How To Decide

The media loves to tell us what to do. We absorb advice and values from TV doctors, faceless web commentators, celebrity Tweeters, and the front page of the daily papers almost without thinking about it. We are so used to this that we routinely mistake hectoring for empowerment. When faces on the TV tell us how we should dress, what we should feed our children, what kind of car to drive, and where to go on holiday, we accept the underlying message that: you’re not smart enough to figure this out on your own. The expert bullying has been around for a while. Back in 1965 Mick Jagger snarled about a man on the TV telling him how white his shirts could be and the barrage of advice has grown faster and more furious since.

It is a sneaky form of authoritarianism, where social imperative is dressed up in the guise of helpfulness. Like the old US Army sloganeers, the media promises to help you “be all you can be” but in doing so undermines your ability to think and choose for yourself. The problem is that the media does not look out for the best interests of anyone apart from the corporations who profit from it. If we are to absorb what is useful from the media without being brainwashed we need to reclaim the courage of our convictions. We need to start asking: “What’s right for me?”

When in doubt, saying “no” is often more important, and more definite, than saying yes. Sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote: “There are a thousand ways of hitting the bull’s eye, only one of hitting it.” If we entertain all possibilities it becomes almost impossible to hone in on what it is we want. Philosophically, this raises the question of whether it is better to be in a perpetual state of anticipation, or whether we prefer simple fulfilment. This is a matter of education, preference and, to a large extent, personality. Whatever one’s tolerance for uncertainty and imprecision, we all have to make decisions. In order to make decisions that are right for us, and not made out of a sense of social duty, we need to have clear priorities. We need an ordering scheme – call it morals, values, goals, or a life plan – but we need something meaningful to inform our choices.

JD Salinger’s precocious creation Seymour Glass suggested that: “Every man, woman, and child over the age, let us say, of twenty-one or thirty, at the very outside, should never do anything extremely important or crucial in their life without first consulting a list of persons in the world, living or dead, whom he loves.” It is a mild prescription, hardly the antidote to a lifetime of advice-taking, but it is subversive in a small, gentle way. Replacing the anonymous buzz of cultural imperative with the specific voices of people who do know us and care about our happiness is a baby-step towards autonomy. A step that, once taken, puts us on a path not in relation to a particular decision, but towards a way of being that has the potential to transform our decision-making process and, by extension, our lives.

Originally published at Snipe

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A Very Happy Thanksgiving


Across the pond its Thanksgiving and various friends and family are getting set to tuck into some serious eating. Luckily, I get to skip the dead poultry element of the day and focus on the best part – things for which I’m thankful. This year has been such an adventure and it’s not over yet. In no particular order, here are a few of my many reasons to be grateful:

o Being lavished with love and support by my wonderful friends who have literally welcomed me back to London with open arms
o A terrific job interview for an internal communications role at Three yesterday
o Spending time with my family this summer and, especially, meeting Rayann and Carolina – two beautiful, generous women who I’m so happy to know
o A superlative road trip with Sarah which took in all kinds of highs and lows and taught me so much (Thank you for your patience sweetie x)
o Two glorious months in Ibiza with Ruth: sunshine, salads and smoothies
o Wendy’s return from Shanghai and being able to share a month with her in Galway
o The opportunity to work on some great projects with Bo Rinaldi & team
o The generosity and wisdom of my book interviewees: Nancy @Family On Bikes, Raina @MindBody Fitness, Ruth Heidrich, Matt @Walden Project, Kathy Blume, Geordie Stewart, Kerry & John @La Muse, JJ Tiziou and Navina Khanna – all inspiring people doing amazing things with their lives.

The Lost Brothers – So Long, John Fante

The Lost Brothers started as a “joke” according to Oisin Leech but he and musical partner Mark McCausland soon found people taking their dusty, gentle folk harmonies to heart. Their deubt album Trails of the Lonely is one of my favourites: a Simon & Garfunkle drinking whisky-laced coffee in the rain with Burt Jansch affair (which they recorded in my native burg, Portland OR) that is both fresh and ageless — so I tracked down Oisin to find out what makes the Lost world turn. Hats, poetry, Powell’s Books and Bob Dylan are in; OK! magazine is out…

The full interview is forthcoming at Pennyblackmusic. Meantime, mark your calendar for the release of new album So Long, John Fante on 25 November and its launch at at Dublin’s Workmans Club on 30 Nov.

The Value of Mistakes

My friend works for an American company and observed that her Yankee counterparts are “terrified of making mistakes.”

How do you figure? I asked. Shit, look at Iraq. Then I thought about it. The American government is a dog-and-pony show of what not to do when left in charge but ordinary citizens? Different story.

America is, after all, the land where second place is first loser; where nobody remembers the runners-up, etc. As with all rules, these tropes apply disproportionately to the disempowered. Lives of the rich and powerful have second acts but as an average working man or woman you have one (very slender) chance. Drop that brass ring brother, or sister, and you’re off the merry-go-round. Especially in this economy.

Paradoxically, this mitigates against accomplishment. People who are petrified of making mistakes underperform. If you’re afraid of screwing up you play it safe, colour within the lines and even your thoughts turn to a mush of clichés. Fear fosters conservatism, stunts ambition and inhibits action. Wanting to get things right is an admirable impulse but it is more important to be willing to take risks.

Dear Prospective Employer – I’d Kill for a Job

I look as if I’ve just killed someone with my bare hands. It’s only paint but the dark brownish-red dots splotches on my palms and nails ringed in non-cosmetic scarlet are suggestive. Part of me wishes it were true. It would open up a range of new employment opportunities. Bodyguard. Assassin. Ninja. Gun for hire. Cage fighter. Maybe I could get a job as a prison officer. Or work for a private security firm in Iraq or some other high-risk location where wages are inversely proportionate to the value of human life. An unsqueamish woman with lethal fists could have a job for life with the CIA, or star in a Quentin Tarantino film. I could freelance as a butcher; become a safari guide, or a stunt woman, or…

Women too...

Not that I want to kill for a living but in the current economic climate it’s important to pursue every opportunity. In the last 30 days I’ve applied for 66 full-time jobs, 24 freelance posts, and sent 30-something pitches to newspapers or magazines. I haven’t asked to be an astronaut, elephant trainer, sommelier, CEO or pop star. I have soberly and responsibly applied for roles as reporter, web editor, deputy editor, sub-editor, proofreader, copywriter, personal assistant, executive assistant, administrator, online journalist, copy editor, report writer, and research associate. Jobs that all have two things in common: a) they require specific skills, education and experience, and b) I have the requisites. I’m not trying to waste anyone’s time, not trying to blag it; not getting ideas above my station. I have highly respectable undergraduate and graduate degrees and international work experience. At 31 I am young enough to be a good long-term employment prospect but mature enough to be reliable. I am willing to relocate; to consider part-time, contract and temporary work. I am flexible, personable, and well-presented. I speak two languages. I have management experience, recruitment experience, teaching experience and customer service experience.

If you are an employer advertising an editorial job and took the time to read the CV I sent you’ll know I write for national magazines including Mixmag, Real Travel and Mslexia; I write opinion columns and blogs; my essays win awards and my work appears in literary journals. I am a contributor to The Nervous Breakdown and a highly praised ghostwriter. I write about music, travel, media, literature, politics, food, fitness, pop culture, economics and women’s issues. I have worked in consumer and business to business publishing. I have managed websites and commissioned writers. I know InDesign, CMS, SEO, and social media. I can administer budgets, write reports, handle internal communications and external suppliers, deal with celebrities, clients and contractors.

For those employers seeking a proactive, organised, “good at liaising” executive assistant I have highlighted my organisational skills and project management background; they will know that I am good at multi-tasking and never miss a deadline. I have noted that working in different countries has made me flexible, open-minded and adaptable. I mentioned my dedication, drive, loyalty, and ability to get along in a team, and my work for leading brands.

Maybe you are looking for a food server, or someone to stand in a shop and smile when the doorbell jangles. Then you’ll know I have waitressed in casual and upscale restaurants; I have tended bar; run a coffee shop; and done silver-service catering. I have worked in shoe-shops, call centres, estate agents, warehouses, fast-food joints, schools and bakeries. I’ve been a football steward, a pet-minder and a babysitter. I can paint, too: houses, garden gates, and garage doors – that’s how my hands got all bloody-looking. I’m not persnickety. I’ve cleaned toilets and filled out marketing questionnaires for ten bucks a pop.

The one percent doesn’t support shit. Millions of people doing boring, repetitive, unrewarding, disregarded work is keeping this stove-hulled economic ship afloat. All those mediocre jobs that cover the mortgage and credit card minimums, keep food in the fridge and pay for broadband (though maybe not all in the same month) are holding off the deluge. Trouble is there are more hands than there are pumps and water is pouring in. It isn’t that people are too lazy, uneducated, inexperienced, fussy, or inflexible – there just aren’t enough jobs. I know. I’m looking.

A Bona Fide Meat Feast

Just for starters...

One of the things I like best about my Kindle (oh how the snobbish are fallen!) is the wealth of random, out-of-copyright books I can add for free. Being a food geek, I was drawn to Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine by William Curew Hazlitt, a literature review, if you will, of old-school English cookery. The following recipe is from a 1736 cookbook, The Compleat Housewife. Like Hazlitt, I am awestruck enough to reproduce it in full. I assume this was a rare treat for well-to-do types, otherwise, our ancestors would have died of massive coronaries before they had time to begat.

To make a tureiner: Take a china pot or bowl, and fill it as follows: at the bottom lay some fresh butter; then put in three or four beef-steaks larded with bacon; then cut some veal-steaks from the leg; hack them, and wash them over with the yolk of an egg, and afterwards lay it over with forc’d-meat, and roll it up, and lay it in with young chickens, pigeons and rabbets, some in quarters, some in halves; sweet-breads, lamb-stones, cocks-combs, palates after they are boiled, peeled, and cut in slices; tongues, either hogs or calves, sliced and some larded with bacon; whole yolks of hard eggs, pistachia-nuts peeled, forced balls, some round, some like an olive, lemon sliced, some with the rind on, barberries and oysters: season all these with pepper, salt, nutmeg, and sweet-herbs, mix’d together after they are cut very small, and strew it on every thing as you put it in your pot: then put in a quart of gravy, and some putter on the top, and cover it close with a lid of puff-past, pretty thick. Eight hours will bake it.