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Posts Tagged ‘Columbia University’

The writer’s life, this week anyway

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, women, work on August 12, 2012 at 12:09 am
English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Gra...

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse in New York City, New York, United States. Taken with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An ongoing occasional series on my life as a full-time writer in New York. Maybe surprisingly, little actual writing is involved — and much rejection (and patience) is pretty standard. This week included two writers’ deaths and the loss of $2,000 income.

Monday

Exhausted by attending BlogHer, a 5,000 participant conference in Manhattan on Friday and Saturday, I took the day off for R & R. Slept in the sun by our apartment pool. Bliss!

Tuesday

Started researching the weekly personal finance blog I write for Canadians, focused on the move by one bank to shut down accounts of Iranian Canadians, in order to comply with federal regulations. Knowing that bank and government PR people are slow to return emails or calls, best to start now — my deadline is Friday.

I need to order books for my Neiman-Marcus event in September. Since I have to pay for these books myself, even with a 40 percent author discount, I don’t want to get stuck with unsold merch and a credit card bill. Sigh.

Phone meeting with a new-to-me client who is, (blessedly highly unusual), unhappy with the 2,000 word magazine piece I just handed in. We spend 30 minutes wrangling. Not fun.

Call an agent who’s seen my third book proposal, but didn’t like it as is, to determine if he wants to work on it with me anyway. Check in with my assistant in New York and assure my assistant in Toronto I’m really not ignoring her. I am, though. I’m swamped and feeling really distracted.

One of my toughest daily challenges is setting priorities for what’s urgent as I constantly toggle between meeting deadlines, finding new work, marketing my book and doing the work already in hand.

Wednesday

I get a last-minute email invitation to attend a presentation in Manhattan by a Harvard Business School professor writing a book about retail work, as I did. But she’s getting inside access to senior corporate executives. There are 29 people in the room, from retail workers to reporters to union reps. It’s fascinating work and she’s a lively and personable speaker. I’m honored when she asks if she can use my book as part of her research.

I’m meeting at 6:30 with a very senior editor at a major newspaper, ostensibly to be social, but I’m also curious if I’d fit there as a staffer. I have four hours to kill before the dinner, so I go to a French movie. It’s a hot, humid day and sitting in the cool darkness eating popcorn and being transported to early 20th century Provence is heaven.

Thursday

Scrambling to finish my personal finance reporting.

I sit on the volunteer board of a writers’ group offering emergency grants to those in need; I learn that one of our board members, 76, has died.

Checking in with colleagues and editors and a possible new agent to see where things stand with my book proposal.

Had the idea to create a new conference for women over 40, so I’ve been emailing and calling a few people to see if they’d be willing to brainstorm it with me. I go to the local hotel and get their rates for renting a room and meals for a meeting — sobering! Immediately see why conferences need sponsors!

Get an email from the Decatur Literary Festival wanting me to update my site on their website. Need to send bio, headshot, cover of my book and a brief description of it. I’m really looking forward to this event, but nervous that — as can happen — no one will show up to hear me speak or to buy my book. I have several friends living there, one of them author of a terrifying book about MRSA, who want to get together socially. Will I have time? Have to check the website to see how many parties I need to attend! It’s a rare, fun chance to meet a lot of other authors.

I wonder if getting another fellowship would help me, financially and professionally and check out the Knight-Bagehot, which offers $50,000 to study at Columbia University. Everyone who’s won in the past two years is 20 years my  junior and has a staff job. I email the program director to ask if applying is even worth it.

I call a local library to ask if I can do a reading. They say no.

Friday

Drop off the car for repair — $200.65, $100 less than I’d expected. Yay!

A friend emails to ask my advice about how to choose an agent — as the Olympic athlete she has written about has won a gold medal and is now on everyone’s mind. I steal an hour of work-time to watch synchronized swimming, cheering loudly for the Canadians. As someone who used to do synchro, I’m in awe of their skills.

Awaiting word on pitches to Monocle, The New York Times, Marie-Claire, Hispanic Business and others. I read a few stories in Bloomberg Businessweek and now want to send a copy of “Malled” to the CEO of Ann Taylor, a women’s clothing retailer here, and to the new head at J.C. Penney.

A friend has suggested I update my website to attract more paid speaking engagements, so I have to start reaching out to people for testimonials.

I need to request a copy of the raw manuscript from a client whose thriller I edited last summer to possibly get more freelance editing work from an agency.

Talk to my personal finance blog editor, who lives and works in Austin, Texas. Typically, I often work for years with editors or clients I never meet. It’s our first personal chat in the three months I’ve been writing for him.

Learn of the premature death, of cancer, of David Rakoff, a fellow Canadian writer in New York – at 47. Sad news, and another terrific talent lost.

The magazine editor who hated my story kills it with no offer of a kill fee for my time and work. I’ve just lost $2,000 of income I’d counted on. Haven’t had a story killed in years. Nice.

Call five regular clients to see if I can snag some assignments to make up for that lost revenue.

Referred a colleague in Seattle to one of my editors.

Invited my assistant to come for dinner. She’s been working hard on a tedious set of tasks for me, cheerfully and well. In addition to two part-time assistants (one at $10/hr, one at $13/hr) I have a cleaner in twice a month ($25/hr.) When I hear the phrase “job creators” I look in the mirror. My income may have many fewer zeros than Corporate Kings, but it’s also paying others for their skills.

Head to the gym, where I actually have time (on the elliptical) to read magazines.

How was your week, my dears?

Young Female Cuban Blogger Gets 20 Months In Top-Security Prison

In Crime, Media, women, world on May 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm
A street in Trinidad, Cuba. Trinidad has been ...

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s one report of the story of Dania Virgen Garcia’s imprisonment.

The only national coverage I’ve seen so far is The Wall Street Journal, who recently ran an editorial on it, about the last place anyone would think to look for a pro-feminist anything:

On April 22 state security arrested the young blogger, and less than 48 hours later she received a prison sentence of one year and eight months. She has been sent to the country’s largest maximum security prison for women, known commonly by Cubans as “the black veil.” It’s easy to guess why they call it that.

The regime’s assaults on independent thinkers date back 51 years. But Ms. García’s arrest is not without significance. It is the clearest sign to date of the regime’s desperation in the face of popular discontent.

Ms. García is what Cubans call an independent journalist. Carmen Ferreiro, director of information and press for Human Rights Cuba based in Miami, says she met Ms. García online “toward the end of 2009″ and helped her get her blog up and running. The two women exchanged emails. “This is how in a short time I came to know that Dania was very devoted to her Catholic faith, that she spoke affectionately about her family, that she enjoyed photography and struggled despite limited resources for human rights in Cuba.”

Ms. Ferreiro reports that Ms. García knew she was under surveillance and explained the threat in an email: “Things in Cuba are not well at all, but I am going to continue this struggle to the death or until whatever they want happens; I will continue to support the Ladies in White, even if they continue to beat us, because what they want is for us to be afraid and we are not going to allow that to happen.”

The Ladies in White walk through the streets to protest the unjust imprisonment of their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons. From the AP’s Havana writer, whose story ran in the Miami Herald:

After seven years of peaceful protests following Mass in Havana’s upscale Miramar neighborhood, Cuba has begun blocking the “Ladies in White” from marching since the group never obtained written permission to do so.

Officials first broke up their demonstration April 11, with a pro-government mob and buses that eventually gave the women a ride home. The following Sunday, counter-demonstrators surrounded the “Women in White,” refused to let them march and shouted insults in an hourslong standoff that ended with the women again being driven home…

Members of the “Women in White” are relatives of 75 opposition activists arrested in a 2003 crackdown on dissent, but Cuba claims they are agents of Washington out to destabilize government.

During Sunday’s protest, Miriam Leiva, a “Ladies in White” founder who stopped marching in 2008, showed up to watch from afar. Because she was wearing green, not all white, no one knew to shout at her.

“This is a desperate act by a desperate government,” Leiva said.

I blogged earlier about Yoani Sanchez, 34, another female Cuban blogger who had been beaten up to quiet her. She was awarded a special honor by Columbia University but, of course, was not allowed to come to New York to accept it. Her weekly blog, generacionY, gets 1 million hits a month.

These brave women are taking risks none of us can imagine.

It's Not Just 'Dates, Facts And Dead People' — A New History Channel Series Tries To De-Snooze History

In History, women on April 26, 2010 at 4:29 pm
The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth ...

Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1575. Image via Wikipedia

I love reading history, probably because it’s basically revised, cleaned-up, multiply-sourced journalism — often called the first draft of history.

Right now I’m loving a biography of Queen Elizabeth I by British historian Anne Somerset. As unlikely as this sounds, it’s a page-turner. (Oddly enough, the image I’ve chosen here is the same one on my book’s cover, from the National Gallery.)

I confess, though, that one passage is truly memorable, in which a priest is being burned at the stake, too slowly because the wood is wet, and he begs his onlookers to fan the flames so he can die faster. No matter how gross, it’s hard not to picture, and remember that scene.

Yet so much of history, as presented to most of us along the way, is a big fat snooze, boringly taught and impatiently suffered through.

A recent piece in my favorite newspaper, the weekend Financial Times, looked at the problem and determined it was a case of “Too Much Hitler and the Henrys” — i.e. for British students anyway too narrow a focus on WWII and the Kings named Henry.

A new television series, “America: The Story of Us” began this week on April 25 and continues for six more Sundays on the History Channel. It’s the most ambitious project of its kind since Alistair Cooke’s 13-part “America: A Personal History of the United States, broadcast in 1972.

Reports The New York Times, the new series is:

“a naked attempt by the producers to rope in viewers whose experience of United States history may be limited to their school history classes. “In that attempt to make it feel epic, it’s actually quite refreshing to see big personalities commenting on what history means to them and what that moment in the story means to them, and how that has inspired them,” said Nancy Dubuc, the president and general manager of the History channel. “It sort of ups the entertainment value of the show.”

“It’s not about dates, facts and dead people,” she added. “It’s about presenting a very rich story in an engaging and entertaining way, and along the way, lo and behold, hopefully millions of people will watch something that they hadn’t anticipated they would watch.”

I read a lot of great women’s history – (check out anything written by Glenda Riley, a historian of the American West)  — when I researched my first book, about American women and guns, and learned that entire swaths of Colorado and Wyoming had been homesteaded exclusively by women, for whom being armed and ready to shoot was a matter of life or death. Many women fought in the Civil War, even those heavily pregnant, their gender or condition undetected by their comrades in arms, and detailed in the great book, “They Fought Like Demons” by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook.

Too often, as women know, history books typically focus on wealth and power, those narratives told and driven by men. Women, confined for centuries to domestic or religious life, often seem almost invisible.

A wildly popular series for kids, (now available on DVD) is Horrible Histories, filled with gruesome/alluring details like the fact it took two swings to lop off Mary Queen of Scots’ head. The series has sold 11 million copies in the UK and 20 million worldwide, with the accompanying books translated into 31 languages.

Something is working when there’s such hunger for history amongst the young ‘uns.

Some of my favorite recent reads have been social histories of Paris, Roy Porter’s portraits of London and of England in the 18th. century. I enjoyed David McCullough’s history of the Brooklyn Bridge, although he skimped on the juicy details of how Washington Roebling’s wife Emily saved his butt; it was she who took charge of the project — this, in the male-dominated 1880s — after he fell ill with the bends.

I fell in love with well-told history when I read a history of medicine in my early teens, introducing me to a roster of heroes, from Hippocrates, Galen and Harvey to Jenner and Semmelweiss.

How many of you know — for example — that most babies born (in North America anyway), have an Apgar test within minutes of birth? Did you know the test is named for a woman, Virginia Apgar, a pilot and Columbia University’s first female medical professor?

What history taught in school — before you had a choice in college — do you remember best and why?

Do you ever read history now for pleasure? Which periods and authors do you like?

A Little Solitude Is A Powerful Thing: A Room Of One's Own, Even For A Week

In behavior, women on January 8, 2010 at 8:01 am
Portrait of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Viginia Woolf, one of my favorite writers. Image via Wikipedia

Silence. Solitude. Space.

These are three of the most prized commodities anyone creative — hell, anyone — can enjoy. In a culture packed with buzzing, beeping distractions, one that races all the time at top speed and scoffs at those slowpokes who dawdle, having a calm, quiet, private physical space to oneself, with only the hum of the fridge, the rumble (in New York today) of the snowplow or the wind in the trees is a great luxury.

We tend to pity those who live alone, imagining them sad and dreary, pining for company and amusement. Many who live solo, in fact, deeply prize their privacy and quiet.

I’ve been on my own for a whole week, my partner away on business. I’ll join him tomorrow, but oooooh the luxury of not having to clean up or cook or tidy up or be civilized for a while. Feels good to be feral.

Last night I devoured an entire book, “Drive”, by Daniel Pink. Turned off the TV, wasn’t enjoying lively conversation, wasn’t worried about dinner. Just read non-stop, gulping it down.

As many know, it was Virginia Woolf, lecturing to university women, who suggested that every woman needs her own money and a room of her own in order to create.

She’s right. A woman seen to be ignoring the needs of her loved ones is often considered a selfish, wretched demon, no matter how divided she feels between what new work she needs to create and what she has already chosen — family — to create. It’s no wonder some of the world’s most highly creative women eschew marriage and motherhood to get on with their own work, uninterrupted, unharried, undistracted by the jammy hands and dirty socks of people they might adore but whose relentless needs also take up a lot of time and energy.

One of my favorite women creators, whose invention — ironically — helps check the health of newborn babies, was someone who never married, Columbia University physician Dr. Virginia Apgar, for whom the test is named. Her dream, as a devoted amateur aviatrix, was to fly under the George Washington Bridge.

Read any issue of any women’s magazine aimed at those with partners and children, and you’ll find an article on carving out a bit of time and space for yourself. A woman wanting to be alone, like Greta Garbo, is seen as a little odd.

Maybe she’s just…thinking.

Cuban Woman Blogger Wins Major Columbia Award — Can She Come Get It?

In Media, women on October 1, 2009 at 11:25 am
Low Memorial Library

Columbia's campus, not easy for a Cuban to visit. Image via Wikipedia

Yoani Sanchez is 34, lives in Havana where she teaches Spanish and writes a blog about life in Cuba, widely praised for her insights and writing. This year, she won a special citation from the Maria Moors Cabot prize — awarded by Columbia University for coverage of Latin America. This year’s other three winners are male, all writing on staff for mainstream major publications — The New York Times, USA Today and O Globo, a Brazilian paper.

Sanchez is the only woman, and the only blogger.

She writes in her blog she is trying to get permission to attend the ceremony in New York, on the Columbia campus, October 14. I’ve been to one of these events, then cheering for my friend Ginger Thompson, who won it for her coverage of the area for The New York Times and it’s, of course, a terrific moment to see a journo’s talent and tenacity recognized. Women foreign correspondents in Latin America face a number of challenges, but Yoani’s toughest obstacle might actually be getting onto a plane heading to New York City.

I hope she gets to come and collect her hard-earned award.

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