Friday Pix: Recommended Reading for the Weekend

May 22, 2009

Again this Friday, I’d like to direct you to a few things around the blogosphere that caught my eye this past week:

1. I was thrilled to be the featured blog on Barbara Swafford’s Blogging Without a Blog. Barbara did a lovely write-up about my blog and sent lots of new readers my way. If you are new to blogging or an old dog who likes learning new tricks, be sure to stop by Barbara’s terrific site, which she describes as “a blogging classroom on the web.”

2. I was riveted by New York Times reporter Edmund Andrews’ first-hand account of indebtedness in the New York Times Magazine. I’ve read my share of analyses of the current economic crisis, but none have drawn me in quite like this one. This article should be required reading for anyone looking to understand the role played by every day folks like you and me (and our banks!) in bringing about today’s economic downturn.

3. I’m intrigued by a new book reviewed in Slate by first time author Matthew Crawford entitled Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. In it, the author brings his background in political philosophy to bear in understanding the relative merits of office life vs. having a trade, arguing that only the latter can truly help cultivate a sense of “self.” As someone who loves to think about people’s relationship to their work, I was immediately drawn to this piece.

4. Finally, for all you literary types out there, please stop by my old friend C.M. Mayo’s blog, Madam Mayo. I first met Catherine years ago – down in Mexico City – when she was an economist and I was a political scientist. She was really great at what she did but had the guts to strike out on her own as a fiction writer. Numerous books, articles, and short story collections later, she’s still at it and having a ball. This literary blog is a great resource for aspiring writers, especially those living  in the D.C. area.


I will be heading out of town this upcoming week for a family trip to Scotland. See you when I return in June!


DVD Commentaries: Why I Actually Loved “Love Actually”

May 21, 2009

I have a confession to make:  I love watching DVD commentaries.

I know. Sometimes they can be excruciating. But when you find a director who really knows how to articulate what he or she is up to, I enjoy these commentaries almost as much as the film itself. (Fortunately, my husband feels the same way.)

I got to thinking about this because last weekend, we rented Richard Curtis’ film Love Actually. If you don’t know who Richard Curtis is, he also wrote Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Yes, I realize that – given my usual penchant for films about things like abortion under authoritarian rule in Romania – you might not think that romantic comedies would be up my alley. Turns out I have a soft spot for Hugh Grant. Go figure.)

I liked the film so-so. But I loved the commentary. Why?

Part of it, I think, is that I’m fascinated by the creative process. I love it when people really understand what makes them tick professionally and can convey that process to a wider audience. (In my next life, I plan to return as a career counselor. I figure that, like a cat, I’ve still got six professional lives to go…)

So when Curtis, for example, talks about why he chose a particular piece of music or why he cast Laura Linney in a film otherwise dominated by European actors or why the lighting was particularly challenging in a given scene, I feel like I’m gaining insight into not just the movie, but into the whole world of directing itself.

The other reason I like to watch commentaries is that I love to watch people who love their work. It’s so hard to figure out what you really love to do. So when I happen upon someone like Curtis, who’s clearly found his calling, I find it not just enlightening, but joyful.

It’s the same way I felt last week when I went to see Garrison Keillor perform live in London. Keillor – best known for his quirky public radio show  A Prairie Home Companion – is also a syndicated columnist and singer/songwriter. He is funny, touching, ribald and irreverent. But most importantly – whether he’s reciting a poem or singing a song or telling a story – he’s clearly having a blast. Talk about someone who’s found his niche.

So there you have it. And having now outed myself as a serial DVD commentary viewer – not to mention an abiding Garrison Keillor fan – I feel much better. I’m glad I finally cleared the air.


Check out the blog Daily Routines to find out how artists, writers and other creative folk structure their days. I also enjoy By Henry Sene Yee Design, which examines the creative impulse behind book covers.

Image: DVDs! by THEMACGIRL via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Things Not To Do In Therapy

May 20, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I posted about five reasons to see a life coach. But I’ve seen all kinds of therapists over the years, and gleaned a lot of lessons along the way. Most of those have been positive lessons about what I ought to do with my life. But I’ve also learned a trick or two about what not to do with a therapist. So, in my (life long?) tribute to therapy, this week’s post is about five things you don’t want to do in therapy:

1. Don’t go on word of mouth. This goes to the choice of therapist. My very first therapist came highly recommended by another shrink. She was a lovely woman. But she was absolutely wrong for me. Where I craved insight, she favored behavioral therapy. Where she wanted a hug; I wanted a hand shake. It’s like dating, folks, and you need to take a few test drives before you commit. Ever since then, whenever I move – because, hey, what’s a move without a new therapist? – I make a point of  interviewing several people before closing the deal. (Buyer beware: in the U.S., at least, they’ll charge for this initial meeting.)

2. Don’t be late. Being late is a clear-cut sign that you’re ambivalent about therapy and your therapist will go to town with it (while billing you all the while…).

3. Don’t leave something behind. Similarly, it’s therapy-death to leave a coat or handbag behind. Clearly, you wanted/needed an excuse to come back. You’ll spend weeks on this. Trust me.

4. Don’t comment on appearances.  I once complimented a therapist on her new glasses. She actually blushed, at which point I felt ridiculous and it took the rest of the session to get over this awkward hump. But this cuts both ways. I have a friend who was describing her body image issues to a (male) therapist, to which he replied, “Speaking as a man, I can tell you you’re attractive.” Easy, tiger. Speaking as a female, I can tell you to keep that to yourself.

5. Don’t share a therapist. I’ve never done this myself, but I have friends who’ve shared therapists with their mothers, mothers-in-law, even husbands. If you’re trying to keep some semblance of boundaries (not to mention boundaries for the therapist), it’ s probably best to see your own guy/gal and keep it personal. Just be sure you shop around…

Image: Doctor Writing by Suat Eman via

Coping with the Death of a Parent: A Poem

May 19, 2009

Nothing drives home the fact of adulthood quite so clearly as the death of a parent.

My own father passed away not very long ago. Today would have been his 77th birthday.

Shortly after he died, a friend sent me the following poem to comfort me during this loss.

Today, in his honor, I share that poem with you:

In Blackwater Woods

–          Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blur shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what it its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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DIY Healthcare: Why Socialized Medicine Is For Grown Ups

May 18, 2009

On Thursday I posted about how I’m learning to master differences in vocabulary across the Atlantic divide. After living in the U.K. for two and a half years, I’m also slowly but surely coming to terms with what it’s like to live in a country with universal health care.

For starters, doctors tend to medicate way less over here unless you’re really ill. They also do fewer preventive screenings for things like breast and prostate cancer.

But one of the most surprising aspects of the British National Health System (NHS) is that it actually encourages patients to take more responsibility for monitoring their own health. I say “surprising” because one of the negative stereotypes of socialized medicine is that when you place health care in the hands of the government, you effectively create a nanny state, wherein the government – not the individual – makes decisions about personal health.

But that’s actually not quite right. Precisely because the system is designed to worry – first and foremost – about the population, patients are actually encouraged to do a lot of basic health care on their own.

So, for example, I’m rather fair and freckly by nature – and have a history of skin cancer in my immediate family. Back when I still lived in the United States, those two risk factors meant that I saw a dermatologist once a year to look for irregular moles and such. When I first moved to the U.K., I dutifully made an appointment to do the same thing over here. But the dermatologist I saw here actually discouraged me from coming in annually. Instead, she took some photos, gave me a diskette and told me to go home and continue to monitor my skin carefully. When, as, and if I found something suspicious, I should compare it to the photos and call them if things had changed. DIY skin care, if you will.

“But…but…!” I sputtered. “What if something goes wrong?”

The doctor looked puzzled. “If something ‘goes wrong’ you call us,” she said, matter-of-factly. “After all, you’re going to know there’s a problem long before we do. Just coming here once a year doesn’t prevent skin cancer.”

At first I resisted, insisting on re-booking my annual skin cancer check-up the following year. But the doctor I saw 12 months later said exactly the same thing. “It’s more efficient this way,” he explained. “Because then we see you only when it’s really necessary. But it’s also about teaching you how to look after yourself so that you take more responsibility for your own health care.”

Wow…what a radical idea. And I must admit that it felt a little strange. But you know what? By the third year, I canceled the appointment and took a look at those photos instead. And you know what?  In an age of responsibility, I felt more grown up.


Was anyone else as troubled as I was that the piano is on its way out as a staple of the American living room? I don’t even play the piano and I still felt nostalgic when I learned this!

Image: Second Life: National Health Service (UK): by rosefirerising’s photo stream via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Some Fun Things to Read Over the Weekend

May 15, 2009

Today, I’d like to direct you to a few things around the blogosphere worth having a look at:

1. Terrific new webzine called Double X, which is an outgrowth of Slate’s XX Factor column. Read here what editor Hanna Rosin has to say about why we need another women’s magazine. I particularly liked this thoughtful post by Virginia Postrel on middle age regret.

2. Interesting article in Forbes predicting a shrinking of the generation gap, as old and young people alike embrace a new responsibility ethic.

3. A quiz for grown ups on Practically at Home.

4. And finally, a propos of nothing, a fun essay in The Guardian about the revival of the exclamation point (Hat Tip: Lisa Romeo Writes).


Lost in Translation: Trouser Tenting, Anyone?

May 14, 2009

I think we can all agree that the Queen’s English is the English of grown ups.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my New Jersey roots as much as the next guy. But there’s no question that if you want to sound really evolved, you need to get with the (Old) Jersey.

And for the most part, I think I’ve been pretty successful at mastering the subtle differences  – not just in accent, but in terminology – across the Atlantic divide.

I now dutifully refer to my daughter’s bathing suit as her “swim costume” (despite the urge to wrap her in a boa).  I’ve also learned that you’ll raise an eyebrow or two when you confess that your eight year old  has “dirty pants,” because “pants” mean underwear, not trousers. I’ve even come to employ the term “toilet” when in search of a bathroom, even though “toilet” is a bit too literal for my taste. (Can’t we just leave what I do in there to the imagination?)

I even smugly underlined every Britishism Zoe Heller inadvertently slipped into her latest novel, The Believers, when she should have been using American slang. (Take that, you Booker prize nominee!!)

Which is why I was really flummoxed when a British friend of mine handed me a copy of his latest screenplay and asked me to “translate” it into American. I blithely flew through all the standard issue changes: shopping vs. groceries, car park vs. parking lot, etc. etc. But then I hit a speed bump:

The term of art was “trouser tenting.” It’s meant to refer to that time in the morning when a gentleman might be – how to say? – more alert, aroused or otherwise excited. I paused. What on earth was the generic American term for “trouser tenting?”

So I fired off an email to some of my guy friends in the States and got the following responses: morning wood…morning glory…morning missile…breakfast sausage…(Yup, someone really said that.)

My screenplay friend ended up opting for “morning glory” and I was relieved to have held up my end of the bargain. But I have to say, the whole exercise just left me feeling, once again, that the English just sound so much more grown up…



Speaking of good, old-fashioned grown-up English fun, I was delighted to discover the London Travel Log, with this entry on Fuller’s Brewery.

Image: The Knitten Tent by Basheem via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.