Vive La France

Royal Dragon Restaurant Chinois - Rue Delambre

Some of the fondest memories of my life were forged in Paris. I went there for the first time in 1995 with my French comparative literature professor and a bunch of students. I’d just spent a semester studying medieval Paris and medieval French literature, then I got to go and actually see all the medieval (and modern) places that inspired it all. (I minored in French language and literature in college, after taking my very first French class ever as a college sophomore. You could say the language and culture really grew on me, and fast.)

One of the best days/nights I ever had there was sitting in a balcony in Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood at the Hotel Lenox, on Rue Delambre, drinking cheap locally made wine and cheese procured from a Texaco (yep!) near the Palace of Versailles because it was a national holiday and everything else was closed. The wine was glorious, the cheese sublime. I am convinced that they don’t let the good stuff out of the country. Even their junk food is amazing.

Why is Paris the most beautiful (and most visited) city on earth? Why are the French so revered for their culture and art? Why is their food amazing? Because they are liberal, peace-loving, equality-supporting, civilized humans. More so than anyone else on earth, I think.

Sure, they aren’t perfect. They had those horrid penal colonies in Belize. Their track record in Indochine (now Vietnam) wasn’t great. (And don’t get me started on how they run their airports—-oy.) But all in all, the French are a great society that has done a tremendous amount of good in the world. There’s a reason all the best artists and designers in the world all go to Paris to study. There’s a reason why French philosophy has far-reaching implications. There’s a reason why they have more museums per capita than anyplace else on Earth. And there’s a reason why the whole world lit up with the French flag and singing of the Marseillaise after horror hit their capital.

The world lit up because the world owes it to France.

I am not likely to forget how I heard the news. I came home from running after-work errands (a trip to Target, picking up Chinese takeout) to discover that crazed lunatics were blowing stuff up and killing people in Paris. Terrorism is never OK, but terrorism in Paris that destroys both people and treasure really, really upsets me. Paris is so unique in its sheer magic that not even the Nazis would burn it down. (They left it stand, unharmed, totally intact, while trying to steal its portable art because it’s so valuable.)

When you’re even lower than Nazis in terms of your ethics, you have some serious soul-searching to do. Screw you, terrorists. You will accomplish nothing with this mayhem. And nobody messes with Paris and gets away with it. Nobody.

(If you don’t agree with my views on Paris, it’s because you haven’t been there.)

As President Obama has pointed out, France is our oldest ally. They were the first major power to recognize the USA as a sovereign state. We’d still be a British colony if they hadn’t come to save our butts in both 1776 and 1812. They provided mercenaries and other support during the Civil War. We purchased 2/3 of the Continental US from them. And even our system of constitutionally-based divided government is based on French philosophy.

I could go on.

And yet, American conservatives often make a hobby of insulting France and the French, and often tell American liberals (like moi) to shut up and just move to France if we don’t like it here. (As if telling people to move to France is an insult. Um, telling people to move to France as an insult is roughly equivalent to saying that we should send all of our convicted murderers to Disney World for the rest of their lives. And when they’re really bad in prison, we can sentence them to nonstop deep-tissue hot stone massages in front of a tropical waterfall instead of using solitary confinement. Riiiiiiiiiiiigggght.)

Um, yeah. A trip to France is never to be considered punishment. I mean, have you tried their macarons? And their wine? What about that glorious brie???!!! (And duck au poivre with dilled carrot salad on the side will force the staunchest atheist to believe in God.) And Montmartre, where there are literally dozens of artists sitting around who can paint a museum-quality portrait of you on the street in twenty minutes?

I have often grown tired of hearing my compatriots constantly dissing France over petty politics. What these small-minded people don’t understand is, America owes its very existence to France, three or four times over. (And no, we did not pay them back yet with our efforts in WWI and WWII. We still owe them at least a couple more centuries of dedicated service before we can call it even.)

This morning my son asked why anyone would want to target France. I told him, “The people that did this want to force a confrontation with the West, so they hit the capital of Western civilization.”

Now we know just what all those poor Syrian and Iraqi refugees are so desperately running away from. Wouldn’t you do the same? How would you feel in their shoes? Would you want a bunch of right-wingers calling for your head over something you had nothing to do with? (I think not).

However, some people on the right are using these attacks as an excuse to push a fascist agenda. Round up and deport (or kill) all the immigrants. Arm ordinary citizens and turn public spaces into war zones. Start World War III. Ad nauseum. Not because it’s required, but because their pre-existing political agenda of supporting both racism and the military-industrial complex requires it, and all so their colleagues in these aims can make some more money. (As we reporters say, “Always follow the money.”) No condolences offered to the bereaved, no discussion on how we can work towards peace. Just “Kill ’em all, and let God sort ’em out,” ad nauseum. (And then these people claim to be more civilized than the terrorists. Heh. I think not.)

Last night I attended a gala fundraiser for my kids’ school. I wore my French sweater emblazoned with tiny little Eiffel Towers all over it as part of my evening outfit, along with a French silk shawl. I got several compliments. I’d actually planned to wear this outfit well before Friday night’s events, which is ironic.

Speaking of irony, one of the other kids’ dads used my Eiffel-Tower sweater as an excuse for complaining about “politicians who won’t allow the arming of citizens.” Because he was absolutely sure that one random guy with a handgun and no tactical training would totally be able to take out a bunch of dudes with AK-47s. (Not to mention the fact that getting French people to go along with something like having guns everywhere isn’t exactly likely. If he really believes that, then perhaps I could interest him in some wonderful Florida swampland I have for sale, which is sure to appreciate in value despite its low altitude and proximity to rapidly rising sea levels. I also have the Brooklyn Bridge in the trunk of my car, and it’s for sale. Cheap.)

I cut him off at the pass. His wife appeared rather embarrassed as I told him off and went back to my seat.

Mind you, this was at a fundraiser for a Catholic school. (He clearly isn’t acquainted with Pope Francis.)

But I digress. Lately I haven’t blogged about anything unless it’s really important. Busy with work and life, you know. But any assault on the capital of civilization is important. Whether it’s the scary foreign terrorists who do it, or the scary people who walk among us and don’t appreciate their own civilization. They’re both equally bad. We would do right to point that out.


Ethics In Media

Based on some experiences I’ve had of late as well as many anecdotes I’ve learned from professional colleagues in recent months, I’ve determined that most of professional media these days is ethically and morally bankrupt. Labor exploitation is rife, freelancers and even so-called staff are treated like indentured servants in a Dickensian novel (or outright slaves who work for free). Hiring managers lie and play bait-and-switch to rope in talent, and then fail to pay for it. And worse.

Journalism is the only profession where pay has plummeted to near-zero levels in the past twenty years, while online media gurus who operate sites like Huffington Post rake in millions (or billions) in ad dollars while paying their content creators zilch. People with master’s degrees and solid-gold clips are being asked to work for less than I pay my 18-year-old babysitter. What used to be mid-level editorial management jobs are turning into “internships” where there is little to no pay, and people often have to have six interviews, take eleventy-billion editing tests, personality tests, and even have a degree from an Ivy just for the privilege of working for nothing.

It’s gotten so bad that even TV star and internet Super-Star Nerd Wil Wheaton is getting asked to work for nothing. (Seriously. It’s bad.)

I was recently interviewed for an article about Freelance Writer Horror Stories, here. Sadly, the experiences discussed in this article are common. Even media companies that still pay their contributors decently will engage in ethically bankrupt (and often illegal) behaviors ranging from copyright and trademark infringement to labor violations to privacy violations. (Is that really what it takes for media companies to stay in business now? Maybe.)

I also participate in a freelance writers’ listserv, where this week I counseled a mid-career writer who was getting treated horribly by a prospective employer. (She was so desperate for a staff job—-ANY staff job, that she was seriously considering taking an “internship” that would have involved her running an entire department in a NYC magazine for—wait for it—twelve bucks an hour, no benefits, and part-time hours. She said, ‘I’m not sure whether to take a job I’ve been offered at a prestigious magazine. It’s a great place and a great opportunity, but they’re offering me less in pay than I made per hour as a babysitter 20 years ago in the 90s. And they are calling this [clearly mid-level editorial management job] an ‘internship’ that is temporary. They won’t negotiate. What should I do?”

B*tch, please.

Here’s what I told her. “These people are slave-driving sleazebags who are insulting you. It’s not a good opportunity if you can’t live on the pay. It’s not an internship if you’re in charge of a whole department. They’re probably calling it such to get out of paying taxes or something. (illegal). Tell them to take a long walk off a short cliff and RUN.”

She had a hard time accepting this, and kept making excuses, like her friend worked there, they were nice, it was a great job, she really wanted to work at a magazine, ad nauseum. But I don’t see how or why anybody who has been working professionally in media for any length of time should have to put up with such bullshit. (I wouldn’t even take that from a part-time job hauling slop at a dairy, which would probably pay better than media these days, anyway.)

Seriously folks, this should be a no-brainer. Just because it’s a prestigious magazine in NYC doesn’t mean they can turn their hiring process into a 17th-century slave auction. Unless you let them, of course.

I’ve supported myself in media for 20 years at good pay levels, mostly because I demanded them. Anybody who mistreated me or engaged in ethically/legally questionable behavior did not get to have me on their staff. (or if they did, not for long.). I believe in decent pay, professional conduct, and ethical business practices. People often ask me how I’ve done so well for so long (with occasional bumps and hiccups, mind you—-but I’ve made some bad decisions at times, like anyone does). I tell them, “Because I only work for people who are above board. I believe in following the rules and doing things the right way. And that includes paying people what they deserve, and being honest. I also do not suffer fools. If you cross any professional or ethical lines with me, I do not put up with it. Ever.”

I have a very good job now. It’s in a media niche that is highly specialized and still quite lucrative. It’s also a highly regulated area (medical education) that demands impeccable ethics, and companies that don’t adhere to these standards generally don’t stay in business for very long. My colleagues are all people who share my values and commitment to ethical standards and fair compensation. There aren’t many of us left, but those of us who are still around have earned the trust of many other people who enjoy working with us as our clients and funders.

Unfortunately, the past year or so has proven to me that most people of any power in the media industry these days possess none of these traits, will exploit anyone they can anytime they can, and will pay people as little as possible (including zilch) no matter what labor laws they are breaking by doing so. And the few media people left who are decent, professional, and courteous have either left the industry or work for the tiny fraction of shops in hyperspecialized areas (like my employer) that haven’t been forced by venture-capital types (or advertisers, or Wall Street) to do otherwise.

Long story short, I wish I could see a future for ethical people in media. Outside of the niche area where I work (regulated medical/drug communications), I just don’t.


First World Writer Problems

Having a hard time finishing a novel due to demands of the day job, plus demands of the almost-three-year-old who refuses to sleep anywhere but in Mommy’s bed and interrupts me constantly. Also need to find a new home for the series after getting rights back from imploding publisher.

I know, I know. Count my blessings for the good day job (as a writer, no less), beautiful kids, and all that. Seriously though, it was easier to write when I had an infant who would nap and go to bed early at night without a fight. ‪#‎firstworldproblems

It’s these same problems that keep me from blogging here much. I hope you understand, my lovelies.