Midway through American Airlines Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK, shortly after our microwaved meatball dinners were tossed out like frisbees, the flight attendant asked my son Ian if he wanted another beverage. He intently played his Tetris game on the backseat video console without replying or glancing her way.
Missing most of that exchange, I looked over in time to hear the flight attendant loudly exclaim, “Well, how RUDE is that?” She glared at me.
I recited the textbook response I give whenever Ian does something that inadvertently annoys strangers: “My son has autism, so we try to be understanding.”
Last month, a reporter from the New York Times called. He’s doing a book on college affordability and wanted to pick my brain about one of my articles. It was a great chat and at the end of it, he asked to be put on my newsletter distribution list.
Newsletter? I have a blog and an active presence on four social media platforms. Now, I need to produce a newsletter, too? Sigh. How does anybody find the time to get any paid work accomplished, if we spend all our time creating free content to promote our paid work?
Well, it’s the way of the world. I’ve been thinking about how to do it, so it doesn’t cripple me and helps promote my f@cking brand.
I’m too old for this brand stuff. You can’t be an influencer if your neck sags below your chin. That thought set me into a tailspin last night. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s just say that whiskey was involved.
There was some buzz last week about Graydon Carter‘s new newsletter. Since I don’t have a staff of 30, I’m not going to do anything like that. Do you subscribe to any newsletters? Anything I should check out?
One of the things that I want to do on this blog and on the newsletter is give a little more info about my work week. Well, 90 percent of my work week is boring as hell — read tweet, answer tweet, write a paragraph, find a snack, question my life choices, write another paragraph, read a tweet from a person who causes me to feel deep envy and resentment, eat chocolate, send the six hundredth email to the secretary of a superintendent of a large school district to set up an interview, and so on. You don’t want to hear about that.
But 10 percent of my work week is super interesting. I talk to smart, energetic people who really care about kids and want to make the world a better place. They’re charismatic and charming. It’s truly amazing that I get paid to talk to these individuals. I try to convey all this awesomeness in my articles, but I never can do it justice in part because of space limitations. Maybe I will give more of the backstory of my articles in the newsletter.
Even though I’m not working on reporting gigs this summer, I am doing some prep work for articles in September. This week, I talked with a professor, who specializes in trauma experienced by immigrant children, and a president of a community college, who is setting up a new jobs program for students who are falling through the cracks.
Another fun task that I do from time to time is help out fellow writers. This week, I read a draft of a book and gave input. It was a good read, and led to a whiskey-fueled debate with Steve last night.
As I mentioned, I’m taking a break from reported pieces for the summer and writing personal and opinion pieces about parenting and education. I wrote a personal essay about a terrible experience that we had on the flight home from Europe earlier this month. I slowly edited and tightened the piece throughout the week and sent it to editors on Thursday.
Huffington Post bought it in seven minutes, which is a personal record. The editor and I took care of business — contract, bio, picture, edits, title, essay image — in record time. It’s coming out on Monday at 9am.
Things don’t usually happen this quickly. Two finished articles of mine are on deck for publication I hope sometime this summer . I do enjoy speed. Sometimes when there’s been too long of a gap between reporting and publication, I forget what I was talking about and lose the passion for the topic.
But it’s a Saturday and I really shouldn’t be sitting at the computer. When Steve gets back from the barber shop with Ian, I think I’m going to take the boys for a hike. I need to sweat out last night’s toxins.
True story. I am addicted to crossbody purses. I think I own ten. Probably more. I like them because I only need something that can fit my wallet, my cell phone, and a tube of lipstick. Anything bigger just cramps my style.
Crossbody purses are essential when traveling and you only need a change purse of pounds, the cell phone, and the key to the Air BnB. When you’re not using them, they fit nicely into a suitcase.
Pad & Quill‘s Heritage Bag is especially cute, because it has a nice shape and smells like new leather. It even has room for an iPad, so you can read Outlander in the corner of a cafe in Edinburgh for an hour or two. Hell, you can even imagine Claire using something like this.
When Pad & Quill asked to partner with me on this product, I immediately said yes, because of its vintage-modern vibe. My nieces offered to model it and now want one, too.
As I explained earlier, packing for a trip to Scotland is tricky for many reasons. The temperature can range, as it did on this trip, from the 90s to the 40s. Because we wanted to be mobile, everything had to fit into one carry on suitcase. And our trip started in London, so we needed some cute evening outfits, as well as rugged outfits for climbing abandoned castles in the Highlands. Everything had to match and work together when layered up on a chilly evening.
Since we were staying in AirBnBs with access to laundry, we took about five to seven days worth of clothes.
After a lot of thought, I came up with a formula for myself and the dudes in my family. Here are some of the essentials:
For the guys: every day t-shirts, a sweat shirt, a long sleeve shirt, two shorts, one pair of denim pants, one pair of khaki pants, a polo shirt, a button-down shirt, walking shoes/sneakers, sperry’s, a good rain coat
I live in one of those high-achieving school districts that is well known to every selective-college admissions director in the country. With average SAT scores above 1250, a 98 percent graduation rate and 95 percent of graduates attending four-year colleges, my northern New Jersey district boasts excellence.
Parents boast, too. College stickers on the back windshields of BMWs are brag sheets for winning families. Everybody seems to have a kid on the fast track to success, with internships, semesters abroad and academic honors. My husband likes to say that we live in “Magic Town,” because every kid seems perfect.
But on a recent evening in the aging administrative building, the guidance counselors and administrators leading a presentation on “Alternatives to College” took one look at the parents packing the room and ran out to make extra copies of their handouts.
Back in my early 20s, after two years in the workforce and two years of gazing out the window at all the people jogging in the middle of the afternoon in Central Park, I decided that I wanted to go to grad school.
I decided on a terminal masters program at the University of Chicago in the social sciences. Looking back on it, it was a shockingly bad decision. It was a masters program, after all, no benefit in that. Masters programs are never funded, so I had to pay for the first trimester on my own before a dean saw my A’s and gave me money. And I had been doing really well in publishing. They were about to give me another promotion. Ugh.
Going to the University of Chicago may have been a terrible career move, but it was an amazing intellectual opportunity. I’ve never read so much, been so challenged, been so scared shitless of smart people. I mean it was an intense place. I knew people who totally lost their minds there. But it was also a brain-feast.
I took one class from an old German Jewish guy, who spent half the year in Israel, about revolutions. We compared the causes and outcomes revolutions in the US, France, China, and Russia.
I remember reading one paper that said that the French Revolution ended up with headless aristocrats and blood in the gutters, while the US was relatively less crazy, because Americans never had the goal of égalité. Americans wanted the equality of opportunity, but never thought that everybody should have the same piles of money. Equality of opportunity is a much more sober goal than perfect equality.
There was a lot of talk here and on twitter this week about whether schools can truly provide equality. (I can’t insert links right now, because I’m typing this up on an old iPad at my mom’s kitchen table as I wait for Ian to get out of his science exam.) On their own, schools can’t do much to move the needle on inequality, which shouldn’t be a huge shocker.
My comment section has had a fascinating discussion about inequality this week. Everybody seems to agree that inequality has risen. Causes discussed include tax changes, de-unionization, declining wages for certain jobs, and regional abandonment. (What did I miss?) Check it out.
So, how nihilistic should we be about schools? Can schools alone make up for all those changes in society and make things more equal? Can they at least create conditions for the equality of opportunity, so the most talented, hardworking people can rise to the top? Some schools do. I’ve seen it. But these are amazing, remarkable places led by charismatic crazy people who work like missionaries to change the work.
Ideally, I would like everyone, who is interested in a brain-feast like I got at the University of Chicago, to get it. It was transformative for me. While my parents didn’t pay for the program or help me in any way get in, they did all the groundwork from ages 0-18, so I that as a young adult, I could apply, figure out costs, and succeed.
And this is why there will never be true equality or even equality of opportunity. You can’t force families to be equal. And with such inequality baked into society, children are already vastly unequal before they even get to kindergarten. Schools can’t fix that.