Wary Workers Now Prefer Self-Employment, Stats Say

Interior of an Office
Image by Galt Museum & Archives on The Commons via Flickr

Interesting story in The New York Times about people who have been so burned by the recession, the vicious not-so-merry-go-round of hiring and firing they prefer not to have a full-time job:

What is known as “contingent work,” or “flexible” and “alternative” staffing arrangements, has proliferated, although exact figures are hard to come by because of difficulties in tracking such workers. Many people are apparently looking at multiple temporary jobs as the equivalent of a diversified investment portfolio.

The notion that the nature of work is changing — becoming more temporary and project-based, with workers increasingly functioning as free agents and no longer being governed by traditional long-term employer-employee relationships — first gained momentum in the 1990s. But it has acquired new currency in this recession, especially among white-collar job seekers, as they cast about for work of any kind and companies remain cautious about permanent hiring.

In just one snapshot of what is going on, the number of people who describe themselves as self-employed but working less than 35 hours a week because they cannot find full-time work has more than doubled since the recession began, reaching 1.2 million in December 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists who study flexible work arrangements believe that the increase has been driven in large part by independent contractors like Mr. Sinclair and other contingent workers, struggling to cobble together whatever work they can find.

As the economy continues its halting recovery and employers’ confidence remains shaky, economists believe that it is likely that the ranks of these kinds of workers will continue to grow.

I recently spoke to a class of journalism students at Emerson College in Boston. The night’s final question, technically off the topic of my visit (ethics) was striking: “Aren’t you freaked out by not having a job? Being freelance all the time?”


Like these people in the Times piece, I’ve been laid off from a few jobs, instantly and, a few times without clear warning, severed from well-paid work I enjoyed in my field. For me to sign up again, willingly and with a real sense of excitement, I’m not sure which employer would be The One. Loyalty doesn’t matter. Seniority, nope. Multiple graduate degrees? Not those either. The only protection against being canned, and falling deep into poverty, is saving the biggest amount of cash you possibly can and keeping your overhead as low as you and your loved ones can tolerate.

I was lucky in growing up in a household where no one ever had a “real” job — i.e. a steady, solid paycheck, a pension, paid sick days or vacation. Everyone worked as a creative freelancer: film, journalism, television. You live check to check. You get to know a really good accountant and try very hard not to get behind on your tax payments since it’s pay as you go. We drove (good) used cars, bought art and cashmere and plane tickets overseas in better years and enjoyed them in lean ones.

I learned young that even the best ideas you try to sell freelance can be ignored or stolen or shot down by people collecting paychecks because…they feel like it. They owed us no allegiance and we all knew the deal. It’s a painful and expensive lesson to learn instead mid-life and mid-career, as millions now have in the recession. Like a wave of bitter divorce(e)s, some of us aren’t eager to trot back up to the altar of full-time work. It’s too dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket.

Are you still in a full-time job? How secure — if at all — do you feel?

If you work for yourself, how’s that going? Do you feel more secure knowing it’s all up to you?

Weathered Graves, Women's Softball And Vinnie, On MTV — My Boston Afternoon

My 2008 photo of the Central Burying Ground on...
A lovely, sad place, The Boston Burying Ground. Image via Wikipedia

I never just do nothing. It’s very refreshing.

This afternoon, after doing a live radio interview with a station in Vancouver (about my bullying story), I walked across Boylston to the ancient graveyard filled with flat slabs of slate. There, I stood in the spring sunshine and read of one family — the father, 33, the wife, 22, their two children, who lived, one for merely 13 months and one for four hours — all dead within six months of one another, in 1779. “They were pleasant and decent in life”, their stone reads. Three centuries later, how can it not pierce the heart?

Right next to the graveyard, on the Boston Common, competitors from two local colleges, Simmons and St. Jo’s, were taunting and cheering and jeering one another. The pitchers were fast and ferocious, their ponytails swinging with each blindingly quick pitch. One girl was morbidly obese but clearly talented enough to have made the team. It wasn’t the best ballplaying I’ve ever seen but good enough to draw a small crowd.

I walked along Boyslton, past the Four Seasons Hotel and Hermes and Escada and Sonia Rykiel to Newbury Street where I had a cappuccino served by Vinnie, the handsome young bartender with a big tattoo. “I just got back from B.C.,” he told me. “I spent three months on ‘The Real World’ for MTV.” Of course. What else would I expect? The money, he said, wasn’t enormous but a weekly paycheck and a stab at minor fame were appealing.

I turned back to the park, glimpsing a jewelry store where we’d bought my engagement ring in 1988, the one I’ve been thinking of finally selling.

The air was getting chilly. I’d traveled through three centuries of history, including my own. Time for dinner.

Reunited Masterpieces: My Story In Today's NYT; Gardner Museum Renews Search For Stolen Treasures

Calming the storm
Calming the Storm --- stolen and never recovered. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my piece in today’s New York Times, in a special arts section about museums:

An unusual and intimate show, “Reunited Masterpieces,” with 10 carefully chosen pairs of artworks, opened here Feb. 14 and continues until May 30.

The painter of Adam and Eve is Hendrick Goltzius, a Dutchman who lived from 1558 to 1617. The Wadsworth Atheneum acquired Adam in 2004; Eve belongs to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg, France.

Eric Zafran, the curator, who conceived, arranged and designed the show, said the loan was made easier because both institutions were members of Frame, the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, a consortium of museums in cities outside government and economic capitals that work together to share their collections.

Some of the paintings in the pairs appear extremely different, partly because of different conservation methods, Dr. Zafran explained. The portrait of Adam remains fresh, pink and luminous, while Eve appears older and more weathered, with a light coating of grime and crackling on the surface.

A similar stunning contrast marks two large pieces, 61 inches by 68 3/4 inches and 61 1/4 inches by 65 1/2 inches, painted in 1490 by Piero di Cosimo of Italy. The Wadsworth’s version, “The Finding of Vulcan,” is classically Renaissance, a breath of fresh, clean air, its six clothed women (Vulcan, in the center, is nude) wearing typically flowing garments.

Its mate, “Vulcan and the Beginnings of Civilization,” borrowed from the National Gallery of Canada, contains 11 figures, including a giraffe in Florence during the period. The colors are muddier, the brushwork much less fine, the birds and beasts oddly out of scale.

The show includes a spectacular pair of portraits by the Dutch Master Frans Hals, from 1644, of Joseph Coymans and his wife, Dorothea Berck; he was 52, she, 51. He belongs to the Wadsworth, while she traveled north from the Baltimore Museum of Art to join him. The two have been reunited only once before, in a show in Hals’s hometown, Haarlem, in 1962.

Twenty years after the largest, and still unsolved theft of art from a museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston is redoubling efforts to reclaim its works, reports The New York Post:

It remains the most tantalizing art-heist mystery in the world.

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves walked into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum disguised as police officers and bound and gagged two guards. For the next 81 minutes, they sauntered around the ornate galleries, removing masterworks, including those by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.

By the time they disappeared, they would be credited with the largest art theft in history, making off with upward of a half-billion dollars in loot far too hot to sell.

Now, 20 years later, investigators are making a renewed push to recover the paintings. The FBI has resubmitted DNA samples for updated testing, the museum is publicizing its $5 million, no-questions-asked reward, and the US Attorney’s Office is offering immunity.

The thieves had knowledge of the museum’s security system, but might have underestimated the scope of their crime.

“I picture the thieves waking up the next morning and looking in the papers and saying, ‘We just pulled off the largest art theft in history,’ ” said Anthony Amore, the museum’s security director.

My friend Ulrich Boser, a D.C.-based writer and former staffer at U.S. News and World Report, has written the only book about this daring theft — “The Gardner Heist”, a best-seller published last year and  newly released in paperback.

I was privileged to be one of his “first readers”, seeing the book in manuscript form. I couldn’t put it down. His reporting is detailed, international and deeply personal — he admits he became so obsessed himself with it all he stopped showering and could think of little else, annoying the hell out of his wife, and his two little kids. He’s clearly passionate about his subject; if you love art, and art history — let alone a riveting international crime tale — you’ll enjoy it.

Feeling Stressed? Johnson & Johnson Offers $39.99/Month On-Line Relaxation

Angry kitty
Image by Tambako the Jaguar via Flickr

How stressed are you feeling today? Would going on-line — as women do 27 hours a week doing non e-email reading — help you chill out?

A new program, with related products, begins this month at upliv.com, $99.95 a month for the first month and $39.95 a month thereafter, starting with a stress analysis test. Reports today’s New York Times:

While some Upliv tips, like relaxing by taking a hot shower or having a cup of herbal tea, are predictable, the company says the overall approach is effective. In an internal study in which 540 women aged 25 to 45 who reported “moderate to high stress levels” were put either on the Upliv program or in a control group, women in the program reported marked improvements, including increased “clear-headedness” and “sleep satisfaction.”

A 30-minute infomercial for the product will run this month in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta.

“Stress is usually one of the biggest causers for headaches and before I started this program I was averaging sometimes about 15 a month,” one participant, Jenny Ford, a teacher and mother of three, says in the infomercial. She said that her headaches had virtually disappeared as a result of the program, and that it had “really improved my marriage, because I’m happier, I have more energy, and I’m not such a drag.”

Another participant, Caroline Jalango, 37, single and a sales associate, tells the interviewer in the infomercial that the program helped her to be “responsible for my well-being — it’s a very powerful tool to me.”

In a telephone interview, Ms. Jalango, who lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and participated in a three-month trial in the fall, said that even though it had been a few months since she had had access to the Upliv Web site, “it has become like a lifestyle for me,” and helped her to be less stressful about her job, her family relationships and “being single while my biological clock is ticking.”

For $39.99 a month, I’ll stick to my usual stress-relievers: lots of hot tea, fresh flowers, long walks outdoors, listening to music, talking to friends.

The products offered, with names like Field of Happiness, Ocean of Clarity and Canopy of Tranquility, all sound a little goofy to me. If one could relieve stress by spritzing, send me 200 cases and let me aim it at…most of New York City.

Women, many of whom are socialized to make everyone happy all the time, often need explicit permission to take good care of themselves. Anything that helps them name, and pay consistent self-nurturing attention to, their own needs — not just the endless demands of their partner/husband/kids/job/aging parents/PTA — is a good idea.

Karen Schmeer, 39, 'Fog of War' Editor, Killed As Thieves Flee Their Manhattan Drugstore Robbery

This is a brutal story of a stupid, ugly, senseless way to die — mowed down by a pair of thugs fleeing their crime scene, reports The New York Post:

Karen Schmeer, 39, of Boston, was crossing Broadway between West 90th and 91st streets Friday night when the getaway car, a rented 2010 Dodge Avenger, pinned her against a double-parked vehicle, sending her groceries flying.

Schmeer, whose editing of “The Fog of War,” about former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, helped earn an Oscar for director Errol Morris, was in town working on a film, said her father, Michael.

Garret SavageMEAN STREET: Karen Schmeer (above), editor of Errol Morris' film

Garret Savage
MEAN STREET: Karen Schmeer (above), editor of Errol Morris’ film “The Fog of War” died in a car crash for which David McKie was arrested.

She was staying with a friend on West 89th Street and editing an HBO movie about the late chess great Bobby Fischer.

“I’ve known Karen for a very long time, and she was my finest editor,” Morris told The Post yesterday. “She was immensely talented. It’s a huge loss.”