Category Archives: Work world

How to Make a Living

One of the best articles on the value of being able to write clearly and concisely that I have read in a long time.

WSJ 8/30/2018
As a 20-year-old graduate student in creative writing, I asked a professor how to submit work for publication. “If you’re already worried about publishing,” he said, “you’re not a serious writer.”

I was serious—and desperate to learn how to make a living with the literary craft I’d been studying. But nobody in my program would discuss it. After two degrees in six years of higher education, I didn’t even know how to write a cover letter to submit the pages I’d spent years perfecting. It took decades of missteps and failures for me finally to figure out how to pay my bills as an author, freelancer and adjunct professor.

Later, teaching journalism myself, I wanted to help my students get on a faster track for success. I was disappointed by the administration’s dismissive attitude about helping students get bylines, jobs, literary agents or teaching gigs. My department heads pushed me to assign my classes 8,000word, third-person term papers instead of the shorter pieces editors wanted. “We don’t care about publication or payments,” one said. “We’re not a trade school.” Many in liberal-arts education cling to this lofty, elitist opinion that it’s sinful to discuss any remuneration. Top journalism schools and master’s programs in the fine arts charge as much as $60,000 a year for tuition—similar to that of business, medical and law schools. But unlike those other fields, they rarely teach their students how to gets jobs and income.

I remember how confused and frustrated I was by the discrepancy between what top schools offer and what’s needed to launch a profitable career. It’s a glaring gap, as if the faculty believe wanting to support yourself with the subject you study is greedy and shameful.

That’s why I began sharing practical information in my journalism, nonfiction and creative- writing classes. I found that helping a diverse group of students land articles, internships, jobs, agents, editors and teaching positions was empowering and transformative.

An African-American Navy vet landed a full-time job in a hospital after writing a poignant op-ed describing how he’d become temporarily homeless when he returned home with service-related injuries. A 21-year-old protégée of mine wrote an essay explaining why she dropped out of college after a sexual assault, and was able to help other young women with a book and paid lectures for the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network. A Latino mother’s articles about her prepartum depression landed her a literary agent and a teaching job. A Bosnian Muslim survivor of ethnic cleansing became a spokesman against genocide after his published articles struck a chord, earning as much as $7,000 for speeches around the country.

Learning to write succinct three-page essays, strong opinionated arguments and concise emails can be useful in any field. In all of my classes and seminars, I assign short cover letters, too. Every year it astounds me that top colleges neglect this simple art. An expensive university education should at least arm students with the skills they’ll need to pay for it.

Ms. Shapiro, a New School professor, is a co-author of “The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks.”


Last of the Over-The-Road Men

This one for a good friend who lived this life for a while.  Mr. Cohen has some wistful dreams, but I do wonder how many miles, and days, he actually spent in the seat he dreams about.

THE REPORT was supposed to reassure those worried about the fate of the American trucker. Last week, Uber Advanced Technologies Group explained to the world that the coming gizmos, such as Uber’s giant cargo automatons (driverless semis), won’t wipe out real truckers but will, in fact, give them better work/life balance. After all, someone will have to handle local transfers and deliveries for all the items carried cross-country by the sleepless trucking machines. And just think how great it will be for the drivers, liberated from those endless cannonball runs.

It’s enough to make me weep.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to drive a truck—not just any kind of truck, not a mail truck, not a septic truck, not a tool-filled, open-backed landscaping truck that rattles over suburban root buckles and certainly not an Uber delivery truck. I wanted to be mounted high on a big rig—a smoke-spewing, hornblasting 18-wheeled monster with a western sunset airbrushed on the side, the cabin roof lined with orange warning lights that glow on the evening interstate. Growing up in the Midwest in the ’70s, I’d gaze at those rigs on family road trips, imagining the wanton lives of nomadic truckers, the pleasures of the highway, back roads and sleepy diners, a life as free as life in the saddle must have been before the frontier closed.

Truck drivers were everywhere in pop culture, celebrated as cowboys and renegades. I can still hear those big-rig ballads: “East Bound and Down,” “Truck Drivin’ Man,” “Diesel Driving Daddy.” They were paired with a library of epic films: “Smokey and the Bandit,” in which Jackie Gleason chases Burt Reynolds all over the Confederacy; “Every Which Way But Loose,” with a bare-chested Clint Eastwood and his simian sidekick; Sam Peckinpah’s “Convoy,” adapted from the C.W. Mc-Call and Chip Davis song “Convoy” (“’Bout a mile outta Shaky Town/ I says, ‘Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck/ And I’m about to put the hammer down’ ”). Kris Kistofferson, who plays the Rubber Duck, sums up the ethos: “The purpose of the convoy is to keep moving.” Bobtailing, dead-heading, code talking with handles on CB radios, outrunning Smokey, cursing the bunny hoppers, flashing the flashers so another driver can “slip the Kojak with the Kodak”—these phrases, like the songs and the movies, formed the dreamscape of the nation when I was a boy.

In a world filled with commuters and compact cars, office drones and office jobs, the long-haul trucker seemed to be the last free man, all that remained of the rootless America that kept going till it ran out of road. When I was 10 or 12, there were several TV commercials for truck-driving schools. These ran midday, between reruns of “The Munsters” and “Hazel.” My favorite opened with shots of a Freightliner zooming through iconic American locales—Monument Valley, the Black Hills, the Salt Flats—as a narrator asked: “Do you dream of driving the big rigs?”

It filled me with images of wide-open landscapes, small towns where the brakes moan as the trucker descends from his cabin like a king descending from a throne, waitresses swarming him with hugs and coffee kisses. I was mesmerized by pictures I had seen of especially well-appointed rigs. The bedroom behind the driver’s cabin—a jewel box of domesticity, a hidden through-the-looking-glass world.

I read up on the best truck stops. The Dixie Truckers Home (now called the Dixie Travel Plaza), off Route 66 in McLean, Ill.—founded in 1928, the oldest truck stop in the world. The Bosselman Travel Center in Grand Isle, Neb., where trucks idled as drivers wandered the food court or visited the onsite chiropractor. R-Place in Morris, Ill., known for the Ethyl Burger—2 pounds of beef! The Iowa 80, the world’s largest truck stop. Laundry room? Check. Theater showing truck-themed movies? Check. Trucking museum featuring 60 vintage trucks, pumps from vintage gas stations and old-time road signs? Check. Stationed in my booth at a Howard Johnson’s, I’d watch a truck gear down to a ghostly crawl and wait to hear the hiss of air breaks. The door would swing open and out came a big rigger in denim and flannel, smiling as he crossed the apron. Those truckers looked the way a man was supposed to look—burly and mean, in CAT baseball caps, lips fat with Skoal, eyes glazed, the vacant stare of highway hypnosis, 1,000 miles behind, 1,000 still to go.

They did not say yes, but “affirmative.” They did not say “speeding ticket,” but “bear bite.” They called the speed limit a “double nickel.” A cop on a motorcycle was an “Evel Knievel.” Any place they’d left behind was in their back pocket. A female cop was a “lady bear.” A man who talked tough on the CB but wilted face to face was a “Rambo.” If you wanted another driver to accelerate, you said, “Stand on it, son.”

These drivers scared me—they were experi-enced in a way that I wanted to become. I en-vied them. I’d argue that it was the last time a blue-collar American workingman was thought to stand not only for us but for the best of us. The ’70s were the golden era for the trucker. From there, every step was down. He fell out of favor in the 1980s—goodbye to the working-class hero, so long to the proletarian ideal. After Ronald Reagan, it was all about money, about living in the best part of the best town—yup-pies climbing the ladder. Now, of course, most of those empty blue roads are lined with shopping malls, and we leave finding the best route to GPS, not to know-how gathered by long experience. The combus-tion engine, the great beating heart of truck cul-ture, has been turned from hero to villain—the great enemy of our warming planet. The self-driving truck, which those engineers at Uber and elsewhere are perfecting as we speak, might very well be the last nail in the coffin.

The trucker of my teenage dreams needed a frontier, a hinterland of unspoiled space, an authentic, less settled nation he could vanish into. Being a long-haul hero meant getting off the map, being free. But nowadays it’s no lon-ger possible to get off the map. Because there is only the map. The trucker went away like the trapper, the cowboy, the biplane pilot and the professional daredevil. But there must still be a free person out there, on some road that’s not yet been paved. I see him in my mind just before I fall asleep—in a big silver Freightliner, barreling down a lost highway, the dust rising in a great cloud behind.

Mr. Cohen’s most recent books are “The Chi-cago Cubs: Story of a Curse” and “The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones.”


The Politicization of Motherhood – WSJ

Sort of thought along these lines for a while; just didn’t have any supporting evidence to back me up.
James Taranto
WSJ 10/28/2017

Motherhood used to be as American as apple pie. Nowadays it can be as antagonistic as American politics. Ask Erica Komisar.

Ms. Komisar, 53, is a Jewish psychoanalyst who lives and practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. If that biographical thumbnail leads you to stereotype her as a political liberal, you’re right. But she tells me she has become “a bit of a pariah” on the left because of the book she published this year, “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.”

Christian radio stations “interviewed me and loved me,” she says. She went on “Fox & Friends,” and “the host was like, your book is the best thing since the invention of the refrigerator.” But “I couldn’t get on NPR,” and “I was rejected wholesale—particularly in New York—by the liberal press.” She did appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” but seconds before the camera went live, she says, the interviewer told her: “I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all. I don’t like your book.” The premise of Ms. Komisar’s book—backed by research in psychology, neuroscience and epigenetics— is that “mothers are biologically necessary for babies,” and not only for the obvious reasons of pregnancy and birth. “Babies are much more neurologically fragile than we’ve ever understood,” Ms. Komisar says. She cites the view of one neuroscientist, Nim Tottenham of Columbia University, “that babies are born without a central nervous system” and “mothers are the central nervous system to babies,” especially for the first nine months after birth.

What does that mean? “Every time a mother comforts a baby in distress, she’s actually regulating that baby’s emotions from the outside in. After three years, the baby internalizes that ability to regulate their emotions, but not until then.” For that reason, mothers “need to be there as much as possible, both physically and emotionally, for children in the first 1,000 days.”

The regulatory mechanism is oxytocin, a neurotransmitter popularly known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin, Ms. Komisar explains, “is a buffer against stress.” Mothers produce it when they give birth, breastfeed or otherwise nurture their children. “The more oxytocin the mother produces, the more she produces it in the baby” by communicating via eye contact, touch and gentle talk. The baby’s brain in turn develops oxytocin receptors, which allow for self-regulation at a later age.

Women produce more oxytocin than men do, which answers the obvious question of why fathers aren’t as well-suited as mothers for this sort of “sensitive, empathetic nurturing.” People “want to feel that men and women are fungible,” observes Ms. Komisar—but they aren’t, at least not when it comes to parental roles. Fathers produce a “different nurturing hormone” known as vasopressin, “what we call the protective, aggressive hormone.”

Whereas a mother of a crying baby will “lean into the pain and say, ‘Oh, honey!’ ” a father is more apt to tell the child: “C’mon, you’re OK. Brush yourself off; let’s go back to play.” Children, especially boys, need that paternal nurturing to learn to control their aggression and become self-sufficient. But during the first stages of childhood, motherly love is more vital.

Ms. Komisar’s interest in early childhood development grew out of her three decades’ experience treating families, first as a clinical social worker and later as an analyst. “What I was seeing was an increase in children being diagnosed with ADHD and an increase in aggression in children, particularly in little boys, and an increase in depression in little girls.” More youngsters were also being diagnosed with “social disorders” whose symptoms resembled those of autism— “having difficulty relating to other children, having difficulty with empathy.”

As Ms. Komisar “started to put the pieces together,” she found that “the absence of mothers in children’s lives on a daily basis was what I saw to be one of the triggers for these mental disorders.” She began to devour the scientific literature and found that it reinforced her intuition. Her interest became a preoccupation: “My husband would say I was a one-note Charlie,” she recalls. “I would come home and I would rant and I would say, ‘Oh my God, I’m seeing these things. I’ve got to write a book about it.’ ” That was 12 years ago. She followed her own advice and held off working on the book because her own young children, two sons and a daughter, still needed her to be “emotionally and physically present.”

She uses that experience as a rejoinder to critics who accuse her of trying to limit women’s choices. “You can do everything in life,” she says, “but you can’t do it all at the same time.” Another example is Nita Lowey, a 15-term U.S. representative from New York’s northern suburbs: “She started her career when she was in her 40s, and she said to me she wished she’d waited longer. She said her youngest was 9.”

Ms. Lowey is a liberal Democrat, but she was born in 1937 and thus may have more traditional inclinations than women of the baby boom and later generations. Ms.

Komisar tells of hosting a charity gathering for millennials at her apartment. One young woman “asked me what my book was about. I told her, and she got so angry. She almost had fire coming out of her eyes, she was so angry at my message. She said, ‘You are going to set women back 50 years.’ I said, ‘Gosh, I wouldn’t want to do that.’ ” Male attitudes have changed as well, Ms. Komisar says: “A lot of young men, particularly millennials, have been raised to believe that it’s even-steven; that women are to bring in as much money, and they’re always going to work.” Young women “make promises to their partners, these young men: ‘I’m going to work forever, I’m going to make as much money as you; maybe I’ll make more than you.’ It’s almost like a testosterone kind of competition.”

The needs of children get lost in all this—and Ms. Komisar hears repeatedly that the hostility to her message is born of guilt. When she was shopping for a literary agent, she tells me, “a number of the agents said, ‘No, we couldn’t touch that. That would make women feel guilty.’ ” Another time she was rejected for a speaking gig at a health conference. She quotes the head of the host institution as telling her: “You are going to make women feel badly. How dare you?”

In Ms. Komisar’s view, guilt isn’t necessarily bad. “My best patient is a patient who comes to me feeling guilty,” she says. “Women who feel guilty—it’s a ‘signal’ feeling, that something’s wrong, that they’re in conflict. If they go talk to a therapist or deal with the conflict head-on, they often make different choices and better choices.”

That’s “better,” not “perfect,” and Ms. Komisar is at pains to emphasize that “mothering is not about perfection.” She acknowledges, too, that staying at home isn’t right for all new mothers: Some lack the wherewithal to take time off work; some are depressed or distracted and “not really emotionally present.” When the mother can’t be there, Ms. Komisar says, the best alternative is a “single surrogate caregiver,” optimally a relative.

“The thing I dislike the most is day care,” she says. “It’s really not appropriate for children under the age of 3,” because it is “overstimulating” given their neurological undevelopment. She cites the “Strange Situation experiments,” devised in 1969 by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth, a pioneer of attachment theory: “A mother and the baby are on the floor playing. The mother gets up and leaves the baby in the room alone. The baby has a separationanxiety response. A stranger walks in; the baby has a stressed reaction to the stranger.”

Researchers sample the infant’s saliva and test it for cortisol, a hormone associated with stress (and inversely correlated with oxytocin). In a series of such experiments in which Ms.

Komisar herself participated, “the levels were so high in the babies that the anticipation was that it would . . . in the end, cause disorders and problems.”

In a more recent variant of the experiment, scientists use functional magnetic resonance imaging to look directly at the brain of an infant reacting to photos of the mother and of a stranger.

You can see why tradition minded conservatives welcome Ms. Komisar so warmly. Think about how they are stereotyped— as backward, superstitious, hostile to science. She shows that science validates what they know as common sense.

But although she returns their affection, she doesn’t share their distaste for contemporary mores. “We don’t want the ’50s to come back,” she tells me.

“Women had children who didn’t want to have children. Women didn’t have other choices than having children, and women were ostracized if they didn’t have children. And women were ostracized if they went out into the world and worked.”

“What we do want,” she says, “is to be a child-centric society.”

To that end, she offers a proposal many conservatives will find uncongenial: a government mandate that employers provide generous maternity benefits. “All mothers and babies should have the right to be together in the first year,” Ms. Komisar says. That means maternity leave at full pay, “and then the flexibility to be together as much as possible for the next two years—meaning mothers should have the ability to work flexibly and part-time.”

Ms. Komisar sounds very much like a liberal when she observes of the U.S. that “we’re the only civilized country that doesn’t have a maternityleave policy.” I ask what she thinks of Ivanka Trump’s proposal to mandate six weeks’ paid leave for primary caregivers, regardless of sex. “It’s a start,” Ms. Komisar says. “It is not enough. Babies are just waking up from birth after six weeks, and even at three months they are incredibly vulnerable and not necessarily bonded with their mothers.”

But if most conservatives find Ms. Komisar’s solution too coercive or expensive, most liberals won’t even acknowledge the problem. “If we defend the idea that mothers are not necessary,” she asks, “what chance do we have to get a maternity- leave policy?” As important as her insights into child development are, her policy proposal seems destined for the political orphanage.

Mr. Taranto is the Journal’s editorial features editor.



Something Germany has known for years.
WSJ 6/19/2017

One restraint on economic growth is the increasing U.S. labor shortage, especially for jobs that require technical skills. Meanwhile, many college grads are underemployed and burdened by student debt. The Trump Administration is trying to address both problems by rethinking the government’s educational priorities.

President Trump directed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta last week to streamline regulations to make it easier for employers, industry groups and labor unions to offer apprenticeships. Many employers provide informal apprenticeships for new workers, but the Labor bureaucracy regulates and approves programs whose credentials are recognized industry- wide.

About 505,000 workers are enrolled in government- registered apprenticeships. The programs typically pair on-the-job training with educational courses that allow workers to make money while honing skills in fields like welding, plumbing, electrical engineering and various mechanical trades. While construction apprenticeships are common, training programs are growing in industries like restaurant and hotel management.

Nearly all apprentices receive jobs and the average starting salary is $60,000, according to the Labor Department. That beats the pay for most college majors outside of the hard sciences. Last year’s National Association of Colleges and Employers survey estimated the starting salary of education majors at $34,891 and humanities at $46,065.

For decades the cultural and economic assumption has been that Americans will be better off with a college degree. This is still true overall, and economic returns to education have risen. This is especially true for those with cognitive ability who acquire skills in growth industries like software design or biological sciences. Politicians have responded by subsidizing college almost as much as they do housing—with Pell grants, 529 tax subsidies and more recently debt forgiveness.

Yet the politically inconvenient reality is that not every kid is cut out for traditional college, and those who struggle in high school may be better off learning a trade. Many without academic inclination or preparation often spend years (and thousands of dollars) taking remedial classes to compensate for their lousy K-12 education. The six-year graduation rate for four-year colleges is 60% while the three-year graduation rate at community colleges is a paltry 22%. The Obama Administration response was to push even more subsidized student debt to force feed even more kids into college. Student debt doubled in the Obama years to $1.3 trillion, which will burden workers and taxpayers for decades.

Another problem is that few colleges and high schools teach vocational skills. The Labor Department Jolts survey of national job openings found more than six million in April—the most since Jolts began tracking in 2000. The vacancies include 203,000 in construction, 359,000 in manufacturing and 1.1 million in health care. These are not jobs that can be filled by Kanye West English deconstructionists. They are also typically jobs that can’t be supplanted by lower-wage foreign competition.

While employers subsidize most apprenticeships, the President has proposed spending $200 million to promote the programs. This would still be a drop in the $26 billion bucket (not including student loans) that Washington spends on higher education each year.

One objection to shifting this money will come from unions that receive much federal job-training money with poor results. But if others can run a better program, they should get the cash. It’s true that most government job-training programs are ineffective, so it’s good that Mr. Trump has instructed federal agencies to compile a list of those that should be eliminated.

An especially odd objection is that apprenticeship training is a mistake because skills become out of date over time, especially later in one’s work life. But that’s a risk throughout the economy, and all the more reason to get young people skills to enter the job market now and build up savings for the future. This makes more sense than subsidizing a college degree for a job at Starbucks.

Perhaps the most important message is that there’s dignity and purpose in all work, college degree or not.