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Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Nope, Not Yet, Dammit

In Media on July 30, 2010 at 8:35 am

I will not yet say goodbye.

Sentimental old fool, yes. Also — technophobic. Have to sit down and figure out how to migrate Broadside somewhere else; one T/Ser says “easy” another said, not. Don’t have time today, maybe late tonight. Definitely tomorrow because the T/S curtain goes down and who knows what happens after that?

Sort of like moving baby sea turtles.

All these damn goodbyes are killing me.

Off to the city for distraction.

She Killed Eight Of Her Babies — And The Husband Had No Clue

In behavior, parenting, women on July 29, 2010 at 10:04 am
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

This is the story in France right now, with the BBC reporting there are already 40 journalists in the tiny rural town of Villers-au-Tertre, near the Belgian border.

The woman, a nurse in her 40s who has two daughters and grand-children, confessed to killing eight of her own babies between 1989 and 1996, but only two corpses have been found at their current home. Police suspect she might have brought the other corpses with her when they moved in.

The woman, mordbidly obese, managed to keep every pregnancy secret from her husband.

Not sure if this story is more a cautionary tale against morbid obesity or abortion versus infanticide.

What I Found Behind The Fridge

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm
The Lovely Fridge

Image by shrff via Flickr

Because that’s how I live….a handwritten note from the year 2000 from Jean Harris, legendary for shooting and killing her lover, the famed inventor of the Scarsdale Diet. I had written to her asking her for an interview for my book about women and guns.

She wrote me back, hand-written in blue ink on her personal stationery, to say she would not participate: “Since leaving prison, [prisoners'] children are the center of my concern — the future, not the past. The future can still be touched, maybe even changed. The past is over.”

I hadn’t moved the fridge since I moved in 20-something years ago. A new one moves into its spot tomorrow after the carpenters cut the counter and cupboards to fit it.

We bought a sexy new fridge this week, a Fisher & Paykel — which I will also enjoy using because I wrote about that company when I was in Auckland in 1998 writing a feature about the value of sponsoring major yacht races, as they did for the Volvo round the world race, (then called the Whitbread.)

This is likely my penultimate T/S post. I am hating this week, frankly. I hate endings and goodbyes. I’ve been on the phone and FB and email with some of my T/S pals, Claudia Deutsch and Nancy Miller and Fran Johns and Jeff McMahon, even Paul Smalera, who left in March when he got a great online editing job. I hope to be working with him soon as a freelancer.

I will miss this community’s easy camaraderie, for all the “independent” journalist party line. Independence gets lonely.

I’ll post tomorrow night where this blog is migrating.

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be An Old Woman

In behavior, women on July 27, 2010 at 6:14 pm
The United Colors of an Old Woman

Image by pedrosimoes7 via Flickr

I live in an apartment building that is, frankly, something of an old age home — filled with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. There are days I weary of gray hair and halting gaits, but I have also learned to appreciate the deep value of role models, especially of older women living, well, alone.

My theme song is this, a rockabilly anthem to feisty female old age, from a 1988 album by Michelle Shocked.

I’m thinking of this because one of our building’s two cool 96-year-olds, one of whom lives on my floor, was taken to the hospital by ambulance yesterday. She’s got brilliant blue eyes, thick white hair, and a spirit so lively and outgoing we all love her. I’m praying for her.

The other, on my floor, is wealthy, a bit of a grande dame. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment with a live-in helper. (Money is a wonderful, necessary adjunct to a decent, solitary [even shared] old age.) She wears fab clothes, keeps a fresh manicure, comes down to the pool, even with a walker.

Most women, statistically, will outlive their husbands or male partners. We have to be ready, in every way, to survive — and thrive — on our own.

But I also treasure Marie, 80, on my floor. She’s still married. She wears an immaculate bouffant pompadour hairdo, dresses with style and had a male stripper for her 80th. I asked her in the elevator one day — she’s OK with this sort of directeness — “How old are you, anyway?” I thought, maybe, late 60s.

I feel too fragile these days because of my aching, injured hip. When I watch these women soldiering along, finding new beaux, slapping on the mascara and nail polish and a smile, heading out for dinner with their girlfriends, I’m glad I don’t live surrounded by 20 or 30-somethings, slick and invulnerable.

These ladies are survivors. I hope to be one, too.

Snooki Who? Reality Stars Demand Big Bucks For Being Themselves

In business, entertainment on July 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 12:  (L-R) TV Perso...

She's the short one...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Laughing all the way to the bank, reality television stars  — who begin as no-names hired for peanuts — are demanding real TV money, reports The New York Times:

Fame soon found them, and so did the desire for fortune. This summer, the stars of “Jersey Shore” held out for more money before resuming production in Seaside Heights last week. Together, they shared about $25,000 as a cast for the entire first season; now they will reportedly earn at least that much for each episode. The series will resume Thursday night on MTV, part of Viacom.

Reality television became a force because viewers liked it and because, without celebrities or big salaries, it was cheap. The shows can cost as little as $200,000 for a half-hour episode, compared with the $1 million or more typical for hourlong scripted shows.

But now the genre is creating its own stars on shows like “Jersey Shore,” “The City” on MTV and the “Real Housewives” franchise on Bravo. With stars come demands for higher salaries, threatening the inexpensive economic model of reality TV. Are the shows falling victim to their own success?

Network executives say no, but they concede they are constantly on guard against that possibility. They strive to make shows grow proportionally: as the salaries grow, the ratings and the rates paid by advertisers must grow in lockstep. When the proportions break down, cancellation can loom.

I love the irony.

Nobodies get plucked from obscurity because of where they live and/or what they say or do or wear — whether pompadour hair or cat-fighting over whose husband is richer — and turn into the latest crop of celebrities, without which the TV industrial complex is potentially hit-less.

Then, as viewers find their “real” bizarreness addictive, and the nobodies become somebodies, they start realizing their commercial value — and demand some serious coin. As they should.

I think it serves greedy TV execs right. “Exposure” per se isn’t worth much to most of us, despite daily offers — increasingly common now in journalism — to work or write or perform for no, or very little, pay so millions of people can read/see your stuff and….and, what?

Hire you? Pay you tons more money? Riiiiiiiiight.

The standard disclaimer is that all that “exposure” leads to “opportunities.” Maybe. Maybe not. Why should we gamble our time, energy and talent for pennies?

Last time I checked, Con Ed and Verizon and my mortgage-holder do not accept “exposure” as payment for any of their services. The naive and stupid take this argument and accept it in lieu of useful, practical legal tender.

I like cold, hard cash.

Snooki and her ilk should too.

Are Your Neighbors Your Friends?

In behavior, cities on July 27, 2010 at 10:59 am
1 West 72nd Street (The Dakota)

Image via Wikipedia

I loved this story in today’s New York Times by my friend Christine Haughney:

In a city where friendships and romances traverse boroughs and continents, of the guests who had gathered on Ms. Bass’s wraparound balcony with its enviable views of Lincoln Center, nearly half of them lived right there in the same building.

Ms. Bass, 27, a speed-talking Citi Habitats real estate broker who lives at 50 West 72nd Street, has seeded its 16 floors with a loose network of college and post-college friends and their siblings, most of them now in their late 20s and early 30s.

“I try to get my friends to move in here all the time,” she said. “Who wouldn’t want to be around their friends? You always have a shoulder to lean on. You have people to go out with. If you’re having a rough time, you have them around.”

I’ve lived my entire life, since the age of 19, in apartments, and having neighbors you can count on as friends is as crucial as the next-door neighbor who shares a driveway or street.  In Toronto, I was lucky enough to make friends with my neighbors in the houses on both sides — my apartment was the top floors of a house — and across the street. I met Anne, sharing a house with several room-mates, when I held a garage sale on my front lawn and she came over to take a look. We started talking and didn’t stop until I moved to Montreal two years later.

In Montreal, I quickly made two very good new friends in my apartment building, a 1930s classic with only three apartments per floor. One was Cynthia, a shy, quiet American a bit older, working at the Canadian Centre for Architecture and another, a wealthy young woman, Jinder, who had recently become a physician.

Jinder, who I first met when she took delivery of some flowers for me while I was at work, kept raving to me about some medical student she supervised whom she wanted me to meet: handsome, smart, funny, from New Jersey. When she brought him to my house-warming party, I opened the door and fell, hard, for the guy — who became my husband six years later.

We moved around a fair bit when I was younger and having friends-as-neighbors really started for me only in my 20s.

In my current building, where I own my home, I can count on several long-time neighbor-friends should there be a sudden need for help beyond our day to day friendliness. New York is not a place that makes finding and keeping close friends easy — some people won’t even travel from one side of the city to another and many are work-obsessed.

Are your neighbors your friends? How does that affect your life?

Size 14 The New Ideal For Women — Thanks To Mad Men

In entertainment, Health, women on July 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm
Actress Christina Hendricks at Chivas Regal Pr...

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s an idea — bigger women rock. From the Daily Mail:

All women should aspire to be a size 14 with buxom, hourglass figures, the new equalities minister claims.

They must not be made to feel inadequate by stick-thin models staring out of advertising billboards and magazines.

Instead, they should regard curvaceous women such as Christina Hendricks, star of the TV series Mad Men, as their ultimate role models, Lynne Featherstone said.

The Liberal Democrat minister described the actress, who plays Joan Holloway in the popular American drama set in the 1960s, as ‘absolutely fabulous’.

She said that too often, women were made to feel wretched about their size as they were constantly comparing themselves with ‘unattainable’ figures of celebrities and models…

‘Christina Hendricks is absolutely fabulous. We need more of these role models,’ she added.

I agree. I’m sick to death of skinny 16 year olds held up as my “role model” when I am neither their age nor aspire to their body size or proportions.

I weary of the Olsen twins, billionaires who look like homeless people wearing too much eyeshadow. Or actresses whose shoulder blades protruding from their designer ballgowns on the red carpet simply look scary.

I recently saw an older woman at a local restaurant whose legs resembled twigs. She looked terribly unhealthy but had clearly starved herself to this size.

Or…is this just one more excuse to be a little piggy and eat too much?

Read My Book! Watch My Video! Authors Turn YouTube Promoters, Ready Or Not

In business, Media on July 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm
Death found an author writing his life..

Make that video -- or else!! Image by ephemera assemblyman via Flickr

So much for the garret.

As authors today now know, or quickly learn, whether you can produce a publishable manuscript is only one piece of the puzzle. How are you on YouTube?

From The New York Times:

“But people who spend their whole lives writing and people who are good on video turn out to be two very different sets of people,” said the best-selling author Mary Karr, who last year starred in her first book video for her memoir “Lit.”

When, at her publisher’s request, Ms. Karr created the trailer, “I looked like a person in a studio who had never been in a studio.” She scrapped the footage and asked her son to shoot her in their living room instead. The final version opens with Ms. Karr drawling, “I’m Mary Karr and I’m here to talk about my new book, ‘Lit.’ ” She goes on to say, in her trademark twang, that the book “took me seven years to write, and believe me, I would have made more money working at McDonald’s.” Featuring Ms. Karr’s languid wit and reluctant half-smiles, punctuated by family photos of the author, the trailer is actually pretty good.

But don’t tell that to the author. “It is, in a word, humiliating,” Ms. Karr said.

For many authors, it was bad enough when, once every book, you had to slick on makeup, hire a photographer and adopt a writerly pose — hand on chin, furrowed brow — for the book jacket portrait.

So true!

I saw this when I sold my first book, on a cold wintry day in 2002, summoned to the headquarters of Simon & Schuster to meet several executives face to face. I knew this was my audition: Could I handle public pressure? Tough questions asked face to face? Was I fat or spotty? Did I stutter? Wilt under pressure?

I wore navy blue wool, my power uniform — anything that airline pilots or cops wear makes me feel safe and strong.

When I sold my second book, in September 2009, I sat in a very small room with, once more, my agent and three executives who would decide if I was worth their investment. This time I wore black, to hide the sweat rings. I knew how I comported myself there could kill the deal. This is the author’s lot now, donning a cool, calm, engaging public face.

It demands a very different set of skills to be able to chat lucidly and wittily to a camera, whether on YouTube or on CNN, or to do live radio or public events than to write prose of any value. Writers, by their nature and/or training, look inward or observe others. Many find such preening abhorrent, simply not who they really are.

Yet, authenticity sells.

Love the irony.

Performance Reviews? Gen Y Craves Them — Not The Rest Of Us

In behavior, business, Money, US on July 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm
Library report card--5th grade

Image by rochelle, et. al. via Flickr

Who actually likes performance reviews?

Gen Y, turns out:

Ms. Reder agrees that employees are usually thirsty for feedback. She has observed that those new to the work force want it most.

“One thing that’s very consistent when we look at generation Y is that they are constantly looking for feedback,” she says. “They want training and development, and performance reviews facilitate that. Employers need to understand this is a need, not a want.”

I’m definitely not Gen Y and have had a formal performance review only twice in my life, both In my $11/hour retail job.

Yup, that’s it. Never at the major daily newspapers where I worked, or the national magazines. Feedback? As if. Mostly snide criticism, sometimes shouted, and, on a few rare occasions, an attaboy from a boss.

In my retail job — the one where I folded T-shirts and swept the floor and earned no commission — their review evaluated 20 categories of behavior and skill, ranking us from a 1 (you suck) to a 5 (you rock.) The highest I got was a 4, once. I knew what I was really good at, and there was no category for it on the form.

I did discover in one of these meetings, and it was valuable feedback, that my managers, most of whom were decades younger than I, found me intimidating and therefore difficult to manage. I told my boss to tell them to boss me as much as they felt necessary. And they did. (Not much, luckily.)

Another manager, at a short-lived start-up, pointed out that I am extremely decisive, a good thing and a useful skill. But that, very true, I don’t suffer fools gladly and won’t tolerate whiners. Not great for someone who, then, was managing younger workers.

But PRs are one-way: “Here’s what we think of you”, typically with little to no interest in hearing that — perhaps — the way you’re behaving at work, certainly when less than optimal, may also reflect the workstyles and budgets of your employer. I got dinged on one retail review for not paying close enough attention to potential shoplifters; this after the number of associates on the floor was so severely cut back we could barely get our jobs done as it was.

I think many of us try our best, but if your manager, as one of mine did, simply refuses to speak to you, it’s not going to create a terrific work environment.

Some think performance reviews need to be killed, now. From The Wall Street Journal:

This corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging, and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities. Everybody does it, and almost everyone who’s evaluated hates it. It’s a pretentious, bogus practice that produces absolutely nothing that any thinking executive should call a corporate plus.

And yet few people do anything to kill it. Well, it’s time they did.

Don’t get me wrong: Reviewing performance is good; it should happen every day. But employees need evaluations they can believe, not the fraudulent ones they receive. They need evaluations that are dictated by need, not a date on the calendar. They need evaluations that make them strive to improve, not pretend they are perfect.

Sadly, most managers are oblivious to the havoc they wreak with performance reviews. To some extent, they don’t know any better: This is how performance reviews have been done, and this is how they will be done. Period.

Here’s a simple experiment you can try. Ask yourself: How often have you heard a manager say, “Here is what I believe,” followed by, “Now tell me, what do you think?” and actually mean it? Rarely, I bet.


The performance review is the primary tool for reinforcing this sorry state. Performance reviews instill feelings of being dominated.

Do you give them? Get them? Do you think they’re worth doing?

Have you ever learned something helpful (even positive) from one?

Mystery Versus Celebrity

In behavior, entertainment, Media on July 24, 2010 at 10:37 pm
Greta Garbo.

Greta Garbo. Image via Wikipedia

I liked this piece in The New York Times, on the loss of mystery that is the concomitant cost of 24/7 visibility:

Garbo couldn’t exist in the 21st century. I mean Garbo the lady of mystery, not the rather dull, stingy woman who is reported to have resided behind the persona. And it’s not just because she was the product of an ancient Hollywood studio system that insisted on keeping its stars fixed in a distant firmament. (A photographic publicity image from the 1920s grafted Garbo’s head, I swear, onto the body of a sphinx.)

Today’s democracy of technology would, of course, conspire to put a fast and brutal end to the tantalizing demi-invisibility that Garbo sustained so well. Everyone who possesses a cellphone now is a potential member of the paparazzi. Let a latter-day Garbo poke her head into a cheese shop, or slip out to pick up a toothbrush at the drugstore, and you can bet her image will be all over the Internet in a matter of minutes.

The romance of people discussing their Garbo sightings in hushed voices, as if they had seen a ghost or an indigo bunting out of season, would be replaced by the diminishing boasting of trophy hunters comparing shots. Disgruntled friends of Garbo’s, whom she’d stuck with the check perhaps or cut out of her life, would start anonymously posting unflattering tidbits on the Web about the size of her feet and her infantile sense of humor.

“Oh, her again,” you’d say, when her face popped up on Gawker or TMZ.com. And were the divine Greta (oh, perish the thought) reduced to posting desperately, “I vant to be alone,” we would all snicker in knowing contempt. “Yeah,” we’d snarl, “you and Lindsay Lohan, baby.”

The world, you see, no longer has any tolerance for — let alone fascination with — people who aren’t willing to publicize themselves. Figures swathed in shadows are démodé in a culture in which the watchword is transparency.

The current obsession with “knowing” a lot about total strangers — (the utility is…?) — strikes me as bizarre. I have been ordered, albeit nicely, to start Tweeting asap about my new book, which is still a work in progress, so as to build an audience, which, of course takes time. Gotta sow the field now to harvest the crop of fame and fortune next year.

I will do it because I am occasionally obedient, certainly eager for my book to succeed, but it runs totally against my principles and values. The thought of bleating into the ether on a regular basis….who has that much (interesting) to say? I find blogging challenging enough in this respect.

Being modest, whether about one’s body or spirit, is now seen as the mark of a rube. I love modesty and prize it in my friends and loved ones.  I like the idea, and the reality, of slowly discovering a new friend or partner at their speed, learning new things about them over months or years, maybe even decades. There are still many things I don’t know about my partner of a decade, and vice versa.

I think this is a good thing.

It took two friends more than a year to get up the nerve to each tell me they’re gay, which I’d suspected all along. Trust takes time. I hate it when someone I barely know tells me a lot about themselves, and that includes celebrities. When it comes to my own relationships, if I’m interested, I’ll ask, or more likely assume they’ll share intimacies when ready.

Maybe never.

That’s the delight of mystery.

Do you value it? What are we losing by denying it?

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