Burning the Midnight Oil in St. Martin (Professional Development Week)

“Does Sue actually do any work?” It’s a legitimate question so I don’t blame you for thinking it.

Two weeks ago, I was in England and now I’m in St. Martin. Lest you think I’ve joined the jet set crowd it’s not like that. I swear.

Back in February, John pleaded his case for a Caribbean holiday. His work schedule has been a high-stakes kind of brutal and he needed a break. The last time he was in the Caribbean was when he was going back and forth to Guantanamo Bay because a client was detained there. He returned with some pretty cool souvenirs like Guantanamo snow globes (I kid you not), shot glasses, and a khaki t-shirt for me with “Radio GITMO” in bold white letters on the front and an image of Fidel Castro smoking a cigar on the back with the caption: “Rockin in Fidel’s Backyard.” Sure, Guantanamo Bay is best known for torture but let’s not forget about its fun side.

Not surprisingly, John vetoed Cuba as a destination and lobbied instead for St. Martin because his cousin Cathy (family arbiter of exquisite taste) had been four times and raves about it. Right after we booked our southern escape, John received an unexpected invitation from the UNHCR to discuss something to do with the refugee convention in Oxford. We had never been to England (unless you count the time with my parents when I was 10), so John persuaded me to tag along (I wrote about it here). So, I’ve traversed three continents (counting Canada) in the span of two weeks.

I am giving you all this confessional background because of Jewish guilt. God knows, I haven’t exactly earned another break and my revenue stream is more like a trickle given my decision to do more writing when consulting pays multiples more. Plus, we’ve got two kids in university and my recent obsession is: “How on earth will they ever be able to afford to live in Toronto (read: near mommy) without our help?” So, all this travel feels rather indulgent. But we’ve never been a family that prides itself on prudent financial decisions so why start now.

To lessen the guilt and be able to look at myself in the mirror, I’m considering this a bit of a working holiday. I packed four books which I’m diligently reading when not deciding between 30 SPF and 60 SPF sunscreens; mojitos or rum punch; a swim before a hike or after. One cannot hope to progress as a writer without reading – a lot. And there is no better place to read, think and write than in the sunshine. Just ask my dear friend and author, Eden Baylee, who spent a week in Bali a few months ago and swears by the power of the tropics to focus one’s mind.

As I had hoped, I am BURSTING with ideas for potential stories as I make my way through my pile. Given you may be starting to turn your attention to building your summer reading list, I thought I would share.

Unwanted Advances by Laura Kipnis: I LOVE Laura Kipnis – feminist cultural critic and Northwestern University prof. If you haven’t read her polemic, Against Love, you should because it will at the very least make you ask smart questions about tough relationship topics like monogamy—and blow you away with her wit. Her latest book challenges whether the “sexual hysteria” that is overtaking American campuses is good thing for gender progress. I have indeed been wondering, “Are relationships between profs and students always a bad thing?” so this is required reading.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: I’d seen this book on the racks of my local bookstore for a long time but didn’t like the cover so ignored it. That was until Meara, John’s associate, highly recommended it. Figuring she wouldn’t risk upsetting her boss’ wife with an uncertain recommendation, I bought it. My Brilliant Friend explores the complexities of female friendship written in the stunning voice of a young working class Napoleon woman who comes of age in the 1950s. I couldn’t put it down.

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin: Normally I would have to hide a book about how a wannabe socialite mom assimilates into the rarified world of entitled Americans because John insists on maintaining reading standards even on vacation. But The Economist endorsed it as did Amy Chua (remember the law professor at Yale who got vilified for her tough love child-rearing?). I’m fascinated by female friendships at both ends of the social stratum so this will be a nice companion to My Brilliant Friend.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran: When I was in Oxford a couple weeks ago my friend Vicki who is a prof there asked whether I had read Moran because she thought I’d love her. This UK columnist can hopefully help me make some sense of the world as she tackles current topics from environmental disaster to affordable housing. Have only read the first page but she seems like a smart cookie: “Regardless of where you stand on climate change — with, on the one side, the 97 percent of scientists who say it’s a certainty, or on the other, Donald Trump taking advice from his wig, like the deludo chef with the rat under his hat in Ratatouille….”

Is there any interesting reading on your bedside table? I’m especially on the look-out for books with clever insights about modern relationships including work relationships– although not about millennials because I think they get way too much attention already.

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