Income Inequality Runs Rampant

Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," a...
Image via Wikipedia

Americans — with 9.2 percent unemployment rate, bankers raking in billions, corporate profits at record highs and hiring stagnant — should by now be actively, visible and collectively furious.

(Watch the Greeks.)

Yet, as the pols drone on and on and on with their debt ceiling drama — “We won’t tax job-creators” — millions remain screwed, scared, broke and disconnected from the larger polity in any meaningful way.

NBC Nightly News just spent three consecutive evenings addressing the death of Betty Ford and two yammering about the closing of a major L.A. freeway.

The unemployed? The people who can’t even get an interview?

Yawn.

The New York Times addressed it this week:

The United States is in the grips of its gravest jobs crisis since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. Lose your job, and it will take roughly nine months to find a new one. That is off the charts. Many Americans have simply given up.

But unless you’re one of those unhappy 14 million, you might not even notice the problem. The budget deficit, not jobs, has been dominating the conversation in Washington. Unlike the hard-pressed in, say, Greece or Spain, the jobless in America seem, well, subdued. The old fire has gone out.

In some ways, this boils down to math, both economic and political. Yes, 9.2 percent of the American work force is unemployed — but 90.8 percent of it is working. To elected officials, the unemployed are a relatively small constituency. And with apologies to Karl Marx, the workers of the world, particularly the unemployed, are also no longer uniting.

Nor are they voting — or at least not as much as people with jobs. In 2010, some 46 percent of working Americans who were eligible to vote did so, compared with 35 percent of the unemployed…

New York magazine, hardly a bastion of social justice, just ran a compelling little story as well, comparing Manhattan’s poorest district with its richest, which — of course! — sit side by side. One family spent $2,200 in a week (!?) and another scraped by on $500. Fascinating, scary, sad.

I’ve been reading, finally, a Christmas gift, a collection of Jan Morris’ travel writing from 1950 to 2000.

On her visit to Manhattan, she wrote:

America is the land acquisitive, and few Americans abandon the search for wealth or lose their admiration for those who find it. Unassimilated New Yorkers, the millions of un-Americans in this city, no matter how poor or desolate they seem, however disappointed in their dreams, still loyally respect the American idea — the chance for every man to achieve opulence….It is sometimes difficult to keep one’s social conscience in order among the discrepancies of Manhattan. The gulf between rich and poor is so particularly poignant in this capital of opportunity….there is something distasteful about a pleasure-drome so firmly based on personal advantage…you may as well admit that the whole place is built on greed.

This, she wrote in the the early 1950s.

Will it ever change?

How, if at all, does this issue affect your life?

The First Emesis

The Doctor, by Sir Luke Fildes (1891)
Image via Wikipedia

There are those special moments in every relationship — the first glance, the first shared laugh, the first kiss.

And then…

The sweetie, who is normally very healthy, has been passing the broken-up bits of a kidney stone, which, sadly, involved a day and night of intense and frequent vomiting. (He’s back to work today, finally, and seems fine.)

In all our years together, I’d never seen him clutching the toilet bowl and weeping in pain and exhaustion, and it was a hell of a shock. (He saw me on my knees, in of all places, a small hotel room in Bayeux, the victim of food poisoning from a chicken lunch.)

There I was, standing in the hallway with the doctor on the phone, waiting for him to stop vomiting long enough to come and describe his symptoms.

It’s awful when your sweetie is sick and you can’t do much of anything to help them beyond running to the pharmacy, driving them to and from doctors’ appointments and, worst case, the hospital. (I know we are very lucky this is nothing more serious.)

And when someone I love is ill or in pain, confused or worried, I’m a total mama grizzly, snarling at everyone (so attractive) in my worry and concern. I want action, stat! The pharmacist took too long to reach the doctor and Jose was home writing in pain. Not an option! (I later apologized and she was understanding.)

I’ve had too many years, starting when I was 12, worrying about someone ill who relied on me to advocate for them; my mother has been in and out of hospitals for decades for a variety of issues. I’m her only child and she’s never taken great care of herself, nor has she ever fought for the best care possible. And, sometimes, you do have to fight!

A former medical reporter with an MD ex-husband, I never mistake doctors for Gods. I know they can be brusque, rude and condescending — and warm, wise and compassionate.

God help anyone near me who is the former, and I’ve seen plenty of it. It hasn’t left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling for anyone in a white coat with a clipboard.

How do you handle yourself, or medical staff, when your loved ones are ill?

What Do You Love About Your Home?

The Hudson River
I love the Palisades! And I really love watching barges on the Hudson river...Image via Wikipedia

My favorite shelter blog, Apartment Therapy, recently asked this question and got, of course, some terrific and inspiring answers.

I’ve lived since 1989 — much to my shock — in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in the suburbs of New York. I didn’t plan on any of that; the plan, with my then husband, was to stay for a while, then as our incomes improved, move into something larger, probably a house. But he was gone within a few years and I’m still here.

Yes, there are times I long for a second room, an office, a guest room, a second bathroom, a backyard.

But it offers some things I really like:

lovely landscaping, with mature trees and a gorgeous Japanese maple right outside our front door

a pool and tennis court

a northwest view of the Hudson River impeded only by the tree-tops, from the top floor

our balcony, all 80 square feet of it

lots of light

quiet neighbors

the only sounds are raccoons, hawks, birds and the occasional coyote

our lovely newly-renovated bathroom, with a handmade copper sink we scored in Mexico for $32 and hand-made tile we bought in Paris

watching all sorts of river traffic

on July 4, being able to watch the fireworks from six towns at once on both sides of the Hudson

best of all, (not the home itself), I can be in midtown Manhattan within 45 minutes’ train or drive

What do you like best about your home?

Summer Sounds

Glass of iced tea
Ice tea....aaaaaah! Image via Wikipedia

I listen to NPR every day — and they’re running a lovely series called Summer Sounds. The one I heard yesterday was “screen door slamming.” So true!

Others have included golf, a steel drum and firecrackers.

Some of mine include:

The clang-clang-clang of a metal halyard against a sailboat mast

The gluoup sound of a canoe paddle digging deeply into cool, dark lake water

The lap of water against stone at lakeside

The haunting call of a loon

The clink of ice cubes in a glass of ice tea or lemonade — or (oooh, yes please!) a Tanqueray and tonic

The crunch of bus wheels on gravel, the sound of arriving at summer camp one more time, eight weeks of joy ahead

The gentle murmur of voices on the patio in the dark

The low steady hum of the air conditioner

The whine of mosquitoes (and the slap of getting one!)

The sing-song tune of the Good Humor truck

The sizzle of food cooking on a grill

The flapping of flip-flops

The farting noise when you try to squirt out the tube’s last little bit of sunscreen

The roaring buzz of cicadas

The splash of someone diving into a pool

The roar of a motorboat engine

How about you?

Your Book Is Out! Ten Tips For Promoting It

Rollercoaster
Strap in and hang on! It's a wild ride ahead...Image by peve.de via Flickr

My second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published April 14, 2011 in the U.S. and April 19 in Canada.

It’s been full-on ever since!

I’ve done:

Radio interviews with shows in: D.C. (four, three of them national), St. Louis, Irvine, CA, Portland, Ore.; Vancouver, Winnipeg, New York, Chicago, Buffalo.

One TV show, a half-hour in Toronto on BNN with a retail analyst and professor of retail management.

Print interviews, including the Financial Times, New York Times and Associated Press and Marie-Claire to the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and Canadian Press.

I’ve also spoken at six events in a month, with engagements lined up through October.


If you’re about to publish a book, these tips will help you through the fun, wearying, non-stop job of telling everyone about it:

Carry your book and/or its postcard everywhere. (And business cards.)

I mean everywhere. I’ve handed them out while airborne, while standing in line to check my baggage at an airport, at the hair salon, at my local framing shop…I missed the opportunity of a lifetime recently when I bumped into Anderson Cooper at a Toronto television station — and had nothing to hand him. Most people are delighted to meet an author. Having something tangible to refer to will help them remember to buy the book.

Stay well-groomed and dressed.

Many writers work alone at home, often in sloppy and comfy clothes. Once you’re out and in the public eye, you’re on! People who’ve never met an author are often thrilled to do so; in their eyes, (true!) your ability to get a book published is a huge achievement. Look and dress the part! Keep your hair cut (and color) in top shape, mani and pedi fresh,  so that surprise invitations to speak or do a media interview won’t panic you.

Splurge on a few new, confidence-building outfits. I spent a heart-stopping amount on some terrific clothes, and made sure they fit and were accessorized before the book was out.

When I received a surprise invitation to address the sales staff of Marie-Claire, a women’s fashion magazine, (while I was on the road with no time to go home from Toronto), I was fine, thanks to my new go-to gear. I felt totally comfortable in a room full of very chic listeners.

Ignore reviews.

OK, you won’t, but try.

Like me, “Malled”, has a strong voice and unvarnished opinions — and outspoken women, especially in the U.S., can really piss people off.

It’s already got 45 reviews on amazon, many  of them positive. But many of the negative ones attack me personally, calling me everything from princess to racist. It’s stressful to be name-called, and really annoying to know you just can’t reply. Unless a review is truly libelous or defamatory, it’s not worth it.

Book-sellers are your new best friends!

Visit as many bookstores as possible and autograph any copies of your book they have on hand.

If they have the time or interest, tell them a little about you or how the book came to be. If you’ve done, or are about to do, any local media coverage that might bring shoppers into their store, let them know so they can be sure to have copies on hand.

Say thank-you. Be gracious. They’re our ambassadors!

Stay rested, exercised, hydrated and well-fed.

Every event is a performance that demands focus, and emotional and intellectual energy to do well. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Keep a full cup of cool water at hand every time you speak.

Take some media or speech training to prepare.

I discovered a great coach on LinkedIn, a young woman named Christine Clapp, who prepped me for NPR’s popular Diane Rehm show — I would be on-air, before two million listeners, for an hour. She taught me some vocal and physical exercises to do before every interview or event and reviewed, and critiqued, the video of a keynote I gave last year at a retail conference. My confidence has improved immeasurably as a result.

It’s a roller-coaster.

Strap in and hang on! It’s a wild ride.

You’ll experience lovely highs: your book party, publication date, good reviews, positive media attention — and some tough lows: negative, even nasty reviews, people who just don’t get your point, events with an audience of one, events where no one buys the book, radio show call-in hecklers.

Enjoy the experience, but don’t take it to heart.

Stay on-message.

I did a Chicago radio show that had promised me four to eight minutes…and barely gave me one. Good thing I named the book’s full title in my first sentence! Decide the three key things you want to share with your audience and repeat them in every media interview.

Keep a cheat sheet handy.

I have a one-sheet, in 18-point type, of my major talking points. It’s easy to forget or get caught up in the moment, certainly on live radio.

While I was on the Diane Rehm show, a male caller sneered: “Why should I buy this book? What value does it have beyond being….entertainment?” I had my talking points beside the mike, made them, and got emails from listeners praising my poise.

Enjoy it all!

It’s easy to freak out — sales are too low, too slow, audiences too small or silent. Authors who have published, as I have both times, with a commercial house, face their very high expectations of fast, steady sales.

With 1,500 books published every day, we all face challenges getting ours noticed.

But…

It’s a thrill to see your book in the store, to get to know book-sellers and hear their thoughts, to know that total strangers all over the place are reading and loving it; to read the Google alerts letting you know that libraries are buying it; watching your little map at amazon’s Author Central tell you how many people bought it where — 47 in Chicago! 45 in Phoenix!

Bonus tip:

Always being your A-game, as you never know who’s in your audience or who they know.

Two recent examples: I went to lunch recently with my softball buddies of eight years, all old friends. Some new guy was there, 73. I said hi and introduced myself — he’s a producer for a major network TV news show and now wants a copy of the book. Yesterday I spoke at a local library event and the author sitting beside me is a freelance producer for CNN.

Even events that feel like a wash — like one where I drove 40 minutes each way, sold no books and did not get paid — had in its audience a friendly and helpful local journo who hooked me up for a great event, some serious library sales and three great ideas for events in her area — complete with names and contact numbers.

Now….what’s your next book about?

Come For Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner in Canada.
Image via Wikipedia

I love throwing dinner parties. If I were rich, and less busy, I’d have one almost every single week.

They combine all the things I love most:
creating and setting a pretty table; choosing recipes and shopping for good food and wine; cooking; making people happy — and spending quiet, uninterrupted time face to face with people I care about.

I use a collection of antique and colored plates and glasses, new and old linen napkins, and love to sit by candlelight as we all share stories.

As I write this, I’m sitting at our antique farm table, the one I bought in Montreal in 1985 and still use, layered with a blue and white vintage cotton tablecloth.

We sit on a bench my ex-husband made that stores all our hardware and tools, and top with custom-made cushions covered in lime green cotton with cobalt-blue piping. I turn the ugly glass balcony divider into a wall by throwing a pretty coverlet over it and lining up big, soft cushions covered in a variety of fabrics, from a 1930s floral print I found in a Paris flea market to a great blue and green check I found in Fredericksburg, Texas (where else?)

Instant outdoor restaurant!

My friend Tamara, whose fun cookbook is here, holds dinner parties in the backyard of her Queens, NY apartment. I attended the first one two summers ago and was instantly charmed — strangers pay $40 per person and sit at a motley array of tables, set with mismatched china and cutlery, and eat great food and get to know one another. It’s very un-New York to travel from one borough to another, let alone risk an evening with people you don’t know. But Tamara’s crowd is smart and fun and creative: I’ve met everyone from radio reporters to a dentist to attorneys.

I made a new friend there whose career as a singer of 1920s music is rocketing along; if you’re ever in New York, you’ve got to hear the Hot Sardines and Mme. Bougerol. The woman rocks a washboard! (Turned out her mom, also at that first dinner where we met, went to the same school and camp as I did. Small world.)

This is the whole point of dinner parties — unlikely combinations, the germination of new friendships with people you would never have met elsewhere. We held one, midwinter, about eight years ago that included our Maine-born minister and his wife; a war photographer, a British journalist and his girlfriend; an interior designer. Ages ranged from 30s to 60s. We ate chili and rice and salad — and a man and woman who met there that night have been happily married for years. Ka-ching!

I grew up in a family that loved to entertain, and eat well, so it all feels like a normal and lovely thing to do. We also don’t have kids, and so it’s easier for us than for those who do, especially little kids or lots of kids.

Here’s a gorgeous new magazine devoted to the art of small dinner parties.

And here’s a very odd French website selling Last Supper placemats with images of all the apostles’ hands.

Do you love to entertain? Tell me about one of your best parties!

It’s Canada Day! Twenty Reasons To Love My Native Land

3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment holds the American ...
Our flag and a Mountie...score! Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I live in NY, but I can still celebrate Canada Day.

Born in Vancouver and raised in Toronto and Montreal, I still travel on a Canadian passport and people can still hear “aboot” when I say “about.”

Here are twenty great things about Canada, in hono(u)r of our day, July 1:

Tunes. Including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Feist, Arcade Fire, Barenaked Ladies, Drake, Cowboy Junkies, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, Jane Siberry, Holly Cole, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Great Big Sea, fiddlers Ashley McIsaac and Natalie McMaster.

Hockey. It’s actually not our official sport, (believe it or not); lacrosse is.

Butter tarts. Nothing to do with butter, they are tarts filled with a gooey raisin-y center. Sooooo good!

Nanaimo bars. Sort of an iced brownie with thick creamy layers inside. Here’s a recipe.

Poutine. Cheese curds covered in gravy. I can’t stand it personally, but it’s now trendy as hell for some reason.

The Group of Seven. This beloved group of landscape painters from the early 20th century are our equivalent of the Impressionists. Their brilliant and powerful landscapes — from Tom Thomson’s Tangled Garden (my favorite) to the enormous ice-scapes of Lawren Harris, are a love song to the land. If you visit Toronto, get out to the McMichael Collection, which is the largest permanent exhibit of their work.

Awesome women writers. Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Miriam Toews, Margaret McMillan, Anne Marie McDonald, Margaret Laurence.

Nellie McClung. She won Canadian women the vote and is memorialized on the $50 bill — and a life-sized statue on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Insulin. Discovered at my alma mater, the University of Toronto, by Banting and Best.

Karim Rashid. You’ve probably sat in one of this designer’s chairs or own one of his popular and stylish Garbo garbage cans, shaped like a bucket.

The Rockies. I spent a week in Banff, Alberta this past winter and was gobsmacked by their beauty. I can’t wait to return.

The Blackberry. Invented by RIM, a firm in Waterloo, Ontario.

Fantastic food markets — from Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market to Montreal’s Atwater Market to Vancouver’s Granville Island. Gotta try a peameal bacon sandwich.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta. The best dinosaur museum!

Mounties. We love them in their scarlet tunics and brown felt hats. We have Mountie dolls and T-shirts. Just seeing a Mountie makes me homesick.

Loonies and toonies. Those are coins of $1 and $2.

Canadian candy bars. Aero, Big Turk, KitKat, Crunchie, Crispy Crunch. Yum!

Inuit art and sculpture. Gorgeous stuff. I grew up with it in my home, so people like Pitseolak were as familiar to me as Picasso.

Terry Fox. Every Canadian of a certain age knows who he was — a brave, crazy 22-year-old with cancer who decided in 1980 to run across Canada to raise funds. He did not make it, but others honoring his memory have raised $550 million since then.

Bilingualism. On parle deux langues! Canada was founded by two European nations, the French and the English, and the country has two official languages, as every resident knows and every visitor soon learns — so words like “de rabais” (on sale) become familiar even if Anglos and Franco’s don’t know each other’s culture as well as we should. The English beat the French on the Plains of Abraham (in Quebec City) which is why every Quebec license plate says, darkly, Je Me Souviens — I Remember.