the video

The fact that my phone stand had broken earlier in the day made the task just a bit harder. I was applying for a job, and in addition to my resume the company requested a video in which I answered questions about my self and the position.

Should I count the number of ways this ask would be easier for men than for women?

No, I’ll just let you think of them yourself.

After my morning exercise, I showered and then took the time to use my hair dryer, giving myself my best attempt at a blowout instead of using my typical air-dry method. Following my moisturizer, I applied makeup, which I rarely do these days. I listened to music and sang along, putting myself in a good mood.

Once I felt I had taken care of my appearance, I turned my attention to the questions. I had already sketched out my basic answers to each one but now it was time to pull the thread of my thoughts. This part required a lot of revision as I read my answers out loud to avoid tripping over them while recording.

With my answers prepared, I changed into a nice shirt over my pj pants — hey, a girl’s gotta be comfortable. I couldn’t find the video recorder app on my laptop and just wanted to get the process over with, so I decided to use my phone. The metal ring attached to the back of my phone had broken off earlier in the day, so I didn’t have a kickstand for it to hold it level. I stacked assorted books and notebooks together, creating a makeshift platform, and then worked on the angle.

At some point in the middle of this process, my smaller teenage cat awoke from his slumber and decided he wanted attention. He hopped into my lap at my desk with a loud “meow!” startling me and making me laugh while covering me with his fur. I patted him for a few minutes until he got bored and ventured off for a bite to eat, at which point I resumed my work.

During my first attempt at recording, I got distracted and hit the stop button pretty quickly. A piece of hair was hanging over my forehead in a weird way, and I visibly reacted to it — I know because the phone video was in selfie mode, and I saw it happen. So I laughed at myself and started over.

All in all I think there were between 4 and 5 takes. When I reached the final question, I looked at the time stamp and saw I was clocking in at about 3 minutes. The limit was 5, so if I had anything else to say I had plenty of time to do it. Instead I fumbled ahead of me and hit “stop.”

As I did so, a spurt of gunfire erupted.

Literally.

I live within a mile of a sportsmen’s club, and it’s not unusual to hear the sound of its members firing at clay targets or whatever else they use. In fact, I go past the club every day on my walks and don’t react to the noise at all. There are signs posted along the perimeter of the woods, warning people that they will be entering a live-fire area if they disobey the “no trespassing” signs and walk off the road.

In the end, I didn’t re-watch the video. I just sent it. Hopefully I don’t make any silly or unflattering faces while speaking, but the answers are legitimately mine and heartfelt. I guess, when you think about it, the faces are too. If the shooting sounds made it into the last few seconds, that could boost my intrigue and therefore my candidacy. Right? I sure hope so.

mean girls

Lisa Lutz weaves a dark, intricate tale of students and faculty at an elite New England boarding school in The Swallows.

When Alexandra Witt joins the staff of Stonebridge Academy, she hands her creative writing class an anonymous assignment. After reading their submissions, Witt begins investigating a systemic issue of gender-based crime. When Witt becomes an informal mentor to some girls that want to fight back, she becomes embroiled in a dangerous war between the sexes.

Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite writers — she’s so versatile it’s almost disgusting. One thread that connects all of her books, from the quick, fresh, and ironic Spellman Files series through the eerie and disturbing The Passenger and into her most recent release, is her biting turn of phrase. Many of her characters, particularly the strong female types, have an acerbic sense of humor that is highly observant.

The Swallows is narrated by new teacher Alex Witt as well as one other instructor and two members of the student body. The chapters are quick, and as the story unfolds it becomes a legit page-turner.

Lutz builds her story carefully, with nuggets of information and splashes of intrigue. Then, toward the end, she brings the whole place down with spectacular aplomb.

The Stonebridge students are quick to organize, to point fingers, and to protect their own. Existing hierarchies and alliances are thrown out the window as the high school hormones, money, power, and authority are thrown into a pot with a hefty dose of shame, pretense, and revenge porn.

At times ominous and disturbing, this good-girls-turn-bad tale is a feminist powerhouse. I guarantee once you read it, you’ll never look at birds the same way again.

journalism matters.

Recently I read “She Said” and “Catch and Kill” back to back. I didn’t set out to read them on top of each other– “She Said” became available for me at the library right before “Catch and Kill” was released, so I’m considering it a happy accident. I believe that my enjoyment of the books was actually enhanced by reading multiple accounts of the Harvey Weinstein investigation by two types of reporters in about two weeks.

Let me preface my review by making a bold statement. I’ve read over 50 books this year, and these two are among the best. I’d go so far as to say they’re two of the best books I’ve read in many, many years. They feature double agents, spies, intrigue, and adventure–and they just happen to be true stories. Anyway, let me get into it.

Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor are reporters for the New York Times. Ronan Farrow was a television journalist, who was working to bolster his investigative reporting credibility prior to renegotiating his contract with NBC. Print journalists have different jobs than television journalists, and the work of television journalists evolved as their medium continues to merge with the Internet — television reporting is now backed up by stories published on the news channel’s webpage.

Kantor, Twohey, and Farrow worked on the same story. They quietly investigated allegations of assault against Harvey Weinstein, the man behind the success of Miramax, a producer who was viewed as the springboard beneath many a Hollywood career. He may not have been a household name in every home in America, but his movies are certainly well-known: Kill Bill, Scream, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, I could go on for awhile.

As the journalists began looking into the rumors, they made contact with all kinds of people who had been involved with Miramax as well as Weinstein’s current venture, The Weinstein Company. Actresses were not the only people who had made accusations against the producer — sources were willing to state that he had attacked staff members such as production assistants, and forced others to be complicit in attacks by accompanying women to “meetings” at hotel rooms and then leaving them alone with Weinstein.

One of the challenges faced by the reporters was getting women to go “on the record.” Many sources were fine with giving information on background, meaning the gist of what they were saying could be used to provide context for the story, but on the record means the specific details could be or published, along with their name. In addition to asking if their names could be used, Farrow questioned if his sources would consider being filmed, (with the option of having their face in shadow), for his reporting on television.

Journalists have to cultivate trust with sources. Often, those sources want to know the information the reporter already knows. There’s a fine line to be walked in these cases — where a reporter must protect the identities of sources and information they’ve been provided, but also prove to potential partners that they are the real deal. For stories as sensitive as the one regarding Weinstein, names carry weight. Rose McGowan was willing to go on the record for the New York Times story, as well as be filmed for Farrow’s NBC piece. She was the catalyst. McGowan’s willingness to put herself on the line for both stories was critical to breaking the whole thing open.

What McGowan didn’t know was that word was getting around about the investigations, and that she was becoming a target. Farrow details the Black Cube operation that Weinstein put into place, after receiving a referral to the spymaster organization by Ehud Barak. Black Cube is led by a group of former Israeli intelligence officers. Weinstein was paying them huge sums of money to interfere with the investigations — to quash the New York Times story, to obtain information about the book McGowan was working on, (including the specific allegations against him), to follow Farrow around, and to figure out who was speaking with reporters.

Operatives for Black Cube posed as journalists and even cultivated a friendship with McGowan, ultimately accessing the draft of her book. Farrow was targeted to the point where he relocated to a safe house in Chelsea, New York, and rented a bank safety deposit box with a list of his sources, extensive notes, and an audio recording that could be used to recreate his story should he be hurt, killed, or otherwise unable to complete the piece.

Here’s the thing, though. As Farrow convinced more and more people to tell their stories and commit to going on camera, his bosses at NBC were less willing to air the story. It ended up going through so many phases of review that Farrow knew, eventually, the network would kill the story. One of the NBC heads told him straight up that he should take the piece to Vanity Fair. In the end, that’s what he did.

The New York Times piece came out first, with Kantor and Twohey breaking the story in October 2018. Shortly after the story was published, women around the country began telling their own tales of harassment and assault using the hashtag #metoo. As “She Said” indicates, the Weinstein story helped to create a global movement, and to instigate an in-depth conversation about the treatment of women.

Where “She Said” gets a little shaky is its tie-in with the Christine Blasey Ford testimony during the Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Ford became an iconic figure for women everywhere as she bravely told her story of Kavanaugh’s alleged assault during a party in high school. Twohey and Kantor give an incredibly detailed account of what it took to actually get Ford to Washington to testify, how she struggled with her decision to go to her member of Congress in the first place with her story, and how she handled the aftermath of becoming an instantly recognizable figure.

They handle Ford and her story gently, respectfully, and from a distance. The reporters were invited into the conference room at a D.C. hotel where Ford was holed up with her lawyers and friends, during a whirlwind preparation before she went to Capitol Hill. The pair had a tenuous connection to Ford, and loop back with her at the end of the book, but there is a very palpable disconnect between their first-person accounting of the Weinstein investigation and their connection to Ford’s experience.

The Times reporters, however, check all the other boxes. What was especially impressive about “She Said” was reading how the Times as a whole circled the wagons, supported the reporters, and threw its collective journalistic weight, legal knowledge, and business experience behind the pair. When Weinstein’s attorneys made threats, the Times basically said, “Bring it.” When Weinstein himself made phone calls, entered the building and pleaded, asked for meetings, he was respected but not catered to. He was treated like a person, but not like a person who was more important than the alleged victims in the story.

Farrow encountered a reporter who had tried to write the Weinstein story for The New Yorker back in 2002. This reporter ended up being a fantastic connection for Farrow, and during their conversations he made it clear that he thought Weinstein would continue to remain under wraps.

If NBC was the only player, the story wouldn’t have broken. In “Catch and Kill,” Farrow makes clear that the head of NBC News and MSNBC, as well as other network big-wigs, went out of their way to take calls from Weinstein, to kowtow to his lawyers, and to eventually ignore the story. Contrast the NBC approach with the New York Times. Later in the book Farrow details the respect the brass at Vanity Fair gave to his story once he brought it to them.

Both books were extraordinary. Farrow handled his more like a memoir, as he has a Hollywood background and some personal experience with sexual assault allegations within his family. “She Said” was more of a traditional account of journalism, with a hefty sprinkling of the aforementioned Kavanaugh hearing drama and the aftermath of the #metoo movement.

An undercurrent of both books was the idea of complicity–both by people who had knowledge of what Weinstein was up to and remained silent, and by the organizations and systems that were put in place to keep victims from speaking out. Eventually, some of those processes managed to have the opposite effect–when the journalists began looking into settlements, and one of the high-level accountants for Weinstein Co. became a source.

The complicity concept is nicely summed up by Farrow in this paragraph: “And there it was, at the end of his arguments: an unwillingness not just to take responsibility but to admit that responsibility might, in some place, in someone’s hands, exist. It was a consensus about the organizations comfort level moving forward that stopped the reporting. It was a consensus about the organizations comfort level moving forward that bowed to lawyers and threats; that hemmed and hawed and parsed and shrugged; that sat on multiple credible allegations of sexual misconduct and disregarded a recorded admission of guilt. That anodyne phrase, that language of indifference without ownership, upheld so much silence in so many places. It was a consensus about the organizations comfort level moving forward that protected Harvey Weinstein and men like him; that yawned and gaped and enveloped law firms and PR shops and executive suites and industries; that swallowed women whole.”

Journalism matters. Trust matters. Cultivating trust with sources and within communities is imperative to creating real change in society. By reading either “She Said” or “Catch and Kill,” you will see that celebrities and Hollywood-types share starring roles with newspaper editors and other publishing industry veterans whose names are relatively unknown outside of their respective circles. In both books you will see troubling instances of woman-on-woman crime, inflicted on victims by so-called feminist lawyers who try to quash or ruin the stories of women in order to accept payoffs and enable the perpetrators to keep on harming others.

We know how these books end, or at least we think we do. I won’t spoil either ending. Yes, we know that Weinstein has been indicted and continues to face new charges. What you won’t expect is how often your heart keeps breaking, and racing while reading these books.

hot dad summer

Remember that episode of Friends where Monica and Rachel are into the hot doctors? That’s the situation that Dr. Toby Fleishman finds himself in after separating from his wife of 15 years in the absorbing novel Fleishman is in Trouble. Rachel, his soon-to-be ex-wife, is a highly motivated talent agent who started her own firm and whose income provides the family with a highly comfortable lifestyle.

Women are just gaga over this doctor in his early 40s. Toby downloads dating apps at the behest of his fellows at the hospital, and finds himself both enjoying and somewhat disconcerted by the ease with which he can find sex through technology.

When Rachel suddenly disappears, Toby’s newly-found bachelorhood grinds to a halt as the couple’s children move in with him for the summer, and he attempts to process his feelings about the demise of his marriage while juggling work, his kids, and his wife’s perceived betrayals.

This book has a truly unique narrative style that is both captivating and off-putting. Toby’s thoughts and struggles are described in a constant, unstoppable wave — from his moments of sheer hatred toward Rachel, to his insecurity about his short stature, to his eating disorder, to his lust … It feels like an endless flow until our narrator, a college friend of Toby’s, gently inserts herself into the story and takes it into an entirely different direction.

Through the course of the novel the reader learns of the couple’s origins as well as each of their childhoods and personal development. The reader is also faced with a number of questions that they may not have anticipated upon picking up a novel — what is the use of the construct of marriage, these days? How does society as a whole treat fathers that are the primary caregivers to their children, and mothers who are the higher wage-earners in their households? Is it improper to want one’s children to grow up in a more elevated social status? Does owning two homes make someone a bad person? Can pain and loss be measured on a spectrum, and should it? Do we expect mothers to give up their lives entirely when they have children?

As a married person, I found this book tough to read. As a female person, I found this book tough to read. I don’t think the author intended it to be a joyride. The stream-of-consciousness style writing is similar to a person’s internal monologue, which makes it familiar. We have all had thoughts that come in waves, of varied topics, from the mundane to the extraordinary. When a marriage falls apart, it’s helpful to examine it from the inside out, and that’s what Taffy Brodesser-Akner does in this book — performs a marriage autopsy.

a wolf in sheep’s clothing

There are some bizarre and crazy things happening all around us these days, but try to imagine this scene: a man on trial for murdering his wife decides to represent himself, and to use the defense of insanity.

A scintillating true story of fast times during prohibition, The Ghosts of Eden Park describes the empire-building of bootlegging kingpin George Remus, as well as his takedown at the hands of two women–one to whom he was married, and the other who had sworn an oath to defend the laws of her country.

Remus leaves his first wife and young daughter for the seemingly daft Imogene, whom he marries while traveling from New York to Ohio. He has decided to give up his law practice and go into bootlegging instead — he defended numerous bootleggers who were able to pay him in wads of cash! He comes up with a foolproof plan to get rich as a whiskey profiteer — a plan which he will put into motion upon arriving in Cincinnati.

But Imogene isn’t what she seems, although Remus takes her on as a full partner in his business. She is his confidante and the rightful owner of the couple’s mansion. After Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the assistant U.S. District Attorney, begins to investigate Remus, Imogene begins an affair with an FBI agent and Remus’s world turns upside down.

There is something infinitely satisfying about books that provide sentence-by-sentence reference materials. This is an exhaustively sourced novel, which makes it all the more fascinating. Imogene and George and Mabel were real people. Their families are still around. People who attended the murder trial or parties at the Remus mansion wrote about the events with gusto, and you can read their descriptions in old newspapers. Even the headlines for those stories, as recorded in the back of Abbott’s book, ring of intrigue.

As much as the title and other descriptions of the book make it appear to be centered on the women, it’s ultimately about George Remus. In that way, it is lacking a bit on motivation — what made Imogene decide to act the way she did? We learn more about Mabel, via letters she wrote to her parents and to a suitor during her time as ADA.

Remus is the ultimate showman, and the account of his murder trial at the end of the book is truly stunning. I was enthralled by the entire story — his marriage, his criminal network, the gall of his treatment toward the authorities, and most of all how he got away with it… until he didn’t. Give this book a read; you won’t regret it.

love and the BARRE

This past March, I got sick. And when I say sick, I’m talking REALLY sick: back-to-back stomach bugs, doctors thought I had Crohn’s disease sick. I lost almost 15% of my body weight. Prior to the onset of my illness, I was pretty healthy. My husband and I walked a couple miles every day and I did yoga too. That stopped, of course, when my symptoms began. After endless tests and months of suffering on the couch I was given a diagnosis of IBS.

Finally, near the end of May, I began to feel better. While I couldn’t walk up my driveway without taking a break, I didn’t require as much rest as before. I actually had an appetite and I could keep food down. When I began joining my husband for walks again he displayed infinite patience; saying he wanted to stop when he saw me grimace, giving me the keys to go back to the house so he could continue on our normal loop without me. We used to go miles at a time, up and down all kinds of hills and there I was, winded and slow and tired after a half a block. 

I started to stretch again, to move my body and feel what was left of my muscles under the skin. I really looked at my stomach, the core of my medical issues. It seemed that I was in a constant battle with my body. As I regained a semblance of normalcy in my life I felt that I was missing strength. My extended sickness had sapped my confidence, so I started looking for a place to go where I could be pointed back to it.

As I searched the internet for a yoga studio, I stumbled upon live.love.BARRE. While not the closest place to my house, it looked welcoming and the classes were at convenient times. All of the reviews mentioned how nice everyone at the studio was. I was feeling ready to get back into shape, so I signed up for an afternoon class at the beginning of June with a bit of apprehension. Would I be able to make it?

My first class was rough. I had done barre-style workouts previously that were taught on DVD. This was different. But I loved the music, and while the class was challenging I was encouraged that nothing was too tough for me to handle. I signed up for a PIYO class the next week and that was even rougher. I couldn’t keep up, and the instructor was nice enough to show me modifications to use throughout the class. It was fine – I tried something new, and my body said “not yet.”

I kept going back to the BARRE, sometimes twice a week, sometimes more. Last week I signed up for a new class — the BARRE bootcamp. I had no idea if I would make it through a HIIT workout. As I watched myself do leg lifts in the mirror, sweat dripping down my face, I thought, “look at you. I’m so proud of you.” It was an amazing feeling, recognizing my own strength.

I’m taking classes four times a week pretty regularly now, and recently I caught myself admiring my arms and legs in the mirror. I’ve still got chicken legs, but I saw muscles in my calves that I had never seen before. My shoulders are defined, and I don’t struggle with grocery bags the way I used to. I haven’t weighed myself, but I don’t need to. I feel strong, I feel healthy, and I feel radiant. Let me tell you — that’s an amazing feeling. I’m so grateful that I found live.love.BARRE, and for the love that I found (and rediscovered) there.

work hard. have fun. make history.

It’s a little surprising that you can purchase The Warehouse on Amazon, as the fictional company at the center of the sci-fi novel, called Cloud, is clearly based on what Amazon has yet to become. In the not-so-distant future, climate change has caused the population to move away from the coastline and small businesses have been absorbed by Cloud, a familiar-sounding delivery company that specializes in providing people with their every need or whim via drone delivery.

Anyone looking for a job has to consider that Cloud provides most of the jobs in the world, and job-seekers can apply once a month by taking a test from a specialized hiring location. One of the many benefits of working for Cloud is they also provide a place to live –at a MotherCloud facility that features restaurants, a transit system, housing, and of course the famous warehouses that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Residents/employees are put into specific positions based their skill sets — pickers work in the warehouse and wear red polos, tech support gurus can be spread throughout the facility and wear tan polos, managers wear white and security wear blue. It all sounds like utopia, until the technology comes into play.

Would you want to wear a watch provided by your employer that unlocks the door to your apartment, tells you where to go (turn by turn directions) for job assignments, and prompts you when to get on the train so you’re not late for work? I certainly wouldn’t. Cloud Bands are an integral part of the network that makes each MotherCloud possible.

When the inventor of Cloud announces he has a terminal illness and wants to visit as many MotherCloud facilities as he can before turning the company over to his successor, a secret agent carries out a plan to steal the organization’s proprietary information. Will she get away with her plan, or will she be swallowed up by the company that knows everything?

The plotting and detail of this book was superb, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narration switching between three different characters — something that typically bothers me immensely in other books. The fast-paced story took some wild turns, and I found myself carried along in a manner that I really enjoyed. Sci Fi isn’t always my speed, but this was a fabulous, fascinating ride that I recommend. My only complaint was with the ending, which left a lot to be desired, but that may have been the point.

priorities

Prior to reading War on Peace, I knew a few things about Ronan Farrow but was not familiar with his backstory. Had I been aware of everything he accomplished at such a young age, as well as the astonishing depth of knowledge he had accumulated about America’s foreign policy, I would have jumped the book War on Peace to the top of my to-read list.

What a read. Farrow interviewed every single living Secretary of State for War on Peace, and his research was beyond exhaustive. Not only did he conduct interviews but his citations draw on an exhaustive bibliography, including materials only made available through Wikileaks.

Farrow tells the tale of his own experience at the State Department, which was colored heavily by his mentor, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke. Under Holbrooke’s tutelage, Farrow learned of the stark divide between diplomats and military officials, from their priorities to how they and their opinions are treated by the executive branch of government.

In War on Peace, Farrow teaches the reader about diplomacy as a dying art form, and argues that a resurgence of respect for and interest in this relic from the past could possibly save the country from a foreign policy that is overly reliant on the military. He traces the decline of diplomacy and illustrates the manner in which the after-effects of 9/11, including the Patriot Act and an uptick in communications surveillance, have led to that decline.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have made a habit of surrounding themselves with military leaders rather than civilian diplomats, and the distance from the State Department to the Oval is much further than from the National Security Advisor’s office, Farrow explains.

While military officials (current or retired) are enticing options for many Cabinet level positions due to their leadership qualities, Farrow argues that experienced diplomats should fill the roles. He also discusses the vast shortage of currently filled jobs within the State Department, and the lack of applicants looking to begin their careers in the diplomatic corps.

As Farrow tells the story of his mentor, Richard Holbrooke, and how he successfully and artfully helped to forge a peace accord in Bosnia, he ends up making quite the case for a return to the heydays of diplomacy. It’s a terrifying story, beautifully told, and highly worth the read.

in your neighborhood

Ah, the suburbs. Matchy-matchy houses, sidewalks, greeting the neighbors, the sounds of children playing. It’s where Americans want to raise their families, right? Julie Langsdorf’s White Elephant takes readers inside a development in Northern Virginia in which the suburban utopia is being replaced by high drama.

When a construction magnate purchases a few homes in Willard Park, then begins to level and build massive new houses in their place, his neighbors resent the intrusion. Everyone in Willard Park has homes that were purchased from a Sears catalog after World War II, and they’re fine. I mean, they each have one bathroom and they’re very small. But they are fine. They’re livable.

Tensions boil over when the “new neighbor,” Nick Cox, is suspected of cutting down trees around Willard Park in addition to his other sins (of building large, ugly monstrosities). His wife and children aren’t welcomed with open arms, and the neighbors begin to harbor secrets. They want to add on to their homes, or they are unhappy with their spouse/job/life.

White Elephant was an interesting read, and it reminded me of “Little Fires Everywhere,” which I also enjoyed. It had less of a lasting impact, maybe because the ending was a bit of a letdown. Some of the characters were more well-drawn than others, and I was actually left to wonder about the motivations of some. Either way, it was compelling enough.

low cabin pressure

Maybe this is a personal shortcoming, but if I find a main / narrator-type character to be despicable, I don’t like the book. If I can find one quality in that person that is endearing, maybe I’ll like the book a bit. Unfortunately, the flight attendant (Cassie) in Chris Bohjalian’s aptly named book was not endearing. In fact, the book should have been named “The Shit Show.”

Cassie is a long-tenured flight attendant for an American-based airline. She gets to bid on routes that she really wants and sometimes gets them because she’s put her time in. One one of those highly sought after flights, she goes out to dinner with a passenger and then ends up in bed with him. Except he’s dead. Chaos ensues.

There were so many likable elements to this book, but Cassie isn’t one of them. I think I’d have been able to get past that more if the book was more focused. Was it trying to fit into the popular “unreliable female narrator” genre, or the international crime syndicate one? Is the reader supposed to sympathize with Cassie, whose sister won’t let her be alone with her kids and who gets a kick out of stealing stuff from hotels?

I found myself wanting the FBI to nail her for not telling the truth. I was fascinated by the female assassin who is dispatched to, well, dispatch Cassie. But all in all I was just happy when the book was over, if not disappointed that it could have been so much better if it didn’t try to be more than it was.

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