Mortal? Moi?

All Men Are Mortal (film) poster
Image via Wikipedia

So this is the week I have to write a will. I face serious surgery soon, a hip replacement on February 6, and don’t have one and have assets and so this is the responsible thing to do.

Insert long string of curses here.

Can I please have a martini? Can I go shoe-shopping? Where’s my new J. Crew catalogue?

Whaddya mean I have to envision myself dead?

Would I rather, my lawyer/friend asks me smoothly, on speakerphone — as if asking if I prefer a latte or cappuccino — be cremated or buried? How about life support if I turn into a vegetable in the OR?

I mutter sullen, infantile monosyllables. The truth? I have no fucking idea.

Do I really have to make these decisions now?

I haven’t (yes, very irresponsible of me) had a will since 1982. Yes, things have changed since then! I’m fortunate enough to have some savings, own a home and some material objects of value.

I also have no kids, the default winners-take-all. It gets trickier then.

Who gets the stuff? Who gets my money — and how much and when? Do I want to make individual bequests? Of what? To whom?

A will, literally, is the posthumous expression of…my will.

So my husband, of course, will get most of it. (You knew that, honey, right?)

But I want to leave some to my favorite public radio stations, and to a dear friend whose life choices didn’t earn her a ton. After that…?

I really wish I had had amassed the dough to endow some sort of fellowship or scholarship, because that’s what I value most: learning, wisdom, travel, sharing insights across cultures.

It’s going to make for some interesting thinking.

The wealthiest people have their names on college gyms, hospital wings, stadiums and museum galleries as their legacies. However comforting, thousands of strangers will see their names.

For the rest of us, whatever we are able to leave behind materially presents a set of more private, perhaps more challenging decisions.

Have you made out a will?

How did that feel?

There’s Blood On Your Ipad

Not a Mac mini ...

You know that, right?

It’s on mine as well. I’m writing this on a Mac and much of my work is done on on a Mac laptop.

But I have yet to find a way to reconcile where and how these products are made — the subject of this one-man show currently playing in New York City. Mike Daisey managed to find his way to Shenzhen, China and to the vast community/company town run by Foxconn, whose workers who sleep in enormous dormitories, a hive of cement cubicles, required to work shifts so long and onerous that — as I was finishing “Malled” — the company made unwelcome front-page news as 12 desperate workers committed suicide by jumping out of their windows.

Their solution? Nets.

Daisey was recently interviewed on The Leonard Lopate Show, (a daily Manhattan culture-based talk show on WNYC),  and one of his words stuck with me: workers there, he said, are seen as interchangeably and dispassionately as “biomass.”



I spoke recently to a smart, wise career journalist, someone who has seen China firsthand from the Tiananmen Square to today; her last visit there was two years ago. She unhesitatingly agreed with Daisey’s assessment: “People have no idea. China right now just wants to make money and everything else be damned. They don’t care about workers or unions or rights. If someone drops dead on the assembly line, there are literally millions more eager to take their place.”

I include reporting on Foxconn and the suicides in my new book about retail because every time we buy something made in so ugly and brutal a fashion, we’re de facto implicated.

We all know who Steve Jobs was.

Few of us know who Terry Gou is, the CEO of Foxconn; this link is to a Wall Street Journal profile, when he was heading Hon Hai — and Gou, then, in 2007, was worth some $10 billion:

With a work force of some 270,000 — about as big as the population of Newark, N.J. — the factory is a bustling testament to the ambition of Hon Hai’s founder, Terry Gou. In an era when manufacturing has been defined by outsourcing, no one has done more to shift global electronics production to China. Little noticed by the wider world, Mr. Gou has turned his company into China’s biggest exporter and the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of electronics.

Hon Hai’s revenue has grown more than 50% a year in the past decade to $40.6 billion last year. It is expected to add $14 billion in revenue this year. That is roughly the equivalent of Motorola’s adding, within a year, the sales of CBS Corp.

Throughout his company’s rise, the 56-year-old native of Taiwan has maintained a low profile. Publicity, he says, risks helping competitors and alienating customers. “I hate that I [have] become famous,” Mr. Gou said in a recent three-hour interview at Hon Hai’s Taiwan headquarters. It was Mr. Gou’s first interview with Western media since 2002, following more than five years of requests by The Wall Street Journal. “We are so big we cannot hide anymore.”

One of the smartest and most insightful shows on American public radio is This American Life, an hour-long weekly show by Ira Glass, which (for non-American readers here) is broadcast on 500 stations and has about 1.7 million listeners.  Glass did a special version of Daisey’s show for his show.

You can listen to it here. It is astonishing.

Daisey did the kind of firsthand reporting that journalists should be doing — and most often do not. He went to Shenzhen — a city of 14 million he describes as looking “like Blade Runner threw up on itself.” Highly unusual when reporting on Chinese labor, he spoke to many of its workers. He showed one man — whose hand was destroyed from making Ipads — what one looks like when it’s in use; workers never see the finished product, he said.

It is something every single user of these products must think about.

Is the only answer to boycott these products? I’m not sure anyone will.

Are there other, better solutions?

The Cat’s Away!

Golf Channel on NBC
Nope, not this week! Image via Wikipedia

Nice way to describe my husband, right?

But he’s gone on a business trip for 16 days, probably the longest time I’ve had the place to myself in a dozen years of co-habitation.

Jose is (God bless him) a Very Tidy Person. I’m…less so. So now I get to revert to my single/slovenly ways. Yay!

While the cat’s away, this mouse gets to:

leave dirty dishes in the sink

fill the bedroom with flowers

blog at 2:00 a.m.

not have to move to the sofa because he’s snoring so loudly

not have to move to the sofa because I’m snoring so loudly

eat out of the pot/frying pan

leave piles everywhere — clean clothes, dirty clothes, shoes, whatever

not even think about what’s for dinner

eat….whatever’s in the fridge

eat out

sprawl like a starfish across the bed

not have to change the channel back from The Golf Channel

shop on-line ’til my eyes melt

read in bed without fear of disturbing his sleep

not care if my cellphone is dead, which I generally prefer it to be

start the day with noisy rock radio (he normally meditates)

call in the middle of a meeting (oops! he’s two hours behind) to ask…which channel is HBO2?

email him all sorts of fun stuff I find on-line

do the laundry myself (ugh)

fix the damn toilet

miss him like crazy

When your sweetie/spouse is away and you have the place to yourself, what mayhem ensues?

Six Reasons I Might Not Help You

English: There are no symbols that represent s...
Image via Wikipedia

I really enjoy helping people — to connect with one another, get jobs, get better jobs, meet a sweetie. I tend to do this automatically and have for many years.

But I recently turned someone down who came to me for help.

I’m done having my generous goodwill taken for granted.

If someone has turned you down for help or mentoring or advice, (and you don’t understand why) maybe it’s one of these:

The person who referred me to you hasn’t treated me well.

Just because you know someone who knows me doesn’t mean I automatically want to help you (i.e. helping them out.) The quality and longevity of my relationship with the person who referred you to me is what counts — because you’re a total stranger to me.  Your referring friend knows, (even if you don’t), this is as much of a favor to them.

Why, if at all, do I owe them (and you) my help?

You asked to “pick my brain.”

It’s taken me more than three decades of unrelenting hard work, surviving three recessions — (while some of you were still in diapers!) — to accumulate these skills, experience and contacts. Asking someone this question is rude and disrespectful. I charge up to $200/hour for my skills. You get what you pay for.

Here’s a recent Forbes blog post on the same issue. It surely hit a nerve, with 3,000 Facebook shares.

You didn’t even acknowledge that asking for my unpaid time is a favor.

Because it is. Your unpaid use of my time costs me income.

You asked me for information that is quickly and easily accessible elsewhere.

I don’t help people I perceive as lazy, no matter how charming they are.

You offered nothing in exchange or access to potential clients.

Epic fail!

I was approached about a decade ago, (not at all unusual), by a writer in another city I didn’t know who needed advice about writing and selling his first book.  In that first email, he also offered to put me in touch with some of his valued editorial contacts that might lead to paid work for me down the line.  We’ve since become good friends. He got it.

In contrast, a few years ago, another total stranger  — another young man, but this time with no ties in common — asked for my help getting started as a photographer. I made introductions to a few very powerful and connected professional contacts, the sort he could only dream of.

Now that he’s thriving, (and good for him!), a thank-you note or flowers would be nice. I had no expectation of that, but anyone who chooses to share some of their skills or contacts is giving you a gift.  Don’t just grab and run!

You didn’t follow though.

The person whose behavior prompted this post took the time to write me a long email asking for help. I took the time to write back and told her my fees.

I never heard from this person again.

Do you really want help?  If you want something badly enough to ask for it in the first place, why waste my time by walking away after I respond (not necessarily exactly as you had hoped)?

If you mentor, do you care what happens after you help someone out?

Has someone you helped come back to thank you or return your generosity?

If you ever need a cab in the rain, I’m your girl

color wheel
Image by unleashingmephotography via Flickr

It takes some serious cojones to nab a cab in Manhattan.

First, you have to know which cabs are actually willing to pick up a passenger — forget anywhere near 4:30 — you, know when people actually need a cab — because as locals know, that’s when they all change shifts and you, ‘o hapless tourist laden with shopping bags, are SOL.

But how do you attract their attention in the first place?

Using one of my three hidden talents, the ability to whistle really loudly using two fingers and a curled tongue. While amateurs waggle their fingers hopefully, and the rest fling out their elbows and sprint, I can stop a cab half a block away, in the rain. I rock!

My other hidden talents?

At any time of day or night I can tell you what time it is, within 20 minutes. It doesn’t always work, but it’s reliable enough.

I can remember a color exactly enough to feel completely confident buying clothes, accessories, paint and decor and knowing they’ll match what I already own. In Thailand, I happily bought ten yards of raw silk (for a staggering $10/yard) the color of a glacial lake, and it worked nicely at home in my New York apartment.

In the 1990s, planning to become an interior designer and leave journalism, I studied at the New York School of Interior Design. I loved my classes, (except for drafting), and one of my greatest accomplishments was getting an A in my color class. It was taught by a ferocious Swiss woman, whose high standards terrified even the wealthiest Connecticut housewives in our class. We learned to mix color from the ground up, painting tiny box after tiny box until we began to memorize the subtleties involved.

What are your hidden talents?

So after I spend months in self-denial, my reward is…more self-denial?

Interesting, if deeply depressing, story in The New York Times Magazine by the paper’s health reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, about how bloody hard it is to lose weight — and keep it off:

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”

While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity.

I’m writing this post the day the story appeared and it’s already listed on the Times’ website as the fifth most e-mailed and eighth most-viewed story of the day.

“You see! It’s not just me!”

I can hear the frustrated bellow echoing across the internet, as fatties tell their skinnier/self-righteous family to back the hell off on the single easiest way to nag someone and make them really miserable. By telling them how to lose weight. “All you have to do is…”

I know because I need to lose weight — at least 30 pounds — and my father never lets me forget it. When I went out to British Columbia last year to put my mother into a nursing home — she, a former model with wrists the diameter of twigs — said “You’re fat.” Nice.

Two years ago this month I went to a nutritionist who put me on a vicious diet. No sugar of any form for a month. No carbohydrates or fruit for the first two weeks. I measured everything I ate with measuring cups and spoons. I drank a lot of water.

Yes, it worked. I refuse to get on a scale but I know my body — and see how my clothes fit. I shed 15 to 20 pounds within four months. I looked and felt great. Worried neighbors stopped my husband to make sure my weight loss was benign.

And then….why, yes, the weight came back on.

No, it didn’t creep up on me in my sleep. It showed up in the ways it does for all of us who weigh more than we should: through my own choices, of dessert, beer, the occasional cocktail, gooey French cheese.


I have no tidy answers on the battle between sensual enjoyment of a wide variety of food and drink, to me one of life’s great gifts, and being lean, taut, ever-vigilant for every stray calorie, exercising every day for hours to make sure the flesh is vanquished. My fridge contains the Holy Grail of 0 percent fat Greek yogurt. I eat it every day — and am sick to death of cold, wet, sour — but healthy! — nutrition.

There is a terrible, sad irony that millions of people worldwide are dying of starvation as the rest of us freak out over calorie counts and portion sizes.

Have you gained weight — and lost it — and kept it off?

Do you find it difficult?