This is your world on Twitter

brain on twitterguardian 8:35pm via Hoot­Suite: Typhoon #Usagi: have you been affected? Share your images and sto­ries here t.gu.com/p3FGV

WIRED 8:11pm via Adobe® Social: “She was aware of their sta­tus only on Face­book, in that sort of promis­cu­ous oh-hi-there-let’s-stay-in-touch way.” bit.ly/1f5dB31

Food52 8:01pm via Hoot­Suite: Isn’t it con­ve­nient that toma­toes are per­fectly shaped for stuff­ing with bread, greens, and pancetta? ow.ly/p4k5d

nytimes 7:59pm via SocialFlow: Even hav­ing 2 jobs is no guar­an­tee against home­less­ness in NYC nyti.ms/15Iom5l

Josh_Bersin 7:58pm via The Wall Street Jour­nal. on iOS: How to get a job. It’s about work ethic and being a con­tin­u­ous learner. Advice from staffing firm CEO. on.wsj.com/1ewiX6i

nytimes 7:45pm via SocialFlow: There’s now lit­tle hope for life on Mars nyti.ms/18g3D9j

ezrak­lein 6:30pm via SocialFlow: Banks are essen­tial to the com­modi­ties mar­ket, say banks wapo.st/1aaGKDC

Richard_Florida 6:29pm via Web: The Per­sis­tent Geog­ra­phy of Poverty — @Brook­ingsMetrobrookings.edu/research/repor…

iamno­tau­ni­corn 5:44pm via Twit­ter for iPhone: Is there any way to turn Siri off, you guys? She’s like a drunk intern.

WSJ 5:35pm via SocialFlow: To lure wealthy investors, more coun­tries now offer mil­lion­aire visas. What it takes to get one: on.wsj.com/15ctefj

Ker­ry­Han­non 5:28pm via Tweet But­ton: 10 Ways To Cut The Cost Of Going Back To Col­lege onforb.es/16IgKjg via @Forbes

TheTweet­Of­God 5:28pm via Twit­ter for iPhone: For the last time, mankind: I don’t need your help killing people.

gogirl­fi­nance 5:15pm via Buffer: Expert @Man­ishaThakor answers one read­ers ques­tion: Should I Go Into Debt for Grad School? bit.ly/16lfG1o

thedai­ly­beast 4:49pm via SocialFlow: Rage against Oba­macare thebea.st/1fjzusW

then­ation 4:46pm via Hoot­Suite : America’s Shame­ful Poverty Stats tnat.in/p4sCQ

Break­ingNews 4:21pm via breakingnews.com:  At least 39 peo­ple dead, 150 injured in Nairobi mall attack, Kenyan Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta says — @SkyNews­Break

TIME 4:00pm via Tweet­Deck: Ash­ton Kutcher earns $750,000 for every episode of ‘Two and a Half Men’ | ti.me/17RCgll (via @TIMECul­ture)

Life isn’t always the best. But it can be better.

keep cool on the swimming pool

A friend’s highly dis­crim­i­nat­ing child wrote home from camp: “The swim­ming here is not the best.”

That’s pretty much the review I’d give this entire summer—not that it’s the summer’s fault. We’ve been slammed with dead­lines at work, and my one week out of the office in June feels like a life­time ago. I’m still up in the air about whether I’m going to move apart­ments. (On the pro side, this build­ing is sort of a wreck. On the con side, I’m liv­ing here now.)  A sul­try two-week heat wave prac­ti­cally did me in.

At such times of feel­ing not the best, I often find myself cast­ing about for new perspectives—ways of think­ing about my life that inspire and recharge me. Here are four that have recently cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion. I’m plan­ning to spend more time with them. Per­haps some of you will join me.

1. Clar­ify your val­ues, don’t focus on goals.

Read­ing these words I had a bit of an ah hah moment. I am really really good at meet­ing goals, but more and more, I’m find­ing that the reward often doesn’t match the effort. What would hap­pen if I shifted the focus to my val­ues? This sug­ges­tion comes via George Mason psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Todd B. Kash­dan, whose “Your First Step Down a Pur­pose­ful Path” graphic is now mak­ing the Inter­net rounds.“Make up a declar­a­tive list of what’s impor­tant to you” is what Kash­dan coun­sels. In any case, it’s bound to be inter­est­ing. I’ll let you know.

2.   What part of your life is unlived?

This is the ques­tion at the heart of Liv­ing Your Unlived Life, by Jun­gian ana­lyst Robert A. John­son, who views liv­ing out the answer as “the most impor­tant task of our mature years.” In par­tic­u­lar, he asks us to con­sider “What is unlived yet still has some urgency within you?” I’m intrigued by this ques­tion, by what amounts to an invi­ta­tion to eval­u­ate exist­ing goals in a new and larger context.

We all carry with us a vast inven­tory of aban­doned, unre­al­ized and under­de­vel­oped tal­ents and poten­tials,” John­son writes. “Even if you have achieved your major goals and seem­ingly have few regrets, there still are sig­nif­i­cant life expe­ri­ences that have been closed to you.… Of course no one can live out all of life’s pos­si­bil­i­ties, but there are key aspects of your being that must be brought into your life or you will never real­ize your fulfillment.”

3.  Move towards plea­sure. Now.  

This is the mes­sage my life coach friend Max Daniels gives her clients. Instead of wait­ing until we “deserve” the trip to Port­land or Ams­ter­dam or what­ever that thing is we yearn for—or until the per­fect con­di­tions fall mirac­u­lously into place—she encour­ages us to take action now. What espe­cially intrigues me is her idea that, in tak­ing these steps in the present moment, we in essence move closer to being the per­son we want to be. Do I believe this? I’m not entirely sure. But she doesn’t ask me to. She sug­gests that I col­lect my own evidence—which is what I’m plan­ning to do.

4. What are you look­ing for­ward to?

From my busy sum­mer, I am mov­ing into an even more busy fall, and at times I can feel like my friend’s three-year-old who, informed that she couldn’t wear her sun­dress in Jan­u­ary, hurled her­self onto her bed with the cry: “I’ll never be happy again!” That’s when this ques­tion comes in handy. Because right at this very moment, I can think of a num­ber of things com­ing up to which I’m look­ing for­ward. Yoga and brunch with fel­low west­ern Mass ex-pat Molly tomor­row. Din­ner next week with Meta and (maybe) Delia. Meet­ing vir­tual writer friends Trish and Dorie in real life (that’s irl, to the cyber-centric) early next month. And those are just the things that come to mind in 30 sec­onds. Tak­ing time to reg­u­larly ask myself this ques­tion is a way of bal­anc­ing out my ten­dency to focus on the hard stuff.  It doesn’t make it go away, but it puts things into perspective.

5. Take stock of how you rocked

Take my advice—I’m not using it! This quip came to mind yes­ter­day as I read Trish’s post inspired by one of mine about tak­ing stock of all we’ve accom­plished in the pre­vi­ous year at times when it feels like that list is mighty pal­try. You know what? It never is, as I was (once again) hap­pily reminded. Next month will mark a year since I moved back to Boston, which seems like a per­fect moment to give this lit­tle exer­cise another whirl.

* * *

And now: Your turn. Do you have a ques­tion or strat­egy that helps move you for­ward ? If so, I’d love to hear it.

A girl and her cat say good-bye

Clarence

Clarence

He loved dried apri­cots, rotis­serie chicken, and sleep­ing in the sink. He detested other mem­bers of his species. He cost $70, shots included, and I acquired him back in 1996 while still work­ing in Man­hat­tan as a lawyer.

It wasn’t my idea to get a cat. The direc­tive came from two sep­a­rate friends, both exas­per­ated by my fail­ure to get over a not-so-recent breakup. They thought that a cat would be good for me. I sus­pect they hoped it would shut me up—or at least shift the conversation.

He came home with me in a taxi cra­dled in my blue Coach purse, hav­ing won release from a card­board box through piteous kit­ten mews. An antic feather-light ball of fluff, he devel­oped a dis­con­cert­ing habit of rac­ing through my Upper West Side apart­ment and hurtling off the bed, legs splayed in all direc­tions, noth­ing to break his fall. I named him Clarence—not for Clarence Dar­row, the most fre­quent of all first guesses, but for Clarence, the disheveled Angel Sec­ond Class who strug­gles to res­cue George Bai­ley from despair in the movie “It’s a Won­der­ful Life.” In time he grew regal and immense (“large-boned,” my father called him). “Such a small tongue—and so much kitty,” a boyfriend once observed, watch­ing the cat’s pro­longed and painstak­ing groom­ing process. “Clarence is a cer­e­mo­nial cat–not for every­day use.”

Sev­en­teen – almost 18 – years is a very long time, and we went through a lot together Mr. C and I. We moved from New York to west­ern Mass­a­chu­setts to Cam­bridge then back to west­ern Mass and finally to Brook­line. I quit law, pub­lished two nov­els, cycled through jobs and unem­ploy­ment. Through every chal­lenge, every dis­ap­point­ment, the cat was there beside me—splendidly furry and imper­vi­ous, purring and reassuring.

He’d been los­ing weight for more than a year, and it was clear some­thing was wrong.  Kid­ney fail­ure was one pos­si­bil­ity. Can­cer was another. Diag­nos­tic tests were incon­clu­sive. I began giv­ing him sub­cu­ta­neous flu­ids to help with hydra­tion, pills to stim­u­late his appetite. (“You … you are like a nurse for your cat!” sput­tered a courtly Latin gen­tle­man on hear­ing of my min­is­tra­tions.) Then, six weeks ago, with his appetite flag­ging, came another round of tests. The ver­dict: Late-stage can­cer, in both his abdomen and lungs. When I brought him home, groggy and weak, from the hated ani­mal hos­pi­tal, I whis­pered to him a promise that he’d never have to go back.

I knew that I wanted him to die at home, but that’s all I knew. I didn’t know what that would entail, or what I should do or when. Not sur­pris­ingly, it was one of those times when the Inter­net proves a god­send. With a bit of search­ing, I dis­cov­ered Har­bor Vet­eri­nary House Calls, which not only does home vis­its but also offers pet hos­pice care. As the lovely and kind Dr. Maija Mikkola Cur­tis explained on her first home visit, hos­pice care for animals—as for humans—is about qual­ity of life. She told me to think of her as a part­ner, to email her if I had any ques­tions at all about ongo­ing treat­ment or next steps.

The next weeks were pretty good ones for Clarence—lots and lots of rotis­serie chicken, tuna, and attention—but by the end of last week, he began a pre­cip­i­tous decline. He stopped eat­ing and took to retreat­ing to the dark­est reaches of a closet. Already frail, hav­ing dropped more than half of his weight in the course of the past 18 months, he grew even weaker and frailer. With a heavy heart, I con­tacted Maija, and she came out the next evening.

We watched Clarence for a while, Maija and I, as I reached a final deci­sion. “The spark has gone,” she said qui­etly. I had to agree. The process of euthana­sia was sim­ple and very peace­ful. I’d already been say­ing good-bye for a very long time, and I pet­ted and whis­pered my love to him as his life ebbed away.

Early last month—shortly after learn­ing how very sick Clarence was—I  hap­pened on an advice col­umn about a guy who was spend­ing thou­sands of dol­lars to keep his cat alive despite liv­ing on a dis­abil­ity pen­sion and, from the per­spec­tive of his best friend (the let­ter writer), hav­ing “no extra cash for lux­u­ries.” I loved the columnist’s response:

It may be that your friend’s rela­tion­ship with his cat is some­thing he truly can­not live with­out; it may be that he feels some­thing toward this cat that is beyond the under­stand­ing of out­siders and with­out the pro­tec­tion of social sanc­tion or nam­ing.… [P]erhaps even­tu­ally we will come to see that a man’s rela­tion­ship with a cat is not sim­ply that of a per­son to a lux­ury item, but some­thing else, some­thing sacred.  

I’m down with that.

The house is very quiet when I get home these days. “Where’s the boy?” I call. Not because I’ve for­got­ten but because it’s what I do. I’ve also taken to scrolling through Petfinder, gaz­ing at the pic­tures of the count­less cats wait­ing to find homes. There’s Glad who reminds me oh-so-much of Clarence. (Would that be strange or good?) There’s sweet-faced Her­man with his gor­geous coat and play­ful goof­ball Mr. Then I look at a photo of Clarence that Mon­ica took in April.  So present, so very there. He was—is—a beloved being. You are a beloved being.

When $1 billion isn’t enough, and one dollar is too much.

Eduardo Saverin

Eduardo Saverin

When Face­book co-founder Eduardo Saverin renounced his U.S. cit­i­zen­ship last year, with the appar­ent goal of sav­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in taxes after the company’s IPO, the Brazil­ian native had no short­age of out­raged critics.

He has made him­self the poster child for the cal­lous class of 1 per­centers who are all too happy to use national resources to enrich them­selves, and then skate, or cry foul, when asked to pay their fair share,” Ilyse Hogue wrote in the Nation, to cite one exam­ple. “The story evokes the image of the maraud­ing aliens from the movie Inde­pen­dence Day, who come to Earth to take what they can get before mov­ing on to another planet.”

But for all the furi­ous accu­sa­tions, Saverin seems to have been on the cut­ting edge of a grow­ing trend. “U.S. cit­i­zens ditch pass­ports in record num­bers” was the head­line on a May 8, 2013 Fortune/CNN piece report­ing that more than 670 U.S. pass­port hold­ers gave up their cit­i­zen­ship (and U.S. tax bills) in the first three months of this year—more than any quar­ter since the IRS began pub­lish­ing fig­ures in 1998 and nearly three-quarters of the total num­ber for all of 2012. The newly ex-patriated include Isabel Getty, daugh­ter of jet-setting socialite Pia Getty and Getty oil heir Christo­pher Getty, and—last year—wealthy songwriter-socialite Denise Rich.

This got me to think­ing. While I totally get the anger at Saverin and his ilk, I’m also intrigued by a larger ques­tion, implicit yet unad­dressed. How much money is suf­fi­cient for any sin­gle per­son? Does some­one like Saverin ever say “Now I have enough!” Or do you keep on push­ing until you have all the money in the world?

As I turn over these ques­tions, I also find myself think­ing about another man—one who could not be more dif­fer­ent from Eduardo Saverin. His name is Daniel Suelo, and in 2000, at the age of 39, he left his life sav­ings ($30) in a phone booth and walked away. For more than a decade since, he has not earned, received, or spent a sin­gle dollar.

Daniel Suelo

Daniel Suelo

Unlike the aver­age American—wallowing in credit-card debt, cling­ing to a mort­gage, ter­ri­fied of the next down­siz­ing at the office—he isn’t wor­ried about the eco­nomic cri­sis. That’s because he fig­ured out that the best way to stay sol­vent is to never be sol­vent in the first place,” is how a piece in Details mag­a­zine summed up Suelo’s finan­cial non-plan.

Born into an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian fam­ily whose beliefs he’s long since dis­carded, Suelo’s per­sonal phi­los­o­phy eludes easy def­i­n­i­tions. He lives in the caves and wilder­ness of Utah.  He for­ages, dump­ster dives, and eats with friends (as well as strangers). He doesn’t pan­han­dle, col­lect food stamps, or accept other gov­ern­ment support—not that he sees any­thing wrong with those who do, he’s quick to say—and he often works, just not for pay. He does make use of pub­lic libraries—borrowing books, check­ing email, and keep­ing his web­site and blog. “He wants to have the small­est eco­log­i­cal foot­print and the largest pos­si­ble impact at improv­ing the world. His life goal since I met him is to take as lit­tle and give as much as pos­si­ble,” his best friend told writer Mark Sun­deen, whose com­pelling book about Suelo is called The Man Who Quit Money (River­head, 2012).

As I think about Saverin and Suelo, a study in oppo­sites, I mar­vel over the vast elas­tic­ity of our con­cept of need. Saverin thinks he needs bil­lions of dol­lars. Suelo needs to have none. Needs are not objec­tive facts. They reflect val­ues and choices.

I hope it goes with­out say­ing that I’m not sug­gest­ing we stop doing all we can to make the world a more just and more equi­table place. What I am sug­gest­ing is that, in the mean­time, we give our­selves a chance to thrive, that we have the courage of our con­vic­tions (which starts with know­ing what they are).

Ken Ilgunas

Ken Ilgu­nas

For me, this per­spec­tive is lib­er­at­ing. Early retire­ment, single-family homes, col­lege edu­ca­tions – these accou­trements of the Amer­i­can Dream are increas­ingly hard to come by. Do we sim­ply redou­ble our efforts to achieve such estab­lished socially sanc­tioned goals? Or do we explore new paths, expand our reper­toire of options? (Another ter­rific exam­ple of some­one doing just that is Ken Ilgu­nas, a Duke grad­u­ate stu­dent who lived in a van to avoid going back into debt and turned his expe­ri­ence into the won­der­ful mem­oir Walden on Wheels (New Har­vest, 2013)

Few of us are likely to fol­low Suelo’s example—I, for one, am not inclined to fill my den­tal cav­i­ties with pine pitch. What I take from his story isn’t the specifics of his jour­ney. Rather it’s his capac­ity to find ful­fill­ment while lack­ing things that most of us reflex­ively assume to be essen­tial. If Suelo doesn’t need any money, I some­times muse, per­haps I don’t really need [fill in the blank].

There are those who attack Suelo for fail­ing to con­tribute to some larger social good. (One exas­per­ated fan finally got his detrac­tors to shut up when she told them that she pays taxes, doesn’t use the library, and is donat­ing her share to Suelo.)  But to my mind, his provoca­tive life is con­tri­bu­tion enough. His choices push us to think harder about the nature of our own. His life expands our sense of pos­si­bil­ity. And that, to me, is priceless.

Making it home

My neighborhood, on lockdown

My Coolidge Cor­ner neigh­bor­hood, on lockdown

On Mon­day, the bombs exploded. On Fri­day, the city was put on lock­down, and on Sun­day I boarded a plane to fly across the coun­try to a place I’d never been.

It was a trip I’d planned for a long time to a place – Port­land, Ore­gon – that I’d long wanted to visit. At the same time, as I fin­ished up my pack­ing and man­aged a last few errands, I found myself wish­ing that I wasn’t going any­where at all. What I wanted was nor­mal­ity – a return to the usual rou­tines of writ­ing, work, and friends.  It was then that I real­ized, with some sur­prise, that this place I’ve been liv­ing since Sep­tem­ber has come to feel like home.

For my friend Jan, the Boston/Cambridge area has felt, from the very begin­ning, like where she was meant to be. “Cam­bridge is the first and only place I’ve felt like I belong and where I’m entirely com­fort­able in my own skin,” she wrote last week, in the dizzy­ing days after law enforce­ment staked out the Cam­bridge res­i­dence of the alleged marathon bombers.

My own rela­tion­ship with the area has been both slightly longer and far more fraught. It began back in 1978, when I arrived on the Har­vard cam­pus at the age of 18, a seri­ous, shy Mid­west­erner abruptly cat­a­pulted into a for­eign land. In the 20th–cen­tury intel­lec­tual his­tory class I took fresh­man year, our pro­fes­sor lec­tured on the 1897 novel Les Dérac­inés, about seven young provin­cials who lose their way after arriv­ing in Paris, the price of hav­ing been torn away from their native tra­di­tions. That word stayed with me— dérac­iné, unrooted. I cer­tainly wasn’t liv­ing in France at the turn of the cen­tury.  Still, I knew what it felt like to be alone and unmoored.

I did not cope espe­cially well. I went to a lot of par­ties, and I began a drink­ing career that would last through my mid-30s. I recall a cou­ple of half-hearted vis­its to Har­vard Uni­ver­sity health ser­vices with no notable results. Some two decades later, Melanie Thernstrom’s Halfway Heaven would chron­i­cle a murder-suicide in one of Harvard’s under­grad­u­ate houses. An Ethiopian stu­dent, lonely and unsta­ble, stabbed her Vietnamese-born room­mate to death then hung her­self. Read­ing Thernstrom’s account of the sys­temic fail­ings of Harvard’s psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices, I would nod my head think­ing, yes, this is what it was like.

Being young, con­fused, and far from home, bereft of sup­port structures—it’s never been a recipe for hap­pi­ness. Yet why do some tri­umph against all odds, while oth­ers self-destruct, while still oth­ers lash out vio­lently with trag­i­cally hor­rific results?

By all accounts, the eth­nic Chechen Tsar­naev broth­ers were con­sid­ered friendly and well-liked. What series of events led to them to mutate from seem­ingly assim­i­lated immi­grants to mur­der­ous bombers? While the answers may never be fully known, a his­tory of uncer­tainty and dis­lo­ca­tion is unlikely to have helped.

Wher­ever you go there you are. The more I reflect on that neat apho­rism, the less true it seems. For many of us, and for many dif­fer­ent rea­sons, home is not a place to which we return, it is some­thing we cre­ate, and that act of cre­ation takes energy, resources, and sup­port, along with that unde­fin­able and elu­sive thing called luck. When I moved back to Boston this last time, I had all of these. I know what it’s like not to: It’s really, really hard.

Per­haps the most iconic photo to emerge from the marathon bomb­ings is the image of a man in a cow­boy hat leap­ing to the aid of a crit­i­cally injured vic­tim, hav­ing beaten down flames and tied a tourni­quet to one of his par­tially sev­ered legs. We now know that the res­cuer is Car­los Arredondo, a 52-year-old peace activist who’d already faced more than his share of per­sonal tragedy. Nine years ago, on learn­ing that his 20-year-old son had been killed by Iraqi snipers, he doused him­self with gaso­line and set him­self on fire. Two years, ago a sec­ond son com­mit­ted sui­cide, hav­ing never recov­ered from his brother’s death and father’s result­ing meltdown.

How do we account for this sort of gor­geous alchemy? If Arredondo had become a ter­ror­ist, we would have no short­age of ready expla­na­tions. But instead his anguish fueled a pas­sion to save and res­cue. “Cities are not resilient, peo­ple are. And, some­times, they are not,” wrote Boston jour­nal­ist Elaine McNa­mara. The jour­ney from despair and loss is both pro­foundly per­sonal and unpre­dictable. Wrong turns hap­pen. Not every­one makes it back.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Trojan Horse

Sheryl SandbergHav­ing already read the book and heard the inter­views, only two things caught me by sur­prise last Thurs­day when Sheryl Sanderg brought her Lean In road­show to a the­ater in my neighborhood.

First was The Dress, a form-fitting lit­tle black num­ber, at first glance unre­mark­able in this era of Cor­po­rate Alpha Female 2.0, where sex­u­al­ity is proudly fea­tured rather than downplayed—unremarkable, that is, until she turned her back and dis­closed a gold-toned zip­per run­ning from top to bot­tom. (And before you get all “You-Wouldn’t-Be-Talking-About-What-She-Was-Wearing-If-She-Were-A-Man” on me, let me be clear: If Barack Obama showed up in a tra­di­tional suit with a con­trast­ing zip­per run­ning down its back, I would remark upon it.) For me, this took the out­fit from Seen This Before, to WTF. It seemed to be demand­ing some sort of response, though I’ve yet to fig­ure out just what.

Sec­ond, and far more sig­nif­i­cant, was Sandberg’s pointed ref­er­ence to how com­pa­nies are quickly mov­ing to adopt the Lean In model—which, depend­ing on your per­spec­tive, could be either a great thing or a very omi­nous sign.

I’m of the sec­ond view. Let me explain why.

Women’s work­place ini­tia­tives of the sort that began to take root dur­ing the boom­ing 90s—the period dur­ing which I prac­ticed law in a large New York firm—focused on help­ing women bal­ance moth­er­hood and career. Being sin­gle with no kids, I always had my issues with this exclu­sive focus (I want to write a novel! What about flex-time for that?), but all in all, it was a big step in the right direc­tion. There is more to life than work. We need to rec­og­nize that.

Enter Sheryl Sand­berg and the Lean In phenomenon.

While pur­port­edly respect­ing – even cel­e­brat­ing – the diverse choices women make as they bal­ance fam­ily and career, Lean In’s core mes­sage is some­thing very dif­fer­ent. “Life is a race, Sand­berg is telling us, and the way to win is through the per­pet­ual accel­er­a­tion of one’s own labor: mov­ing for­ward, faster,” writes for­mer Face­book employee Kate Losse in her ter­rif­i­cally tren­chant and insight­ful piece in Dis­sent “The real antag­o­nist iden­ti­fied by Lean In then is not insti­tu­tion­al­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion against women, but women’s reluc­tance to accept accel­er­at­ing career demands.”

You may think this is a great way to live or a ter­ri­ble way to live (and research sug­gests that most women with young kids will go with the lat­ter), but that’s not what pri­mar­ily con­cerns me here.  Rather, my con­cern is that Sandberg’s pre­scrip­tion pur­ports to be some­thing that it is not – and in this guise is draw­ing sup­port from women whose lives it’s just going to make harder.

The fol­low­ing exchange is instruc­tive on this point.

Respond­ing to an audi­ence ques­tion about nav­i­gat­ing both moth­er­hood and over­whelm­ing work demands, Sand­berg essen­tially said that women need to do a bet­ter job set­ting expec­ta­tions and bound­aries, not­ing that she her­self man­ages to make it home for din­ner with her kids.

What she didn’t men­tion was this (from page 133):

Face­book is avail­able around the world 24/7, and for the most part, so am I. The days when I even think of unplug­ging for a week­end or vaca­tion are long gone. And unlike my job at Google, which was based almost exclu­sively in Cal­i­for­nia, my Face­book role requires a lot of travel.”

The Lean In web­site cur­rently lists dozens of busi­ness part­ners includ­ing finan­cial insti­tu­tions (Amer­i­can Express, Bank of Amer­ica), big law firms (Skad­den, Sid­ley Austin), con­sul­tants (McK­in­sey & Com­pany), and other large busi­nesses (Pfizer, AT&T). These insti­tu­tions doubt­less already have women’s and other diver­sity ini­tia­tives. What will the Lean In move­ment con­tribute – and what will it take away?

Women with full-time jobs and out­side lives have very lim­ited band­width. Here’s my, admit­tedly pes­simistic, prog­nos­ti­ca­tion: The con­ver­sa­tion about lean­ing in will slowly but surely sup­plant talk about on-site child care, work/life bal­ance, and other “fam­ily friendly” poli­cies. (As for the would-be nov­el­ists among us: As you were.)

I can’t help but think that Lean In offers a fem­i­nism tailor-made for our New Economy—one where the pri­mary ben­e­fi­cia­ries are com­pa­nies, not women. Through the magic of Lean In, women’s ini­tia­tive costs – poof! – trans­form into cor­po­rate prof­its. The Greeks left their model horse out­side the gates of Troy and pre­tended to sail away. As for us, we have more clues than the Tro­jans did. We know who’s still hang­ing around.

Replica of the Trojan Horse at Troy, Turkey

 

How about zero dollars per word—is zero good for you?

ZERO take 2There’s a clas­sic New Yorker car­toon where a guy is stand­ing in his high-rise office talk­ing on the phone: “No, Thursday’s out. How about never—is never good for you?”

I was reminded of this last week when vet­eran jour­nal­ist Nate Thayer used his blog to pub­lish an email exchange with an Atlantic edi­tor inter­ested in “repur­pos­ing” a piece Thayer had pre­vi­ously writ­ten if he would first revise it. For this, she offered the princely sum of … noth­ing.  (By these stan­dards, humorist Calvin Trillin’s editor–the “wily and par­si­mo­nious Vic­tor S. Navasky,with his offers “in the high two figures”–was pos­i­tively prof­li­gate.) Thayer lost no time in reg­is­ter­ing his outrage.

I am a pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist who has made my liv­ing by writ­ing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giv­ing my ser­vices for free to for profit media out­lets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by remov­ing my abil­ity to pay my bills and feed my chil­dren,” wrote Thayer, later not­ing the irony of hav­ing once been offered an Atlantic retainer of $125,000 a year for six articles.

The post quickly went viral, with both sup­port­ers and detrac­tors flock­ing to weigh in. To his fans, Thayer was a hero, finally say­ing “enough is enough” to ever-more exploitive jour­nal­is­tic over­lords. To his crit­ics, Thayer seemed both enti­tled and unre­al­is­tic, fool­ish in his alien­ation of the very peo­ple who might hire him.

A follow-up piece on Gawker.com—itself an acknowl­edged user of writ­ers who work for free—used the flap as an object les­son in the ongo­ing devo­lu­tion of jour­nal­ism into a pro­fes­sion largely pop­u­lated by those with ample resources. “Becom­ing a suc­cess­ful writer—or jour­nal­ist or actor or wigmaker—is an ambi­tion that, like pretty much every­thing else in soci­ety, is rigged in numer­ous ways to favor peo­ple who start off with money,” Cord Jef­fer­son tren­chantly observed.

Not much dis­agree­ment on that score. How­ever, there was plenty about what the ulti­mate take­away should be.

When Thayer was being offered $125k/year I was being offered $140k,” noted my friend Anne, an expat Amer­i­can lawyer, now liv­ing in Eng­land. “I’d love to be on 2002 rates again—who wouldn’t? But the real­ity is much different.”

A Gawker.com com­menter had this to say:

Maybe they expect peo­ple to write for free, because plenty of peo­ple are ready and will­ing to write for free. If you want to make a lot of money, go be an invest­ment banker or start a busi­ness or what­ever. If you want to write, then do that, but don’t whine about how you’re get­ting paid squat for doing it. You made your choice.

My friend spends hours upon hours work­ing on his model trains which he dis­plays and are enjoyed by many peo­ple who see them. He never once asked to be paid for his efforts. Don’t act like your call­ing is so much more noble and wor­thy than his.”

Law—one of my sev­eral pre­vi­ous pro­fes­sions (and another that, inci­den­tally, is fast head­ing towards meltdown)—works by anal­ogy:  Is X more like Y or like Z? In that spirit, I found myself mus­ing over whether a free­lance writer is, in fact, sim­i­lar to a guy who plays with trains. As usual with analo­gies, I could see the facts both ways. In the pro col­umn: Thayer enjoys writ­ing. He, like the fanatic hob­by­ist, is doing it because he chooses.  In the con:  Writ­ing is also Thayer’s pro­fes­sion, one he set­tled on with an eye to mak­ing a liv­ing at a time when such a plan didn’t seem wildly risky. No, he would likely never be rich. But he’d be paid more than … zero.

My favorite legal doctrine–and yes, as a mat­ter of fact, I do know how geeky that sounds–goes by the name of reliance. (I also wrote about it here.) Sim­ply put, if you induce me to “change my posi­tion” based on your claim or promise, you can’t later change your mind and just tell me to go away. For exam­ple, if you sell me a prod­uct to wash my car, I’m enti­tled to rely on the fact that it will do just that—and with­out strip­ping the paint.

Law school exams are called issue spot­ters. They con­sist of “fact patterns”—stories of sorts—packed with legal issues that the test taker must first iden­tify then ana­lyze. The world after the Great Reces­sion is filled with tales like Thayer’s, with peo­ple whose lives have been upended by new tech­nolo­gies and seis­mic global changes. They (we) relied on what we knew, on what we were told.  If life were an issue spot­ter exam, it might pose the fol­low­ing ques­tions: Was this reliance jus­ti­fied? Is there a remedy?

Note: Thanks to my writer friend Amy Rogers who helped me pull that New Yorker car­toon from the recesses of memory.

Where the girls weren’t

Writing

A mil­lion years ago, back in 1978, I showed up at the Har­vard Crim­son in the fall of my fresh­man year to try out for a slot on our sto­ried school paper. Join­ing me for the first Crim­son “comp” of our col­lege lives were maybe a dozen other eager young would-be reporters. Among their names: Bill McK­ibben, Jeff Toobin, Nick Kristof, and David Sanger.

I recall only two other women—though there may well have been more—and none of us would scale the jour­nal­is­tic heights attained by what is, in ret­ro­spect, a remark­able per­cent­age of our male peers.

In recent weeks, I’ve been think­ing a lot about what this means—or doesn’t. After elec­tion to the Crim­son’s News Board, I rarely ven­tured back. I recall feel­ing gen­er­ally dis­af­fected. One of my few clear mem­o­ries is of a foot­ball whizzing over my head as I typed toward dead­line. I don’t recall any inten­tional or explicit sexism.

So what happened?

Were the women of my Crim­son era vic­tims of dis­crim­i­na­tion, of a non-congenial (if not hos­tile) work envi­ron­ment? Or were we sim­ply less focused and ambi­tious or maybe less tal­ented? Or is the whole thing a sta­tis­ti­cal fluke that means exactly nothing?

My answer: I really can’t say for sure. There are, how­ever, clues.

As recently as 1977—the year before I entered college—two-thirds of Amer­i­cans believed that “it was much bet­ter for every­one involved if the man is the achiever out­side the home and the woman takes care of the home and fam­ily,” Stephanie Coontz wrote ear­lier this month in a New York Times piece on why, fifty years after pub­li­ca­tion of The Fem­i­nine Mys­tique, women aren’t show­ing more zeal about mov­ing into the full-time work­force. It’s a cul­tural atti­tude that feels deeply famil­iar from my Indi­ana child­hood and which, along with the ongo­ing absence of struc­tural sup­ports for women seek­ing to bal­ance work and fam­ily that Coontz describes, likely accounts for much of the under-representation of women through­out the workforce.

That said, I’ve always been deeply skep­ti­cal about the notion that num­bers tell the whole story, a skep­ti­cism honed over sev­eral years as Har­vard Law School’s de facto point per­son on women’s issues. (I grad­u­ated from HLS in 1993 and prac­ticed law for a few years before grav­i­tat­ing back towards writ­ing, even­tu­ally wind­ing up as then-Dean Elena Kagan’s spe­cial assis­tant for com­mu­ni­ca­tions.)  A 2005 speech I drafted for the dean acknowl­edged the unde­ni­able fact that “women are not assum­ing lead­er­ship roles in pro­por­tion to their num­bers” but also noted some pos­si­ble non-discriminatory explanations.

Most intrigu­ing to me was a tan­ta­liz­ing find­ing by a Har­vard Law School stu­dent work­ing group that women’s rea­sons for choos­ing law as a career dif­fered from those of men. “Com­pared with men, women were more likely to choose ‘help­ing oth­ers’ (41% v. 26%) and ‘advanc­ing ide­o­log­i­cal goals’ (24% v. 15%) and less likely to choose ‘high salary’ (32% v. 44%),” the group con­cluded in its Feb­ru­ary 2004 report.

So what are we to make of this? Well, I don’t have a com­pre­hen­sive answer, but I can tell you what I made of it. My main take­away wasn’t (and isn’t) that the world needs more female cor­po­rate law part­ners (though I cer­tainly have no quar­rel with you if that’s what you’re after) but that we need to place a far higher value on work where the pri­mary goal is to make the world a bet­ter place. We need to value teach­ers, social workers—and pub­lic ser­vice lawyers—more, not to find new and bet­ter ways to steer them towards cor­po­rate work if that’s not where they want to go.

None of this, how­ever, really speaks to the world of writ­ing and jour­nal­ism, which regard­less of your gen­der, has never been a route to riches. While fewer women of my era may have made it to the New York Times, I think we can safely rule out avarice as the reason.

I should also be clear that I’m not say­ing Crim­son women of my era did not go on to be highly suc­cess­ful in highly demand­ing jobs–investment bank­ing and cor­po­rate law being two exam­ples. And a hand­ful of women of my col­lege era did go on to suc­cess­ful writ­ing careers–though with once excep­tion, more on this below, none achieved the brand-name pres­ence of those guys I comped with in the fall of 1978.

If I were to take a stab at guess­ing why women of this time and place–Harvard, the late 1970s–may have strug­gled to gain pur­chase on the writer’s path, I would prob­a­bly start with the uncon­scious belief that our concerns—and our stories—didn’t really mat­ter, a belief no less pow­er­ful for being unrec­og­nized. I don’t think it’s a coin­ci­dence that the most well-known female jour­nal­ist of my Crim­son generation—Susan Faludi, one year ahead of me—made her name with a book that focused on the hith­erto unrec­og­nized “back­lash” against women. And just yes­ter­day, I was struck by how Crim­son class­mate Nick Kristof (and his wife Sheryl WuDunn) make a related point in the intro­duc­tion to Half the Sky: Turn­ing Oppres­sion into Oppor­tu­nity for Women World­wide:

“[W]hen we began report­ing about inter­na­tional affairs in the 1980s, we couldn’t have imag­ined writ­ing this book. We assumed that the for­eign pol­icy issues that prop­erly fur­rowed the brow were lofty and com­plex, like nuclear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion .… Back then the oppres­sion of women was a fringe issue, the kind of wor­thy cause the Girl Scouts might raise money for.”

That they did write the book—and that it’s become a national bestseller—is one of many heart­en­ing signs that things have, and con­tinue to, change. The fact that I’m writ­ing this piece is another. When I look around, I’m struck by the num­ber of women writ­ers with whom I’ve crossed paths, most of whom are seven to ten years younger than I, who have man­aged in remark­able ways to tie their per­sonal expe­ri­ence to larger con­cerns and trends. My law school class­mate Susan Cain, author of the best­selling Quiet: The Power of Intro­verts in a World That Can’t Stop Talk­ing, is a won­der­ful Exhibit A.  There’s also for­mer law firm col­league KJ Dell’Antonia, who now heads up the New York Times wildly pop­u­lar Moth­er­lode blog; cyber pal Marci Albo­her, who draws on her own life expe­ri­ence in the just-published Encore Career Hand­book; occa­sional New York din­ner party com­pan­ions Pamela Paul (a New York Times writer and edi­tor whose first book, The Starter Mar­riage, grew out of her own failed first mar­riage), Annie Mur­phy Paul (whose books include Ori­gins, which delves into the cel­lu­lar begin­nings of life through the lens of moth­er­hood), and Deb­o­rah Siegel, mem­oirist and co-founder of She Writes, an online com­mu­nity for women writ­ers. There are likely many more whose names escape me at the moment.

Years before I turned to blog­ging and writ­ing essays like this one, I had a rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful, if short-lived, career as a sus­pense nov­el­ist.  Get­ting a book deal was a huge thrill and yet, when I was hon­est, I had to admit that the actual writ­ing of these books wasn’t all that thrilling. For years, I took this to mean that I wasn’t really cut out for writ­ing. And then a chance remark turned every­thing around. I’d just described my “ideal day” as part of a small group exer­cise at a Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­gram for women. This vision involved wak­ing up in the coun­try, hav­ing cof­fee, then turn­ing to my writing.

But I had that day, and you know what? I wasn’t all that happy,” I concluded.

One of my lis­ten­ers gave me a reflec­tive look: “Maybe you were writ­ing the wrong thing.”

Note: This piece was revised on March 8, 2013 with the addi­tion of para­graph 12, intended as clarification. 

The Audacity of Hopelessness

Head in Hands

Last sum­mer, I came across another of those darkly hilar­i­ous post-recession job search sto­ries. In this par­tic­u­lar install­ment, one Tay­lor Grey Meyer lost it on a sales man­ager from the San Diego Padres, an orga­ni­za­tion to which she’d applied for a job no less than 30 times. After the stan­dard radio silence response to her appli­ca­tions, she received an out-of-the-blue email alert to an “oppor­tu­nity” to attend a job fair hosted by the Padres for the bar­gain price of $495.

And that’s when Grey–whose pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence report­edly included an intern­ship with Major League Soccer–went a wee bit berserk, fir­ing off an email described by the sports web­site Dead­spin as “one of the great emails of our time.”

After care­ful review, I must decline. I real­ize I may be burn­ing bridges here, but in the spirit of reci­procity, I would like to extend you a counter-offer to suck my dick. Clearly, I don’t have one of these, so my offer makes about as much sense as yours. But for the price you’re charg­ing to attend the event, I’m sure I would have no trou­ble bor­row­ing one.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, her response pro­ceeded to go viral, and—as Dead­spin wrote—“per­haps, on bal­ance, it wasn’t the worst move in the world. Meyer has already received one note from a sales office, ask­ing her if she’d like to come in for an interview.”

All of which got me think­ing about the job search process in the wilds of the Brave New Nor­mal – and how the best strate­gies some­times emerge only after you’ve given up.

My own experience—though far less jaw-dropping—provides a case in point.  One of the stan­dard pieces of advice to any­one who’s gone through a lay­off is to down­play the lay­off part and up-play what you’ve accom­plished. That’s pretty much how I rolled in the begin­ning. I kept busy! Vol­un­teered! Updated my resume! Then, after a year or so, I ran out of steam. I started to feel a bit defeated. And also a bit defi­ant. Which explains my deci­sion to write pub­licly about being unemployed.

The first piece I wrote for Salon on the topic of unem­ploy­ment was pub­lished with the provoca­tive head­line “Even Har­vard Couldn’t Pro­tect Me”—capitalizing on the irony of my edu­ca­tional pedigree—though my real point was some­thing quite dif­fer­ent: That nav­i­gat­ing unem­ploy­ment requires tremen­dous inner resources, far more, in my expe­ri­ence, than what’s needed to nav­i­gate success.

Like Grey’s, my writ­ing elicited a range of responses—from with­er­ing accu­sa­tions of self-indulgence to heart­felt words of sup­port.  (I still cher­ish one defense: “Does Salon have no stan­dards at all?” my sup­porter rhetor­i­cally asks, quot­ing an espe­cially vir­u­lent attacker.  And then goes on to answer: “Obvi­ously not. If they did — most of the first few let­ters in response to a Gut­man piece would be mod­er­ated into obliv­ion. The fact that they allow their excel­lent authors to be harassed by the nation’s under-medicated tells us all we need to know (and more) .…”)

While my Salon essays on unem­ploy­ment didn’t lead to a job right away, in ret­ro­spect they were a first step on the path that got me there. The essays led to Plan B Nation, and this blog—along with being hugely gratifying—kept me vis­i­ble to peo­ple in a posi­tion to hire me. One of these was a for­mer Har­vard col­league who reached out last sum­mer when an open­ing came up in her depart­ment. (A side ben­e­fit: When I inter­viewed, there was no need to explain my time out of the work­force. They already knew my story. It’s how I had come to be there. ) I was hired and started work last Sep­tem­ber. Things are going well.

Let me be clear: When I talk about the ben­e­fits of hope­less­ness, I don’t mean despair, which is never ever help­ful. What I’m talk­ing about is being open, a topic I’ve explored many times before. The dan­ger of hope is that it can tie us to a very spe­cific iter­a­tion of a very spe­cific story at a time when we’re far bet­ter served by stay­ing alert to oppor­tu­ni­ties in what­ever form they take. The more wed­ded we are to a spe­cific outcome—the more we nar­row our sights—the harder it may be to craft a ful­fill­ing life with the mate­ri­als at hand.

I don’t know what’s hap­pened to Meyer since last summer—I shot off an email to her via LinkedIn this morn­ing but haven’t yet heard back. The best clue I found was a “Pub­lic Fig­ure” Face­book page where her photo (she’s a lovely blonde) tops the fol­low­ing tagline: “Tay­lor Grey Meyer had already been rejected by the Padres over 30 times before she got an email from the base­ball team that was the last straw.” No sign of regret. No apolo­gies. What began as an F U moment seems to have become a per­sonal brand.

It Takes a Village to Bake a Loaf of Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread in the Happy Valley during a Time of Climate Change

In honor of the impend­ing bliz­zard, I’m re-posting these mem­o­ries from the Octo­ber 2011 Snow­poca­lypse, when I was liv­ing in Northamp­ton, MA. This essay first appeared in the Hamp­shire Gazette (and later on this blog).

The Little Bread-gine That Could

The Lit­tle Bread-gine That Could

When the snow started to fall, I was play­ing a card game with the Bask­inettes. Which isn’t really sur­pris­ing, since this is how I’ve spent a good bit of the past year, some­thing between an hon­orary aunt and slow-on-the-uptake peer.  (“I’m going to deal the cards instead of you. That way, it will be faster,” a seven-year-old Remy once air­ily informed me.)

Do you think I should head home now?” I asked the Bask­inettes’ father, aka my friend Hosie.  The snow was com­ing down faster, in huge wet clumped flakes.

Hosie looked out the win­dow and shrugged. “I don’t think you have to rush.”

And indeed, he was right.  Back home a few hours later, safe and warm, I decided to do some bak­ing. For weeks, I’d been mean­ing to make New York Times food guru Mark Bittman’s mag­i­cal no-knead bread.  With 10 min­utes or so of hands-on time for an artisan-quality loaf, it’s a recipe easy to love. The only chal­lenge is find­ing the 14-hour win­dow needed for the dough to rest. But I had plenty of time now. I expected a quiet weekend.

The dough was just start­ing to rise, when I got my first inkling my night might not go entirely accord­ing to plan.  My cell (only) phone rang (cricket chirped). It was the eldest of the Bask­inettes, 16-year-old Ezekiel.

We don’t have power.” The voice was aggrieved  “I’m. So. Bored.”

Still, freak­ish as this seemed—and by “this” I mean the weather, not teen protes­ta­tions of boredom—I wasn’t all that wor­ried. I live in a neigh­bor­hood where util­ity lines are safely lodged under­ground. We rarely lose power out here. Also: It’s Octo­ber!  I glanced at a clock: almost time for bed.

Then every­thing went black.

No big deal, I thought philo­soph­i­cally. I’ll get a good night’s sleep.  Per­haps tomor­row we’ll have power back.

This did not happen.

When I got up the next day, it was really cold.  I flicked the light switch. No response.  No elec­tric­ity meant no cof­fee. Some­thing had to be done.

A Face­book friend once asked if the Happy Valley’s vaunted fash­ion laissez-faire extended to PJs as street wear. “Yes!” came the resound­ing response. “Totally!  Absolutely!”  It seemed that today was as good a day as any to put this to the test. I yanked on a fleece in the frigid air, grabbed my parka, slipped on boots. Keys. Purse. Money.

And then I remem­bered the bread.

There it was on the kitchen counter, wait­ing so patiently.  Head­ing out the door, I picked up the bowl and cra­dled it in my arms.

I never pick up hitch­hik­ers, but this once, I made an excep­tion for the bun­dled twenty-something fig­ure trudg­ing tiredly down Route 9.  He slid into the seat behind me, tak­ing the bread in his lap, glad for the ride and seem­ingly unphased by his pajama-wearing dough-toting dri­ver. He was bound for the Uni­tar­ian Church in town in hopes the ser­vice was still on.  We talked about The Great Gatsby, Faulkner and Willa Cather. Then I dropped him at the church and parked my car, my mind once again on coffee.

But while the mood on Main Street was strangely fes­tive, not a store or café was open.  A flannel-clad me paused deject­edly. I was out of luck.  (On the upside, those Face­book friends were right. No one gave me a sec­ond glance.)

I love my town for lots of rea­sons, and one of them is this: When you show up unan­nounced on your friends’ doorstep, wear­ing paja­mas and bear­ing dough, you’re likely to be greeted as if you’re pay­ing a totally nor­mal visit.  Once set­tled in at the break­fast table and for­ti­fied with black tea (no elec­tric­ity meant no cof­fee grinder, no cof­fee grinder, no cof­fee), I explained to my friends Jen and Michael the pur­pose of my mis­sion.  “I knew you had a gas stove,” I con­cluded. “So I thought I could bake it here.”  But a gas stove, yes. Gas oven, no.  Again, I was back to square one.

Hap­pily, here in the Happy Val­ley, hope springs eter­nal.  A few hours later, up the street, back at the Bask­inettes, I had the choice of two gas stoves—and yes, one of them even appeared to have a func­tion­ing gas-fueled oven. We set out on a res­cue oper­a­tion, the four Bask­inettes and I, trekking back down the snowy hill to col­lect the dough from Jen and Michael’s.

So far so good.

But not so fast.

There comes a time in every endeavor when by far the most sen­si­ble option is sim­ply to give up.  Our Bread Odyssey reached this point when we found, upon arriv­ing home, that the oven on which we’d pinned our hopes was also out of com­mis­sion.  Is it pos­si­ble to fry yeast bread? To rig up a stove top oven?  We gave some half-hearted thought to these ques­tions, but clearly we were los­ing steam.  And then, like some culi­nary deus ex machina, Hosie’s sis­ter appeared.  Yes, Lucre­tia had a func­tion­ing oven, and yes she would take our bread.

That night, after a largely house­bound day trend­ing towards cabin fever, the Bask­inettes and I set out on foot for the nearby col­lege cam­pus cen­ter, lured by the prospect of heat and light and maybe even vend­ing machines.  It was just around 7:30, but it felt pretty much like mid­night. Beneath a sharp white sliver of moon, our shoes crunched through snow.  Still, it was good to be out­side, to breathe in the fresh night air.

Then, for a strange frozen moment, I saw us as if from a dis­tance, char­ac­ters in the open­ing scenes of a movie that wouldn’t end well. Isn’t this how they always start, those block­buster dis­as­ter films?   An almost ordi­nary lovely day in an ordi­nary lovely town.   Kids, fam­i­lies, plans, friends—and then The Thing appears.  (Aliens, ter­ror­ists, viral pandemic—you can take your pick.)  At first, no one under­stands what it is they’re up against.  It’s just a slight cough, or a faint shadow. Or a snow storm in October.

We got power back the next day, two days ear­lier than pre­dicted. All in all, we’d got­ten off easy. Even the shrimp and ice cream in my freezer appeared to have sur­vived the thaw.  Within hours, you could almost feel like every­thing was back to nor­mal.  Almost but not quite.  Not if you sur­veyed the piles of tan­gled tree limbs, leaves green against improb­a­ble snow.  Not if you took some time to think about the next log­i­cal plot point.

I finally caught up with my bread again the fol­low­ing after­noon, now trans­muted into a golden cornmeal-encrusted round.  “Was easy enough to bake but seems a lit­tle, uh, dense, which is likely because of the lack of warm rise,” Lucre­tia wrote me on Face­book.  And to sure, when I picked up the loaf, it did seem rather stone-like. But when I cut off a slice and took a hes­i­tant bite, it was amaz­ingly not-too-bad—especially if accom­pa­nied by a bit of home­made peach jam.

In the past few months, our lit­tle part of the world has endured its share of hard­ships: a tor­nado, a hur­ri­cane, and now a bliz­zard, not to men­tion the all-engulfing global eco­nomic mael­strom.  We live in strange and unset­tling times. I know this is true. I also know that, what­ever dan­gers we face, there is hope in our human con­nec­tions. Together, we can grap­ple with cli­mate change—or make a loaf of bread.  And if you’re going to face the apoc­a­lypse, it’s best to do it with friends.

And if you need a soundtrack: