had a connection. She had lost her mother recently, and when she asked why I was jobless I said I’d moved home to take care of my mom while she was sick with cancer.

The day my boss hired me, she asked about the type of cancer and my mom’s age, and I told her the story. She was so sympathetic, I had a hard time not crying. Finally a workplace that was sensitive and nurturing, capable of seeing my pain and not finding it a turn off or unattractive.

Suddenly, all the things I didn’t enjoy about working in media and in Hollywood became obvious — the unspoken competitiveness between writers, the constant insecurity that you’re not young enough to be employable, the expectation that you will always be or act happy, the arbitrary way with which your work can be cast aside by a studio exec or an editor after months of toiling. Not knowing why they said no to publishing or producing your writing. It all creates this paranoia and lack of trust that permeates every action.

If you never read Freshly Pressed, you must start! I read it every day and almost always find something astonishingly good there; they’ve really upped their game from a few months ago when all they featured were photo, food and travel blogs.

I know someone, only peripherally, on Facebook, a male writer my age who is suffering — and that is truly the word — from Parkinson’s disease. I have very mixed feelings about the endless medical and emotional detail he spills there. I feel compassion but I also, I admit, feel irritation at so much uninvited intimacy.

That may be my problem, of course.

Here’s a lucid and lovely blog post by novelist Dani Shapiro on the disconnect — and it’s a very real one — between how private many writers really are and how public we must be in order to grow audiences for our work:

What I’m getting at here is the complexity of being a person at once deeply private and shockingly public.  A person who spends days — weeks — speaking as little as possible, a person for whom the word “hermitage” is appealing, and a person who sits in front of an audience, speaking into a microphone, telling stories (jokes, even!) and looking — in fact, being – comfortable.  It’s a split-screen, this writer’s life…It requires a kind of armor…

The absolute vulnerability necessary to write something real, honest, and universal is at odds with the public self.  Yesterday, during my event, there was a woman in the back row (there’s always one) who, every time I looked her way, rolled her eyes.  I mean, really rolled her eyes.  A full eye-roll, heavenward.  Her body language said: I’m not buying it.  It said, I’m bored to tears, when will this be over?  Now, the rest of the audience seemed very engaged, even rapt.  But because I’m a writer––because I am a sensitive creature with less armor than most––and, because in order to give a good talk, I in fact need to be vulnerable, I directed my talk to the eye-roller.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  How was I failing?  Where was I going wrong?  Why, oh why, didn’t she like me?  It’s the next day, and I’m thinking about her still.  This is no different from writers who can quote you chapter and verse from their negative reviews, but not a word from the glowing ones.  Or writers who troll their Amazon pages, only stopping to take in the one star reviews.

So what is the armor, then, that allows us to take part in the world around us, a world that will sometimes feel like just too much, a world that might insult us, or hurt us?  For the writer, I think there’s only one answer, and I’m doing it right now.  It’s to return to the solitude

What are you not writing about — and why?

What do you choose to focus your writing or blogging on — and why?

Why I’m not watching much TV these days

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, television on December 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm
NBC Nightly News broadcast

NBC Nightly News broadcast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The TV listings in my local paper, The New York Times, have 106 channels, including nine premium cable.

In the past month, I’ve turned the television on maybe four or five times. I wish I could say I miss it terribly, but I don’t. My TV fast began in June when I house-sat in Vermont, with a screen that needed three remotes, none of which I understood. Instead, I went to a barbecue, a minor league baseball game and read.

You know, books.

It continued at my Dad’s house when I was house-sitting in late September. I’d light a fire — a luxury we don’t have at home — eat dinner on the coffee table and settle in with a huge stack of unread magazines. I didn’t miss TV at all.

I normally watch NBC Nightly News every evening at 6:30, fully aware that it’s a narrow, slick, over-produced reduction of what’s happening in the world. Foreign news is almost unheard of in the United States, except for wars affecting U.S. interests and huge natural disasters. If you want a clue that the world beyond the U.S. exists, you need to follow  BBC and consume on-line media from other countries.

I often follow the news with Jeopardy, (a quiz show in the U.S., for which I qualified in 2006, but was never called to appear.) My granny used to watch it, so it’s something of a tradition. I also want to stay in trim as I plan to try out again on my next visit to L.A. The host is Alex Trebek, a fellow Canadian, who once hosted a Canadian quiz show for high school students called Reach For The Top. I was on our school’s team two years in a row and helped take us to the quarter finals.

I enjoy What Not To Wear (which helps you figure out how to dress better) and Project Runway. I avoid all talk shows and political coverage, as I get plenty of that from my print and on-line sources already. How many opinions do I want to hear every day?
The TV stays dark most of the time right now because I’m burned out on the hyper-stimulation, the silliness, the repetition and its incredible time-suck.

I do watch movies, often, and eagerly await the January start, here in the U.S., of the third season of Downton Abbey.

I recently discovered “Wallander”, the original series in Swedish, shot in a town of 18,000 in southern Sweden, and loved it. I was so struck, in one episode, by the dominance of a very specific color, a deep teal — in clothing, wall colors, the evening sky, upholstery. I love the differences in every detail: the cars, the light, the landscape, even the electrical outlets. (I think I need to do some overseas travel soon!)

I had seen the British version, starring Kenneth Branagh, but much prefer the Swedish one.

But here’s a sampling of shows on offer — and why I’m able to resist:

The American Bible Challenge

Jersey Shore

Shocking Hip Hop Moments

High School football

Death Row

Annoying

The Real Housewives of Miami

I’m reading a lot more books. Talking to my husband and friends. Calmer and less distracted.

One friend, whose boys are two and six, limits their entire weekly screen time — including anything with a screen — to one hour every Friday night. Imagine.

Inspired by her discipline, I’m also trying to severely reduce the time I spend staring into any screen, whether phone, Ipad, computer or TV.

In the past few weeks, I’ve re-discovered a lost pleasure, that of diving into a book and disappearing in it for uninterrupted hours. I read, and loved two novels, “The Expats”, by Chris Pavone and Richard Ford’s newest, “Canada.”

Here’s a review of the season’s hottest three new shows, according to New York magazine. I haven’t seen any of them.

Do you watch much TV?

What are you watching these days?

A writer’s week

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, work on December 1, 2012 at 12:04 am

Here’s my desk, messy as usual…

In the middle of American Thanksgiving, last weekend — at 12:30 on Saturday — I got an email that made me cry.

Having applied for one of the country’s most competitive journalism fellowships, for which hundreds try each year, I was told I’m one of 14 finalists. They will only choose six, so it’s far from a sure thing. If I win, I’ll receive funding for six months. I go to Washington, D.C. Dec. 10, with only 15 minutes in which five judges will question me further, to determine who will win.

Wish me luck!

I worked this week on two very different projects, another 2,500 word feature for The New York Times business section, my fourth for them since April. I also finished up a 20-image slideshow for the DIYnetwork, an on-line branch of HGTV, focused on interior design; writing wasn’t the skill needed here but a strong visual sense as I pored through dozens of images, chose the ones I think best, then contacted architects, designers, photographers and manufacturers to get their permission.

I pitched a few ideas, but didn’t hear back. I’m still “saving string” — accumulating clips and sources — for my next two non-fiction book ideas as I’ve found a new agent to work with. I hope to write both book proposals in December, unpaid work I never like much but the only way to sell books to publishers; a book proposal, for those who have never written one, is essentially an intellectual blueprint, laying out clearly what you hope to say, to whom and in what detail.

I have to hire a new assistant, something I’ve been putting off, a little — a lot — weary of having to train new people every few months. I’m aware that if I paid $20/hr+ I’d keep them longer, but I’ve yet to see any difference in skill or attitude between people I pay $1o to $15 an hour.

I read a thriller for fun, and am halfway through a great new business book (yes, really) about personal finance, trying to find someone to pay me to review it. I speak next week to a local women’s club, hoping to sell copies of my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

I have a few story ideas I need to pitch to magazine and newspaper editors. This is the part of my writing business I enjoy least, busy enough juggling immediate, short-term and long-term projects as it is.

Our only car was in the shop all week for a viciously costly — four-figure — repair, the second one that size in a month. Double whammy, as living in the ‘burbs without a car is hopeless. The good news? I walked my hilly neighborhood at dusk, savoring the terrific Hudson River views, cutting through people’s backyards and made all sorts of discoveries I’ve never noticed in 24 years driving quickly along the same streets. I was inspired and moved by this terrific blog post, featured on Freshly Pressed, about how much the writer saw during his hour-long neighborhood walk.

The trees still have many of their red, orange and yellow leaves and I could shuffle my feet through huge piles of them on the sidewalk, happily feeling like a five-year-old.

As we head into the final month of 2012, I’m trying to plan ahead for 2013. The business of journalism and publishing is changing so quickly, though, it’s hard to know where to best expend my energy.

Next year, if all works out as I hope, I’ll sell two books to publishers, take a six-month break from this hustle with my fellowship income, do more paid public speaking and find more new markets for my work; this year I found nine, three of which didn’t last long. I always prefer, whenever possible, to create long-term relationships with repeat business.

But people change jobs and sometimes a new working relationship fails to pan out for either side.

How was your week?

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