Archive for October, 2008

Lookism and the voting booth — and beyond

October 31, 2008

I promised myself I would not be upset or annoyed by any more news on the political front until after the elections, but the Associated Press neatly took care of that resolve:

Women running for top offices need to appear competent and attractive, according to a new study. For male candidates, seeming competent may be enough…

“For female candidates, it really matters if they’re perceived as competent and perceived as attractive. Those two qualities are sort of twin predictors of whether or not someone is going to be more or less likely to vote for them,” [the lead researcher] stressed.

I suspect this extends far beyond the voting booth. Not only are we less likely to vote for a woman who is perceived as “unattractive,” I bet we’re less likely to give her a leg up in any capacity. However, if a man looks like a gargoyle but spouts the right rhetoric, we’ll let him in.

And this goes beyond Sarah Palin and the flap over her Republican Party-financed makeover. A respondent to Morgan Felchner’s article in U.S. News and World Report suggested that, had Hillary been younger and more attractive, she’d be the one leading the ticket. Are you kidding me?

As a woman who never did get invited to the prom, literally or figuratively, I am really, really weary of this. First it was lookism, then sexism and now ageism. I can’t ever win. I had always hoped that, with experience, my net worth and my sense of self would grow, but it seems to keep eroding. The message seems to be that, for women, competence alone just isn’t enough.

Another day, another honor…

October 28, 2008

In an odd conjunction of cosmic forces I’m sure, both Smart Mouthed Broad and Midlife Slices — two finely aged bottles of sack wine — have nominated me for this esteemed honor:

Ah shucks, I’m speechless. (Canned response, but sincere.) Janie wondered if I liked this sort of thing, and I guess I do, really. It’s proof that someone reads my blog besides me and my daughter-in-law. (Thanks, Mallory!)

The rules, of course:

  1. The award may be displayed on the recipient’s blog.
  2. Add a link to the person from who you received the award.
  3. Nominate up to seven other blogs. [NO, I'M NOT DOING 14!]
  4. Add their links to your blog.
  5. Send a message to each of those you awarded to tell them about the award.

I hereby nominate some random faves, including The Dame Domain, Granny Sue, Ms. Cleaver Chronicles, Unmitigated, and the ever-popular ByJane, who probably already has one, so she counts for three!

Can I go back outside and play now?

RIP CSM: The incredible immediacy of online news

October 28, 2008

The Christian Science Monitor has just become the first national newspaper to throw in the towel, er, newsprint and switch from a daily print publication to a continously updated online edition beginning April 2009:

The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on CSMonitor.com, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format… This new, multiplatform strategy for the Monitor will “secure and enlarge the Monitor’s role in its second century,” said Mary Trammell, editor in chief of The Christian Science Publishing Society and a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors.

Continuing the spin, their board chairman insists that, while the Monitor’s print circulation, which is primarily delivered by U.S. mail, has trended downward for nearly 40 years, “looking forward, the Monitor’s Web readership clearly shows promise.” But the story admitted that a “‘modest reduction’ in the Monitor’s 95-person editorial staff is likely, once the transition to the new product line-up is completed.” (Blah, blah, blah. Whatever. It still means people will lose their jobs…)

This news comes right on the heels of The Salt Lake Tribune’s admission that it is bleeding readership (instead of just having a bleeding-heart readership — Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

I’m not sure what I think of this on-going development. While I am a former small-town newspaper journalist (the smell of ink and paper in a print shop is still pretty evocative for me), I admit that I rarely pick one up anymore. I spend the first hour at work looking over all the local news Websites (job-related, believe me), but the office still has a print subscription to the Wall Street Journal, so I do spend a little time looking through it. But I find, more and more, I prefer the immediacy of the Web versions. I’d rather scan headlines on a small screen than on a large page. And with my new iPhone, I find I can tolerate ever-smaller screens.

Two of the key issues here, of course, are the decreased costs and the incredible immediacy of the Web. Why pay for a print subscription when the milk’s free? Thanks to 9/11, I have three news sources sending me news updates daily, and the Web sites are always evolving. No stale news here. News reporters now have to face the blank screen of terror 24-7.

Once again, we midlifers are sandwiched in all these developments. Mother, in all her 92 years, never even turned on a computer, and I would be surprised if The Goons my sons ever read anything on paper, even books, more’s the pity. (I was NOT a Good Mom. I didn’t read to them often enough. They wouldn’t sit still!) And they are so accustomed to communicating with their friends/colleagues/ teachers/employers/EVERYBODY online or by text message that words on paper aren’t a part of their experience in the way they are part of mine.

Mark my very words, I’m looking forward to the day when we have clip-ons to our glasses (or some such device) that, with the nod of the head, will instantly and holographic-ly attach us to the Web, or whatever it evolves into. Or (shudder) we’ll have something embedded in our heads!

I’m almost ready (she said, nodding).

Lauren Hutton

October 23, 2008

This is my current source of inspiration, shamelessly stolen from The Sartorialist, a wonderful street fashion site:

Isn’t she fabulous? Completely unretouched, just as God — and a full life — made her. That I should age so honestly and so well.

Boomer suicides

October 23, 2008

There’s a startling and rather depressing discussion going on at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast over the American Journal of Preventative Medicine’s newly released study on baby boomers and suicide:

[B]etween 1999 and 2005, the suicide rate lept by 3.9 percent among white women aged 40 to 64, and by 2.7 percent among white men in the same age group—increases of 35 and 33 percent, respectively. Suicide in other groups decreased or remained steady, prompting one of the study’s co-authors to label middle-aged whites “a new high-risk group.”

Why are Boomers taking their lives? The news reports cite several possibilities: deteriorating access to mental health care, higher rates of prescription drug use, and more reluctance among women to undergo hormone replacement therapy during menopause. But online, in feedback sections and message boards, many Boomers have their own theories: outsourced jobs, too much atheism, piling debt, and being forced to care for their elderly parents.

This information has been reported on several other news outlets I’ve run into, but The Daily Beast opened its site for discussion, and some of the reports were hard to read, like this one by Marcygirl:

Even though I worked since I was 14, it wasn’t at the same job and have no retirement, so I was forced to realize that I’d probably have to work until I die. And that was doable until I got caught in the economic crash and not only lost my home, but my job was in real estate and I lost my job. Then I hit a brick wall with medical issues and, now, at 58 years old I’m 3 weeks away from being evicted from my rental, with no place to go, a state, county, and federal system that has no suggestions for people like me and the only answers I receive are “I don’t know, we have senior housing, but there’s a 2 year waiting list”. I am now becoming one of the invisible people and know that 3 weeks from now I have to walk out this front door and just keep on walking.

And the comments to these stories! Yikes!

Seriously, you poor, sad baby boomers make me sick [wrote Aaronthethird]. You all feel like life is unfair and too hard and poor baby doesn’t have life handed to them on a golden platter. Its your pathetic selfishness that has lead this country down the path to ruin that it has found itself at the end of now. Seriously, shut up.

Do we deserve this kind of vitriol? Indeed, did we deserve to have our mortgages and retirement and savings eaten up by an economic downturn fueled by vanity and greed? Please. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Sure, I know people who have been consumed by conspicuous consumption. When my well-heeled brother divorced a few years ago, there were no assets to divide. None. He and his now ex-wife had spent everything he had ever made on their upscale life. (And was she pissed!)

But most of my friends and family have had more modest aims: a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood where they could kick back, raise their kids and pursue their lives. All of my friends and family have contributed to the comfort of elderly parents, and none of them plans to live with their kids. And most of them, men and women, have had two jobs at one time.

We aren’t lazy. We aren’t entitled. We planned for the future. The future just collapsed on us. I really believe most of us will dig ourselves out of the rubble, dust ourselves off and go on. But some of us — represented by those sad voices in The Daily Beast — are ill-equipped to move ahead.

If I do nothing else, I know I’m going to scan the horizon and look for those in my little patch of ground who might need some help and encouragement. But I fear they may be hard to recognize. Said one Daily Beast respondent, after cataloguing the debris of her life, “If I do commit suicide, it will be a great surprise to many, because I look pretty normal.”

Welcome to the new normal.

On Blogging: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Blogger

October 21, 2008

Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic has composed a remarkable hymn to the art of blogging, which, if it hasn’t officially become a literary genre, certainly should be. Unlike previous generations of wordsmiths, “[w]e bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now — as news reaches us, as facts emerge,” he says. “For bloggers, the deadline is always now. Blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud.”

It is indeed unprecedented, I think, this ability to publish right now, without waiting for editors or presses or distribution chains, and it is therefore fraught with its own sort of peril. Who has time to check facts when your peers or competitors are posting and while that “Publish” link is staring you in the face? Not to worry, says Sullivan, who came to realize that the blogosphere had reasons to be even more honest than traditional journalism:

To the charges of inaccuracy and unprofessionalism, bloggers could point to the fierce, immediate scrutiny of their readers. Unlike newspapers, which would eventually publish corrections in a box of printed spinach far from the original error, bloggers had to walk the walk of self-correction in the same space and in the same format as the original screwup. The form was more accountable, not less, because there is nothing more conducive to professionalism than being publicly humiliated for sloppiness.

He has a lot more to say, in fact, too much for a blogpost, since he admits that one of the fundamental characteristics of a blog is its superficiality:

By superficial, I mean simply that blogging rewards brevity and immediacy. No one wants to read a 9,000-word treatise online. On the Web, one-sentence links are as legitimate as thousand-word diatribes—in fact, they are often valued more… But the superficiality masked considerable depth — greater depth, from one perspective, than the traditional media could offer. The reason was a single technological innovation: the hyperlink.

Imagine! Immediate access to the primary source, embedded right there in the document! Any Freshman English teacher would be thrilled. (And so I’ll leave you to the hyperlink to pick up the rest of his ruminations.)

I do like the immediacy of blogging, both in my own blogging and particularly in the other bloggers I read regularly. I like to know what you are doing and thinking now, what the real-time pulse of your life is. I’ve always enjoyed reading memoirs and journals, but I was frustrated by knowing that what I was reading occurred months and even years ago, and that the writer had likely long since moved on.

Sullivan writes about being able to share his reaction to 9/11 with his readers immediately, hour by hour, right as the tragedy occurred, and he made me wish I had been blogging back then. I have had perhaps a similar but smaller experience blogging and reading blogs as the current financial meltdown has unfolded, and I have been educated, scared and comforted by what I experienced. And there were no moderators, no editors, no media, no pundits to come between me and my publics. It was ragged and real and very moving.

It was, well, art. Maybe a new populist form of art, a little primitive, straight from the streets, more Garrison Keillor than cowboy poetry, more Grandma Moses than graffiti, I think, although there are all sorts of voices and styles. Whatever your definition or description, blogging at its best feels like art to me. That it is so immediate and ephemeral is I think a reflection of our technological times, and makes it a perfect form of expression for our age.

I’m glad I finally climbed aboard this train, and I’ll be interested in seeing where it goes from here.

Me, oddly

October 20, 2008

MidlifeSlices™ — who has had a terrible week, I’m sorry to say — has issued a challenge to list six peculiar traits. Since I’m in the midst of a bad case of blog-ical stenosis, I’ll bite:

1. I sing little songs when I’m in the bathroom. I have since I was a child. (No, I won’t tell you what the songs are. That’s TMI.)
2. I like to eat white, bland food: puddings, mashed potatoes, pasta or rice with butter, divinity, meringues. It makes me feel safe.
3. I sleep with my feet uncovered most nights. If they’re covered, I feel like I can’t breathe.
4. I won’t eat home-cooked food unless I know who made it. Church or neighborhood suppers are a nightmare. And please don’t leave cookies on my doorstep. I’ll just throw them away.
5. Lately I have been obsessed with true crime shows on cable. Last Saturday I watched A&E, ID and TruTV for 12 hours straight. The world is a cesspool. Sociopaths abound. Trust no one.
6. The first thing I read in the papers in the morning is the obituaries. Also a carry-over from childhood.

Hmm. A bit morbid, I think. (I have others, but if I listed them, someone would likely alert the authorities.)

What are your oddities?

On Money: Mommyblogger meltdown

October 10, 2008

The Daily Beast, Tina Brown’s new excursion into tabloid online journalism, has an absolutely heart-wrenching collection of posts from women who have been slammed by the economic crisis. The last one, from a midlifer who calls herself The Accidental Housewife, really got to me:

The generations who survived the Great Depression were tough. They were resilient; they did not expect the government to bail them out of the hell that fell upon them…They boarded up their farms and loaded up their jalopies and headed out to find work. They did not stand around wringing their hands crying about what they didn’t have anymore they went out and worked. They were doers and savers and they made it.
My step-grandmother used to reuse her foil. She would smooth it out, wipe it off, fold it up and use it again and again until it eventually fell apart. My best friend’s grandmother would make a single chicken last through a week’s worth of meals. Each meal being different but made from that single chicken. They were resourceful. More important they MADE IT….
I am ashamed of my fellow baby boomers. I am ashamed that we have turned into such an entitled generation. I am ashamed that we have to have someone else make our morning coffee and we are too good or too busy to prepare our own dinner. That we feel entitled to drive vehicles that use more fuel in one week than a whole village in a third world country uses in a year.
So what do you say fellow boomers? Can we do it? Can we tighten our belts, knuckle down and use that knowledge that our forefathers and mothers gave us? Can we cook our own meals, repair our own roofs, make ourselves pay our own bills and not rely on the government to bail us out? I think we can. We just have to want to do it.

She captured much of my current angst. We as a generation have not been as careful as our parents. We’ve serially refinanced our homes and underfunded our retirements to pay for our lifestyles, and the payments are now due. Many boomers are spoiled and selfish and entitled, and some of us have passed those “values” on to our children. And we are all now in deep, deep kimchi.

But I am encouraged by some of the adjustments and accommodations and belt-tightening that I’m seeing around me: less driving, more brown-bag lunches, even a little more kindness and solicitude among my colleagues and neighbors. We are a well-educated generation with a lot of tools at our disposal. And one of those tools is the online communities we have built, which hold the promise of advising, supporting, sustaining and cheering us on (and up) during this bleak time.

Chins up, peeps. We’ll get through this.

Thrifting: A small act of charity for a bleak time

October 7, 2008

So you say you want to help those who have been hit hard by the economic downturn? Here’s a start: Clean out your closets. Really.

An article at cnn.com today says:

The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries International, the nation’s two largest charitable resale organizations, report year-to-date sales increases of 6 percent to 15 percent…

“We’re seeing a lot more middle-class and upper-class customers we haven’t seen before,” [said one store manager]. “Without even asking, you can just look in the parking lot (at their cars).”

The surge in thrift store sales has its downside, though. The Salvation Army reports a dangerous decline in donations. Just as consumers are now more likely to buy secondhand goods, they are also less likely to get rid of their used clothing or furniture.

A couple of women’s organizations in my area regularly conduct clothing drives for displaced homemakers who need suits, jackets and dresses for job interviews, but those are some of the very items that consumers are holding onto:

“We rely heavily on consumer culture,” said [Salvation Army] spokeswoman Melissa Temme. “People are finding that the couch can last a little longer. The suit, while it may not be perfect for this year’s fashion, is fine.”

So, my darlings out there in the Blogosphere, I challenge you to take a few minutes this week and divest yourself of some of those jackets and skirts and coats and shoes that — admit it — just aren’t going to work anymore. In my experience, articles of clothing that are a size 12 and above are particularly welcome.

It’s just a little something, a mere mitzvah, but I guarantee it will make you feel better.

On Money: The new reality

October 2, 2008

I found an oddly charming story in the NYTimes today about New Yorkers trying to balance their need to attend Rosh Hashana services and their need to constantly consult their cellphones and handhelds:

Escaping the worries of a chaotic world is often difficult in New York — a single ringing iPhone can spoil the quietest moments of a concert at Lincoln Center; a vibrating BlackBerry can deliver a message upsetting enough to make someone climb over a row of people and leave a Broadway show to go back to the office.

But this week, perhaps more than most, it was hard to check one’s worries at the door, hard to concentrate on what it means to mark a religious holiday during a financial crisis.

(For those of you goyim like me, Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year, a time for introspection and resolutions, an opportunity to admit the mistakes of the past year and plan for a better next year. As with Shabbat, no work is permitted, hence the conflict with the cellphones and IM. Nu?)

At the Park Avenue Synagogue, Senior Rabbi Elliott Cosgrove “had counseled the congregation not to be upset by the financial problems of the last few weeks,” said the Times. He then gave them what I think is the best advice I’ve heard yet:

Let go of your white-knuckled grip on reality, and let a new reality present itself,” he told the congregation.

How many times in my little life have I tried to keep a stranglehold on a reality that no longer existed? A boyfriend who had long since moved on. A opportunity that was never seized, and then disappeared. An investment — in time as well as in money — that had evaporated. A lifestage that had inevitably ended. There isn’t any point in going back to the ideal, because it doesn’t exist anymore.

To me the new reality appears to be that my shrunken retirement portfolio may take a long time to rebound, credit will be harder to come by, jobs will be harder to find (something that will affect my sons more than me, but that makes it even more worrisome), inflation will continue to rise faster than the annual raises at my job — and my share of the tax burden created by this greed and remedied by the new bailout legislation remains to be tabulated.

But maybe — just maybe — because of all this, I will quit feeling like I have to keep up with everyone else. During the past five to ten years, I have driven all over our quaint little valley and repeatedly wondered, “Who is buying all these great big expensive homes? Who are these people in Jaguars and Bentleys and tricked-out Beamers and Mercedes? Where are they getting their money?” We’re a two-income household, but all this conspicuous consumption by my neighbors made me sometimes feel poor. Why didn’t I get a ticket to the party?

Now I know. And in this new reality, I’m seeing a lot of signs of the times, and they all say “For Sale.”

Update: Madame X at My Open Wallet also has some good advice for troubled times. (I particularly agree with her last one.)

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