A Manhattan stroll, very early spring

Having survived a meeting with one ferocious new-to-me editor (whew!) and enjoying a fun lunch with another, I took the afternoon off recently to just enjoy the city.

It was a bright, clear day and I decided to head downtown, walking down Third Avenue.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Did this bunny die of a broken heart? Wall art…

When people who don’t live here picture Manhattan, they usually think of the Statue of Liberty or Broadway or Times Square, huge, iconic spots thronged by thousands of tourists. Many of my favorite places here are quiet, old, weathered and unlikely to draw even a dozen tourists a week.

I always urge visitors to flee midtown — and all those shoving gaping fellow tourists — and head to the East or West Village, with cobble-stoned streets, 18th. century homes and a sort of intimacy and charm that feels a planet removed from the rest of the city. Dotted with cafes, restaurants, elegant townhouses and indie shops, this is Manhattan for flaneurs.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I walked past Gramercy Park, longing to actually enjoy it for a while, but only those who live on the park are given keys to its black iron gates. There are only two private parks in New York City, but if you stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel, on the northwest corner of the block above it, you can gain access, thanks to their 12 keys.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The National Arts Club, on the south side of the park, is one of many spectacular buildings facing the park, built in the 1840s. In the 1860s it was a private home, and Samuel Tilden hired Calvert Vaux — one of Central Park’s designers — to add to its exterior. I’ve attended events at the Club, and the interiors are also very beautiful; you can catch a glimpse of them through the windows.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Here’s a doorway on Gramercy Park South, a neighborhood of considerable wealth, history and charm.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This church, St. Marks’ in the Bowery, is one of my favorites. It’s part of what makes the city human, places to connect where money, status and power — the drivers of success here — matter less than faith, kindness and humility.

I love these pieces of the past and seeing names from history books lying beneath our feet — Peter Stuyvesant, who founded Manhattan, is buried here. The cornerstone was laid in 1795, making it the city’s second-oldest church.

Here’s a description of the community, from their website:

We are a church with a core membership committed to welcoming all kinds of people to be a part of the community.  St. Mark’s has a special interest in supporting emerging artists.  There are many artists in our community.    We have a high energy Sunday morning service.  A recent visitor said “It’s like RENT meets church.”

(Rent was a fantastic, well-beloved and long-running musical here, an adaptation of sorts of La Boheme.)

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I’m eager to attend service there. I’m an Episcopalian and I heard their minister, Winnie Varghese — a Texan of South Asian heritage — speak at a conference recently. I liked her immediately. (For those of you who are not Episcopal, [Anglican], services tend to be quiet and well-behaved. Sometimes a little too snoozy.)

One the most poignant moments, for me, is looking at early gravestones. We’re all here for such a brief blink of time.

Who were these people? What were their hopes and dreams?

Will anyone stand on my stone 208 years from now?

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I stopped in the Sunburst Espresso Bar and treated myself to a bread pudding, ($3.50, lots of chocolate!), and a latte. Everyone had their laptops open, while a few actually just engaged in lively conversation. I sat for an hour, resting my weary feet, staring at the sky.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I knew that East 9th. Street is a terrific shopping street, filled with antiques and vintage clothing stores. I stopped in at Duo, a four-year-old 600-square-foot women’s clothing store with new and vintage offerings. It used to be a restaurant the last time I saw it but now has a quiet, gentle vibe, thanks to its owner, Wendy, who is from northern Minnesota. (Practically Canadian!)

In the fireplace, thick white candles were lit and glowing. Red berries sat in a vase and, at the very rear of the store, was a tank filled with water — and a female turtle, Monster. Go say hi!

Here’s a photo that really speaks volumes about the density of Manhattan. That row of bumps against the fading sky are vehicles, parked on a rooftop, brought there by elevators. Only in Manhattan do cars get the penthouse view!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

By 6:00 p.m. after walking from 22nd and Third to 1st and 9th, my feet were killing me. Back to Grand Central to meet my husband and jump on the 7:57 commuter train heading north. Home!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

It’s all about the Benjamins (or euros or pesos or pounds) — are you saving?

That’s the American $100 bill.

Saving money is my single greatest challenge. (That, and earning a lot more — like trying to double my income this year in a dying industry. No pressure!)

Today’s New York Times paints a grim picture of how tough it is to save money now, especially for younger people:

A new study from the Urban Institute finds that Ms. Brady and her peers up to roughly age 40 have accrued less wealth than their parents did at the same age, even as the average wealth of Americans has doubled over the last quarter-century.

Because wealth compounds over long periods of time — a dollar saved 10 years ago is worth much more than a dollar saved today — young adults probably face less secure futures for decades down the road, and even shakier retirements.

“In this country, the expectation is that every generation does better than the previous generation,” said Caroline Ratcliffe, an author of the study. “This is no longer the case. This generation might have less.” The authors said the situation facing young Americans might be unprecedented.

A broad range of economic factors has conspired to suppress wealth-building for younger American workers; the trend predates the Great Recession. Younger Americans are facing stagnant pay — the median income, when adjusted for inflation, has declined since its 1999 peak — as well as a housing collapse and soaring student loan debt.

I grew up in a family with good taste and the money to indulge it — cashmere and trips to Mexico or France, a nice house, decent used cars, good food. My maternal grandmother inherited an insane amount of money and ran through it as fast as she possibly could, blowing it on jewels and furs and gorgeously-decorated apartments and a limousine service with a thin driver named Raymond.

It’s weird to grow up around a lot of money and develop tastes for luxury — and then choose a field, journalism, that has rarely paid me enough to satisfy them.

Saving money is so boooooooooring!

And so utterly necessary.

American Buffalo (coin)
American Buffalo (coin) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I save 15-25 percent of my income every year, as does my husband. It means a lot of self-denial and self-discipline, certainly if your income is barely meeting your basic expenses, even pared to the bone.

I’d so much rather go to Paris and buy lots of pretty clothes and see Broadway shows and go away for romantic weekends. But to save the dough we need to retire — which we very much intend to do — demands it. Working freelance also means having no idea, most of the time, what my annual income will be. Not even next month’s.

So it means being aware at all times of what I’m earning, spending, saving and carrying in debt, (and at what rates of interest.) It’s only in the past three or four years — and I’m in my 50s — that saving diligently has finally felt worth it, as my retirement fund is now six figures.

It feels good! (Cue James Brown…)

James Brown (2001) during the NBA All Star Gam...
James Brown (2001) during the NBA All Star Game jam session (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s terrifying to plan so far ahead, to hope we’ll live that long, and healthily, to wonder if all this daily self-denial is even worth it. I get why people don’t.

Saving a ton is certainly easier if you also earn the maximum you possibly can. That might mean working two or three jobs for a while.

Many women, though, remain deeply uncomfortable asking for more money, whether in a salary negotiation or freelance gig. No one is going to hand it to us!

One of my favorite books — every woman who works must read it — is “Women Don’t Ask”, which examines the many reasons women continue to receive lower pay than men for the same work. Mostly because we’re too damn scared to ask for more! (Men do, almost every single time.)

The more I make, the more I can save. (And occasionally splurge.) That motivates me every single time to ask for more work and the highest possible rates for it.

Here’s an honest and moving post about money — and being in your 20s and needing/wanting a lot more of it.

Here’s a really interesting interview with an expert in behavioral finance who thinks we should be forced into saving by the government, as they do in Israel and Australia.

saving and spending
saving and spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Do you save money?

Do you find it difficult?

Any tips you can share?

Ten ways to be a kick-ass boss

English: Big Boss Man
English: Big Boss Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having been an underling much of my life, I’ve seen the flip side of this deal.

My first boss, at The Globe and Mail, in my mid-20s, set the bar impossibly high for all future bosses. I still miss him!

What did I love about my Best Boss Ever?

— He scared the shit out of me by giving me assignments so huge and so unfamiliar I used to go home and sit in the bathtub and cry from terror. The rational part of my brain said, “No, you ninny. He thinks you’re talented and he’s giving you a fantastic chance to prove it. Go do it!”

— He was willing to listen to my ideas, and give me opportunities I had no right to, like sending me to the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp after I told him I knew nothing about hockey. Then asking me to profile the owner of the Maple Leafs.

The original Winnipeg Jets logo in the WHA
The original Winnipeg Jets logo in the WHA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— He told me when I needed to pick up my game.

— He told me I was too impatient and fussy and needed to stay put and be consistently excellent for a while doing one thing.

— He backed me to the hilt when one of my stories caused huge international furor. I was terrified I’d be fired. He loved the publicity for my work and our paper.

— When I decided to quit and go to another paper, he accepted my invitation to lunch — which cost me about $50 or so in 1986 — and told me I was welcome to return any time. His acceptance of my resignation letter was typically kind and elegant.

— I still have my hand-written attaboy note from him on one of my front-page stories: “Magnificent.” That one word was high praise in an industry that gives very little of it. I treasure it to this day.

Big Boss (Metal Gear)
Big Boss (Metal Gear) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some tips for those in the boss’ chair:

Be fair

This is a big one. Workers can be whiny but they will, for sure, compare notes on how they’re being managed. Does everyone else really expect their emails returned at 3 a.m.? (And is this really how you think people should live?) Yes, you’re under ridiculous pressure to get results and productivity but try to remember that your staff are not merely units of labor. They’re people.

Be clear

People often mis-hear or don’t listen well or forget or are overwhelmed.  Make sure your staff knows exactly what you want. Better than having them flail, fearfully, in the dark. I once worked for a major newspaper whose macho motto was “Sink or swim.”

Puhleeze.

Say thank-you

This is huge. I try to make a point of thanking my assistants with every email and phone call. Yes, you’re paying them. They’re not robots. When I worked retail for a no-commission $11/hour, my feet burning after every shift, it made a surprisingly big difference when our manager, every night at closing, said “Thank you.” Do it often.

Pay properly

This is an area of some debate, clearly. I’ve learned the hard way that paying my part-time assistants, all of whom are college grads, $10/hour is not enough. I now pay my current assistant $15/hour, more than I prefer, worth it. In an era of $4/gallon gasoline, any boss who keeps cheaping out will find the result is lazy, unmotivated staff, people who quit the minute they can and an unspoken power struggle that slows everyone down.

I’m in the middle of profiling a huge company who’s legendary for paying badly — when half your reviews on glassdoor say you’re cheaper than all your competitors, listen up!

Make clear how you prefer to handle communication

We all have preferences. I prefer written communication — that way I can always see what I said and what was answered. Don’t fume or yell because your staff aren’t doing what you want. Communicate clearly what you expect.

Don’t abuse people’s time

This is huge. Just because you have a title or office or more salary or experience or education doesn’t justify being abusive. There are always going to be times when everyone has to work later or longer — including you! But if this is a constant, you’re doing something wrong. Don’t demand face time just because you can.

Don’t bully

I’ve been on the receiving end of this far too many times. It’s toxic and a total waste of resources. I once worked in an office — no exaggeration — a trade publisher, whose editor in chief shouted curses across the room at everyone, snarled inches from my face and sniped constantly at everyone. One of my co-workers told me she had been on anti-depressants for years just to be able to stand working there; I quit after six weeks there to go freelance. This includes yelling, sneering, eye-rolling or the silent treatment. People can document, and some will sue for, a hostile work environment.

Back your people up!

This is essential. We all work for our managers as much as we choose to work for a company or organization and our primary loyalty is to our boss and his/her boss(es.) Treat your staff with as much loyalty, resources, training and moral support as you can muster. Protect them whenever possible from toxicity that can lower morale.

Praise as often as you can

We’re all human. We need to celebrated when we’re succeeding, not only spoken to when we disappoint or fail.

Correct or criticize only in private

Never dress someone down publicly. It’s rude, humiliating and unnecessary. Unless your entire corporate culture is equally brutal, managers who do this lose respect from everyone in earshot and are sure to lose talented staff as soon as they can find new employment.

Bonus:

Be human!

The managers I will walk through fire for — I did a month on crutches in a Quebec winter covering an election campaign en francais for my first boss — show us they’re actually human beings. They laugh, share a joke, ask how our sweetie or dog or Mom or marathon training is doing. They have the self-confidence to reveal some of their weaknesses or vulnerabilities so we don’t feel Totally Intimidated.

What have I left out?

Related articles

Ten ways to be a kick-ass assistant

When am I gonna make a living?.
It’s gonna take a while before I give in. Yes it is.
I’m sick and tired of scratching a living.
I am hungry but I’m not gonna give in, no

—- Sade, “When Am I Going to Make a Living?”

The job market is still lousy here in the United States, for thousands of smart people — even many with Really Fancy College degrees.

In a tough economy with too many people chasing too few jobs, you need to get your foot on the rung, even the bottom one, of a ladder that might actually lead you to a job you want. That might mean becoming someone’s assistant.

No eye-rolling. No “I didn’t go to college for that!”

No one did.

OK Boss - NARA - 534390
OK Boss – NARA – 534390 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For more than a decade, I’ve hired, managed and retained unpaid interns and paid assistants to help me run my writing business and to research and help promote my two books.

I got the idea while teaching a journalism class at a local university with only 13 students. I knew exactly who I hoped would intern for me — a lively, funny, down-to-earth young woman named Jessica. It was like asking her for a date! Luckily, she said yes and stayed on to work for me after her unpaid internship ended; I paid her, more than a decade ago, $12 an hour. She was worth every penny.

In return, with one phone call to someone I knew who needed help, I found her a job straight out of school in a field she wanted. Score!

One of my favorite movies is The Devil Wears Prada, from 2006. I used to sympathize with the beleaguered and overworked assistant, Andie, but after the first few viewings, my sympathies switched to Miranda Priestley, her super-demanding boss at Runway magazine.

It’s a fun film — and offers much workplace wisdom.

Cover of "The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]...
Cover of The Devil Wears Prada [Blu-ray]
If you’re looking for work, certainly a first post-grad job, think on these things…

Listen carefully

In an age of CPA — continuous partial attention — it’s rare to find young staffers able to offer you their full, undivided attention and look you in the eye for more than a few minutes. This is essential for creating and maintaining a working relationship with your boss and his or her clients or colleagues. Feels weird? Tough!

Your boss hired you to help them perform better. Listening very carefully to their instructions — and the tone of of voice they’re delivered in — is key. This is tougher by text or email, so try to get some face or phone time with them as well.

Take notes

Can you possibly remember everything they asked you to do? And every deadline? I doubt it. No matter how trivial the conversation appears to be — your boss is running between meetings or it sounds like an afterthought — it’s important to them. Which means it’s important to you!

Ask a lot of questions

Some bosses don’t have much time, or patience, to deal with endless questions, so knowing how much they will reveal and when is also a measure of how perceptive and sensitive to nuance you are; read up on the notion of emotional intelligence.

EQ matters as much as — if not more than —  IQ!

Do not guess. Do not make assumptions! It’s better to feel stupid and ask a question than screw it up by thinking because you graduated college you know what your boss really wants. You might.

But what if you’re wrong?

Email, call or text when necessary for clarification

I prefer assistants comfortable working independently because I have little time to manage or train them; if you see the word “self-starter” in an ad, that’s what they mean. But you will always have something you’re not quite sure of. Check!

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sac...
Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) and Andrea Sachs (Anne Hathaway): pre-release still photograph from the film The Devil Wears Prada; this also is the novel’s redesigned cover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Check in!

How’s it going? Really.

If something is heading south, for whatever reason, your boss needs to know about it sooner rather than later so it can get fixed. If you’re used to parents who check in with you, or you with them, this is not that. This is not you looking for approval or a thumbs-up or a “Great job!” from your boss.

Take nothing personally

It’s work, kids. It’s a job. It’s not the rest of your life. It’s not the only thing you do or care about. So if someone snaps at you or yells at you or hands you a task you think is stupid, it’s actually not about you. It’s been deemed important by the people paying for your skills and labor.

When people are nasty or rude or just even unfriendly in a work setting, it often has very little to do with you as a person  — (unless you’re rude, obnoxious, unethical, lazy or entitled. But you’re not, right?) They’re likely carrying a shitload of stress, work or personal and likely both, with few places to express it.

Yes, this task (or job) is boring/tedious/repetitive — do it really well anyway!

We picked you because you seemed like a smart, lively, high-energy person. We hired you to do everything we do not have time, energy, manpower or patience to deal with. We hired you because, in the coldest language possible, our time is now valued more highly in the marketplace than yours, and we have bills to pay. So if your boss can bill $200-1,000 an hour for their skills, that’s where their focus needs to stay.

We’ve all done this shit! And your willingness to tackle tedious stuff well and efficiently sends a powerful and important meta-message to your boss: I get it.

Be cheerful, warm and fun to work with

Huge. This is a deal-maker. I’ve had a few assistants who didn’t always do exactly what I hoped for, but their genuine enthusiasm and sense of humor made it feel like we were a team. Your boss is stressed to the max. S/he really appreciates someone whose mood and attitude can lighten their load — so no whining/pouting/crying/negativity. Learn the names of your boss’s kids/spouse/pets, (and ask how they’re doing from time to time), and his/her birthday, even if all you do is wish them a cheery “Happy birthday!” Bosses are people too. (Some of them.)

Ask if suggestions and ideas are welcome — then show us what you’ve got

It’s great that you have lots of ideas. It shows initiative and gumption. But wait a while. Wait a few weeks, even months, before you start making suggestions. Unless your boss asks you for them.

Be 10000000% reliable

This is obvious. Flaking and bailing are simply not an option. Remember the letters ID — illness or death. In my book, they’re the only reason you can bail or be late. I once hired someone, who came highly recommended, who had lots of great ideas. I was psyched! Then she quit within a week because she had another income source and she suddenly remembered it was more important.

Loyalty matters.

Bonus tip:

Discretion is paramount. Never share anything your boss shares with you on any form of social media. Don’t tell your friends or your room-mates or anyone. Don’t forward it or keep it or re-purpose it for your own ends, like the assistant who casually mentioned she’d used some of my first book’s research material for a class paper. Um, no.

You have no idea who they know — the person your boss is about to hire, fire, promote or give a grant to. I sometimes have my assistants sign an NDA, non disclosure agreement, to make sure they get it. Just because you grew up sharing everything on social media doesn’t mean your boss wants his or her stuff used as if it were yours. It’s not!

What have I left out?

Actually, rudeness is dictating people’s behavior — and don’t you dare leave me a phone message!

ParentsPstcrd_041310.jpg
ParentsPstcrd_041310.jpg (Photo credit: Carolyn_Sewell)

This New York Times story makes me want to throw a chair:

Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?

Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?

Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.

And, in case this didn’t piss you off quite enough — here’s some more wisdom from the Boy Wonder of techno-communication:

Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized — like asking someone for directions to a house, restaurant or office, when they can easily be found on Google Maps.

I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That For You.

In the age of the smartphone, there is no reason to ask once-acceptable questions: the weather forecast, a business phone number, a store’s hours. But some people still do. And when you answer them, they respond with a thank-you e-mail.

Pardon my intemperate tone, but for fuck’s sake!

If someone asks me for directions, which is rare because I generally offer them, unless I am in a huge rush, I’m happy to help. The weather forecast is also available (fogey alert!) on the front page of the Times, on television and usually on the radio.

But God forbid we should waste one another’s time. Because the time you waste reading my tedious thank-you email is exactly the time you were planning to spend playing Angry Birds curing cancer.

This sort of pretentiousness makes me want to vomit.

If you want to communicate with other people, try to understand a basic concept — we do not all communicate in the exact same way, nor using the exact same language nor the exact same tools. If you text me, you’ve just wasted your time. I don’t read texts, ever.

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone
Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is this rude of me? Quite probably. It also marks me as someone who prefers to use email, far more than telephone. If someone texts me, I won’t even see it. Not because I think I’m so important, but because I’m so goddamned busy that an email is, for me, the easiest way for me get on with things. I generally reply to emails promptly and I also reply to phone messages. I even make phone calls. (Feel free to face-palm in horror.)

I don’t wish to communicate in syllables, so I don’t tweet either.

Yet, somehow, I’m able to maintain friendships and business relationships with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, all younger than I. Maybe because they get the basic premise — we’re here to have relationships, not hand-flap our Huge Importance at one another and tell others exactly how they must communicate with us or risk their wrath.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

How do you communicate: text, email, phone?

Do you alter your communication style for people older or younger who may do it differently?

The writer’s week: six editors, two attorneys, an agent and…

What a week it was…

As I write this, our windows are piled high with snow from a huge storm. I was to have driven 90 minutes each way to do an interview at Yale University, but decided to do it by phone instead. I’d planned to do it next week — and had filled my day with other tasks accordingly, but the source will be in South Korea during the time I have to do the piece.

Harkness Tower, situated in the Memorial Quadr...
Harkness Tower, situated in the Memorial Quadrangle at Yale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These sudden shifts are becoming routine. I find them exhausting. The story is about a new method for de-salination and he is an award-winning professor of engineering. I’m an English major who has never studied physics, chemistry or engineering. I take a deep breath and give it my best, asking him to review it for accuracy later. He’s a sweetheart,  and agrees.

Monday

I finish up a story for a design magazine, for which I’ve interviewed several architects and interior designers. This one had to wait a month until we found more interesting and up-to-date sources, thereby delaying the income I’d expected to have earned and paid by the time I finish this now. The editor is one of the nicest I’ve ever worked with, and we spend some time on the phone just getting to know one another — where we grew up, her kids and their ages. This sort of conversation is now so rare! Few editors have the time or interest to create and nurture work relationships with the freelancers they so rely on.

Tuesday

I visit The New York Times to meet the new editor taking over the section I’ve produced five stories for since April 2012. It’s been a great run: high visibility, decent pay, fun stories to produce and extremely well-read, often third or fourth of the entire day’s paper. I also just really like my outgoing editor enormously. Sigh.

It’s a tough meeting — every editor is so different in their style, manners, expectations. We go over a copy of my story and she wants major changes, which is rare for me. I’ll have to carve out time already allotted to competing clients. Juggling my time is perhaps my greatest ongoing challenge: finding new client, learning their needs, pitching them and producing.

While there, I catch up with friends in the business section, editors I’ve worked for, a few staff colleagues who have become good friends — and my husband. It’s odd to hug my sweetie in the middle of the newsroom, but he’s OK with it and so are his two male bosses. Bless them!

I meet another editor, a veteran of our industry working on-line of late, for the first time, over lunch. She has just (!) quit her job, almost unimaginable in this awful economy and our troubled industry. “Were they making it stupid?” I ask. Yes, they were. I admire her guts and her principles, and tell her so. We agree to connect on LinkedIn and hope to stay in touch.

We both wonder aloud how long we’ll be able to stay in this industry. We’ve established our reputations, both love writing and are both passionate about the same issues. But passion and desire won’t cut it, we know.

20130310122948

Wednesday

I’d planned to spend the next three days doing nothing but work on my two book proposals. So much for that idea.

I decide to follow up with “Malled”, my retail memoir that almost became a CBS sitcom. But it didn’t go to pilot and I need to find out if, when or how I can revive it. I call a New York agent and email the script-writer in Hollywood. He has to speak to his agent. The number of people one works with in this business is amazing to me sometimes; we all have different timetables and agendas, yet without cooperation, trust and goodwill, we’re toast.

CBS Logo Light
CBS Logo Light (Photo credit: watchwithkristin)

I’m still chasing an $800 payment for a rush job I did weeks ago. I loathe chasing money — and lying assholes who change their tune after making an agreement and getting people to work unpaid until they deign to send out a check. If they ever do.

Thursday

I write another business story for the Times, this one for the automotive section, that I initially researched about two months ago.

I email my editor at Portfolio to get the details on my book’s publication this month in China — and the email bounces back. Has he left the company? I call the PR rep instead.

Half an hour is spent on a phone meeting with a Canadian patent attorney, a friend and colleague of my brother, who is super helpful and blessedly free of charge, advising me of next steps to protect my intellectual property on a new idea I’m discussing with several potential partners. It’s a whole new world, and safeguarding my IP is essential.

I finally find three hours to spend on my book proposal, emailing the agent to reassure her I’m neither dead nor a flake — but scrambling to fit unpaid proposals into an income-producing schedule. She sends a friendly note in reply.

I catch up with my assistant, C., by phone, starting our meeting at 8:45 p.m. I hate working after 5pm, but there’s a time zone difference and we had dinner first. We spend 45 minutes trying to set priorities and strategies. It helps to have someone smart and cheerful to brainstorm with. Working alone at home for almost seven years gets lonely and isolating.

Friday

A phone interview with a scientist. I hope for the best and try to not sound stupid.

An email arrives from someone I haven’t spoken to in a few years, asking me to judge entries for a journalism award. I say yes, and now have work to do on the weekend and a Tuesday night meeting in the city to judge the finalists; it’ll give me a chance to meet two new-to-me writers.

More work on the book proposal.

My latest editor has left Portfolio, I discover. I email the new editor to introduce myself and find out the scoop on my book. Gotta keep an eye on my baby!

malled cover HIGH

Breathtaking beauty in NYC, ends March 30: Fortuny, go!

Have you ever heard of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo?

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L'influence des arts ...
Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L’influence des arts de l’Islam (musée des arts décoratifs, Paris) (Photo credit: dalbera)

Likely not.

But oh, his talent! His designs — for lighting, color, textiles and paint — are still innovative, timeless and stunning decades after their creation; he lived from 1871 to 1949. If you are anywhere near New York City before March 30, get to 684 Park Avenue, $15 admission, and savor some of the loveliest clothes you will ever see in your life!

If you’ve been watching (?) the hit television series Downton Abbey, you might have caught a scene with Isabel Crawley wearing a very Fortuny-esque black silver-printed sheath. Fortuny’s timeless designs are a perfect period fit for a quirky, rich, bohemian Edwardian like her.

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy
Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia)

He certainly began his artistic life with some major advantages — his father and grandfather were directors of the Prado, the exquisite museum in Madrid. Coming from a wealthy background allowed him the time and means to travel widely and to find and cultivate rich women eager to wear and collect his gowns.

His images and references are from Africa, Morocco, the Middle East and earlier historic periods. His shimmering, softly draped fabrics look embroidered with gold or silver threads — but it is metallic paint pressed into silk velvet or cotton or linen with a carved block.

His secret for tightly pleating silk has often been mimicked, but never exactly duplicated. The hem of his Delphos dresses, simple columns of pleated silk, spill out onto the floor like the open petals of a flower. His attention to detail is exquisite: tiny Venetian beads edge his sleeves, satin cord lines his necklines and he included a pleated silk inset on the inside of a sleeve.

The clothes were considered too daring — uncorseted! — for daytime, outdoor use, but women who began wearing them in public were making the case for being beautiful and comfortable at the same time.

I first saw his work at a museum in Lyons, when I was 23 and traveling Europe alone for four months, and I still treasure a poster I bought there then. On that same trip, I went to Venice to Palazzo Orfei, his studio, whose windows are made of round circles of glass, like the bases of wine bottles. The space is filled with his textiles and in the corner is a small white porcelain sink, its edge stained — decades later — with the dried paint he casually smeared off his brushes. It felt like he’d just gone out for a coffee and might return soon.

Palazzo Orfei
Palazzo Orfei (Photo credit: TracyElaine)

I went to this show in Manhattan with a friend, a woman who is very slim and tall and elegant and who I knew would also appreciate his work. It felt like introducing her to some of my old and dearly beloved friends. What a delight to see them again!

As we were leaving the show, I began wrapping my throat in a cream-colored pleated silk scarf/muffler I bought at Banana Republic about 15 years ago — and realized, with a grateful smile, that I’ve been wearing a simulacrum of Fortuny all these years.

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo
English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why Nate Thayer’s expectation of payment pissed so many people off

This blogger did a great analysis of the drama:

who is Nate Thayer thinking so highly of himself and better than us?  This makes sense; we like to think ourselves better than others, not the other way around.  We also really don’t want to think about how working hard =/= success.   It scares us and once you add some jealous, thus in short, we decide that Thayer is uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.

There’s a larger issue here, and I’ve addressed it before.

The world is filled with people who think they are Writers because they bang away at a keyboard for hours. I wish good luck to everyone. I do.

But none of the most deeply thwarted or unrealized ambition — and there is enough of it to light L.A. for a century if converted to electrical power — justifies trashing someone who has actually succeeded in the field.  Someone who (!) chose to turn down an offer of $125,000 from The Atlantic to turn out six stories a year.

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. ...
First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. November 1857. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dozens, if not hundreds of writers I know, would kill for such an opportunity and will never ever get it. Not because we suck. Because it’s one of the very few well-paid spots ever available to any writer, with a Big Name Magazine that many people would also kill to even write for and will also never get the  chance.

Whaddya mean I can’t get it?

This is a deeply un-American thing to say. It flies in the fantasy that we are all — yes, we are! — such special little snowflakes that we will all get a ribbon or a prize or a trophy just for showing up and trying really really hard.

It does not happen that way. It is just not going to happen for many people.

This week on Facebook I’ve watched a former journo crow with (well-deserved, hard-won) delight that she is now casting major stars for her network television pilot. Do I wish I were in her shoes? Hell, yes!

But I’m not. And hating and trashing her for achieving something I’d reallyreallyreally like to have, but do not have and may never ever have?

Madness.

So those who are busy sucking their thumbs and clutching their blankies and hissing that Thayer is possibly

“uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.”

need help, my friends.

He wants to earn a living using the skills he’s spent decades acquiring.

So do we all.

Who’s your cutman?

English: American boxer Jack Dempsey posing in...
English: American boxer Jack Dempsey posing in ring in boxing position (Boyle’s Thirty Acres, Jersey City, N.J.). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love that word.

Technically, it’s the person who is — literally — in your corner of the boxing ring, whose job it is to deal with the cuts and bleeding a boxer endures in a match. To send them back in, ready to keep fighting.

I’m not a boxer, but sometimes life just feels like you’re getting socked in the jaw, really hard, and you stagger back and wonder…now what? Can anyone help me fix any of this?

Mine is a soft-spoken woman a decade younger who lives in a different time zone. Like me, she had a lousy first marriage and a happy second chance. Like me, she works in the publishing industry, albeit on the inside of a major publishing house. We’re both idealists, a little goofy, from families we can’t turn to for help.

I called her the other day, and, in reply to a soft: “How are you?” it all spilled out.

Some people can ask you that question and just start reading the emails on their phone as you begin to answer. It’s a stock phrase and they’re not really very interested, especially if you’re in the middle of a rough patch.

Your cutman cares. More importantly, s/he is, as they say, solutions-oriented, not only able to listen sympathetically, but someone who knows how to bandage you up and get you back into the ring.

I’ve faced a really rough patch recently and, tangled in the thorny vines I only make worse by thrashing, I really needed someone kind and loving and smart to help me cut through them, (a cutman of a different order, if you will.)

In a 45-minute phone call, (yes, during our workdays), I laid out my various issues — a work problem, an exciting new project with some dangerous elements, a family drama of extreme nastiness and my annoyance with an agent who can’t seem to return emails or phone calls.

I hung up, encouraged enough to take some remedial action, grateful as hell for her friendship.

Who’s yours?

Freelancers don’t want to be “paid” in exposure!

If you’re a freelancer in any field, chances are that you’re being asked, more and more, to work without pay for the “exposure” to millions of potential buyers for your work.
Just say no.
Nate Thayer discussing Pol Pot's trial, July 1997
Nate Thayer discussing Pol Pot’s trial, July 1997 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here’s a link to his site, and some of his email with The Atlantic.com:

After a brief phone call where no specifics were really discussed, and she requested I email her:

Hi Olga: What did you have in mind for length, storyline, deadline, and fees for the basketball  diplomacy piece. Or any other specifics. I think we can work something out, but I want to make sure I have the time to do it properly to meet your deadline, so give me a shout back when you have the earliest chance.

best,

Nate Thayer

From the Atlantic:

Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!

From me:

Thanks Olga:

I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free.

If there is a phrase that causes apoplexy among veteran freelancers, it’s the increasing fantasy that “exposure” — i.e. having millions of people see our stuff, without pay — is worthwhile. Editors now routinely offer freelancers in many fields exposure to their audiences, none of whom are guaranteed to offer us paid work.
I can’t buy groceries or gas with “exposure”, nor get my hair cut or see a dentist. None of them work for “exposure.”
Very few freelancers have the cojones to tell editors offering us this insult to just piss off. Nor do they ever make public that they actually took a stand — what if no one else has? In a crappy economy, everyone’s afraid to lose a client or get a rep for being a diva.
Thayer is right.
Enough already!