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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Lehrer’

Did I choose the wrong country?

In aging, behavior, business, cities, Crime, culture, immigration, life, news, urban life, US, work, world on July 26, 2012 at 12:05 am
Globe

Globe (Photo credit: stevecadman)

How interesting to see that Canada — where I was born, raised and lived until 1988 — now has a higher per-capita wealth than the United States; $363,202 in assets to the average American’s total of $319,970.

From the website Daily Finance:

Indeed, the crash in U.S. home prices means that Canadians own real estate that is on average worth $140,000 more than that held by Americans. They also own twice as much property and have nearly four times as much equity in it after mortgages are taken into account.

One small bright spot for residents of the beleaguered U.S.: Americans still have greater liquid assets than Canadians. But even this statistic serves mainly to underscore the magnitude of the housing market catastrophe.

Public policy may be in part to blame: As The Globe and Mail points out, “Canadian leaders rejected mortgage interest deductibility,” making it somewhat harder for citizens to get so deep into mortgage debt. Moreover, subprime mortgages — those ignes fatui of the American economy — did not catch on in Canada the way they did here.

All of which leaves our “thrifty, socialist neighbors to the north” — who have long eschewed both the dynamism and the risk of the American system in favor of higher taxes, greater regulation and a sturdier social safety net — looking pretty clever right now.

Having survived three (so far) recessions in the U.S. since moving here, I’ve often questioned my decision. But I’ve also met some of my professional goals here, and more easily in a nation whose population is 10 times larger, than would have been possible at home, where about ten people in my industry got the best jobs and clung to them for decades.

I’ve married two Americans, one wretched, one not. I’ve survived being a crime victim here twice and the subject of a $1 million lawsuit from a minor car accident. Instructive!

Canadians are generally much more risk-averse, which I find boring and annoying (if, yes, more fiscally prudent.) Americans, for better or worse, are generally excited to try new things and less freaked out by failure. I like this a lot, and it’s one reason I came and stuck around. But it also assumes — which isn’t true for so many people here now – you can actually afford to fail.

Without a toxic mortgage I kept my home and built equity; the U.S. mortgage interest tax deduction (thank heaven) was a real help to me as a single freelancer.

The “American dream” of home ownership is typical of a major difference between the two nations — because it has long been such a powerful part of how Americans view their lives, no politician (even if it would have been wise to do so) dared mess with it.

And so bankers made out, literally, like bandits, selling the most appallingly toxic mortgages to people with no clue what they were getting into.

Canadians don’t have a “Canadian dream”, at least none I’ve ever heard as part of the standard cultural conversation.

The CDO crisis, fueled by greed on both sides and fed by the oxygen of enormous profits on one side and the illicit thrill of actually buying a house with 0% down, almost left the financial system here DOA. If you want to watch a real thriller, which really explains it, rent the terrific films Too Big to Fail and Inside Job.

While Americans, once more, are this week mourning the latest massacre of civilians attending a film near Denver by a deranged shooter armed with four guns, urban Canadians in Toronto are also confronting a shocking level of gun violence; ironically, Jessica Ghawi, a young sports reporter, had just escaped a shooting in June at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a huge downtown mall, when she was killed in Aurora.

I wrote my first book about American women and guns, which one critic called “groundbreaking and invaluable”, my goal to understand, and explain, why Americans are so deeply attached to private firearms ownership.

But another recent shooting in Toronto claimed the lives of two people and when I went to check that story, yet another shooting had occurred since then.

So — which country is the better choice?

It’s an ongoing question for ex-patriates like myself, some of whom have husbands or wives or partners and children and jobs they value in the United States (or vice versa.) After the horror of 9/11, many of my Canadian friends urged me to “come home”, even though I’d already lived in the U.S. since January 1988.

While he loves Canada and would be happy to live there, my husband has a great job in New York City, which offers a pension we will both need. As an author and freelance writer, I can, theoretically, work from anywhere.

Both my countries have strengths and weaknesses.

The reasons we each choose to move, or stay, are multi-factorial: friends, work, climate, proximity to (or blessed distance from) family, excellent medical care and insurance, history, geography, a spiritual community, a landscape we love, a sense of history or shared culture…

Here’s a recent radio interview with Paul Martin, former Canadian Prime Minister, with Brian Lehrer, one of my favorite interviewers, on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. He does a great job explaining the differences in public policy-making between the two countries.

If you’ve left your native country to try another, how’s it working out for you?

If you’ve moved to the U.S., do you (ever) regret it?

Do you plan to move elsewhere?

Why?

Risk Is Not A Four-Letter Word

In behavior, books, business, culture, design, domestic life, education, family, journalism, life, love, Media, men, women, work on June 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Trapeze artists Kia and Lindsay at Circus Smirkus

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about risk a lot these days.

My new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was born of risk. It began as a personal essay I wrote for The New York Times, published in February 2009. I was absolutely certain that publishing it would kill my writing career, as in it I said that working retail was better than working as a journalist.

Wasn’t I torching all my bridges?

In fact, I was on CNN two days later discussing it; then on the Brian Lehrer Show and, within months, had found an agent and sold a book based on my oddest risk of all — taking a low-wage job and being willing to talk about it for publication.

I had no clear idea why I worked retail, other than — like many others — I needed steady cash. There was no Grand Plan, just needing and valuing a new job where I might re-build my shattered confidence after my Daily News debacle.

The irony?

Taking these risks has now brought me, and my work and ideas, far more attention than anything smaller and safer and more conventional I’ve also produced. I’ve spoken at a Marie-Claire staff event, keynoted a major retail conference (with another skedded this summer) and, if the stars truly align, may see my name on the small screen.

I recently took a few more risks, some big, some small:

– I cut my hair really short, not the prudent choice given my current weight. I feel so great and so liberated I also now feel a lot more motivated to shed the damn weight, instead of dutifully waiting until I am thinner to reward myself with a pretty cut.

– I met up again for the first time in decades with a few former beaux, a high school crush and the man I’d lived with in my 20s, now divorced. I wasn’t at all sure how these meetings would go, but am really glad I went to both. I’m happily partnered, and it was good to catch up with two men who meant a lot to me in earlier days, who are still funny and attractive and with whom I share some serious history, growth and memories.

– I asked a stranger on LinkedIn for help making some connections for Malled and he made a great introduction. Now I have to find the cojones to ask for the business!

– I’ll be going on a silent Buddhist retreat July 23-31, a gift from my partner. I can’t decide what freaks me out most: not working (tough for a full-time freelancer); no liquor; not talking; being surrounded by people who fervently believe in ideas different from my own. It’s all good. But a little scary!

In this relentlessly awful economy, it’s very tempting to avoid just about any risk — whether confronting a toxic friend or love relationship (I could end up alone!), dealing with a bully boss (I could get fired!) or ditching an annoying client (I could starve!)

I think it’s at times like these it’s even more essential to choose a few risks and take them.

Courage is a muscle — use it or lose it.

I like this blog post from a businesswoman who urges us all to use a little “creative chutzpah.”

As Seth Godin writes here, taking a risk can be the smartest choice we make.

Here’s a great story from the New Yorker about a Hollywood therapist who urges his patients to eat a “death cookie” — take a risk!

When did you last take a risk?

How did it turn out?

Do you regret it?

Or did it jump-start your life in some unexpected and lovely way?

“Malled: My Unintentional Career In Retail” — On Sale Today!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on April 14, 2011 at 11:06 am

Finally!

My new memoir, which tells the story of retail work in America, is out today from Portfolio. It’s been getting terrific reviews — Entertainment Weekly calls it “an excellent memoir” and Herb Schaffner, a columnist for Bnet compares it to the best-seller “Nickeled and Dimed”, calling Malled “reality journalism at its best.”

I’m thrilled by the reception it’s gotten, with interviews and reviews, so far, from USA Today, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and Marie-Claire. I’ll be a guest on NPR’s Diane Rehm show, with two million listeners, on April 19; on Marketplace and on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on April 20.

I’ve also been invited to write a guest post for the Harvard Business Review blog.

My goal in writing this book is to make retail work — and the 15 million employees who make their living doing it — better understood. We all shop! The American economy, even in a recession, relies heavily on consumer spending, but we rarely talk frankly about what that demands of those workers, many of them part-time, with no benefits, earning low wages with little chance for raises or promotions.

I worked as an associate in a suburban New York mall, with some very wealthy customers, from September 2007 to December 2009, so this is also a portrait of the deepening recession and other workers who are taking low-wage work to make ends meet. I interviewed many others, from Costco CFO Richard Galanti to consultant Paco Underhill to best-selling author and owner of five elegant clothing stores, Jack Mitchell.

Like me, like this blog, “Malled” pulls no punches. It’s sometimes funny, sometimes dark, always honest.

And, yes, there’s plenty of outrage!

Wal-Mart has so far spent $2 million fighting an OSHA order and $7,000 fine to make their stores safer during sales  — after an associate in their Long Island store was killed when shoppers stampeded over his body.

Is this really what we want for our low-wage workers?

The sad thing is that such treatment is considered normal. In 1892, F.W. Woolworth disdained the notion of paying his workers a living wage — his business model, discount goods, simply didn’t allow for it.

I hope you’ll check it out at malledthebook.com, where you can read the introduction and Chapter One free.

You’ll also find there a listing of my many upcoming readings and events, most in and around New York City and some in Toronto; I’m talking at 10:00 a.m. on May 28 on the downtown campus of my alma mater, The University of Toronto.

The book also has a Facebook fan page; I hope you’ll “like” it and spread the word! If you enjoy “Malled”, I’d love it if you’d write a review at amazon.com

And here’s a funny/spot-on flow chart on what it takes to get a book published…

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