There Are 500 Of You! Thanks!

Woo-hoo! Time for some celebratory fireworks! Image by 雙魚寶寶攝影小天地 via Flickr

It’s taken what feels like forever — and this little blog thang pales in comparison to those with a kajillion readers and ads and sponsors — but we hit 500 subscribers this weekend, after slightly more than a year blogging at WordPress.

(I blogged for a year, paid [sweet!] at True/Slant before that, so have 1,155 posts, the archives of which typically draw in about 20 percent of my daily visitors.)

I’ve been Freshly Pressed three times, which is very cool.

You, my lovelies, are everywhere! I did a rough headcount and found readers in:

Bhutan (hi, Aby! A former True/Slant pal, and fellow newlywed)

London (from which, Ruth, a lovely South African, blogs here)


Australia (g’day Charlene and Nigel!)


Edinburgh (and even met Lorna and Sarge when they came to New York; Lorna blogs here)



Sri Lanka

Canada (my home and native land)






and, where I live, the United States.

I’m awed by what fun, cool, creative and interesting people have stopped by, and continue to do so. Many of you, like me, are world travelers or ex-patriates like Ruth and Lorna. Many are professors and work in the arts, like Lunar Euphoria, who teaches theatre to kids or The Observationalist, who has a thriving career as a theatrical costume designer in New York City, no small accomplishment for a man in his early 30s.

My only wish? That more of you would comment and join in the conversation.

But thank you for making the time to sign up, to read, to converse, to share your thoughts and insights.

A friend recently asked me what I’ve been doing for fun. I didn’t hesitate in my answer:


My Writer’s Week…And Yours?

Boys' Life, July 1917
This is one of the magazines I write for...Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a week in the life of a full-time mid-life, mid-career writer in suburban New York…Well, mine anyway!

Saturday: I drive into Manhattan — paying $4 in tolls each way — to attend an eight-hour class in outdoor survival skills I’ll be writing about for a major publication.  When I asked what they pay (mistakenly, based on past work for them), I assumed it would be twice as much. Ouch. Oh, well.

I’m eager to learn these skills anyway, everything from how to make fire without matches or a lighter to building a rabbit trap. I feel pretty certain I’ll be able to spin off some other stories from this initial investment of time.

I arrive much earlier than necessary, like 45 minutes early, but snag a parking spot, free, on the street. Yay! The day proves to be a lot of fun, despite the final hour spent in pouring rain. I tuck my notebook beneath my rain poncho so it doesn’t get wet and hope I can remember all the details I can’t write down. I normally avoid working on weekends, so I have time with Jose and to simply relax. But I also have the flexibility to take a day off mid-week to compensate.

That night I come home to a meal Jose made in my absence, fried chicken and a very good bottle of red wine.

Sunday: We attend church at our local, small Episcopal (Anglican) church, a stone building from 1853, designed by the same architect who created St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a tourist’s must in Manhattan. We are given a public blessing on our recent marriage in Toronto, with a lovely prayer taken from the New Zealand BCP. I visit a friend’s apartment in my building to discuss my new book, “Malled” with her book group, eight women in their 50s and 60s.

Monday: Real life starts again. I pitch story ideas to Marie-Claire, Boys’ Life and Arthritis Today, all publications I’ve written for this year. I email my agent to remind her to write a reference letter for me for a writer-in-residence program I’m applying for, ask about the status of a reality television show I’m hoping to work on and request her edits on the proposal for my third book. She has serious questions and wants to talk by phone. At 8:30 we talk for 90 minutes; it needs a major re-do.

Tuesday: I ride out to Long Island with my neighbor, a professor who teaches there. I’ll be speaking to students there about “Malled” which was assigned to them as their summer read — every freshman had to read it. Nice sales for me! At last week’s lecture, one female student pronounced it “OK”, before grudgingly admitting she found it informative. About 25 students come to the lecture and have good questions. I love meeting readers face to face. I sit in the cafeteria and do a call-in commentary for a Winnipeg talk radio show about what to do when a retail associate answers the phone in front of you.

Wednesday: Normal life. Trying to wade though the piles of unread magazines, both for pleasure and for story ideas. Pitching more story ideas. Mulling over all the changes to my book proposal my agent has requested. Applying for a teaching position for 2013 in Virginia. Applying as a menber of a class-action Canadian copyright lawsuit for whatever damages I might be owed.

Local errands. Mailing back two edited manuscripts to clients in California and New York, both of whom found me on the Internet. One found me through this Harvard Business Review blog post for which (natch!) I was not paid.

Fighting a cold (after eight hours outdoors in the rain), I skip a bike ride (sigh) but sit for 20 minutes on a bench beside our town’s lovely reservoir. Saw swans, geese, cormorants and ducks gleaming in the late afternoon sunshine.

Thursday: Chill day. Took my pool aerobics class and lunch out with them. Discovered that one of my classmates, now 73, worked in Rhodesia at 21 teaching phys ed. How cool! Checked in with a few editors but no feedback yet on my ideas.

Friday: Still feel crappy, so mostly lying low. Heard from the Hollywood writer who is working on turning “Malled” into (we hope) a CBS sitcom. It’s highly instructive to see how very, very slowly those wheels turn; I now watch television with a very different sense of how that material even got chosen or made it to air. Gorgeous fall sunshine, into the 70s. Wish I had more energy to get out into it.

Things were crazy at our home yesterday as Jose, who works in the business section of The New York Times, was scrambling to gather as many photos as possible to illustrate global reactions to the death of Steve Jobs. By the time he staggered home, there was little left of him.
I’m posting this on a Saturday evening after a golden fall day, having had lunch with my dearly beloved members of Softball Lite, my co-ed team (here’s my New York Times love letter to them!),  with whom I am forbidden to play until my damaged hip is replaced. It was our first lunch with them as a married couple, and it was lovely to be feted and congratulated.

One of them is a literary agent and I asked his advice for a friend living in Europe who is shopping a book proposal right now, her first; she and I spent two hours on the phone today helping her prepare for all the questions she has about this scary and exciting process.

How was your week?


Barbara Sheehan Acquitted — Another Victim Of Intimate Terrorism

21 Leader, Michael Dowd
Lawyer Michael Dowd, expert in battered woman syndrome...Image by WeNews via Flickr

Here’s a lousy idea — decriminalizing domestic violence, as Topeka, Kansas authorities are considering.

For the past few weeks, New York has been watching the trial of a Barbara Sheehan, a policeman’s wife, who shot her husband after years of abuse.

I wish we’d re-name domestic violence for what it really is — intimate terrorism. The victims who survive it suffer hidden, constant, terrifying abuse few of us could possibly imagine, let alone overcome.

Her lawyer is Michael Dowd, known nationally in the U.S. as the go-to guy for these horrific cases. From a recent profile of him in The New York Times:

For the last 30 years, Mr. Dowd has defended battered women who have killed their husbands, sometimes with a carving knife, a semi-automatic handgun or a machete. He has done so many of these cases that he has been called the “black widow lawyer” by some of his peers.

“It is very emotionally difficult to take such cases; they really get to me,” said Mr. Dowd, 69, who addresses the court in an avuncular, booming voice that seems calculated to disarm jurors. “This may be my last one.”

For Mr. Dowd, his seminal battered-woman case occurred in 1987, when he marshaled a self-defense argument to secure an acquittal for Karen Straw, a Queens woman who stabbed her husband to death after he had raped her at knife point in front of her two children. Ms. Straw had sought a protection order, and the case drew national attention to the moral conundrum of abused women who kill their aggressors.

Mr. Dowd, the father of three daughters, has since defended nearly two dozen women who have killed their husbands; only one served prison time, and the rest were either exonerated or received lesser sentences. His main legal weapon has been the so-called battered-woman defense, in which the abused woman who has killed her spouse recounts the horrors of her abuse in graphic detail to prove to the jury that she reasonably feared for her life.

I interviewed Dowd for my book about women and guns, “Blown Away”, which included the toxic effects of gun violence on women’s lives (in addition to the legal pleasures of gun use for women.) These women, he told me in 2003, are more like soldiers in combat — facing constant threats to their life — than wives.

I came away better understanding when and why some women finally choose to kill their abusers, usually someone who has been tormenting them, physically and psychologically — and threatening her family, friends, children and pets with violence or annihilation — for years, if not decades. This was the case for Sheehan, as well.

I spoke to several of these women for my book. While in a bathroom in a Texas library, one woman told me her tale, of the husband who kept a loaded shotgun beneath his side of the bed and of her own father who refused to give her shelter or financial help to allow her to flee.

Or the woman who, trying to flee her abusive Midwestern husband, parked her car in a friend’s garage to hide her location, but he hunted her and found her. She shot him at point-blank range. She did not go to prison.

Why don’t these women “just leave”?

Because when they do, their enraged male partners hunt them down and kill them.

Sheehan, after a deadlocked jury kept deliberating, was acquitted this week.

Break The Rules Already!

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...
What if he'd played nicely? Followed others rules? Image via Wikipedia

If there is a phrase that truly sets my teeth on edge it’s this one:

“But I played by the rules.”

This week the world, literally, mourned the untimely death of someone who broke just about any rule he encountered, Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Here’s an Apple video that beautifully sums it up, with images of iconoclasts from Callas to Ford to Gandhi to Picasso, all powerful reminders that rules are made to be broken.

If Steve Jobs had “played by the rules” I wouldn’t be writing this on a Mac desktop or check my email on an Iphone or Iouch. We need, more than, ever cage rattlers like him.

Did you create those rules? Did you have a say in creating them? Did you think they were smart or useful or truly fit your life?

I do not mean: breaking the law, behaving unethically or immorally, cheating or lying.

I do mean: figure it out for yourself, question authority, ask why, investigate, challenge.

My worldview, like all of ours’, is a direct outgrowth of the family in which I was raised. Only my brothers and I attended university.

My parents, who did not, (my Dad eventually finished his degree in his 70s),  never “held a job” or eagerly, patiently and politely awaited the standard rewards of a pension, paid vacation or job-linked benefits. Instead, all of us work for ourselves, invent businesses, hire agents to represent our interests and attorneys to review their work.

My father, still alive at 82, was an award-winning film-maker, a director of television and documentaries and feature films. My mother was a journalist and my step-mother wrote for television.

We had steak years and hamburger years. We never counted on things remaining the same. I grew up learning to save and to invest, in my own skills as much as in any faith — if any — in “the system.”

This notion that “playing by the rules” will win you the game is utter madness. It works beautifully to keep entire populations hopeful, polite, eager to accept whatever terrible working conditions and wages are offered.

A friend’s husband, a man in his late 30s, recently applied for a retail job. He was offered $9 an hour. We live in New York — it would have cost him $8 in tolls simply to drive from his home to his new job.

Which is why thousands of fed-up, worn-out Americans are now occupying Wall Street and other locations; here’s a link to several writers there on the ground.

Because too many of today’s American “rules” work only to further the obscene gains of the already wealthy, not for millions of the rest of us.

These are rules that, we all know now, are deeply and consistently enriching a small, narrow slice of the population. The wealthy do not need to buy their 6th or 7th home on the fruits of our cheap, benefits-free, employed-at-will labors.

If you really hate being screwed by the rules, stop following them with such unquestioning, docile obedience. The “game” is only possible when people keep showing up to play as usual…

Teach yourself and your kids how to acquire and use and sell effectively, freelance when necessary, a wide range of skills, whether how to fix a toilet, soothe an elder or speak Mandarin. Don’t keep buying into the costly and misleading notion that we have to pay others a ton of dough to teach us stuff. To acquire “credentials” that — funny thing — now seem to have no market value at all.

If you don’t want to keep getting screwed by the system, you’ve got to change your MO.

I love this recent, helpful and inspiring blog post by a woman who lives in rural England about turning desperation into inspiration.

The only rules I know that have really helped me?

Hustle. Every single day. (Read Seth Godin’s blog.)

Moderate your material demands to live (safely) with the lowest possible overhead, which gives you the creative freedom to try new (ad)ventures without the fear of losing your home or nutrition. Teach your family to do likewise; drive an old car, or none at all.

Create and nurture networks of people who love, trust and respect your value(s) and skills.

Work with the best and smartest people who will return your calls and emails.

Give 150 percent effort when necessary and 75 percent when possible. (Many of your competitors are offering 50 percent, believing it to be more.)

Save money — to keep your “f–k-you fund” topped up, so if you find yourself in an untenable situation related to your income stream, you can afford to leave and seek something better. It might well mean working for yourself instead. 

Save a ton of money, (and invest it wisely), even if your income goes up.

Eschew debt.

Break some damn rules!

Make your own!

Why There’s No “Bus Driver’s Block”

Painting The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins
Image via Wikipedia

When you tell people you’re a writer, and especially if it’s your sole source of income, the common reaction is one of envy.

Writing for a living seems to be something many people want to do.

Or say they want to do.

I try to be polite to those who say, carelessly, that they plan to “take up writing” after they retire from whatever professional work they are now involved with, as though (which it is, of course, for many people) it’s simply an amusing and relaxing hobby, like knitting or making birdhouses.

Too often, they quickly discover that writing well, often and consistently is work. Yup!

How many times have you gone to the “blogging”, “books” or “writing” tags, eager for inspiration and camaraderie, to find another whiny post pleading “writer’s block?” I’ve wasted many fruitless hours there only to find people posting (!) about how they have nothing to say or don’t know how to say it.

Enough already!

Bus drivers get into the seat, turn on the engine and drive. That’s their job. They don’t wring their hands about it or turn to strangers for guidance on how to do it or tell us they really don’t feel like doing it at all.

They don’t stand around the bus terminal waiting for divine inspiration or a muse to give them directions.

They just get on with it.

Yes, I’m being impatient and judgmental. But writing is work, and therefore requires discipline, focus, concentration, study, practice, reflection. None of which are cute, fun, easy or offer a guaranteed result of excellence.

Of course, I have days here my views fall off a bloody cliff. Tant pis. Nothing I can do about it but bang out another post and hope for the best.

Here’s a recent blog post that was Freshly Pressed on the value of blogging regularly.

Which writers inspire you?

Which blogs do you enjoy the most, and why?

Share the link love!

Is There Life After 50? Define “Life”

Black and white portrait of actress Carlotta M...
Yeah, that's just about what a hot flash feels unwanted assault. Image via Wikipedia

It’s so cute when young ‘uns discover that old folks, (those of us over 40), actually, you know, exist.

From a recent Styles section story in The New York Times , (by my fellow former True/Slant blogger Austin Considine), about a young man, Ari Seth Cohen, whose photographs celebrate elegant and stylish older women:

“The women who I photograph are confident,” he said. “They know what they like, they know what suits their bodies, and they’re dressing for themselves. They don’t dress based on trends.”

“I think a lot of the young people are inspired by the style,” he added, regarding his audience. “And as they get older, they’re inspired by the attitude.”

That attitude finds its apotheosis in women like Ilona Royce Smithkin: a flamboyant 91-year-old bachelorette, whose burlesque charms include a penchant for show tunes, daring colors and false eyelashes cut from her own shock of bright red hair. In younger years, she made her living as an artist, drawing book-jacket portraits of authors like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill…

“In America, once you turn a certain age, you’re sort of forgotten, you’re sort of made to feel that you’re invisible,” he said. “What I’m trying to do is give these women a voice and also show people that your life doesn’t end at 50.”

I hit the big FIVE-OHHHHHHHH in June 2007, and Jose was kind enough to cushion the blow by taking me to Paris. Nothing hurts in Paris!

But, frankly, what are you going to do? You get older, then you die. In the meantime, you get older. And, if you’re female, you are going to have to go through the hell of menopause along the way. For years, my mother warned me, “It’s going to get worse! Lose weight now!”

Cheerful stuff.

I don’t want to write about menopause for a few reasons: it’s personal, it’s too boring, it’s been written about to death already and it’s not the least bit interesting to anyone who is not in the middle of it.

It was helpful, though, to hear a Canadian friend my age tell me she literally walked into the lake in front of her rural home just to cool off from the incessant inanity of hot flashes. I loathe them. No one, anywhere, ever, wants to feel the slimy sheen of sweat accumulating on their throat and face, let alone dripping down their back — usually when you’re in the middle of trying to look and behave professionally before a critical (in both senses of that word) audience of strangers.

One night, when I was working retail, I tried to finish up a sale, in a polished and smooth manner, at the cash wrap. Then a hot flash hit, leaving me…

with a huge drop of sweat hanging from the tip of my nose.

Yeah, that was fun. I couldn’t (or felt I couldn’t) swipe at it gracefully. So I just tried to ignore it, and hoped they would too, and that my sweat would not drip onto their new purchase.

Here’s a funny, bitchy, right-on piece from The Atlantic by Sandra Tsing-Loh about menopause and how the world looks from the dark side of 50.

If you’re over 50, (especially my fellow females out there), how are things for you these days?

The Naming Of Things

How exactly do I milk this thing?
Image by Unhindered by Talent via Flickr

Holstein, Jersey…

Then I ran out of names for cows. I’m not a farm girl and, although a big fan of milk and yogurt (thanks, cows!) I’m at a loss to name more than two breeds of them.

For someone who prides herself on knowing a lot about the world, this annoys me.

I went for a walk and tried to name all the trees I saw. I could recognize plane, oak, maple, elm, chestnut, white and red pine, cedar, Japanese maple, birch…But not walnut. I’d feel a little silly carrying a field guide, but how else will I know how to name the things around me?

We know to name the things that matter most, but why can I name (sigh) the makers of $800 shoes more readily than I can cite the names of the trees and flowers and birds that give me the most pleasure?

Having studied a variety of disciplines, from photography to sailing to saber fencing to interior design to two languages (French and Spanish), I have a large and varied vocabulary I enjoy:

quoin, dentil, parapluie, tenedor, gunwhale, boom vang, crazing, metamerism.

What are some of the favorite words you use in your worlds?