Everyone’s got some sort of laminated badge hanging from a chain or a ribbon or clipped to their belt.
As a self-employed writer, my business cards, in two styles, and my website (which I had professionally designed for me) help to identify me to potential coaching students and clients.
But, as 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman wrote, I — like all of us — contain multitudes.
I’m a wife
I’m an immigrant/expatriate
I’m an athlete
I’m a collector of antique and vintage objects
I’m a photographer
I’m an obsessive listener of radio
I’m nominally Episcopalian/Anglican, although I haven’t attended church regularly now for almost two years
I’m a feminist
I’m socially liberal
I’m a Francophile
I’m a traveler
I’m a mentor
I’m a teacher/coach
I didn’t even think (?!) to include my race (Caucasian) or gender (cis-female) because, to me, they’re not worth mentioning….which in itself is a sign of privilege.
I get it!
Nor do I mention my age because it’s a quick and unpleasant way to pigeonhole and minimize me and my value in a culture that fetishizes and rewards youth. I don’t identify with my age group at all, even if perhaps I should.
My husband, American-born, is Hispanic and, while he speaks no Spanish — nor, as friends once asked me, does he wear a guayabera or dance salsa (!) — he likely identifies most as a photographer and photo editor.
We have no children, so the default roles of parents/grandparents are not ours.
I’m endlessly fascinated by how people identify themselves, and which identities they choose to foreground and which they choose to hide or deemphasize.
We live in a time of competing and loudly shouted identities, when intersectional feminism often gets angry and frustrating, as women try (and often fail) to comprehend one another’s challenges.
We live in a time of extraordinary income inequality, where identifying with a particular socioeconomic class can be relatively meaningless when there are millionaires who consider themselves “poor” in comparison to those with billions. Those who who fly only first class looking longingly at those who only fly private.
We live in a time of deep political division, where civil conversations stop dead, or never even start, so identifying yourself with one camp or another can be dangerous.
It’s an annual tradition — my carefully chosen list of holiday gift ideas I hope you’ll find fun and inspiring.
I post it early so you’ll have time to ponder, order and still have things arrive in time.
None of these are sponsored, and in a wide range of prices — and, yes, a few are a big splurge.
While there’s nothing for children, and no tech suggestions, many of my picks are unisex and could be enjoyed by teens to seniors.
All are from online sites and all prices, unless otherwise stated, are in U.S. dollars.
This small ceramic bowl, the palest blue of a summer sky with a gleaming gold glazed interior, is stunning. Perfect as a ring holder or bedside or holding tiny flowers. From Summerill & Bishop, a British website (they ship internationally) with some of the prettiest homewares and linens I’ve ever seen anywhere.
I lovelovelove everything on this American website, Mothology, whose aesthetic is industrial/vintage/rustic but never twee. Roam around for glassware, furniture, lighting, textiles and more. Here’s a vintage-y looking hook — a whale’s tail — perfect for a coat, an apron, a towel.
Also from them, an indigo print cotton napkin, 20 inches square — my trick is to buy two and stitch them together, add a pillow insert and voila! Instant throw cushion.
Ooooooohh, this duvet cover is it! It looks like someone spent years embroidering it in jewel colors, on a charcoal background. It’s from mega-retailer Pottery Barn, (whose duvet covers I’ve used and loved for years.) If the duvet cover is too spendy, the matching pillow shams start at $60.
Don’t forget to give to charity — whether foreign or domestic. So many people need our help! Selfishly, I’m linking here to the Writers’ Emergency Assistance Fund, which can give up to $4,000 within weeks to a qualified, experienced writer of non-fiction or journalism. I sat on their board for years and I know, as a full-time independent writer, how difficult life can become, especially if serious illness or injury strikes, when you have no paid sick days or reliable paycheck.
Also from Hermes, this yummy soap, in their Terre d’Hermes fragrance, which I’ve been wearing and loving since I got it for Christmas last year. It’s an expensive piece of soap, certainly, but sure to last for at least a month or more, so call it $1 a day. “Reminds me of rainy fall days spent at my family’s cottage in the mountains,” said one online reviewer. Technically a male fragrance, but I love it, subtle but layered.
If you don’t know Muji, a Japanese brand established in 1980, you’re missing out: great quality, smart designs and some bits of quirk. If actually getting to New York City is too expensive or complicated, here’s New York in a bag! Six smaller versions of its iconic buildings and six cars, all made of wood. Oh, go on!
For years I’ve been using personalized stationery and love getting and sending it. How about offering a set of personalized notepads? This site, Paper Source, offers dozens of attractive options, a nice choice for that person who already has everything! Here’s a simple design, but there are cockatoos, flowers, succulents and many more.
Few stores still exist in New York City of this vintage — Porto Rico Coffee and Tea has been in business since 1907 — and their fragrant Bleecker Street store is my definition of heaven: a tin ceiling, weathered wooden floorboards, battered huge tins of tea, overflowing sacks of coffee beans, teapots and string bags and everything you could want. They do mail order and here’s their chocolate cinnamon coffee beans, to get you started…
It’s winter. Your skin gets all scaly and dry and a eucalyptus scrub might be just the ticket. From another of my old-time New York City favorite stores, C.O. Bigelow, founded in 1838. They offer a staggering array of lovely products, including obscure/fab European ones like Marvis toothpaste, so make time to roam around their site.
For the more ambitious writers and bloggers in your world — who would really use and appreciate some practical advice, insights and tips to get them closer to their goals, (like more readers, finding an agent, book publication, etc.) — why not offer them one of my webinars ($150 for 90 minutes, one on one at their time of choosing, by phone, Skype or in person) or an hour of my coaching, $225/hour with a one-hour minimum?
An award-winning two-time author and career journalist, teaching these skills for decades, I’ve helped many writers worldwide, winning them readers and bylines in outlets like The Guardian and The New York Times.
I’ll close with two of my most beloved books, which could be intriguing to a wide array of readers.
Skyfaring is written by a British Airways 747 pilot, (the iconic aircraft is going out of service), and is full of some of the most beautiful prose about what the world feels and looks like from 35,000 feet long-haul flights. If like me, your giftee loves: travel, airplanes, the sky and wonderful writing, this is a great choice, a New York Times best-seller.
Twyla Tharp is a New York based modern dance choreographer and a ferocious talent. If you work in any kind of creative field, I highly recommend her book The Creative Habit. Like her, it’s smart, practical and no bullshit.
Today in the U.S. is Thanksgiving, a huge holiday that the fortunate will spend with people they love and who have welcomed them into their homes with food and drink and kindness.
We are in suburban Maryland, just outside D.C., with a dear friend and her husband, a fellow journalist who stood in Toronto in September 2011 as our official wedding witness. We’ve visited them many times, but this year were grateful she was able to also welcome a younger friend of ours, a freelancer in D.C. whose mother died a few years ago and whose father lives far away.
We were also grateful recently in Ontario when our friends there welcomed my former sister-in-law to stay the night and dine with us — we live in a one-bedroom apartment, so we can welcome at most two people, (if Jose sleeps on the floor and I get the sofa and the couple get our bed.)
When people have room to spare, (and we always bring gifts and wine and pay for groceries and write thank-you notes!) it’s a blessing.
The opening of one’s home, heart and table are great gifts.
I’ve recently begun following a smart, tough Christian writer and pastor named John Pavlovitz, and his new book, A Bigger Table, brings the same spirit of generosity and openness in a time of deep and bitter social and political division.
I haven’t yet read his book, but I follow him on Twitter and like his voice and his point of view.
Wherever you are today, I hope you’re safe, solvent, healthy, well-loved and well-fed!
I was struck recently by a social media post by someone I know who works in a demanding healthcare specialty. She had treated herself to a fantastic day trip to a nearby natural wonder and a gorgeous splurge of a breakfast.
What struck me most was the sense this was something, perhaps, to apologize for.
That taking —- making — time to care for herself and her soul was somehow suspect or self-indulgent.
I think being consistently kind to ourselves is essential and something too often overlooked or dismissed as silly, by others and worse, by ourselves. Women are so heavily socialized to take care of everyone else’s needs first and foremost that, when there’s a lack of time or money — and there often is — we get the short end of the stick.
I’m not someone who advocates self-indulgence or hedonism, (and who draws the line?) but I’m absolutely committed to what is now called self care.
For me that’s everything from playing my beloved vinyl on a Sunday morning to making home-made meals I can enjoy during the week, with my husband and on my own.
I spend real money at our local florist, sometimes as much as $25 a week, to fill our apartment with blooms and greenery, whether fragrant eucalyptus or bright gerbera or the tiny purple orchids that come all the way from Thailand. To me, it’s an investment in daily joy and beauty.
I go to a spin class at the gym to burn calories, manage stress, to enjoy the music and see familiar faces. It offers me a low-key social life and human contact when I work alone at home, now 11 years into that isolating workstyle.
I make play dates with friends, meeting them face to face for a coffee or lunch or a concert or ballet performance, creating memories we can share years later. I went to a fantastic Iron & Wine concert this week at Town Hall with a dear pal and made her spit with laughter over Manhattans at the bar in Grand Central. Priceless!
I love to travel, so am always looking a few weeks and months ahead at where we might be able to afford to go, and for how long. It refreshes me, whether seeing old friends back in Toronto or meeting new ones, as I did this summer in Berlin and Zagreb.
I commit a few hours each week to my favorite television shows. (Poldark!)
And this year — for the first time in my life — I’m driving a brand-new car, a luxury vehicle we’ve leased. Despite my initial trepidation, it is sheer bliss: quiet, beautifully designed, with intelligent and helpful technology. Our other vehicle is 16 years old, dented and scraped and, no matter how much money we drop at the mechanic, always has the check engine light on; freedom from that anxiety alone is a form of self care for me now.
It can feel weird, even guilt-inducing, to put yourself first, to say no, firmly (and mean it!) to others’ demands on your limited time and energy.
But without adding even the smallest pleasures to our days, and to our lives, we can end up stewing in resentment and self-denial.
Much of the scientific research on resilience — our ability to bounce back from adversity — has focused on how to build resilience in children. But what about the grown-ups?
While resilience is an essential skill for healthy childhood development, science shows that adults also can take steps to boost resilience in middle age, which is often the time we need it most. Midlife can bring all kinds of stressors, including divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks and retirement worries, yet many of us don’t build the coping skills we need to meet these challenges.
I’ve long been interested in, and I most admire, people who are resilient — partly because if you’re not, life can end up morass of poor-me-why-me? misery.
Having said that, if you’re struggling with chronic illness and/or persistent poverty, let alone both, it’s damn hard to get out of bed in the morning with optimism.
But a strong filter also creates real problems, because it effectively lies about reality to both the healthy and the sick. It lies to the healthy about the likelihood that they will one day suffer, hiding the fact that even in modernity the Book of Ecclesiastes still applies. It lies to the sick about how alone they really are, because when they were healthy that seemed like perfect normalcy, so they must now be outliers, failures, freaks.
And this deception is amplified now that so much social interaction takes place between disembodied avatars and curated selves, in a realm of Instagrammed hyper-positivity that makes suffering even more isolating than it is in the real world.
I have friends and family who’ve survived sexual abuse and assault, negligence, brutal and costly divorces, serious illnesses…It’s not just a matter of surviving, (which can be difficult and isolating enough!) but coming out the other side with some hope or optimism intact.
You have to somehow believe it’s going to get better, even with much current evidence to the contrary.
I’ve written here a few times about some of the challenges I’ve faced, even as a relatively privileged white woman: mental illness and alcoholism in my family of origin, multiple family estrangements, job losses and protracted job searches, three recessions, multiple surgeries, divorce, criminal victimization.
But…it could always be worse.
I was struck, limping for a month through multiple European cities wearing a large and very visible brace on my right leg after re-injuring it on a bike ride in Berlin, how many people sympathized: “Oh, poor you!” or “You’re so brave!”
My choices? Stay and continue on, and limp, or leave in the middle of a cherished and otherwise wonderful vacation; popping painkillers and wearing my brace were not a big deal, and probably looked worse to others than it felt to me.
But bravery to me is a much deeper, and stronger quality.
You can only know really know how much you can handle once it’s thrown into your lap — often without warning.
If you have health, friends and some savings, tough times are more bearable than if you’re ill, broke and lonely, when it can feel like the whole world is aligned against you.
I decided to marry my husband after he responded with grace, speed, decisiveness and generosity to a crisis within my family. His resilient and optimistic character revealed itself in ways that no movie date or romantic holiday could ever have shown me.
His resilience was one of — and still is — his most attractive qualities.
I value resilience highly, wary of people who spend their lives throwing pity parties, especially the otherwise privileged who are shocked! when difficulty strikes.
We have an example of resilience in our home, a weary little geranium plant who I’m always sure is about to kick the bucket at any minute. Instead it keeps on blossoming and blooming, even on its two scrawny stems.
There are a few people I always want to find again, to know how their lives turned out and if they’re happy and where they live and if they had kids or grandkids.
But two of them have — bizarrely in an age of media saturation — no digital footprints at all. One is a physician, so I guess I could track her down through a medical society but the other…no idea.
The former is someone I knew from our shared years at a Toronto boarding school, where we were both nerdy, although she was much more serious and quiet than I. The latter is a man I knew (and had a huge crush on) through high school, also in Toronto, who was extremely talented as an artist. We were, for a few years, close friends, but lost touch when we graduated.
A third person is a former journalism colleague who became a crusading lawyer, but, to my shock and dismay when I last searched for him on-line, had died prematurely.
They’re like ghosts for me, visions from my childhood, adolescence and 20s I’d like to reconnect with now.
Thanks to social media, some people I’d lost touch with have found me again and reconnected, like a childhood best friend and her two brothers, the eldest of whom took me to my first formal dance — where my cool vintage blue crochet dress split right down the back when the zipper broke halfway through the evening. He was a perfect gentleman and loaned me his jacket. But it was not the elegant impression I’d hoped to leave on him.
One of the reasons I hope to find some people from my past, selfishly, is also to reconnect with our shared memories, those unique to us. And, as someone not close to my family, my friends really are much more the repository of my memories. Too often, they know me much better than my own mother, (whose care I left at 14, for good) and father, (whose care I left at 19, for good.) I have 3 step-siblings, but we never lived together and are not close.
Half my life was spent in Canada and the second half in the United States, making me more eager to seek out those who “knew me when” — when I was young(er) and with whom I share specific memories no American has or could understand.
In London this past summer I met up again with a man I’d traveled with in Spain decades ago for two weeks after we met on a train station platform there. On that journey, I was 22, alone for four months moving across Europe, and already weary of fending off male advances.
I craved companionship and, bluntly, a male foil to keep the rest at bay.
He was smart, funny, good company. He was also handsome, with brilliant blue eyes, a student at Cambridge four years my junior. Much later he became a friend on Facebook, albeit one who never posted anything.
He asked me to go to lunch on this London visit, and I agreed, both curious and a little nervous; we’re both happily married so I knew this was innocent.
Like me, he is long partnered, had traveled widely and had no children.
We went to the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum, (which we loved), and our afternoon was easy and comfortable and as though no time at all had passed since we’d seen one another.
It was lovely.
I’m glad we found one another again.
Do you seek out people from your past with whom you’ve lost touch?
In 1982, Japan made shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” a part of its national health program. The aim was to briefly reconnect people with nature in the simplest way possible. Go to the woods, breathe deeply, be at peace. Forest bathing was Japan’s medically sanctioned method of unplugging before there were smartphones to unplug from. Since shinrin-yoku’s inception, researchers have spent millions of dollars testing its efficacy; the documented benefits to one’s health thus far include lowered blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and stress hormones.
I start to feel very ill at ease when I haven’t spent time in nature and in silence there; after two tedious months of physical therapy aimed at loosening and strengthening my arthritic right knee, each session consuming two hours, I was sick to death of only relating to machines and being stuck indoors.
On our trip to Montreal we continued north to Mont Tremblant and spent two days enjoying what was left of the autumn leaf colors and stunningly warm weather.
The area is full of walking and cycling trails so we took one through the woods down to the Diable River where we sat on the rocks and listened to the rushing river. The woods were largely silent except for one nearby blue jay.
I loved the lush moss, peeling birch trees, sun-dappled leaves and ancient stones.
I loved the soothing sound of the river rushing over and around rocks.
I loved watching leaves tumble into the water, only to be swept under and away like little yellow boats.
The day before, I ventured to the edge of the hotel property and found a grove of trees whose thick, twisted, intertwined roots looked like nothing I’d ever seen before anywhere, like something out of a fairy tale.
I sat on them for a while, just being still and present, watching the sun glow lower and lower through the trees. The woods were silent — no chipmunks or squirrels rustling past, no birds squawking to one one another.
It was eerie and disorienting.
But so, so good to be out, once more in nature, as always reminded that humans are just one more species.
Our final morning in Montreal, I insisted we pay a quick visit to one of my old haunts, the enormous market down by the Lachine Canal that sells an astonishing array of produce, meat, cheese, flowers, chocolate, tea, coffee — you name it!
While Montreal has multiple markets, we chose this one and it was a perfect fall day, with people of all ages arriving with babies and dogs.
Because we were traveling and staying in hotels, I didn’t buy much food — a piece of cheese, some apples and bananas, home-made mustard, maple popcorn and some astounding chocolate. The friends we were heading to visit in Ontario are about start building a new home, so a set of chocolate tools (!), like a hammer and saw, seemed like a good house gift.
Of course, this being Quebec, many of the signs are in French, but everyone will speak some English, if not fluently.
Pies: Pumpkin, apple, blueberry, sugar, maple sugar
There are 100000 sorts of things made with maple syrup and Montreal bagels, which are completely different from the doughy ten-ton things New Yorkers love to boast about — these are lighter and chewy and boiled then baked.
Scary meringue ghosts for Halloween!
Canada’s legendary food — poutine — cheese curds and gravy
I had so much fun in Montreal in September, we came up again — this time by car — to celebrate my husband’s birthday and to enjoy the city in warm, sunny weather. (We’ve been here in February, and it’s an adventure, but the wind and cold and snow can be really daunting.)
We stayed again at the Omni Mont-Royal, on Sherbrooke Street, whose central location is terrific, with lots of great shopping within a two or three block walk.
There are nearby excellent restaurants, like the freshly made pizza we had at this place on Peel Street, sharing a delicious antipasto, an oven-fresh-made pizza and three glasses of red wine.
This visit I went down to Notre-Dame Ouest to check out its small section of antiques stores and loved the mix I found.
The selection at L’Ecuyer, at 1896 Notre Dame Ouest, is the best and most affordable, (the other shops are priced at $1,000 or much more for their material), and the owner has a great selection of china, glass, paintings and hand-made textiles. He specializes in vintage suitcases and they’re fantastic. I saw everything from a zebra skin rug ($1,200) to a spectacular 18th century walnut armoire ($7,000) but also many smaller items for much less.
Like many along this strip, he rents out his items to television and film crews — he’d just loaned out several paintings that morning to a movie starring Kathy Bates and Felicity Jones being filmed locally.
We treated ourselves to dinner at Lemeac, far from the tourist trail, in the elegant residential Francophone neighborhood of Outremont. Diners ranged from hipsters in their 20s and 30s to a woman in a gold turban in her 70s or beyond. As we left at 10:30, a line-up filled the doorway…
I took a spin class at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, whose drop-in rate is $30, (but $15 for some guests of local hotels, like ours.) The classroom was large and sunny, on the top floor, and — like everything in Montreal — offered in a mix of French and English.
The MAA is in a gorgeous pair of buildings from 1905, with two lovely period stained glass windows that glow at night; the lobby contains a fantastic, huge period photo mural from 1890 — celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Snowshoe Club.
One of the things I most enjoy about Montreal is how damn stylish its women are — especially those 50 and beyond. Oh la la! Great haircuts. Great hair color. Chic, minimalist clothing in gray, black, cream and beige. Lots of them wearing cool sneakers, studded with black crystals or a fur pom-pom.
I find it really inspiring.
We shopped at two Canadian retail legends, Browns shoe store (men and women) and Aritizia, a privately-owned Vancouver-based chain also sold online and in the U.S. that sells women’s clothing. Its colors are mostly limited to solid burgundy, olive, dark green, black, gray and a mid-pink, many in knits; prices are reasonable for the quality with many items below $100 to $150. I also appreciate their sizing, some of which easily and stylishly accommodates me (between a 12 and 14) without screaming this is a plus-size garment!
I’ve gone twice now to the salon La Coupe, at the corner of Peel and Sherbrooke, for cut and color; the color was fantastic and well-priced. The space is dead simple, even basic — black, gray and white — but offers a variety of services and has been in business since 1967.
Walking the city offers lots of architectural surprises; be a tourist and look up to find some unusual sights, like this gray stone building now housing McGill’s alumni association that used to house a distiller’s headquarters. It looks like a Scottish castle!
Visiting Montreal is like a quick, easy trip to France, with many of the same charms and pleasures; this is Alexandre et fils, where I ate in the mid 1980s when I was a feature writer at the Montreal Gazette and lived nearby — three of my former colleagues still work there.
This is a must-read for any woman dating people she doesn’t know well or hasn’t met through people she completely trusts.
If she’s easily prone to being quickly wooed, beware!
It’s a new six-part series, and podcast, from the L.A. Times, by Christopher Gofford, and took more than a year to report.
It’s the true story of a multiply divorced California woman, a financially successful interior designer — desperately lonely — who was targeted by John Meehan, a con man.
It’s terrifying, compelling and an essential read to understand that:
— such men exist
— such men seek out victims and select them carefully
— such men groom their victims, love-bombing them with gifts and cards and “kindness”
— failing to ask why they’re so “kind” to someone they barely know is imprudent
— such men quickly insinuate themselves into their victims’ lives
— such men are sociopathic and vicious when exposed
— such men are professional liars and who, really, will others believe — them or you?
I know this because I’ve also been a victim of one.
In December 1997 I met a charming, handsome, intelligent man who — within a few weeks of meeting me — brought a pot of home-made soup to my door, bought me gifts and told me repeatedly how much he loved me.
He pretended to be a successful lawyer, a partner in a three-person downtown New York City law firm, complete with engraved stationery, business cards and other “evidence” of his false identity; in Chicago (where his exploits made front page of the Chicago Tribune) he’d posed as a doctor, using a business card with impressive initials that anyone who knows medicine would instantly know was fake.
He kept proposing marriage, sending dozens of emails and cards attesting to his immediate attraction and devotion, as did John Meehan, a standard MO for con men. (I found this weird and excessive, not romantic.)
It took me longer than it should have — (lonely and insecure = vulnerable) — to flee his clutches, at which point, like Meehan, he began threatening me and my family. Not with physical harm, as Meehan did, but in my case called my local district attorney to lie about me; as someone who lives in the U.S. as a resident alien (i.e. not a citizen) he knew this could make my solo life difficult. And knew, even irrationally, I feared that.
I was terrified by his screaming phone calls, and stayed at a friend’s home for a few days.
As did Meehan’s victim, I hired a detective, a former NYPD policeman, who quickly discovered and told me the sordid truth.
By that point, the guy had stolen and opened my mail, activated my new credit card and used it, forging my signature — all felonies.
The police and district attorney all laughed in my face. It was “only fraud” they said.
“No harm done,” they said.
Because “my” con man was careful to steal only a certain amount from each of his many victims, the banks didn’t care — it’s a cost of doing business to them.
Because the amounts were small enough, (typically $1,000 or less), the credit card companies also wouldn’t chase him and prosecute — and the costs of this fraud is built into our interest rates.
Because the women he victimized were so embarrassed and ashamed or police disbelieved them or DAs wouldn’t take on their cases, he was rarely arrested, prosecuted and convicted.
Because the women he chose to steal from should have known better, should have asked tougher questions, should have dumped him fast, their friends and family — like mine — were furious at our stupidity and gullibility.
These men (and women!) lie for a living.
Like Meehan, the man I was victimized by is now dead. Thank God.
A book I highly recommend to every girl and woman is The Gift of Fear, written by a security expert, with a one page checklist of warning signs. It clearly explains how the way women are socialized to be “nice” and compliant can endanger us.
I urge everyone to read this series or listen to the podcast — and share it with women you know and care about.
It’s highly instructive and shows how to spot the warning signs of a similar predator.