February 02, 2011

Running the numbers

On the Slate site today, Meghan O'Rourke gives a succinct overview of a new study by VIDA about the breakdown of male and female writers in magazines, both mainstream and literary. Check it out for yourself to see all the stats, but here's a hint: XY > XX.

This doesn't surprise me much because, you know, I follow the news and live in the world. But my own professional experience in the publishing industry has been dominated by women to the point where it became a running joke to spot the guy—any guy—in the office. He was usually either the president of the company or delivering a package on his bike.

At San Francisco magazine, where I worked until last fall, the sole gentleman on the editorial masthead was the editor-in-chief.* In my current editorial department, at Apple, women outnumber men 2 to 1. Of the 12 bosses I've had since college, 6 are women.**

But here's the real question Slate's article raised for me: How does Canteen measure up? I've been there since the beginning, and I've helped select every word in its pages. So I tallied up the writers in our first six issues, and the count looks like this:

Issue 1: M9, F2
Issue 2: M6, F5
Issue 3: M6, F3
Issue 4: M7, F6
Issue 5: M7, F5
Issue 6: M11, F6
Total: M46, F27

Yikes. Despite my own background in womencentric publishing, have I sold my sisters short at the magazine that matters most to me—the one where I have the most power to make sure this kind of inequality doesn't happen?

I could admit fault, dust off the Friedan, and whack myself in the face with it. Maybe I should. But it's not that simple.
We have regular conversations at Canteen about balance of all kinds: gender, race, geography. The last thing we want in a publication devoted to unveiling the creative process is a uniform set of voices.

Our core editorial staff spends months poring through unsolicited submissions, working with writers to develop original content, and weighing the mix for each issue. It's a slog. When I get to have the rare magic moment—and it is euphoric—of finding a gold nugget in the pile, I'm not thinking about who the author is at all. My only conscious thought is YES. YESYESYESYESYESYES. Which is exactly what my brain does when it reads anything great, whether it's for Canteen or not.

So what am I saying, that men write magic stuff more often than women do? My god, no. But at my magazine, at least, it's a challenge to keep gender equality topmost in mind when selecting work. I don't want Canteen to discriminate, and we do make an effort to include a range of perspectives. But in the moment of discovery, I'm not focused on making the magazine more feminist or even feminine. I just want it to be good.

At the New Yorker and the Atlantic, the editors aren't combing through the slush pile at midnight. They get to cherry-pick pieces from the finest writers in the world. I like to imagine that if I were in that position, I would have the freedom—the responsibility—to promote the work of all genders equally. To magazines at that level, I say: Step up. You have the luxury.


At Canteen, we often don't. Our resources are far more limited. So here's my basic criterion: If what you wrote makes my brain explode, I will ask you to let us publish it. And if you happen to be a woman, all the better.


*
Save the occasional mantern. Yes, we called them that.
**
And half of those are named Nancy. We'll need to do another study to figure that one out.


October 19, 2010

When clever people have too much time on their hands

Mia Lipman fails to understand why nobody has invented a dance called the Chana Masala.
10 hours ago

Joe Ona, Ben Wurgaft, and ┼╗anna Spacetraveler like this.

Brian Bussiere because it can only be done to the naan bread beat.
10 hours ago

Brian Bussiere ‎*which has also yet to be laid down...
10 hours ago

Mia Lipman Best get right on that, Red. Earn yourself a raita ovation.
9 hours ago

Brian Bussiere my inspiration usually comes in the form of spitting lyrical fire. I shall leave the beats to those better fit...
9 hours ago

Ben Wurgaft you've clearly got the raita stuff, Mia.
6 hours ago

Mia Lipman Thanks, Ben - keep baingan that drum.
5 hours ago

Brian Bussiere you'd better curry!
5 hours ago

Ben Wurgaft Ah, I always curry favor with baingan BARTha.
4 hours ago

Brian Bussiere tikka-tock, time is a-wasting!
4 hours ago

Mia Lipman Ghee whiz, you two atta take this show on the road.
4 hours ago

Joe Ona Is it similar to the Gulab Jammin?
4 hours ago

Mary Burnham ahaha, love it!!! I'm gonna do the Chana Masala next time we meet, watch out!
about an hour ago

Catherine Giayvia Alu people better tikka number, naan of you seem to get it. But that's neither paneer nor there. You roti to the left, then you roti to the right and then you shake your jalfrezie like a korma chameleon. Now, lassi you try it. Go, mango.
about an hour ago

Mia Lipman Miss Mobtown for the win!
about an hour ago

Catherine Giayvia ‎*bows*
26 minutes ago

October 17, 2010

Digitized

The summer after my sophomore year, I spent almost every weekday afternoon in my high school photo lab. The photography teacher, Mr. Couch—this was prep school, so we called him Couchie—was a genial, absent-minded fellow with a kind smile and a wandering pair of glasses.

The semester before, I'd taken my first class with Couchie. He taught us the basics of framing and shooting, then each step of the development process: rolling back the film, measuring out the chemicals, and my favorite part—the heart-pounding few minutes in the dark when you load the film onto the spool, feeling around for the right angle, trying not to touch the delicate face of each square and ruin the roll.

I learned to take pictures on my mom's old Pentax, a satisfyingly heavy silver and black box with a manual winder. When I graduated from college, she got me the slightly updated version of the same camera, a Pentax ZX-M. It worked faithfully from day one; the most I ever had to do was replace the batteries, the filter, and (countless times) the lens cap.

The Pentax never stopped its tireless march from country to country, state to state, recording my life in piles of matching Walgreens albums with faux-gold lettering. But I did—reluctantly, nostalgically—send it into early retirement when I finally entered the digital age this past summer.


My new travel buddy is a Canon Rebel XTi. The endless menus and settings are mystifying, and I know it can do a thousand tricks I don't think to ask of it.
Nothing is left to chance anymore, and that's a loss, but I've been pleasantly surprised to find it hasn't changed my eye or the excitement of capturing time and space in a frame.

And when I miss the adrenalin rush of slipping open the envelope at the camera shop to see what turned out and what didn't, I can always pull the Pentax off its pedestal and take it on a field trip. I just hope I don't forget how to load the film.


July 25, 2010

Five and time

It took me almost 10 years to become a runner. I used to hate anything beyond a quick soccer or squash sprint. Then, over the course of who knows how many sweaty, uncomfortable, oh-god-let-this-end, slow-down-or-you'll-die miles, I reached a point where nothing else felt like exercise, or meditation, or health.

It took less than a year of not being able to run for my legs and lungs to revert back to the same burn I used to feel doing time trials in college. But that decade of training for distance left a tiny legacy: the feeling that I really ought to run farther, that I genuinely want to. At this point, a few months after deciding that my abdomen can finally handle more than stairs, I can run about four miles at a tortoise-plus pace before discomfort (aka The Twinge) kicks in. It's not anywhere near the same kind of rush, but it's something.

It seemed like time to try a race. The idea of reinjury makes me very nervous, and The Twinge is an impulsive and unpredictable master, so I signed up for a 5K. That's 3.1 miles—half of a 10K, obviously, and 10.1 miles less than the second half of the San Francisco Marathon, the course I feel most attached to. It's shorter than my usual morning run, at least as of this month, but a year ago it wasn't close to possible. A year ago it hurt to walk to work.

This is how my brain spun it to make the short jog—in the marathon or half-marathon mindset, that's all a 5K is, a roll around the block—sound like an accomplishment. I'd never actually run a 5K before. It's a weird distance, like one lap of a track. You can't sprint it flat out, you'll crash way too soon. But if you take it too slowly, schoolkids breeze by you, giggling.

This 5K was inside the San Francisco Marathon. On Friday, I went to the race expo to pick up my official shirt and everything else sponsors throw in the faux fiber bag (best: smoothie coupon; weirdest: miniature bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, because real runners eat very, very small salads), feeling a little resentful about going to the Fun Run table instead of the serious Half.

The tent was full of wiry, tan families speaking all sorts of languages. The men had short hair and thin, clean-shaven faces; the women had strong calves and brightly colored visors. Everyone looked deeply healthy.

Yesterday, I didn't run. I tried to go to bed early, but the thing about 9:45 on a Saturday night is that my body has zero interest in rest. It decided midnight was more like it. Fun times.

This morning, I got to the starting line about half an hour early. It turns out the ragtag 5K runners are a different breed than the expo families. We come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, ages (toddler to ancient), outfits (spandex, jeans, wool sweaters), and accessories (fanny packs, backpacks, digital cameras). At two minutes till, a few serious-looking teenagers pushed up to the front. Everybody not sporting a fanny pack or a walker started bouncing on their toes. One gray-haired woman shuffled back and forth, punching her hands up and out, over and over.

Running in a herd isn't fun at first. Then comes the natural spread, and you find your small open place. The energy of the group shifts into a catalyst. So do the mile markers, the water stations, the hired hands clapping at prescribed spots with genuine, heart-twisting enthusiasm. The whole process is extremely organized, but it manages to feel like a spontaneous surge. Suddenly the city streets are full of people, thousands of them, all running in the same direction. It's clear there's a shared purpose to it.

Here's how a 5K feels to The Twinge and me: The first mile is nothing; the second mile is epic; the third is driven by the anticipation of stopping; and the last .1 has to be a sprint, even though it's probably a stupid idea, because I've sprinted the home stretch of every race I've ever run. There is nothing, anywhere, like a finish line.

I had a few moments where the run felt too long, like my ability and will have regressed to 10 years back; but for most of the time I spent moving, and for the rest of the day afterward, it felt like a blink. Next time I want it to take much longer for my eyes to close, then open.

June 06, 2010

This is a story about control

It occurred to me recently that I hadn't had a real group discussion about birth control since college, when everyone was just paranoid about getting pregnant. But then my women friends and I took a decade or so to grow up, and we had all kinds of experiences, relationships, scares, pleasures, and kids along the way.

We clearly needed a poll. One simple question (in two parts)—What's your favorite method? Ring, IUD, diaphragm, patch, pill, chanting at the full moon?—inspired an onslaught of thoughtful, funny, and wise replies. The 35 women I asked range all over the map: married, single, partnered, straight, bi, pregnant, moms, post-hysterectomy, health professionals, one-method-only, every-method-under-the-sun. But they were uniformly curious to hear what the rest of the group had to say.

Everyone enjoyed the conversation so much that several participants asked me to publish the poll somewhere, so they can share the link with their own circles of women.

Ladies, this one's for you. Thank you for your voices.

THE CONTROL POLL

The numbers indicate how many women said a particular method is their preferred form of birth control. Comments follow, both pro and con, plus any recommended reading.

Pill: 10
“I kind of like my period. It reminds me of two things: A) I’m not pregnant, and B) my body is doing what is supposed to do.”
“I know there is a lot of newer stuff out there, but I’m sticking to what works.”
“I hate being on hormones. The last time I was on birth control pills, they became affectionately known as ‘bitch pills’ by all my friends.”
The hard part for me is remembering to take the little suckers every day.

IUD (Mirena): 4
“I love it. Never had a problem and I don’t even have spotting.”
“I am totally and utterly passionate about the Mirena hormonal IUD. No side effects except losing my period (who can complain?!), totally reliable, no action required, only local release of hormone rather than systemic, etc.”
“I had a great experience with Mirena. I had it for 5 years. There was cramping just when it was inserted.”
“I just got the Mirena myself, after a zillion years of pill use, and basically think it’s heaven. The insertion was uncomfortable but brief.”
“Love my Mirena! The insertion did actually hurt, but the pain only lasted for one full minute, and in exchange I get 5 worry-free years of protection.”

Condoms: 4
“I’ve been all condoms all the time for years now.”
“Condoms with spermicide are the way to go. You get used to it after a while, it is effective, and it has no lasting effects.”

Diaphragm: 3
“I am a big fan, Mad Men–ish as this may be. Noninvasive, cheap, takes two seconds to put in.”
“The only thing that I have found that is noninvasive and also has no side effects is the diaphragm. Drawbacks: It comes in a hideous package and you have to remember to have it with you.”
“I did the cervical diaphragm thingy based on a friend’s recommendation. She got pregnant on it.”
“I use a diaphragm, but I’m kind of retro.”

NuvaRing: 2
“You only need to remember it a couple of times a month, and no major hormonal effects.”
“Ring ring ring ring!!!! I love it. So easy, lowest hormones, and it cleared up my acne.”
“I tried the NuvaRing and liked it, but my melasma didn’t go away.”
“The NuvaRing is fabulous, but when I used it I got a lot of yeast infections.”
Recommended reading: http://motherjones.com/environment/2009/05/nuvaring-dangerous

IUD (Paraguard): 1
“Three of my coworkers sing its praises, and the bonus to Paraguard is that there are no hormones involved. It can also last for up to 10 years, as opposed to Mirena’s 5.”
“I have the Paraguard IUD and love the fuck out of it. It hurt like hell going in, but I’ve had no issues and no complications. My flow is much heavier, which I am happy with because it feels good to have that serious cleanse once a month.”
“The thing with the Paraguard is that it’s the only really good nonhormonal option out there, but it does tend to cause a lot of breakthrough bleeding and heavier periods.”

Rhythm Method: 1
“I don’t like to add any hormones to my body.”

IUD (unspecified type)
“I agree that it has many positives, but also some negatives...including really heavy cramping that is super painful for up to a couple weeks after they put it in. Another weird thing? The guy can sometimes feel it in you. It kind of bugged my husband.”
“My IUD had to be removed because of severe cramping and bleeding.”

Depo Injection
“You get it every three months, it’s low-hormone, it’s extremely effective, and you don’t get your period. The negatives I’ve heard is that it tends to cause more weight gain than other methods.”
“Research it carefully, as I believe this is what a friend of mine was on for about a year a few years ago, and she ended up with osteoporosis because of it. She wasn’t even 30 and was told she had the bones of an 80-year-old! Yikes.”
“Depo does cause a bit of weight gain, but we love a luscious lady. It also causes some decrease in bone density while you’re on it, but this comes back when you go off it again, so it's not necessarily a problem for a few years.”

Patch
“I had a friend who tried the patch and hated it. It was weird for her to have a ‘sticker’ on her all the time. She was off of it quickly.”

Sex with Women

“Let’s not forget the best, most natural, safest way to be sure not to get preggers...SEX WITH WOMEN!!!!”

Chanting at the Moon
“Fun, but you’ll be knocked up before you know it.”
“Interesting. Let me know if that works for you.”

May 10, 2010

Notes from a small island*

So I wasn't kidding about yoga retreats—I really did go on one. In silence, for five days, on Marrowstone Island, in northern Washington.

Everyone asks about the silence first. Isn't it hard? For me, strangely, no. Not that I'm the quiet type, as you can attest. But I've lived alone and traveled alone and spent lots of time with myself, and there's no need to talk out loud then. I can hear easily enough.

But you know what
is hard? Getting up at 5:30 a.m. every day to meditate. Meditating: also hard. Incredibly hard, in the same way that the last mile of a race is hard or drinking wheatgrass is hard—you can't wait for it to be over, but you know how good it is for you. According to our teachers, Jo and Jenny, everyone is always a beginner. All we can do is get better at beginning.


I wasn't one of those kids who loved camp. It's 10 a.m., they'd say. Time to swim! Thanks, but I don't really feel like swimming right now. I just got here. How about if I go read instead. You can imagine how that went over. Weeks of summer camp attended by me in the past 31.5 years: one. Five days, really.

I do love routine, though. When I travel, it's what I miss, and I'll go out of my way to create one—if you stop by the same coffee shop every day, no matter where you are, they'll know you by the third day. Familiarity isn't that hard to establish; connections aren't that hard to build. But I think it's only my own routines that I like, at least after the third day.


Still, if you asked (after asking about the silence and was it hard), did I like the retreat? I'd say yes. It stretched my brain and my hip and my concentration and made me want to sleep two days for each time I woke up before dawn.

But it's a gift to give yourself the time to do very little except reflect. Hike. Sit. Climb the stairs. Sit. Listen to the crazy wind storm, watch the rocking chair at golden hour, breathe air that doesn't know how to be urban, count the number of trees that look like dinosaurs and the open shells that look aerodynamic. Let someone else set the schedule, so you don't have to think at all about where to be.




* With apologies to Mr. Bryson.

April 14, 2010

On speed

I finally started running again. Very slowly, mind you, and not very far. But it's been about a year since the injury (less than that since the accurate diagnosis), and it felt like time.

The trick is making myself stop; the opposite of the tricks I used to play to make myself keep going, back when I was trying to transform from a sprinter into someone with actual stamina. Insidiously, it worked.

The reverse is much harder, since every part of me except a tiny stretch of my abdomen wants to go go go go go. And it never hurts while I'm running, only afterward. So there's a point during the workout—usually right when I hit my stride in mile two—when I have to second-guess my brain for the sake of my body. Still working on the balance.

When I haven't been running, I've been flying. First to England, as you know, for what turned out to be a lovely visit with family I hadn't seen for years. After the sadness of Grandma Rosa's funeral, we all felt grateful to spend the afternoon together in a comfy room, catching up and toasting and watching my criminally adorable new niece, Rosie, devour almost an entire salmon in her high chair.

And in a meteorological phenomenon still under investigation by the MI5, the sun shone almost every minute we were there. In Yorkshire. In March. If you're not half or three-quarters or 100% English, that won't excite you at all. But trust me—crazy times. Here, see for yourself.

The trip home was much less delightful than everything before it, unless your idea of delight involves a lot of turbulence, flavorless peanut noodles, and nine hours in the Atlanta airport. Nuff said.

Five days after touching down from that trip, I headed back to SFO for the second half of GrandmaFest 2010: Savta's 90th birthday in Maryland. Songs were sung, walks taken, brunches brunched, photos snapped, red slippers worn, and cellos played. The sun continued its freakish extended appearance, although the cherry blossoms weren't as cooperative.

Then I flew back across the country and collapsed in a grimy, jet-lagged heap on the floor. I'm still here. Please send coffee and yoga retreats.