Oh Come All Ye Unfaithful: Why Silvio Berlusconi’s Marital Problems Should Make Americans Happy

June 30, 2009

It’s been a bad month for fidelity in America, folks.

We’ve had Jon and Kate’s split-up on reality tv, Sandra Tsing Loh’s devastating indictment of “companionate marriage” in The Atlantic, and of course, the ongoing saga that is Governor Mark Sanford’s marital melt-down. (As comedian John Stewart put it so well:  “Another case of Conservative Mind, Liberal Penis…”).

As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes, American marriage  – or at least marriage in the over-educated, hyper-achieving America that Loh writes about – has become a place where pragmatic concerns (read: mortgages, parenting) over-shadow passion and romance. Hence, all those affairs. And what’s worse – at least according to Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory – it’s not clear that those couples who survive infidelity end up all that happily married.

But cheer up folks. There’s a silver lining here. After all these years of being mocked by the Europeans for our prudish sexual norms, Italy, of all places, finally has a bonafide sex scandal. You think Mark Sanford has problems? Try being Silvio Berlusconi caught cavorting with a not-quite-18 year old and allegedly paying an escort to have sex with him.

As I write about today in my very first post for the Woman Up column at Politics Daily, even Italians seem put off by the latest round of accusations about extra-marital shenanigans by their Prime Minister. Read it here.

It’s not that Italians were ever immune to infidelity. Quite the contrary. They seemed to welcome it as an inevitable if not excusable part of long-term marital relationships. Which made America’s quite public and anguished contortions over monogamy seem both exaggerated and ridiculous.

No longer, America.

Somehow, knowing that even in Italy, infidelity is now getting a bad rap made me feel a teensy bit better about the state of affairs – pun intended – back home.

Image: Infidelity by fmarq via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Slash Careers Within Writing: My New Stint at Politics Daily

June 29, 2009

As I’ve said several times before on this blog, I’m a big fan of slash careers. Having multiple professional identities is a great way to make a living as a freelancer (particularly during a recession).  It’s also a great way – especially if you’re a writer – to exercise different parts of your brain. In my case, it helps to explain why I’ve been such an avid fundraiser for my children’s school over the past few years.

But another way to keep yourself stimulated as a writer is to slash within your writing. I know a political scientist who also writes children’s songs. One of my favorite writers – Anne Lamott – has written a best-selling parenting memoir, Operating Instructions, a “how to” book on writing, Bird By Bird, as well as several novels. My guess is that there’s something about moving around within all these different genres that keeps her alive as a writer.

In that vein, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve become a contributor to a new political webzine in Washington, D.C. called Politics Daily. I’ll be writing two posts a week for their Woman Up column (where – and I quote – “big girl panties are always a fit,”) as well as occasional features.

My first feature – an interview with an international legal scholar here in the U.K. about the ongoing torture debate in the U.S. – ran on Friday. Check it out here and leave a comment if you dare! (Buyer Beware: I’m coming to learn that the comment section on political websites can be a scary place…be sure to wear your own plus-sized boxers/briefs/panties/thongs/undergarments/what-have-you if you plan on going there…).

For me, this new gig is particularly exciting because it allows me to fuse my background in politics/policy analysis and journalism back into my writing career. In the last few years, I’ve been working as a freelance writer, focusing mainly on personal essays, blogging and fiction. But before that, I worked as a producer for Chicago Public Radio. And before that, I taught political science at the University of Chicago.

So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the sort of research, interviewing and reporting that goes into being a journalist. And it was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar. Above all, however, the experience confirmed for me – once again – that careers really don’t have to be linear anymore. These days, it’s all about the kaleidoscope, baby.

I’ll be sure to highlight pieces I write for Politics Daily when they are relevant to RealDelia.

In the meantime, take a moment to think about your own slash careers – real or potential. What sorts of things have you added or would you like to add to your career portfolio?

Image: Reporter’s Notebook, US Version by Nicla via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading for the Weekend

June 26, 2009

This Friday I direct you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. One of my hobby horses is how the reality of socialized medicine often differs from the rhetoric surrounding it. So I was intrigued by the New York Times’ David Leonhart’s analysis of rationing in the U.S. health care system.

2. As we settle in to the second year of this recession, I was delighted to discover – via a friend – Daniel Seddiqui’s fascinating blog Living the Map: 50 Jobs in 50 States, in which he recounts his attempt to “try on” 50 different careers in 50 different states. Equally heartening  was this piece in the Guardian discussing the boom in adult internships here in the U.K. I’m a big fan of experimenting with different careers. Way to go!

3. My writer/journalist friend here in London, DD Guttenplan, has a new book out entitled American Radical: The Life and Times of IF Stone, about America’s premier investigative journalist of the 20th century. At a time when print journalism appears to be going the way of the travel agent, it’s instructive to learn about one man’s relentless quest for the truth and to ponder its resonances today. Listen to this interview with the author on Democracy Now.

4. Finally, because we all love to laugh, I was really pleased to happen upon this satirical blog about politics (mostly aimed at a British audience): Anna Raccoon. I also got a kick out of Middle Aged Cranky‘s rant against technology.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Can I Have an Outfit for My Prius? The Next Phase in Eco-Friendly Cars

June 25, 2009

One of my pet obsessions is cycling as an alternative to driving. I’m hopeful that cycling represents the next phase of transportation in adulthood.

Another of my obsessions are the many different ways that the U.K. and the U.S. – despite sharing a common heritage – are still miles apart culturally.

Imagine my delight, then, in happening upon this gem in yesterday’s Guardian:  The TFL (that’s Transport for London, the city’s transportation agency) is partnering with a private company to provide, quote “normal clothing that serves as specialist cycling clothing.” This new line of clothing is cleverly called Bspoke and you can view it right here on the TFL website.

That’s right. The City of London’s government is promoting a line of cycling gear.

Can you imagine that happening anywhere in the U.S. (O.K., anywhere outside of Portland?)

Of course you can’t. And that’s because even though car usage in the States appears to be on the decline, it’s a slow burn. For all sorts of reasons – most of them cultural, some having to do with urban sprawl – cars are still central to the American way of life.

So, no. It doesn’t look like we’re going to see Mayor Bloomberg promoting the Manhattan equivalent of Bspoke anytime soon.

But there is some good news here. Even if Americans are still reluctant to embrace cycling in quite the way Europeans do, the environmentally-friendly Prius (now in its third iteration) is generating waiting lists in Japan. And Toyota is hopeful that this enthusiasm will be matched in America (as well as in Europe).

My mother owns a Prius, so I’ve had the pleasure of driving one of those bad boys. And – oh my – was it  fun.

In the meantime, while we wait to see where gasoline prices and energy policy and – ahem – Middle East politics are headed, I took some comfort in this other news flash, courtesy of the blog Kim and Jason Escape Adulthood:

Question: What was the best-selling car in America last year?

Answer: The Little Tykes Cozy Coupe, with 457,000 units sold.

My only question is when the Cozy Coupe line of clothing will emerge…

*****

Further to yesterday’s post on five great lifehacking websites, I learned today that one of those sites – The Happiness Project – has spawned a sister site that is a happiness-hack-lover’s dream. Appropriately called The Happiness Project Toolbox, this site is a collection of “Eight Tools that will help you be happier now” – things like resolutions charts, lists of commandments and one sentence journals that can be shared with others. Check it out!

Image: Roadtrip by kaymoshusband via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Great Lifehacking Websites

June 24, 2009

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Yesterday I fessed up to not being a lifehacker. But just because I don’t employ many lifehacks in my own life except, perhaps, accidentally (hmmm…”The Accidental Lifehacker” – perhaps that should be the title of my memoir…), this doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the beautiful simplicity of short cuts for daily life.

So today, in honor of all my lifehack-loving friends out there – including, and especially, my lovely husband – here are five great lifehacking websites:

1. Lifehacker. This eponymous lifehack website is mostly geared towards downloads that fuel productivity. But lest you think it is only for computer nerds, there’s something for everyone on Lifehacker. Given my sleep issues, I was particularly drawn to this post on how to improve your sleep posture.

2. Zen Habits. Here’s another lifehacking site focused on – as the sub-title has it – “simple productivity.” So, for example, here’s a post about “executing your to do list” (Sub-title: why writing it doesn’t actually get it done). Egads! But it’s all about the crossing off…I mean isn’t it? I sometimes write things down after I’ve done them just to experience the thrill of crossing them off the dreaded to-do list! Clearly, I need to spend some more time here.

3. Dumb Little Man. This website offers “tips for life” that run the gamut from personal finance to self-development to improving your productivity. In light of my new-found enthusiasm for physical therapy, I was quite taken with this post on how to improve your hunched over PC posture. (You mean leaning in further, typing faster and more furiously, and telling yourself that you’ll stretch in the next half hour – but then never managing to actually do it – isn’t the way forward?) Insider Tip: My husband has a “stretch shoulders” alert on his computer that reminds him to stretch once an hour.

4. Write to Done. Started by Leo Baubuta – creator of Zen Habits – it provides productivity tips to writers of all kinds. It also features a lot of guest posts, which makes it feel like a real writing community. As a sometime fiction writer, I really liked this post on how to let loose with your story telling.

5. The Happiness Project. Penned by my old pal Gretchen Rubin, this blog narrates the author’s journey through a year of learning what makes people happy by “trying on” advice, bromides and strategies from Aristotle to Oprah. But every Wednesday, Gretchen also offers happiness tips. Some of my favorites have been her tips on parenting, including this post about “Seven Tips to Defuse a Tantrum” and this post about “Five Tips for Getting a Little Kid to Take No for an Answer.”

OK. I must admit that after that brief stroll  through lifehacker-land, I’m beginning to see why these sorts of things are so addictive…but can a zebra really change its stripes?

Image: To Do List by Ebby via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Untangling My Ipod: Why I’m Not a Lifehacker

June 23, 2009

I posted last Thursday about my new-found fondness for self-help manuals.

But I realized over the weekend that there are limits to my self-help tendencies. Specifically – and you heard it here first – I am not a life hacker.

What is a life hacker, you ask?

Wikipedia tells us that “lifehack” was originally a computer term that referred to productivity tricks programmers devised to cut through information overload. Over time, however, it’s come to refer to anything that solves an everyday problem in a clever or non-obvious way.

The reason I know that I’m not a lifehacker is because I’m married to one. I’ve blogged before about my husband’s fondness for household gadgetry here and here. He’s also been known to email me instructions for how to achieve the best “tamp” on one’s espresso, as well as videos for how best to employ our new George Forman Grill (which – it bears saying – is the kitchen-appliance equivalent of a life hack all by itself. Once you’ve grilled a chicken breast on one of those babies, you’ll never go back to a frying pan. Trust me.)

It’s not that I don’t appreciate all of these lifehacks. They are – indisputedly – useful.  Take this one, for example. It’s a video – courtesy of my husband, natch – that shows you how to roll up Ipod headphones without getting them all tangled…because, hey, we’ve all been stuck there, right?

No really, we have. It’s just that my personality is such that rather than track down the information needed to figure out how to do this properly, I’m inclined to just shove the headphones back in the drawer the way I found them – and then untangle them the next time. And he’s not. And I think there are a lot of me’s – and him’s – out there. It’s just one more way that the world maps itself onto the whole boxers vs. briefs thing.

The reason that I got to thinking about all of this recently was that I finally killed off another lifehack in our home:  the dreaded home seltzer dispenser. We first spotted these on a trip to Israel a few years back and they seemed like such handy little doo-dads. After all, I hate tap water and will drink it only under duress. But buying sparkling water is so expensive…and environmentally unfriendly…and possibly cancer-inducing…that I just thought: right! No more bottled water! We will do this ourselves! (OK, it was actually my husband’s idea. But I was totally on board).

And because he’s a classic over-buyer, we purchased like 512 of the little CO2 cartridges

Much as I tried, however, I grew to I hate our little home carbonation scheme. I hated having to fill the syphon with filtered water. And I hated that, as you neared the bottom, it lost all carbonation. And I hated that it didn’t taste like the nice sparkling water you could buy in stores.

And so this weekend – 512 cartridges worse for the wear – I finally broke down. “I think I’m going to go back to store bought water,” I told my husband, my eyes cast downward.

And much to my astonishment, he didn’t object.

“That’s OK,” he said. “I understand.”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief. And then, just as I found a spot for the syphon in the back of our closet, I stumbled upon…but what was this? A small device for removing the seeds of an apple. (Unlike…um…say, a knife?)

Oh no!

*****

Speaking of lifehacks, the Guardian has a hilarious article in today’s paper about “household objects we’d like to see.”

Image: Headphones by JBelluch via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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The Deadness: Talking to Your Kids About Death

June 22, 2009

I posted awhile back – on the occasion of my late father’s birthday – about how nothing drives home the fact of adulthood quite so clearly as the death of a parent.

But I think second in line is talking to your kids about death.

I was delighted to do a guest post on this topic for the Times On Line’s Alpha Mummy blog today. Alpha Mummy is the self-described blog  for “mums and dads who work, used to work, or want to go back to work one day.” I’m a regular there, and hope you will be too.

Enjoy!

Image: Nathan Snodgrass Grave Stone – HDR image by Jason Mean via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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