I was convinced no one would ever find it or read it or comment. Happily, I was wrong — WordPress tells me 22,000+ people have followed it and my daily stats show people arriving from across the globe, a real compliment.
I also write for a living, so the 2,315 posts I’ve so far published here have been in addition to producing dozens of paid/published articles and a book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.
It’s very weird to…not write. For probably every writer, it’s how we process the world and how we feel about our time in it.
Our tools are simple enough — a device, our hands, our eyes/ears/brain, access to the Internet (not easy for many!)
But I’ve spent the past week not working for income but focused on a book proposal I’ve been trying to revive for a few years, about women and journalism. I’m being vague until/unless it sells. Writing a book proposal is a lot of unpaid work, done in the hope you will actually find an agent and a publisher and get paid enough to make it worth doing. Each step offers its own challenges — having an agent sounds so glamorous but I have been bitterly disappointed by quite a few, even Big Name New York ones.
Like dating, it’s a combination of intellectual and emotional fit — and knowing your agent will do their very best for you. Both of my books faced 25 rejections each before finally selling and today publishing is so much more consolidated it’s even more daunting for the mid-list crowd like me.
Two friends — within a week — including one who works for a major publisher recently urged me to write a memoir. So I bought a book on how to do that and might start writing bits and pieces. It’s tricky for every memoirist with family dramas and unresolved issues. (Likely everyone!)
My husband, Jose, is a photographer and photo editor, working freelance for the USGA and The New York Times; he’s also my transcriptionist! I never learned to touch type, as he did, so I bang everything out with only two weary fingers. At the usual $1/recorded minute one pays a transcriptionist, I at least owe him lunch!
So I’ll enjoy the next week or so, as many of you — I hope! — will as well: eating, napping, watching movies and fun TV, taking walks. Reconnecting with yourself and those you love, ideally at home!
Wishing you all a great Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa!
The good and bad of blogging — for writers and readers alike — no editors!
No one to say: “Hmmm, really?”
No one to ask: “What did you mean to say here?”
No one to suggest: “Maybe you wanted a shorter paragraph?”
I’ve been writing for a living since I was 19, so I’ve worked with many editors, men and women of all ages and temperaments, some as my bosses or coworkers, many as those who chose to assign me freelance work, and my two non-fiction books.
The very best are like the best plastic surgeons — when they trim, you barely notice it, but suddenly your material looks so much better.
The very best remain calm and cool, able to re-direct us and soothe us when we’re lost or panicked in the weeds of reporting and interviewing. Book editors are gods to me — helping us make sense of 100,000 words.
I’m always amazed at the trust that each editor places in us and our skills and our character and our ethics and our work ethic when they commit to us. This was a bigger deal when top writers were paid $3/word by the big glossy magazines and a $6,000 or $9,000 or $12,000 check was still possible and not some gauzy memory.
Then as now, editors hedge their bets with contracts that may not contain a kill fee, or a very small one (25 percent), so that $4,000 you expected to earn — hah, now you’re only getting $1,000 and your bills be damned!
It’s one reason smart full-time freelancers are very, very frugal; it’s easy to blow some cash on a vacation or some new clothes or some dental work or car repair — put it on a credit card — and, guess what?
You aren’t getting that money now.
It’s very stressful and stories get killed for a lot of very bad reasons. One I see a lot (not in my work) is editors who commission a story, disappear for weeks or even months (!?) and then the story is no longer timely or someone else already published it. This punishes the writer, who’s done all the work in good faith.
Some of my most memorable editors:
— The one who sent me off to profile David Quinn, then the brand-new coach of the New York Rangers, saying “You’re Canadian. You know hockey!” I did not. Here’s the story.
— The one who just assigned me a scary story about a technical topic for a specialist audience of readers with Phds. “You realize I never studied chemistry or physics?” I emailed him. Onward, anyway.
— The one who told me to get what he was sure was a totally ungettable interview and I came back within a few hours with a former European leader.
— The one who sent me off on a two-week tour of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Lord, what an adventure: Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick. We flew in Lear jets, allowing Her Majesty the “purple corridor” of advance time for her jet to take off before ours.
— The one who sent me, in December, to the tiny Arctic village of Salluit, ostensibly to deliver an entire small plane-full of donated clothing, with only 24 hours there. We landed on ice and snow at maybe 1pm, and no one wanted the stuff, and it was dark by 2pm and I had to go on the radio, a particle board shack, being translated into Inuktitut, to calm the village down and get anyone to even speak to me.
— The one, at the New York Daily News, my direct manager, who said: “When I want to speak to you, I’ll let you know” and never spoke to me again. That was December and I was let go in June. Fun!
— The one who edited Boy’s Life, the Boy Scout’s official magazine, and had me interviewing Scouts (by phone) all across America. They were always terrific!
— The one who read my initial manuscript for Malled and said: “I really like Chapters 11 and 12.” The rest? Needed revision. We made it.
— The one who sent me from Toronto, freelance, for The Globe & Mail, to write about performing eight shows of Sleeping Beauty as an extra with the National Ballet of Canada, at Lincoln Center. I typed it up in my room at the Empire Hotel and dictated it over the phone. “This is great!” he said.
At best, it’s a collegial collaboration of mutual respect.
At worst, you feel butchered and never want to trust another editor again.
I was pushed into blogging in the summer of 2009 by my then-agent, as we were trying to sell my second book (which we sold on September 11, 2009), and even then “having a platform” was becoming a publishers’ demand — i.e. bringing with you a built-in audience for your work.
I didn’t want to blog and was fearful I’d have anything useful to add. There were, then, 400,000 (!?) blogs on WordPress, and who knows how many now?
The ensuing ten years have proved both personally and professionally interesting, much of which I’ve chronicled here.
— 2011, got married on Centre Island in Toronto harbor, with 25 dear friends.
— 2012, finally got my destroyed left hip replaced
— 2012, won this exclusive about Google teaching meditation for The New York Times, the fruits of six months’ negotiation
— 2013, renovated our kitchen, which I designed
— 2014, back to Paris and London, where I met the fabulous blogger behind Small Dog Syndrome, Somehow we survived a week of me and my too-large suitcase and her and her husband in their very small flat. Whew!
Hotel Flora, Venice
— 2017. I took a six week vacation, most of it solo, traveling from NY-Paris-Berlin-Budapest-Zagreb-Rovinj-Venice-London. Bliss!
— 2018, diagnosed in June with DCIS, a very early form of breast cancer.
It means a lot that some of you keep reading and commenting, year after year.
It’s heartening to know my words are of value beyond the monetary price put on them for my paid assignments.
Thanks to Twitter, I also met up in Berlin with Jens Notroff, an archeologist who works on Gobekli Tepe, a 12,000 year-old Neolithic site in Turkey and Dorothée Lefering, a travel blogger whose post about Rovinj, Croatia impelled me to stay there for a glorious week last July. I’d never even heard of it before!
We all met for lunch at Pauly Saal (a trendy restaurant) in Berlin last July, thanks to “meeting” them regularly through several weekly Twitterchats focused on travel — and Jens and I bonded for certain after trading the lyrics to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now, thanks to Insta, I’m reviving my photography skills; I began my journalism career as a teenager selling three cover photos to a Toronto magazine, then sold to Time, The New York Times, Washington Post and more.
I love how my Smartphone has made me hyper-aware of my surroundings once more. The glossy perfection and waayyyyyyy too many selfies of Instagram don’t appeal to me, but I’m loving the global reach it offers.
I also spend a lot of time on Facebook participating in online-only women’s writing groups, where we find friendship, freelance work, staff jobs, mentoring and moral support. At worst, it can get ugly and weird, but at best it’s my daily water cooler, as someone who works alone at home in the boring suburbs of New York.
(It costs me $25+ in train and subway fare into New York City to meet people face to face, so social media offers us all an easy and affordable option.)
But I also plan play dates — this week an Oscar-viewing night with a neighbor, lunch here with an editor, a Canadian consulate event at the Tenement Museum in New York City, and meeting friends for dinner in Harlem at Red Rooster.
My weekends are also filled with in-person social activities from now through mid-April, so I don’t feel isolated and lonely, which social media can create online interaction is all you do.
Facebook was also useful recently in a highly unusual way — with a local woman reporting to our town in real time that a woman had been shot in an apartment complex nearby, that the shooter was on the loose (!) and that’s why we heard police helicopters overheard for hours.
(She died and he was captured in New York City at the bus station.)
The hashtag for our town’s zip code, whose Facebook page has thousands of members, was the single best place to find out what was happening.
More than 18,900 people have now signed up to follow Broadside — and I only know a very few of you.
So, to get to know some of you a bit better, here are 20 questions I’d love some of you to answer.
Pick whichever ones suit you, some or all…
Thanks for playing!
I’ll go first!
1. Favorite city/place:Paris
2. What do you see out your bedroom window? Treetops and the Hudson River, facing northwest.
3. How many languages do you speak?English, French and Spanish
4. Where were you born? Vancouver, B.C.
5. Where do you live now?Tarrytown, NY
6. What sort of work do you do?Writer and writing coach
7. What makes you most angry? Arrogance/entitlement
8. Who do you most admire? Those who fight for social justice
9. What’s your blog name and why do you blog? Broadside is a play on words. I like to hear what readers worldwide have to say. It’s a place for me, as a professional writer, to write for pleasure, not income.
10. Dog, cat or other sort of pet person? Dog (although currently dog-less)
11. What are some of your creative outlets? Photography, writing, drawing, cooking, interior design
12. Number of countries visited? (or states or provinces) Forty countries, 38 U.S. states, seven Canadian provinces
13. What did you study at university and why? English literature, French and Spanish, with the goal of becoming a foreign correspondent
14. Deepest regret? Our family’s unresolved estrangements. Never getting a staff job at a place I dreamed of.
15. Unachieved goal(s)?I’d like to publish at least two or three more books.
16. Typical Saturday morning?Coffee, reading The New York Times and Financial Times (in print), listening to favorite radio shows like On The Media, Studio 360, This American Life and The Moth. Spin class.
17. Do you play a musical instrument? Acoustic guitar, but haven’t touched it in decades.
18. Do you have a motto? Chase joy.
19. Biggest accomplishments? Re-inventing my career/life at 30 in New York City in a recession, with no job, friends or family here. Surviving a crazy childhood. Winning a Canadian National Magazine Award.
I had the oh, so snottily New York Timesian — “Oh, do people blog anymore?” asked of me at Jose’s going-away party last year (while snarfing the cake I paid for.)
I write for a living, and have been doing so for (gulp) 40 years, since I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto, utterly desperate to (as I did) become a journalist.
No Internet then.
People ask me: if you’re a professional writer, why on earth would you write unpaid, i.e. blog?
For exploring ideas.
For a place to muse aloud.
For a space in which to chew ideas.
For civil conversation with smart, interesting people across the globe.
For writing that isn’t, for once, tailored to someone else’s tone, length and subject matter.
That wasn’t, of course, the original plan.
But then Lorna and Sarge (now — yay! — her husband, and proud parents of the gorgeous girl Isla) came to New York, and I’d been reading her blog and she’d been reading mine and it was as if we’d been friends for years through our words flung out there so hopefully into the ether.
She in Scotland, I in suburban New York.
Like many of my new blog friends, we’re also decades apart in age, but perhaps not in sensibility — our shared love of books and travel and ideas and wonder at the world.
When I went back to Paris, in December 2015, I was thrilled to meet Mallory and Juliet and Catherine and others who were readers of my blog.
I met them in public places, thinking — This is nuts! What if she doesn’t show up? What if she’s an axe murderer?(Sadly, now, more of a worry than it was then.) No doubt, they, too had their fears.
Then off we went and, every time without fail, had a lovely face to face experience.
This week I met yet another smart, savvy, worldly young woman, the legendary X who’s the bestie of Cadence, the author of Small Dog Syndrome from London; she and I finally met face to face — after years of mutual admiration — in the train station after I got off the train from Paris in my brown vintage fedora.
We talked for so long her husband called to make sure we were OK.
X was everything you’d expect of a friend of Cadence and we sat at the bar and drank cold beer and shared notes on life in journalism in New York City. I would never have met her had I not read Cadence, nor emailed her privately, nor (!) stayed with her in their London flat (sleeping on an air mattress on the living room floor) and we all survived.
Unlike many of you, I had never wanted to blog and couldn’t imagine that anyone would hang around, read and comment, let alone return.
Happily, I was wrong, and Broadside continues to attract new followers every day, now more than 16,000 worldwide.
The blog now also has 1,845 published posts, on everything from travel to journalism to politics to decorating.
Yes, my interests are eclectic!
It’s also been very odd, and instructive, to see which posts — many years later — still attract the most views: my 30-hour train ride from New York to Minneapolis, meeting Queen Elizabeth, what going to boarding school very young does to your psyche…(I went age eight.)
That boarding school post has gotten more than (!) 11,000 views over the years and has elicited the most heartfelt, confessional replies, some so heartbreaking they were difficult to read.
One man — the only time that’s ever happened here — wrote to me the next day, apologetically, and asked me (which I did) to take down his comments, so personal had they been.
At their best, blogs link us, heart to heart.
Like every blogger, I never know what posts will resonate and which will sit there, largely unloved, unread and un-liked. I’m often surprised by what you like most, so that keeps me on my toes.
Since college, I’ve been paid to write for a living, with work published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, Smithsonian, Marie Claire and many more.
I sometimes feel like a cow attached to a milking machine, the computer extracting every possible idea for compensation.
So why write unpaid?
Seven years seems like a crazy-long time to keep banging out blog posts, but I still really enjoy it and, it seems (yay!) some of you do as well.
Broadside is a rare and special place for me as a writer — a public space where I muse, question, challenge, reflect, and can share more personal and intimate notions than any commercial outlet is likely to pay me for.
It’s a place to collect and hear your thoughts and ideas, and sometimes listen to/enjoy several of you conversing.
It’s a very small — albeit global — cocktail party!
Here’s a selection from the archives I hope you’ll enjoy:
I’ve been following it for years, for which she’s won all sorts of awards. Fuss worked in Portland, Oregon for 14 years as a props stylist and lived like a nomad for a bit, (no husband or kids.) Now, at 37 — an age when some of us are deeply mired in conventional-if-bored-to-tears work and domesticity — is happily re-settled in, of all places, Lisbon.
I enjoy everything about her blog, and her spirit of adventure. She really has the perfect name for a woman who creates lovely images for a living!
I also share her values: a devotion to connection, to beauty, flowers, travel, quiet, making a pretty home, wherever you live, that welcomes you without spending a fortune.
When you spend your day driving around town in a cargo van buying $1000’s of dollars worth of props from Anthropologie and West Elm [NOTE: chic chain-store shops, for those who don’t know them] for photo shoots, those products start to mean very little. I am very detached (possibly to the extreme) from possessions! There are very few stores I walk into and find myself ooh-ing and aww-ing. As a prop stylist, after a while, you’ve seen it all. What’s really special are the one-off pieces, the heirlooms, the perfectly weathered linens, or the family postcard with old script that tells just the right story.
As I sort through my stuff, organizing/ditching/selling/donating/offering for consignment as much as I possibly can, it’s a powerful time to reflect on what we own, what we keep and why.
Even as I’m pitching, Jose and I are treating our home to a few nice new pieces: framing a lovely image by the talented pinhole photographer Michael Falco (a gift); a striking striped kilim we’re having shipped from Istanbul that I found online, rewiring and adding a fresh new white linen shade to an early pale grey ginger jar lamp we recently found in Ontario and a spectacular mirror, probably mid-Eastern in origin, I found dusty and grimy in an antique shop in North Hatley, Quebec.
So…how can I possibly advocate less stuff?
Because we live in a one-bedroom apartment, with very limited closet space. I’ve lived here for decades, and we both work at home now and don’t plan to move into a larger space any time soon, so a constant attention to add/pitch is crucial to our sanity and tidiness. (Yes, we do have a storage locker and keep some things in our garage as well: out of season clothing, luggage, ski equipment, etc.)
I grew up in homes where my parents’ primary interests were travel and owning fewer/better quality objects than piles ‘o stuff. My family home, and ours today, was filled with original art, (prints, paintings and photos, some of them made by us, Eskimo sculpture, a Japanese mask and scroll) and a few good antiques.
I’m typing this blog post atop a table my father gave us last year, which is 18th.century English oak.
It boggles my mind to enjoy and use every day in 2015 an object that’s given elegant service for multiple centuries. I prefer, for a variety of reasons, using older things (pre-1900, even 1800, when possible) to new/plastic/Formica/mass-produced.
Many people inherit things from their families and cherish them for their beauty and sentimental attachment. Not me.
I own nothing from either grandfather, and only a vintage watch and a few gifts from one grandmother — she was a terrible spendthrift who simply never bothered to pay three levels of tax on her inherited fortune. Her things were sold to pay debt; if I want to see a nice armoire she once owned, it’s now in a Toronto museum.
So…no big emotional draaaaaaama for me over stuff. I’ve bought 99% of what I own, as has my husband.
I’m also of an age now when too many of my friends, even some of them decades younger, face the exhausting, time-sucking, emotionally-draining task of emptying out a parent’s home and disposing of (keeping?) their possessions. One friend is even flying to various American cities from Canada to hand-deliver some willed pieces of jewelry, so complicated is it to ship them across the border.
When my mother had to enter a nursing home on barely a week’s notice four years ago, we had to clear out and dispose of a life’s acquisitions within a week or so. Most went to a local auction house.
It was sad, painful and highly instructive.
Today I’m lucky enough to enjoy a few of her things: a pretty wool rug by my bedside and several exquisite pieces of early/Indian textiles; she lived in a one-bedroom apartment so there wasn’t a lot to deal with.
But if we’re lucky enough to acquire some items we really enjoy, parting with them can feel difficult.
It’s either (choose one!): pompous, boring, predictable, self-serving, self-promotional, fatally candid to publicly state your principles. Maybe.
I think action speaks louder than words. (There’s one thing I believe in.)
Having recently been hounded several times on-line, once by a very annoyed reader of this blog who emailed me privately three times to keep making his point — accompanied by personal insults — and within a women’s online group, it might be time to clear things up.
After all, more than 15,600 (!) people are now following this blog, and some may wonder — who is this woman and why should I listen to a thing she says?
— Generosity beats tight-fistedness. Almost every time. Some people will rush to take advantage of your altruism, kindness and goodwill. But if you’re paying attention, you’ll suss them out quick enough.
— Generosity is not defined by opening your wallet; some of the wealthiest people, writing enormous checks, are not behaving in a way I’d personally define as generous. You can offer your time, your skills, your wisdom, your advice, your hugs, your careful and undivided attention.
— Success is not a zero-sum game. It sure looks like it, and especially if you live in a society with very limited access to the top rungs of professional or financial accomplishment. Yes, only one author will win the Booker Prize and only a limited few will win Guggenheims and Fulbrights or hit the best-seller list. Helping others achieve their goals, whenever possible, is a decent choice.
— Envy will kill you. Stay in your lane. Be(come) the best version of yourself.
— Work at it! Those who are truly excellent at their craft have spent years, even decades, perfecting their skills. A blessed few have it all out of the gate. Most of us don’t. Take classes, get coached, find a mentor.
— In being strategic about when and how you use your energies. Even the most high-energy among us still need to sleep, rest, exercise, spend time with loved ones, think. If you insist on spreading yourself thin, 24/7, for months, years or decades….what is your strategy? Does everyone love or respect you? Should they?
— Kindness is not to be mistaken for weakness. Some of the toughest and most resilient people I know are also some of the kindest and gentlest.
— Persistence beats (lazy, entitled) talent. Every time. One of my favorite indulgences is watching the 14-year-old Lifetime show Project Runway, which chooses 14 fashion designers of varying ages and backgrounds and, each week, dismisses one, finally choosing a winner. In reading the biographies of this season’s designers, I was struck by the fact that one of them had auditioned for every single season and another had auditioned four previous times before being chosen. Giving up is an easy out. Staying in the game, sometimes much longer than you wanted or hoped or can really afford to, can be the way to win it. Eventually.
— Keep your promises. Don’t make them if you know you will not honor them. Others are counting on you.
— Intellectual debate is smart and necessary. But do it civilly. I come from a family of finger-pointing, table-pounding arguers. To us, a rousing debate is sport. But for too many people, now it quickly descends into ugly ad hominem attacks substituting for thoughtful comment. Nope. I won’t engage, here or elsewhere.
— We live in a diverse culture and listening to “the other” matters more than ever.
— Women’s bodies are ours, and ours alone. Yes, I believe we have the absolute right to decide if, when and how often we will agree to (or abstain from) sexual activity. We deserve legally-protected access to reproductive care and information. We deserve to be safe on the streets and in public spaces.
— Women’s value to the world lies not only, exclusively — ever — in the shape and size of our bodies, but in the width, depth and breadth of our generosity, intelligence and commitment to action.
— Being informed is a basic civic duty. It’s naive and disingenuous to say “the news is toooooo depressing!” There are hundreds of news sources, and if you find one (or dozens) of them disappointing, keep looking. Read, watch and listen to a range of opinions and reporting, including some from beyond your political perspective and national/domestic agenda.
— Beauty nurtures our souls and spirits. We neglect this at our peril. It might be nature or a painting or your baby’s smile. Savor it daily.
— Silence heals. In a noisy, crowded, distracted world, sitting in silence is essential.
— Elegance, in dress, demeanor, grooming and in your home, is a gift to yourself and to others. Style and wit are timeless and can offer great pleasure: a delicious meal beautifully served, a well-cut suit, a silk pocket square, a terrific haircut. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money, nor snobby brand-name-warfare, but it does require some time and attention.
— Friendship is one of life’s greatest blessings.
— Make time to play! Being an adult is hard work: paying bills, raising children, pleasing a demanding boss, colleagues, clients. Be sure to include playtime in your life as well.
— Underpromise and overdeliver. Too many people get that backwards.
— Send flowers. Yes, it’s expensive. Do it anyway.
— Write letters. On paper. By hand. Use a stamp. That sort of personal care and style is rare now, ever more appreciated.
— Showing up matters: at weddings, christenings/brises, bar/bat mitzvahs, graduations, funerals, memorials. The bedsides of the ill and dying. Do not make excuses. Do not abandon people at their hour of greatest need.
— Compassion is our greatest source of power. Not corporate or political or religious titles. Not financial wealth. Not piles of stuff and six houses proving how “successful” you are. Without compassion and empathy for those hurting, doing what you can you help, your “riches” look ragged to me.
— We’re all hurting in some way. But don’t sit in it forever! Get help. Don’t spend your life wallowing, let alone brutalizing others with your unrecognized and unhealed traumas. Own them and, if at all possible, move forward. Take responsibility for yourself and relieve others of the unwanted burden of rescuing you repeatedly.
— Being blunt/candid/direct is not per se ugly, declasse or shocking when you realize that women’s voices and opinions matter every bit as much as men’s. Punishing women who speak their mind is a nasty and popular habit.