One Bad Apple

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I’ve been called a Mac bigot and a Mac fanatic. I fell in love with my first Mac, a PowerBook, in 1995, when I was surrounded by PC users telling me it was a waste of money because Apple was going down. I never looked back, moving on to a G4 Cube that I still have even after it crashed (my sister still has her original Macintosh from 1984). I’ve owned three iPods and am typing this on a MacBook. We bought my father an iMac for his eightieth birthday, an iPad for his ninetieth, and my daughter a MacBook Pro for her high school graduation. We’ve also owned PCs for years now, making us an interfaith family. But PCs don’t inspire the same emotions as Macs.

But it was more fun being a Mac user way back when. The “Mac vs. PC” campaign captured the stereotype of the PC user as buttoned-up business stiff, but Mac users were not cool young skateboarder types back in the day. They were the artistic, designer/writer nerds who resembled Steve Wozniak more than the cute actor who dated Drew Barrymore. And Apple was the anti-business company that flew a pirate flag and threw hammers at Big Brother, and a visionary that made products you fell in love with. In the Mac users’ group I was once a part of, bashing Bill Gates and calling Microsoft the Evil Empire was de rigueur.

Now Apple is seeing its image insidiously poisoned by reports of how ill treated its factory workers in China are. As Mike Daisy, who wrote and performs The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, pointed out in an interview, Apple has now become the Big Brother it once mocked. A front-page article in the New York Times and a segment on CBS Sunday Morning show that the gadgets we are enamored with are made by little hands, some as young as twelve. It’s as though Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle were updated as, perhaps, The Orchard. Meanwhile, Gates just donated $750 million to AIDS research.

All over the Internet people are posting that it’s unfair to pick on Apple, that all our electronics items are made under similar, or worse, conditions overseas. But I think it’s absolutely fair to pick on Apple because no other brand commands the adulation Apple does.

Once, I used Apple products and part of me felt gratified, as though I were an outsider who wasn’t afraid to break from the crowd of lemming-like drones on their PCs. When Apple began promoting a hipster image, I still loved my gadgets even though I didn’t care if they were considered cool or not. We don’t just use Apple products, we have a relationship with them. Can we relate as well to the workers in China?

My prediction is that in the next fifty years, the tide will have turned. By dint of their willingness to labor under these conditions and work longer hours than we do, China will have become an economic and technological powerhouse. And we, after sitting here for years playing with our gadgets and apps, obsessing over our social media profiles and what our friends are doing and watching the Kardashians, will find ourselves left without jobs in a country that’s been surpassed. The Chinese, now working 40-hour weeks and living in McMansions, will move their factories here so we can live in dorms, work 20-hour shifts and become suicidal so they can have the latest gadget. And could we blame them?

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Vexed and Perplexed

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Not that I am—vexed and perplexed, that is. Or at least not very. I just like the words.

As 2011 winds down, we can check out via Merriam-Webster.com which words people were looking up the definitions of. But I’ve been amusing myself with Google’s Ngram Viewer. You can type in a word and see how frequently it’s been used within Google Books’ corpus. Now that’s a word for you: Corpus.

Obviously, such words as awesome, basically, actually and obviously are very twenty-first century. You can see the peaks and valleys for other words.

So without further ado, aside from the aforementioned vexed and perplexed, here is a random list of words whose usage has dissipated over the decades that I’d like  to see back in use:

Bewilder
Perchance
Ephemera
Mortified
Fellow
Humdinger
Commence
Daresay

These words are on the downswing, but others are downright endangered. At the Oxford Dictionary’s Save the Words you can adopt one such poor little word on the brink of extinction. In the process you’ll promise to use the word “in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the very best of my ability.”

I adopted “jobler: one who does small jobs,” and “snobographer: one who describes or writes about snobs.” I certainly don’t see any encumbrance (another good word!) to using either of them.

But it’s a bit hypocritical that the OED is tossing out words like growlery  to make room for such rubbish as bromance, woot and LOL.

The Once and Future Thanksgiving

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Friday, November 25, and the holiday season is upon us. Not just stores stocked with Christmas decorations in October that annoy everyone because it’s too early and for goodness sake Halloween isn’t even here yet. But the official Thanksgiving is over and you’ll have no peace until January 2.

When did the day that was almost officially known as the Day After Thanksgiving become Black Friday? As I look at what is going on around me, I am going to play prophetess and predict that the holidays as we knew them are changing.

Not that this is unusual. I think back to a few years ago, when I was writing a story on holiday traditions. Christmas, that big juggernaut of a holiday that pretty much crushes all the others, was almost from the get-go a repackaging of the Romans’ Saturnalia. The Greco-Roman gods may have given way to Christianity but that didn’t mean the partying had to stop. As the Church relentlessly expanded into Europe, it incorporated pagan traditions such as decking the halls with boughs of holly, which was handed down from the Druids, who held sacred certain plants such as holly and mistletoe.

As for the “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in medieval Europe, people did indeed celebrate for twelve days. And I mean celebrate, with plenty of feasting, drinking, wenching and general debauchery.

After the Reformation, the Protestants frowned upon the aforementioned Christmas activities and the holiday in Britain and America became a lot less festive.

While Thanksgiving was celebrated on and off in America since its Plymouth inception, it was Sarah Hale, the editor of Boston Ladies’ Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book who campaigned endlessly through her editorials for the establishment of a national holiday to give thanks.

Thanksgiving started off on the right foot. It was a uniquely American holiday. It could be celebrated by any American, regardless of their religion. And it gave you reason to have a big meal and reserve Christmas for more spiritual thoughts.

An illustration from Godey’s Lady’s Book

But while Sarah was championing Thanksgiving, her own Godey’s  had already begun running illustrations of Christmas trees, which Queen Victoria had popularized in Britain in the 1840s. Moore had written “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” and Thomas Nast was drawing Santa Claus.  The famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial ran in the New York Sun in 1897. Christmas was on its way to becoming the behemoth it is today.

What’s next? We already know Chanukah went through its own embellishments, even merging at times with Christmas to become Chrismukkah. There’s also Kwanzaa, Three Kings Day, Ramadan, Diwali, Winter Solstice, and Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us.

All valid, but here is my prediction: Thanksgiving and Christmas will one day merge into one holiday. Here’s how we’ll celebrate: everyone will gather  around for their Thanksgiving meal, lie down comatose for a few hours, and then all gather before midnight to attend not midnight mass but to get on line to brave the crowds and hunt down bargains. After several hours of this, we’ll finally return home with our loot, which we’ll happily wrap and … wait for it… rather than hide it until Christmas, we’ll all exchange presents then and there! Why sit around for another month making yet another set of holiday plans? Heck, maybe Halloween will disappear to also become part of this celebration—everyone will dress up in costumes and pack up eggs, shaving cream and pepper spray, the better to attack, subdue and demobilize competing shoppers.

Combining the holidays into what we could perhaps call Hallowgivingmas is certainly more efficient than celebrating them separately. Maybe then we could get a little more going on in spring and summer. Anyone for May Day and Midsummer Eve?

So what did I do on Black Friday? I didn’t leave the house. Instead, I got an email from one of my favorite sites, Fontcraft, for 30 percent off any of their gorgeous font and art collections.

Childhood On and Off the Page

We all know how the quickly child stars burn out. I’ve worked on books about Mackenzie Phillips, Todd Bridges and Jodie Sweetin and their struggles with drug addiction. It goes to show that growing up is difficult enough without being haunted by the public’s expectations and the ghost of your childhood self.

Children immortalized as literary characters have carried this burden as well. Alice Pleasance Liddell was identified as Alice in Wonderland into her eighties. Christopher Milne came to despise the Pooh books and his inability to both get away from being little Christopher Robin or receive any monetary compensation, as the elder Milne kept the royalties for himself, wanting his son to succeed by his own merits (never mind that Christopher’s games with his stuffed animals provided the literary fodder). Peter Llewelyn Davies referred to the book and character J. M. Barrie named after him, Peter Pan, as “that terrible masterpiece” and committed suicide at the age of 63.

In the 1970s photographer Jill Krementz wrote a series of photoessays known as the “A Very Young…” series. The first, A Very Young Dancer, follows several months in the life of a ten-year-old girl who studies ballet at George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet and wins the role of Marie in the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. Many a child who sees the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center dreams of being in the ballet and living the life of a talented ballet student, so it was no wonder that this book made an impact on a great deal of young readers.

Over the years, discussion boards across the Internet have received many a query as to what became of Stephanie. Finally, today’s New York Times reports in “Storybook Ballerina’s True-Life Adventure” that Stephanie’s adult life wasn’t nearly as storybook perfect. Shortly after publication, she was asked to leave the school, something that became a source of shame for the “Very Young Dancer.”

It’s too bad that Stephanie felt this way, as being asked to leave a school that acts as a training ground is more the norm than continuing on to a professional career. It’s gratifying that Stephanie has overcome her demons and is now happy with her life in Wyoming.

A Library at Liberty Square

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Over 250 years ago, Thomas Paine used the power of the printed word to influence public opinion when he published Common Sense. When I visited Zucotti Park today, I knew that printed signs would be a medium for the activists’ messages. But I was expecting to see laptops, webcams, smartphones, flash mobs and QR codes moreso than pamphlets, The Occupied Wall Street Journal and The People’s Library.

As Jennifer Sacks reports in her article, “Occupy Your Mind: The People’s Library” in today’s edition of The Occupied Wall Street Journal: “That a lending library would spring up fully operational on day one of an occupation makes sense when you consider that the exchange of ideas is paramount here…” She continues to quote librarian Mandy Henk, who says, “Anytime you have a movement like this, people are going to bring books to it. People are going to have information needs. And historically, the printed word has played an extraordinarily important role….Stories are incredibly important for helping people to understand the world…And this is a place to come to understand the world.”

Information increasingly means the Internet. As revolutionary as the Net may be, you still need access to it. According to the this report by the U.S. Department of Congress, 28% of Americans do not use the Internet at all. This 28% obviously falls into the 99% category the activists are representing, so it was gratifying to see people without computers, Internet access or smartphones aren’t being excluded.

These activists’ position is that change can be effected by building awareness through nonviolent methods. Perhaps the pen is still mightier than the sword.

Fashion and la femme d’un certain age

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Among the designers showing at Fashion Week were the latest contestants from Project Runway, all ready to strut their stuff to keep secret that not all of them were finalists.

Is it my imagination, or does this season have the most unappetizing cast ever? They seem to have especially turned against the show’s oldest competitor, Bert Keeter, age 57, with a truly survival-of-the-fittest, metaphorical teeth-baring action. In particular, the bullying Josh has dug his claws into poor Bert on several occasions. True, Bert mumbles under his breath, curses, and is a bit grumpy, but I have news for you, Josh: at his age you can get away with acting in such a way because you’ve earned your right to be a curmudgeon. Being a whiny bully when you’re young simply makes you a jerk.

The judges are just as guilty of age discrimination. They crow over designs that are “youthful,” “fresh,” and “modern,” and rip apart anything resembling something one’s “grandmother might wear,” that you could wear to play “bingo” or visit the “old folks’ home” in, or that simply make the model look older.

Now, I’m no fan of mutton dressed as lamb, but I’ve found older women have a fun and flair for fashion that blows the youngsters out of the pond. That’s because women d’un certain age tend to dress for themselves, not for men, employers, the public, or other women. Witness this photo I took of two gals at recent vintage clothing fair.

Over 50 (at least) and fabulous

For more proof, visit Advanced Style, Ari Seth Cohen’s awesome blog that style just gets better with a few more years under your belt.

From September 10 to September 11

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We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001. And most likely, we have bittersweet remembrances of the day before, the last day of innocence and serenity before everything came crashing down.

On September 10, 2001, I had the opportunity to attend a runway show at Bryant Park’s Fashion Week. I’d been covering apparel for trade publications at the time and had somehow snagged an invite to a lingerie show presented by the Intimate Apparel Council.

Truth be told, I don’t remember much about the lingerie. The day was more about the overall experience of Fashion Week at Bryant Park: getting into the tent, being told that people were trying to sneak under the tent and into the runway shows, which must have been next to impossible with security checking our IDs every five feet, then being herded with the other not-too-important attendees behind a velvet rope so the beau monde could be seated first. Not that this bothered me in the least, as all I could think was, Wow, I’m stuck in this herd of annoyed people at Fashion Week because I’m a nobody. Cool! 

After the show I walked out to a perfect, sunny, and relatively quiet late-summer September Sunday in Manhattan. Not wanting to go home, I strolled under the azure sky and met my sister for a late lunch al fresco.

And one day ended and the next began. There’s no use in describing my experience of 9/11, as it wasn’t much different from that of other New Yorkers. Throughout the day, I felt a sense of disbelief: how could this be happening when yesterday was such a perfect mixture of excitement, adventure, and well-being?

The two days seem like the two faces of a coin, attached but on opposite ends of each other, and remain forever linked in my mind.

Fashion in So Many Words

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Those who can’t make it to Fashion Week are no doubt glued to the computer or TV to catch the coverage. Not so style-conscious bookworms, who’d prefer to peruse some fashion tomes instead.

I’ve had the privilege to work on a few of my favorites. Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work, is not just about apparel; it’s also a memoir of Tim’s childhood as a bullied outcast, a dish on well-known fashion divas’ outrageous antics, an insider’s view of Project Runway and a jibe at our society’s descent into narcissism and loutish behavior. But perhaps there’s hope if so many of us can appreciate and embrace such an intelligent, kindhearted, and genteel person as Tim.

Tim Gunn signing a copy of his book, Gunn's Golden Rules

I had the pleasure of seeing Tim (or perhaps I should say Mr. Gunn) at the 92nd Street Y  for “An Evening with Tim Gunn” and meeting him afterward as he graciously autographed copies of his book.*

I don’t like using the term “ROFL,” but I found it difficult to focus on Simon Doonan’s books for doing just that. Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You has a wonderful bit where he explains his technique of “talking through the hamster,” and Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints is one of the most amusing, heartwarming, and just flat out best memoirs I’ve ever read.

Dreaming of Dior: Every Dress Tells a Story, by Charlotte Smith, is an enchanting treasure trove featuring some of the over three hundred outfits bequeathed to Charlotte by her godmother. The lovely illustrations by Grant Cowan are accompanied by text about the previous owner and the adventures, soirees, and such that woman and outfit experienced. I am now awaiting the sequel, Dreaming of Chanel.

For a deeper look at apparel’s role in history both fashionable and personal, check out It’s All About the Dress: What I Learned in 40 Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion by Vicky Tiel;  Ilene Beckerman’s Love, Loss and What I Wore, which also happens to now be an off-Broadway show written by Delia and Nora Ephron; The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter by Linda Grant; I Want Those Shoes! by Paola Jacobbi; and Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel photographed by Eric Boman.

*Addendum: Kudos to Tim for giving his coauthor Ada Calhoun credit on the book cover and in the acknowledgments. Honestly, guys, in this day and age everyone knows that experts and so-called authors often work with writers and your readers won’t think any the less of you for doing so.

Scroll, codex, e-book…and tech support

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We are on the verge of a huge literary leap: the transition from printed bound book to e-book. No, the printed book, aka the codex, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But as the New York Times reports, e-book sales are up 160 percent. Book sales are down 9 percent.

We think of Gutenberg’s printing press as revolutionizing reading. And so it did, but as Lev Grossman writes in the Times’ book review, we need to contemplate how the change from scroll to page-turner, and now from book to e-book will impact the way we read, sending us from the previous nonlinear method back to linear. It’s not for nothing that we refer to e-readers as “tablets” we “scroll” through.

His thought-provoking piece reminded me of this wonderful bit of Norwegian comedy in which a medieval monk calls upon tech support to help him navigate the complex codex.