Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Mexican Drug Wars: How Far Away Are They?

Of the 45,000 deaths
thus far, says Grillo,
“each involves a real family,
a real story, real history.”

Ioan Grillo, author of the new book about the Mexican drug wars — “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency” — has been covering Mexico for over 10 years for magazines and newspapers. He talked about his experiences covering Mexico Monday night at the Half King in Chelsea.

It was such a good talk and people asked such good questions that I decided to make use of the notes I always take at these things and write a bit about Grillo’s presentation. Though Half King is a pub/restaurant, things quiet down considerably when someone like Grillo steps up to the microphone. And because the mike didn’t work last night, people listened more attentively and more quietly than usual.

In 2004/05 when the violence in Mexicao started to get bad, the Houston Chronicle told Grillo he should “cover it like a war.” He began by getting to know addicts and he started to see the horrific transformation of Mexico through their eyes. “When I first got to Mexico in 2000,” he said, “it was a time of burgeoning democracy.” In a few years time, he said, tragic changes resulted in what he now calls a “low-intensity war.”

A single massacre in Mexico resulted in the deaths of 72 people. And killings take place every day. By comparison, the most Al Capone ever killed was 7 people — in the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Of the 45,000 deaths thus far, says Grillo, “each involves a real family, a real story, real history.” The implications remain bad for most of the country. “Society operates quasi-normally, with electricity and schools running and yet you have this extraordinary thing running through all of it.” Franchises entrench themselves within a community and grow from there, enlisting locals and corrupting ongoing events.

Grillo says this kind of thing could happen in any number of countries with similar conditions, such as a weak government amid powerful organized crime. Brazil, parts of Africa and Jamaica are a few of the vulnerable places he mentioned.

The people of Mexico, says Grillo, are used by the drug cartels’ “machines of murder.” For payment of 1,000 pesos, or $85, they’ll take a human life. The head of the police in Mexico City used his own key to get into his home, where he encountered assassins who shot him dead. Police from his own force had been co-opted by the cartel and gave the assassins access. “Your best defense as a journalist,” he says, “is not to piss anybody off.” Five people who contributed information for the book have been murdered. Even the elite and the political class feel scared, but they are divided among themselves and cannot find common ground from which to attack the problem. The cartels now run massive kidnapping schemes as well.

At the end of his talk, Grillo listed three major areas of reform:

1. Realistically assess current policy and be realistic about future policy. The war on drugs isn’t working. The ludicrous UN motto: “A drug-free world. We can make it happen.” There is now a considerable drug trade within Mexico. As for the United States, both the US and Mexico have a role in this. 90% of the cocaine in this country comes from Mexico, for example. And, says Grillo, “It’s impossible to shut down the border.”

2. Rehabilitate communities within Mexico. Nothing comes into the impoverished communities. Imagine what good 1,000 social workers could do, says Grillo. “We’ve found that kids just doing art in class discover a worth in themselves and want to make a choice about how their life goes.”

3. Build a unified police force throughout all of Mexico. Right now police operate independently from town to town.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Life lessons from a senior sexpert

'It takes intention to keep

movement and sexuality in our lives.'

Happy Birthday to Joan Price, author of Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex and Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty. You are like a sister. And, sister, you make me proud.

It’s your birthday on Nov. 10 and you are at the top of your game. You work it like no one else I know. At 68 you live more in a day than most people do in a week.

How is that? How can someone who once was in such a serious automobile accident she shocked doctors merely by surviving, who suffered injuries that plague her still, how can that person go on to teach aerobics six days a week and, later in life, teach line dancing three and four nights a week for hours at a time, walk for one or two hours a couple of times a week, lift weights when time allows and do advanced Pilates with a personal trainer every week? That was a long sentence with few pauses because that is the kind of life you lead. Then there are the speaking engagements, the workshops and television appearances, the writing of books, the social media updates and maintenance — you have 774 friends on Facebook, the blog, the testing of sex toys for their makers and for the readers who buy them. What have I forgotten? You review books, you’re compiling a book of erotica for Seal Press, you respond to emails in a timely fashion. I’m sure there’s more.

Your answer is that you exercise so that you can exercise, if that makes sense. You move to stay mobile is another way to put it. You are a vegan and you eat delicious, nutritional foods. You say you don’t want to be bored so you commit to doing what you are passionate about. And because nothing beats boredom like acquiring knowledge, you’ve made learning a priority. And you teach others what you’ve learned. Because of you, because you talk out loud about senior sex, we know how to maintain our vaginas to keep them in good working order. That’s just for starters. Recently one of your readers said you helped save her marriage.

When you had a reading in early July at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, you were a guest in the NYC apartment where I spend time with Jim. We gave you the couch, a blanket and a space at the table for computing. In the mornings Jim made you strong hot coffee the way you like it, without cream or sugar. The only time you weren’t working or making connections with others throughout the city was when I was talking or when you were sleeping. You are a marvel. You model the way it should be done.

You had a profound loving relationship later in life. Robert Rice, your husband, died just as you had begun working on Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex. How hard that must have been but you got through it, found ways to grieve, work and carry on. Because of you and your book Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty, we got to see for ourselves how true love and sexual intimacy are bound by no rules and heed no expectations.

Here, for those who are interested, are excerpts from a conversation I had with Joan over the telephone in mid-October. I wanted to present the woman behind her two most recent books.

The “ick factor”

“I found that people didn’t want to look at senior sexuality, face it or address the problems in a positive way. It isn’t just the youth-oriented culture that has stereotypes about sex. We seniors have them about ourselves. We think we lose enjoyment, we lose function, we lose our appeal. For every problem, there is a solution.”


“I think of myself as a hard worker. I thrive on challenges and sometimes on confrontation. Ninety percent of the people I speak with say thank you for the information. Ten percent say, ‘Tell me no more’ or they make fun of it. That just spurs me on even more. Bring it on, I say.”

People are shy

“I spoke at my 50th high school reunion recently. People listened attentively but no one asked me a single question. I know why. The last time we saw each other was when we were 17. So I told them if they had any questions, I’d consult with them in the corner of the room. People came up to me throughout the reunion saying, ‘I want my consultation in the corner.’ Every time I speak, I learn something.”

Being physical

“With regard to enjoying the pleasures of our bodies, it’s not just line dancing or having sex or walking in the sun. We need to be in relationship with our bodies.”

“People ask me: What’s the best exercise? I tell them: The one that you’ll do!”

“Exercise should be a treat, not a treatment.”

Senior foreplay

“One way to get started is to do something physical together like dancing in the living room. Walk or bike ride together. This lets you enjoy your bodies together and lets the blood flow. By the time you begin making love together, you’ve already started. Part of what makes us pull away from sex is the depletion of blood flow to our muscles, our brains and our genitals. Exercise reverses that.”


“People aren’t aware that it’s happening little by little, week by week, year by year. Athletic people I knew at 17 are now 75 pounds overweight.”

“It takes intention to keep movement and sexuality in our lives.”

Solo Sex

“Make a date with yourself.”

Joan Price’s contact information
website: http://www.joanprice.com/
Blog: http://www.NakedAtOurAge.com <http://www.nakedatourage.com/>
YouTube: http://youtu.be/MN6_HVD-Jdg <http://youtu.be/MN6_HVD-Jdg>
Naked At Our Age Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/JoanPriceAuthor <http://www.facebook.com/JoanPriceAuthor>
Twitter: http://twitter.com/JoanPrice <http://twitter.com/JoanPrice>

You can contact me at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Read my book, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” available online or in bookstores.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Passion as art

Israel Galván interacts
with a guitarist and singer
in his intense and stylized
flamenco dance.

Flamenco dance is a glorious departure from normal.

Hence, this must be an American speaking. Someone with the romantic languages in her blood and popular culture fatigue in her bones. Car chases. Faces pummeled. Guns exploding. Women raped. Enough. Give me Andalusian soul music. Show me your beating heart.

Today I had the great fortune to see flamenco dancer Israel Galván in one of his last performances in NYC this fall. It’s a 10-minute walk from when I’m staying and despite this week’s rave review in the NY Times, I managed to get the best seat in the house.

Here’s what today’s flamenco performance was like. And though the performance, titled “La Edad de Oro,” is avant-garde by traditional standards, what I describe here is pure flamenco:

Three men on a stage — one dancer (Israel Galván), one singer (David Lagos) and one guitarist (David’s brother Alfredo). They’re all dressed in black, though at one point Galván changes to white shoes. The stage is bare except for their chairs and a speaker for the guitarist. The backdrop is black. Lighting is often from above and it’s minimal. Everything that happens happens between the men and the music and the audience.

It’s intimate. Us and them.

The performance feels like a long story that Galván starts off by stepping into the solitary beam of light and beginning a percussive dance with, at first, no accompaniment. Sometimes the only sounds are his vocalizations. Sometimes he is completely still and there is only silence. David begins to sing and Alfredo plays his guitar. They trade off, Galván sitting while David or Alfredo continues. It’s a conversation, told in music and dance, that lasts for an hour and a half. Exuberant, plaintive, funny in parts, the dance and music portray us, in conflict, in love, in loss. And when Galvan stomps his feet and arcs his entire body with arms straining toward the ends of the universe, it is unbearably intense.

Olé! Sí! Bravo! I found I was amid a Spanish-speaking audience, used to joining in, at times, with expressions of appreciation and exclamations of joy. It felt as if we were at a juerga — a spontaneous gathering, perhaps in Spain at some small pub — drinking wine, reflecting on our lot in life. The dancer or singer begins a lament and soon everyone joins in.

This art comes from the heart and is transformed by skill and training and generations of dancers and singers and guitarists evolving to this, where Galván is on the edge of something old and new.

What I describe is passion and I express tremendous gratitude to know passion and to recognize it in others who take it whole and shape it into beautiful art.

As we left the theater, I heard one man say to his group of friends: “I feel so lucky to have witnessed this.”

Perhaps he's also saying is that he feels fortunate to be understood. That his passions have a place in his life.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The bullied pulp

Obama comes in last at the
Iowa State Fair pie-eating contest.

Dr Rae psychoanalyzes Barack Obama

Dr Rae does not want to come back from vacation mode, where she has been happily rewriting a novel. Dr Rae has been at play in the fictional world, a fun fantasy land where people live and die as the mood strikes her.

Zap. There goes another one.

Imagine, then, the horror upon returning from summer vacation to find the world unchanged. Men still acting badly.

Let us not waste time, then. There are a lot of men acting very badly. I’ve watched the reruns of Mad Men on Roku this summer. I know how bad men can be.

The man with me on my couch today, the man awaiting psychoanalysis, needs no introduction. Few will be surprised to see that Barack Obama, our president, is heaped here like a tired-out whoopee cushion. He has just fled the Republicans, the Vineyard and Hurricane Irene, and way too many sticks of fried butter hurled by cranky farmers while he was scoping out the Midwest from his hulking black Skulk-o-Van.

Mr. President, with all those state fair fried butter sticks and clumps of fried dough you’ve encountered the last few days, dare I ask, why are you so scary skinny?

Dr Rae, I confess, I ate sparingly as a youngster. The habit has stayed with me.

Sorry, sir, but did you just refer to yourself as a youngster?

As a boy, then.

That’s better. And as said boy, did you take lunch money to school with you?

That I did. Folks back then carried quarters to school for cafeteria lunches. Fish sticks. Tater tots. Michele says potatoes have potassium. I’m not opposed to tater tots. For that matter, I am not opposed to veterans. Gays, well, that’s another story.

So you enjoy a tater tot on occasion?

I never had the pleasure of a tater tot, Dr Rae.

Just as I expected. Tell me, commander in chief, if the scenario I describe sounds familiar:

You are walking to school. A bit of a distance ahead on the sidewalk, you see another human being coming toward you. You reach into your pocket, take hold of your small treasure, and you exclaim, “Please! It’s all yours.” You hurl your quarter, your precious lunch money, gift wrapped, polished, worth 20 times what it’s worth now, toward the approaching person. But before you can ask that toddler on the tricycle for her vote in return, off she trikes, marveling at her good fortune and practically smelling the five Snicker’s bars in her immediate future.

Dr Rae, you are so smart. How do you do it?

I took one look at you and said to myself, “You only get that skinny by giving away your milk money in kindergarten.”

Diagnosis. Sadly, our president has weak bones, particularly in the area of the spine. This is from a dearth of milk and its all important component, calcium, in his formative years. Without a family hawk to teach him bully-bashing maneuvers, he gave it up. Every day he gave it up. And, fellow citizens, as you can see nothing has changed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What happened to passion?

Every once in a while someone says something so open and honest that it brings my world to a momentary stop. Most of us would agree: The earnest voice rings loud and clear. It cuts through the rest of the life’s din and penetrates our defenses.

At a recent reading in Babeland — SoHo, such a voice spoke out. A man introduced himself by saying he’d been married for 28 years. He said, I want to find ways to bring renewed sexual passion into my relationship with my wife. We have been together a very long time.

He, like another man in our small circle, had come alone — without their sexual partners — to seek advice. I was there with author Joan Price, whose new book, “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex,” has just come out. Both of us published our books with Seal Press and we thought it would be fun to do a couple of events together.

. . . . .

Many would prefer to shop for private items like sex toys online. The great thing about shopping in person at a store like Babeland, in particular, is how great the staff is and how little embarrassment you feel as you look at the toys and find out what's recommended.

. . . . .

All I could say to the man was congratulations. Congratulations for coming all the way into SoHo, for walking into Babeland, a pretty store painted pink and run by women who sell “sex toys for a passionate world,” for sitting through this reading and presentation, but most of all, congratulations for taking your wife and your sex life seriously. I applaud you and the other couples in this room who are here for this same reason.

I would have done almost anything — short of a threesome — to help out these people.

I did read erotic passages from my book “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair.” I would like to think it helped, not as a measuring stick by which to size up one’s own sexual life but simply as titillation.

Erotica, and here I’m talking about literary erotica like the kind found in “Free Fall” — is the sex toy you never have to lubricate. It doesn’t make any noise, you can’t turn it on by mistake, and you can pack it in your carryon luggage without fear of discovery. Download it onto your Kindle, for example, and save yourself the embarrassment of displaying its cover to other travelers.

Erotica can be downright devastating, in a good way. From the woman’s point of view, erotica can turn that major sex organ you have — your brain — into a single-minded lust organ that begs immediate and relentless indulgence.

So what I should have said to that earnest and searching man was: Buy my book or others like it. I was sad to see that he left empty-handed with no books, no toys of any kind, no lift to his shoulders. Perhaps he already has these things and was looking for more. He was on a mission, in search of some idea, some tip he hadn’t heard before.

Joan’s tried-and-true advice: Reserve some time for yourself and your lover, then begin the dance…whatever it is. Take it slowly. In time, your desire will catch up. This is what works. It’s an act of faith. It’s a little like Gestalt or cognitive therapy. You fake it till you make it, as the saying goes.

A couple of people did buy my book, and they bought Joan’s groundbreaking self-help book, too. They mentioned that they had a hard time finding erotica that wasn’t vulgar and crude and idiotic. There is good erotica but it’s not mainstream; it’s hard to find. Erotica doesn’t have to be explicit. In a book titled “The Literary Lover” published by Viking in 1993 (in time for a Valentine’s Day many years ago), William Kotzwinkle wrote a short story called “Jewel of the Moon,” about the entire delicious year a young groom spent very slowly seducing his new bride. Kotzwinkle, it may surprise you to learn, is also author of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.”

. . . . .

Joan Price was my house guest for a few nights. Though Joan was busy promoting her new book, we had time for a walk along the High Line in Chelsea.

. . . . .

There you have it, an erotic story to bring some fun to date night. A good vibrator that isn’t going to conk out on you or burn delicate tissue can cost more than $100. A stimulator for the brain costs less. It’s hard to find but well worth the search.

And it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You Don’t Say: Dr. Rae Psychoanalyzes V.S. Naipaul

V.S. requires treatment
for a serious word disorder.
To be blunt,
he doesn't know when
to shut up.

Welcome, Mr. V.S. Naipaul. Please make yourself comfortable. I see that you are in the habit of removing your shoes. This is good.

You have the right idea. Just sit back and relax on my virtual Word Couch. Here is where I muck around in my client’s gibberish, looking for telltale psychology.

One wouldn’t think so, with your Nobel Prize for literature and what we assume is a talent with words, but you are up to your neck in a very funky word hole.

Do you remember saying these things about women writers last week?

“I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

Ah ha! You, too, use words as a way into a person’s psychology.

Women’s writing, you say, reveals “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world.” And you don’t stop there, Mr. Naipaul. “Inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.”

Hold everything! Do you have a license to practice? Or perhaps you think the Nobel Prize gives you liberties?

About your publisher, Mr. Naipaul, you say this: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

We are all at the mercy of our words and you have blathered yourself silly. Thank god for Dr. Rae.

Permit me one digression: When is “feminine tosh” not unkind?

“Tosh” means “nonsense,” you know, and could easily be construed here as synonymous with “female.” Not good.

Preliminary diagnosis: Muddle brain.

No problema! Dr. Rae to the rescue of V.S. Naipaul because Nobel laureates get sick sometimes, too.

Let us get on with your evaluation. Please answer the following questions with a yes or no:

  • Do you and Arnold Schwarzenegger share any forebears?
  • Do you identify with Popeye the Sailor Man?
  • Do you dress in a phone booth?
  • Do you covet John Edwards’s barber?
  • Are you wearing a crown as we speak?
  • What are your thoughts on virgins?

Stop it, Mr. Naipual. You may not channel Schwarzenegger’s swagger. Look what you’ve done. You’ve made an unholy mess of my Word Couch.

You suffer from a form of dementia called I am Man, Hear Me Roar. And you’ve roared yourself hoarse, I’m afraid. You are in extremis.

Treatment Options:

Lobotomy: A procedure that involves a sharp instrument and a malfunctioning frontal lobe. This pretty much neutralizes that roar of yours. Don’t give me that look, Mr. Naipaul. You’ve brought this on yourself.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (a k a Shock Treatments or ECT): There’s some loss of memory but Paul Theroux has offered to refresh you on the past. He’s written a book, in fact, that gives the details of how you used to be.

Since I’m handier with electrodes than I am with an ice pick, ECT it is.

Bite down on this tongue depressor, please.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You Don’t Say: Intervention required with Anthony Weiner

The Weiner Intervention . . .

. . . we can help Weiner get well and it won't cost him a dime.

So much for my day of rest. I must call an emergency session to perform an intervention with Congressman Anthony Weiner.

A NY Times news bulletin tells us that Rep. Weiner has decided to go silent. No more tweets or salacious admissions. He has entered into a treatment program.

No way! Mr. Weiner, come back! Do not throw yourself on the sword of tedious group therapy sessions, communal meals of stovetop macaroni and cheese, weeks of wearing that unpleasant hangdog face and those rounded shoulders of contrition — just so you can escape the wrath of Pelosi et al.

Come to Dr. Rae.

I won’t charge you a dime, you can still have your power protein smoothies, and my psychoanalysis will only take another two minutes. Here’s what we know about the developments thus far from the NY Times:

“Congressman Weiner departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” said his spokeswoman, Risa Heller. “In light of that, he will request a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well.”

Dr. Rae to Rep. Weiner:

There’s no need to pay good money to get evaluated. Just call your wife and ask her what’s wrong with you. This is free and fast and you will be surprised at just how right on she is.

If you don’t want to do that, and who would blame you, simply ask her to hand the phone to Hillary Clinton, with whom your wife is traveling right now. Hillary knows a good deal about such matters. She is, in fact, the all-time expert on the over-exposure of the married male penis. I am sure she will have some very fine thoughts to share.

As for the goal of becoming a better husband, the solution is again short and simple. Reread your marriage vows and do what they say.

Note to universe:

I must at this point congratulate the universe for once again surprising us with an amazing coincidence. That Hillary Clinton and Weiner’s wife are traveling together at this time would seem unbelievable. Yet there we have it — two of our culture's most "betrayed" women setting aside personal issues to serve their country. Meanwhile many of the rest of us suck in breaths of astonishment and on the exhale, whistle the refrain from “Twilight Zone.”

Session over.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

You Don’t Say: Psychoanalyzing Alec Baldwin

Reclining on my virtual Word Couch

today is Alec Baldwin, a celebrity blogger

on Huffington Post. He wrote a piece

about Anthony Weiner, whom he says is

a very busy modern man employing tools

that make instant gratification easier

than trying to get your out-of-sorts wife to have sex.

Alec, welcome to my couch. I’ll tell you right now that I see your column as defensively positioned, asking us to see things from Weiner’s point of view.

Why, for god’s sake? Haven’t we seen enough from his POV?

Let’s get started.

Alec says:

“Weiner is the modern, high functioning man. The fact that he is married is just one, albeit a huge, factor. I know many people who divorce over such issues of online betrayal. Appointment sex with your spouse doesn’t always arrive when you need it most. A modern cell phone, loaded with contacts of willing fellow players, has a table with a red checkered table cloth ready for you at virtually any time.”

Dr. Rae says:

Aye. This dated male point of view — I need sex and I need it now or else I’ll implode — is right out of Mad Men. Back then, men used this dire possibility as a threat to get women to have sex. Sadly, I’ve heard it myself as a young teenager. I envisioned an exploding penis and seminal debris mixed with body parts splattered all over my miniskirt.

Alec, are you in silverback mode here — attempting to resurrect and re-deploy this old canard and link it to the “modern man”? And since when was Weiner desperately looking for sexual relief? What he was doing was showing off and flirting.

As for modern and high-functioning, try putting yourself in the heels of a working mom with a breast pump. Now, that’s high functioning.

Alec says:

“We tell ourselves that these devices help us communicate more effectively. What they actually do is allow us to bypass the person lying right next to us, across the room from us or at an airport heading home to us, in order to meet our immediate, even inconvenient, needs. To bypass their moods, their current view of us and their own desires, or lack thereof.

“Weiner is a modern human being. So he ensnared himself in things that modern humans do. When I first heard about his problems, I snickered and made jokes, too. Now, I'm sad for him, his family, his district and his colleagues.

Let he who is without sin.....”

Dr Rae says:

Alec! Besides the fact that I’m hearing some licking of old wounds here (and, really, it’s actual slurping I’m hearing), whether we, those in a position to judge, have sinned or not is beside the point. Do you want your mate behaving like this, Alec? How about your legislator? How about your mayor? I’m guessing the answer is no. And the reason the answer is no is because seeing your mate’s naked parts texted to others behind your back is not going to help those sour moods and rejections you rued earlier.

In conclusion, Alec, you’ve misplaced your loyalties. And that says something about your own psychology right now. I suggest a follow-up visit before you attempt a run for mayor of NYC.

End of session.

Friday, June 10, 2011

You Don’t Say! Psychoanalyzing Eliot Spitzer

In virtual repose on my Word Couch this morning is Eliot Spitzer, former NY attorney general and employer of expensive prostitutes. He’s just spoken with Dan Abrams about Anthony Weiner, the NY congressman whose sexual Tweets have gone viral. Spitzer made a few revelatory remarks that, like the Tweets that started all this, are symptomatic of a psychology begging for analysis.

So let us begin!

Eliot Spitzer says

“I sympathize with Anthony Weiner. I know he is going through torment like virtually no other, but his greatest sin from the perspective of the public was not being truthful at the moment of crisis.”

Here we go….

“I sympathize with Anthony Weiner.”

That’s easy. Spitzer identifies with Anthony Weiner. He feels the man’s pain. It’s nice that somebody does, I suppose. But we must not languish in the foggy aromatics of sympathy. Sympathy is (1) all about you, (2) a way to bask in soothing feel-good sounds, (3) a tactic to appear sympathetic yourself, (4) sleight of hand to divert attention from the real issue. If Spitzer weren’t sympathetic, he might simply have said: “Look! That man has gone and tweeted his penis! What’s wrong with him?”

“I know he is going through torment …”

What Spitzer ‘knows’ is the torment he himself endured. He’s referencing his own pain of loss — loss of job, loss of trust, loss of face. He must stop enabling torment and urge Weiner to move on. Weiner has work to do. He must quit his post and find a job, for starters.

…like virtually no other….

It’s probably true — there is no torment like having to see tweets of your penis in virtually every nook and cranny of daily life.

“but his greatest sin from the perspective of the public was not being truthful at the moment of crisis.”

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Why does Spitzer reference the ‘public perspective’ unless he agrees? But here, at last, is mention of the ‘greatest sin’ and Spitzer does not take the opportunity to state the true nature of the sin.

Here’s what an enlightened Spitzer might have said:

Weiner’s ‘greatest sin’ was agreeing to marry and becoming a congressman when he knew he was incapable of behaving responsibly. He broadened his sin by impregnating his wife while flirting online. To do this he photographed his impregnation device and tweeted it. The lies that followed are beside the point. Lying is what happens when you suddenly get a sense of your deed and realize it’s way too ugly to contemplate much less articulate.

Dr. Rae says: Between the words are the spaces where the self leaks through.

Session over!

Monday, June 6, 2011

How to make good video clips, the biting woman and bad air — all at this year’s BookExpo

If you love books, then imagine being at the annual BookExpo at the Javits Center where books are hauled in by the truckload, where a nonstop lineup of authors speak and sign their new books, where fascinating panel discussions run in several conference rooms concurrently throughout all four days, where editors and publishers and publicists stand by displays of their books and try to maintain a brave smile hour after noisy hour.

On the down side, it’s pretty overwhelming. Attendance this year (the end of May) was 21,664 people. And…it’s at the Javits Center in NYC, a seedy, dysfunctional building that feels like a subterranean bunker.

As an author and book reviewer, I get the most from the panel discussions and educational sessions that run throughout the annual BookExpo. Leaders in the book business, like Otis Chandler, founder of GoodReads, serve on these panels.

And sometimes it’s uplifting to spend time with others who are passionate about books and who work, in one way or another, on behalf of books. The mantra these days: There will always be books!

But passion has its perils. I heard about one woman who bit the woman in line ahead of her when she saw there was only one free book left on the table. I believe this story because I find the most dangerous place to be in New York City is a line. Line abuse happens all the time and can involve more than verbal haranguing.

At the educational sessions, however, things were a lot less combative. Topics included everything from advanced Twitter and Facebook practices to the latest data on who’s buying e-books.

We learned that the top e-book readers are female fans of romance novels who average 44 years of age. Teenagers and young adults are the least likely to purchase e-books because they are so wired they have e-fatigue. Textbooks, therefore, are among the least purchased type of e-books.

And GoodReads’ founder Otis Chandler spoke about what gets the most attention at GoodReads. Note to authors and publicists: Giveaways are very popular among Chandler’s website users.

Good advice about making video

Another speaker was Hollywood filmmaker Steve Stockman. Stockman has a new book (published by Workman) about making video titled “Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck.” Everyone who has a video recorder (nowadays, that’s almost anyone with a cell phone) can — and probably should — pay attention to what Stockman has to say. His argument is this: We all know what makes good video because most of us watch TV and see movies. However almost no one makes good video, so that means most of what’s posted never gets seen. Close to 100 percent of the top-viewed videos on YouTube were made by professionals.

Here are a few easy tips that will make a big difference in the quality of your video:

  • Humans, says Stockman, are like animals. We key into motion and emotion.
  • Think in shots. Instead of running the camera nonstop, break the shots into 20-second segments. Point, pause, frame your subject matter and shoot, then move on to the next shot.
  • Don’t start shooting till you see the whites of your subject’s eyes.
  • Use an external microphone. They cost as little as $25 at BestBuy.
  • Your videos should be short. Promotional videos, such as book trailers, should run about 2.5 minutes. Ten minutes is a tedious lifetime.
  • Video is a language that all of us have grown up with and understand. We know good video but most of us don’t speak it well. Pay experts, train yourself or ask for help rather than make something bad. People don’t watch bad video.
  • Take your video work seriously but have fun with it.
  • Tell a story with your video piece. Video doesn’t do facts well. Take a series of deliberately aimed shots. Keep them short and dramatic. Miss the eyes and you miss the story.
  • For more info and a 3-minute how-to video, visit www.stevestockman.com.

Now, for the rant...

I mentioned that the BookExpo was at the Javits Center in NYC. The center bucks the expectation that business will be conducted within its confines. For instance, conference rooms are so deadly drab that they make better sleeping potions than they do arenas for heady discussion. But there are more serious failings:

  • The center is no incubator of the kind of break-through interactions and discussions you want to see happening at an expensive trade conference. The air is poor and the lighting is bad and the noise from abutting speakers and construction work combine to thwart discussion and sap the energy. There are times when you can’t even hear the speaker.
  • After a certain point in the afternoons, coffee is unavailable.
  • Food lines are long. Expect waits of 15 or 20 minutes and do not expect to find a single empty chair in the dining area when you finally do have food in hand.
  • Food is expensive. Vitamin Water costs $4.50 and it’s hard to find anything to eat under $10 or $12. Forget healthy eating.
  • There seemed to be an arctic wind blowing.
  • WiFi costs $30 a day. And don’t expect to be able to receive phone calls or email even if you have a smartphone.
  • At a book expo, where attendance is predominately female, there are few women’s restrooms.
  • Many people complained of feeling sick and exhausted. This situation may be due to poor air circulation.
  • If you decide to attend one of the $40 breakfasts featuring celebrity author speakers, eat first. The orange juice looked orange but tasted like water. The bagels were the feel and consistency of Wonder Bread. Coffee wasn’t good either but many wouldn’t know that because the wait staff didn’t refill coffee, juice or water pitchers.
  • There’s no logical or centrally positioned space that works as an organizing location for incoming participants. You must know a lot about what you intend to do or see in advance and then follow signs to get there.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gloria’s Song

"[Each young woman] is already a unique and valuable person when she’s born; every human being is. Inside each of us is a unique person resulting from millennia of environment and heredity combined in a way that could never happen again and could never have happened before. We aren’t blank slates, but we are also communal creatures who are born before our brains are fully developed, so we’re very sensitive to our environment. The question is: How to find the support and the circumstances that allow you to express what’s inside you?"

Gloria Steinem. She has been my living lesson plan.

Steinem’s early years weren’t easy. She lived in a small travel trailer with her family. They moved around so that her father could sell antiques on the road. There were lots of untethered salesmen in those days. Traveling salesmen fed their families as they whetted America’s appetite for things — early pollinators of the economy.

My own father and his brothers sold record numbers of natural bristle hairbrushes door to door. My significant other told me his father and mother sold pots and pans at house parties by using the pans to prepare a home-cooked meal. This was at a time when they could barely afford food for their two boys and, post war, a scarcity of metal made filling orders difficult. Business was personal back then. It had to be. No television hocked wares. Still, most salesmen did not usually bring their families with them.

Steinem’s mother, Ruth, had a psychological breakdown, after which she was beset by anxiety, depression, delusions, occasional violent behavior and agoraphobia. It was because of this breakdown that Steinem’s father walked away from his family. Steinem, 10 at the time, stepped in as her mother’s caretaker. That was in 1944. They lived in Toledo. To pay for college, Ruth sold the house. Steinem, already a feminist, chose the all-women’s academically demanding Smith College.

My mother was also depressed, violent and agoraphobic, though in my case my mother forbade college. I’d already been given early admission. She wanted me home to care for her. I moved from Santa Barbara to the Florida Gulf Coast and stayed hidden till I turned 18.

I read Steinem’s famous essay about her mother — “Ruth’s Song” — long after I knew of Gloria Steinem, the beautiful and brilliant co-founder of Ms. magazine. The essay stunned me. Steinem was the most powerful, most confident, most articulate and self-composed woman I’d ever known of. As I read “Ruth’s Song,” I compared her disadvantages with mine and saw that hardship and deprivation weren’t necessarily the kisses of death my own mother assured me they were. It’s like I was given another chance.

Things other than a crazy mother allowed me to feel connected to Steinem, too. She is a journalist. So am I. She likes to have a good time. I do that. She made risky choices, such as posing as a Playboy bunny to do an article on what the infamous bunnies had to endure. She took flack for that. My recently published book, “Free Fall,” is, among other things, an attempt to bring to life an immensely erotic experience.

I was one of those women who savored every early issue of Ms. magazine. The biggest and best “click” of all was when Ms. came out for the first time. How wonderful to have this kind of support and all this like thinking at my fingertips. How wonderful to simply know that others out there, like me, existed. Their struggles were my struggles, too.

At the University of New Hampshire in the mid-’70s I joined with an outspoken, some would say radical, group of single mothers, all non-traditional college students on welfare, to help me get through college with an infant daughter in tow. I was their paid spokeswoman and I was a proud member. We boycotted classes taught by professors who used the (unbelievably) sexist textbooks they’d written. We rallied at the State House when Gov. Meldrim Thomson threatened to reduce our welfare grants by 25 percent. My own monthly grant was $129 and my rent was $127. We started a day care, produced a TV documentary of sorts, and provided counseling and referral services. Our group, Disadvantaged Women for Higher Education, was a forceful, positive presence back then, ushering into the mainstream, just like Ms., a new level of expectations for the quality of women’s lives.

And yet, what I most love about Steinem, what connects me on the deepest of all levels is something absolutely elemental. I love the sound of her voice. The minute she begins speaking, it feels as if the voice of reason has arrived. When Steinem enters a conversation, a “ta da” moment is about to explode. We are about to be enlightened.

I saw this phenomenon again recently. She was a panelist on Bill Maher’s talk show on HBO. Her voice is fairly low and she has a way of cutting through and holding her own, regardless of the testosterone-fueled babble or the ego-driven competition. But even there, one of the most competitive seats on television, she carved out her space quickly, efficiently and graciously. The men on either side of her and Maher, too, shifted to a more conversational mode and engaged.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s substance behind that voice of reason. She’s well informed and prepared. She always brings new ideas to the table. She intrigues and educates. Everything is seated in reams of fact. Best of all…her brilliant statements and observations are given entrée to a world stage by way of a voice that is deep, commanding and, most importantly — gloriously confident.

The sound of Gloria Steinem’s voice empowers me. It’s that simple. When she says that women deserve equal pay, for example, it’s not a question. It’s a statement of fact. It’s a lesson for me on trading shame and cowering need for confident assumption of what’s right.

Question: Can the sound of someone’s voice empower?

Answer: When I was preparing to give readings from “Free Fall,” I listened to Steinem’s voice and worked to capture that confident, assertive energy. Yes, it empowers.

Don’t get me wrong. Steinem does not walk on water.

About 18 months ago, I attended a discussion that Steinem participated in. She was a panelist with several other feminists including Isabella Rossellini, More magazine editor Lesley Jane Seymour, and author/editor Suzanne Braun Levine. The women discussed regrets at one point in the conversation and Steinem said, “I still have trouble saying no.”


After all that assertiveness training I made myself endure? After all that pressure to confront? After all my failures and all the guilt that trails after?

On the other hand, she let me off the hook. I was 59 at the time I saw that panel. From that day forward I had a “live” version of Steinem’s voice to replace all those televised appearances and I had permission to falter. Having trouble saying no is still vastly different from not saying no. Yes, saying “no” is hard, even for those with the voice to pull it off.

In talking with a young female law student, I mentioned I’d seen Gloria Steinem. “Who’s that?” she asked. More recently at a dinner party, I mentioned that I was writing a book about a woman who was both a Muslim and a feminist. A young woman at the table asked, “What’s a feminist?”

Here I explain neither feminism nor Gloria Steinem. Those efforts take years and books. Here I try my best to simply say thank you, Gloria Steinem. I’m one of the lucky ones who found a connection in your example. It has helped.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Retrain the brain to expect movement

I love turtles but I don't want to look like one.

Inertia: A body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Don’t I know it. Especially since my comfort zone — where I live these days — is something akin to a hypnotic state: fingers on keyboard, words sliding from brain to laptop monitor with pauses for “delete.” The only thing is motion is the fizz in my Diet Coke.

With deskwork, especially deskwork when you’re alone at home without others to enliven the atmosphere, you must resist, resist, resist this state of rest. Inertia feels good but it has unfortunate lasting effects. To slip unawares into that category fitness experts term “sedentary” is not good.

Biologist, author and ultra-marathon runner Bernd Heinrich studied metabolism in animals such as the insanely hyperactive hummingbird. He applied what he learned to his mid-life goal of running a 50-plus mile race, something he’d never done before. He substituted running for walking in his day-to-day life. Instead of walking to his car in the morning, he ran. Instead of walking to classes (he was a professor of biology in Vermont at the time), he ran. He ran into the market for milk. He ran from the garage to his house. His body’s default mode, then, became running.

Can desk-bound workers be anything other than sedentary?

I think so. Set your digital watch to go off every hour, get up, move around, lift some light weights, stretch. Good. Now you can sit down and go back to work. Also, try to join me for this 100-day “break a sweat” challenge so you work out at your own pace for 30 minutes a day, as well. And stop loving your office chair.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fun or depression? This one is easy

The new Frank Gehry building (directly above)
in Lower Manhattan is quite spectacular
and especially photogenic. On my morning runs,
I often pass by a Gehry building on the West Side Highway (top photo).

I am glad to have made the 100-day anti-inertia pledge. It saved me from what could easily have been a Lost Weekend.

Sunday morning I re-injured my knee after months of knee rehab I devised and conducted on my own. I had carefully, slowly worked up to my old 3-mile jogging loop. I achieved that goal only last week. And…on Friday night just before Jim and I were to make a martini toast to the upcoming weekend, I got one of those emails that make you afraid to read email ever again.

Because of the injury and the email, I wanted to pull the shades and open up “Townie,” the mesmerizing book by Andre Dubus III I’m reviewing this week. Reading, especially when a book review is due Wednesday, is a great excuse to duck out for a long break. Another attractive option was a 12-hour Law & Order marathon. And the Saturday night dinner invitation I had once been looking forward to began to feel like maybe I’d be doing everybody a favor if I just pulled the covers over my head and waited to see if, as Jim suggested, “this too shall pass.”

But I’d just started this “break a sweat and defy inertia” vow. Wasn’t the pledge made for days just like these? The pledge: 30 minutes of sweaty activity daily. It is meant to keep me and those who join me moving because there isn’t enough time spent in mindless, joyful moving each day. The pledge gets you out there, doing things that approximate living beyond the desk and the couch. It should feel like play. The point is to get a little sweaty, feel good and have some fun doing it. Try not to think of it as exercise but as fun.

So, wanting to put the email behind me, I asked Jim if he’d like to take a walk on Saturday morning. We went all over Greenwich Village. We picked up roasted coffee beans at Porto Rico and fresh vegetables at Chelsea Market and doughnuts at Donut Pub. Undoubtedly the doughnuts were the best part. I had, over the course of the day, 3 or 4 doughnut holes, and it was great. When we got back to the apartment I spent at least 45 minutes cutting up lots of veggies for a salad I promised to bring to dinner — not that green pepper, cukes or sugar snap peas could offset the fat in those crispy doughnut holes. (Theory: doughnut holes are more delicious than a doughnut because there's more surface area to absorb hot fat.)

Sunday after my knee injury, I took naproxen to reduce the swelling and then we set off for Lower Manhattan to see the breathtaking Frank Gehry building under construction and the progress of the ground zero memorial. September marks the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the twin towers and the plan is to have some part of the memorial completed. More on this another time, but here’s a link to an article about the new Gehry building, published last week in the NY Times. http://nyti.ms/eDeVIW

Good luck to everyone this week. I intend to keep posting about fun activities that get me up and away from the desk and the emails I can’t do a thing about.

If you would like to make a guest blog appearance to write about something fun you, please let me know. I’d like for others to share this space. Snow shoeing in Vermont or Dixville Notch? Line dancing in California? Kayaking in the Keys? Tennis in Montecito? There’s room for you here! I know you’re out there having fun!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Office chair or butt suction cup?

For Jack LaLanne: 100 Sweaty Days

Day No. 2

Beware the term "ergonomically" correct.
What that really means is comfort so fabulous
that you want to work and work and work....
and never get off your spreading hind quarters

My anti-inertia campaign — get up and get moving — is really about defying gravity. Today I’m paying tribute to one of the greatest gravity enablers of all times: the office chair.

If your livelihood has anything at all to do with a chair and a desk, for instance, you know that pleasant feeling of a butt nicely settled into a molded seat. Even the thought of a trip to the bathroom or lunchroom might encounter a bit of resistance. Oh, but I’m sooooo comfy right here.

In fact, the office chair is right up there with the French fry as a work of genius meant to do us in. An office chair conspires with inertia. An office chair is the boss’s suction cup: holding you tight to the task at hand.

In this amazing time of revolt and change, I say: Put the office chair in its place. Get up and move. 30 minutes of activity today during which time you note a bit of sweat percolating forth. Show that chair who’s really boss.

Day 2:

Today I did 20 minutes of upper body exercises (some on the floor) with Kathy Smith (ancient DVD). Next time I try this I’ll vacuum the rug first. To come today: 10 minutes of ab crunches. I promise.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Jack LaLanne: 100 Sweaty Days

Jack LaLanne said he never liked working out.
He did it to stay fit and healthy.
Dying, he joked, would ruin his image.

Sweaty Day No. 1: 2.10.11

In winter it’s just too easy to blow off exercise. If you read Mark Bittman’s blog (my favorite food writer and a runner but not much of a blogger) on the Runner’s World website, you’ll see that even people like Bittman, who are very much in the public eye, can go embarrassingly inert. Not good.

This winter I have maintained a sluggish habit of jogging three days a week and that’s only because everything is so easy when I’m in Manhattan. There’s a fabulous path that’s snow and ice free along the Hudson River mere minutes from the apartment. And there’s a gym that costs me $10 a year that’s just around the corner. It even has free yoga. Once in a while I actually go there and run on the treadmill or try out the Stairmaster, which I don’t understand but it still hurts.

But my exercise is sluggish because I have a knee injury and because I am lazy and because it is cold. For me, cold is no excuse because I have all the right gear. For example, it’s cold and breezy and feels like 12 degrees right now. On my sluggish trot just now, I was way too hot. I had become a mobile sauna and my glasses fogged up.

I tallied up my activity this morning and I learned that I move fast — relatively speaking — about three hours a week. I walk a lot, but I don’t count that because days can go by, as well, when I don’t leave my desk except to eat and sleep. I tell anyone who will listen to me complain: I’m embracing my inner lump. I’m lumpish. I’m rolling to a stop.

If I consult activity charts, I’m told I’m sedentary.

The other day I made a Facebook posting that said: I’ve spent the better part of the past 24 hours in front of my computer. And my butt didn’t even hurt. Since my bed is next to my computer I literally don’t even have to stand up straight to move from sleep mode to writing mode. I just sort of roll to work.

This, of course, has to stop. We already know that the more time you spend sitting, the more likely you are to die. Robert Parker, the Boston mystery writer, died at his desk. It’s an honorable death but wouldn’t you rather die running and old? Or at least older than you are right now?

So I’ve decided to declare a “100-day Jack LaLanne Tribute Challenge” in honor of that very likeable and committed “father of the fitness movement” who died on January 23 at the age of 96, and who once showed me how to lift weights — not that I do that with any regularity, either.

I’m going to go outside and work up a sweat every single day for 100 days in hopes that I can reboot myself and in hopes that I can wrestle my inner lump back into its lump cave. I figure if I post this resolution on my blog, which I had abandoned along with everything else because of deadline work, at least I’ll have that pressure to perform. Also, it would really really be fun for others to join me in this challenge and make comments about what it’s like.

Want to?

I’ll post updates now and then about the joys of living vertically. Please feel free to join me. Sometimes maybe we can even go outside and play together!