A parenting expert I’m not. Still, I do have three kids and many crazy stories and half-baked opinions about parents and kids and the importance of snacks and the efficacy of bribery. All of which explains why I’m now writing a column for Reuters called (wait for it) “Family Life” (I objected to the super-plain title—what about “Super Awesome Parent Stuff?” or “Goofy Fun Dad”? until it was explained to me that other Reuters columns are called “The Stock Market” and “Personal Finance.” Oh.) Over past three months I’ve written about over-the-top kiddie birthday parties, the art of the “playdate dump” and the time a hippy pediatrician tasted my wife’s breast milk. I’m archiving the stories on my author site here.
02.04.08 Parent Shmarent
File this in the Playalong Parent category—some friends and I turned an essay of mine about my daughter and a gorilla head into a YouTubish video. Watch here. Then we did another one about our family’s crazy-fun winter celebration tradition. Now we’re thinking of other episodes and maybe even a whole series of these odd little family snippets. Stay tuned.
06.04.07 Cheaper! Softer! Just as yellow!
Did I forget to mention that Rejuvenile is in paperback? It is. It’s gorgeous, shiny-as-a-toy and at $11, quite reasonably priced. Order a copy today and tackle a few of the deep imponderables contained therein:
• Are rejuveniles freespirited romantics or hopelessly gullible tools of a vast Madion Avenue conspiracy?
• Why didn’t rejuvenile greats J.M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss or Hans Christian Andersen ever have actual kids of their own?
• How long until Nike launches a high performance shoe system for skipping?
• Are adults who live at home with their parents forging a new interdependent family model or just suckers for mom’s lasagna?
• Is the color of Rejuvenile’s dust jacket best described as yellow, buttercup or goldenrod?
Attention So Cal friends and fellow rejuveniles: I’ll be appearing at the LA Times Festival of Books on April 29 to tackle the burning question, “Why Should Kids Have All the Fun?”
Come hear my predictable answer (they shouldn’t), along with provocative chin-stroking from two wittier and prettier panelists, Brett Paesel (Mommies Who Drink) and Erika Schickel (You’re Not the Boss of Me). Our moderator is LA Times feature vet Robin Abcarian.
The panel is slated for Sunday, April 29 at 11:30 am in Moore 100. A full schedule for Sunday is here.
The festival is always terrific; this year’s schedule includes appearances and discussions with Arianna Huffington, Pico Iyer, T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury and James Ellroy. Admission is free, but you need tickets to attend certain panels and speaker sessions. Order your tickets at no charge through Ticketmaster.
Hope to see you at the festival!
01.08.07 Are Fun and Work Oxymoronic?
Rejuvenile made a brief appearance Monday morning in the first hour of ABC’s “Good Morning America” in a story about play at the workplace.
Here’s the gist of the GMA piece: work is boring. A few office monkeys are fighting back with inter-department playground slides, break room foos-ball tables and other goofy innovations. Cue remark from yours truly on the importance of play and fun in the workplace and how these changes reflect the larger rejuvenile phenom.
All of which is nice enough, but I’ve got to say the story stirred the harrumphing codger in me—apparently, play at work is all about M&Ms and Nerf basketball. In our interview, I tried to emphasize that too often, the merry chattering bosses who institute “playful” reforms are putting window dressing on salt mines. There is little more infuriating than having a Wacky Fun Day hosted by an employer who skimps on health insurance or restricts family leave. I don’t think there’s any doubt a genuinely playful attitude toward work can benefit both worker and the bottom line, but it’s not about bouncing balls or bobbleheads. It’s about doing our work with the same wonder and imagination and sense of fun that too many workers ditch in the name of professionalism.
For more on developing a truly playful approach to work, start by reading chapter 2 of Rejuvenile then checking out the following:
• The Play Ethic - Pat Kane’s brilliant manifesto on the end of the old protestant work ethic was published last year in the U.S. and contains many dazzling, scholarly ideas about having fun in the name of productivity.
• Adultitis - Jason & Kim Kotecki offer a free, step-by-step program of practical tips on loosening up and sparking childlike wonder in the midst of an adult life.
• You can do better than a depressing bowl of M&Ms on your desk. Check out Office Playground for the best in cubicle doo-dads. Get thee a desktop sandbox!
12.15.06 Rejuvenile: The Backstory
First, we talked cupcakes. Now, we talk business. Rachel Kramer Bussel, whose online presence is deliciously split between a blog about cupcakes and a blog about erotica, did a very nice piece this summer on the cupcake blog about rejuveniles and food.
This week she posted an equally good, if somewhat less tasty, question-and-answer about the mechanics and practicalities of writing this book. It’s posted on the journalism webzine Mediabistro. Here’s an excerpt:
Where did you first get the idea for The New York Times “rejuvenile” article and how long did you spend researching it? Did you have plans to turn it into a book at that time? Were there more things you wanted to explore and chronicle than you had room for in the Times piece?
I approached a few agents with the idea but was mostly met with “call us back when you have a proposal.” Betsy Amster—a former editor at Pantheon and Vintage, who now runs an independent agency here in L.A.—was the exception. She loved the idea, helped me plan and shape the proposal, and advised me on what material to concentrate on for a sample chapter.
After the rejuvenile story ran on the front page of the “Sunday Styles” section, I spent another month fleshing out the proposal, eager to submit it while the story was still relatively fresh. In the end, I didn’t do a sample chapter at all, opting instead to do a detailed overview and lengthy chapter summaries (which, of course, changed when I got the deal and actually began writing).
How did the book deal come about?
In your book proposal, how much of your research plans were mapped out?
Do you have any advice to first-time nonfiction authors? Is there anything you’d have done differently, either from a financial standpoint or a journalistic one? ?
10.18.06 Oh, this is sleazy
I’m a sometime journalist, which puts me in some ugly company – I’m well aware the job title is shared by the likes of Nancy Grace, Geraldo Rivera and legions of other desperate, clueless hacks…
Over my own 15-odd year course of writing and reporting stories for newspapers and magazines, I’ve probably done a fair amount of hackery myself. And I’m sure I’ve done a few people wrong along the way.
But this week I’ve finally gotten a close-up look at how bad journalism looks from the other side of the notebook. And all I can say is, yuck.
A month or so back I was contacted by a producer for ABC World News Tonight about a story he was putting together on adult kickball. We talked about the World Adult Kickball Association and my own experience in the sport, and then I told him about all the other kidgames featured in the book and on this blog. He was unaware how far the phenomenon went, and so I happily filled him in on skipping, tag, dodgeball, staredown and rock paper scissors. Over the course of the next few weeks, we talked three or four more times as he followed my leads for footage and interviewed the tag players and rock paper scissors people. And then one afternoon in September a crew came to my house for what ended up being an hour-long interview.
The story aired last week… and there it all was, a full five minute World News Tonight feature on kidgames reclaimed by adults. Only one thing was missing: any reference to me or the book. Especially galling was a standup by correspondent Dean Reynolds, in which he said, “In fact any game you may have played at recess as a kid is probably now being played somewhere by adults. There are now staredown leagues for example. There’s an international skipping movement. And even a tag institute.”
That sounded awfully familiar - if I didn’t use those exact words in our interview, I said something very much like it.
When I called the producer the next day, he acknowledged that he “got guidance” from me but that he talked to 50 people and referred to other stories on the topic (though when pressed, he conceded that none of the other stories included all the examples he ended up using). His bureau chief agreed that no wrongdoing was done and that they would not apologize or even acknowledge that a mistake had been made. The best they could muster was to say they were “sorry I feel that way,” which felt even more unsatisfactory since that’s what I tell my wife when she’s got PMS and is raging about the lack of ice cream in the house…
I’ve raised the issue with ABC standards and practices and hope they at least acknowledge that this wasn’t model journalism. I’m told by friends in publishing biz that this sort of thing is happening more and more – reporters hard-up for angles will appropriate someone else’s work, if not their precise wording. While I absolutely recognize I don’t own this story, I think we can all agree it’s at best sloppy and at worst sleazy not to at least cite a source when a reporter cites several examples, follows several leads and even lifts some wording from someone who has spent many years studying a topic....
I’m incredibly grateful the book has gotten all the nice media attention it has – which makes this latest episode seem all the sleazier…
08.16.06 The Cupcake Press Speaks!
In a world of vast uncertainty, here’s a rock-solid guarantee: spend five minutes scrolling through this Blog and your salivary glands will start squirting like a SuperSoaker.
Five minutes more and a weird rush of dizzy expectant energy will begin rushing from your tummy-region to your fingers and toes. Five minutes more and you’ll be scrambling for your car keys and heading toward that fancy new neighborhood boutique bakery that’s doing an astonishingly brisk business in… gourmet cupcakes. You know the one – Sprinkles (Oprah’s choice in Bev Hills) or Magnolia (The West Village shop immortalized in SNL’s “Lazy Sunday”) or Love at First Bite (the Berkley boutique famous for its strawberry strewn Pretty in Pink).
With its vivid close-ups and gushing captions, Cupcakes Take the Cake (motto: “all cupcakes all the time”) is the Hustler Magazine for the cupcake crowd. Authors Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alizinha and Nichelle are hot n’ savvy New Yorkers who serve up the most exotic and gorgeous kiddie deserts ever devised – from the junky “care bears cupcake” that would cause conniptions in a four-year-old to a sublime “green tea, lavender and honey bombe” (pictured here) suited for the most urbane chowhound.
The charming Ms. Bussel recently contacted me with questions about how the surge in popularity of cupcakes relates to the rejuvenile phenomenon. She posted a transcript of our interview today… A quick excerpt:
08.14.06 Rejuvenile on Weeds
Shameless product placement tonight in the premiere of season two of the Showtime comedy Weeds – look for a copy of Rejuvenile in an opening scene.
How, you might well ask, did a semiserious nonfiction book about the changing meaning of adulthood end up in a cult comedrama about a suburban widowed pot-dealing mom?
Chalk it up to Hollywood nepotism – Weeds was created and is executive produced by my wife Jenji Kohan. Which also explains why I was the music supervisor on the first season (check out the soundtrack here) and appeared as a bear hunter in the pilot (I shot a real rifle! And spent some quality downtime with a brown bear named Misty!).
Notwithstanding all the personal connections, it’s an amazing show and is only getting better this season. Look for some fantastic plot twists, some great new music (including covers of the theme “Little Boxes” by Elvis Costello, Death Cab for Cutie and Regina Spektor) and at least three or four more appearances of that familiar yellow book. Here’s hoping some of the Weeds faithful join the ranks of the rejuvenile!
07.26.06 More media
The media juggernaut is slowing slightly these days, though still moving in fits and starts (with the occasional backfire). Thought I’d pass on a few recent and upcoming stories and such:
• I’m appearing on the teevee program “Life & Times” tonight on KCET in Southern California at 6:30 pm (repeats at 1 am). Correspondent Saul Gonzalez and I wandered around L.A.’s Griffith Park for one their signature uncut, verite-style interviews.
• I had a funny conversation on Friday with Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s “Marketplace” about rejuveniles, play in the workplace and the color of my sneakers. Archived here.
• The wacky K.C. ad gang at the Brandshow devoted an hour to the topic for their weekly podcast. Streaming version online here.
• Jill Sarjent at Reuters wrote a nice feature on the book that went out on the wires Tuesday. Fingers crossed it gets the word out ‘round the world…
• The book was cited on Monday in a funny, unusually thoughtful Minneapolis Star-Tribune story on weird games.
07.07.06 Another Busy Few Days
The promo blitz ‘aint over quite yet. A few upcoming appearances to share:
I’ll be reading from the book and signing copies at my neighborhood bookstore in Los Feliz, CA this Sunday, July 9, at 5 pm. This is the only reading I have scheduled; if you’re in the area, come on down. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont (next door to the movie theater).
I just taped an interview with the CNN show “In the Money” in which I was quizzed about the book, the big question (“is a good or bad thing? Can it be both?”) and how businesses are reaching the rejuvenile consumer. The interview airs this Saturday, July 8, at 1 pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific (show repeats on Sunday 3 pm Eastern, 12 Pacific).
I’m set for an hour-long conversation this Monday, July 10, on the Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY’s program “Radio Times” (which is also broadcast via satellite on Sirius).
Back home now after the exhausting, exhilarating NY media blitzkrieg, which included more than a dozen radio interviews, a smattering of TV chats and a big finish Thursday with an appearance on one of my favorite shows, The Colbert Report. Of all the media I’ve done so far, I was sweating this most of all – I count Colbert as one of the smartest, most fearless guys on TV today and I had no idea what he’d made of me or this book. I’m still not sure where the rejuvenile phenomenon falls in the political-cultural continuum, and was even less sure how it might translate for such a deeply ironic, blazingly smart performer.
Anyhow, I needn’t have worried. It was the polar opposite of the Maher experience a few weeks back – Colbert hung out in the green room beforehand (his advice: “I’m willfully ignorant; it’s your job to disabuse me of that”), was funny without being cynical, and in the end took aim at neither me or the book but the grumpiness of TV pundits around anything in the least nuanced (“Is it a bad thing or not? We like to tie up my stories in a nice little bow around here”). Especially after the Today Show’s wholeheartedly perky treatment the day before, it was nice to get message out that the phenomenon cuts both ways, from the wondrous upside of childlikeness to the ugly escapism of childishness.
And unlike the truly depressing backstage spread at the Today Show (veggie platter, Skippy peanut butter), the Colbert dressing room was stocked with booze, cookies and a genuinely awesome gift bag (coupons for free shoes, vodka and a bag stocked with Altoids of every conceivable flavor)…
The interview is posted on the Comedy Central site (Windows Media Player required), on a page with a bunch of other recent segments. Look for my smirking mug.
There’s also two good radio interviews available online. The first is a 20-minute chat with a sympathetic radio guy in St. Louis on all aspects of the phenomenon. The second, for the syndicated Money Matters Financial Network, is all about corporate attention to the rejuvenile market.
I promise to get back soon to posting actual ideas rather than self-referential media updates. It’s just been that sort of week…
06.26.06 Crazy Media Week
The media blitz is on. This week I’m running around talking to a bunch of fancy media folks about the book Rejuvenile. Here’s a rundown, for those who’d like to watch or listen in:
Wednesday, June 28
Thursday, June 29
I’ve also started posting blog entries on HuffingtonPost.com. First one is here.
Shameless self promotion! Shameless, I tell you!
06.20.06 Publication day!
Rejuvenile arrives today in bookstores all over this fair land. I’m thrilled, relieved and more than a little astonished. It’s a real book! In actual stores!
First-week sales are a big deal in the publishing biz, so I’ll be forever grateful to those who pick up a copy soon. Help spark the rejuvenile movement! Support your local independent bookstore!
I’ll be in New York next week for the Today Show, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” and Colbert (yikes!); there are also stories, interviews and reviews in the works for the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit Free Press and the Weekly Standard (expect a drubbing from the neocons). USA Today ran a story today on the cover of the Life section.
A wildly effusive thank you to all the friends, family and kindred spirits who’ve played a part so far. I have no idea how the book will be received, but for now I’m just happy the book is out and in the world.
06.09.06 First Review is In
BusinessWeek jumped the gun and published a review of the book today, two weeks before it’s actually released. I’d be bitter, if their assessment - cheekily titled “Adults Do the Darndest Things” - wasn’t so complimentary and comprehensive. Three-and-a-half stars! “Breezy” and “provocative”! I’ll take it!
The harrumphing codgers will surely weigh in soon, but today I’m just grateful the book was greeted so graciously by the MBAs at BusinessWeek.
06.09.06 Swimmin’ in the Fishbowl
Bill Maher and the good folks at Amazon were nice enough to ask me to talk about the book on their new show Fishbowl last night. You can watch the segment here. It was a rather terrifying prospect – I filled a slot that’s so far been occupied by Steven King and Dean Koontz, and it seems clear the booking was in part an opportunity for Mr. Maher to reestablish his bonafides as a cantankerous cynic on a show that’s in large part promotional (or as he put it to fellow guest John Favreau, “on this show, we’re selling crap.”)
Anyhow, I managed to keep my twitch reflex and sweaty palms in check (though I couldn’t stifle a few girly chuckles). Mr. Maher obviously has some major issues with kids and all things childlike, but I hope I held my own and managed a reasonably coherent defense against attacks on kickball, cupcakes and kiddie movies. I’m a big admirer of Mr. Maher, but as a fellow kickballer vet e-mailed me today, he does seem a bit, well, crotchety. My pal’s advice: “I recommend playing on his lawn til he shakes his cane at you.”
One thing I wished I’d said: rejuveniles aren’t, as Mr. Maher seems to believe, a bunch of stoners who stay at home all day in Speed Racer T-shirts playing Halo on the X Box. The vast majority of the people profiled in the book are responsible, respectable adults with families and careers and a commitment to maintaining a childlike, playful, imaginative part of themselves. In fact, many rejuveniles find that their childlike tendencies enhance their adult lives – they’re often better parents, more creative and productive workers and just plain happier people.
One big bonus from the experience: I got a goodie bag! No fancy gadgets or free vacations, but this morning I’m drinking my grown-up coffee from a new Fishbowl mug. Thanks Bill. Hope the hollering out front doesn’t bother you; feel free to come play whenever you like…
05.14.06 March of the ‘Man Babies’
The Orange County Weekly has a cover story about so-called “Man Babies,” adult men who are “held in an internal stasis; they age, but they do not develop as much as repeat.”
Writer Chris Ziegler was inspired to coin this latest neologism (see also: grup, kidult, twixter, and, oh yeah, rejuvenile) after observing dads and their sons at a local mall dressed in identical baggy jeans, floppy T’s and “fat marshmallow tennis shoes.” The story is mostly about how dramatically the adult male dress code has changed from masculine and formal to boyish and casual. Men who a generation ago would have never left the house without a coat and spiffy shoes are now showing up at work in Quicksilver shorts and flip-flops.
Ziegler includes a few chin-strokey remarks from yours truly, along with a terrific interview with a marketing exec at OP, the sportswear manufacturer famous for its laid-back Jeff Spicoli aesthetic. The most faithful OP customers are guys aged 15-24, but the brand also enjoys a loyal following among men over 35 who simply never “grew out” of OP.
I’m not crazy about the “Man Baby” moniker, of course. The men he’s describing don’t seem particularly babyish – more like Man Teens. Beyond that, I wonder why he left women out of the equation – what about all the mall rat moms running around with Forever 21 capris and Hot Topic T’s?
05.12.06 Rejuveniles back in the Times
A few eons ago (August 2003, actually) I wrote a story for the Sunday New York Times about what I called “a new breed of adult.” It was an outlandish idea, but it grew out of an honest attempt to understand a number of strange, surprising cultural currents I felt swirling around me. I wondered about the cross-generational appeal of Harry Potter and SpongeBob SquarePants, the adult rediscovery of games like kickball and minigolf, the sudden popularity of cupcakes as gourmet treats, the number of twenty- and thirtysomethings who still lived at home and the ascendancy of parents (myself included) who played and bonded with their kids in ways that I was certain would have been considered ridiculous a generation ago.
These were not stunted adolescents, I was sure. They were something else: rejuveniles.
It’s especially gratifying, then, that I’m back in the Times this Sunday writing about many of the same ideas, just a few weeks before the book is published. And doubly gratifying to launch this website and blog to continue the conversation.
The Times story isn’t about rejuveniles per se, but it touches on a few central themes – it’s about the blurring of age norms in big-budget Hollywood movies, and how in contrast to the “family” or “kid” movies of yesteryear, today’s would-be blockbusters define a new cultural space, in which traditional notions about age mean little. In an age when more adults than ever flock to the latest from Pixar, X-Men 3 or Superman Returns, filmmakers are now working hard to probe for the child in the adult and the adult in the child.
I had a chance to talk with filmmakers Bryan Singer, M. Night Shyamalan and Jared Hess, who shared their thoughts on what Singer called “the intense pressure of trying to make a film that plays 8-80 but isn’t so soft it alienates the 8-13’s.” We also talked about their own conception of adulthood and what it means that so many grown-ups are now so entranced by movies that on the surface appear designed for kids. I’ll post more of their thoughts here in the coming week.
In the meantime, welcome. I hope you’ll stop by here often and add your comments (or better yet, fill out a questionnaire and post your picture in the Profiles section!). I can’t tell you how excited and gratified I am to share these stories and start what I hope will be a long and lively conversation.