A Virtual Toast To My Community Of Women Writers

February 10, 2011

Apologies if you’ve been trying to access the blog and had trouble. The blog is shortly to undergo a re-design and we have hit a few speed bumps along the way. Thanks for your patience. Stay tuned for RealDelia 2.0, coming soon to a theatre near you!

Yesterday I posted on the changes afoot over at Politics Daily and their practical implications for freelance writers like myself in forcing us to be more enterprising.

Today I wanted to address the emotional side of that equation.

As I think I’ve mentioned at several points over the past couple of years, I’ve had an absolute blast working at Politics Daily. When I started there, I’d taken a few years off from journalism to write a novel and launch this blog. So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the brainstorming, research and reporting that goes into being a journalist. 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.

And because the website was starting from scratch as a player in Online political journalism, I got to learn by doing about this thing we call ” new journalism” and all of the social media tools and 24/7 news frenzy that goes with it.

In short, it has been – and continues to be – a great learning and growth experience for me professionally.

Above all, however, the main reason that I have loved working at Politics Daily has been the community that grew up around it. It’s true of the publication as a whole and its top-notch columnists and editors. What a super crew. And it’s especially true of my little corner of the world there: Woman Up.

You’ve seen a lot of the work I’ve done for them over the past two years on this very page:  stories about the economics of abortion and the reality of socialized medicine as well as why I think it’s time to life the Cuba embargo and the connection between universities and terrorism.

But what you don’t see is the lovely and supportive community of women that’s grown up behind that space along the way. Most of us didn’t know each other before Woman Up began. Now we chat constantly with each other On line. We share story ideas. We laugh. We argue. We write.

I wrote a  post a few weeks back on this blog about the importance of making real-life friends. Woman Up has by in large been a virtual community of friends for me (although I did have the enormous pleasure of meeting many of the ladies in person at a cocktail party in Washington, D.C. over the holidays.) But even as a virtual coffee clutch, it’s been a vital part of my social and intellectual life for the past few years.

This virtual cocktail party (did you notice how I just seamlessly escalated us from coffee to vodka?) may now come to an end, at least in its present incarnation. We’ll know for sure soon. But even if it carries on under a different banner, it will likely be different.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like change, after all. And the only thing that’s constant in life is change, so they say. But regardless of how things shape up in the future, I’m incredibly grateful to have been a part of this fine group of female journalists.

As I live in London, we  normally “raise a glass” on occasions like this and say “Cheers.”

But my Irish grandmother always said it in Gaelic: “Slainte.”

So Slainte, ladies. It’s been a great ride.

May it continue.

Image: Laura at Computer by panguy100 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friendship In Adulthood: What Do You Look For?

January 24, 2011

I saw an old friend over the holidays while I was back in the States. She moved to a new town a few years back and has slowly sunk roots there, buying a house…putting her kids in school…joining a synagogue. You know, the usual.

When I asked her if she’d made any close friends in her new town, she answered matter-of-factly: “I click about 85% with four or five women I’ve met. And I think that’s pretty good.”

She went on: “And I’ve finally realized what I look for in a friend: ‘Negativity.'”

I laughed out loud. But I knew exactly what she meant, both about the “85%” figure and about the negativity.

The fact is, it’s really hard to find people you connect with. I once wrote a commentary for Chicago Public Radio about the elusive search for female friends in adulthood. The thrust of the piece was to illustrate – by example – what a nightmare it is to have to “date” for friends once you grow up and have kids. So if you’re batting at 75% or over, like my friend is, I’d say that’s a pretty good average.

I can also relate to the negativity point. Despite my penchant for dark films about family dysfunction and self-destructive behavior, I don’t actually look for negativity in fellow friends. But I do look for some combination of intelligence coupled with a sense of humor, preferably on the self-deprecating side (which is actually what I think my friend meant by “negativity.”)

The problem is – even if you know what you’re looking for in a friend – how do you find those friends when you’re starting from scratch? And even if they’re out there…will you take the time and effort out of your busy life to “date” them?

In the hyper-connected world which we all inhabit these days, it’s easy to fall back on virtual friends. Women, in particular, are drawn to Online networking and community-building. I, myself, have made loads of friends Online in the past two years, of all different shapes and sizes.

But you can’t have coffee with a computer. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) And the internet can’t yield the sort of benefits that derive from close, real-life female friendships.

In case you’re wondering whether this entire discussion is academic, it isn’t. I myself, had to dip my toe back into the friendship-dating waters recently.

For months, I’d been trying to have coffee with a close friend of one of my cousins back in New Jersey, who moved to London last summer. My cousin spoke really highly of this guy, but between his schedule and mine, there just wasn’t a ton of overlap, despite the fact that we live about 10 minutes from one another.

And let’s face it. I knew that the probability that we’d hit it off was close to zero. So while I was happy to get together with this guy, I figured that this would be more of a “getting him oriented” in London kind of coffee, not the start of something beautiful.

Well, needless to say I LOVED him. Absolutely adored. He was cool and funny and smart. And we had tons of stuff in common. Not just the surface demographic-y type stuff, but a deeper appreciation for the same jokes, the same cultural references, the same reactions to British education. He was, in short, my people.

I was lucky that I happened upon my new BFF through my cousin. But close friends can just as easily sneak up on you at a book club, or that school function you dreaded going to, or that wine tasting that was so much better than you expected.

The point is to get out there. And experiment.

Who knows?

You might just find your soul mate.

Image: Making Friends by behang via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Are Women Too Naive About Marriage – And Divorce?

January 11, 2011

There’s a sobering article in last week’s Salon that bears reading by all mothers near and far. Titled “Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom,” it depicts the mindset of a recently divorced, partially-employed mother of two who — after being out of the workforce for 14 years — discovers it ain’t so easy getting back into the game when she needs a full-time job.

The author, Katy Read, only partly blames the current economic crisis for her job-hunting woes. Rather, she places most of it on her decision 14 years ago to invest first and foremost in her children (“sliding . . . skating . . . supervising art projects . . . helping them with their homework”) over and above things like securing a retirement fund or a sufficiently well-cushioned savings account.

As she writes: “I did what the experts advised: developed my skills, undertook new challenges, expanded my professional contacts. I advanced creatively if not financially, published essays in respected literary journals that often paid (cue ominous music) in copies of the magazine.” Fast forward 14 years and Read finds that “My income — freelance writing, child support, a couple of menial part-time jobs — doesn’t cover my current expenses, let alone my retirement or the kids’ tuition.”

Her conclusion? Much like Sandra Tsing Loh — who, in a much-hyped article in The Atlantic a few years back urged women not to marry lest they end up, like her, in a workable but loveless “companionate marriage” — Read does the same. She counsels new mothers to forget all that stuff they hear about having “quality time” with their kids. They should go get a job so that they don’t end up broke and bereft like her.

Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

 

Image: 50% Dissolution by Donna 62 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Manage Conflict Effectively

December 8, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I think we’ve all been in a situation where something goes wrong – with a colleague, with a friend, with a family member – and our first inclination is to kick or scream or throw things, or just open the window and yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” (Oh, sorry. Is that just me?)

But then cooler heads prevail and we realize that we actually need to manage the conflict, rather than just vent.

Here are five suggestions for how to manage conflict effectively:

1. Call, don’t write. A friend of mine who works in corporate America once told me that one of the very first things she learned at her job was that the minute you have a professional conflict with someone, you pick up the phone. Never, ever email. And that’s because – according to her at least – there’s greater room for misinterpretation when you write something, whereas in speech you can be more direct. As a writer, my instinct is *always* to write to people when there’s potential discord because I feel I can control the message better. But ever since she told me that, I’ve reconsidered. The other reason, of course – and pace the recent WikiLeaks scandal – is that once you put something in writing, it lives on ad infinitum. And then it can come back to haunt you.

2. If you must write, assume everyone is reading it. Which brings me to point two. For me, the potential perils of email were really brought home this past summer, when my Politics Daily colleague Andrew Cohen wrote a much-trafficked love letter to his ex on our news site entitled “On Her Wedding Day: Saying Things Left Unsaid.” My colleague Lizzie Skurnick then published a response to Andrew’s post entitled “How Not To Congratulate Your Ex On Her Wedding Day.” And then some emails ensued between the two of them which led to this and this. (If you aren’t cringing by now, you should be.)

3. Write an email, but don’t send it. I was once offered a job when I was first on the academic job market which I turned down – albeit with some remorse. And I felt so badly about turning it down that I composed this incredibly long, heartfelt explanation to the Department Chair. And then I threw it away. Because when I woke up the next morning, I realized that the letter was really written for me, rather than for him. In a similar vein, I’ve taken lately to writing out long emails to people I’m angry with and then not publishing them. As a writer, putting my thoughts down on the page helps me to express and even clarify my feelings, but without experiencing any of the blowback discussed in point #2.

4. Try to see it through their eyes. I got an email the other day that really irritated me. It was condescending. It was territorial. And it was bitchy. Or at least so I thought the first time I read it through. And I spent a good deal of the night composing a response (in my head) that I seriously debated sending to this person, despite my advice in #3. But when I came downstairs the next morning, I re-read the email and decided that – even though I was pretty sure that my initial reaction was justified – there was conceivably another way to read said email that put it in a more favorable light. And so – taking Gretchen Rubin’s maxim – “act the way we want to feel”  – to heart, I willed myself to reinterpret the original email as more benign so that I, too, could feel more positively towards this person. And then I just ignored it.

5. Write a letter. This may sound like it contradicts point #1 – and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it in a professional setting. But sometimes I think that writing a good, old-fashioned letter can go a long way towards smoothing over differences between friends and family. For starters, in an internet age, everyone appreciates that letter-writing has gone the way of the horse and buggy. So when people take the time to actually write down their thoughts – with a pen! – it shows how much they matter to you. Second, while most people like their emails short and digestible, it’s O.K. to write a long letter and to really elaborate on what you’re feeling. I once did this with a friend and it really saved our friendship.

How about you? What strategies do you employ to manage conflict?

Image: Writing Samples: Parker 75 by churl via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To See The Kids Are All Right

November 10, 2010

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

OK, folks, I’ve got another movie recommendation for you.

It’s a small-ish, Indie film by Director Lisa Cholodenko called The Kids Are All Right which has been out in the States for a while now, but only recently opened over here in the land of the free and the brave. (Whoops! That’s the U.S.! I meant, the land that spawned the land of the free and the brave…must get my history straight.)

As always, when I recommend movies or books on this site, it’s because I think that they have something profound to say about adulthood.

So, too, with this film. Here are five reasons you should rush out to see it if you haven’t done so already:

1. It’s about marriage. The film centers around two women – played with just the right mix of pluck and vulnerability by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore – who’ve been married to each other for 18 plus years. And though it’s sort of a film about gay marriage (see #4), I wouldn’t say that’s the central theme. Rather, this film is about what I’ve referred to before as middle marriage – that particular stage of life when you’ve been married for a while and the kids are no longer babies and maybe you’ve had a career change or a move or two, and you’re trying to figure out what it’s all about. And Cholodenko (who also co-wrote the script) gets that stage of life perfectly: the yearnings, the frustrations, the mis-communications, the boredom, the anxiety and, most importantly, the weary and imperfect love that underlies it. I guarantee that if you’ve been married or in a long-term committed relationship for more than five years you will watch this movie and find yourself nodding in recognition.

2. It’s about infidelity. I give nothing away by revealing that the movie’s central drama concerns what happens when the man who donated sperm to this couple many years earlier so that they could have kids re-appears and completely upends their family life. Lots of movies have treated the topic of marital infidelity, which is – as I’ve noted before – not only wide-spread, but in some ways, entirely predictable. (I always feel like I need to justify that claim, so here’s some scientific evidence about why monogamy isn’t natural.) What I liked about this film was the way that the topic was broached. The cheating didn’t stem primarily from feelings of boredom or revenge or even idle sexual attraction. It stemmed from the desire to be recognized and appreciated. Which struck me as so…honest.

3. It’s about parenting teens. Again, there are loads of movies about parenting. What sets this one apart is that it focuses very specifically on parenting teenagers which – in light of our cultural obsession with babies (thank you, Erika Jong!) – can sometimes go missing. The movie not only addresses the classic theme of “letting go” ( the couples’ eldest child is about to go off to college), but also how difficult it can be when you don’t approve of the company your kids are keeping. And Lord knows I could relate to that.

4. It’s about gay marriage. OK, I realize that I just said that this movie wasn’t primarily about gay marriage. And it isn’t. But I very much liked that rather than seeing another film exploring some aspect of a long-term heterosexual relationship, this one brought us inside a homosexual one. In a country where we are still – improbably – trying to figure out if everyone should have the right to marry whoever the heck they want, having a mainstream picture focus in on a lesbian couple with kids who look (gasp) just like every other couple with kids is culturally important.

5. It also stars Mark Ruffalo. ‘Nuff said.

*****

I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about the latest chapter in the harrowing Elizabeth Smart story.

Image: Minhas mães e meu pai by Universo Produção via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Prenups Made Legally Binding In UK

October 21, 2010

Paul McCartney must be green with envy. Like many wealthy British celebrities, bankers and heirs, McCartney didn’t have a pre-nuptial agreement (“prenup”) in place when he divorced Heather Mills in 2008 — to the tune of 24.3 million pounds ($39 million). He couldn’t. His native England didn’t allow them.

But that all looks set to change. On Wednesday, a landmark Supreme Court ruling recognized the legal standing of prenuptial agreements for the very first time in England and Wales. While we won’t know until 2012 whether such agreements will be enshrined in British law, this judgment now means that prenups will have decisive weight in divorce courts going forward.

The decision marks a radical shift in British law. A prenup is a contract that typically stipulates how property and other assets will be divided should a marriage end. Traditionally, prenups were seen as contrary to public policy in England and Wales on the basis that they might encourage couples to split up. From 2000 on, the norm was to divide all assets between the spouses on a 50-50 basis, although judges can use discretion in deciding how much to allocate to any one party.

Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: McConnection – Year 9, number 31 Paul McCartney fanclub Netherlands by Antoon Foobar via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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How I Met My Husband

October 11, 2010

I think  Joan Wickersham is my muse.

Wickersham is an American writer – most famous for her memoir, The Suicide Index – who also writes regularly for The Boston Globe. An essay of hers about how married couples communicate sparked a post of my own entitled The Private Language of Marriage some months back. And now she’s published another essay about marriage – How We Met – in which she describes the universal fascination we all hold with the story about how couples meet.

In Wickersham’s own case, her initial meeting with her husband was a total dud. They met at a party; she was friendly, he was aloof. They didn’t speak again for 18 months. She also recounts the tales of other couples she knows, some of whom experienced the proverbial “love at first sight,” others who met via a personals ad (“I like to walk in the rain” apparently turned out to be a big draw.)

As Wickersham points out, the reason we’re all so fascinated with the “how we met” narrative is that it’s always about something deeper. These stories are, as she puts it, “fated yet random… Behind every “how we met’’ story is the unspoken question: What if we hadn’t?”

What if, indeed?

Like Wickersham, my husband and I also got off on the wrong foot. We first spoke during a graduate student reception at Stanford University in the autumn of 1993 where we were both pursuing our Ph.Ds in political science. It was one of those horrible affairs where the faculty mill about and speak with one another jovially, while the grad. students hover over in the corner by the food, stuffing as many cheese cubes into their mouths as can decently fit while downing the cheap red wine that’s on offer.

Despite having been at Stanford for over a year at that point, I didn’t actually know my husband, who was a couple of years ahead of me in the program. I was pretty much a hermit at that point in my life, rarely emerging out of the dungeon (yes, that’s what it was called) in the basement of the political science department where they stuck the first and second year students in one giant, communal “office.” (I use this term generously.)

But at this party – where I, too, undoubtedly came out of seclusion in order to gobble down some cheese cubes – I was first introduced to my husband via a mutual friend. He made a joke about something – I no longer remember what – which I took (mistakenly) to be misogynistic. I left that meeting with two thoughts about him: a. he’s cute and b. too bad he’s a jerk.

Fast forward a few weeks, to our second meeting. This time, it came at my initiative. I was putting together a dissertation committee and someone suggested that I consult with the “jerk” who was to become my husband, as he’d assembled a very diverse group of scholars for his own committee. I remember thinking “Ugh. That guy?” when his name came up. But work was work, and I decided to put my first impressions behind me. So I asked him if we could meet for coffee to talk dissertation committees.

Somehow, because of scheduling conflicts, coffee morphed into dinner. We met at an Italian restaurant in Palo Alto. We were in the middle of talking about god-knows-what scintillating aspect of political theory when he turned to me and said something about my eyes. Suddenly, I became aware that what I’d been thinking of as a business meeting was actually…a date.  “Oh my God! I’m on a date!” ran through my mind as I tucked into the lasagna. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What I learned from that date many moons ago is that you should always give people a second chance. The first time I met my husband, I thought he was a loser. That was just so wrong. (He was cute, however, so I got that part right.) I also learned that you always need to be open to suggestion in life. Because sometimes even when your head’s stuck in a book (or a dimly lit basement office, or an Italian restaurant menu), your future is sitting right before your eyes. You just need to open them long enough to see it.

And finally, I learned – over time – that the “What if we hadn’t met?” question is an unfathomable one for me. My husband – who is now also my best friend – technical advisor – father-to-my-kids – fellow consumer of DVD commentaries all rolled into one – might, for want a cheese cube, be just another stranger I once met at a party. As a die-hard control freak, it’s nice to know that once in a while, fate really does matter.

OK, your turn. How did you meet your husband/wife/partner (past or present) and what did you learn from that experience?

Image: paneer, cubed by chotda via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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