I recently had lunch with a friend my age — a former executive at National Public Radio — who now travels the country with his very cool project, getting people into working for public radio, called NextGenRadio. I love his ambition and passion, at an age when many are thinking about retirement.
One of my spin teachers, in her early 40s, is doing the work for pre-med, and is 18 months away from taking the MCAT, the med school admission test. Another friend, a former New York Times editor, is now enrolled in a program to re-train doing yoga therapy in medical settings.
I’m slowly working on two new ways to earn an income, with no expectation that either will fully sustain me financially, but each of which makes me happier than journalism does at this point. I started writing for a living at the age of 19, while also attending university full-time. I enjoyed it, but it was also really stressful. Now the industry is in such a mess — and with pay rates, literally, back to 1970s and ’80s lows, (then a very good rate!), I’m ready to flee.
The two things I hope to do a lot more of are coaching — both writing and PR strategy (details are on my website) and selling my images to interior designers. I’ve been coaching now for several years and really enjoy it; my students get instant ROI and lots of practical advice, not the generic “You go, girl!” bullshit I so often see being touted by “experts” on social media.
My husband is a professional photo editor, who worked for The New York Times for 31 years and helped them win a Pulitzer Prize for 9/11 images, so we’re also culling thousands of my images to select the initial few hundred and set up a website. I began my career as a photographer, selling three magazine cover images while still in high school and later, to Time, The Washington Post, Toronto Star, The New York Times and others.
Jose and I just saw A Private War, the new film depicting the life of American-born journalist Marie Colvin, a longtime foreign correspondent for The Times of London.
We were fortunate enough to meet its young director — Matthew Heineman, who’s only 35 and who’d never been (!) on a movie set until he directed this one — and heard him interviewed on stage at our local art film house.
The film, emotionally powerful and extremely intense, was filmed mostly in Jordan. It conveys well ambitious journalists’ desire to cover conflict, but also the PTSD that also affects many of the writers, photographers and videographers who do; we have friends who have dealt with this personally.
The film stars British actress Rosamund Pike — whose pale, blond, blue-eyed fragility in films like An Education is gone in this role (one she fought to win, initially planned for Charlize Theron.) She’s terrific.
If you don’t yet know anything about her, Marie Colvin was a complex woman — wearing elegant lingerie into fire-fights and warzones beneath her bullet-proof vest, chain-smoking, hard-drinking. She lost her left eye while covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka — and was killed while reporting in Homs, Syria in 2012.
As a child, Marie had played “dead man’s branch” with her younger brothers and sisters. The aim of the game was to climb a tree, pick a branch and move further out along to see who would break it first. “Invariably,” Hilsum writes, “it was Marie who pushed out furthest.” Her ability to push on, for longer, despite the looming danger, would eventually give her the reputation as one of the greatest war reporters of her generation. And, arguably, it was why she went back into Baba Amr, a neighbourhood under siege in Homs, Syria, in February 2012, through a storm drain for the second time – which Hilsum describes as “reckless” – and was killed by a rocket. She was 56.
Her drive to leave what was behind her, and her determination to go further into what was in front of her, was a potent mix, resulting in incredible stories, which Hilsum powerfully brings to life in her biography. Colvin’s breakthrough came in 1987, when she and a photographer made it across a no man’s land in a refugee camp in Beirut, bribing the militia to hold fire for just one minute. Colvin poignantly told the story of a 22-year-old woman shot dead in the crossfire. The story went round the world and three days later a ceasefire was called. Next came East Timor in 1990, when, along with 80 UN workers, Colvin refused to leave despite Hilsum describing the decision as “at worst, suicidal”.
This kind of work changes you for good, even if you emerge from it physically unscathed.
Jose served a month in Bosnia, working there as a photographer for The New York Times, in the winter, at the end of the war there. He didn’t shower for weeks, had little to eat, had to be rescued from a deep snowbank by a passing UN soldier and even slept in an unheated shipping container.
It changed him forever — and that was in 1995.
I wept through some of the scenes in this film. It was too real for me.
The next day he emailed to say he sort of missed it all.
This is a regular column that runs in the Arts section of The New York Times. As author of two works of nationally reported non-fiction — the second of which was nominated for the prestigious Hillman Award and published in China — I thought I’d do this here as well.
When did you first get the idea to write this book?
I worked at a trade publication in New York City as an editor and was friendly with a colleague there. One evening, having dinner at her apartment — where she had a doorman and a very large dog — I asked her (?!) if she owned a gun. She did, a handgun. I was a bit stunned and wrote an essay about this for The Globe and Mail, my former newspaper in Canada. I went on to attend a three day shooting class and wrote about that for the Wall Street Journal. After writing a much longer feature on it, I realized there had not been a book written about American women and gun use, whether they enjoyed it or feared it used against them or their loved ones. It was clear there was a lot of great material to be gathered and many stories to be told. For Blown Away, I spoke to 104 men, women and teens from 29 states. Here’s a link to the book.
For Malled, I was urged from the very start to write about it, but couldn’t see any narrative arc or story line to the menial job of folding, hanging and selling clothing for The North Face. But I worked part-time, at $11/ hour, for 2.5 years — much longer than the average retail sales associate, so I watched the economy plunge into recession (2007 to 2009) from a specific and unusual place. The book is also a story of how the retail industry works, from the inside, so it’s both a memoir and a business book. I was urged to produce the book after a column I wrote in The New York Times prompted a flood of appreciative comments and emails. Here’s a link to the book.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
For Blown Away, the regional differences in how Americans view gun use and gun ownership is huge. People really don’t understand it and underestimate its political strength. It isn’t just the NRA’s powerful influence and deep pockets, but also strong cultural and historical attachment to gun use and gun ownership that’s deeply embedded, for millions of people, in the very idea of what it means to be American. But because those in your local area are likely to share your views on gun use — whether pro or con — you usually end up with confirmation bias, unable to envision or understand this.
For Malled, It was really depressing to hear the words “disposable” used over and over again to describe the hard-working, poorly-paid staff that stand for eight hours in all retail stores. The highly paid executives at corporate headquarters of every major retailer spend millions of dollars buying specialized software — designed to reduce the costs of labor. It was so demoralizing to do a job to the best of our ability and realize that no one (in corporate) cared or would ever compensate us accordingly. My “raise” in 2.5 years? Thirty cents an hour.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
They’re both what I wanted them to be — a firsthand and intimate examination of two of the United States’ most intractable political issues: gun ownership and low-wage labor.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
My parents and late stepmother. My father is a former documentary film-maker and my mother a journalist and my stepmother wrote television series. All worked freelance in challenging and competitive creative industries. I learned early that your own great ideas, presented and sold well, can earn you a living. That was pretty revolutionary, and certainly inspired my own work as a writer.
Persuade someone to read “Blown Away” or “Malled” in 50 words or less.
Blown Away is the only book of its kind, a nuanced, balanced deep dive into how guns affect women in the United States, whether they use one for sport, work or self-defense, or have been traumatized by the use of one against them or a loved one.
Malled is similarly unique, offering a firsthand examination of low-wage labor in the U.S., and explains in detail what it is like to work for paltry wages in a large and crucial industry and in an economy based on consumer spending.
Few issues are as fraught with emotion as how we get, spend, save or give away our money.
If you don’t have enough to survive, every day becomes an emotionally and physically exhausting battle.
And when you live in a country devoted to bare-knuckled capitalism like the United States, if you don’t have enough, the social safety net is weak and thin.
The federal minimum wage is still an absurd $7.25 an hour — I’ve never paid any of my part-time assistants less than $12 an hour, even 15 years ago.
American unions now have the lowest membership in a century, even as one third of American workers lurch into what’s now widely and risibly called the “gig economy”, a jaunty and inaccurate euphemism for fiscal insecurity.
Professor Thaler’s academic work can be summarized as a long series of demonstrations that standard economic theories do not describe actual human behavior.
For example, he showed that people do not regard all money as created equal. When gas prices decline, standard economic theory predicts that people will use the savings for whatever they need most, which is probably not additional gasoline. In reality, people still spend much of the money on gas. They buy premium gas even if it is bad for their car. In other words: They treat a certain slice of their budget as gas money.
He also showed that people place a higher value on their own possessions. In a famous experiment, he and two co-authors distributed coffee mugs to half of the students in a classroom, and then opened a market in mugs. Students randomly given a mug regarded it as twice as valuable as did the students who were not given a mug.
This “endowment effect” has since been demonstrated in a wide range of situations. It helps to explain why real markets do not work as well as chalkboard models.
Money is so often a proxy for other, often deeper, darker issues: power, control, status, humiliation, (why Hollywood power broker Harvey Weinstein could be a sexual predator and so many people who relied on his goodwill to help them get or stay rich remained silent for so long.)
I’ve been fairly obsessed with money for a long time.
It’s caused no end of drama within my family and I’ve been handling my finances alone since I was 19 and moved out of my father’s home to live alone in a large city and pay for university from my earnings as a writer and photographer, with a small monthly income from a grandmother.
It taught me very early to know my worth and to bargain hard for it. I still remember the joy of earning 18 percent on a Canada Savings Bond, whose value quickly doubled.
One place I do spend money freely — travel
I also remember vividly being so strapped then that it took me months to save the $30 I needed to buy tights and slippers so I could attend a free ballet class.
My living expenses were phone/rent/tuition/books/clothes/groceries/answering machine.
No car. No TV. No cable.
My family has plenty of dough, but made clear to me to never ask for a penny of it, nor ever expect to run home for help. I inherited some money from my grandmother in my mid-20s, which helped me to to buy an apartment, a security for which I’m very grateful as I’ve bounced in and out of the job market, survived three recessions and work as a full-time freelance journalist — an industry now in complete chaos.
I break into a sweat when spending money on more than the basics; (except for making our home lovely and travel.)
My cellphone and computer are probably four or five years old, (no big deal.)
But our Subaru has 180,000 miles on it, is 16 years old and cost us $1,800 in repairs in recent months — so we’re finally about to lease a gorgeous luxury vehicle.
The thought of committing to anything beyond our monthly health insurance and mortgage payments is scary even though we have the cash, (money we’ve saved for years), and emergency savings, so this is not — as Thaler would nod knowingly — 100 percent rational thinking.
Airfares? I’ll splurge on those…
Some of the financial challenges I see so many women struggling with:
1) being scared to ask for more (i.e. raises, bonuses, negotiating a higher salary or fees)
2) giving money and gifts to children and grand-children to their own financial detriment
3) under-earning because of sexism, racism or other institutional barriers
4) under-earning while taking time away from paid work to care for children and/or others
5) failing to understand the devastating financial impact of divorce and planning for that. I had a prenuptial agreement in my first marriage and could have ended up in very dire straits without it.
Does handling and managing your money cause you anxiety?
Maybe you know little about the VietNam war — you were too young then, or it didn’t affect you or maybe you didn’t care to learn about it.
This week, a 10-part series on the war has been airing on PBS in the U.S.; you can buy DVDs of the series or download episodes of it on ITunes.
It is unforgettable, moving, appalling, the result of nearly 100 interviews.
Each episode is 90 minutes to two hours long, and features a mixture of interviews with veterans of the war, both South and North Vietnamese and American, including an American doctor who was a prisoner of war, an anti-war protestor, the sister of a soldier killed early on in the conflict, journalists and others.
It is searing, disturbing, deeply sad; I see friends’ reactions on Facebook, left sobbing.
It’s a must-see for anyone who wants to (better) understand a war that lasted just under 20 years, from 1955 to 1975.
Estimates of the number of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians killed vary from 966,000 to 3.8 million. Some 240,000–300,000 Cambodians, 20,000–62,000 Laotians, and 58,220 U.S. service members also died in the conflict, and a further 1,626 remain missing in action.[A 2]
As someone who was born and raised in Canada, I had little conscious awareness of the war, which ended in my final year of high school. We knew about it, certainly, as Canadian media is forever saturated by all news from the United States, our largest trading partner.
It was a time, as today now feels again, when the country was deeply divided, between those who thought the war still worth fighting — and those staging enormous protests nationwide.
It’s deeply depressing to hear — on audio of the time — the endless lies fed to Americans by their leaders year after year, their broken promises that produced more domestic rage and frustration and more and more dead bodies.
One surprising effect, which I and others felt personally, was draft-dodgers, some of whom were professors in our university, exotic Americans — some 30,000 Americans fled to Canada to escape the draft and (!) 30,000 Canadians apparently volunteered to serve in the war.
“What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?”
The interviews in the film are raw and intimate, shot in tight close-up, as men and women now in their 50s, 60s or beyond recall the most terrifying moments of their lives. There are color images of them, young and strong, wearing camo, a stark contrast to the silk bow-ties and elegant jackets they wear as they recall the war for us.
The noisy, shocking film footage of battles and bombings and napalm, of ambushes and gruesome injuries and rows of dead bodies — both American and Vietnamese — makes looking away both tempting and cowardly.
There is, in Episode Nine, an astounding speech by John Kerry — then returned from the Mekong Delta wearing fatigues (who would later become U.S. Secretary of State.) That same episode includes an interview with photographer Nick Ut, whose image of a young girl who had just been napalmed, Phan Thi Kim Phuc (now living near my hometown, Toronto), remains one of the war’s iconic photos.
One of those famous images shown in the film sits on our living room wall — a signed gift from the late photographer, Bernie Boston, on assignment for the Washington Star.
And we have a friend, a former colleague of my husband, a “boat person” who fled VietNam after the war as a little boy, and who now works as an art director at The New York Times. He once told us his story, and it was difficult to reconcile the highly successful man we know today with the terrified refugee he was then.
Read the link and you’ll see an echo with the millions of refugees today fleeing in overcrowded boats from Syria and Africa. Plus ça change…
My father, a film-maker, also worked on a television series about the war, The 10,000 Day War, — it was the first time I knew the name of General William Westmoreland, a key player whom he interviewed.
I Googled that film —– and found that the nearest copy of it to my home is (!) at West Point, the military academy just north of where I live on the Hudson River.
Do you know much about this war?
Do you know anyone who served in the U.S.military in Vietnam?
Unless you’re arriving via ferry, cruise ship or private vessel, it’s a rare city you can approach and leave by water.
Venice is one.
I arrived from Rovinj, Croatia by high-speed catamaran, ($100 one way, a 3.5 hour journey), cruising into Basilio, where our passports were examined and stamped.
I’d been to Venice before — for my 21st birthday (also alone) and a few years later on my EU fellowship.
I booked into a gorgeous 40-room hotel in San Marco, Hotel Flora, with a tiny perfect garden, with pink tablecloths and vines overhead.
My third floor room, facing the courtyard, was lovely — even if the shower stall was so small and narrow I couldn’t bend over to pick up the soap!
I only gave Venice three days this time because — exactly as I feared — it was a madhouse.
I have never, anywhere, seen as many people in so small a space.
If you’ve never been there, Venice’s streets and alleyways are very narrow and the city is made up of 118 islands, so you’re sharing that space going up and down small, narrow stone bridges. If there’s a river of humanity, many of them stopping to take &*&%#@@# selfies everywhere, you’re stuck. Literally.
It was also extremely hot — and while Venice really offers unique and extraordinary charms (no cars! no trucks! no sirens!) — it also has very, very few trees and little shade as a result. It is a city of stone.
(When you arrive at the airport to leave you think — what’s that green stuff? Oh, right, it’s grass!)
One of the best things to do is simply closely observe all the maritime traffic — because everything, (garbagemen, couriers, groceries, building supplies, police), travels in Venice by water. Every building has a dock.
There are gondola stands — like taxi stands in vehicular cities — where you can book one.
I spent most of my time taking photos and hopping on and off the vaporettos, the water-buses with regular routes.
One morning, I headed to Piazza San Marco, and stopped to admire a sketch and the oils a woman was about to use to paint the famous church. As I usually do, I asked permission before snapping her photo, and we started chatting.
Of course we had a friend in common…who lives, as she normally does, in Bermuda. Small world!
The woman suggested I flee the crowds and visit the island of Giudecca, which I did. It’s purely residential, with a few small cafes and food shops. It was silent, the only sounds the squeaking of a swing as a small child played on it and the singing of a caged songbird. I wandered its streets, while suspicious old women looked dubiously at me and my camera. I had a very good lunch there at Majer — great pastries, coffee, wine — in a lovely, elegant setting and not crazy expensive.
I’m really glad I went back to Venice (a logical next stop as I headed back west within Europe, and from where I flew to London, my final stop.)
But I admit — I was so worn out from heat and rude, pushy tourists I fled to the airport hours early, and gratefully sat in air-conditioned silence. It was a good decision, as the airport had — only two weeks earlier — opened a handsome new wing, with a glass roof and plenty of natural light. It was clean and spacious and I had a great chat with a woman from Calcutta.
I’m now in Istria, the northernmost part of Croatia, only three hours by car from Venice. I’ve booked a week’s stay in the town of Rovinj, hoping to do a lot of nothing — no museums, no shopping, no walking with a bum knee along hot, crowded streets.
I really enjoyed my four days apiece in Budapest and Zagreb, my first visits to both. I’d definitely return to either one, but in spring or autumn.
One of the pleasures of this trip is seeing how different each city is from the next. Budapest is very much not Berlin; its buildings feel older, dirtier, more massive in scale and design.
I stayed with my best friend from University of Toronto, (who lives far from me in the interior of British Columbia), and her 24-year-old daughter in a rented one-bedroom flat in District VII, the former Jewish quarter, which is very lively and filled with bars and restaurants.
The company is called 7 Seasons, on Kiraly Street, (with a Metro stop within a two-minute walk.) I liked the flat very much — although the bedroom didn’t have air conditioning, which in this brutally hot summer, was unpleasant. It had a small balcony with table and chairs, and lots of natural light. facing a huge central courtyard; below were about five restaurants, including a fantastic Middle Eastern one.
Lots of fun shops, including vintage clothing and (!) endless “escape rooms”, whose attractiveness completely eludes me.
A great pleasure of Budapest is how affordable it is, for food, lodging and transport (except taxis!) A great disappointment for me was — because it’s so much more affordable than other European cities — it attracts roving/shouting/shrieking gangs of men and women who’ve flown in cheaply for their “hen” and “stag” do’s, (what North Americans call their bachelor or bachelorette parties.)
We visited the 99-year-old Gellert Baths, (about $20 for admission; bring your own bathing suit, cap and towel), and savored the warm waters of its two indoor thermal baths. I didn’t try the sauna or swimming pool but dipped my toes into the frigid cold bath.
The place is astounding and well worth a visit to spend a few hours lolling beneath its stained glass and mosaics.
Budapest’s Houses of Parliament
Loved our night cruise on the Danube, choosing a 10:00 p.m. boat so the sky would be completely dark. Like Paris and New York, Budapest is a city of bridges, each with its own history and character.
One hot afternoon I managed to walk for ages (!) in the opposite direction to my goal, passing every embassy on Andrassy Avenue, which terminates in Hero’s Square.
Desperately tired and thirsty, I staggered into a shady seat in a cafe…full of men smoking hookahs! I got chatting to a man beside me, about my age, and happily puffing away on his after-work treat. We had a great conversation: he was born in Lebanon, raised in Kuwait, studied to his PhD in India and had worked with NGOs in Africa before coming to IBM. Hussein was a sweetie and I so enjoyed meeting him.
So far, perhaps, my favorite city for its relaxed quality: Berlin’s blocks are very, very long (so tiring to navigate) and Budapest was just too full of bro’s.
Zagreb — with only 790,000 people, (to B and B’s 3 million or so) — felt just right.
I liked my hotel very much, The Palace, and my small room with its quiet garden view; (the street-side is busy with tram traffic.) Had a phenomenal massage in their wellness center for $60 — about half what it costs in New York.
Zagreb feels lived-in, in a good way. I was very struck by how clean the streets are, and its many green, flower-filled parks. No graffiti, at least not in the central areas — something Berlin is covered with.
The city’s many cafes were full of people actually talking and laughing with one another —- not staring grimly into laptops.
Food is a mix of Eastern European (lots of meat!), Italian and Balkan, with various kinds of cheese and cottage cheese I’d never seen before.
Loved the Dolac, the central daily farmer’s market that runs from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m, filled with fruit and vegetables and flowers and cheeses and nuts and lavender and local shoppers with their wheelie carts. The square is edged by cafes, so you can take a break as you head home laden with cherries!
Loved the city’s many blue trams, making it quick, easy and comfortable to get around.
Loved its architecture and ocher and yellow-painted walls.
Loved most the Upper Town, silent and breeze-blown, with a spectacular church. I visited two museums there and loved both — the atelier of Ivan Mestrovic, Croatia’s most famous artist. His sculpture is exquisite, in marble and bronze and his home, built in the 1920s, a lovely space as well. If you like Rodin/Giacometti and/or the work of Diego Rivera, you’ll like this.
The Museum of Naive Art, a block away in Upper Town, is fantastic — filled with works on paper and many done on glass. A small museum, maybe four or five rooms, (a docent told me they have 1,900 items with only 75 on display), it’s really special. (Word of warning, though: both of these museums have steep narrow staircases to enter and to see everything in the Mestrovic site. Those with mobility issues might not be able to enjoy them.)
The city has 37 hotels — and 33 (!) hostels, making it an accessible place for all budgets.
I mostly loved seeing how people enjoy their city — guys playing badminton in the park, little girls rollerblading, people just sitting on the many pretty benches to chill out in the shade.
First question — why would anyone do such a thing?
Today’s temperature? 18 F, -8 Celsius.
Bloody cold, kids!
It was a week that fit my work schedule and I needed to renew my passport. I could have mailed away my old one (no thanks!) and paid $260. Instead I spent a lot more to stay in a rented flat for a week off, to see old friends and family.
I was out of the downtown Toronto airport — located on an island in the harbor — by 10:30 a.m., got my photos taken and had my application in, ($210, all in, including $50 for the rush job) by 12:30. Sweet!
Isn’t this a hoot? The Museum subway stop, which has been renovated and designed to a fantastic level (the Royal Ontario Museum sits just above)
Here are some of the things I’m enjoying this week, despite the bitter winds and blowing snow:
Seeing dear old friends
Catching up with people I knew at summer camp 40 years ago and from my college years at University of Toronto. My friend K was pregnant with her first child when she danced at my first wedding — her daughter is now a successful actress here. Whew!
Thinking in metric and Celsius
I bought 100 grams of salami, and have to keep looking up the temperature in F.
No pennies. Loonies and toonies. (Those are $1 and $2 coins.) The Canadian dollar is 74 cents U.S., giving me an automatic discount on everything I spend here.
A modern, downtown rented flat
It came up on a search on Trivago, $109 U.S. per night for a 700 square foot condo on the 30th floor of a residential building downtown. It’s super-bright, quiet, and has a brand-new kitchen, bathroom and comfortable queen bed. I come and go with all the other residents, meeting their kids and dogs in the elevator. I like it.
OK, no big deal, but I love these biscuits, not easy to find in New York — here, for sale in a subway newsstand
Went to the legendary, enormous St. Lawrence Market, (took the streetcar for $3.25), to buy food for breakfasts at home and, of course (always!) fresh flowers to make the flat feel more like home. Brought home an olive baguette, a muffin, some cheese and pate and salami, butter, jam, fruit and a fistful of glorious, fragrant purple hyacinth.
Restaurants, bars, cafes
Had a very good lunch at Milagro, a 10-year-old Mexican restaurant, the one on Mercer. Anything that survives that long in a foodie city must be good, and my meal was.
Loved Balzac’s, a cafe chain across Ontario. I stopped in at the one next to the Market for a cappuccino and a scone.
A must-do on most of my visits is the roof bar on the 14th floor of the Hyatt Hotel, at the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road. Small, intimate, quiet, elegant, it has terrific views of the city. I’ve been drinking there since college — Victoria College at University of Toronto is only two blocks south — so it’s full of memories. On one visit, the Prime Minister and his entourage sat in a corner.
My friend J introduced me to the Museum Tavern, a terrific five-year-old bistro directly across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum. Great atmosphere and food — and lots of memories, with some of the original decor from a long-closed TO restaurant I once enjoyed, Bemelman’s.
I left Toronto decades ago and the downtown core has totally transformed, thanks to a forest of condo skyscrapers, which means there is every possible amenity within a few blocks.
I took a spin class at 7:45 at night, then walked a few blocks, slowly, back to the flat, staring up into the night sky at the CN Tower, with its lights beaming in rainbow colors. (I once interviewed the man who designed it — then later got a marriage proposal from him — and recently ran into him in a town near our NY home. Small world!)
Yes, Toronto has racial tensions and even crime, just like other major cities. But it’s overwhelmingly a city of immigrants, with every nation you can imagine represented. I miss that; New York City is, arguably, diverse, but it’s very segregated economically.
A cardboard Mountie stands guard at St. Lawrence Market. A must-see!
It’s hardly as though we need any more books. We have hundreds already, many of them (ugh) still unread, even years after buying them, whether reference, history or fiction.
But who can resist a brand new book?
(I’ve just bought three more books: Transit by Rachel Cusk, The Hustle Economy [a bit too basic for me, 12 years into full-time freelance] and Hillbilly Elegy, a New York Times best-seller that I’m enjoying but not bowled over by.)
The top three books in this stack were requests, given to me by my husband Jose for Christmas 2016.
I love the names of wine: gewurtztraminer, gruner veltliner, Vouvray, Muscadet, grenache, Montepulciano. (Dream second career? Sommelier, except for all that memorizing!) Jancis Robinson is someone whose work we read every week in the Financial Times. (My other favorite wine writer, a friend, is another woman, Lettie Teague, who writes for The Wall Street Journal.)
The next two books are a holdover from my childhood years growing up in Canada, where most of my reading material was published by Penguin; I’d read rapturous reviews of MacFarlane in the FT and am fascinated by landscapes and how we experience them.
The bottom four books were the happy result of browsing an indie bookstore, Logos Books, in Manhattan while recently waiting to meet a friend.
I so rarely spend time in bookstores — I would easily spend hunreds of dollars each year! — so I really enjoyed a good long browse.
The collection on offer was deliciously eclectic.
If you don’t know her or her work, Martha Gellhorn was a legendary war correspondent, ferocious and admired — and, incidentally, the third of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives. She was the only woman to land in Normandy on D-Day and covered every war, determined to be there to record every detail, no matter what the obstacles.
I long ago read a biography of Antoinette May, another war correspondent — a birthday gift from a friend and Globe & Mail colleague. Smart, tough determined fellow female journalists give me role models!
I’ve never read anything by John O’Hara and, frankly, I just loved the cover. The story is set in 1930. I love reading about earlier eras.
A Little Life has received rave reviews, although some say it’s a very sad book. I very rarely read fiction — as you can see, with five of these seven being non-fiction — so I hope it’s good. (I was given The Goldfinch as a birthday gift two years ago and put off opening it for a year, having heard it was far too long. But I absolutely loved it, even though it is too long.)
I recently started re-reading The Illustrated Man, which I first read when I was 12. I was so impressed with it that I wrote Bradbury a fan letter, from my summer camp in northern Ontario, and sent it to his New York City publisher, Ballantine.
Within two weeks, I had a hand-signed reply, with his home address in California, a postcard I treasure to this day.
He was real!
He wrote back!
To a little girl in Ontario!
What I could not have known then was that he — also age 12 — was magically transformed by a chance meeting. This, from his official website:
Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.
Books can do this to us.
They connect us to the past, to an imagined future, to ideas and questions and challenges and gorgeous images.
They transport us, without a need for tickets or passports or jet lag.
Now we’ve got a Trump senior advisor telling the American media to “keep its mouth shut” and that we are the “opposition party.”
So, in the interests of media literacy, some inside dope.
If you retain some faith in the veracity of media reporting, (and many don’t), it’s also useful to remember — or know — that what you read, see and listen to is heavily filtered, edited and condensed.
Maybe you knew that.
But if you ever work in a newsroom, or as a reporter or editor or photographer, you very quickly appreciate how much of it ends up on the cutting-room floor.
It is not, despite everything you may hear about the “crooked media” and our putative dishonesty, about partisanship.
It can be, but most often is for very different reasons, like:
Length and space
Less an issue with digital stories, where there’s no lack of room, although a shortened attention span from many digital audiences.
In print, whether magazines or newspapers, many stories compete every day for space.
Every newspaper editor has a “budget”, in addition to their monetary one, and daily “budget meetings”, in which every competing story tries to win its spot in that day’s report and what prominence it will get.
Then a talented team of photo editors, art directors, layout experts and graphics editors works to make each page, ideally, look terrific and draw you into each story.
This is my most recent NYT story, which got great play, (on the front page [aka the dress page] of the paper’s very well-read real estate section), the gift of a gorgeous illustration (by someone else from Toronto!) — and even netted me fan mail! It’s about how people, when renovating, sometimes find very weird things in their walls and floors, or place items themselves.
Short is often better — get to the point!
But complex issues demand complex and nuanced reporting for the audience to understand them and why they matter to us, like the NPR report I heard this morning on the Congressional Review Act, which I’d never heard of before.
Probably the biggest ongoing challenge every news journalist faces, especially those who work with images: war, natural disaster, terrorism, murder scenes, airline, train or car crashes. They have to process it emotionally, (or shut it out somehow.) Over the years, let alone decades, it takes a toll.
The day before I took my driving test (!), while a reporter at the Montreal Gazette, I covered a head-on collision between a city bus and a small car. I’ll spare you the details, but — 26 years later — I remember it all too well.
Secondary trauma is a real issue for many of us, and in a business where macho behavior is rewarded and emotional reactions in that moment can hinder our work. My husband covered New Mexico’s worst ever prison riot as a photographer when he was still a college student and spent a month in Bosnia at the end of the war in 1995. Both seared his soul.
I’ve reported stories with gory details I knew, but omitted. They informed my understanding of the issues and the reality of the event, (like a murder trial or 9/11), but civilians — i.e. non-journalists — just aren’t prepared to handle it.
By the time you see or hear it, it’s often heavily sanitized.
This is a big one, especially now.
If you can’t trust media coverage to be factual — and checked before publication or broadcast with multiple, reliable sources — you’re toast.
It doesn’t even matter what the story is, really, because the underlying principles remain the same: when in doubt, leave it out.
We have to make sure we know who’s talking to us, why now and their agenda(s).
Who’s funding them? Who pays their bills? Who do they owe favors to?
Many sources just end up sounding or looking really stupid.
It’s up to us to decide, as gatekeepers, what to reveal.
We’re all human and we all mis-speak.
That question changes when we’re covering a public figure like a politician, who’s chosen to be in the public eye and who has significant responsibility to voters. That’s why they hire spokesmen (and women) to spin everything.
It’s our job to untangle it all.
Far too many press releases!
I get several every day, and delete 99.9% of them unread, unopened and annoyed at the laziness of the people being well paid to send them.
There are three writers in New York City (!) with my name, one of whom covers beauty for a major magazine, so of course I get her email all the time.
Some press releases are useful, but are often full of jargon and of no interest at all.
Most of the best stories you’ll read and hear come from reporters and editors’ own ideas and research, tips from sources and observations of the world and its patterns.
Documents, leaks and FOIAs
If you saw the film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, you’ll know that poring over reams of documents can create the most powerful and damning stories of all.
The editor, then, of the Boston Globe, Marty Barron, is now at the Washington Post, which is kicking ass and taking names in covering the Trump administration.
The more Trump shuts down federal agencies and staffers, the more they’re leaking what we need to know.
You need a free press more than ever now.
The big three of news determinants.
The closer an event is to readers, listeners and viewers, the more likely it will get coverage — which is why Americans, certainly, hear just about nothing, ever, from entire parts of the globe: most of Asia and the MidEast, Latin and Central America, Eastern and Southern Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Unless it’s seen to have a direct impact on American lives or economic/political interests…crickets.
Which is crazy.
Because the less you know about how the rest of the world operates and behaves, (i.e. differing histories, cultural values and resulting wars, unrest and public policies), the less you understand or care.
(Have you noticed the rise of Marine LePen, running for France’s Presidency? Nice.)
Don’t, please, get me started on celebrity — and how every day someone “reveals” a “secret” and media drool over first dibs on it.
If something happened even a week ago, let alone a few days, it might not be deemed “news” because, no matter how important, it’s not “new.” It’s a lousy way to make decisions, and very common.
The only way to make sense of the “news” is to absorb and process a wide range of it. If all you ever read or pay attention to is American (or your own country’s), the Internet offers you all of it, most of it free — radio, videos, newspapers, blogs, magazines…
I read the Financial Times every day and listen often to BBC. I get French and Canadian news through my Twitter feed.