Writing Relay!

Tag! I’m it!  This post is part of a blog tour of writers, about writing. My talented, smart and funny friend Thelma Adams invited me to join the tour, and I’m grateful for the chance to reflect about my writing, and to share those reflections with others. One of the best things writing has done for me is to give me a wonderful circle of inspiring, sharp, funny and insightful friends. Thelma is one of them. Another is Scott Appel, who is the photographer who took the photo, below, during the Sundance Film Festival in 2011. Scott and I have had an intertwined career path since he is, primarily, a publicist, and when I was at YM, he repped people like Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a boy band called LFO—among other awesome folks. Anyway, he took this photo of Thelma, me, and a Banksy original that has become a part of the Main Street cityscape in Park City, just before Thelma’s reading and book signing for Playdate, at Dolly’s Bookstore—one of the best independent booksellers in the country, if you ask me. 

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·        1) What am I working on? Fixing dinner, doing laundry, dishes, taxi-driving for my kids, Facebook posts about my kids, magazine stories for outlets such as Woman’s Day (look for two stories—a celebrity interview and a health piece—in the September issue) and Weight Watchers (get the latest on breast health in the Sept/Oct issue), my summer assignments for my blog at Deer Valley Resort, and a YA novel about a young girl from a small town who is wrestling with the conflict between her life as a famous actress and her desire to be a normal teen. In actual fact, I am working on trying to make that last project the first thing I do in the day. This, it turns out, is difficult, since the other projects provide, in varying measures, good health, a semi-orderly home, excellent activities, and income for my family. The YA novel could provide more of all of that, of course, if only I would sit down and work on it with more discipline.

·         2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? My magazine work is informed by 20 years on a unique, combined beat, in which I have learned to navigate the world where celebrity and healthy lifestyle intersect, or, just plain try to get important health information into the hands of a readership that needs it. In talking with so many celebrities and health experts over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a wide variety of points of view. My novel-writing voice is, in part, informed by many years of writing “as-told-to” pieces by celebrities, and, as an editor, coaxing the writer’s voice in or out of the story, depending upon what the specific piece calls for. This means I am slavishly devoted to bringing out each character’s personality through dialogue. I am heavily influenced by film and TV dialogue—in fact, I used to place my old-school Sony tape recorder by the TV speaker, and record episodes of Facts of Life and Diffr’nt Strokes, and listen to them for entertainment on long car rides with my family. I remember the first time I watched the pilot episode of Dawson’s Creek, written by the awesome Kevin Williamson, ahead of the rest of the world, when I was the Entertainment Editor at YM. The dialogue had a common thread: rapid-fire and precocious. But the character’s voices were distinctive and carefully drawn. From a story perspective, I am drawn to the struggle between assimilation and difference, something I have navigated as a Jewish child growing up in Vermont, who also attended Jewish camps with kids who knew much more about religious matters than I did, who attended an all-girls’ boarding school, Emma Willard School, with students from a diverse set of backgrounds. I went to Brandeis University, a small, liberal arts college that attracts a lot of Jewish students, and studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, for my junior year. The result of all this moving through the world, and then realizing my dream of living in New York City—and ultimately, discovering a new dream of raising a family in Utah—means I became an adult who loves to meet people from all backgrounds. My social sense, I believe, is at the center of my writing.

·        3) Why do I write what I do? I write because it is how I make sense of the world, and in the magazine world, I am able to use that power to help others make sense of their problems—large and small. I write my Deer Valley blog because it is a way to share my love of my adopted hometown and my favorite sport with many, many people. I write fun Facebook posts because it is a way to connect with my wide, scattered, disparate circles of family and friends in a fun, thoughtful way. I write my barinan.com posts in my voice, and therefore, they are a lot of fun to write. I write fiction because I can act out fantasies from my childhood that I was too fill-in-the-blank to try myself. I write because it’s a giant game of What-If, which is, in essence, a way to harness my monkey brain. I write because I love nothing more than to draw pictures with words.

·        4) How does your writing process work? I’m no Einstein, but inspiration and perspiration figure heavily into my process. I heard Billy Joel say, recently, that he thinks that sleep is where a lot of creativity happens, that your conscious brain shuts off and then the elves get the real work done. This rang true for me. I dream detailed scenes for my novel, and the characters chase me around all day, until I can write them down. I sort out issues of reporting and packaging roadblocks in my magazine stories, or issues of voice in anything I’m doing, while I run, take a spin class, hike, or ski.

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This is the view from the trail where I run, hike and mountain bike, depending on my mood—is it any wonder I can think, clearly, here?

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I never feel more creative, or more challenged, than when I’m making fresh tracks through the trees at Deer Valley.

My process, in general, involves removing myself from the tasks that can be completed with little or no thought—and are, therefore, enormously appealing. So, I escape laundry and household tasks by taking my MacBook to hideouts around town—some are in plain sight, like the Park City Coffee Roaster, or Starbucks, and others, less so. And I could tell you where those are, but you’d find me, and I’d be excited to see you, and have a great conversation, and boom, there goes my quiet writing hour. I usually try to “warm up” with a blog post. When I open Scrivener, to work on the YA novel, I will often look at previous scenes, not to enhance them, but to pick which kind of writing mood I’m in—flashback? rapid-fire dialogue? action?—and then see how far I can take the characters in 45-60 minutes. When I’m working on a magazine story, I toy with display copy, first, to give myself a sense of how the central theme will come together. It’s not always the display copy I stick with—often, the theme shifts midway through the writing, and I have to revise. But I like forcing myself to summarize the story, off the bat, to figure out what the reader will most need and want from the piece. By this point, I’ve mentally worked through much of the piece, on a run, on the ski hill, or in a quick chat with a friend, who asks, “what are you working on, today?”

This last thing, the camaraderie that writing can evoke—among readers and among other writers—is probably my best, and least-used tool. I have two friends, Mark and Kristen, with whom I have met a few times, in effort to have a monthly, writer’s circle. Life gets in the way, our group is a little too small, and if one of us cancels, then the rest of us cancel. Writer’s Circle, Party of Two, does not a great workshop make. So, we need to reboot. I’m curious as to how many of you have writer’s groups—how many people are in your group, how often you meet, and what you get out of it? Leave those thoughts in the comments, please?

I’m inviting some other friends to post on June 30th—and I’ll update you as soon as I hear back from them!

 

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I want J. Lo’s Trainer, Michelle Obama’s Arms, and…

…a stand-up paddle board, plus some lessons in the sport.

Ordinarily, I’m not one of those folks who relies on putting things out “to the universe” and seeing what I get in return. I’ve always been a fan of picking a goal and working at it. I’m not judging people who swear by the law of attraction. In fact, I happen to envy their ability to write a random seven or nine figure number on a piece of paper, tuck it under their pillow, and believe that they will come into that amount of money.

(And now, I’ll admit that I was insomnia-busting with my DVR last night, and found a long-ago recorded episode of The Lottery Changed My Life, on TLC. This episode profiled  a woman who had adopted her late brother’s children, quit her job to care for them and then did the whole Law of Attraction thing, right down to the big-money note under the pillow…And. She. Won. That. Exact. Amount.)

I think in terms of process and product. It may be because I’ve worked in women’s magazines for so many years, interviewed a ton of celebrities about their healthy lifestyles, and arrived at the conclusion that one gets a hard-body like J. Lo’s through a combination of hard work, determination, discipline, deep pockets for the trainer fees, delivered meals, and the ability to schedule hour after hour of physical training.

I look at photos of Michelle Obama and think: I need to find the discipline to rise each morning for a predawn workout. I once read that when her first daughter was born, Michelle noticed that her husband didn’t miss a workout—so she figured out the 4am workout as a way to take care of herself before she started meeting the needs of others. Still, I wondered…how does she look so, well, sculpted? As it turns out, the answer to that question (and any others a person could possibly dream up about what makes the First Lady of the United States appear so polished, confident and engaging) arrived in the form of a review copy of What Would Michelle Do? by Allison Samuels.

Maybe there’s something to this attraction thing after all?

Let’s put aside that I’ve been reading Allison’s writing for years in Newsweek, and I’ve always admired her style—it’s bright, informed, engaging and sharp. She has interviewed the First Lady several times for Newsweek, and that credibility is clear in the book. And, yes, the book delivers the exact routine that can get me those “guns.” Slam dunk.

Reassuringly, What Would Michele Do? is chockablock with the kind of advice that’s best described as “common-sense-plus.” Informed by her interviews with the First Lady for Newsweek, as well as other research and interviews with various members of the First Lady’s team, the book attempts to bridge the gap between aspiration and activation. We get a peek at how Michelle learned to create her signature style, cultivate meaningful friendships, balance (and blend) her professional and family lives according to the rules that work for her. The book is respectful, not dishy. For me, the best message of the book is this: The guidelines don’t give you a recipe for a perfect life. Instead, they acknowledge the fact that the one hard and fast rule is to know yourself and your own needs—and that doing things “like everybody else” is a recipe for failure. Taking in information through your personal filter, and using it to your best advantage—that’s likely the best example of WWMD.

Because Allison has interviewed the First Lady several times, the book is filled with insights that are informed by those meetings as well as information gleaned from key “insiders” (her mom, her hairstylist)—but delivered in a way that makes it clear that these tips are actionable by women of any means. Take the workout—headline: No Gym, No Problem. Very un-Hollywood.

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’m going to snap a photo of that page with my phone so I can reference it for my own workouts.

Overall, the book delivers on the promise of the title—a 3-D view of how Michelle navigates the worlds she inhabits.

And in the spirit of the WWBND reference on my own site, I’ll tell you how I’m changing my tune about attraction.

I have announced to my family that I want that paddle board, that the ultimate Mother’s Day gift is a package of paddle boarding lessons. And I will keep announcing it. Some way, somehow, those lessons will happen.

What will you do?

Too cool for school? Not me!

In case you were wondering, I went to high school twice.

The first time, I began the experience at my local public high school, then transferred to spend 10th-12th grades at Emma Willard School, in Troy, NY.

At both schools, I’m not afraid to tell you, I was decidedly uncool—however at Emma it was kind of cool to be uncool. Which is why I loved Emma then. (Now, I love it because I have dear, dear friends with whom I share a wonderful bond. In time, girls who were mere acquaintances in the school years have become women I can call friends.) Still, all of that counts as once.

The second time I went to high school, I was 24. It was 1997 in New York City. Incidentally, I had the same boyfriend the second time around, only this time, he was my husband (still is). It’s a little strange being married in high school. And I’m not sure he has ever recovered from the unholy numbers of Backstreet Boys concerts I dragged him to in a matter of a few short years. He even played along when I insisted that he watch  Dawson’s Creek with me.

No, I was not in some real-life 21 Jump Street (retro-cool or the hilarious, bawdy romp that is the Jonah Hill movie. What, you haven’t seen it yet? Go see it. It’s one of the best cool/not cool conundrum depictions ever.). It was a legit setup: I was the Entertainment Editor at YM, a then-widely-red and now-defunct teen magazine.

Want proof? Click here to read an article in the New York Times, which quoted me…ME!…about what the kids, cool or not, were doing, watching and talking about in 1997.

And, yes, I will shove this post in the face of my children when they accuse me of being uncool—if only to prove that cool doesn’t last forever. It’s fleeting. And fickle. Or, if nothing else, defined within peer groups. But I think we can all agree that being interviewed by the New York Times at age 24 for one’s professional expertise is pretty darn cool. I’ll hang my uncool-mom hat on that, thankyouverymuch.

Your turn: when in your life did you feel the least and most cool? What do your kids think is cool that you don’t—and vice versa. I’ll go first:

My kids think it’s completely uncool when I sing. And my best friend Nancy thinks exactly the opposite.

20 Celebrity Icons of Breast Cancer

Today, you can click over the story I wrote for Prevention.com. It’s also live on msn.com today. These stars have helped, in a variety of ways, to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. Why is it important to all of us to follow their lead and raise our voices? Here are some interesting stats from cancer.org

How many women get breast cancer?

The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2011:

  • About 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women
  • About 57,650 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be found (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 39,520 deaths from breast cancer (women)

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.

I have seen a dear friend through breast cancer treatment. My grandmother survived breast cancer. I’ve had many, many friends be diagnosed themselves or see a family member through diagnosis and treatment. So it’s personal—yet even if I didn’t have those personal connections, I would feel connected to this cause. It strikes too many of us, and it hits too close to home. When I hear about someone I don’t know getting diagnosed, I get chills down my spine.

In fact, I woke this morning to the news that E! News correspondent and reality star Giuliana Rancic, who has been very public about her infertility struggles (which probably made countless women enduring the same struggle feel less lonely), has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her public attitude is inspiring—she says she had a mammogram at the behest of her IVF doc, and that after her treatments conclude, she’ll continue to try to conceive a child. “I feel like this baby saved my life,” she said in People.. I send my wish to her—and all the women who received a diagnosis on the same day as Guiliana—for a healthy recovery, and for the space she needs to get mad, sad and frustrated that she got sick at all.

By making her diagnosis public, she follows in the footsteps of other celebrities who have used their platform to raise awareness about the disease. Like them, you should take it personally. I’ve reported on breast cancer for over 15 years. You can see some of the stories if you click on the Healthy Lifestyles tab, above. Read them. Get inspired. Get your physical, get your mammogram, and if you do get sick—get the best care you can.

 

Buy the November issue of Prevention Magazine!

Jillian Michaels is on the cover of the November issue of Prevention, and I wrote the cover story. It was an incredible experience, and not just because Jillian and her team are a group of lovely, warm, funny people. All of this is true, and made it ever-more enjoyable to do my job that day. Of course, we talked about The Biggest Loser, her new gig on The Doctors, on Dr. Phil, where she’s arrived in the adoption process (and even how she’d advise people to do it differently than she has!), what kind of mom she thinks she’ll be…and even her own troubled teen years.

Jillian's Prevention Cover

Pick up a copy on newsstands today!

But being privy to Jillian’s process, as she coached three Prevention readers toward better, more fulfilling lives, was, quite frankly, humbling to watch. Yes, we called three readers and got into the nitty gritty of their lives for this story, too.

Truly, this is a woman who puts her heart into her work. She so quickly saw to the core of their roadblocks, and engaged them with compassion. When the interviews were completed, she and I got the chance to talk. That’s when she said, “You really love what you do, too. It shows.” I was over the moon—because she’s 100 percent right. And I’m glad it shows. What got me pumped that day was being part of a project that included learning about the three dimensional life she leads, and the way that she invests herself in helping people.

Not to get too soap-boxy, but every work day is another opportunity for me to find ways to engage other people about the things that matter most–our health, our well-being, our relationships. It’s even more fun when I’m collaborating with people who get that.

Yes, I get paid to watch TV!

This is the part where I trend #Ilovemyjob over and over again, right?

So, first, click over to Yahoo! Shine to see what I said when Prevention asked me to report on the Bachelorette’s-eye-view of Marriage. I wonder, do you think there’s any inherent value to the way the “reality” show approaches holy matrimony?

Then, go on over to Prevention.com, and see what shows made the cut when I watched (and watched and watched and watched) TV to find healthy messages.

You’ll be surprised to see how much good news there is on network TV. But you should have seen the looks I got from people at my “remote office” (a/k/a Park City Coffee Roaster), when I sat, for hours, streaming episodes of TV on my MacBook, and looking like a total slacker. #Ilovemyjob!

Even cooler….ABC NEWS picked up my story. Maybe it calls for a new hashtag? #struttinmystuff

Badass Babysitter vs. Mama Bear

This month Park City (and beyond) was rocked by the news of the  suicide of Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. My family didn’t know Speedy, but enough of our friends/favorite babysitters have been his teammate, friend and surrogate family that we felt the loss, too. One of my friends, Candice, who referred to Speedy as a “second brother,” told me his death made her realize that she must tell those close to her what they mean to her at every opportunity. If that is just one of Speedy’s legacies, I hope it brings some comfort to those who loved him. And it’s why I’m dedicating today’s post to Candice’s friend—and mine—Ani Haas.

Speedy’s sudden death is still pretty raw—so when I heard KPCW News Director Leslie Thatcher report this morning that another member of the US Freestyle Ski Team made national news, I began to shake. It got a little more intense when, in the same breath, she said Ani’s name—and explained that she had FENDED OFF A BLACK BEAR THAT ATTACKED HER. Before long, I realized it was national news—and that our Ani had been on the Today Show, sharing her story.

And, so,  the world learned something that some of us are lucky enough to know. In fact, as I type this, Ani’s Facebook page is brimming with “attagirls,” and declarations of her courageous, “badass” nature. But the poised, thoughtful and charming young woman chatting with Ann Curry is all that and more.

And how lucky am I to be able to share my family’s “Ani story,” when she can read it? How lucky are we all? I felt pretty blessed to be able to leave her a message this morning, in which I joshed her, “I don’t exactly know the etiquette for calling a friend to say congratulations on fighting off the bear…” The Jews have a prayer for this kind of moment. It’s called Shehecheyanu, and it allows us to thank G-d for allowing us to arrive at this moment. Sometimes you say it when you see a sunrise. I said it because I was truly grateful she’d survived to tell the tale. But, I must say, if anyone could fend off the bear, it’s our girl.

We met Ani because we lucked into a kind of childcare nirvana—as we tapped into a network of kid-loving  competitive athletes as babysitters. It’s a lucky thing to live in a place where this is a resource in our childcare quiver. Here’s why:

1. Athletes are responsible. They are, by definition, used to things like responsibility and punctuality. Most have been competing in some form from a young age, so they really don’t know how to be any other way. Yes, there are party kids, and yes, there are those who squeak by, but in our experience, we have met young women whose sense of responsibility and determination keeps the other stuff in check.

2. They are team players. They know what it means to be part of a team, they know that a family works like that, and they, instinctively cover their own shift if they can’t work. That’s how we first met Ani—but more on that in a minute.

3. They are awesome (and, yes, BADASS) role models for our kids. Mel, our babysitter/nanny and great friend of many years, was instrumental in teaching our kids to ski. Especially the little guy—she logged hours and hours, holding the straps of the “racer chaser” ski harness behind him. And her love of the sport is both inspiring and contagious. (Her love of my kids, even more so). Each of the women who fall into this category show my kids the real-life value of identifying and working toward a goal. In Ani’s case, she has had two major comebacks from injury in the years we’ve known her—once from a broken back and another from serious knee injury.  My kids have seen her do her homework at our kitchen table in the middle of summer (she attended the Winter Sports School in Park City) and bumped into her between intense training runs at Deer Valley Resort. My kids have watched these big-sister surrogates compete in US National Freestyle Competitions on our home mountain, too.

4. They are kindhearted, kid-loving souls. And here’s where I can tell you about meeting Ani. First, I hired Harlie, an ex-competitive snowboarder, as a nanny for Big Guy, when he was around 18 months old. Within her first week, she apologized for having to tell me that her mom had booked a last-minute mother-daughter vacation for her and she wouldn’t be able to work the following week.  I didn’t have a chance to react before she presented the solution: “I already called Candice (who had recently babysat for us, and turned out to be a friend of Harlie’s from boarding school–yes, for competitive winter athletes–) and she can work next week, no problem.” I grinned. Ear to ear. Cut to the following week—I’m driving down the canyon to Salt Lake City for a meeting, and have pulled off one of those days that has the childcare machine in full-tilt. Big Guy is at morning day camp. Ski Dad will pick him up at midday, and meet Candice at the house, where she’ll take over for the afternoon. Candice, however, is calling me to say she can’t work today—”But don’t worry, I called my friend Ani, and she’s planning to be at your house in 15 minutes. I know it’s a little weird, but she loves kids and you guys will adore her. She’s the most responsible person I know.” Which is saying a lot, considering Candice already held that title from the minute we met her.

I quickly called Ski Dad, explained the situation, and asked him to call me after he met Ani. “I trust this will be fine,” I told him. “But would you mind working from the home office today, just in case?” Of course, there was no need. Moments later, I got a call from Ski Dad. “They hit it off immediately! She has the biggest smile. I think he’s in love,” he said. Ani, it should be noted, immediately became a part of our pack of beloved babysitters. And one day when she couldn’t watch our son, she sent her friend…Mel. As our family expanded, and Harlie moved away to finish college, Candice (and another “friend-of-Candice” Natalia, and her sister Brooke) and Ani and Mel stepped in in various ways. Ani and Candice and Mel were all on our speed dial list as the birth of Little Guy approached. Ani brought Big Guy to the hospital to meet his new brother, and took him for a trip to the zoo to make the day even more special. I have an image of her walking into the hospital room that day, bearing flowers for me (!) and, after letting the Big Brother have his honors, scooping up Baby Little Guy for a snuggle. Somewhere, there is a photo of her beaming as she hold him.

Ani, for as infrequently as we see her, is a permanent part of our village. But I don’t think she can possibly know how much we respect and admire her—for her courage, her intelligence, her kindness, the pure joy she takes in her life, the honor she affords her talent, and the goodness in her soul that cannot be manufactured. It’s that courage that the Mama Bear didn’t count on, but one that this Mama Bear has always known–along with it’s all the other stuff that carried her through the moment of truth with grace.

Graduate school for the soul

One of the best parts of my job is that I feel like I get a mini-masters degree in, well, life. I get paid to listen to the top experts in health, fitness, psychology and many other fields give me private tutorials in a variety of subjects. Then i get to drill down to the core of the matter and ask even more specific questions.

And when I tried my hand at teaching this year, volunteering to lead a Junior Great Books program at my son’s elementary school, I realized that one of the best things I could do was to “interview” the students to get the skinny on what they took away from the stories we read. It was as good an education as any I got when I was on their side of the learning curve.

Thing is, when my most important job is on the line, I sometimes have a hard time committing to this practice. That is, in parenting, I’m often guilty of lecturing rather than listening. If I could just get myself to bite my tongue and not look for the “teaching moment” in the simple tasks of the day (getting in and out of the car, for instance), then maybe I’d have a clue why my kids evade my brilliant parenting moves (clean up your room…or else! Do what I ask the first time…or else!) which mainly involve removing access to electronic toys.

Today, I read a great essay on Babble.com, which reminded me of just that. The author talked about her own limitations in getting her kids to open up—mainly that she was so preoccupied with solving it, with “actively” parenting, she missed the cues to shut up and listen. And by listening, I might just learn something—about my own parenting, about my kids and the people they are becoming, and about the quiet spaces where change happens. Whatever that may be.

This got me thinking about something I heard last night, when I was watching  Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, in which Senior Producer Jack thanked Oprah for all that he learned in 15 years of working for her. “This is where my soul went to graduate school,” he said, which stopped Oprah in her tracks. Me too. “I learned to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, right here.”

So, now I have it in my head that parenting itself is the graduate school for the soul. And I’m gonna see where that takes me. Starting now. What’s your take on graduate school for the soul?

 

Smart. Women. Rule…

…or at least get the last word. Roseanne Barr is unflinchingly honest in this story in New York Magazine.

Her take on fame–and the business of maintaining it, is as fascinating as the accounts of the business of show biz is depressing.

As ever, she’s real. And smarter than most.But it’s depressing to realize that her smarts are what got her in trouble, and had her fighting for what she believed in, even as those threatened by her intelligence tried to play her for a fool.

There isn’t any marriage on TV today that comes close to the clarity and honesty that Roseanne and Dan brought, clear-eyed, to their public every week. There isn’t any family that offers the unvarnished truth the way the Connors did.

And as much as I love watching The Middle (and when I met the show creators, they were disarmingly, charmingly real best friends and practical Midwestern working moms who happen to live in Hollywood, but clearly worked very hard to get there), and it owes a lot to Roseanne, it offers a point of view that is (however deliciously) satirical where Roseanne was hungry–to tell her truth, to reach her people.

It’s why I never miss a chance to watch an episode of Roseanne in reruns.

Who do you love to watch in reruns?