The Boy In The Moon — His Disabled Child

98% Waxing (For Jeff)
Image by Paul L. Nettles via Flickr

We all know, and sometimes deeply envy, people like them: good-looking, blessed with interesting well-paid work they excel at. It all looks so easy. We never know the inside story, until or unless there is a crack in that gleaming, polished exterior.

Ian Brown, a name known by many Canadians and few Americans as a funny, smart award-winning writer, is one of those people. We met a few decades ago when we both worked at The Globe and Mail, he a dishy blond with an intriguingly broken nose and an air of supreme confidence highly unusual in a nation, that like Australia, adheres to the “tall poppy” syndrome — stick up too high and, to punish you for your hubris, you will be cut down.

In Brown’s case, it was the birth of his son, Walker, now 13, born with a severe disability shared by 100 people in the world that leveled him and his wife, Johanna Schneller a fellow journalist, whose work has appeared in major glossy American magazines. This child, and how their lives have been forever changed by his challenges, is the subject of his new memoir, “The Boy In The Moon,” termed “a work of art” in the Globe’s review.

Ian is one of the best and most honest writers I know. I hope you’ll check it out.

Where Do You Want To Go (Next?)

Beach sunset in Cuba.
Image via Wikipedia

This photo is taken in Cuba. My Dad, (who like me has a Canadian passport so we could visit easily enough), keeps trying to get me to go cycling there with him. He’s 80, went a few years back, loved it. I admit, though, it’s not highest on my list, but I do still share his insatiable lust for travel. My mom traveled the world alone for many years and savors memories I still dream of acquiring. She saw the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan before the Taliban blew them to smithereens and has touched down in Nauru. She taught me to wedge a chair beneath my doorhandle when staying in a dodgy hotel, just in case. When I was in college and she roamed the globe, I’d see her once a year, imported to wherever she was then — Fiji, Cartagena, Peru, Costa Rica.

When I was two, Mom and Dad took the backseat out of their car and drove from Vancouver, my birthplace, to Mexico, a country I’ve lived in, been to many times and love. No wonder I’m happiest on the road!

Today’s New York Times includes in their travel magazine the news that many travelers, with tighter budgets and perhaps craving the familiar in rough times, are returning to old stand-bys like London or Tuscany. As someone whose shelves bulge with travel books and guides, whose Times Atlas, passport and green card are some of my most precious possessions, I spend a lot of time dreaming of the next trip. I’ll be going to Atlanta in three weeks for three days, for a board meeting, a new-to-me city. After that, Toronto (hometown) for Christmas, then Tucson and New Mexico for vacation in January.

When I have more income and time, I’ll head for some more places on my list: Argentina and Patagonia; the South Sea Islands, Jordan and Lebanon; Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia; Morocco; The Magdalen Islands and Gros Morne National Park. My sweetie, a Buddhist, is desperate to get to Tibet and would love to see Ireland (which I’ve been to, luckily, four times.) I won’t return (sorry if these are your faves) to: Austin, (the Times raves about it, again, today) Salt Lake City, Orlando, Cabo San Lucas.

My top 10, so far: the tiny northern town of Mae Hong Son, Thailand; the island of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand; Galway City; Paris; London; Peru; Corsica; Tunisia [Tunis’ Bardo Museum has one of the world’s best mosaic collections]; Istanbul, Stockholm.

Where do you want to go next? What are some of your favorite places and why?

Finally Heard One Of My Idols — Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne
Image by Rob Stemple via Flickr

I’m not normally an obsessive fan, but I lovelovelove the raspy voice and great lyrics of Kentucky-born Joan Osborne, who I finally saw in concert for the first time last night after discovering her years ago through a favorite New York radio station, WFUV. If you know her music, you know it’s bluesy and belted with a power that seems unimaginable. She played a bunch of stuff from her new album, while the guy behind me kept shouting out his urgent request for “One Of Us” at regular intervals, which if you are a Joan Osborne fan, you know as her huge hit from 1995. I really wanted to hear it as well, but let him yell for me.

She finally sang it and the guy behind me and I went totally nuts with joy. I admit it, I burst into tears because that song gets me every time:

“What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home?”

If I were a minister, it would be my only hymn.

Here’s a funky video of her singing “St. Teresa”, complete with mandolin. Enjoy!

Female Students "A Perk" For Their Profs Says British College Administrator

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Yeah, that’s why women go to university. To give their male profs the…inspiration…to go home and shag their better half.

So says this guy who thinks having a bit of cute, flirtatious female flesh is one of those things male profs can look forward to each year as they head back into their classrooms.

“She will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife,” wrote Terence Kealy, vice-chancellor at Buckingham University. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there were more than 500 comments on The Guardian’s website, where I found this little gem. Hard to know who to pity more, his wife, his employer or his students.

Can we say “tuition refund?”

Canadians Have Magnetic Breasts…Thanks To Cool New Bra

Woman wearing a bra
Image via Wikipedia

How I love my native land. A bra with no hooks! A new magnetic bra has been…unveiled that sells for $33.95 and comes in three models, test-driven by real women with normal breasts that need good, solid, unbudging support. (You AA-cup girls will just have to wait at the end of the line.)

Any irritated woman who’s wasted way too much time and energy fishing fruitlessly around her back for a regular bra’s two or three little hooks, which half the time end up bent or flattened and unreachable, knows this is seriously great news. Yes, there are bras that open in the front, thank heaven, but the little plastic thingy all too often jams into your thorax. When I go north for the holidays, I’m definitely in the market for one of these babies.

Men interviewed about the bra report frustration as, apparently, this bra is a little tougher to open than the old-fashioned kind. Progress, gentlemen, demands adaptation.

"It's Hard To Pull Yourself Up By The Bootstraps When You Don't Have Boots": Great New Doc Opens Today

Keating Hall, Rose Hill, Fordham University.
Image via Wikipedia

For thousands of American students living in poverty, getting into a decent college remains an impossible dream. A new, terrific documentary, The Providence Effect, opens today in New York City, DC (and area), Chicago and Newark, that tells the story of Providence St. Mel, a Chicago legend, a school that for 30 years has sent every single graduate to college. Go see it!

Its unlikely star is principal Paul Adams III who pushes his students, K-12, out of one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods into possibility — 100 percent of its graduates attend college, with more than half attending top-tier and Ivy League institutions. He teaches them to produce and expect only the very best of themselves. Nothing less is accepted.

Adams and his tough-love administrators and teachers offer an extraordinary and consistent brand of discipline. Each morning, every student from the tiniest kids to seniors, recites the school’s motto, a mantra so powerful and moving that grads — the doctors and lawyers who come back years later to visit — can still say it by heart. The kids are funny, touching, honest. We watch one new teacher scolded sharply on-camera. We watch parents sign contracts with the school committing to regular meetings to track their child’s progress.

The soundtrack, by Tom Dumont, of the band No Doubt, is gorgeous.

Producer/director Rollin Binzer said the toughest part of making the film — financed by a Providence St. Mel board member — was “the electric atmosphere of excitement about learning at the school that is more visceral than visual. It was very difficult to capture that.” Binzer, who attended Palm Springs High School, in Palm Springs, CA, said that in making the film he “realized how important leadership and simply caring is in running a successful school. There is an educational crisis in this country that nobody seems to know how to fix.”

The film opens in L.A. October 2, in the Bay area October 16 and in Atlanta October 30.

The headline I used is spoken by one of the students in the film. Like the rest of this movie, it rings true.

If She's Really Not Skinny, You'll Pay For Lying About It; Proposed French Law Would Penalize Altered Models

Union for a Popular Movement
Image via Wikipedia

A new French law would penalize any form of editorial or advertising imagery, from newspapers and magazines, to billboards and packaging, that portrays women as unnaturally thin — when  they’ve really been altered into an artificial and unreal shape by manipulating the images.

A group of 50 French politicians , reports the Telegraph, want a new law stating published images must have bold printed notice stating they have been digitally enhanced.

According to the paper:

Campaigning MP Valerie Boyer, of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the wording should read:”Retouched photograph aimed at changing a person’s physical appearance”.

Mrs Boyer, who has also written a government report on anorexia and obesity, added: “We want to combat the stereotypical image that all women are young and slim.

“These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents. “Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age.

“In some cases this leads to anorexia or bulimia and very serious health problems.

“It’s not just a question of public health, but also a way of protecting the consumer.”

In Canada, cigarette packages, at the Government’s insistence, come with truly disgusting color photos of what damage smoking can do to the body. If these images of super-skinny girls and women keep driving their viewers to anorexia and bulimia in a hopeless and damaging attempt to emulate the impossible, maybe this is the way to fight back.

Maybe it’s really time for some truth in advertising.

Meeting Pete Souza — President Obama's Chief White House Photographer

Caitlin and Pete Souza at the Leica Gallery in NYC One of the thrills, for me anyway, of still working within news journalism is meeting the lions (and lionesses) of the industry, people whose skills and images literally  document history. Pete Souza, pictured here with me last night at the opening of his show, now on until November 7, 2009 at the Leica gallery at 670 Broadway in Manhattan, is one — as he is the official photographer for President Obama. The 63 color images in the show document the first 200 days of the Obama Presidency, and, unfortunately, are not available for sale. They were wonderful!

Some of them you already know well: the Obamas in their finery of inauguration night, forehead to forehead in a freight elevator. But seeing these images up close was amazing because every little detail was visible — now I know what shoes she wore, that her toes were painted pale pink, that the hem of her white gown glittered with paillettes. I wasn’t the only observer happily gulping down minutiae. “Wow, there’s at least eight strands on that necklace,” said two women leaning in close to an image of Michelle Obama dancing, wearing a thick pile of pearls.

A shot taken January 23 frames just the President’s hand reaching for his official desk phone. Who knew POTUS’ phone was so…ugly? It looks like an remnant from the 1970s, gray plastic, and I counted at least 50 square buttons, separate phone lines, on it. It even has a silvery metal Presidential seal on it, just in case someone’s not quite sure whose phone it is — although it’s the only one on his desk. His wedding ring is yellow gold and looks like it’s woven of rope in an African pattern. It’s unusual, elegant, memorable. The leather top of his desk is a rich deep mahogany leather, edged with a gold Greek key design, slightly worn. The image captures so much in one frame: history, tradition, the weight of the job (who are all those buttons calling?), Obama’s personal style.

“Briefing, February 2”, shows the President with his feet up on his desk (!), his leather chair reclined so far back it looks like it will tip over. It brims with confidence.

The extraordinary pleasure of these images is their extreme intimacy. Pete’s job is incredibly cool. He hangs out with the President as much as he is allowed to, (his job, basically, to become invisible), and, as a result of that unobtrusive trust, he captures moments of great tenderness — Obama hugging Sasha tightly in an elevator, Sasha lying down behind one of the Oval office’s pale yellow sofas, hiding, waiting to surprise her Dad. Even as the Obamas are making history, they’re real people living real lives.

I can’t imagine many other Presidents, or world leaders, scrambling on their knees as one shot shows him with Caroline Kennedy looking for his desk’s trap door. Or him leaning back, sitting on some stone steps in his suit in Paris, staring up into the sun at his advisors — looking like a high school student waiting for the bus. A shot taken May 20 shows Obama stretching his arms straight upward, his palms outstretched, his face upturned into the sun, taking a meeting in the Rose Garden. He looks blissful, relaxed.

The opening drew a glittering crowd, filled with photo stars like Pulitzer Prize winners Todd Heisler and Damon Winter (New York Times,) and Anthony Suau. David Alan Harvey, a National Geographic photographer attended, as did Pancho Bernasconi, assistant managing editor for new photos for Getty Images.

I wish I could offer T/S readers some firsthand news from Souza, (who is a former D.C. colleague of my sweetie), but Souza was not allowed to do interviews. I tried! (He graciously allowed my sweetie, a former D.C. colleague, to shoot the photo above, joking “He’s such a perfectionist!” True.)

Here’s an audio interview with him.

What Physical Pain Can Teach Us

According to Herbert Ponting, who took this ph...
Image via Wikipedia

Once more, my favorite New York Times writer, Dana Jennings, has hit it out of the park with today’s Cases essay, in Science Times, on facing excruciating pain.

Mothers who’ve experienced labor know it. Athletes who’ve torn an ACL know it. I felt it when I finally went to the hospital in 2007 with a 104 degree temperature as the result of pneumonia. On the hospital pain scale of 1-10, (10 being the worst ever), I was about a 15. Especially if, as Jennings writes, you come from a culture of stiff-upper-lip silence and non-medication, it’s tough to admit you’re in agony, and frightening to have to gulp down painkillers you know, like Vicodin, can become addictive. Some physical pain can feel as though it is eating you alive.

And as someone who’s had three orthopedic surgeries since 2000 and many painful months of physical therapy before and after each one, I know what even low-level chronic pain does to you. It wears you down, makes you bitchy, distracts you, makes you withdraw from work and friends, shortens your temper. The American Pain Foundation offers a wealth of ideas and links.

Here’s a well-reviewed book on the subject by Marni Jackson, a respected Canadian writer.

Journalists Losing Jobs At Three Times The National Average: Welcome to Entrepreneurial Life

Migrant Worker by David Shankbone, New York City
Image via Wikipedia

You know there’s a recession and you’ve sent out dozens, maybe hundreds of resumes. You know no one’s returning your calls.

What I didn’t know — until I read this report from Unity, a national group representing minority journalists — is why so many journalists are suddenly on their own. In one year, from September 2008 to August 2009, 35,885 of us lost our jobs — 24,511 of them in print media. While the economy on average lost jobs at a rate of 8 percent, for us it’s been 22 percent; almost three times the national month to month rate.

I got canned by the Daily News in June 2006, so had already been freelancing full-time again for a while by the time the hurricane hit. Even then, starting last August, I lost $2,300 to one deadbeat who declared bankruptcy, another $1,000 when a newspaper special section cancelled that issue, and my assignment, and another $12,000 when an editor who swore I could count on a year’s worth of columns in 2009 changed his mind. Many of us felt like cartoon characters who keep running even while they’ve run out of cliff and are falling fast into a steep canyon.

For many of us, and I’d say most over the age of 40 who’ve lost those print jobs — and I know some other T/S contributors are in this group — that’s it. You’re going digital or you’re leaving journalism entirely. That’s what a panel of four New York City headhunters told a standing-room only, wait-listed room full of journos last week. They ranged in age from fresh grads to gray-haired men and women clearly in their 50s, 60s or beyond. One headhunter with 20 years’ experience in New York publishing, Karen Danziger, (who once placed me as editor in chief of a trade magazine), said 80 percent of the jobs she is now asked to fill focus on producing digital content. Until you snag that next full-time job, that sound you hear is the steady squeak of the hamster wheel, pulling in paid work wherever you can find it.

The larger issue for anyone who fantasizes about the freelance life, as many cube-crushed souls still do, is making it pay. In journalism, at least, anyone can sit at a computer, make some calls, send some emails, have a few clever ideas. The barriers to entry as a journalist are so low as to be invisible. But when many articles still pay $500 or $1,000 or $1,500 — a very few will offer $6,000 or $8,000 — that’s a whole lot of hustling (while paying 15% to FICA and finding and affording full-cost free-market health insurance) to match even a salary of $40,000 or $60,000. As every entrepreneur knows, unpaid sick days are annoying while uncompensated holidays and long weekends, when no one you need answers their phone, can be an intrusion into your need to keep cashflow from slowing to a terrifying trickle.

Here’s a Washington Post piece, written by a grateful staffer, about what life is like as an entrepreneur.