A Female Artist Tries (Hard) to Get Your Attention

Margaret Withers in her studio

This was an email that my artist friend Margaret Withers sent around to art critics recently, to get someone to pay attention to her recent show at Amos Eno Gallery in DUMBO.  The letter was sent to Jerry Salz, Roberta Smith, Michael Kimmerman, Peter Schejdahl and Laura Hoptman, among others. To date, no responses. I found the letter to be quite engaging, if a bit goofy. What do you think? Mistake or marketing must?
From: margaret withers <mwithers.artwork@gmail.com>
Date: December 18, 2010 4:07:10 PM EST
To: [redacted]
Subject: Can Roberta come out to play?


Dear Roberta, 

I dropped off the show catalog for “feeling untethered I laid down my
memories”, which is up right now at Amos Eno Gallery in DUMBO (111
Front St. #202 W-S 12-6, comes down on Thursday).

Do you remember as a child pretending to be a car or a space monster,
do you remember what being in that natural state of awareness felt
like? To be so focused on play that you don’t exist in the real and
physical world – you don’t hear your mom calling you, you forget that
you need to go pee, you don’t notice it’s getting dark and that your
hungry.  That other worldliness of feeling is what I’m trying to
communicate with my art. For example, in the painting, “Tip of the
tongue slandered by ears” there are 26 white clay heads attached to
the painting and floating off to the side. The “guy” is getting ready
to either munch on or spit out a sewn in pen and ink drawing of a
round floating fish like thing, and behind him is a large dark
hovering mass… what is going on?

Come out and play with me Roberta… come see my artwork.

Thank You Very Much,

Margaret Withers


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9 Things I Learned Starting Mediabistro.com


Not so long ago, I was one of you, an editor and writer, who had worked for many years in the media and saw my calling as something halfway between beat reporter at BusinessWeek and novelist, monkishly writing atop some mountaintop – or (more likely) in a local East Village café.

If someone had told me “one day, Laurel, you’re going to start a company, hire and manage 40 people, grow it to millions of dollars in sales and sell it for millions more?” I would have said “You’re out of your mind! I don’t even want that. Just give me a shot at Harper’s.”

But, I’m here to say that going from THERE to HERE is NOT a crazy impossible road to follow. If a math idiot with no understanding of finance, no tech chops, no prior experience managing a team — much less running a company — can do this, then anybody can!

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Do Journalists Make Good Subjects?

This weekend, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference (#ASJA2010) in NYC. Here’s their write-up:


Whether you’re promoting a book or have penned an article that’s attracting media attention, you’ll hear the tips you need to be interviewed, become media savvy and deliver great pull-quotes, on TV, radio, podcast, Skype, or any other medium.

I’ve been contacting a number of journalists who have been on the receiving end of interviews (one such media maven was not very happy when The New York Post turned him into a blood sport). Here is the advice I’ve gathered. Do you have any of your own to add, so that I may share your wisdom with the attendees at ASJA? Thanks in advance for this! My email is Laurel AT media bistro DOT com.

  1. Don’t expect excellence. Don’t expect fact-checking. Spell your name, title, etc. Ask the person to repeat the name/spelling/subtitle of your book. Then, follow up in an email and send the same information.
  2. Make friends. Treat the journo as if she were your close friend, a friend who you cannot trust with a secret. Be relaxed and conversational, but do not become too chatty. The safest thing to do is to TAPE the conversation.
  3. Be a little scary. Play the insider. Let the reporter know in a very nice way, of course, that you have street cred. Drop names of editor friends, or producer friends at the journo’s employer. You want this person to think “I’m going to be very careful with how I cover [X], so he doesn’t complain to so-and-so.”
  4. Engage. Get a conversation going. Try to get to know the person. How did he/she get the story idea? Ask “Who else have you called? Or are planning to call?” The more information you have, the better able you’ll be to assess the reporter’s abilities, and get a bead on the arc of the story.
  5. Become a resource, not just a source. Refer the reporter to other sources. Tell her at the end of the call that she is welcome to call you back with questions. Send her some sources via email, too, if you think of any after you hang up.
  6. Be short, but walk with a smart stick. Speak with authority/confidence, and in short, pithy sentences. Have a list of no more than 3 to 5 points you want to get across. Gather data/facts in advance, so the reporter doesn’t have to circle back to you for necessary material. Forcing her to follow up with you at a later date decreases your chances of getting into the final copy.
  7. Be nice, even if you think the interviewer is lame or stupid. Don’t correct the interviewer. Don’t sound angry or pissed off. This doesn’t mean you can’t be feisty. However, if the interview is for TV/radio, ask the interviewer/producer in advance whether or not they want to mix it up. Sometimes arguing is good, but it must be done with good humor.
  8. Different media require different behaviors. Understand the form you’re in — if it’s TV news, it has to be 30-seconds and coherent; whereas an hour-long NPR interview allows you to speak in full paragraphs. Practice in advance for those short, pithy TV and radio segments.
  9. TV and Radio can be especially tricky. The interviewers often haven’t read your materials and have only the vaguest idea why you’re there. Don’t take this personally. Just realize they want to fill time. Your segment was probably pitched to them by a publicist. They will ask obvious questions; sometimes they will ask questions that have nothing to do with you or your subject matter. Don’t get flustered. Instead, have your 3-5 points in mind and steer the questions in the direction you want to go.
  10. Go ahead and “promote,” but do so in a straightforward manner. Say, “I hope you don’t mind if I throw in a little plug for my [project, book, etc.].” ALWAYS give a web site. If there’s an upcoming event, mention that, too.
  11. Help shape the story. If the story is not fitting your facts, go ahead and make suggestions to the journo about a change of direction. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to tell the journo that he/she has it wrong. Be brave. Sure, you may get dropped from the story — but more likely, your comments will appear as the “balance” or counter-arguments to everyone else’s sheep-like agreement.

Please feel free to comment here or write to me directly if you have better suggestions than these. I won’t be hurt. Thanks! Write to Laurel AT media bistro DOT com

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Amangani: Roaming in Wyoming

[Okay, I’m doing it. I’m trying to post to this blog again. Apologies to all of you who were promised endless hours of blog merriment from us as we travelled the world 🙂 This time, I will try not to hold myself to such high standards as to prevent me from actually posting anything.]

So, for Jon’s birthday, we decided to veer from our world travels for a little local skiing — in Jackson, Wyoming. Amangani, the place where we are staying, took it upon themselves to celebrate Jon’s birthday by secreting some balloons in our room!

As you can see, Jon has really taken to his Balloon.

Is he delighted with his cake, inscribed Monkeys Rule!? Hard to say. In any case, Jon’s a big fan of monkeys. On our next journey, we are heading to places in Africa, where he will be able to experience his primate kin first hand. Stay tuned!!

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still in Shanghai. Heading home Nov 4th. Still no Twitter or FB. Sorry if you’ve written me and I haven’t responded. Censorship sucks!@@

if you're wondering how I'm posting this now (and skating the censors), check out Posterous.com. You can post via email to Twitter + FB!!!

Posted via email from laureltouby’s posterous

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Five Songs In English (And One In Italian) That Are Grievously Overplayed On Italian Radio

I never especially needed to hear any of these songs more than once in the first place. But after a couple of weeks of driving around Italy and listening to the radio I absolutely I never need to hear any of them again for the rest of my life. Seriously. They each get played once every ten minutes. At least.

If any of the following seem like obvious and over-familiar choices, reflective  of the homogenization of pop-culture across the globe—well, don’t blame me, blame the radio programmers of Italy.

Lily Allen: “Fuck You”
Muse: “Uprising” (I still could be convinced that this one’s just an elaborate joke.)
Black Eyed Peas: “I Gotta Feeling” (No link. You’ve heard it a zillion times already.)
Shakira: “Shewolf” (See previous comment.)
Lady Gaga: “Paparazzi”

Embedded above, and also all over the radio now:  Vasco Rossi’s “Ad Ogni Costo,” a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” sung entirely in Italian, save for the word “fucking.” (I know what the lyrics on this YouTube video claim, but listen for yourself. If you can.)

Between that and the Lily Allen song, I am starting to wonder whether there is some looseness granted re broadcast standards and cursing here if the bad-word is sung in English.

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signs and shutters in the night

There’s something about faded old signs and window shutters that just force me to start clicking away. Hope I’m not boring you.

I don’t quite know how to arrange the photos beautifully on the page. Sorry 😦

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mega-porcinis, jasmine-scented urinal cake, anyone?

After a 40-minute drive through narrow, windy roads, up and down hills and through darkened neighborhoods, we arrived here. Nothing else on the street was open.

Our appetizer consisted of one of these GIANT porcinis, thinly sliced, with olive oil and salt. In a word: delectable:

For dessert, we ordered Jasmine Sorbet. Sounded good, but Jon swore that it tasted like a “urinal cake.” I’m still wondering how he knows that flavor…

For the food-obsessed, more pictures from that dinner: PHOTOS.

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Spotted: The Elusive White Chocolate Kit-Kat

At an otherwise unremarkable autostrada stop. (Apologies for the hideous date stamp.)

The elusive white chocolate Kit-Kat by you.

Almost as as exciting as finding the green tea kit-kat!


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Barolo’s Maria Teresa Mascarello and Her Bad-Ass Mom

We arrived in Barolo, rang the doorbell at Cantina Mascarello and the squat, silver-haired, extremely bad-ass looking nonna who answered the door almost immediately started berating us for not being able to speak Italian. I can’t translate what she said, of course, because I don’t speak Italian, but the nut of her complaint was this: Weren’t you supposed to learn another language in high school? What languages did you learn? Thus: shouldn’t you understand Italian?

I liked her immediately.

She waved us down a corridor, where her daughter Maria Teresa Mascarello, the 42-year old winemaker of Bartolo Mascarello, stood watching with some amusement.

Maria Teresa Mascarello in her wine cellar

Maria Teresa Mascarello in her wine cellar

My mother is very authentic, she later sighed. A bit too much so, sometimes.

Bartolo Mascarello—named for Maria’s father, who died in 2005—is renowned for its very old-school, very traditional Barolos which a bunch of wine geeks, myself included, adore. (Its Barberas, which may be had at a significantly gentler price point, are nothing to sneeze at, either. I haven’t tasted Mascarello’s Dolcetto or Freisa wines yet, but I wouldn’t bet against ‘em.) How traditional? Until this current vintage, the winery handpasted labels on the 32,000 bottles a year it produces; this year, the winery finally sprung for a machine that will do this grunt work.

Dangerous modern technology sighted at Cantina Mascarello

Dangerous modern technology sighted at Cantina Mascarello

Maria also refuses to use email, and apparently, refuses to use the Internet at all. But that’s nothing. Her Dad refused to have a telephone, and when a younger Maria finally convinced him to get one, he insisted it be listed under her name, not his.

Laurel and I adore the wine, but we also totally adored Maria, who’s intense and focused and impassioned and a fascinating character: at ease in the modern world of today and blah blah blah, but ferociously bonded to the wine ethos hewed to by her Dad and grandfather. I don’t have as many conversations with someone around my age who is so comfortable throwing around the words “tradition” and “history”—as in, my traditions and my history. The wine world is all high-falutin’ and monied; highly mannered, highly auctionable and wholly globalized. But meeting Maria hammers home that wine is, at heart, an agricultural process, one long run by people whose families have been rooted in certain small towns forever. Barolo’s population is under 1,000. Maria grew up in the house connected to her winery. She still lives there, with her mother. Her Mom—the same bad-ass nonna who gave us grief for the shortcomings of our schooling—was, dear God, Maria’s teacher for three years of elementary school. (Maria claims not to remember those three years particularly well.)

Mascarello produces its wines organically, and has forever, but Maria refuses to make a big deal out of this fact. (Her forebears didn’t either.) I’ve been thinking a lot about biodynamic wine lately—and Laurel and I had a blast visiting Stefano Bellotti (Cascina Degli Ulivi), who’s believed to be the first Italian winemaker to go biodynamic—but Maria made a couple of strong old-school arguments against it. One, biodynamic wine requires a very particular and forgiving environment to produce it: it’s easy in a climate like Sicily’s, she said, but not so much in the hills above her town that produce the nebbiolo grapes Barolo is made from. (The biodynamic purists will argue back that wine grapes don’t have to be grown in places where they’re hard to produce biodynamically. I admire this argument for its purity, but it’s one that would pretty much entirely knock both Piedmont and Burgundy off the wine map.) And that there are limits to a totally chemical-averse lifestyle: “When I have polmonite [pneumonia], I take antibiotico, not homeopatico.”

In any event: her wines completely rule. In a quick tasting after a lengthy interview and a long, lingering look at  the private Mascarello cellar, Laurel liked the ’04 Barolo the best. But I was surprised by how enjoyable—how purely pleasurable– the 2005 Barolo is today. And this for a young Barolo from  a traditional producer whose wines are invariably tagged “austere”.

We did our best to drag Maria to dinner, but we caught her the night before her winery was to begin harvesting its nebbiolo grapes—the Barolo grape–and for this reason she turned us down. Alas, we didn’t persuade her to part with any of these:

1958 Barolo, back when the winery was called Cantina Mascarello

1958 Barolo, back when the winery was called Cantina Mascarello

Or these:

Magnums of Mascarello's 1990 Barolos. I think I was weeping at this point.

Magnums of Mascarello's 1990 Barolos. I think I was weeping at this point.

Ah well. Next time, perhaps.



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