Sunday, December 18, 2016

Anne Boyle Gilmartin: A Pioneer of Women's Rowing

When she was Anne Boyle 

On a recent night, when I was talking about my book at the new Narberth Book Shop, Anne Boyle Gilmartin turned up. Now in her 80s, she is as enthusiastic about rowing and the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club (PGRC) as she was as a teenager back in the 1950s.

She reminisced with me about those days, when PGRC --the first competitive rowing club in the country -- was still struggling to find women to row against. "I heard about rowing and thought, 'that sounds interesting,' Anne told me as we sat in her Drexel Hill, PA home, sparkling with holiday decorations.

What followed was nothing but fun and laughter. She made friends. She flirted. She got great coaching. And she traveled. "We raced on the Potomac, in Boston, in New Rochelle, N.Y.," she said, showing off her medals.
Anne's medals

And she competed in the first major races that PGRC had against a serious women's team, in 1956 against Florida Southern in Lakeland.

According to the research I did for my book, PGRC raced against a sorority team. A Lakeland, Fla. newspaper called the match-up historic -- the day "women took over man's traditional eight-oared shell and launched intersectional competition."

Anne rowed that day with Ernestine Bayer, widely called the "mother of women's rowing," and a founder of PGRC in 1938. By 1956,  the intrepid Ernie was 47 years old "and not to be dissuaded from racing, despite criticism that she was too old," I wrote in my chapter on women's crew. PGRC lost, but only by a foot.

Anne remembers being coached by Tom Curran, a champion rower of the 1930s who by the 1950s was also leading La Salle College crew to victory. "He was a rogue," she said, laughing, as she remembered "the Bear." But he was tough, too. "If you didn't dance the way he fiddled, you were in trouble," she said.

Eying the photo of Curran coaching a men's eight  on page 116 in my book (a photo I wrote about on my Boathouse Row website), she spied Romeo Boyd and swooned. Sounding like Shakespeare's Juliet, she recalled calling out to him: "Romeo....Oh, Romeo..." 
"He'd take me and throw me in the water. We just had fun."

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Shun the phrase "This Stage of Life"

For reasons I don't fully understand, my Columbia University journalism school class has remained close for decades now. Maybe it's because we graduated in an era of "sensitive training," when on our own we organized a three-day weekend to learn to listen to each other. (After all, isn't listening what journalists are supposed to be good at?)
Maybe it's because we've had a list serve run by the same dedicated class member all these years.
Or because, every five years at reunion time, the same lovely couple hosts all of us at their New York apartment and we reconnect.
When one of us lost his health and then his job, the class stepped in to network and find him a new position.  When one of us, author Larry Leamer, announced that he had a play opening in New York based on the life of Rose Kennedy, some 40 of us flocked into the city to go to the opening of Rose.
So, of course, now that I have a book just published, I thought I'd share my good news with my J-School class.
Along with dozens of cheers and congrats --and book purchases (thank you!) -- came this note from a classmate,   Inderjit Badhwar. Indy, as we called him back in the day, has had an illustrious career as editor of the India Times and other international publications. Currently he's editor in chief of India Legal.
I had made the mistake of saying in my class email that it was fun to have a new career "at this stage of life."

Indy was indignant:

"Stage of Life" Dotty? duh! what a defeatist sentiment after you prove that life's the biggest stage on which nothing alive can be 'staged'. It does not age. There is no chronological progression. I've observed this as an editor and a novelist. I saw this most lucidly in the last two months when I met and dined and stayed with Michael March in Prague where he conducts the International Writers Festival featuring Nobel Laureates (this time [John Maxwell] Coetzee."

Indy then went on to remind me of others in our class, all climbing new heights at this so-called "stage," including  Jim and Jill Gabbe, who did a "magnum opus documentary on India/China, "To the Mountaintops." 
To that list, here are a few (not all) other classmates still very much engaged in a stage that doesn't age:  David Gumpert may well be the nation's expert on raw milk, having written three books on the issue of "food rights," and the government's efforts to regulate choice. Connie Bruck continues her award-winning writing in the New Yorker magazine and elsewhere.  And there are so many other who continue to leave their mark on the world...Michele MontasDon Ringe.
Among many others, all still very much on the stage. Thanks, Indy for ribbing me.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What "Unretiring" has Wrought!!

First big regatta on Schuylkill, 1835, Nicolino Calyo
It took me three years, but my book, Boathouse Row, Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing is finally out. Taking on this project has been transformational.
First of all, I was totally absorbed by the crumbling minute books, old newspapers, photo archives, and documents stashed in boathouses, people's homes and such repositories as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company. The stories I discovered fascinated me. They took me inside a time when immigrants were pouring into Philadelphia and the country, a time when people clung to clubs and traditions for a sense of belonging somewhere. They had costumes, nicknames, and other strange customs. Gambling was rife, races were thrown, and Boathouse Row pushed for amateur rules for the sport. (They were the first amateur rules for any sport in the U.S.)  Hundreds of thousands would descend on the river to watch the most popular spectator sport of its era. You can find lots of photos and information on my website, BoathouseRowTheBook.
Then, too, I got to interview a lot of people with long memories of more recent times. Such fun, having an excuse to get to know some fascinating folks.
Signing my book at the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta
And picking the more than 160 photos for the book tapped into my experience as a projects editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I focused not only on words, but how a big story would appear visually.
In other words, every skill I ever learned as a journalist -- reporting, writing, research, fact checking, visuals -- all came into play in this, the biggest project of my career.
As I look at the book on my kitchen counter, with its gorgeous cover, color photos, many stories and its heft, I'm stunned that I was able to create this.
Of course,  I could not have done so without Temple University Press and a generous grant to the press from philanthropist H. F. Gerry Lenfest. Daniel J. Boyne, author of several important rowing books, wrote a gracious blurb for the jacket.
As I am interviewed on public radio's WHYY  Radio Times  or excerpted in the Philadelphia Inquirer , or in Main Line Today, it's like an out-of-body experience for me. My calendar is filling with appearances and book signings.
Never could I have imagined that my journey to the "next great thing" would be so much fun.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Grandparent Data: What does it Mean?

U.S. Census Bureau
As I sit on a couch in my daughter's home, babysitting a sleeping grandchild, I am struck by a chart that the Census Bureau just put out, in time for Grandparents Day (Sept. 11). (By the way, is that a holiday that anyone celebrates? )

The chart looks at the percentage of adults over age 30 living with a grandchild. Interestingly, between 2000 and 2014, it is only white families that saw an increase in such households with a grandchild. All other groups -- African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics --  saw a decline. 

What does this mean? I remember in the era of crack-cocaine in the 1980s, when more and more minority grandparents were taking in their grandchildren as their own children struggled with addiction. This appears to be the opposite. 

A Pew study which looked at the numbers of households with grandparents after the 2008 Great Recession also found that while it is still less common for white grandparents to be living with their grandchildren than other groups, the trend is galavanting upwards for whites in particular.  According to the Pew study, "While grandparents who serve as primary caregivers for their grandchildren are disproportionately black and Hispanic, the increase in grandparent primary caregiving across the decade has been much more pronounced among whites. From 2000 to 2008, there was a 19% increase in the number of white grandparents caring for their grandkids.

So, peering through the windows of America, what does this mean? Any thoughts?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Identity Crisis: Is Marketing Me?

A New Row to Hoe 
"Don't think of yourself as a newspaper reporter and editor anymore," Susan FitzGerald, a former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer told me, when I called her in a panic. "Think of yourself as an author."
Faced with a whole new challenge  in my so-called "retirement,"  I had spent the morning on the phone calling friends who had written books.  My calls weren't about the issue of writing a book, or getting a publisher. My three-year adventure was now in the hands of the printer.
No. My identity crisis was about marketing.
With  the book coming out in two months, I had started to peddle it, sending out emails, calling people, networking on social media. A part of me was reveling in it. But another part of me worried that I was crossing a line.
In my former editing job at the Philadelphia Inquirer, one editor, Butch Ward,  had called me "The Nudge." Of course, because of that I accomplished a lot. But at the risk of annoying others.
Beyond that concern, I was having an identity crisis. Why had I plunged into marketing, something I had never really done in my long career in journalism?  On my dance card already for October are a half dozen speaking engagements, and it's not like I'm a natural at that, having hidden behind a typewriter or computer for all of my career.
"It's not you," a near-and-dear someone said to me. "Find another project."
That comment had really set me off.
If this wasn't "me," why was I doing it? And who was I now?
My author-friends resoundingly chimed in with lots of reasons I had not been able to articulate:
"You love what you've discovered writing your book. Now you can share your excitement with others who are fascinated, too."
"It's what authors have to do. If you don't push it out, no one will know about it -- so what was the point of writing it?"
"You'll meet so many interesting people, and that will lead to things you never imagined."
"You'll leave every event on a high."
And, as Susan told me several times: "You'll have so much fun!"
What could be better at this stage of life than having so much fun!
And since I've decided to go for the marketing, take a look inside my book,
Boathouse Row, Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing.
(The new me just had to put it out there.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Snail Mail your "Stuff" to Friends

A very unusual envelope landed at my house recently. It was from my seventh grade teacher, Nathan Sloan, whose 90th birthday I attended -- and wrote about --  a couple years ago.
Inside was a sheaf of papers about an inch thick:  his collection of newspaper clippings and Xeroxed articles, mostly political, that resonated with him.
The stuff you cut out to think about later, but mostly never do.
With the batch, came this admission, "I know! I know! This is an enormous amount of 'stuff'...Hope you enjoy the 'library' I've sent. "
At first I was stunned. What was Nat doing? Sending me the stuff that most people who are downsizing would just toss?
Yet, this wasn't as if he was handing off an old lamp or a pile of textbooks. This was personal, and I couldn't help but open up his brain-dump, curious about this man whom I've rarely seen since high school but who tenaciously kept touch with so many of his students over the many decades.
In the collection  were such titles as "How Socialists Built America" and "Government by the People Campaign Builds Momentum."
Also included was a letter (undated) he presumably had sent to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recommending a tougher stance against the Republicans. "Why haven't we learned that honey and civil discourse doesn't work with the likes of McConnell, Boehner, Cantor...We should be shouting that the 'trickle down theory' doesn't work."
In the pile, too, was a copy of the "Tillman Act of 1907" which, in case you never read it, prohibits monetary contributions to national political campaigns by corporations. What happened to that?
On a piece of lined notebook paper, in his careful capital letters, he wrote the names of 22 "Feminist Freethinkers," from Sarah Bernhardt to Alice Walker, to Marlene Dietrich and Clara Barton.
On 3 other sheets were the names of 133 atheists, agnostics, deists and secular humanists, which included, at the bottom of one column, right after Carl Sagan, his own name, Nat Sloan.
In 1999, he wrote a 'letter to the editor,' arguing that presidential campaigns should be limited to four months and contributors should immediately be revealed.
(I am sure I know who he's supporting for President).
Well, I took a lesson from Nat Sloan. Since I had been going through old newspaper stories I had written, debating whether to toss them or not, I decided to send a few on to my three daughters. One article in particular, I thought would resonate with them, since they are all working mothers. It was about one of my maternity leaves, which I spent working to save my local elementary school. The district was thinking of closing it just days before the echo Baby Boom revealed itself (my newborn included). The essay expressed my gratitude to the women who stayed home (at the time, it was mostly women), and fought the community battles that us working women did not have time for.
So, Nat, thanks for sharing with me your views and beliefs. It was a thoughtful gift that I am now having difficulty de-accessioning, as it were.
I'll close with a poem he included:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Method to His Mentoring

Chet Ross and myself share a show 
What to do with all the experience and wisdom we've accumulated? Listen to Chet Ross,  of Scottsdale, Arizona, and you'll hear the joy in his voice talking about his 15 years of mentoring those much younger than himself, trying to launch businesses.

I "met" Ross recently on Boomer Generation Radio, where I shared an hour's show. (You can listen to it here:  He was interviewed during the first half of the show on the phone from Scottsdale, Arizona; I was on the second half, sitting in the studio, talking about this blog.)

Ross got into mentoring after he retired because, he quipped, "I was lousy at golf.'"
As someone who spent his career in the manufacturing end of the water treatment business, he turned to a national group called SCORE, under the U.S. Small Business Administration, to find mentees.
He quickly discovered that his particular business background didn't matter. "The problems faced by the companies," he said, "were really all the same."

Asked what characteristics make for a successful mentor, Ross was quick to reply: not being judgmental.

Even if you think that your mentee has a bad idea, they need to come to that conclusion themselves, he explained. "Rather than saying that's a dumb idea, you pose questions like: 'Have you thought about... ?' and cite an example where something might not work well. Don't be judgmental, try to lead them to come to that decision. But at the end of the day, who knows what's going to be a commercial success or not," he said, referring the the "chia pet" phenomenon.

Beyond being non-judgmental, "You have to be a good listener, organized. And from the mentor's perspective, it has to be satisfying. I've gotten more out of it than I've given," he said. "It keeps you involved with other folks, perhaps younger, and helps you stay relevant." And there's the satisfaction of knowing you've been helpful. "People have told me that they were picked up and dusted off after a disappointment."

While most of the mentors still tend to be men, more and  more of the mentees are women -- about 60 percent female compared with a bout 40 percent men, Ross estimated.

Another example of how the workplace is changing.  And how, if you reach out to groups like SCORE, you can help change it for the better.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Can a Film (and you) Change the Nation's Gun Laws?

Here's a cause that could use the untiring efforts of the unretired, who still want to make a difference in this very violent country. Because otherwise change will never happen. Namely, spread the truth -- the emotional and physical toll and the terrible statistics aided and abetted by the easy availability of guns.
That's what filmmaker Robert Greenwald is doing with his powerful documentary,  Making a Killing, which he is distributing free around the country. To find a screening near you or learn how to host your own house party or group screening, go to bravenewfilms 
The LA Times has also written about it here : 

I saw the film yesterday, and you can't walk away without feeling in your heart the devastation of a parent whose child goes to play at a friend's house, only to have one child accidentally kill another after discovering a weapon thought to be unloaded.
(More than 40 percent of gun owning families with children keep their guns unlocked.)

Or the horror of learning the many times, over a period of two months, that the Aurora, Colorado movie-theater gunman blithely ordered thousands of rounds of ammunition  and weaponry on the internet before executing his mass murder. Besides the bullets, he bought 2 tear gas grenades, 2 Glocks, a Remington shotgun, a Smith & Wesson rifle, handcuffs, a laser sight, incendiary explosive material, and more.
(A limit on ammunition purchases would have stopped the shooter from buying 6,000 rounds of ammunition.)

Or the despair of parents and a young soon-to-be-bride over the impulsive suicide of her fiancé, who might have reconsidered his rash decision had there been a waiting period before buying his gun.
(Every day 55 Americans kill themselves with a gun. And one of every four suicide attempts is decided in five minutes or less.)

Or the stories of children killed walking the streets or going to church in cities like Chicago, whose gun laws are routinely circumvented by gun shops on its periphery, gun trafficking  from other states, and by straw buyers.
(Between 2001 and 2010, more Americans died from Chicago gun violence than from the war in Afghanistan.)

Here's where you can stream the film. Give it the time it deserves (nearly two hours)
Or you can also pick a shorter segment most pertinent to your interest group (suicide, for instance, or domestic violence, or child gun safety.)

And here's where you can read more statistics, all sourced.
For instance, did you know that in the United States:
*Up to 40 percent of gun owners did not go through a background check;
* Every 16 hours, a woman is shot and killed by her boyfriend or husband;
* In states which require background checks, 46% fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.
And let's talk about the children.
*7 children are killed every day by gunfire.

Why is Robert Greenwald doing this? He thinks the nation may be at a tipping point when it comes to guns. Remember when no one wore seatbelts? When smoking was allowed everywhere?
And then finally after a long battle, everything quickly changed.
He's taking a grassroots, bottom-up  approach, giving the people his film to help them grasp the calamity of easy access to guns and rise up and have their voices make a difference, at last.

He makes it really easy. Just click here, type in your zip code and up pops your Congressmen and choices on how you want to reach them.  At the very least, tell them to support waiting periods, universal background checks, and mandated gun safety mechanisms.  Then invite your friends over for a showing of the movie and tell them to do the same.
(According to a national poll of gun owners and NRA members, 74 percent support universal background checks)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Prayers for Events of a Longer Life

So you've just signed an "advanced directive," maybe at your lawyer's office. You know, that's the  legal statement that spells out under what conditions you simply want to be allowed to die.
You head home and realize that this is not an ordinary moment that has just taken place. It's a powerful moment, one in which you have truly confronted the understanding that you are mortal and that your life will end.
Should there be a ritual for such a passage? A prayer or some kind of marking of this event?
Well there is, and it is just one example of an effort to bring spirituality and meaning to new transitions emerging as we live longer lives.
That's the mission of Rabbi Richard Address of Jewish Sacred Aging, whom I heard speak recently.
Here's one prayer for the signing of an advanced directive, among several others found here.
Rabbi Address on weekly radio show  

Blessed is ...God who has given me the power of choice and who has brought me to strength to make these decisions today.
Thank you for granting me the wisdom to think ahead and to understand the great range of possibilities that could come in the future.
When my time comes that I am no longer able to make decisons on my own behalf, may my wishes be carried out by those who are close to me.
I have been blessed with so much. May my family be at peace with my decisions. May we support one another through good times and bad. May we love one
another and cherish our time together. 
What about a prayer for the decision to enter hospice?
How about a blessing that a  widow or widower might say when they finally decide to take off their wedding ring and seek companionship again? 
Or what about a blessing that a married man or woman might want to receive to lift the feeling of guilt for seeking a relationship outside their marriage because their own spouse, long afflicted with Alzheimers, no longer recognizes them? Very controversial from the point of view of organized religion, but that doesn't mean that clergy aren't hearing such requests from their aging flock.
Rabbi Address attributes this change to the Boomer generation, who are essentially saying, "I'm undergoing life stages that I never thought I'd go through.  I want my Judaism to speak to me about this to give it some sense of foundation."
Imagine, what the new ritual for taking off a wedding ring is like,  Rabbi Address said.
The widow or widower enters the synagogue and quietly stands at the alter where he or she was married and where their spouse's funeral began.  Maybe a few friends are there to witness the moment, maybe adult children. Or he or she might be alone with the Rabbi.

This precious ring you slipped  on my finger as we stood under our chuppah, I took to my heart as a continuAous circle of love. 
It remained a symbol of our unity as we held our babies, celebrated our milestones, and soothed our hurts. 
A witness to all of our married days, it was once new and shining. With the passing of years, the color deepened and warmed as did the exquisiteness of our life together. 
Now I am without you and I must move to another way of living. I must begin a new life. As I remove this circle of love, I know it is not easy to let go and surrender into memory what once was and can no longer be. 
As I heal and go forward, I will always be strengthened by a life we cherished and that part of my heart that is forever yours.

Are other religions facing the same issues and seeking ways to  recognize these moments in a spiritual way?
Are there other events for which you'd like to see a ceremony or have a prayer?
I'd be curious to hear.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Retirement: Deja vu All Over Again

I know, I know. It's been months since I've written on this blog, and even now I feel as if I'm climbing a mountain coming back to it. It's as if I were leaving my job all over again and trying to figure out where to direct my energy.
Backing up: when I left the Philadelphia Inquirer, I began interviewing people for this blog about the transition from work to whatever dream they might have. Then suddenly, something I never dreamed of happened to me. I was asked to write a book on a topic I never thought I'd care about. It was a bit like an arranged marriage. As I got used to the idea, I fell in love with it. (Book comes out in the fall -- will tell you about it as we get closer.)
A couple weeks ago, I turned it in to my publisher – the culmination of two years of research and writing and wrestling down photos. And while there will be work to do as we go through the editing process, I'm in limbo right now. Betwixt and between. At loose ends.
As I confronted my last deadline (having blown several), I was getting up at 5 a.m. and getting off the computer late at night to finish. My mind was racing 24-7; the adrenalin was surging. My mind would not even rest at night as I dreamed of facts I had gotten wrong, people I should have interviewed, ways that I might fail.
Now,  with the manuscript turned in, it feels as if, once again, I've just walked out of  a pressure cooker job and into this unstructured world where I'm free to do what I want with my time.  There's plenty on my list of what I think I want to do. It's just that I'm not ready to motivate myself to tackle them.  Instead, I meander around the supermarket, imagining complicated meals I will cook for my  spouse, long neglected. Or browse online websites like Amazon, Zulilly, and RueLaLa for clothes I haven't bought myself in ages or gifts for the grandkids. But at the end of the day have little to show for any of my time.
When I worked on long projects during my newspaper career, whether as a reporter or an editor, I felt this same inertia when the Sisyphean effort finally made print. Let down. Lethargy. So I know this is normal.
Bear with me. I'll be back to my old unretiring self soon, I'm sure.