nonBlog — August 2009

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The Last Bastion of Olde-Time Journalism in America—Sunday, August 23, 2009

Here’s what happens when you write a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times Magazine: a whole lotta email.
Tom and I were vacationing at my in-laws’ country house in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, and my sister’s family was visiting us. It was Monday, August 10th, and for a delicious 45 minutes after I woke up, all five girls—our three plus their two cousins—were still asleep. Nobody needed pancakes. Nobody needed juice. Nobody needed anything, in fact, so I picked up the previous day’s Sunday Magazine and read one whole article without interruption. It was probably the first Magazine article I had managed to read within a week of its publication in nine months. What I read happened to be the column “On Language,” and it was about the current usage of the interjection “Fail!”, which escapes Olivia’s fourteen-year-old lips just about hourly these days.
La la la, I’m casually reading this column and drinking my coffee, and sort of waiting for Ben Zimmer to mention where the usage began—or where I’ve assumed it began: with the DOS error message “Abort, Retry, Fail?” (I never understood why DOS used the word “fail” in the first place, by the way. I understood “abort”—that would abandon the action. I got “retry.” What happened if you hit “fail”? I never tried it. I thought my computer might burst into flame or something.) I reach the end of the article—no DOS mention. How odd.
Here I am in the Berkshires. No wireless; not even great cell phone reception half the time. All I’ve got is my iPhone. But for some reason, I start writing a letter on it. To the editor of the Times Magazine. About the first article that I’ve read all year. I’ve never written a letter to the editor of any publication in my whole life. I ask Tom and my sister Sandy to read it, and I hit Send. I’m not even sure my iPhone is really working.
Within minutes I get an automated response. My letter has been received. I proceed to begin giggling and I don’t stop all day. I’ve written a letter to the editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, my single favorite magazine in the world. Not one month earlier I had blogged about how I wished the Times would let me subscribe just to the magazine, since my frenzied existence has long forced me to recycle the entire Sunday paper week after week without successfully reading a single section. I assume they won’t publish my letter—what are the chances? I’m just jazzed to have written it.
On Wednesday afternoon, I get a note from the Magazine thanking me for my “interesting” letter. Could I state my town and state of residence as per their guidelines? Yes, I could. I giggle again. Tom observes that I am easily pleased.
Now it’s Thursday morning. Sarah Smith, Managing Editor, thanks me for my town and state. Thursday afternoon, she informs me that her fact checkers (note the fact that she has fact-checkers at all, let alone more than one) have found a couple of things to correct in my letter (Windows was released in 1985—who knew? I was seeing those DOS error messages in the late 1980’s.) Can I rephrase a couple of the sentences to accommodate what they found? I believe I can. I proceed to exchange emails with Sarah for hours, all while buying groceries for dinner and driving in and out of good cells. Most of my notes to her go through some kind of delay—20 minutes, 30 minutes. But somehow we get everything fixed by 6:30pm, in time for the close. Turns out Letters to the Editor of the s close just four days after the issue they address runs, which is ten whole days before they are published. Never knew that either. At 6:45pm, Sarah confirms my letter will run in the August 23rd issue, and here it is.
As long as nobody comes along and points out in gruesome detail how idiotic my argument is, I’m tickled.


Impulse Control Personified—Saturday, August 1, 2009

I have recently been exposed to a level of adult restraint I have not seen since my elegant and etiquetty grandmother died in 1984. This restraint comes in the form of author Sophia Raday, and it is positively aspirational. It goes like this:
I was introduced to Sophia Raday last year at the San Francisco Grotto by her great good friend Caroline Paul. Sophia had a memoir due to come out in May of 2009 about her blue state/red state marriage to her soldier/cop husband Barrett and she needed publicity advice, of which I was, you might say, a fount. We went to lunch at a little French café and both ordered the unlikely choice of duck confit salad. Thus began our duck confit lunches, which moved from café to café in San Francisco and, it turned out, were not at all difficult to replicate. (Who knew there were so many restaurants in San Francisco with duck confit on the menu?)
Fast-forward to last month. Sophia’s book, Love in Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage, has come out from Beacon Press. After finishing my book group’s most recent pick, I finally get my chance to sit down and read it. I am entranced. I cruise through Sophia’s memoir in a scant two days. At the end I see the Acknowledgements. This will be fun—I get to see what Sophia wrote about Caroline. And what do I see? My name! Mine! In Sophia’s book!
I am not merely shocked, but deeply impressed. How many times has Sophia seen me since she thanked me in her book? How many times has she managed not to mention this little surprise? Sly you are, Master Yoda. Learned covert operations from Barrett, you have.
I am forever trying to finish growing up, and curbing my tongue on a daily basis is the skill whose mastery will prove I have finally completed this process. But I don’t know if I will ever be able to match Sophia’s performance. She has set the bar well above that of my impulsive yap.



New, or Practically New

  • Fame and Fortune: Currently working on, and shocked to find I’m making headway with, the latter. Partly because of a bit of movement on the former. Perhaps endurance is the key to everything after all.