How Not to Practice Public Speaking

Michael Gives a Preso

I’m pretty good at some things. I’m a fast reader, I can bake really delicious gluten-free peanut butter cookies from scratch, and I’m excellent at making up answers to questions I don’t actually know much about. If anything, I am sometimes overconfident in my abilities. Yet any ideas I have about having gift for public speaking are entirely fantasy.

Knowing this, I deliberately pushed myself to find an opportunity to speak publicly for my job earlier this year. I applied to be on a panel at a conference, wrote an abstract and then a full conference paper, and yet, once my paper was accepted, I was horrified that I would actually have to present in front of real, live people. It’s not just me (and perhaps you)—public speaking is often cited as the number one fear that Americans face. The intimidation public speaking leaves more people awake at night than death, or even the fear of an ebola epidemic.

Friends, fear not! Today, I will help you conquer your fears of public speaking, and in just three simple steps. Trust me, I’ve done them all myself and this approach worked pretty well: READ MORE


“If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not working hard enough” (Or You’re In Denmark)

Copenhagen movie screencapDenmark is a semi-socialist paradise full of cozy cities, castles, Cinematheques, remnants of Vikings, and parks where the sheep graze at night. It’s more diverse than you might expect; you could get pretty impressive falafel and Turkish food in Copenhagen even ten years ago, when I studied abroad there. Yes, it’s pricey, but when the state picks up the tab for big-ticket items like education and health care, that makes a difference.

Everyone bikes. The drinking age is 15. More people die from falling down stairs than from violent crime, because the Danes have sane gun laws and even knives beyond a certain length are regulated. (So they told me in my Criminal Justice class, anyway.) Can you imagine if America’s biggest problem was stairs?

Instead America’s biggest problems include the fact that we work too hard over too many hours for too little return, in part because we can’t rely on our nation’s wobbly, threadbare safety net, and — not coincidentally – we spend insane amounts of money on Seamless. Because we don’t have time to cook!


Eat the Ginger


Around Christmastime, when you search for recipes with “ginger,” you get exclusively sweet things: gingerbread, gingersnaps, ginger cake, ginger donuts, ginger biscotti, ginger muffins. But ginger is so much more. It’s one of the four or five ingredients that I am never, ever without. I would like to share with you my One Weird Trick for using ginger in a foolproof and easy way.

Nearly everything I cook starts with the same process: Get out a pan, put some oil in it, and saute some combination of chopped plants; on Top Chef this is referred to as “building flavor,” or sometimes as creating a base. Onion is pretty much a given. Garlic, usually. Also common are celery, carrot, and peppers. (Depending on which specific ingredients you use and the various subtleties of how you use them, these base ingredients are sometimes called mirepoix, or soffritto—or, confusingly, sofrito, which is not the same thing; soffritto is Italian, sofrito is Spanish/Latin American, with slightly different ingredients depending on even which Latin American country you’re talking about.) Ginger is a key ingredient in a flavor base for so, so many cuisines—Indian, Chinese, Thai, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Filipino—so it should be as present in your cooking as garlic or onion, and you should have it on hand at all times. This can be difficult, because though it is fairly hardy, it will dry out after a while, and what if you have a stretch where you’re only cooking French or Italian food? Your ginger will go bad.

Except it won’t, because you should freeze your ginger. READ MORE


Terrible Financial Decisions That I Have Made or Am Considering Making

waiting for guffman

The other day I was singing to myself in my microapartment—everyone who lives alone continually sings to themselves like life was their own badly-written musical, right?—and the lyrics went something like “Why do they let me write about personal finance when I break all of the personal finance rules?”

So let’s look at some of the terrible financial decisions I’ve made, say, in the past month.

1. Bought a $923.15 round-trip ticket to fly and visit my parents in Iowa for Christmas

I feel like there’s nobody in the entire country who is paying more for a single ticket to a location within the contiguous United States than I am. And $923 is a bargain compared to last year, when the ticket cost $1,179.

The heartless and prudent thing to do would have been to say “Sorry, parents, Christmas is cancelled. Let’s all sit in our respective homes and spend the holiday staring at the wall.” You see all the advice columnists handing around this “get out of plane free” card this time of year: If you can’t afford to travel on the holidays, don’t do it.



My No-Purchase November Adventure

lisa turtle saved by the bell

Generationally I’m at the oldest end of the millennial spectrum, or as I like to call myself, a “Geriatric Millennial.” I still remember pre-internet life, my first email was the family Compuserve account when I was 12, and I didn’t have a cell-phone until I was 19. I had one foot in each world, the old analogue one and the new burgeoning digital dimension. I thought my life trajectory would follow those of my Boomer parents: college, employment, retirement. Alas I inherited the worst parts of my millennial counterparts: financial upheaval, debt, and the refusal to become an adult.

Most people my age and younger are sort of grasping at straws when it comes to money and when it comes to money we don’t really listen to our folks much, though we’ve asked for help with rent. For much of my life, my money-conscious father would blast warnings towards me about how foolish all of my spending was: “YOU HAVE HOW MANY SHOES?” But I laughed it off – after all look at how happy all of those fabulous fashionable working women are, living the big life in New York (I curse you “Sex and the City”). Career women have to be well-dressed and well-heeled!

And so my shopping habits grew and grew, and for me, the hallmark of success tended to translate into an ability to acquire all things “fabulous.” Maybe this is myopic, but I’d argue that our generation, maybe more than any others previously, has a deep sense of immortality and denial of the future. Whether that is indicative of our technological progression or the economic landscape, it is hard to say. But I don’t hear many 20-30 year olds worrying about their retirement.

I’ve had steady jobs intermingled with the odd unemployment stint and then a couple years where I went back to school to get my writing degree (so I could deliver this fine essay here for all of you to enjoy). I certainly didn’t spend wildly when I was in those situations; I didn’t get a credit card until 2013. But whenever I came into money I almost frothed with desire to shop for new items.

Clothing, shoes, makeup and books. Those things are my coveted goods and the things that I allowed myself to have always telling myself “hey, I deserve it!” READ MORE


Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Walmart Owes Employees Unpaid Wages


Anyone who’s worked an hourly job has probably seen the reminder signs plastered all over the break room: “TAKE YOUR BREAKS! THEY ARE THE LAW.” And you’ve probably, at least once, skipped that break.

You’ve probably also, at least once, been asked to work off the clock.

Well, on Tuesday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Walmart and Sam’s Club workers were entitled to unpaid wages for both skipping their breaks and working off the clock, a decision that made this former hourly worker very happy.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer put it:

Workers at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Pennsylvania who worked off the clock and when they were supposed to be on break, or who were forced to skip their breaks, will receive $151 million in unpaid wages and damages, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled Monday, upholding lower- and appellate-court decisions.

The case affects nearly 187,000 people employed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from March 1998 through April 2006.



Uber and PDX: A Not-Exactly-Love Story

portlandia-season3jpg-8db045a98a646a17So here we are talking about Uber again. I promise, it’s for a good reason. This story by Alexis C. Madrigal — about two of the giants of our age, Portland, OR, and Uber, duking it out for dominance — is both riveting journalism and totally bonkers.

First Uber tried to sweet talk its way into the city, bringing the legislature flowers and Champagne. The legislators were like, thanks, we’re more into craft beer, though, and our own (admittedly dysfunctional) black car and taxi system.

Then Uber started wooing Portland’s next-door neighbor Vancouver, followed by Portland’s dependents, the suburbs. All of this went smoothly. Then it sidled into Portland itself, without an invitation, set up shop and began doing business. It relied on the fact that even the progressive good-white-people types who populate the city will try the service — for convenience, and to save money — and become addicted and ultimately rally the legislature to allow Uber to operate in the open.

In other words, the people of Portland will do Uber’s work for it.

Your move, Portland. READ MORE


Dollar Guilt in the Land of the Collapsing Ruble


I’ve gotten a 100 percent raise. Not as a reward for hard work or long-term loyalty to my employer, but as a gift of timing. This windfall isn’t a one-off like a bonus, nor is it evenly spaced like paychecks after a promotion. I get richer at random. Almost every time I visit the ATM, what I take out is a smaller slice of what I make than it was the time before. I’m paid in dollars, but I live in Russia, where the currency is currently collapsing; as the ruble loses value, I effectively get a raise. This week alone, at the time of this writing, my salary’s worth has increased by 20%. It’d be a gross simplification, but you could say my raise comes courtesy of Vladimir Putin.

As the ruble falls, I think back on a night in late autumn of 2007 when Moscow’s streets were windswept, but not swept clean of ice, and I decided to spring for a taxi. The gypsy cab I hailed was an old car of Russian make, not rickety, but the kind you can feel laboring at getting you where you’re going. Its fenders were obscured by a rich paste of chemical salt and mud, as were the peripheral views from the rear window, which were covered by the gathered pleats of burgundy polyester curtains. These, the smell of the car’s interior suggested, were sometimes drawn so that the driver could stretch out for a nap in the back seat.

That year, 2007, Moscow had been named the world’s most expensive city for expatriates to live in for the second year running by a cost-of-living survey produced yearly by American consulting firm Mercer, which provides websites like the Huffington Post reliable slideshow fodder.

My driver heard my foreignness in the way I pronounced my address. He inquired, and I told him where I was from. He spoke heatedly, then, about terrorists and democracy and empires and fate. Mainly, though, he laughed. All the way home, he was taken with a scary hilarity, and as he sped along the 10-lane highway that crawls with traffic during the daytime and forms a racecourse around Moscow’s center at night, I wondered if my Americanness would be both our downfalls. Russians’ savings had repeatedly been reduced to nothing by economic calamity during the 1990s; if my driver himself had not been impoverished by capricious shifts in the currency’s value, surely many he loved had. Now that the tables were turned—or shifted—he had every reason to relish the moment.

“Americans, what do they think in America now that it’s 25 rubles to the dollar!” he demanded. READ MORE


Transitional Furniture


Raise your hand if you’ve ever owned a Lack coffee table from Ikea. Keep your hand raised if your Lack coffee table was passed on to you from a friend, or found on the street, or bought for $10 on Craigslist, where you are bound to find pages and pages of Lack coffee tables for sale.

In the Washington Post, Jessica Contrera talks to Lack owners who’ve listed their tables on Craigslist. The tables were bought because they were functional, matched well with most types of furniture and could be bought for the bargain price of $20, which is less than what the table cost when it debuted in 1981. An Ikea spokesperson explains that the table is cheap because it’s made out of paper: “between layers of fiberboard, particleboard and glue is paper packing material, shaped in one-inch tall hexagons.”

And we seem to be fine with the idea of buying a table made out of paper to keep our magazines and television remotes on because, yes, they’re cheap, and because we know that the Lack table is a transitional piece of furniture—something we have in our living spaces until we’re ready to graduate to something sturdier; something we don’t mind abandoning on the street if we have to pick up and move to another city. The Lack table is like the utensils with plastic handles we buy because they’re cheap and work perfectly fine until the plastic inevitably snaps.

And for those of us who never graduate from the Lack? Well, there’s always Lack hacking.


An Interview With Kristen van Ginhoven, Who Started a Theater Company to Benefit Women

KristenvanGinhovenMASTERHEADSHOTFive years ago, Kristen van Ginhoven was an actor and graduate student in theatre education living in Western Massachusetts. Then she went and read a book called Half the Sky. By the time she closed the cover, she had decided to start her own nonprofit: the Women’s Action Movement Theatre. I spoke with her on the phone about the repercussions of reading humanitarian journalism, the practical steps she took to get her organization going and what she’s had to give up in order to pursue a career in nonprofits and the arts.

Kristen! What is WAM?

WAM is a professional theater company to benefit women and girls. We have a double philanthropic model. The first part is to highlight women’s stories and women theater artists in the shows we produce. The second is to donate 25 percent of our box office proceeds from our main-stage productions to organizations that are taking action for women and girls. The shows run for three weeks, about 10 performances.

Tell me about yourself and what you did before you started WAM.

I was raised near Montreal, spent some time in the States when I was growing up and then moved back to Quebec. First I worked as a professional actor. But I eventually realized it wasn’t fulfilling to me in that you’re never going to have enough work.

The turning point was that I was talking to one of Canada’s top theater actors, and he was still catering in his 60’s because he needed to make more money. I thought, “This is not something I’ll be able to do my entire life.”

I wanted to find a way to have more income and stability, but keep doing theater. So I decided to get a teaching degree. Then I landed a position at an international school in Belgium, where I taught theater for four years. I really fell in love with the field of education while I was there, and for the first time I could have my own apartment and buy new clothes and take vacations.

While I was abroad I met my husband, a computer science professor. He was offered a job in upstate New York, and I was ready to get some postgraduate training in theater directing. I thought, I could act and be an adjunct professor and direct—that would be three different ways to be hired. So I decided to come with him to the States; I could get my graduate degree at Emerson College in Boston. READ MORE