The Scariest Couples Talk Of All – M-m-m-m-m-money

A Chinese shopper looks at the US dollar bills...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Do you know what your partner, husband or wife earns, spends, saves and invests? Do you know their FICO score? (And vice versa)?


Today’s New York Times has a terrific column on the four issues every couple needs to grapple with before marriage or serious commitment: ancestry, credit, control and affluence. We all bring patterns of spending influenced by our families of origin. Credit is how many of us get through life, whether a car loan, college loan or mortgage, but you can’t get far with a lousy FICO score. Control is the toughest. I don’t want to tell my partner he can’t play a round of golf, but when a day’s outing at a decent public course where we live costs $100, I wince every time he reaches for the clubs. Not fair, not fun. Somehow, we have to figure it out so I, too, can have my amusements without asking permission for every one of them.

Affluence is another challenge to unpack, certainly in a recession where the lifestyle you thought you married can suddenly fly out the window with job loss, prolonged job searches and perhaps a new job at half the old salary. Living “for richer, for poorer” tests any marriage, but especially one where no one’s hopes or expectations have ever been explicitly acknowledged or discussed.
Talking frankly about money and what you want to do with it — whether blowing it on a pair (or five) of Jimmy Choos or a new set of clubs or saving up a six-month emergency fund — is rarely easy. People set up housekeeping every day with no idea what their partner really values most or knowing how to even initiate the conversation. So many of us avoid it. Bad idea. I was so deliberately, lazily ignorant while married to an M.D. I did not know who held our mortgage nor the amount nor the due date. He walked out, for good, the day it was due. Ooops.

This week has been a real financial come-to-Jesus moment at our house for two reasons; my sweetie’s newspaper employer suddenly announced the need to cut 100 jobs before Christmas, including buyouts. No pressure. And we’re hoping to refinance our mortgage, reducing the interest rate from a usurious 8 percent to 5 or thereabouts. That means — ugh — writing out all our assets and liabilities so the bank can shine a light into every imaginable orifice. Before the bank sees it, we’ve seen it. Shriek.

Have that talk. Today!

Yesterday, Upstairs At La Grenouille — Heaven!

Christmas menu from a restaurant in Paris duri...
Image via Wikipedia

There are still a few Manhattan restaurants that satisfy my multiple desires for a calm, peaceful and lovely space with lots of room between the tables, enormous floral arrangements, quietly competent and unobtrusive wait-staff, excellent food and the time to fully savor all of it. A place worth dressing up for, but not one demanding I carry a $5,000 handbag and attitude to match.

This week, after many years living here, I finally walked through the doors of the legendary La Grenouille, a 47-year-old fixture at 3 East 52d., a world away — although mere steps — from the frenzied insanity of Fifth Avenue’s fanny-packed tourist hordes.

Upstairs is a narrow room, with white-painted brick walls, lit by three 20-foot-tall lead-paned windows. A huge rug in the lightest shades of yellow, cream and green. A highly polished dark wood table marks the entrance. There are only five white-tableclothed tables, with another at the top of the stairs beneath a skylight, shaded by palms. Each has a small, perfect floral arrangement. There are paintings and drawing everywhere. You feel as if you’ve stumbled into someone’s private home, and you have. For many years, this was the home and studio of French painter Bernard LaMamotte — and before that, in the 1800s, the stable housing the horses of the owners of the mansion across the street, now the Cartier boutique. Those tall windows were once used to bring in hay.

It is, wrote Vanity Fair last year, “a private dining room of such beauty that one could be talked into becoming bedridden as long as one’s bed were there.”

The waiters wear starched white jackets and do not, thank God, introduce themselves or try to chat you up. I ate my first, delicious, cheese souffle. My Dad — celebrating the sale of my latest book — treated. Six elegant Germans sat at one table, two bored Britons at another and half a dozen Frenchmen huddled around the table at the top of the stairs. We passed on dessert but were brought a tiny silver server with thumb-sized madeleines and tuiles, just the perfectly tiny hit of sweetness to go with the dark, rich coffee in white Bernadaud cups. (Yes, I peeked.)  There are three prix-fixe lunches, the least $29 for three courses. I could see spending my last $29 on it.

As we left, I discovered that one of my favorite books was begun in that very room, “The Little Prince”, this historic fact marked outside by a bronze plaque on the wall. Some people might find this sort of classic French food and service oppressive and stuffy. I loved it.

Date My Dad!

Toronto Eaton Centre, the largest shopping mal...
Toronto's Eaton Center; meet him here for coffee! Image via Wikipedia

There are moments you’re never quite ready for. Giving your Dad dating advice — after two years’ mourning his late wife after a 40-year marriage — is one of those. He’s with us in New York this week recovering from a not-great first foray back into the social fray. He’s not a bridge/golf/club kind of guy, and actually a little shy despite having had a wildly interesting life — from corresponding with Aldous Huxley to directing a grizzly bear — so we think he should try on-line dating.

So we’re planning to: 1) take a gorgeous photo (my sweetie is a professional photographer) 2) carefully write and edit a profile for him 3) advise him on the basics (meet in public, coffee only at first) 4) troll some women’s ads to see who’s out there already. He lives in Toronto, but has also lived in England, Ireland, Mexico and France and is always up for adventure — eager now to go cycling in Cuba (workable with a Canadian or non-U.S. passport.)

Here’s the basics, if anyone’s interested: award-winning former film-maker, world traveler (including Syria, Jordan, Japan, Brazil, Bolivia), athletic (rides his bike daily), makes a great tagine, skilled artist (etching, engraving, oils, silver). Passionate about sailing and antiques. He’s 75+ but reads a high-energy 60. Funny, fun, good company. Yeah, we’re a little biased, but we’d like to see him find a terrific partner.

What do you think? Has your silver-haired Mom or Dad tried on-line dating? How did it work out?

From Journo to Author: Best-Seller Ulrich Boser and Kelsey Timmerman

Cover of "The Gardner Heist: The True Sto...
Cover via Amazon

In this final installment of J-Day focused on bookwriting, here’s a Q and A with two recent non-fiction authors.

Ulrich Boser is a good friend of mine in D.C. His book, published in early 2009, went into its fourth printing within weeks, an account of the largest art theft in history and one that remains unsolved. (I was one of his “first readers”, so got to see the manuscript before his editor did. I couldn’t put it down.) Kelsey took the brave, bold and unusual step of taking out a second mortgage to travel the world reporting his book “Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing background

UB: I’ve worked as a writer, reporter, and researcher for the past ten years. I’ve been lucky, and my work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Slate, and Smithsonian, among others. In general, I cover social policy topics. I’m particularly interested in education and criminal justice issues.

KT: I’m a new dad, a recovering SCUBA instructor, and a traveler-turned-writer. At first I traveled for traveling’s sake — to experience the freedom of the open road and all that jazz. I was a bum. It was pure. It was beautiful. And then, the writing bug bit me and now travel plays second fiddle to writing. I can no longer bum. If I’m not working on a story, or what could become a story, I’ve got to move on to one or I’ll go nuts. My writing career started in Key West, which seems kind of romantic, but it really wasn’t.  I wrote a column about my travels for the local weekly paper.  I got paid $0 per column and lived in an attic accessed by a fold-down ladder.  I tried to place the column in other newspapers with a little success.  Let me define little — I contacted every newspaper in the country with a circulation greater than 15,000 and got in to about three.

Eventually I started to place some freelance pieces with some decent-sized papers including the Christian Science Monitor, which was my first weighty clip.  On the strength of those clips, I got more and started to record essays for the World Vision Report which airs on NPR. “Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes“, my first book, was published last year.  The book dropped about the same time as my first child.  For those authors who say releasing a book to the world is like having a child…uh, no.  My book has never projectile pooped all over me. It’s been a crazy year.

Where did you get the idea for this book?

UB: In late 2004, I wrote a story for U.S. News & World Report about a man called Harold Smith. He was one of the world’s most successful art detectives. He had recovered lost Renoirs; he had exposed forged Da Vincis. And Smith had worked the Gardner case for years. But within weeks of our meeting, Smith died of skin cancer, and after his death, I wanted to pick up where he left off on the case and tell his story of working the case. I landed a book contract from the Smithsonian Books imprint of HarperCollins, and the resulting book, The Gardner Heist, was released earlier this year. The book did much better than I ever expected. It got fantastic reviews and became a national bestseller. I felt very fortunate.

KT: Herve Villechaize, or more specifically Herve Villechaize’s face, gave me the idea.His devilish mug, which he lent to the character Tattoo on the 70s hit Fantasy Island, was emblazoned on my favorite T-shirt.  “COME WITH ME TO MY,” hung over his head and “TROPICAL PARADISE,” sat just beneath his dimpled chin. I was curious where Tattoo’s tropical paradise was. I looked at the tag; it read Made in Honduras. What if I went to the countries where my clothes were made and met the people who made them? Where was I wearing? As someone who has never needed much of an excuse to travel anywhere, this sounded like fun. Off I went.

When did you really think it might become a book — how did you develop it?

UB: I’m not sure that I can recall when exactly that I knew that it might become a book. But I always knew it was a good story, one that seemed worthy of a book-length treatment. There were great characters like Smith. There were incredible stories. And there was a serious social problem that I thought needed to be highlighted. According to experts, the stolen art trade is one of the world’s largest black markets, a $4 to $6 billion illegal business, and it’s increasingly being used to fund other illegal activities like drug running and terrorism. Plus, the paintings lost from the Gardner museum are true masterpiece — they need to be returned. There was also an excellent film made about Smith and his effort to return the art that served as an inspiration of sorts. It was called Stolen and was made by Rebecca Dreyfus.

KT: Since my initial inspiration courtesy of Tattoo, I thought it would make a great book. I did a little research and headed to Honduras. In Honduras, I did a lot of things that had nothing to do with my Tattoo T-shirt. I explored the jungle on the Mosquito Coast with my brother, who later contracted malaria (he’s okay). For a very brief moment I shared a dugout canoe with a deadly fer-de-lance. (The snake stayed in the canoe; I jumped into the river.)  On my very last day in Honduras I tracked down the factory that made my shirt and came face-to-face with a worker named Amilcar. I had been telling myself that this was the reason I was in Honduras, but once I had the opportunity to ask Amilcar about his life, I couldn’t do it. Part of me wanted to know what his life was like, but the other part was quite content not knowing, maybe even a little scared about what I would learn.

I left Honduras knowing very little about my Tattoo T-shirt or the workers who made it, and abandoned the idea of meeting the people who made the rest of my clothes. When I got home I was haunted by the fact that I wasn’t able to ask Amilcar the questions I wanted to.  I became totally obsessed with where my clothes came from, pulled out my favorite items, and booked a ticket to Bangladesh where my Jingle These Christmas boxers were made.

How and where did you find your agent?

UB: My agent is Gillian Mackenzie. I connected with her through a mutual friend Josh Landis. He and I had known each other through a journalism fellowship program, and he put me in touch with Gillian, who has been simply fantastic, an agent without peer.

KT: I met my agent, Caren Johnson, at a writers’ conference in my hometown, Muncie, Indiana.  Yep, it’s not exactly the hotbed of the literary world, but it worked out. Caren was hosting a table at which agent-hungry authors could pick her brain for 15 minutes.  I bellied up to the table and, when I was able to, worked in my question: “I have another agent interested in my book.  How does that process work? What questions should I ask?” I wasn’t lying.  I really did have another agent interested.  Before I left for my three-month tour to Bangladesh, Cambodia, and China, an agent contacted me after stumbling on my blog.  This was amazing because I had a about three people that followed the blog, and I’m pretty sure two of them were my mom. Anyhow, Caren never did answer my questions.  Instead she asked me what my book was about.  Then I had two agents interested!  A few weeks later I signed with Caren because she had the most enthusiasm for the project.

Tell us about writing and refining, then selling the proposal

UB: In general, I found the experience of writing a book to be far more work than I expected. And that began with the book proposal. I worked on it for weeks. I went through dozens of different drafts and approaches. Gillian was key — she kept pushing me to make the proposal more narrative, more focused on story and character, and that really helped. In the end, the proposal was some 70 or so pages and that included an outline of the book as well as two sample chapters.

KT: I read enough of the How-To Write a Book Proposal books to be utterly confused.  Eventually I chucked them and just did it. Caren helped a ton, especially with the market mumbo-jumbo.  She also made suggestions on my sample chapter and gave me what I believe to be the best bit of advice I’ve received about a proposal: there’s a difference between writing a proposal and writing a book.I took all of my best parts and jammed them into the sample chapter.  When I eventually wrote the book, those bits were divied up throughout the book. After a few rounds of suggestions from Caren and edits from my high school English teacher, the submission process began. Two months later I had a contract with John Wiley & Sons.

What was the most challenging aspect of researching and writing your book?

UB: The research of the Gardner case. No question. The advance gave me an opportunity to really dive into the caper, and I ran down countless leads, I spoke to countless people. I hired private investigators to help me shadow suspects. I visited maximum-security prisons to talk with jailed mobsters. This is an unsolved case, and you can blame the missing art, you can blame the $5 million reward, but this case has a deep and seductive power. You hear about the heist and the paintings and then, suddenly, without any warning, you’re trying to crack the museum riddle. One source called the Gardner case, “the crack cocaine of theft.”

KT: Living it. The narrative was what I did, where I went, whom I met, and what I saw.  When life is supposed to be a narrative thread, there is a lot of pressure to make it interesting.  But you can’t really force such things. You just hope that each day’s activities produced scrawled notes that can be made sense of and fit together with the rest of your notes at a later date. When you’re living a narrative thread, it’s really tough to see it.  It took a lot of long hours in my office digging through my notes and trimming away all of the less significant threads.   There were a few false starts, here and there, but overall the writing process went great, which was a good thing because my editor needed my completed manuscript in four months from the time I signed.

How did you support yourself financially during the process? What other work did you do to bring in income — was it tough to juggle it all?

UB: I’m a freelance writer and editor, and while I worked on the book, I continued to write stories for other magazines and newspapers. I wrote a piece about man-made diamonds for Smithsonian magazine, for instance. I also wrote articles for think tanks and served as the research director for an education policy project that graded the states on their systems of education. While it was difficult sometimes to juggle all the various projects, I enjoy having a diverse portfolio of work. It’s also important to me that I’m working on something that’s going to make a real difference, whether it’s investigating wrong-doing or putting a human face on a social problem. Having a diverse portfolio allows me to do that.

KT: There’s a fine line between “published author” and “crazy.” My wife and I got engaged in November of 2007, bought a house in March of 2008, and in April I went to Bangladesh because that’s where my underwear were made.  Yikes! That sounds really irresponsible.  It would’ve been less so if I had a book deal and half an advance to cover expenses, but I didn’t. However, I did have a cool little thing called a second mortgage.  Basically, you buy a home and the bank gives you money!  What’s not to love about that? I don’t think they exist anymore. I had a little money saved up and a few assignments from the World Vision Report. Our second mortgage was supposed to be a cushion, but then our home’s AC/furnace went belly up. Second mortgage to the rescue!

What’s the best advice you would offer to a would-be non-fiction author?

UB: Two thoughts. In terms of writing, I’ve also always thought that this Ernest Hemingway quote was painfully true: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And in terms of the book process, the sooner that you learn that you are on your own, the better. I love my editor. I love my agent. They were both perfectly wonderful — they were always there for me when I needed help or advice. And I often needed it. But the process of writing a book is much different than writing a magazine article or working with a team to produce special report. It’s a very different experience. You’re far more responsible. You’re on your own much more.

KT: Go to writing conferences. Yes, they can be painful. If I have to sit through one more session on how to write a query letter, I’ll spend the workshop writing query letters to hitmen to off me so I won’t have to suffer any longer. But, if you’re like I was, and have zero connections in publishing and don’t even know anyone who has written a book, writing conferences are huge. I met an editor of the Christian Science Monitor at a conference in Dayton, Ohio. I just ‘happened’ to share an elevator with her, and I just ‘happened’ to sit beside her at lunch. She remembered a piece I had pitched her a few months back, (Remember I queried every newspaper in the nation with a circulation over 15,000). After the conference I sent her a new piece and she published it. That publication led to radio essays, which led to more opportunities, and eventually a book. And, of course, I met my agent at a conference. I wouldn’t have a book today or much of a writing income at all if it weren’t for attending writing conferences.

Anything else you’d like to add?

KT: Never stop wanting it. Some have told me that I’m fortunate to have had a book published before I turned 30. I appreciate the comment, but deep down when I hear this I’m thinking about the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written and the hundreds of rejections and no-responses I’ve received in the eight years I’ve been writing. There was some luck involved, but there was way more hard work. I’m sure some become authors in less than eight years, some in more. Regardless, there is one thing that every author (who hasn’t been kidnapped, landed a plane on a river in a major American city, or cut off a limb with a pocketknife) shares…

They didn’t sit around hoping to be published. They wanted it, so they went out and got it.

UB: Thanks for the opportunity!

I hope this series has been fun and helpful. Please email any ideas or suggestions for future J-Days!

Killian's Album, Made In His Final Days With Cancer — At 16

NEW YORK - MARCH 08:  Drummer and singer Levon...
Levon Helm; Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Many ambitious young musicians might be thrilled to play, and record, with legends like Levon Helm, John Pizzarelli or John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. For Killian Mansfield, who died at 16 last summer of a rare cancer, synovial sarcoma, that invades tissue and bone, making a CD was his final wish. The album cover of “Somewhere Else” is a photo of him, sepia-tinted, at a small-town train station near his home in upstate New York.

Phil Mansfield, his Dad — and a friend and colleague of ours who is a freelance photographer — took the photo and those accompanying this story in New York magazine. We met Killian a few years ago when his cancer was in remission and Phil and Babs had moved out of the city to run a local general store and cafe. Babs is an amazing cook, Phil a fun, warm, energetic man and their commitment to their community of West Shokan touched many locals, some of them well-known musicians.

“The fact he was a kid, the fact he was sick — I forgot about that in two minutes,” Sebastian says. “He was a pro, someone who knew how to express himself fully with an instrument.” Adds Pizzarelli: “When I got there, I thought I was on a kind of playdate, right? Then Killian starts playing his ukelele and I was like Oh really?” He knew chord voicings that, for a lack of a better way of putting it, I knew. Soon he was showing me things. No joke, the kid was totally schooling me.”

Money raised from sales of the album will go to Hope & Heroes, a program at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital helping children with cancer.

I Want A Neanderthal Man!

Nalazište pračovjeka Krapina
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t care how fast you can text. How high can you jump? How fast can you run? How much can you carry?

Today’s men, thanks to sedentary lives and a machine available to perform or ease almost every form  of physical work, have become slow-moving weaklings. A new book by Australian writer Peter McAllister explains — using anthropology and history — just how wimpy modern man has become.

Here’s a story about him.

I’ve only dated one guy who worked an intensely physical job, as a a ship’s engineer. Just getting to the hot and dangerous engine room meant climbing up and down a steep metal ladder several times a day. He was lean, muscled and wiry, a totally different creature from any man I’ve met before or since.

There is something comforting, however retro, to know your man has a few muscles in addition to his Phd or MBA. If I can do a fireman’s carry and drag his atrophied, overeducated bum out of a burning building, I want to feel secure he can do the same for me.

No Novenas, Thanks — I'm Staying Anglican

St James's Anglican Church
Image by jofo2005 via Flickr

The Catholic church has sent shock waves throughout the Anglican communion by creating a way to ease Anglican conversion to Catholicism. Those horrified by homosexual priests and bishops, same-sex blessings and women priests are hungry for a spiritual home that ratifies their prejudices.

Not me.

The Anglican faith is premised on what’s called the three stools; faith, tradition and reason. Reason. I can’t attend any church or listen to any preacher who doesn’t explicitly, as this church does, welcome my questions, my intelligence, my doubts and challenges. It’s because we bring our own ideas that debate and change and growth can even happen, no matter how terrifying it is for some people. We also govern our own church through bishops — the Anglican church is also called Episcopal, which means ruled by bishops. We do not bow to one leader in a far-off land handing out encyclicals.

I loathe dogma. Yet I also deeply value tradition and symbols, incense and liturgy, “smells and bells, capes and drapes” as my minister — Nora, a woman — said yesterday at lunch. My Dad, who joined us visiting from Canada, later said he was surprised that Nora didn’t seem to mind my salty tongue. A refuge from corporate life, like many mid-career women coming into ministry, Nora feels like someone I can relate to, even while respecting her authority.

I have never been a Catholic and have spent very little time in or near Catholic traditions. But women are not allowed to become Catholic priests — which the Anglican church began in 1975. That alone is one reason I cannot imagine ever leaving a denomination that so obviously and clearly manifests its commitment to spiritual needs of all its members, not just bowing to the traditional primacy of men.

Nora was recently installed as the rector of our 150-year-old church. I wept with pride and pleasure. I was thrilled and surprised to see so many other women ministers show up for this important ceremony, offering her their moral, emotional and spiritual support. It felt like having a crowd of unicorns in our pews to see so many women at once wearing clerical robes and collars.

Power is something women everywhere fight for daily, in ways small and large, whether political, economic, intellectual, sexual, spiritual. No church that refuses women the pulpit can woo or win me.

21 Years In A Foreign Land — This One

several small American flags
Image via Wikipedia

I received my green card in 1988, and wrote an essay about it that ran October 22, 1988, in The Globe and Mail. I reprint it lower down in this post; I’m posting it today since tomorrow is J-Day’s final instalment, an interview with non-fiction authors Ulrich Boser and Kelsey Timmerman.

For those who choose to come to the U.S. — certainly after finishing all their schooling, i.e. mass socialization and creation of much of your social capital —  it’s an adjustment we rarely discuss with native or naturalized Americans. (The very word “naturallized” is one, sorry to say, that makes me bristle.) And the word “immigrant” is one often automatically affixed here to negative modifiers like “struggling” or “illegal” or “undocumented.” Yet millions of educated, ambitious, multilingual, professionally accomplished people choose to move to the U.S. not only to flee oppression or fear or starvation, but to better our opportunities, explore a new culture, learn firstand what it means to be American, to live inside a nation and political culture that so often dominates the world stage. Canadians, especially, have a love-hate relationship with the U.S. Our newsstands are filled with 80 percent American material and, growing up in Toronto, we knew the names of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga, Buffalo suburbs whose newscasts we saw. Yet, certainly before the Internet, that traffic was relentlessly one-way. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal closed up their correspondents’ offices in Toronto ages ago and, unless (why?) you’re deeply curious about that land of 30 million to the north, Canada remains little-known to many Americans.
I’m not sure there is any other border so culturally osmotic as the 49th. parallel, yet where culture, values and politics move only in one direction; ask any Canadian the capital of the U.S., and I’m sure they know the answer. I once worked with a Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Rhodes finalist — do they get much more credentialled? — who did not know ours. It doesn’t matter, right? Actually, it does. The U.S. and Canada  — every daydo $1.5 billion worth of trade with one another, by far the most inter-related (quietly, largely invisibly) in the world. That sort of wilfull ignorance — hey, they’re just like us, just more boring/polite/better hockey players — is really offensive and becomes even more so as the global economy becomes a fact of life. (But we’re too polite to tell you that.)

Malcolm Gladwell, a fellow University of Toronto alumnus raised in Ontario, recently told Time:

“I’m also lucky to be an outsider in America. A lot of what Americans take for granted I think of as strange and weird. I still don’t feel like I fully understand this country.”

Canadians are often seen as quieter, less interesting Americans and, like all immigrants, expected to blend into the melting pot as quickly and as best we can. I do love the irony that my two best professional opportunities in the past four months — in years — have come from smart and ambitious young women, both Canadian-born, both, like me, also living in New York.

Here’s my 1988 Globe essay: Continue reading “21 Years In A Foreign Land — This One”

Women Flyers Celebrated In New Book

Amelia Earhart
Amelia! Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

It’s one of my favorite words — aviatrix. A new book celebrates them, women like Harriet Quimby, who became America’s first woman to win a pilot’s license, but who died in 1912 when her plane fell 1,000 feet and crashed into Dorchester Bay off Boston. She was honored on a stamp in 1991. Or French flyer Marie Marvingt, so bold her nickname was “the fiancee of danger.”

A new film about Amelia Earhart, starring Hilary Swank, comes out soon. As someone who loves airplanes and travel, I can’t wait to see it. I once flew with my cousin in her Cessna over the mountains of California at sunset from Santa Barbara to her home in Bakersfield. She was calm and quiet when she radioed the tower for a priority landing. I looked out the window at the sunset and pretended not to hear her. We landed fine, despite an electrical malfunction.

I dream of learning to fly, but in the meantime, still a little nervous, safely satisfy my curiosity instead by grilling every pilot I meet. My sweetie knows I’m often the very last person off the aircraft as I spend a few minutes peering wistfully into the cockpit.

A 16-Year-Old Girl Is Sailing The World Solo. Brave Or Stupid?

Sydney Harbor Bridge from Bennelong Point
Image via Wikipedia

And — she’s off, in a 34-foot pink yacht.

Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Australian, has begun a 23,600 mile journey, alone. She left Sydney harbor Sunday hoping to become the world’s youngest sailor to complete the voyage.

Not sure why the yacht had to be pink, as the deadly and inevitable icebergs and swells and gales she’ll face won’t care if she’s a boy or a girl. Solo sailing is no joke, and the bravest and best-prepared of professionals have met their watery graves in such endeavors. Frenchwoman Isabelle Autissier, who is 53, twice escaped death in icy Antarctic waters as she soloed in professional races.

There was much controversy recently when a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Laura Dekker, was halted from her hopes of doing a solo circumnavigation, even removing her from her parents’ sole custody.

I covered professional sail racing for several years for The New York Times and others. I traveled to Sydney and Auckland to interview pro women sailors competing in the Volvo Round the World Race (then called the Whitbread) and quickly saw the very real, very serious risks women undertake when they pit themselves against the elements, certainly alone and in the most vicious conditions. I even dreamed of one day competing aboard such a boat.

Then the vessel I was focusing on, an all-female crew, lost its mast and rigging en-route north from Auckland and had to make an emergency stop in Ushuaia, a remote part of Argentina. They, at least, had quick, ready, multi-million-dollar sponsored access to help.

I’m all for women making and breaking the toughest of athletic and adventure records. We’ll see how far Watson’s pink boat carries her. I certainly wish her the best.