Yes, I’m bold and direct and outspoken and have plenty of opinions.
But they’re usually in defense of an abstract idea, or a principle or a policy. Rarely, if at all, in defense of myself and my behaviors and choices.
How can this be?
I grew up in a weird way — sent to boarding school at the age of eight, where I was often in trouble and shunned and punished for it — with only 2.5 years living at home with my mother. Then ages 14 to 19 with my father and his girlfriend (later wife) who was 13 years my senior, too old to be a loving sister and too young to be a nurturing mother.
It was tough.
So I learned to get on with it, to not show or share my true feelings, and — when I did — to be very careful. If I dared to disagree with these people, I could be met with rage or estrangement, sometimes both.
I was never abused physically, but verbal abuse can really leave deep scars. I still remember an argument with my father I had at the age of 20, another from six years ago, in which I was utterly excoriated.
This week, in a rare and very scary moment for me, I wrote a long email to an editor — obviously someone I hoped to work with — challenging his knee-jerk suspiciousness of me as a “new” freelancer.
New to him.
I know, thanks to lots of therapy, that when I start to shake, (let alone cry), something is hitting me really hard and in a very deep place that has never healed — the automatic assumption I’m shitty, stupid, incompetent, wrong. That my opinion, however valid or well-argued, is going to just be ignored in favor of theirs.
Standing up for others’ needs and concerns? I do it all the time, happily and ferociously. It’s one of the reasons I still love being a journalist. I thrive on finding and telling stories that show social justice and offer some sort of hope to readers.
It’s a real privilege and one I value.
When it comes to the people I love — look out! If they’re dissed or dismissed, I’m a momma bear.
There’s a woman in my spin class — our spin class — who rarely smiles. Her face is usually set in a mien of unsettling intensity, her eyes always agog at..something.
She is as lean as a whippet, her muscles shorn of all excess fat, all softening curves. She carries a large bottle water with ice cubes in it.
She’s in her 50s, maybe retired or self-employed or doesn’t have to work. She appears to live at the gym, working out for hours.
Culturally, as someone who needs to shed at least 30 pounds, if not more, I should envy her, despising my own excess adipose tissue — a tummy whose additional flesh I can still grab (OMG!), despite three months now of two-day-a-week calorie restriction (750 per day), no alcohol until Friday evening and two to three spin classes a week plus lifting weights.
(I do see a difference in my shape and size now, as do my husband and friends. It’s just sloooooow. This morning in the mirror I saw…shadows in my cheeks. Definition?!)
I’m working it.
She’s working it.
The day after my left hip replacement….Feb. 2012
Another friend of the blog, a fellow journalist named Caitlin, writes Fit and Feminist — and is now doing (gulp) triathlons.
We’re all headed to the same place eventually, some much faster and more heart-breakingly so, than others.
I live in an apartment building where we own our homes, so I’ve stayed for decades and have gotten to know our neighbors.
It’s also a building with many — most — residents in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Death stalks our hallways.
But in the past decade, we’ve also lost two lovely men, both mid-life, to brain tumors. One man on our floor died of cancer, at least three women in our building, (those that I know personally), are dealing with it.
It’s deeply sobering — (a fact I spend a lot of time denying!) — to stop and realize how fragile our bodies are, prey to genetic shit-shows we didn’t choose and must face nonetheless; my mother has survived at least four forms of cancer so I’m hyper-vigilant with mammograms, skin checks, Pap smears. I smoked once, for about four months, when I was 14 and am very careful about much alcohol I consume.
The weight I’m working so hard to shed is less for cosmetic reasons than for health.
And yet, life also offers tremendous sensual, shared pleasure in the form of delicious foods and drinks, which (yes, I admit) also include alcohol and sweets.
Some people dismiss this idea — sucking back juice or Soylent — treating food as mere fuel.
Not I. Not ever.
I was in great shape in fall 2014…then spent three weeks in Paris. Ooooohlala.
I look at young women, and men, in shorts and tank tops on the summer streets, carelessly luxuriating in their unlined, unscathed beauty, and wonder if they’ll look back in a few decades with rue or remorse, or happy memories of having savored it all while it was theirs to savor.
It’s a fine balance, this, between the mortification of the flesh, the discipline and self-denial to keep (or regain) a lean physique — and the slothful joys of long naps, a slice of chocolate cake or pie, hours on the sofa watching terrible television or playing video games instead of lifting weights or running or yoga.
Having worked non-stop to meet a magazine deadline, (the story for Chatelaine, a major Canadian magazine, which I’m really proud of, a medical one of course, is here), I ended up in the hospital, in March 2007, with pneumonia, and spent three days there on an IV, coughing so hard I could barely sleep. Drenched with fever sweat, I staggered into the ward shower, and — out loud, alone — apologized to my poor, aching, weary, worn-out body.
It was not, I finally and belatedly realized, a machine to be run until it smoked for lack of grease in the wheels.
Our bodies are the greatest of gifts, to be cherished and held and adored.
Here’s a powerful story about what it’s like to lose a job, and a career, that you love — and turn into someone who, like millions do in many places, just gets up every morning and does his best anyway:
First comes rage. The rage of impotence.
It’s not easy being nobody, especially when you used to be somebody. But times are tough; jobs are scarce. When you’re falling straight down the financial cliff face, you reach out to grab hold of anything available to stop your descent and there, just before you land in a homeless shelter or move in with your sister, is Uber….
I think of Uber as a modern-day version of the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Thanks to Uber, I am not poor. I am just . . . nobody.
When I first started driving, I talked to every passenger. I engaged in conversation about the city, life and politics. I told them about my work as a reporter, and as a strip club manager. I felt the need to say, “I’m not really an Uber driver. I am someone too. Just like you!”
The writer, John Koopman, used to be a journalist at a major U.S. newspaper — a job, today, that has all the future growth potential of a Zeppelin operator.
More than 30,000 of us, (I was laid off from the New York Daily News in 2006), have in recent years lost well-paid staff jobs at places we liked, doing work we enjoyed with people we respected. Our industry is in chaos, and well-paid newspaper jobs are being replaced with fewer digital ones, often paying far less.
Many career journalists also make a trade-off, settling for what’s called “psychic income.”
No, not clairvoyance!
We accept a lower salary — much less than you might think — because we actually enjoy(ed) our daily work. It’s a great way for publishers to get highly educated staffers cheaply and, with few unions left to fight for better wages and conditions, ask them for the moon.
The problem with invisible income is, especially after years or decades of it, that it doesn’t add up to shit — no retirement, no paid-off-mortgage, no fuck-you fund for when (not if) you finally get fired or laid off. Very few people now have a defined-benefit pension, so all that “psychic income” didn’t fill a 401(k) either.
And (surprise!) many of the journalists, like me, who are losing their jobs — some paying $80,000-120,000 year or more — are in their 50s or beyond, and now deemed “too expensive” for anyone else to hire.
So, no new J-job for you, missy!
Back to college to start a shiny new career at 50 or 55 or 60? Not likely.
So, for Koopman, it’s Uber.
For me, it’s freelance, and nowhere near the full-time income I earned 11 years ago, despite all the usual accomplishments.
When you lose your job, and your title, and your Big Name Affiliation — no longer able to say “we” about your coworkers and employer — who the hell are you?
In the fall of 2007, a year out of the News job, I was scared to death and couldn’t gin up enough freelance work.
I took a part-time job at $11/hour as a retail sales associate in an upscale suburban mall near our home. I worked for The North Face, an enormous company that has since bought Timberland.
We sold $600 ski jackets to hedge fund managers from Greenwich, Connecticut — and never got a penny in commission for the biggest of sales.
I stayed until December 18, 2009, by then grateful to be earning $450/month for blogging, twice my store wages, and finally able to flee.
My feet were killing me — and my soul was dying.
You can only be underestimated for so long.
I had been “someone”, (a writer, an author, i.e. a person whose work elicited envy), for decades, since college.
Now, like Koopman, I was deemed a peon, in humbled service to shoppers, many of whom assumed I must be uneducated (untrue), stupid (ditto) and had never traveled further than the mall parking lot (38 countries, for work and pleasure, in better years.)
When I opened my mouth to help a customer in French or Spanish, they looked at me like the dog had started singing Aida.
This is where Koopman is now.
This is why Koopman — and it’s such deceptive insanity to define your worth by your job title — feels like he’s nothing and nobody.
But in a country relentlessly focused on income, status, work, more income…a low-wage, low-status job marks you as someone with a big fat L for loser on your forehead.
It’s ugly and it’s demeaning and it’s really demoralizing.
Jose and I have a glory wall, I’m both embarrassed and proud to admit. We were very lucky, because we both had well-paid staff jobs at major newspapers for years, he for 31 at the New York Times.
The glory wall is the pile of laminated press credentials you get, and proudly collect, when you cover the biggest stories — political conventions and inaugurations, the Olympics (he did two, as a photographer), Presidents (he covered three).
I met Queen Elizabeth and covered a Papal visit as well.
Those glossy credentials publicly and visibly define you as someone with a good job and challenging, coveted assignments.
When you no longer have a lanyard or press pass or credential…you’re persona non grata. You can’t just cross police lines anymore, (as you can with an official city-issued press pass.) You’re not of the Times or with the News.
This has been a rough year, (and many other writers I know), so much so that I suffered persistent stomach pain for weeks and went for a check-up.
The pains have, fortunately, subsided, no doubt caused by work-related stress.
My doctor reminded me, kindly, what I already knew — you can’t assign your value, and your mental and physical health in this world to worldly success, a job, a title, a salary, an income.
The other day, I received an email from a young friend I met in Tucson a few years ago and who has since gone on to work in Nigeria, teach English in Turkey, do volunteer work in Mexico, compete for a London-based fellowship and intern at CNN in Atlanta.
He only graduated last May.
Nor is he a person of privilege, quite the opposite, making his trajectory even more impressive.
His email thanked me for my belief in him.
We had had a long and deeply personal conversation during a student program I was teaching in. I was touched he trusted me enough to ask my advice and was happy to give it.
It made me stop and think about the people who’ve shown their belief in me along the way and how that trust and confidence in my skills and strengths kept me going when I thought I couldn’t.
While some of today’s millennials have won trophies for showing up and some have been told Good job! for almost everything they do, I’m a Boomer from a challenging and demanding family. Everyone is a high achiever and kudos were not the norm. So the people named here made a serious difference in my life.
I know that I know how to photograph. It’s hard to take creative risks without some encouragement!
My high school art teacher, who allowed us to use her first name. Funny, warm, down to earth, she saw how troubled and unhappy I was, (bullied every day there for years), but she nurtured and appreciated my talents for drawing, painting and photography. I needed a safe place to be good at something, and to be liked, even on my worst days. She offered it and belief in someone who might not be bullied forever.
A friend of my father
He loaned me a Pentax SLR camera, knowing I wanted to become a photographer. Even more generously, he told me about an annual contest, open to anyone in Toronto to submit their images of the city to Toronto Calendar magazine — which used them as their sole cover image. Still in high school, I sold three of mine. That boosted my confidence in a way no high school grade ever could have.
I started selling my writing to national magazines when I was 19, still an undergraduate at university. I still can’t quite imagine what they thought of the kid who showed up in their offices with a multi-page list of story ideas I went through until they finally said yes to one of them.
Or sent me out to report stories I’d never done before — like sitting in the open door of an airplane to watch a skydiver or calling the German headquarters of Adidas for a story about running shoes. I was hired at 26 as a staff reporter for the Globe & Mail, Canada’s best national newspaper, without a minute of daily newspaper experience after eight years’ freelancing for them and my editors there sent me out on major stories that ran front page, terrifying me but giving me opportunities to grow, learn and shine.
Once in your life, if you’re lucky, you meet the right person at just the right moment. Not romantically, but in a much deeper sense.
A former Resistance hero, he was the founder of a Paris-based journalism fellowship I was selected to participate in, (and also founder of a home for wayward boys; Glenans, a sailing school, and a major daily newspaper.) He introduced me to everyone, proudly, as “Le terrible Caitlin!” — which I thought rude until I realized it meant terrific.
I was 25, desperate to somehow get a great journalism job, to build my skills and self-confidence. To have someone so incredibly accomplished like me and deeply believe in my potential? He did, for which I’m forever grateful.
I’ve had some amazing adventures as a journalist. I’ve spent a week crewing on a Tall Ship and sailed with an Americas Cup crew.
The best adventure (so far!) was in March 2014 when I joined a multi-media team in rural Nicaragua for a week’s reporting on the work of WaterAid there. We worked in 95-degree heat in Spanish and Miskitu and became so close that we all stay in touch still. It means a lot to me that clients trust me to tell their stories.
My fencing coach
How cool was it to be coached by a two-time Olympian? Amazing!
I had arrived in New York with no job/friends/family/college alumni — and had to re-start my journalism career at 30.
I landed in Manhattan, a hotbed of fencing talent. My coach, who was teaching the sport at NYU, was a former Navy man, who decided after a year or so of our mediocre foil fencing to turn a small group of women, then in our mid 30s, into sabre fencers. This was unheard of — and we couldn’t even progress beyond nationals because there was then no higher-level competition available to women.
It meant learning a new weapon, new ways of thinking and behaving on the strip, and most of all, simply being willing to try something that looked weird and impossible at first.
His faith and belief in us — much deeper than any we had in ourselves! — was truly transformative. I went on to become nationally ranked for four years, happily surprised at what you can do when someone sees talent within you, pushes you hard to develop it and celebrates the results.
My first agent
I found him through a friend. Quiet and soft-spoken, he took me to lunch at one of the city’s most elegant restaurants, Balthazar, where we ordered Kumamotos. (Oysters. I had no idea!)
I wanted more than anything to write non-fiction books, to do deep, national reporting on complicated subjects. Ambitious stuff. Finding an agent isn’t easy — you need to like, trust and respect one another, knowing you’re entwining your reputation and career with theirs.
And when an agent takes on a new writer, one who has yet to even publish a book, they’re gambling on a raft of things: your skill, your determination, your ethics, your ability to see it through to the end.
He fought hard for my first book as 25 publishers said no, some quite rudely. It did sell, and we’re now working together once more on my third book proposal.
She’s opened her home to me for decades and treated me as family, even though we met professionally when she was a PR rep in Toronto and I wrote about the organization she worked with. After I became a victim of crime here in New York, she let me stay in her Toronto home for three weeks to recover to decide if I would come back to the U.S.
My husband, a fellow journalist, has been-there-done-it-seen-it-all — he’s won a Pulitzer Prize for editing 9/11 photos for The New York Times, photographed three Presidents as an eight-year member of the White House Press Corps, covered two Olympics, several Superbowls, the end of the Bosnian war. He knows what excellence in our field looks like and demands.
His faith in me — even as our industry has lost 40 percent of its staff since 2008 — is enormous. He’s seen me write two books, (with two tired fingers!), and encourages me every day to take even more creative risks.
Who believes — or believed — in you along the way?
Have you noticed the recent spate of wealthy, white, powerful women — Arianna Huffington (who refuses to pay writers at HuffPost), Sheryl Sandberg and now Katty Kay (BBC anchor) and Claire Shipman — selling books telling the rest of us to, you know, man up already?
The Confidence Code is a kind of Lean In: Redux, and like Sandberg’s book, its mission is to vault America’s most ambitious women into even higher echelons of power. Also catering to this set: The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Women, a new collection of testimonies from powerful gals, and the just-released Thrive, in which Arianna Huffington advises readers to focus on the “third metric” of success, well-being. (This one’s for women who have already read about securing the first two metrics—money and power, obviously). The Atlantic also took time this month to ask why female CEOS are holding themselves back in comparison to their male peers. (Can you believe Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles made only $403,857 in 2012? Sounds like somebody needs to “lean in.”)
Why is this genre enjoying such a moment right now? A few years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, the think piece du jour centered on how overconfident men were a danger to themselves and their country. Now, women are being told to ape these poisonous personality quirks for feminist life lessons. Buy these books and you, too, can become a successful blowhard.
We know the feeling firsthand. Comparing notes about confidence over dinner one night last year, despite how well we knew each other, was a revelation. Katty got a degree from a top university, speaks several languages, and yet had spent her life convinced that she just wasn’t intelligent enough to compete for the most-prestigious jobs in journalism. She still entertained the notion that her public profile in America was thanks to her English accent, which surely, she suspected, gave her a few extra IQ points every time she opened her mouth.
Claire found that implausible, laughable really, and yet she had a habit of telling people she was “just lucky”—in the right place at the right time—when asked how she became a CNN correspondent in Moscow while still in her 20s. And she, too, for years, routinely deferred to the alpha-male journalists around her, assuming that because they were so much louder, so much more certain, they just knew more. She subconsciously believed that they had a right to talk more on television. But were they really more competent? Or just more self-assured?
This is simply too rich.
The majority of women living in poverty, working and in old age, never made a decent wage and/or took time off to raise children. Many of the millions of low-wage workers in retail and food-service earn crap money for exhausting work. I worked low-wage retail for 2.5 years and wrote a book about it.
I confidently asked my bosses for a promotion — from $11/hour to $45,000 a year as assistant manager — but never even got the courtesy of an interview, despite a track record of consistently high sales and praise from my customers.
They hired a 25-year-old man from another company instead.
Many women don’t lack confidence.
They lack income. They lack opportunity. They lack internal support. They lack the fuck-you savings fund that allows us to walk away quickly from a toxic boss or environment to find a place that will reward and value us.
I don’t buy the argument that discrimination alone makes the difference, nor self-confidence. Skills, education, access to networks of people who are ready to hire, manage, promote? Yes.
I’ve met plenty of women — like the 75-year-old designer I interviewed this week — who don’t lack a scintilla of self-confidence.
It’s a difficult path for women to navigate, that between annoying asshole and demure doormat. Yet we all know who walks away with the best assignments, income, awards and promotions.
I judged some journalism awards last year, with two men 20 years my junior. One, driving a shiny new SUV, made sure to tell us he had two $8,000 assignments in hand.
I’ve yet to win an $8,000 assignment. Not for lack of confidence, that’s for sure. But maybe because (?) I don’t yelp out my income to a stranger.
I reality-checked this guy with a few former female colleagues who rolled their eyes. Good to know.
My favorite book on this subject is not a new one, but a useful and practical one — Women Don’t Ask — because it addresses not some faux foot-shuffling but the very real nasty pushback women often get, often from other pissed-off women, when we do assert ourselves with very real confidence.
Most dictionary entries for “bossy” provide a sentence showing its proper use, and nearly all focus on women. Examples range from the Oxford Dictionaries’ “bossy, meddling woman” to Urban Dictionary’s “She is bossy, and probably has a pair down there to produce all the testosterone.” Ngram shows that in 2008 (the most recent year available), the word appeared in books four times more often to refer to females than to males.
Behind the negative connotations lie deep-rooted stereotypes about gender. Boys are expected to be assertive, confident and opinionated, while girls should be kind, nurturing and compassionate. When a little boy takes charge in class or on the playground, nobody is surprised or offended. We expect him to lead. But when a little girl does the same, she is often criticized and disliked.
How are we supposed to level the playing field for girls and women if we discourage the very traits that get them there?
Much as I have very mixed feelings allowing corporate cheerleader Sheryl Sandberg to be the mouthpiece for women — hello, anyone else out there?! — I like this leadership and her new website, banbossy.com.
Her goal, and one I admire, is to encourage young girls, and those who raise and teach them, to speak up and speak out, to claim and re-claim their voices, both literal and political.
This essay in The New York Times, written by a woman raised with traditional Confucian values, really hit home for me:
Much of one’s worth is equated to compensation and promotions in the workplace. And for years, bringing up these topics and taking credit for my own work were still uncomfortable and even embarrassing.
But I realized I had to stretch myself to succeed in an environment that was so different from my cultural upbringing. Confidence was expected. And I knew it wouldn’t just spring up from a pat-yourself-on-the-back brand of puffery, but from a deeper understanding of worth and how it could be communicated in the workplace.
As I examined my background and core values, I discovered that having a perpetually apologetic stance didn’t necessarily represent true humility. I found that I could offer an honest self-portrait without being arrogant, so others would see how I could make a difference…
Throughout my career, I’ve met many other professionals who have struggled to find their worth on the job. Women and members of minority groups, especially, are often raised with one set of values and expectations, and then suddenly need to excel in a new environment where the path to success is much different.
One challenge immigrants face when moving to the United States is the sheer number of people you’ll be competing with for good jobs. Maybe not if you move from India or China, but Canada — where I lived to the age of 30 — has only 10 percent of the population of the U.S.
When I moved to the States, after having established a thriving journalism career in Canada, I felt like a raindrop falling into the ocean.
Would I ever be able to re-make my reputation? Was it even possible? How?
More importantly, though, is the brass-knuckled self-confidence you’ve got to have, (or fake successfully and project consistently), here — certainly in New York — to meet the the right people, say the right things, answer with the requisite ballsiness.
Anyone modest or self-deprecating is quickly and easily trampled by the brazen, who will become your boss.
When you grow up in a smaller place, people know you, and your family. They know the value of your university degree — not mistaking it, as happens here all the time (sigh) that my alma mater U of T (University of Toronto, the Harvard of Canada) is not the University of Texas (hook ’em, horns!)
They also get why you’re not chest-beating and telling everyone how amaaaaaaaaaazing you are — because, in some cultures, modesty is highly prized. Boasters are declasse.
Here, I had to be taught, seriously, how to interview effectively for jobs:
Lean forward in your chair! Smile! Keep their gaze! Have a 30-second elevator speech!
In Australia, they deride such overt confidence as “tall poppy syndrome” — as in, the tallest poppy will get its head lopped off. Better to be a low-lying blade of grass.
I recently had a conversation about this, with a total stranger, a woman of French origin who’s lived here for more than 40 years. Like me, she’s a sole proprietor of her business, a cafe and catering business. Like me, she still struggles with the internal messaging that boasting is ugly.
When our bolder — and more successful — competitors do it all day, every day.
How about you?
Do you feel comfortable tooting — or blaring — your own horn?
For the survey, Sonsi questioned 1,000 women. Among the most interesting findings: While the vast majority of plus-size women (85 percent) say they believe that beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes, fewer than half (49 percent) say that they embrace their own curves. That, Mongello added, signals “a confidence gap among plus-size women.”
Angela O’Riley, a longtime plus-size Ford model, stylist and fashion consultant, told Yahoo Shine that she wasn’t surprised. “It’s deeply ingrained, this fashion thing. We’re all socialized from a very young age to look at fashion magazines, but nobody looks like us, so it’s exclusionary, and it sets up a vicious cycle of ‘I’m no good,’” she said. “It’s a psychological study when you make clothes.”
Regarding terminologies, 28 percent of those surveyed said they most liked the term “curvy,” mainly because their curves help define who they are. “I actually prefer ‘curvy,’” O’Riley said. “It has such a positive connotation. If you used it to describe a friend, no matter what her size, you’d think, ‘Oh, she’s delicious!’ It’s empowering instead of diminishing.”
Still, 25 percent liked “plus size,” while another 25 percent went with “full figured,” with some great write-in choices including “normal,” “average” and “beautiful.”
I think a much better idea would be to stop obsessing about the size or shape of women’s bodies.
It’s really only a matter of concern between a woman and her physician(s.)
Calling a woman who is larger than a size 12 “plus-size” is really fairly bizarre — do we (yes, I’m one of them) call leaner women “minus” size?
How weird would that be?
Enough already with the normative shaming and labeling.
Some of us are bigger than others, whether temporarily, (post-pregnancy, injury, medication side effects,) or permanently. Some of us are leaner.
And thinner doesn’t equal better/braver/bolder/kinder, a quick default way to claim superior status.
It just means your clothing labels are a lower figure than those of us on the dark side of size 12.
In my world, the size and consistent use of a woman’s heart and brain (i.e. her compassion and intelligence) far outweigh the girth of her upper arms or the jiggle of her belly.
I’ve met way too many skinny bitches to be persuaded that the most important element of our value to the wider world lies in the size of our thighs.
So I’ve reached some uncomfortable conclusions: There is no future in which I lose weight and it stays lost. As that realization sinks in, I put my head on my desk. It stays there for an hour.
But why am I so despondent? Over the time wasted? The money thrown away? Yes, and more. I’m crying for the shame I’ve felt, the sins I’ve committed when I imagined my life to be a blinking light, on hold indefinitely until I looked the way I wanted to.
Here’s a smart post by one of my favorite bloggers — another Caitlin! — at Fit and Feminist, a woman I doubt is anywhere near overweight, and yet…
If you tallied up all of the time and energy I’ve spent thinking about my negative body image over the course of my teens and twenties, I probably would have been able to use it to earn myself a graduate degree. And I have to be honest with you – my body’s “flaws” are just not that interesting. In fact, those fake “flaws” are probably one of the least interesting things i can think of. There are so many books to read and essays to write and conversations to have and things to try and skills to learn and social justice battles to wage and adventures upon which to embark! This world is full of fascinating and miraculous things!
The cellulite on the back of my thighs – who cares about that in the grand scheme of things? If I care at all about my thighs, it’s because I want them to be strong enough to do things like pedal me across Europe or help me run the Keys 50 ultramarathon next year. I really cannot be bothered at all to care about anything else.
Here’s a recent New York magazine profile of Australian actress Rebel Wilson, whose new television show Super Fun Night, recently premiered, and whose lead character, Kimmie Boubier, is one of the few heavy actresses actually allowed on TV:
Between the creation of the pilot in 2011 and today, Wilson appeared in seven films, including Pitch Perfect, in which she played Fat Amy. Pitch Perfect made Wilson an emerging star: Her character, who may be the first woman in films to acknowledge her excess weight without complaint or unhappiness, is riveting. Fat Amy sings in a big, anthem-worthy voice, she invents her own mermaid style of dancing, and she is a glorious role model without being, as Amy would say, “a twig.” “Rebel is revolutionary,” O’Brien continued.
“Her weight is vastly overshadowed by her talent.”
I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, when I was still an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and started writing for national magazines and Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail.
I spent my teens attending summer camp, where every month we’d put on a musical, some fab creation from the 1950s like Flower Drum Song or Hello Dolly. I almost always won the lead.
Every Sunday evening, we’d put on a Talent Show and I’d get up with my guitar and a song I’d written that day to sing it to 300 people.
Before you all un-follow, with snorts of dismay and derision, let me explain why this is a huge advantage, especially for ambitious writers and bloggers.
Newer writers seem to fear rejection, or fear that whatever it is you hope to convey just isn’t all that interesting.
You have to assume someone does want to hear/read you, that you have the talent and guile and charm and story to woo and win them for 20 or 30 or 100 minutes.
OK, maybe five, on the Internet!
Journalism offers phenomenal preparation for other attention-seeking work, whether dance, music or more writing. You have to produce something every day, sometimes every hour. (I once had to write a television news story in the two minutes of a commercial break.)
You have to crank out a ton of stuff, certainly if you work for a daily paper or, worse, a wire service or web site.
Some of it is really shitty. Some of it is amazing, stuff you read decades later with pride. You will also see other writers (grrrrr) win front page and fellowships and awards and make the best-seller list.
You, oh misery, do not.
But you must wake up the next day and re-assume the same confident stance, that your work and your ideas are worth the attention of others. What’s the alternative? Lying in bed weeping in the fetal position?
I was lucky, in some ways, to be an only child, never competing for my parents’ attention with a crowd of siblings. I had a sort of brassy self-confidence I’ve never really understood, although I’m damn grateful for it. I rarely worry about putting my stuff out there (even if I should!)
The standard American cliche is “stepping up to the plate” — i.e. home plate, where you stand in order to hit a baseball or softball. As someone who still plays softball (and can hit to the outfield), I know how nervous it can make you.
Everyone’s watching! What if you miss? What if you can’t even make it to first base? What if you hit a fly and someone catches it?
But what happens when you hit a single/double/triple — or home run? Huzzah!
If you’re still feeling nervous about blogging, or sending your creations into the world for approval/sale/attention, just do it.
(But do not, I beg you, be all foot-shuffling and hand-wringing and ‘I don’t know what to blog about.’ Don’t be boring. Take a risk!)
Yes, some of your work will be ignored and rejected. My third book proposal goes out this week, (shriek), and has already been rejected by the people who published “Malled.” I asked my editor why and received a short, polite and helpful reply.
In the old days, I would never have asked.
My first two books, when their proposals were sent to major publishers, each received 25 rejections before the 26th. said yes. Both have won terrific reviews and been bought by libraries world-wide.
So I anticipate, (albeit pre-cringing at how nasty some of the rejections can be), more of the same. I hope not. But it happens. Rejection is the cost of doing this business.
This essay, about my divorce, won the Canadian National Magazine Award for humor — after being laughingly dismissed by an editor at one of the U.S.’s biggest women’s magazines.
Focused attention has become one of the world’s most precious resources.