Want To Find An Agent? Don't Send Letters Like These!

Old book bindings at the Merton College library.
Books. Yes, some day you, too will sell yours, with the right letter...Image via Wikipedia

This list of decidedly losing letters to one annoyed literary agent (and their unsent replies) is delicious, from mediabistro.com’s GalleyCat, the blog that follows the publishing industry:

“Greetings agent. I have written the most important book on earth.”

Will someone, for the love of God, please kill me.

If you really want to find an agent, find a writer who thinks your work is excellent and ask, very nicely, if they’ll share the name of their agent. That’s usually how it’s done. I found mine when I spoke at an event and her assistant suggested I write a memoir. I did.

Why No Pill Can Make Women Want More Sex

Let's talk about sex!
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If only.

Life would be so much simpler if all those women who only vaguely remember the last time they had sex could just pop a pill, as the makers of flibanserin, aka female Viagra, are so hoping.

Every woman knows it’s not that quick or easy.

Loved this example from a story in The New York Times:

Boehringer has also sponsored medical education classes for doctors and nurses about hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

In one course, released online in May, a quiz asked doctors to diagnose the condition of a 42-year-old working mother who takes care of three children and her own sick mother, and who had no desire for sex. (Her husband is mentioned only in passing.)

The correct answer? Schedule a follow-up visit to evaluate whether she has diagnosable hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

Gotta love the dogged persistence of Boehringer-Ingelheim, makers of such popular drugs as Mirapex (about which I wrote, whose bizarre side effects can cause sexual addiction). Think of all those frustrated, sex-less women dying for the Big O. Profit city!

Truth is, you can pop a fistful of pills and still lie there dead to the world….because, reality intrudes. Recession, unemployment, underemployment (yours, your kids’, your spouse’s or partner’s), college tuition bills, kids back home after college, your illness, your spouse and/or parents’ illnesses…

None of which makes you want to rip off your panties and chase your man around the bedroom. Many men these days are so whipped from even trying to keep their job, let alone find a new one, they’re not up for much either.

And, like it or not, some men are simply really lousy in bed. Their wives married them and some stay with them — for the kids, for the emotional security, for the lifestyle, for the companionship. But not, sad to say, for their horizontal abilities. (When in doubt about women’s ability to pretend everything’s great in bed to soothe male egos, rent “When Harry Met Sally” and watch her faking an orgasm in a very public place.)

No pill can make a man into a better lover. So a pill that rewires a woman’s brain to want more sex basically gives sexually lame men a Hail Mary pass, ignoring the deadening effect of their too-fast, too-slow, inept or inattentive lovemaking. Great!

The Facebook Effect — New Book Chronicles Life Inside 'A Company Of 25-Year-Olds'

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 21:  Facebook founder an...
Mark Zuckerberg. Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

Curious about Facebook and how it came to be? Check out this video, an interview with ex-Fortune magazine writer David Kirkpatrick about his new book The Facebook Effect.

Kirkpatrick, clearly not a man in his 20s, says he was given full access to the company and its employees after meeting its founder Mark Zuckerberg at Davos. Having abandoned earlier ideas for business books, on cellphones, IBM and Microsoft, Kirkpatrick gratefully realized he had an uparallelled opportunity to explore one of the world’s most popular companies.

And one, unlike many, full of 25-year-olds who talked too much, he told Mediabistro. Since Facebook is built upon principles of transparency, Kirkpatrick found a surprising openness and candor from his many interview subjects.

An American Journo's Journey Through Le Cordon Bleu — C'Est Super!

Cover of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Les...
Cover via Amazon

As readers of this blog know, I am crazy for Paris, food and cooking.

I just read a lovely memoir, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” by American writer Kathleen Flinn. It tells the story of her getting fired from a Fancy Job in London and then, instead of being sensible, spending all her savings to move to Paris and study at the legendary French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, a dream of hers for decades.

I read it in one big gulp, loving the descriptions of ferocious French teachers whose criticisms — which she initially barely even understood — sometimes left her, at 36, in tears. I studied in Paris at 25, so I loved reminiscing about the odd mix of formality and warmth you find there. Not to mention that she ends each chapter with a delicious recipe to try.

Some of the scenes are hilarious, like the lobster who escapes in class one day and the Japanese student who chases it around the room (shades of Annie Hall!) Flinn manages to survive a kidney infection, horrible houseguests and many minor kitchen dramas.

You’ll never chop an onion or look at a bechamel the same way again,

Here’s her blog, (which contains a very cool link to a portion-control website.)

Want To Run My Household? Take An HIV Test, New York Heiress Demands

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette. You're not her, darlin'....Image via Wikipedia

Gotta love those crazy rich folk. Agnes Cybulska thought the job ad on Craigslist sounded promising, and then things got weird.

From today’s New York Times:

However, Ms. Cybulska says that her optimism began to fade after a brief, harried interview with Ms. Hammond at her East Side apartment in January. Ms. Hammond said the job would not pay the $1,000 a week that had been advertised, according to Ms. Cybulska. Instead, the rate would be $150 a day, for nine-hour shifts with no overtime.

There would be no health benefits, paid vacation or sick days.

Still, Ms. Cybulska, a domestic worker for the last 19 years, was still interested in the job. In the mostly unregulated world of domestic workers and their demanding bosses, benefits were not standard.

But according to Ms. Cybulska, the hiring process took a bizarre and ultimately fateful turn at the next interview, a follow-up.

Ms. Hammond, more relaxed in a morning robe and sipping a cup of coffee, demanded that Ms. Cybulska submit to and pass an H.I.V. test, which she said Ms. Hammond told her she required of other staff members. In fact, Ms. Cybulska said, Ms. Hammond told her that she had even submitted to a test herself after a recent encounter with a toilet that seemed unclean.

“Of course, I thought that was odd,” Ms. Cybulska said. “She got kind of irritated a bit. She said, ‘I’m telling you right now, if you don’t take it you will not be employed.’ ”

On Tuesday, Ms. Cybulska filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan against Ms. Hammond and Domestic Job Picks, the employment agency that Ms. Hammond used to recruit her. The suit charges that requesting the test violated the city’s Human Rights Law.

I’ve blogged before on the ongoing battle to protect domestic workers from such abuses — Albany lawmakers are currently working to reconcile two bills focused on these issues.

If you haven’t had the misfortune to spend any time serving the wealthy, their sense of entitlement can be breathtaking; I saw it in the years I worked my retail job, watching them flounce around our store like some reincarnated Marie Antoinette, snapping their fingers and rolling their eyes if we didn’t step to it, and fast, acceding to their every whim. Interestingly, it’s the skinny blond wives — accustomed to bossing about an army of people who depend on their dollars — who seem to thrive on this sort of economic brutality. Men rarely bothered to trash us.

Luckily, Cybulska has the cojones bring this sort of insanity into public view. Too often, domestics or homeworkers — who are usually women working for other women — simply suck up whatever nasty BS their employers demand. Their work, and their working conditions, typically remains invisible to outsiders and therefore easily manipulated into a poorly-paid hell.

Juno Turner, one of Ms. Cybulska’s lawyers, said “there is a whole world of inappropriate behavior” in which employers of domestic workers think they can ask anything.

“And a lot of times,” Ms. Turner said, “they get away with it.”

A Woman's Toughest Relationship? The One With Her Dad

Dad and daughter
Image by Peter Werkman via Flickr

Interesting piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how adult women stumble when trying to communicate with their fathers:

When Jennifer Wallace realized her marriage was over, the very first person she called was her mother. During that initial conversation—and each morning for weeks afterward as she drove to work—she poured her heart out about her anger, embarrassment and despair.

But it wasn’t until four years later (long after she had divorced, changed jobs and remarried) that she talked about the experience with her father.

In a lifetime of difficult male-female conversations, some of the toughest, surprisingly, can be the ones between fathers and adult daughters—especially when there is a problem in the daughter’s life.

Ms. Wallace, 29, an executive and personal assistant in Los Angeles, says she always knew her father loved her dearly. When she was growing up, he praised her often, ate dinner with her each night and attended every track meet, play and debate team event she participated in. These days, he is her go-to person for career advice.

Yet at the time of her divorce, she and her dad had never discussed personal problems—hers or his—and she found it impossible to bring up such a sensitive topic with him. “I felt that he would have been deeply, deeply sad,” says Ms. Wallace. “And I felt that he wouldn’t know what to do with me.”

Her dad says she is right: “I needed to protect my princess, but I failed,” says Bruce Wray, 58, a marketing manager for a bar-code company in St. Paul, Minn. “I wasn’t there being Prince Valiant, preventing her mistake.”

Why is it so hard for a grown woman to bare herself emotionally to a man she’s loved all her life? And why would a man have trouble discussing something sensitive with a woman he helped raise?

I often post on stories, and issues, that hit a chord for me personally — and this one did. It was too funny, the phone ringing with an unfamiliar number as I was reading that article.

It was my Dad calling from London, where he’s on vacation, to and from Spain. No big deal for many people, but my Dad and I went many years not talking at all, angry and bitter and frustrated. We’re both stubborn, determined and have a complicated enough family as it is, with 3 step-siblings and my late step-mother, with whom my dealings were often very strained.

So it was great to hear from him and to get the emailed photo of him with a candle-lit cupcake — he celebrated his 81st. birthday in London with his new partner.

I was hit hard by the lede of the Journal story, as I went to Ireland to visit my Dad about two months after my husband walked out of our very brief marriage, and Dad said some things I won’t ever forget and had to work hard to forgive, but I think it’s also because he has always had high hopes, if not expectations, for me and what I will accomplish and achieve. I like that he sets the bar high, for himself and others, but am also really glad it’s come down a few notches over the years. It had to!

I also know that my Dad’s Dad (who I never met) was pretty tough and frosty, and he comes from a generation of men (maybe all generations?) that wasn’t big on expressing feelings, let alone tender, private or emotional ones. So I’ve grown up in this style as well. We rarely, if ever, say “I love you” — but our actions show it, and that’s how I prefer it. At his 80th. birthday celebration last year I made a short speech and thanked him publicly for what he’d taught me: to embrace the world as a place full of adventure and possibility, to be confident, and to want to tell stories, as he did through his films.

Better to say it aloud now than at a funeral or memorial service.

How is your relationship with your adult daughter? Or with your Dad?

Here's A Soccer Story You Will (Guaranteed) Enjoy

A football (or soccer ball) icon.
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this story in The New York Times:

About 1:45 p.m. Sunday afternoon, a caravan of luxury cars and sport utility vehicles roared into the park where hundreds of supporters had been waiting. President Jacob Zuma had arrived. The president was in this town, about 260 miles northeast of Johannesburg, to commemorate the life of Peter Mokaba, an antiapartheid activist.

Five days before the start of the World Cup, the stars of the celebration were a soccer team — a group of 35 women ages 49 to 84. After the speeches and ceremonies, the team, Vakhegula Vakhegula (Grannies Grannies), would play an exhibition game.

Beka Ntsanwisi founded Vakhegula Vakhegula five years ago as a way of providing inspiration for older women. The team usually plays its league games on Saturdays, but this was a special day with the president coming. And Ntsanwisi wanted to have a word with the president.

From the team’s meager beginning, Vakhegula Vakhegula have become well known in the region, and news of the team has spread to the United States. The team received an invitation to compete in the Veterans Cup, a tournament for teams with players 30 or older, next month in Lancaster, Mass.

I posted last week a story I wrote for the Times about my suburban adult softball team, with whom I’ve been playing for nine years, a group of men and women whose friendship — and athletic skills — have made my life incomparably more joyful.

Like the Grannies, our games are intergenerational and as much about having fun with people we truly enjoy as competing in a sport. I love knowing that sports, and sports-related friendships, are enjoyed just as much by other women around the world.

For Onica Ndzhovela, the Grannies helped her spirit from being broken. She had 12 children; 8 of them died.

“People were saying I was mad,” Ndzhovela said. “I was not mad; I had a lot of stress. It’s not easy to lose eight.”

The Grannies became her family; the soccer competition became an emotional outlet.

Girls' Summit Opens Today, Pre-Toronto G20, With Voices From Around The World

Personal photo of Belinda Stronach taken at Go...
Belinda Stronach. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a novel idea — make sure that young women’s voices are included in global economic debate. The girls will meet at my alma mater, the University of Toronto, June 15 to 18. (The G20 are meeting in Toronto June 26-27.)

The idea comes from Belinda Stronach, whose foundation works with young girls worldwide. Stronach, well-known in Canada, is the daughter of Frank Stronach, an auto-parts magnate. As this picture makes clear, she’s a stylish blast of fresh air, wealthy enough she doesn’t have to please anyone but herself, and feisty enough to do it her way.

Reports The Globe and Mail:

Hosted and run by The Belinda Stronach Foundation, established by businesswoman and former politician Belinda Stronach, G(irls)20 has begun unveiling its delegates this week. Ms. Stronach talked to The Globe about why girls need a summit to call their own.

Where did the idea for the G(irls)20 Summit come from?

I established a foundation two years ago now and one of our key pillars is to improve the lives of girls and women around the globe. So in order to develop a strategy for this, to get further input in what we wanted to do, we gathered together young, influential media personalities in various areas – so from print to television, radio – a bunch of women. We got together and we had an informal dinner one night for several hours and we talked about what could we do in advance of the G8/G20 to create awareness about the challenges that young women and women around the globe face, but also … do something about it, try to develop solutions.

What concrete outcomes will result from the summit?

The summit itself is a gathering of 21 girls from around the globe, from the G20 countries plus … Malawi because we wanted to have an African presence there as well. So the young women will take this global conversation that’s being had through the 3.3 Billion Ways campaign and then we have what’s called Google Moderator distilling those ideas that are being submitted by everybody that signs on and gets a number. The young women, the girls, will then include those in their agenda while they’re here and they’ll discuss them. So the outcome will be that there will be a proposal or solutions put forward on how the well-being of girls in developing countries and around the world can be improved.

Stronach, a breast cancer survivor, twice divorced, was elected as a member of Parliament in 2004 for the Conservative Party then crossed the floor to join the Liberals. She left politics in 2008 to run the Magna Corporation.

No stranger to controversy or public attention, she’s tackling one of the biggest issues women face: their lack of political and economic clout.

Here’s a list of the girls participating; if you’re interested, the Globe is publishing two brief interviews a day with all the girls.

What's His Favorite Food? Her Mom's Maiden Name? Government Cracks Down On 'Green Card Marriages'

Wedding cake
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As I type this, I’m looking at one of my most precious possessions — my green card. As some of you know, they’re not green but a creamy beige, with multiple hologram images embedded in it, including a statue of Liberty.

It has my fingerprint on it, my photo (showing my unadorned right ear) and my alien registration number. It cost me $370 to renew it recently, as we do every 10 years.

Many people, desperate for a green card they can’t get any other way, marry a U.S. citizen — and some draw the attention of the Stokes unit, which interviews couples in detail to determine whether their is a real marriage or a sham, reports The New York Times:

Having flunked their first interviews with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, they had entered the mysterious world of the “Stokes unit,” a uniquely New York variation on the marriage interviews conducted nationwide whenever a citizen seeks a green card for a foreign spouse. Named for a 1976 federal court settlement that gave couples, among other protections, the right to bring a lawyer to a second, recorded interview if their first one raised suspicions of fraud, the Stokes unit recently doubled its staff to 22 officers.

It is a story line familiar from pop culture: “The Proposal” last year, “Green Card” in 1990. And while the authorities do not question the validity of the marriage of Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber, his arrest last month did renew questions about the process of scrutinizing spousal green-card petitions. Nationwide, the number of such petitions denied for fraud is tiny: 506 of the 241,154 filed by citizens in the last fiscal year, or two-tenths of 1 percent (an additional 7 percent were denied on other grounds, like failing to show up for an interview).

Some critics contend that the low numbers simply show the system is easily fooled, while others say that exaggerated estimates of marriage fraud over the years have created a bureaucratic monster, thwarting legitimate, if unconventional, couples and spurring unconstitutional intrusion into their lives.

In some parts of the country, the authorities stage dawn bed checks. “Someone shows up at your house with a badge and a gun, unannounced,” said Laura Lichter, an immigration lawyer in Denver. “ ‘Hi, we’re here from immigration. Do you mind if we come in to look and see if two towels are wet?’ ”

Today’s paper profiles a couple together 17 years:

“They’ve been married 8, 10 years, and they don’t know a thing about each other?” asked Barbara Felska, a veteran in the Stokes unit, the New York office that quizzes spouses separately, then compares their answers to determine whether their relationship is real. “You don’t know his medical conditions, or that he has high blood pressure?”

The predicament of Ms. Feldman and Mr. Singh reflects what legal scholars see as a growing tension in national values between the protection of marriage from government intrusion, and the regulation of marriage through immigration laws.

I got my green card because I was then the unmarried child of a U.S. citizen; some of us get them through visas and lotteries, not just snagging the first American with a pulse that we see.

These two stories raise interesting questions about what is “normal” for any couple to know about one another, and their families, and their health. My sweetie and I know one another’s PIN numbers, but after a decade continue to handle our shared bills separately with separate bank accounts. (That would look suspicious.) If I were pressed to offer details of his relatives, some would be hazy — as some of them are virtual strangers to us both, with no Christmas cards or birthday wishes, ever.

I know that he takes two daily medications and what for, but could only name one of them if asked. I know his middle names and those of his (long-dead) parents, where was born and raised. He still sometimes confuses some of my Canadian details. Privately, it doesn’t matter, but what if the harsh light of a government inspector — and possible deportation — were in the mix?

Every married couple is different. I am a deeply private person, as is my partner — I don’t rummage through his chest of drawers or closet or other storage spaces. They’re his. Nor do I poke into his wallet, or vice versa. We retain a variety of boundaries, mostly out of respect for our privacy and individuality. If married, this would likely change little.  How would that look to someone seeking to determine if we had a Normal Marriage?

Define “normal.”

Some people find such boundaries abhorrent. I knew one young couple who happily flossed their teeth in front of one another as they sat on the sofa watching TV; my partner and I had one of our worst first fights when I asked him to wait outside a small hotel room while I flossed; in my world, some activities (still) are not meant to be shared.

My two recent visits to USCIS offices were benign and, thankfully, easy. I read these articles and wonder what I’d do or say if we were called in.

Getting Married? Ten (Funny) Tips From A Recent Bride

A motorbike rider (R) carries a woman (L) dres...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Love the Brits…Here’s Guardian blogger and author Lucy Mangan on 10 tips for getting married:

2. What to do about flowers

You must have a bouquet. For the simple reason that as you come down the aisle, you have to have something to do with your hands. I wanted to carry a book, in case I got bored, but apparently this is frowned upon. As is waving, picking your nose and – even though the stress of the event means it is the ideal time to take up smoking – sparking up. So a bunch of flowers it has to be….

4. What to do about drink

Buy more.

5. What to do about themes

Various people – dressmaker, caterer, venue owner, friends, family – will ask you this question. Do not look baffled. It is because many people feel that plighting their troth to another fallible, confused, insecure, infinitely complex and ultimately unknowable human being is not likely to provide them or others with enough interest or pressure on the day, and so they like to introduce a themed element to the proceedings. Thus you can have a cowboy-themed wedding, a medieval wedding, an Elvis wedding…

But that aside, here is what I say. Theme ye not. It is a layer of complexity and expense you can well do without. Instead, take as your mental mentor my friend Emily who, when asked by one of the assistants in the first bridal shop she went into what the theme of her wedding was to be, answered simply: “Me. The theme of my wedding is Me.”

As wedding season heats up, a few laughs are always welcome.

I once showed up for a friend’s casual backyard wedding to find her sitting on her bed looking very glum indeed, as did her sister. “Looks like someone needs a joint!” I joked. No one even cracked a smile. OK, I was inappropriate and jocular, but anyone looking that miserable before the ceremony?

(They divorced within a few years.) It didn’t seem a great omen when, in the garden next door, mid-vows, someone fired up their chain-saw.

I’d suggest planning for disaster as best you can; it poured a record rainfall the day of my wedding so my light beige cotton vintage dress soaked up water like a sponge — making for a bath-tub-like line above my hem when I saw the photos.

My tip, should you decide to wear a vintage dress, is figuring out what your maid of honor will wear. I was all excited about my Edwardian dress when it hit me that my maid of honor needed a great dress that would complement mine….and she lived in a trailer near the Alaska border, long before one could easily order pretty things on-line. About three weeks before the ceremony, I found a Victorian cotton bathrobe in the same colors, added a lace collar and ribbon sash and she looked fantastic. This is the time it’s OK to be a little OCD.

What is your best tip?