Ten Reasons To Write A Book — And Five Reasons Not To

I’ve recently watched a friend — practically fainting with excitement as her dream finally came true after two years of hard work on a non-fiction proposal — sell her book to a major New York publisher. Editors were vying for it!

There are few moments in life as sweet and fulfilling as selling your book, especially your first book, as you cross that threshold into becoming a published author.

Another friend is slowly tooling away on what might become a memoir, but she is much more ambivalent, not at all sure this is what she wants to do with her time, wisely aware — knowing many authors as she does — that after that initial burst of joy and relief there’s a lot of hard work ahead.

She’s wise; here’s a powerful, truthful (if deeply depressing!) blog post from a multiply-published best-selling author about the true vagaries of this weird business.

And here’s a thought-provoking post from Kristen Lamb’s blog on how much luck plays a part in any author’s success.

I’ve so far published two non-fiction books, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004) and “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, 2011) and am working on the proposal for what I hope will soon become my third, also non-fiction.

Like giving birth (although I am not a Mom), it gets a little easier the second time because everything is familiar. You know the lingo — “foul matter”, for example — and that your advance payments will never come as quickly as you hope or need. I’ve learned to keep at least three months’ savings ready at the end to pay for the time I will have to spend on revisions.

As I shared the first friend’s nervous excitement and my other friend’s lack of it, I realized a few things about why I — and others — should be trying to write and sell a book in the first place.

Here are ten reasons to write and publish a book, (and five reasons not to!):

1) You become an “author”, not just another journalist or would-be writer amongst the many thousands who have not yet achieved this goal. You did it, and you did it well, and you have a complete 60,000 to 100,000 word manuscript to prove it. This will set you apart. (Kristen Lamb estimates — !! — only 5 percent of wannabe authors actually achieve that goal.)

2) Intellectual challenge. Writing a non-fiction book after cranking out even thousands of 1,000 or even 5,000-word articles is like shifting from a slow jog to a marathon. You’re immersed in your subject for a year or more, crafting a narrative arc, and must pull readers through 80,000 to 100,000+ words. A book is conceived, structured and written very differently than every day journalism. If you want a new challenge, this is it!
3) Telling a compelling story in the length and depth and breadth it truly demands. Some stories simply can’t be jammed into a 1,200 or 4,000 word magazine story and very few outlets today offer the chance to write long. There are new websites that are commissioning 10,000 word pieces, but a book allows you a much larger canvas and a lot more time to dig deeply and write thoughtfully.
4) You find and create an audience. I find this deeply satisfying, emotionally and intellectually. I’ve received many, many emails from readers who’ve loved “Malled”, some truly fervent in their appreciation. No check is big enough to offer this specific sense of having shared a great story.
5) Growth, both emotional and intellectual. Writing a book will force you to up your game in ways you may never have done before, which  is a little terrifying. What if you can’t pull it off? You never know until you try.
6)  Fun. I enjoy writing books because of the reason above. I enjoy writing articles, but most are quickly forgotten. A good book has a life of its own. My first book “Blown Away”, on the timeless subject of women and guns, is still finding new readers, seven years after publication.

7) You create new networks and constituencies. I’ve been humbled and delighted by the people I’ve gotten to know and the communities I’ve been invited into since “Malled” came out, only seven months ago, from being the closing keynote at  major retail conference to speaking out in Manhattan in favor of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, working with non-profits, academics and union officials. Once people know you care as deeply about an issue as they, and understand its complexities, alliances form that can lead you in new directions.

8) Expertise. After you’ve immersed yourself in your subject, you’re an official expert in it, and media attention will follow as journalists always need someone smart, succinct and available to help them explain your issue. I’ve been interviewed by Glamour magazine and a friend appeared on the Sundance channel thanks to his book — and expertise on….vampires.

9) Speaking engagements. I’ve earned income this year from speaking about the issues in “Malled” to audiences locally and across the country. Once you’ve done a few of these (and made good videos of yourself doing so), you assemble a video press kit and can solicit more of this work.
10) Ancillary income. You’re not just writing a book. You are creating content, and must guard your intellectual property ferociously. In an era of cable, e-books, television, web TV, PDFs, film, documentary, radio, podcasts…your material can mutate into many different forms, any one of which can earn you additional income, possibly for much more than the book from which it came. (Think film and television rights and residuals.)
But there are lousy reasons to write a book:
1) Fame. As if!  There are 200,000 books published each year in the U.S. and you, missy/mister, are but one tiny drop in a heaving ocean of competing material. If you’re very lucky, (and can afford the $5,000 a month for a skilled and aggressive publicist), and/or are super-connected on the web, you can carve out a niche for yourself. But do not count on it.
2) Fortune. Surely you jest! The average book advance for a first-timer is usually less than $25,000…paid out in four installments, the last of which can come a year after publication. You pay your agent 15 percent and taxes take their bite. You will also be paying for all your own marketing and promotion, including the creation and maintenance of your website(s), travel, liability insurance, etc.
3) Adulation. Buy some Kevlar. The toughest part of being an author — and I’ve been chastened by some of the horrendous “reviews” of “Malled” — is putting your work into the public eye. And some people are absolutely vicious in their assessments of your efforts. People will love it. But some will be so scathing it will make your toes curl and your fists clench. If your book is a memoir, and you decide to share some of yourself, be prepared to be wildly and roundly attacked — not for the book’s content — but who you are as a person.
Many readers are simply unable to understand that a book is heavily edited and the writer’s persona is carefully chosen. The “me” in any memoir is not 100 percent of who you are! Readers can be both literal and deeply judgmental. I blogged here about the insane reactions to Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love.”
4) Hitting the best-seller list. The odds against this are enormous. Focus instead on slow, steady, ongoing sales.
5) Selling your next book (more) easily. If your sales aren’t great, this can hurt your chances of selling the next one. No pressure!
Anything I’ve left out?

Celebrating Four Brave Journalists (Who Happen To Be Women)

Kate Adie Lecture at CIMARC Launch
A not-very-good pic of Kate Adie...Image by Peter J Dean via Flickr

It’s such an honor for me to sit in the same room as women whose work exemplifies the very best of what we try to do as journalists — uncover and tell important stories, telling truth to power, sometimes in the face of absolutely terrifying pressures.

This year, so far, 36 journalists have been killed worldwide just for trying to do their jobs, and many others have been kidnapped, tortured, beaten, shot at and surveilled, their husbands and wives and children threatened with harm by government agents and others.

On October 27, I sat in the balcony of the oh-so-elegant Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan watching three fantastic female journalists win the Courage in Journalism Award from the 11-year-old International Women’s Media Foundation and one, Kate Adie, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The four came from Thailand, Iran, Mexico and England — the latter a legend, Kate Adie, the BBC’s first chief news correspondent, an astonishing woman I met on the same Canadian story in 1984. (More on that later.)

The three CIJ award-winners are:

Adela Navarro Bello, 44, who edits Zeta, a Mexican newsmagazine. She told the room that 68 journalists have been killed and 12 have gone missing since 2006 in Mexico, a nation plagued with drug cartels and narco-terrorism, stories she keep covering despite the incredible danger in so doing. Journalists have been decapitated for doing this work. “The stakes have never been higher and 95 percent of these crimes have not been solved,” she told the audience. “If you commit a crime like this, no one will track you down, no one will accuse you and no one will arrest you.”

Parisa Hafezi, 41, bureau chief for Reuters in Tehran. “In Iran, life is tough enough for a woman, let alone a female journalist working for foreign media.” Hafezi, a single mother of two girls, has had her home raided by police. “The little one still has nightmares,” she said. “I’ve cried in secret after long interrogations. But this is not my job. This is my life. How can I quit my life?” The November issue of Glamour includes a photo of her, with her daughters, in editor Cindi Lieve’s editor’s note; Lieve sits on the IWMF board.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, 43, who runs a Thai website, Prachatai, (“Free People”) which posted others’ negative comments about the King of Thailand. For this, a crime in Thailand, she faces a possible 20-year prison sentence; she is currently out on bail.

Adie, 65, has been covering every major story worldwide for more than 40 years, from Tianamen Square to the genocide in Rwanda. She still has shrapnel in one foot as a result of one attack.

Funny, warm, down-to-earth, Adie whispered in my ear in 1984 after we met while covering the Royal Tour of Queen Elizabeth to three Canadian provinces. I was then 26, on my first huge assignment for The Globe and Mail, writing front page stories several times every day for two weeks. I had no prior newspaper experience before being hired to write for the Globe, still Canada’s most respected national newspaper.

I was terrified much of the time, knowing what sort of pressure I faced to come up with news — on a story that everyone knows offers none. When I did some reporting that other reporters missed, I quickly became the target of much gossip and backbiting among the international press corps. Demoralized and isolated, I had no idea how to handle it, when Adie, a total stranger and already a very famous journalist in her own right, came over to me as we ate dinner en masse one night.

“The higher your profile, the better target you make,” she said quietly.

I never forgot her kindness, and her wisdom. And so, in June 2007, when I got to London for the first time in years, I asked her to lunch. We sat down, chatting away like old friends.

Adie paid me one of the greatest compliments of my life, mentioning me admiringly (and that 1984 incident, the price of my speaking out) in her autobiography.

Typical of her modesty and sense of history, she paid tribute in her acceptance speech to the greatest female foreign reporter of an earlier era, American-born Martha Gellhorn — a woman she termed “both wise and stylish.” I like that combo!

“I never planned to be a journalist or studied it. I learned my journalism haphazardly without female role models,” she told the audience, which included executives from major media companies based in New York like Bloomberg News, CBS, Conde Nast, Hearst and others.

On one of her many meetings with Queen Elizabeth, she was told, in regal tones: “I always associate you with ghastly things.”

That’s journalism — often covering dark, scary, dangerous and depressing stuff that many people prefer to avoid, both readers and other reporters.

That’s what these brave, smart, tough, inspiring women choose to do.

Congratulations to all of them!

Thanks to blogging and a bum hip, I’m a cover girl!

Too weird for words, really…

It all started out thanks to my blogging for True/Slant, which is where the editors of this magazine found my writing and liked it enough to ask me to write about my miserable left hip, whose arthritis worsened severely in January 2010, just in time for me to combine writing a memoir with — agonizing pain! Five specialists! Xrays! MRIs! Heavy painkillers!

The corticosteroids I took to reduce the inflammation then destroyed the bone in my hip — necessitating hip replacement (which I am trying to get up the nerve to just get done.)


The cover shoot was a hoot. Five (!) strangers converged on our small suburban apartment: an art director and photographer from Atlanta, a make-up and hair artist from Chicago, a photo assistant from Brooklyn and a wardrobe stylist from New York City who brought an entire garment rack filled with possibilities they had chosen for me, based on my many bossy emails of what I refuse to wear and (shriek) my clothing size.

Brave souls, all of us.

It took 4.5 hours to achieve this shot. What you can’t see is the July sweat dripping down my back, nor the photographer sliding up and down my living room wall for support, also drenched from non-stop focus and exertion. Nor the art director, Susan, peering after every shot at her laptop to see how it all looked.

Luckily for me, the photographer, Kevin, and Susan and I had had time the day before to enjoy a long, leisurely lunch and have a chance to get to know one another personally, which made the shoot much less scary than it might have otherwise been. They’re lovely people, warm and down-to-earth, so I never felt intimidated or nervous.

(Thanks to my new book and other projects, I’m fairly used to being photographed for national publication. I even had my pic taken in a bathing suit for some paid web writing I did about my hip.)

The necklace is my own (Ann Taylor), as are the invisible earrings. I’m leaning against our sofa, with lots of artificial light thrown in. The curly hair is natural.

I never thought in a million years this might happen, but it’s already prompted some kind and supportive emails from AT readers.

Here’s a link to the issue…although you can’t access my story (!) online.

Needs Versus Wants — When Is Enough Enough?

One of the entrances to the Retiro Subway Stat...
A subway station in Buenos Aires...a place I very much want to visit someday! Image via Wikipedia

Great piece in The New York Times by a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah:

One of the most challenging personal finance issues we all face is the ever-expanding definition of “need.” Things we once considered clear luxuries have somehow becomes necessities, often without any consideration of how the change in status happened.

Cars that seemed just fine now seem old fashioned. Then there are children and their cellphones. Only a few years ago it would’ve seemed outlandish for 14-year-olds to need one at all, let alone the latest iPhone.

Achieving clarity about the difference between our needs and wants remains one of the biggest challenges in personal finance and a tremendous source of potential conflict within families. While simple in theory, the calculation is much more complex in practice.

One of the most discouraging parts of modern life seems to be this never-ending sense that we should want more.

And a front-page piece in The Wall Street Journal, examines how much less Americans are buying.

I’ve lived in a one-bedroom apartment, with limited closet space, (which I share and in which I work), since 1989. There just isn’t a lot of room for a lot of stuff. I admit it, we do have several storage lockers…

But I’m not typically crazed about buying more stuff. I hate malls, don’t really find shopping very interesting and have been living, since losing my staff job in 2006, on less than a third of what I then earned — while all our costs have risen considerably, whether bridge tolls, gas or food.

My greatest indulgence is objects for our home, whether the folk art black horse I bought last month in Ontario or the transferware plates I collected in the 1990s before they became trendy and expensive. I look at all those plates and think — really? Then we had a party last week with 34 guests and I had plenty of tableware and serving pieces and was happy not to resort to Chinet or paper.

We only upgraded last year to a flat-screen television — which Jose bought while I was away, knowing I’d say (truthfully) we did not need a new TV and our huge black 1988-Sony Trinitron was just fine. Which it was.

So it’s an interesting battle for any of us with disposable income (and deeply grateful for it!) — what do we really need and what do we (only) want?

And when is it OK to give in to the latter?

I’m at a point in my life I want, more than anything, things or experiences that are damn expensive. Because we’re lucky enough to own (and maintain) the basics, whether a good laptop or decent cookware.

But I seriously crave annual (or more) overseas travel, although I can’t say I need it.

In a weird way, I sort of like not having a ton of money — precisely because obsessing about buying more and more stuff is really not workable. We drive a paid-off vehicle and live well in a small-but-lovely home we own, (albeit with a mortgage.) I’m still able to save 15 to 20 percent of my diminished income every year. (We also have no kids, which saves us $10,000 per child annually.)

I’m also at a point in my life, mid-50s, where the things I most want are not things one can actually buy.

— I’d really like to find a way to double, if not triple my income in order to truly beef up our retirement savings.

— I’d like my half-brother, after years of refusing to acknowledge my existence, to get a grip and deal.

— I’d like my mother to realize the three women currently showering her with attention, (she is addled, starved for attention, isolated, old and rich), may not be quite as benignly devoted as she is persuaded they are…

And so on.

What you want more than anything right now?

What do you need?

Or is it also something you can’t obtain with money?

Second Thoughts On Style

Love that cowl-neck sweater! Image by Nieve44/La Luz via Flickr

What about a person’s appearance — (although a lovely soul matters most! — makes them attractive and memorable?

Personal style. Attention to detail. Self-confidence. Understanding fit, proportion, color and scale.

It isn’t easy, which is why so many fall into the snoozy ruts of khakis-and-a-blazer for men or those faux pinstripy “suits” so many women wear, as if by default. I read fashion magazines, but find their advice and choices often fairly bizarre and unworkable for my size, shape, budget and age. Other than that…

Websites like The Sartorialist now celebrate civilians who manage to radiate chic.

Working retail for a few years was a fun way to see how stylish people put themselves together. I still remember a woman my age who came in wearing a gorgeous turquoise jacket — with eyeglass frames that matched.

A few addenda to how to achieve it:

A high-cut armhole. If you’ve ever been to France and tried on their clothes, you’ll notice the difference in fit right away. The armhole is cut higher and tighter than anything created by American designers, and it creates a totally different line. Much more elegant!

Sleeve length, shirt shape and necklines matter! A cap sleeve is brutal on a woman like me with large and muscular upper arms. A boat-neck is fab on (my) broad shoulders. Focus on your best bits and camouflage the rest by drawing attention to the parts you’re happy receiving the most attention. I can’t tolerate people staring at my chest, so make sure to dress in ways that focus attention elsewhere.

Shapewear. Unless you are rail-thin, Spanx is your best friend, smoothing out the bumps under almost everything you wear. Bras need to fit really well.

Proper sleeve length and trouser rise. Men and women alike seem to overlook these basics, maybe because most of us buy off the rack now without the critical and helpful eye of a tailor.

Watch the break. Look at dozens of wedding photos and you’ll see men whose trousers are wayyyy too long. On your wedding day! Do they not know? Notice?

Scarves, shawls, mufflers. One of my favorite French male styles is the use of a colored scarf or muffler with a blazer or jacket. It adds such panache!

Feet first.  How many people even have a shoeshine kit (including a suede brush) or shoe trees or visit their cobbler regularly to make sure they are, literally, well-heeled? I see all sorts of people wearing costly clothes and jewelry whose footwear is a mess. Makes no sense to me.

Hang out and pay attention. I’m not a huge fan of H & M, but every single time I go into their store at Fifth Avenue and 42d Street I learn a lot about style just by watching the women who shop there. On my last visit to Paris I was most struck by a woman in her 60s with fabulous olive sneakers with burgundy laces. I’d seen the shoes in a shop but not with those laces, which gave the shoes a totally different look. Pick a fun neighborhood, take a cafe table and just watch the passing parade.

Customize and personalize. The lesson of the burgundy shoe laces. I admire the spirit that makes a woman, or man, make that extra effort to take a mass-produced item and make it their own. A hat-pin or pocket square. A bag you’ve stitched yourself of vintage fabric. A plain T-shirt to which you’ve added lace.

When you find something fantastic, buy multiples. Years ago, I scored four (!) silk scarves from Banana Republic: deep chocolate brown; creamy white; soft rose; deep fuchsia. They’re long enough to circle my neck three times and wide enough to wear as a shawl, with luxuriously fringed ends. They were $60 each (no, not cheap!) but I bought all four anyway. One of the best buys of my life, as I wear them year-round and love them. They easily fit into the smallest suitcase and change the look of almost any outfit. If, like me, you dislike shopping, make good use of your time and pick up several things at once. This year I bought two classic cotton Tahari shift dresses (black and blue) and two pairs of dark-wash, boot-cut stretch jeans (also black and blue.)

The monochromatic route works wonders, when done well. All black, blue, cream or camel can be a terrific look, especially if you mix shades and textures. Think: denim, linen, silk, rayon, cotton, leather, suede, charmeuse.

Combine interesting colors: navy and black, brown and black, red and gray, violet and gray. One of the pleasures of travel is seeing what other countries’ stores have to offer. I always find clothes I love in Canada, France and England, sometimes more easily (?!) than in New York, arguably a shopper’s mecca. I find NY filled with cheap basics (zzzzz) and super-costly designer duds I can’t afford or won’t fit into. One of my favorite dresses ever (wore it for my wedding) is by the British label Ghost. I bought it in L.A. and very rarely have found their goods here.

Great eyeglasses. I bought one of my two pair, grey multi-toned plastic,  on the Rue St. Antoine in Paris, a few blocks from the apartment we rented. They were no more expensive than they would have been in NY and every time I wear them — daily — I remember Paris. I get compliments on them frequently. A stylish pair of glasses makes a strong statement.

Well-chosen jewelry. When Jose and I began dating, he wore silver rings and even, occasionally, bracelets. I had never dated a man who wore jewelry, let alone was so attached to it as a style marker. It looks great on his brown skin and, within a few years, I had a ring made for him — agate set into a gold bezel, with a wide silver band — that I designed. He loves it. His wedding ring is hammered silver, found on Etsy.

I love great jewelry — whether costume, vintage or contemporary — and he has given me some beautiful earrings over the years. It’s one place I splurge whenever possible, and even the simplest outfit can shine with a touch of gold, silver, pearls or mosaic. Flea markets have offered some of my best finds — like Deco bottle green  glass earrings and a black ring with a deeply incised Gothic-style C, (the font of The New York Times).

Wit. I love juxtaposition, which takes wit and a bit of bravado. Something as simple as great socks — red, striped, violet — can add a style hit to the most basic man’s outfit. The night I met Jose, he wore a vintage gray wool overcoat and his muffler was a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl. That definitely left an impression. Even more so when, at the evening’s end, he took it off — scented with his fab cologne, 1881, and wrapped it around my neck.

What style (re)sources have you found useful?

The Secrets Of Ageless Style

Emblem from Symbolicarum quaestionum.
However appealing, naked is rarely a practical option! Image via Wikipedia

Any woman over the age of 40 (and it starts younger for many) knows the feeling of utter dread.

What do I wear now?

I  work in New York, surrounded by skinny, wealthy women with a lot more time and money to spend on their appearance, grooming, accessories and wardrobe. My mother was a model for a while and my skinny, elegant late step-mother had entire garment racks filled with very costly clothing, so I had beautiful and terrifyingly confident women around me as role models visually — but advice on how to look as great as they did?

Not so much.

I read all the fashion magazines for ideas and guidance, but can’t afford $1,500 handbags and $900 shoes. Nor am I a 15-year-old from Lithuania, on whom all clothes look amazing…

Here’s a video link to an interview with my favorite fashionista, Stacy London, of the TLC show “What Not To Wear”, who says, wisely: “Fear is a real detriment to great style.”

(She even has her own stylists. No wonder she looks so damn great!)

Here are some of the ways I dress well, at 54, on a budget:

A la francaise

French women think long and hard before adding something to their wardrobe. Is it chic? Flattering? Well-made? Americans have too many stores, are overwhelmed by too much choice and keep buying poorly made garments. Having lived in Paris and returned many times, I stick to French-style shopping — buying, and keeping for many years, fewer and better-made pieces.


The simplest black T (well-cut!) and trousers (ditto) can look totally different, thanks to accessories. I look for sales, vintage, antiques and, when possible, buy the very best I can afford at the time. I shop high when possible (Hermes, Manolos) but often low. Two chain necklaces from a super-cheap store in New York have won me multiple compliments. I buy cord and ribbon to make my own necklaces with lockets and other things I’ve picked up along the way, from an Atlanta boutique to a Toronto flea market; this New York store is a treasure trove of gorgeous ribbon.

Men can always up their game with great socks, beautifully maintained classic shoes (penny loafers, brogues), a silk pocket square, a fabulous tie. Fit matters! Watch the break in your trousers and the length of your sleeves. Details, gentlemen!

A tailor

Never forget how much good a good tailor can do. When I needed a black-tie outfit, I scored a gorgeous teal taffeta floor-length skirt at Loehmann’s, a local discount chain, for $80. A tailor removed the waist and altered it to fit beautifully. Very few clothes come in the exact size and shape that we do, especially as we age.

Men, too! “What Not To Wear’s” male star, Clinton Kelly, swears by them — and is opening a new set of retail stores.

Consignment shops

Rich ladies (and men) wear their silk and cashmere for about 20 minutes. They get bored. Or they never even wear it once. I have a few shops in a nearby town that have helped fill my closets with Ferragamo loafers, triple-ply cashmere and never-worn sandals from Prada and Sigerson Morrison. No one needs to know where your clothes and accessories come from.


This is a tricky area, as so much vintage clothing reads costume-y or fits poorly. But you can add a huge hit of style with the right choices, with styles, materials and workmanship often now priced out of reach. I love my fab black mohair hat from the 40s and a silk Genny dress I scored at this amazing Manhattan shop. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m in my fourth year of wearing it year-round and loving it.


Cut and color. Manicures and pedicures. I’m not fan of obsessive age-fighters like Botox or Restylane, but paying consistent attention to detail really matters as you age. I see far too many women my age simply give up, sliding into matronhood with horrible hair color, choppy cuts and dumpy, unflattering clothing.

Men — nose and ear hair trimming is crucial. Pluck those caterpillar eyebrows. Stylish women love the company of equally stylish men. My Dad, at 82, still dresses with panache and care, as does his partner.

Check out these photos from Seth Cohen’s fab blog Advanced Style, of super-stylish women in their 60s, 70s and beyond for inspiration.


I’m a size 16, hoping get back to a 12. In the meantime, I still have toned legs, strong and shapely shoulders, pretty feet and a waist still clearly defined. That’s enough to keep me from despair.

I was recently photographed (!) for the cover (!!) of a magazine, (oh, all right, Arthrtitis Today),  with 750,000 readers, which was crazy. A crew of five people: makeup/hair, wardrobe stylist, art director, photographer and assistant came to my small New York apartment from New York City, Atlanta and Chicago to take my photo. It required four hours’ standing, posing, smiling, high energy.

But I was told my confidence was appealing and unusual. I know what they meant — for my size.

A personal shopper

Every department store has one, and you don’t have to drop a fortune. Having total strangers examine your shape and offer you some fresh new choices can boost your confidence and blast you out of your style ruts. This happened to me twice in the past six months, and it’s made a big difference in how I think about my appearance.

Here’s an interesting blog post on this vexing issue of how to change your style as you head north of 50 — although the comments are much more interesting! — from the British newspaper The Guardian.

And you, o stylish ones around the world — dish!

Ten Ways To Stay (Happily!) Married

Kapu bride and groom
Image via Wikipedia

Like I’m an expert — having been married (for the second time) an entire month. But I did live with Jose for 11 years before we married, long outlasting many official marriages along the way.

Here’s a smart blog post with tips from a few American couples who’ve been married a long time.

Argue when necessary. I don’t believe marriages whose motto is: “We never fight.” Hmmm. So, you never, ever, ever have a difference of opinion on anything? If so, cool. If not, and someone is perpetually squelching their feelings for fear of conflict, look out. Jose and I are passionate, stubborn perfectionists. It’s gonna happen.

Apologize — and really mean it. Not the “I’m sorry you feel hurt” which is BS, an insult and so not an apology! Forgive quickly, and mean it. Grudges are poison.

Flowers are a very good idea, any time. Women who adore them cannot get enough of them. Find out your spouse’s absolute favorites — buy big and often. Every time she looks at them, she sees your love.

Never stop saying “please” and “thank you.” About three years ago, we went out for dinner with an older woman who had never met us, and who had no idea how long we’d been a couple. Watching our behavior, (still respectful, even a bit formal), she guessed a few months. The late Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue, in her fab 1997 autobiography DV, said she always stood up a little straighter when her husband walked into the room. I like that.

Your spouse comes first. It took a long time for Jose to understand that work is key to his happiness and our income, but he must put it aside to connect with me, certainly at day and week’s end. I’m a driven, ambitious and passionate person, and all for someone who loves their work, but not at the expense of their marriage. I’ve had to stop obsessing about my own issues, especially my mother, who lives very far away, whose life is forever full of demanding and emotionally draining complications.

Laugh long, loud and as often as possible. My Dad has stayed with us a few times in our one-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the sofa. He says he was struck by how much Jose and I laugh in bed together. We do laugh a lot. Life in your 40s and beyond gets crazy stressful as friends and parents sicken and die. Laughter heals.

Never abandon seduction. I don’t mean sex, per se, but effort. I really appreciate it when Jose puts on a coat and tie, whether for church or a party or a meal out. I, too, make a point of shedding my sloppy at-home clothes, which I live in because I work alone at home all day. Perfume, cologne, a fresh shave, a pedicure. Having a wonderful meal prepared for you, offered at a lovely table. Jose brings me coffee in bed each morning,  It all helps.

Cultivate close friendships with people who share your spiritual values. I stay far away from whiners and emotional vampires, especially from those clinging to abusive mates or contemplating, or having, an affair. Every marriage needs all the strengthening it can get, and none of the weakening. Surround yourself with healthy role models.

Vacations! Every relationship needs some fresh air and new perspectives, on the world and on each other. Jose and I had a doozy of a fight at 6:00 a.m. in Paris after I chose the wrong bus to get us into the city. But when we arrived at Notre Dame just in time for the sunrise, he quickly forgave me. We’ve also taken separate vacations and thrived. One of my favorite memories was when I was in Tunis, in June 2003, and he was in San Francisco, and we spoke by phone across that impossible distance, my coins clanging through the pay phone like hailstones.

When we can afford it, we come here, (five times so far!) to this idyllic Canadian resort, and look forward to more shared memories there. I love having “our place”, where they know us well and remember our previous visits over the past 10 years.

Totally separate interests. Yes. Jose is passionate about Buddhism and golf. Not I. I love antiques, design, museums, dance. We both need to recharge our batteries, make space and time alone to enjoy ourselves, share our loves with friends and strangers — so we can come home with fresh material. Every marriage needs new material!

Here’s a new book that offers some of the same ideas, and others…

What keeps your marriage thriving?

The Ex-Pat’s Life…Where’s Home?

Postcard of McGill University, Toronto, Ontari...
McGlll University, a long time ago! Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a lovely blog post by a Romanian woman who has wandered the world, reflecting on the ten things she’s learned in her ten years away from her native land.

And a powerful set of posts from one of my favorite expat sites.

I left my hometown, Toronto, in August 1986 to move to Montreal, where I worked for 18 months as a newspaper reporter. While living there, I soon fell in love with a tall, thin, handsome medical student in his final year of medicine at McGill. I knew from the minute we met he was going to move to New Hampshire the following year for a four-year residency. Loving him (and we were discussing marriage within months of our meeting) meant leaving behind family, friends, country, culture and a well-established career.


I remember distinctly my excitement at obtaining my “green card” through my mother, who was then an American citizen. I also felt tremendous fear as I crossed that border for a new life, like a raindrop falling into the ocean. The U.S. has 10 times as many people as Canada.

How would I ever create a new identity for myself?

Here are five things my 22 years here have taught me:

Identity is mutable.

It’s a deeply Buddhist issue to detach your ego from your identity. By clinging ferociously to one specific identity, we shut off other possibilities of what we might (have) become. In my time in the U.S. I’ve swung wildly in income, now earning barely 25 percent of my staff salary from 2006. Scary? Yes. But I don’t define my value by my income anymore.

Trying new roles is freeing, fun and can lead to all sorts of unimagined outcomes.

In my years here, I’ve become a nationally ranked saber fencer; competed twice in a major national sailing competition; sold two books to major publishers; learned how to hit a softball to the outfield and seen one of my books sold to China. At home, where people “knew” me so well, I doubt I would have tried on so many new roles.

What won’t kill you does make you stronger.

I’ve survived being a crime victim several times; three orthopedic surgeries; divorce; job loss; the loss of several women I thought were friends for life. I’m still here and still fine.

Being an “outsider” is a huge advantage for a writer.

I’ve known this since I got my first New York City magazine staff job, thanks to my fluent French, a rarity in my field. Since then, both of my books have been well-reviewed and appreciated for their fresh eye on eternal and widely-accepted American verities — guns are good and low-wage labor is normal. Neither assumption is shared by many people outside the borders of the U.S. and it takes an outsider’s eye to see it, and call it. (Some of the nation’s best-known and most respected writers and editors have come to the U.S. from  elsewhere.)

Home is wherever you make it.

I think every ex-patriate feels a little lost after a while. You no longer fit, or unquestioningly accept, your former cultural norms and assumptions — but neither, necessarily, do you adopt them wholesale from wherever you are living. Home becomes your family, your friends, your nest, your passport.

If you’ve been an ex-pat, or are one now, how has it changed you?

The Case For Courage

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day. (Copyright Marie de Jesus.)

I think courage is, these days, an under-rated quality.

People who encourage us aren’t merely hissing “Great job!” for every breath we take.

When we truly need to find our inner strength, we need someone to encourage us — to breathe some of that holy fire into our shaky lungs.

We think of the courageous as those fighting in war (they are) or those facing very bad diagnoses or anyone stepping off the cliff of the known and familiar and secure.

A courageous woman is someone who, however reluctantly, her vows shattered by years of abuse or neglect, leaves a terrible marriage, maybe with nothing ahead but weeks or months on a relative’s sofa or a homeless shelter or a women’s shelter. A courageous man decides to marry after years of bachelor freedom, aware of his new responsibility to his bride, her family and to himself.

A courageous teenager steps up when s/he sees someone being bullied and, whenever possible, puts an end to it.

A courageous teacher sees the pilot light of potential in a struggling, sullen or silent child.  A courageous politician is willing to take a stand, take a hit, take a fall for making the right choices, not simply the easiest or those guaranteed to win media attention or large donations.

I am hungry to learn more about men and women of courage. I am weary of a culture that far too often celebrates, rewards and deifies cowardice and greed.

Here’s a lovely post by Canadian blogger Josh Bowman about a fellow Canadian who inspired him as a teenager, and who still does. In it, he talks about Craig Kielburger, who at the age of 12 decided to create an international campaign to end the use of child labor.

He didn’t do it to burnish his resume or to get into the right college; (Canadian universities don’t use essays anyway, just good grades, to decide whom to admit.) He did it out of a blazing sense of compassion. He makes me proud to be a Canadian.

So does this little girl, who I’ve also blogged about, Alaina Podmorow, who did the same for girls when she, too was very young. She still is!

In 1957, the late President John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer prize for his book, Profiles in Courage, about political leaders he admired. I was thrilled when three women recently won the Nobel Peace Prize:

The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leyma Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen — the first Arab woman to win the prize.

Role models!

I hate the overused word “hero”. I dislike its bombastic pomposity. I doubt many of us want to be, or feel we are, heroes.

But we can all, every single day, be courageous.

Who do you look to as examples of courage?

Here’s a video of a wonderful song by Greg Greenway that sums it up, “Do What Must Be Done.”

The American Dream? Really?

Differences in national income equality around...
Map of the Gini coefficient...purple countries are a mess! Image via Wikipedia

Great essay in the Canadian national newspaper, The Globe and Mail:

For many Americans, the recession began well before 2007, and it’s far from over. It’s become a lost decade of fading opportunity for workers, longer and more frequent bouts of joblessness and declining family incomes.

Obscured by the housing bubble and cheap credit, the well-being of working Americans was already threatened by powerful structural forces when the Great Recession hit. Technology supplanted routine work of all kinds, leaving millions with skills that employers no longer need. Offshoring of work to China and India destroyed millions of labour-intensive factory jobs. Low interest rates artificially pumped up wealth and consumption, but didn’t steer enough investment into the roots of the economy.

Now, more than eight million jobs are gone, and the country is looking at the stark prospect of several more years of unusually high unemployment. Roughly half of the 14 million unemployed Americans have now been out of work for more than six months.

And for the first time on record, family incomes are actually falling. New figures this week from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the median income for working-age households fell 10 per cent between 2000 and 2010, even as women worked more hours.

In 1912, an Italian statistician and sociologist named Corrado Gini created the Gini coefficient to measure differences in income.

Here’s a recent piece from The Atlantic on income inequality:

The U.S., in purple with a Gini coefficient of 0.450, ranks near the extreme end of the inequality scale. Looking for the other countries marked in purple gives you a quick sense of countries with comparable income inequality, and it’s an unflattering list: Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador. A number are currently embroiled in or just emerging from deeply destabilizing conflicts, some of them linked to income inequality: Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia.

Canadians never had a “Canadian dream” so we/they don’t do a lot of hand-wringing over the loss of it. They’re used to higher taxes and lower salaries. They don’t have a constitution offering the promise — or the tantalizing lure of — happiness.

Here’s a powerful blog post about how utterly unequal salaries and wages have become in the U.S.

Here’s a lucid blog post from Open Salon on why Americans, still, remain shockingly docile in the face of this insanity.

I loved this post from The Washington Post:

But this is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium.

The organizers of Occupy Wall Street are fighting to upend the system. But what gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.

As for the Wall Street protestors, writes William Rivers Pitt:

They’re staying put, with many more on the way – to New York as well as every major city from sea to shining sea –  and none of them are going anywhere else until people like you are taken from your citadels in handcuffs and made to pay for the ongoing rape of what was once quaintly called the American Dream…a dream that used to be something other than a dated metaphor, and can be something true and real and genuine once again, but only after we pave you under, and walk over you, on our way to a better, brighter future.

And here’s one of the smartest pieces I have ever read, originally published in a magazine written by academics, on how Americans keeping choosing to focus on gender as a safe(r) proxy for class when discussing the fallout of each recession. History matters!

Here are some photos of the protest on Wall Street, chosen for Freshly Pressed.

How do you feel about the American dream these days?

How’s it working for you?