Saturday, January 31, 2009


This was written Thursday but I didn't have internet access.

So now I am doing the ole’ freelance thang: sitting in a cafĂ© typing and reading, while Lily is in a drama class down the street. My iPod is playing my song mix in my ear–Nanci Griffin right now, singing Woody Gutherie, Do Re Mi; how appropriate he is for these times.Followed by Meat Loaf, Paradise By the Dashboard Light--stop right there! I gotta know right now!

I feel like a statisic. Heck, I am a statistic. I am a number, one of many millions. I think there’s like 5 million getting unemployment, but we all know that’s a fake number, that lots of people beyond that aren’t working, or are working two or three jobs and still not making enough to live on. I guess W could get unemployment, eh? Or does he just get a pension. Obama has a job, at least, thank god (even though I voted for Nader). Not sure what I think about his economists. Well, I know what I think of them: Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner are big parts of the reason we’re here now. And Summers is a misogynistic turkey besides, which makes him a bad economist--imagine cutting out half your potential work force. Oh well. At least it isn’t Paulson and that crowd.

So yes, unemployed, laid off, jobless. I don’t want to lose my severance, so suffice it to say that I’m not mad at Disney. Truly I'm not. I learned at the age of 13 that it's easier to leave a place angry than sad, and I learned at 45 that the anger is usually covering the sadness, at least in my case. And the fear, although as long as I stay in the day I don't have much fear. And yes of course I'm very sad.

What I will say is, I was very proud of Wondertime. I've told this story before, how I didn’t even apply when I saw the first job listing. How I said phooey to the first ad I saw. Forget that, a Disney parenting magazine, yuck! But then I didn’t get another job, one I really wanted, so I applied to the yucky old magazine and I got an interview. And that’s when I bothered to read it. And then I thought, I’ll will be lucky if they even read my resume! It would be an honor to work with the people who put out this fabulous magazine. And I started praying to get hired.

Of course I did get the job, although those couple of months or so waiting and wondering and praying was scary. And wow, what a cool thing, to finally get a job as an assigning editor that I’d finally decided I wanted all those years ago at Time Inc. but then never really had. I was scared; I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I contacted writers and read clips and websites and helped them with proposals and wrote assignment letters and then edited the manuscripts that came in. I picked the brains of the other editors, and the art department, and copy, and fact. And I learned how to be an associate editor at a national magazine.

And I have to say, it was an honor to work with the people who put out the fabulous Wondertime. Every single person I worked with is an incredible professional. The women who started this thing are visionaries, brilliant, empathetic--poetic, even. They created this funny, smart, warm, loving publication that was always respectful of children and never ever laughed at them, only at ourselves as parents. But even that was gentle. Parenting is hard enough without pouring on the guilt, right? So lets teach people what we can, and commiserate and laugh and feel compassion and share what we’ve learned. It was described to me as a group of parents having a coffee after morning drop-off, talking about the latest challenges and joys. And I know that sounds like a press release or cover letter to a potential interviewer but I believe it. Besides, I'm a sap.

So as a response to my unemployment I’ve been watching a lot of West Wing and it makes me realize how lonely that job, the president of the United States, is. No matter how many advisors he has, it all comes down to that one guy, the one making the final decisions. Parenting is lonely too, especially in those very early months and years. I think Wondertime tried hard to bridge that gap, to connect with parents, to listen to each other, share best practices, have a laugh. Plus the writing and photography was extraordinary.

At any rate, we get very generous severance, followed by unemployment, and I have a couple of months to find work in these troublesome times. I go into the office almost every day (not yesterday, with its 8+ inches of wet snow and sleet) and work on my resume. Well, first I called and emailed all my writers and arranged whatever payment they were due. Then I went through all my files and sorted stuff, passed some on to those staying on and tossed the rest. There's quite a loss involved here, one I hadn't quite prepared for when I imagined losing my job for whatever reason. My feature in the April issue was shaping up nicely, plus my departments, and I know my writers were also disappointed that their work is not to appear. I had several things in inventory too, for later issues, and they will not appear in Wondertime, of course. It's painful, and sad.

We had our second annual housewarming last Sunday--mark your calendars for next year; the weekend after Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (and did you know that some parts of the south celebrate Jefferson/Lee Day the Friday before this holiday? Sick). So my little family spent Saturday cleaning and scrubbing the entire house. Dusting, vacuuming, mopping, laundry (lots and lots of laundry), emptying trash, sorting toys, clearing clutter, scraping snow off the walkway. Yes it’s cathartic but there’s still so much more to do, the files both external and computer, the piles of junk mail that have no place to live but seem so essential, the big house-chores, the projects, the projects, the projects.

My dear sister Cate came in Saturday night and was a huge help. She made a rice salad on Saturday night and went shopping with me on Sunday morning. Mum came in and she helped cook too. Here’s the menu: curry rice salad from the old Bread and Circus, pesto pasta salad that wasn’t so great, a ham, a turkey, a so-called Greek frittata (anything with feta is Greek, just like anything with avocado is Californian), several cheeses, including my fave (and Cate’s), manchego, and lots of breads. Oh, and cookies. And I actually got potato chips and onion dip. Haven't done that in 30 years, but I felt like junk food.

The house was warm and full -- lots of folks came, maybe 30 or 40, over the course of the afternoon, kids, adults, retired, unemployed (several former colleagues came), plus my family, of course. It was fun, and affirming—yes, life goes on. It just does.

Something about that. It goes on. Life goes on. Some folks are really scared, and drinking, and eating. I’m scared when I am not in the moment, in the day. I have to stay in the day. Wiggle your toes, my friend Dee says. Where are your feet? Wiggle your toes. Stay in the day. Normally I can get scared, and these are not normal times. But it’s one day at a time, right? Can’t live in tomorrow. Live in the day emotionally. Plan for the future in a practical way, sure but live today and don’t freak out because Dave might lose his job next summer.

So yes, Dave could lose his job. He just started at UMass this October and the state is facing a huge shortfall and they are talking about reorganizing the entire university, which means big cuts. His boss reassured him he’d be safe, but you know, you never know. He’s the only programmer for 300 people, but you never know. These are scary times.

At any rate, you never know. Brooklyn friends have just bought a second home in southern Vermont so we're going to visit them and welcome them to New England life. It'll be lovely to have them local some of the time. I am enjoying FaceBook, even though I'm just a statistic there too, one of 150 million (!).

And the snow is lovely and thewinter light is incredible, especially when I go into Lily's room at 6:45 am and pull up her shades and look out the skylight at the trees, their branches silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky. They look like skeletons with their leaves off, stark and severe but also, you can really see their structure, see how they are standing, how graceful and serene. I want to be like that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I have so much else to write about here--now maybe I'll have the time to do it! Disney closed Wondertime today, suddenly but not entirely unexpectedly.

It's the economy, stupid.

We've stopped publishing--March 09 is the last issue--although they are paying us through March 31, and they are not kicking us out immediately.

This too shall pass.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How to tell a New Englander

A friend sent this to me in an email:

Here's what Jeff Foxworthy has to say about New Englanders . . .

f someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don't work there, you live in New England.

If you've worn shorts and a parka at the same time, you live in New England.

If you've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you live in New England.

If 'vacation' means going anywhere south of New York City for the weekend, you live in New England.

If you measure distance in hours, you live in New England.

If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you live in New England.

If you have switched from 'heat' to 'A/C' in the same day and back again, you live in New England.

If you can drive 75 mph through two feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you live in New England.

If you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both unlocked, you live in New England.

If you carry jumpers in your car and your wife knows how to use them, you live in New England.

If you design your kid's Halloween costume to fit over a snowsuit, you live in New England.

If the speed limit on the highway is 55 mph you're going 80 and everybody is passing you, you live in New England.

If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you live in New England.

If you know all four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction, you live in New England.

If you have more miles on your snow blower than your car, you live in New England.

If you find 10 degrees 'a little chilly', you live in New England.

If there's a Dunkin Donuts on every corner, you live in New England.

If you actually understand these jokes, and forward them to all your New England friends & others, you live or have lived in New England.


FaceBook is incredibly addictive in a fun way. Here's my page, friend me. But also in a bad way. It's fun to goof on my status, see what gets a response and what sinks to the bottom. I like putting in my book reviews, and of course, reconnecting with old friends. I love to see what everyone else is writing too.

But Dave says it's so easy to use it could mean the end of blogs, and that I really don't want to see. FaceBook as a substitute for a blog entry seems just more of this steady progression of more and more superficiality in our society, and a lack of intimacy. Not that a blog entry is so deep, and maybe blogs are a sign of the end of civilization because no one writes books any more. You don't have to get into a topic with any depth.

I guess my feeling is this: If you don't have a FaceBook page, get on the bus. Get an account and mess around with it. It's just taken off, for some reason, in the last six months or s, with people my age and older flocking to it like crazy all of a sudden. People I never thought I'd see there now have accounts and are updating their status every two minutes. It's way better than myspace, I hear. It's fun, it's easy, and it's really weird the way you reconnect with people you haven't heard from or of in 30, 40 years. I recommend it.

And, note to self: Yes, it's fun, but don't stop reading and writing blogs, or books for that matter. Don't think it's a substitute for real communication and friendship. Don't be fooled by the instant intimacy.

Snow again

So is it a sign of global warming that we have so much snow? Although while it feels like a lot; I don't know if it actually is. Lily's had two snow days so far and work has let out early at least three times and it's only early January.

The trick to living in it is not ignoring it, getting out and enjoying it. Dave dropped Lily off at her Star Wars game today and was going to go skiing on the bike path. I just went snowshoeing and it was a lot of fun. I only had a few minutes so I took the loop out our back door through the woods to the main trail, and then followed that up to what we call Fairy Rock, a huge boulder where we took our Christmas card photo last year and followed the loop back out to the parking area at the top of Marian Street.

I have such good feelings about this trail now, after living here a couple of years. You may remember that we first found it in early January 2007, when we were living in Amherst and Lily was at school and I had a sore back. Dave had picked up a great book on hiking in the Pioneer Valley and found me a hike that sounded lovely but not too strenuous. It was a great hike, maybe a mile, mile and a half, to Fitzgerald Lake. We ate lunch on a big boulder and marveled at the 70 degree weather (depressing).

Coming from Amherst we had driven to the Marian Street entrance, so in April when I saw the new Northampton listing on Marian Street I knew that if the house was even remotely nice, I wanted to live there. I knew right where it was.

The funny thing was, we had been looking hard for a house that spring and just not finding anything, and my friend Anne said, you'll know it when you see it. She said she could walk into a house and know if it was right or not. If it didn't feel right in the first five minutes she wouldn't even bother to check out the rest of it. I took solace from that, trusting that I just hadn't seen my house yet and trusting that I would know it when I did. When the new listing came up, so new they didn't even have time to declutter it for the inside photos, I had a sense. And I was right. With all its faults -- the latest is that Dave keeps tripping on the stairs so he finally measured them and it turns out no one is the same distance, they each vary, some by many inches -- it's still a great place to live, and I have found the neighbors I was looking for.

Just a digression there. At any rate, every time I go into the woods alone I feel apprehensive. I don't have my bearings, I don't feel at home, I don't know what to do if a bear comes along, say. I have raced down to the lake and back in 45 minutes just out of plain fear (and of course I don't tend to get motivated until late in the day, when I've only got an hour or so of daylight left. Duh.

But today, and last weekend, I snowshoed around on my new snowshoes, and maybe because there's so much light and you can see so far through the leaf-less trees, I wasn't frightened. Last weekend I was following some ski tracks to see where they'd gone. Today I just did this loop, as I say, but I could have gone on for ages. It was quiet, peaceful, beautiful white fluffy snow, the branches of the trees heavy with it, the air still and quiet. The kind of moment when you wish you were a poet and could describe it all. Where's Mary Oliver when I need her?

And it's giving me a sense, not of ownership, quite, but familiarity with the woods. I feel like I know where I am, I am starting to know the rocks and trees and dips and sways of the trail. When I got the snowshoes I also bought these telescoping hiking poles and they are actually really handy in the snow. I like them a lot. I feel much more confident.

I am trying to get out and do some sort of exercise every day, and to me that usually means going on the treadmill for 45 minutes or swimming 1,000 yards. But now I am fat and old and stiff and out of shape (yes, I really am) and I am starting where I am. And where that is today is walking in my quiet, snow-filled woods on snowshoes.

By the way, if anyone knows about snowshoes and wants to fill me in, that'd be awesome: Mine keep falling off, at least of them does. Today I adjusted them and tightened them, and then readjusted one of them, and I think I have it. If I keep it very taut above the lip on the heel of my Sorel boots I seem to be okay. Last week the left one fell off 10 times in a half hour, this time it fell off once and then not again, in 15 minutes. Makes it much more fun that way.

PS -- my friend Kim has started a blog, which I recommend. See the link to the right.

PPS -- house to do list, not in any order:
--new siding and repair all hidden rot and put in insulation where there isn't any (there's a lot of places, it feels like)
--new roof, sigh
--replace all the stairs?
--re-carpet or something else the basement area by the coat closet
--wood-burning stove of some sort (maybe glass?) in the fireplace
Not to mention landscaping and gardening, now that the hemlocks are out of the front yard. Big sigh.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Happy new year!

Today I am home sick. I came down with a cold on Sunday but we were putting March to bed this week and I couldn't not go in. Last night felt like the old days at LIFE, except there was no time to get dinner; I got home close to 11 and folks were still there. Thank god I have a short commute, and thanks to the folks who brought in a couple of pizzas.

It's also a snow day for Lily and Dave (ah, the benefits of being an employee of the state) and driving is terrible. I am resting and updating my facebook page and posting here.

We had a fun new year's -- Northampton is the perfect town for First Night:
-- it's small enough to get to places but big enough to have lots of different venues
-- the Valley is very arty so there's loads of really good artists of all kinds--musicians, magicians, artists, actors, improv folks.
-- it's also a very kid-friendly place, so everything, pretty much, is family entertainment--but that doesn't mean bland! It was about 15 degrees so we spent the evening at Smith's Theater 14 watching three performances of improv. One woman forgot and used the F word and took an opportunity to supplicate herself in the next show, begging forgiveness for swearing at a family show. Very funny.

I worked that day, which was stormy until the late afternoon. But then it cleared and we went to Viva, a pretty good pasta place in town. Very nice service and we got out in time to see the fireworks at a family-friendly 6:15 pm. We were all three in bed by 11, I think.

Two more things I wanted to blog about:

Half way into my third winter here, I have learned that New England winters are far worse than New York City, even though we are only 150 miles north. It's colder, darker, more isolating, and of course snowier. In the big scheme of things I am okay with all that, but it's good information to keep in mind next fall. It means you really do have to plan things, parties, getaways, dinners, date nights, so that you can not get too lost in your home-work-home routine. It's too dreary for that.

The other thing, apropos of nothing, is that I am fascinated by all the latest discussion about Obama helping the middle class, and everyone clambering to be considered part of it, and everyone talking about how it's defined today. Was it easier to define in the past? Maybe, because there wasn't as much stuff, and of course people made more money, and good-paying jobs were more easy to find.

I read a blogger, I forget where, who was saying that a reader was calling for sympathy because their income was only $250,000. "Can we please put to rest that old saw that $250,000 is not middle class?" he was saying. Well-off, maybe, but not rich. Not wealthy, not after tuition and taxes and car payments and childcare etc. etc.

Phooey. Of course phooey. It is rich. It is rich, especially compared to what most people in this country live on, and it ain't any 250. He doesn't have to have all those private schools and cars and all that. But I realized that that's what people feel entitled to now. They feel entitled to full cable, for instance --well, that's a hundred bucks right there, or more. They're left out if they can't watch HBO, so add on that. Everyone has to have a car, and not one that costs two grand but a nice one. Everyone needs a flat screen TV to watch that cable, and private school, iPods all around, and cell phones, and, and, and.

And what? Dave and I make a good living but not anywhere near $250 k (although we don't have a mortgage and that's a huge gift that we got simply by living in our condo for 11 years). I don't know what I'd do with that kind of income. We might make some improvements to the house, I guess. We might travel more. We'd donate more. What I really want, materialistically, is a new Macintosh computer, a really good camera for Dave, to do some home repairs so we can use our winter rooms more easily, and maybe, yes, a better second car. And to be able to retire comfortably in 3o years, hahaha, not with this stock market tanking, right? Maybe if I really had the money I'd get a weekly massage.

But that's it. I find as I get older I need less and less stuff. Oh, I know, I'd hire someone to clean my house. That would give me what I really want: time. I want more time, time to read, to be with my family, to see my friends, to go to the movies and canoe on the Deerfield River. I guess money can buy time, but then I think, would I quit my job if I won the lottery? That's a hard question but I don't think so. Not right away. I like my daily routine, and the seasons, yes, even winter, and being with Dave and Lily and my sisters and other family. I could see traveling more, maybe.

I think the middle class is a state of mind and labels don't work any more, especially not on the other end, with the definition of povery so out of date and minimizing the truly desperate poor. Obviously it also depends on where you live: Living on 250 in New York City is not the same as 250 in Northampton, that's certainly true, although our particular living expenses in Brooklyn were lower than they are here, what with the food coop, the ridiculously low property taxes, and no school tuition.

I don't know. I just want to stay grateful and peaceful, and I worry far more about the folks living on 50,000 or 75,000, never mind 10,000 and 20,000, like some of my neighbors, than I do the folks who make 250. They have choice, is the thing. They can make choices. That's what money gets you.