Category Archives for Blogging

The Year in Housing: The Middle Class Can’t Afford to Live in Cities Anymore

In the center of Boston rises the small neighborhood of Fort Hill, on top of which sits Highland Park, designed in the 1800s by Frederick Olmsted.1 Patriots stored gunpowder here during the Revolutionary War, and a tower fit for Rapunzel commemorates their efforts. The abolitionist writer William Lloyd Garrison fought against slavery from a house on this hill. And now the battle for urban housing affordability rages on these streets. It’s a microcosm of the battle playing out on a neighborhood level in every growing city in America: a battle between those who want to keep property values high, and those who want the chance to live in the cities that have the best economic prospects.

If cities want to retain a middle class, experts say, they will have to make it happen on their own.

The casualties in this war are mostly the middle class. In 2016, rents continued their years-long rise, incomes stratified further, and the average price to buy a home in major US cities rose. The strain pushed the middle class out of cities like Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Austin—the so-called “hot cities.” Some families move to the suburbs. Others flee for less expensive cities. But across the US, the trend holds: cities are increasingly home to high-rollers who can pay the high rents or down payments and lower income people who qualify for subsidized housing.

Macroeconomists say this a good problem to have. These cities are growing. People want to live in them. Stagnating economies in the Rust Belt might envy this kind of trouble. From the perspective of the overall wealth of cities, the middle class being pushed out doesn’t matter. But it matters on the human level, the neighborhood level. In Fort Hill, it means that a teacher at the local elementary school cannot afford to live in the neighborhood where she works. The effects on inequality, mobility, and the demographic composition of cities are very real, their causes multifold, and the solutions difficult.

Experts reading into president-elect Donald Trump’s proposed tax and housing policies—including his appointment of Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development—see little hope that the federal government will help reverse this course next year. If cities want to retain a middle class, experts say, they will have to make it happen on their own.

Out of Reach

The affordability crisis in US cities is not just about buying homes. Rents, too, have been rising since the Great Recession. In the coastal and hot cities like Denver and Austin, those increases have put even rentals out of reach for many in the middle class–defined as those making between $50 to $125,000 depending on household size. In 2016, the capital required to sign a lease on the average-priced $3,500-a-month apartment in San Francisco often topped $12,000, owing to requirements for first and last month’s rent plus security deposits and a broker fee.

The savings that used to be associated with the middle class have dried up in the past few years, as interest rates stayed low and wage growth stagnated. Not only does this make it harder for people to stay in the middle class, but it makes coming up with high sums to rent or buy city apartments impossible.

“It’s very hard to get people to understand that the affordable housing crisis is not for the very poor,” says lawyer Mechele Dickerson of the University of Texas, an expert in housing and the middle class. It’s for people with good jobs who are not poor enough to qualify for subsidized housing, nor rich enough to pay the rising housing prices. “A family that makes $100,000 can’t afford to buy a house in most US cities,” Dickerson says.

NIMBY Naysayers

The intractability of the middle class’ affordable housing problem stems largely from strict zoning laws that restrict building new housing, and the not-in-my-backyard mindsets of homeowners who oppose affordable housing initiatives.

“Housing issues are a product of economic growth in the city bumping up against strict zoning constraints. That’s what leads to the unaffordability problem,” says David Shulman, Senior Economist at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. “You dont want to stop economic growth.”

The opposition to change drives the price of the existing housing supply up—which homeowners love—and ripples into the rental market. Landlords are able to charge more, and long-time rental residents get displaced when they can’t afford the new prices. That’s what’s happening in Fort Hill, a traditionally African American neighborhood that is whitening every year as black residents who’ve rented there for decades are replaced by high-turnover college students willing to pay the ever-higher market rates for apartments.

“As a landlord, if you can turn it over, youre always at the market, and you want to turn it over faster,” says Lee Lin, data scientist and cofounder of the rental site RentHop.

‘As soon as you call it affordable housing, the existing residents shift into NIMBY.’

This high-turnover rate is even more of a problem when you factor in what economists call “the AirBnB effect,” where homeowners are able to charge exorbitantly high rates for short-term rentals. Lin says 2016 actually saw the first signs of a crackdown against this trend, starting in New York City, which passed strict regulation to make it harder for homeowners to make money on short-term rentals.

In Fort Hill in 2016, meanwhile, initiatives to build new affordable housing to keep those long-time residents in the neighborhood were met with resistance by some homeowners fearing an influx of low-cost housing would negatively affect their home values.

Dickerson says part of the problem is that when homeowners hear the phrase “affordable housing,” they think of public assistance and housing projects like those that went up in cities in the 1970s. “As soon as you call it affordable housing, the existing residents shift into NIMBY,” Dickerson says.

In San Francisco, which has some of the strictest zoning laws in the nation—precluding high-rise buildings in most neighborhoods—this has resulted in the nearly complete white-washing of the Fillmore, a formerly robust black neighborhood. The last predominantly African American neighborhood in the city—Bayview-Hunter’s Point—saw rents rise to an average of $2,715 for a one-bedroom in 2016, with increasing gentrification pushing residents across the bay to Oakland as hip restaurants and condos remake the area in tech-obsessed SOMA’s image.

The States Rights Approach in 2017

The incoming administration has given experts no reason to expect it will prioritize fixing the affordability crises for the middle class. “In terms of the federal government, I see no hope,” Dickerson says. But as with immigration reform and climate change, housing affordability is something that states and cities can tackle on their own. In 2017, this trend toward decentralized power will continuethat is, if cities make retaining middle class residents a priority. That means relaxing the zoning laws to permit more housing stock to enter the market. This is the single most helpful thing the city of San Francisco could do, for example, to counter the tech money forcing prices on the limited housing stock up, says Shulman.

They could also adopt initiatives to require that all new housing developments include a certain amount of below-market-rate affordable units—a program that cities like New York City and Boston already do, Lin says.

Dickerson says cities could go a step further than that by requiring developers to set aside housing for people who actually work in the city in exchange for tax breaks. This would also, she thinks, be less controversial to NIMBY-minded residents.

Lin, meanwhile, predicts more cities will follow New York City’s lead in fighting back against the AirBnB effect in 2017, which would also help ease the pressure on housing supply.

Middle class would-be residents can also look to a few bright spots. Thanks to the Great Recession, many millennials delayed marriage and children until they were more financially stable, and Shulman says they may now be reaching the age where they are ready for those big life milestones. He notes that in 2016, many millennials began to buy homes in the suburbs, seeking better school systems and more space.

Additionally, interest rates are expected to rise and the economic outlook in response to Trump’s presidency is so far relatively optimistic, as evidenced by the surging stock market in December. This bodes well for wage growth, which Shulman and his colleagues at UCLA expect to see over the next two years. All of this could help the middle class grow their savings. But for now, they’ll be doing it from the suburbs.

1Correction on January 1 at 6pm: Highland Park was designed in the 1800s.

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8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Full-Time Travel Blogger – Bravo (blog)

Bravo (blog)

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Full-Time Travel Blogger
Bravo (blog)
It's not just about the money, but also the exact deliverables you'll give the brand on your blog and social media. You can only earn what you ask for, and you alone set your rates, so you have to learn what you are worth by experience (and it will

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2016 Cowboys' Draft Class Was Best Ever For Rookie Approximate Value – Blogging The Boys (blog)

Blogging The Boys (blog)

2016 Cowboys' Draft Class Was Best Ever For Rookie Approximate Value
Blogging The Boys (blog)
The Dallas Cowboys have had some great drafts in their storied history, but using one metric, no other draft class matches the 2016 group in approximate value. by VAfan@vafanbtb Apr 17, 2017, 6:00pm CDT. tweet · share · pin · Rec. Matthew Emmons-USA …

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Is It Possible To Have A ‘Meaningful’ Job And Also Make Money?

A good job pays the bills, but it’s also meaningful, right? Apparently, it’s tough to finda job that does both.

There’s no better day of the week than Monday to ponder the meaningfulness of your work. It’s something that often gets overlooked while searching for a job, too.

When I first graduated from college, I definitely wasn’t thinking about how rewarding the work would be. I was just focused on getting my foot in the door of the entertainment industry.

But to be honest, the work was pretty soul-sucking.I looked at the lives of my supervisors who had many more years of experience in the entertainment industry than I did. They were all pretty miserable, so I got out.

Money is definitely important to me, as it is to many people. In fact, just about everyone I know cares about making money. Do they care more about making money than making a difference? I don’t know, but it all depends on the job.

Here’s a graph of the most meaningful jobs in 2016and their average salaries, according to recent data from Forbes.

This should definitely make you think about what you do all day:

Jobs that involve working with elderly people are of the most meaningful.

Nursing home directors, hospice nurses and assistant directors of nursing homes were in the top 10 meaningful jobs.

For these jobs, the average salary is $69,700. That might sound like a lot if you’re 22 years old, but when you also have to support a family, it’s tight.

People who have jobs helping the elderly get to enjoy the satisfaction of directly making someone’s life much better. Money can’t buy that feeling.

You can get more meaning from a job if you’re helping people be healthy.

Clinical psychologists, volunteer coordinators and clinical supervisors have meaningful work, but their jobs aren’t going togive them the ability to retire early, that’s for sure.

People in these jobs are making $54,000 on average. Seeing the immediacy of how you help people live healthier lives is probably more meaningful compared tothe immediate results from other jobs.

Connecting with others on an emotional level probably makes your job more meaningful.

Pastors, development officers, school counselors and marriage and family therapists help people have better relationships and a better understanding of themselves. Careers in mental health, development and relationship health put you front and center with your clients. These jobs force you to communicate and prevent you from hiding behind a screen all the time.

People in these roles make $48,400 on average. You can’t buy the rewarding feeling of knowing you’ve helpedimprove marriages or guided a high school student through finding the best college. But, that rewarding feeling can’t exactly pay rent, either.

OK, so none of this means you can’t find work that’s both meaningful and allows you to be financially independent. But, you might not be able to find a job that’s both meaningful and makes a lot of money based on the roles that exist.

Having a rewarding job and becoming wealthy might mean adopting an entrepreneurial spirit and creating your own position. It might not be about finding the job, but creating one based on what would be most meaningful to you.

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Lions Gate buys Starz movie channel for $4.4 billion

Image: Lions gate

Content + distribution = money.

That’s the basic equation behind Thursday’s news that movie and TV studio Lions Gate acquired subscription channel Starz for $4.4 billion.

The deal, a combination of stock and cash, merges the company that made “The Hunger Games” series with one of the biggest pay-for cable channels.

In Starz, Lions Gate now has a way to directly make money from its hits as opposed to going to other distributors, as it does now with Orange is the New Black.

In Lions Gate, Starz gains access to a pipeline of high-quality shows and an existing library that will make its subscription services more enticing.

Jon Feltheimer, CEO of Lions Gate, said on a call with analysts that the combined company would be able to compete better. He didn’t call out Netflix and HBO, but he might as well have.

“This acquisition unites Lions Gate and Starz in a global content power house that invests nearly $2 billion a year in new content with the increased scale to compete even more effectively and capitalize on growth opportunities in a fast changing marketplace,” Feltheimer said.

The combination might seem like a no-brainer as direct-to-consumer streaming platforms have become the hot new thing among consumers and investors, but the combination is far from a sure thing.

Both companies have struggled in the past year, with their respective share prices reflecting such. The combined Lions Gate/Starz also faces stiff and diverse competition from some of the biggest tech and media companies in the world that have a distinct head start.

“As a content ‘arms merchant’ we are unconvinced that Lions Gate will be better owning a lower-tier SVOD network. We think this is a deal that happened because management needed a deal to happen given poor recent financial performance and a declining share price,”Doug Creutz, a media industry analyst for Cowen & Co., said in a note.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

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Fantastic Negrito: the drug-dealing hustler who became Bernie Sanders’ favourite bluesman

When he realised his life of guns, knives and hustling was getting too dangerous, Fantastic Negrito grew his sideburns long and gatecrashed music school

You wanna hear my robbery tactics? says the rangy 48-year-old sitting opposite me in a Soho ramen house. Id make friends with the kid that was not that popular. Id go to his house. Id find a house key and secretly make a copy. Then Id find out the schedule of the family. Then, when they were gone, Id make my move. I was that kind of robber.

Ask Xavier Dphrepaulezz (its pronounced dee-FREP-ah-lez) about any of his past lives including his teenage years of petty crime while in foster care and he has a way of taking you to the heart of the action. His story is, by any criteria, extraordinary, and the enjoyment he derives from sharing it is infectious.

The singer, who describes himself as a lifelong hustler, landed in London this morning for the first time in a decade. Last time he was here, long before his current incarnation as Fantastic Negrito, he was briefly the blue-haired frontman of Blood Sugar X, a manic Cali-funk-punk collective in the tradition of bands like Bad Brains and Fishbone. Ten years earlier, he was simply Xavier, peddling innocuous MTV funk before a car crash put him in a coma for three weeks and laid his pop star aspirations to waste. Far from distancing himself from all these personas, Dphrepaulezz places his phone on the table and Googles them for you, lest you imagine he has anything to hide.

After half a lifetime spent chasing a break, Dphrepaulezzs luck turned when he stopped trying. To start with, there was the DIY video for his song Lost in a Crowd, which last year saw off more than 7,000 allcomers to win the National Public Radio (NPR) Tiny Desk competition. He was railroaded into submitting the song by the other members of Blackball Universe, the Californian arts cooperative he co-founded to create a structure of mutual support among struggling black artists. Dphrepaulezzs prize was the chance to follow in the footsteps of Adele and Florence and the Machine and record a concert for NPR.

Watch Fantastic Negrito perform Scary Woman

One person who connected with Dphrepaulezzs urgent blues epistles was Bernie Sanders. Its easy to see why a man running for the Democratic presidential nomination on a leftwing ticket might seize on, say, a song called Working Poor. When Sanders heard it, he enlisted Dphrepaulezz to play at events around the primaries in New Hampshire and Nevada. On the day we meet, the singer will be beamed across the US, thanks to a performance in Foxs music industry drama Empire. Thats Fantastic Negrito you can also hear on Ron Perlmans Amazon series Hand of God: the shows theme song is the battle-weary testifying of An Honest Man.

Dphrepaulezz seems as much a bemused onlooker as a participant in the events of his life. The first time he heard any of the blues records that inform Fantastic Negritos debut album, The Last Days of Oakland, their concerns seemed a world away from his own. Aged eight, Dphrepaulezz was visiting relatives in south Virginia. The music playing in their house bore as little relevance to his life as the classical-pop records favoured by his father a half-Somalian, half-Caribbean restaurateur born in 1905. Until the age of 12, home for Dphrepaulezz and his 14 siblings was rural Massachusetts. My dad was a strict Muslim. He had a lot of rules, he recalls. You probably have to be strict, I suggest, if youre raising 15 kids. Well, he shoots back, he wasnt strict when he was making them.

When the family moved to California in 1979, setting up home across the bay from San Francisco in Oakland, they were in effect releasing him into the wild. Gang-controlled drug-dealing had brought the city to the brink of lawlessness. Confronted by this explosion of counterculture hip-hop, thrash metal and punk all meeting in one location Dphrepaulezz made new friends, left home and didnt come back.

We were all selling drugs, man. We all carried pistols. There was a crack epidemic. Mostly, I was small-time. I was the kind of kid who would sell fake weed, shit like that. Sometimes I would use tea. What was it that the Beatles would smoke from a pipe in order to try and get high? Typhoid? Typhoo tea? Thats the shit!

Dphrepaulezzs saving grace was that, even as a teenage drug-dealer, he avoided ingesting anything heavier than weed. This period, spent pinballing between foster families, seems to have hardened his political outlook. As long as we have have predatory capitalism, he says, well have guns, because the gun industry loves to make money out of guns. They dont care if children die. What concerns them is profit.

Dphrepaulezz rarely gets emotional when going over these distant memories. But the death of Prince is another matter. His Dirty Mind album changed everything for me, he says, momentarily faltering. Someone told me he was self-taught and that opened the door for me. I was 18 and getting into trouble. I was thinking, What can I do thats safe? So I started teaching myself how to play.

His method was nothing if not ingenious. He grew long sideburns and pretended to be a student at the University of Berkeley. Taking the 40-minute bus ride north every day, he would head for its music rooms, copying students as they practised their scales. By day, he was not quite a student; by night, he was not quite a gangster. The realisation that he was small-time came when he and his friends bought some firearms from a gang, who returned to their house, held Dphrepaulezz at knifepoint and took the rest of their money. The next day I got out. I hitchhiked to LA with $100 and a keyboard.

There, Dphrepaulezz was surprised to find that a decade of hustling had been the perfect music business apprenticeship. A deal with Princes former manager was followed in 1993 by a $1m deal with Interscope, which he almost instantly regretted. Released in 1996, Xaviers passable debut album The X-Factor pleased neither himself nor his hit-hungry paymasters. Three years of limbo ensued, which were broken one Thanksgiving evening. Dphrepaulezzs car was hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light. I fishtailed and rolled over four lanes of traffic. The first thing he remembers after waking up three weeks later was the sensation of having a beard not that he could lift his arms to feel it. The accident had broken both his arms and his legs, leaving his strumming hand mangled.

Fantastic Negrito appears on Empire

Far from sending him into freefall, Dphrepaulezz says the crash released him. Interscope terminated his contract and Dphrepaulezz reverted to the only other thing he knew: the hustle. Noticing that the only nightclubbing opportunities in LA involved $20 for parking, $20 to get in, and at least $20 when youre in, I converted the warehouse where I lived in South Central into an illegal nightclub. I knocked down a few walls and built a bar that looked kind of like a pimps-from-outer-space thing. Velvet movie theatre seats. A hot tub on the roof. Nude body painting.

When Club Bingo wasnt paying host to a clientele that included Alicia Silverstone, Mike Tyson and Eric Bent, its creator was working under a bewildering array of alter egos among them Chocolate Butterfly, Me and This Japanese Guy and the aforementioned Blood Sugar X and licensing material to film and TV shows.

When he and his Japanese partner had a son, he stopped looking for further incarnations, sold all of his equipment except for one guitar, moved back to Oakland and bought himself a smallholding with no greater plan than to supplement his publishing royalties by growing medical marijuana and eating homegrown corn, tomatoes and freshly laid eggs.

Five years had elapsed since he last played his guitar. His fingers were still crooked from the accident, but he had just enough mobility to play a G chord for his son in an attempt to stop him from crying. His entire face changed, recalls the proud father. He learned the Beatles Across the Universe and played it to him every night for a year.

With that came a slew of new songs, informed this time by the blues records that had bewildered him on that childhood vacation in Virginia. In the middle of the conflict between me myself and lies / I saw people die for nothing / I sold coke to hungry eyes, went his first song, Night Turned to Day. Together with Malcolm Spellman, his longtime Oakland friend who would go on to write Empire, Dphrepaulezz threw his publishing royalties into the Oakland art gallery, label and creative space that became their Blackball Universe cooperative. Within strolling distance is the Blues Walk of Fame, which commemorates musicians who passed through the city in its pre-gentrification days. Black roots music is part of our story here, says Dphrepaulezz. Our art comes from their struggle. You think of that and you stay humble.

But to really understand why Dphrepaulezz is now succeeding, you have to see him in action. A few days later, at Londons Rough Trade East, near the end of an electrifying performance, he plays Lost in the Crowd. As his clawed hand plays the last chord, he loosens his neck tie, leans into the mic and revisits its inception. My collective calls me a narcissist, he tells the crowd. They were like, Will you stop writing about yourself? Go look at people! Look around! Arent people interesting to you? So they sent me off to Berkeley, San Francisco, and told me to watch people for a day. Just sit and watch. So thats what I did. And thats what this song is.

Its surely no surprise that Dphrepaulezz sees his own values reflected in those of Sanders. It was the collective power of a wider group that launched Fantastic Negrito on to the world, while the predatory capitalism against which he rails almost claimed him before he reached adulthood. Back at the ramen house, he tries one more time to make sense of the past few years. I thought my story was over. But that was when I realised I finally had a story to tell and it seems to remind people of their own story.

The Last Days of Oakland is out now on Blackball Universe

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5 Simple Ways to Generate International Passive Income – JOSIC – Digital Intelligence

5 Simple Ways to Generate International Passive Income
JOSIC – Digital Intelligence
There are many organizations that provide you with an opportunity to generate international passive income. But the problem is that most people do not understand it properly and think that they are scams. I understand that it may be true to some but

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The business of blogging in Dubai and the GCC –

The business of blogging in Dubai and the GCC
In ten years, blogging will be better than television, magazines and billboards,” says social media blogger and influencer Hamid Fadaei. While that may seem like a big statement to make for someone who is 28, the Iranian-born model, athlete and …

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Humana’s Obamacare exit may leave thousands in Tennessee uninsured

(CNN)Melissa Nance was born and raised in Tennessee. But the native of Blount County, near Knoxville, says she’ll move if she has to.

“It’s that or die,” said Nance, 45. “So what else would you do?”
Nance has an incurable form of cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Since her diagnosis in 2015, she has gone through chemotherapy and survives on continual treatment. Her immune system is weak, and she often finds herself in the doctor’s office with an infection. She keeps a basket full of prescriptions in her living room because “there are too many medications to fit in her bathroom cabinet.”
    To pay for all of that, Nance is insured by Humana through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace exchange. It’s coverage she says she was grateful to have after years of being denied because of her pre-existing condition.
    “It’s a reminder of why I am doing this,” Johnson said.
    But in her 21 years running the Justice Center, this year has been like no other. Since President Donald Trump took office, Johnson said, her phones have been “melting down” with people worried about their health care options. More calls flooded the center in the aftermath of the Humana exit.
    Everyone is concerned, she says: “These are folks that voted for Trump or didn’t vote at all or voted for Clinton.”
    Tennessee is one of 19 states that chose not to expand Medicaid. Critics of that decision argue that’s one reason why residents have few options for health care, and insurers have complained about the struggle to make money in the marketplace.
    Humana’s departure follows similar moves by competitors Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare in recent years.
    “No businessperson can plan how to operate in this market. That’s why leaders in Congress and the President need to give people a clear sense of ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ ” Johnson added.

    Congress debates new plan

    Trump recently used the Humana departure to show that Obamacare isn’t working.
    “Obamacare continues to fail. Humana to pull out in 2018. Will repeal, replace and save healthcare for ALL Americans,” he tweeted.
    In this conservative state, a majority of voters agree that change is needed.
    “We’re paying more in taxes, more in forced type of expenses, and we feel like we’re getting less benefit out of it,” said Kathryn Eaton, who owns a small business in the Knoxville area. “Can you actually ever get everyone to be covered or have health care? It’s unrealistic. It’s just not the real world.”

    See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

    The Republican Obamacare repeal bill would get rid of the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires people to buy insurance. It would offer individuals refundable tax credits to purchase health insurance and would largely keep the protections Obamacare put in place for people with pre-existing conditions.
    An insurance industry association says it’s monitoring the bill working its way through Congress.
    “We are reviewing the bill, with a commitment to a stable market that best ensures affordable, high-quality coverage for all Americans,” said Kristine Grow of America’s Health Insurance Plans.
    Nance, who is still in treatment for her leukemia, isn’t content. “Selfishly, I’m glad that pre-existing conditions or life time caps are covered, but I think we need a broader picture and look at what’s best for a community as a whole.”
    And if an affordable insurance plan doesn’t come to the marketplace? Nance said a move out of the state she loves could be her only option.

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    Paul Auster: ‘I’m going to speak out as often as I can, otherwise I can’t live with myself’

    The novelist on Trumps America and publishing the book of his life at 70

    When Paul Auster was 14, a boy just inches away from him was struck by lightning and killed. Its something Ive never got over, he tells me. He was at summer camp: there we were, nearly 20 of us caught in an electric storm in the woods. Someone said we should get to a clearing, and to get there we had to crawl, single file, under a barbed wire fence. As the boy immediately in front of me was going under, lightning struck the fence. I was closer to him than you are to me now; my head was right near his feet.

    Auster didnt realise the boy had died instantly. So I dragged him into the clearing. And for an hour, as we were pounded by intense rain, and attacked by lightning spears, I was holding on to the boys tongue so he didnt swallow it. Two or three other kids nearby had also been struck and were moaning; it was like a war scene. Little by little, the boys face was turning blue; his eyes were half open, half shut, the whites were showing. It took Auster a little while to absorb that, had the strike occurred just a few seconds later, it would have been him. Ive always been haunted by what happened, the utter randomness of it, he says. I think it was the most important day of my life.

    A similar incident occurs in Austers new novel, 4321. Archie Ferguson, a 13-year-old full of promise, enthralled by The Catcher in the Rye and his first kisses, runs under a tree during a storm at summer camp. When lightning strikes, he is killed by a falling branch: as his inert body lay on the water-soaked ground thunder continued to crack, and from one end of the earth to the other, the gods were silent.

    But this is the fate of only one of four Archie Fergusons in the novel. Austers fiction has always explored the moments in which lives, thanks to chance and circumstance, take different directions, and in 4321 this idea is presented in its purest form. The novel begins with the birth of Ferguson on 3 March 1947 to Stanley, who runs a furniture-appliance store in Newark, New Jersey, and Rose, who works for a photographer. What follows is four versions of Fergusons story. The four Archies have the same starting point the same parents, the same bodies, and the same genetic material but, as they gallop through childhood and adolescence, they take divergent paths. Each Ferguson lives in a different New Jersey town and has a different configuration of family and friends. As their stories unfold in rotating chapters, they become increasingly distinct people: the influence is felt of money, or the lack of it; divorce; education, and all the other factors that shape early lives. Auster presents four lovingly detailed portrayals of the intensity of youth of awkwardness and frustration, but also of passion for books, films, sport, politics and sex.

    All the Archies are bursting with intelligence, and all are aspiring writers. All fall for the captivating Amy Schneiderman, though each relationship plays out in a different way. One Ferguson has a car crash and loses fingers; one is bisexual; one has a friend who dies suddenly; one lives in a garret in Paris rather than going to university; the father of one dies in a fire. It will already be clear that some of the four lives are shorter than others: after the storm in the camp, four Archies becomes three and, as the reader looks ahead, the title of the book takes on a more definite meaning.

    As far as I know, no one has ever written a novel with this form, Auster says. Talking in his Brooklyn townhouse, we try to think of comparisons: I come up with Kate Atkinsons Life After Life; he mentions a film by Krzysztof Kielowski. But neither are exactly right. At first, I didnt know how many Fergusons I wanted to have, he continues, I just knew that it was an idea I have been puzzling over all my life. What he is driving at is not only the role of contingency and the unexpected, but the what ifs that haunt us, the imaginary lives we hold in our minds and that run parallel to our actual existence. How might things have turned out had I gone to a different school, or had I not run into the person I married? These are the shadows of our other possible lives (and deaths). It is a very powerful notion, Auster believes, and it drove me through the writing of the novel.

    4321 is published to coincide with Austers 70th birthday. He regards it as the biggest book of my life and not just because, at 900 pages, its three times as long as any of his other 16 novels (its an elephant, he admits, but I hope its a sprinting elephant). In terms of his reputation, he is convinced, it is going to dominate everything. I feel Ive waited my whole life to write this book. Ive been building up to it all these years.

    Its writing became urgent to him. I stayed downstairs in my bunker the basement of his brownstone and worked almost seven days a week. I wanted to live to finish it. He pauses to suck on an e-cigarette: two years ago he abandoned the small cigars he had always chain-smoked, and which have given him his much admired raspy voice (like a piece of sandpaper scraping over a dry roof shingle he has said). I started the book at 66, which is the year my father dropped dead of a heart attack. And once I passed that boundary, I began to live in a very creepy world. Ive settled into it now, but early on, there was a thought of sudden death in my head.

    Auster has been a starry presence on the international literary scene for decades, ever since his New York Trilogy in the mid-1980s established him as fashionable writer who could deliver pacy plots with a dash of existentialism and literary theory. The first novel in the trilogy, City of Glass, features a writer, Quinn, who is mistaken for a private eye called Paul Auster: it is a postmodern tale of urban alienation, summed up by an editor as Kafka goes gumshoe. With his black clothes and expertise in French poetry, his love of baseball and Samuel Beckett, Auster offered a stylish and accessible intellectualism, East Coast meets Left Bank. He became the best example of an avant-garde writer who had found a mainstream audience.

    Paul Auster interviewed at the BFI

    Venerated in France and a bestselling novelist in the rest of Europe, he was less celebrated in his home country, though this changed when, in the mid-90s, he made, with Wayne Wang, the voguish film Smoke, and was involved in other movies. More attention then began to be paid to his delicate, thoughtful works of autobiography, and to such novels as The Music of Chance with its desolate solitary male, hardboiled thrills and its swerve into fable and absurdism. He published frequently, and began to amass a body of work distinctive in its themes and playfulness with form (the nesting of texts within texts, self-referentiality, and so on). His close literary friends Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey and also JM Coetzee, with whom he has published an exchange of letters are from the premier league, and he is married to the writer Siri Hustvedt. The couple Auster soulful and sunken eyed, Hustvedt blonde and elegant were once asked to appear in a Gap advert as the embodiment of metropolitan literary cool. These days, Auster is more of an old-timer, a Brooklyn institution, but his stature is unquestioned.

    He has also been unafraid to make his voice heard politically, as a member of literatures left-leaning establishment, and its hard at this moment to avoid the subject of Americas new president: Its all Im thinking about right now. Auster has in the past stood against the Iraq war and George W Bush, and he got into a public spat with the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan over imprisoned writers. On the eve of the recent American election, he described himself as on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Donald Trumps message of Make America Great Again was, he argued, really Make America White Again Ive never been in more despair about who we are and where were going.

    In the wake of Trumps victory, he says, I feel utterly astonished that we could have come to this. I find his election the most appalling thing Ive seen in politics in my life. The Russians hacking the Democratic party is almost like a declaration of war, without bullets. Ive been struggling ever since Trump won to work out how to live my life in the years ahead, he says. And he has decided to act: I have come to the conclusion to accept something that has been offered to me again and again over the years to become president of PEN America. I have been vice-president, and secretary, but Ive never wanted to take on the full burden. Ill start early in 2018. Im going to speak out as often as I can, otherwise I dont think I can live with myself.

    In 4321 the young Fergusons react to landmark events of 1960s US history: the civil rights movement and JF Kennedys assassination, the Vietnam war and the student protests at Columbia University in 1968. I ask Auster if there any connections to be made between then and now. Tumultuous as those times were, they werent as depressing as whats going on today, he reflects. How little has changed in American life since then. Race is still a very big problem. Stupid foreign policy decisions are still being made. And the country is just as divided now as it was then. It seems as though America has always been split between the people who believe in the individual above everything else, and those people who believe were responsible for one another.

    Auster has spent much of the last decade thinking about his childhood and the America he grew up in. When in his 50s, and after suffering his first bouts of ill health, he wrote a series of novels that centred on debilitated men (Timbuktu, The Book of Illusions, Oracle Night) and the presence of the dead in the thoughts of the living. During his 60s, however, Auster has gone back in time. (He has often mentioned a line from the poet George Oppen about growing old: what a strange thing to happen to a little boy.) His 13th novel, Invisible, featured a student at Columbia in the late 60s when Auster studied there. And the authors two recent fragments of autobiography, Winter Journal and Report from the Interior, are lyrical attempts to recall the sensations and thought patterns of his childhood self. I think those two books laid the groundwork for this novel, he says. Without having dwelt in that land of long ago, I dont think 4321 would have occurred to me.


    Ferguson, as Auster did, begins his teenage years in 1960: I wanted to give a sense of what it felt like to grow up then, the writer says: the new novel is a story of human development and I worked hard thinking about the different stages of a young persons life. His mothers name was Rose, Ferguson 1s story begins, and when he was big enough to tie his shoes and stop wetting the bed, he was going to marry her. 4321 is intent on conveying the way Archie, in all his incarnations, is formed both by personal drives and public events. The day Kennedy is shot is also the day Ferguson 1 has sex with Amy for the first time: they watch the coverage for hours on TV and then tumble into bed. (Any conjuring of a teenagers life has to engage with the obsessive thinking about sex Auster recalls that its hard to get another thought in your head.)

    History unfolds: one Ferguson reports that in Alabama state troopers have attacked civil rights demonstrators in Selma, and that the Vietnam draft quotas have been doubled. A stepfather arrives on the scene, sport takes centre stage, cars are driven for the first time, Candide is devoured, Lyndon Johnsons record is assessed. All the Fergusons are in a state of plasticity, on the way to being formed. They are all notably precocious, sensitive, likable and right-thinking: Auster wants to capture the nature of the havoc roiling inside Archie, the contradictory muddle of hard, unforgiving judgments and raging contempt for big-dollar American greed, combined with an overall gentleness of spirit his good-boy rectitude and out-of-step clumsiness with his own heart.

    Austers urge to convey youthful intensity in 4321 has induced him to change his style (in the past his work has been criticised for being too formulaic). He describes it as the most realistic novel Ive written The structure has a speculative feel to it, but its very down to earth. There is nothing noirish about the book, there are no borrowings from genre fiction, and there is no evidence either of what used to be his trademark minimalism: 4321 not only teems with detail but is written in long, breathless sentences some spilling over pages.

    Shes an ardent feminist and I agree with her in all her positions. They are mine as well Auster with his wife, Siri Hustvedt Photograph: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

    Ive been building up to this in my recent books, he continues. And I felt a certain liberation in writing a sentence that goes on for three pages. It creates such a forcefield of energy. Its not stream of consciousness, but as a reader you are following the thought processes of the characters; the aim is to be propulsive. He has Ferguson 4 dismiss the usual writing advice of show not tell in favour of tell and tell and tell, and Auster says 4321 is itself a case of telling and telling. As such, the novel contains a lot of the things Ive been thinking about over all these years, and yet presented in a wholly different way.

    This is not to say 4321 abandons his themes or all of his metafictional trickery. In the detailing of Fergusons involvement in the Columbia University sit-ins, for instance, other characters from Auster novels who are graduates from his alma mater make an appearance Marco Stanley Fogg from Moon Palace, David Zimmer from The Book of Illusions, Peter Aaron from Leviathan, Adam Walker from Invisible. The reader, as so often with Auster, steps momentarily into a hall of mirrors. Yes, they are all there, he confirms. I wanted to bring back all my boys and have them there at the same time just for fun. Its a link in my work.

    Similarly, in the novels final pages, a crucial sentence refers to the endlessly forking paths a person must confront as he walks through life. This is a nod to Jorge Luis Borges a writer often cited in discussions of the New York Trilogy and his story The Garden of Forking Paths, at the centre of which is, appropriately enough, a novel where all possible outcomes of an event take place simultaneously. For those so inclined, there are plenty of other references to spot (for example the Princeton professor Nagle is an homage Austers friend, the celebrated translator Robert Fagles). More significantly, 4321 ends with a characteristic piece of illusionism that changes the nature of the novel entirely.

    4321 is also typical in drawing on Austers own experiences. We know from reading his memoirs that he, like Ferguson 3, lived in a top floor maids room in Paris as a young man; that he, too, visited prostitutes the examples are too numerous to mention. In fact for readers familiar with Austers work, the novel seems to be almost an echo chamber, with familiar themes and episodes including the lightning story, which he has told elsewhere reverberating within the multiple Ferguson narratives. The author has, it seems, poured his whole life into this book.

    I borrowed some things from my own life, but what novelist doesnt? Unlike other writers, however, he rarely shuts down such conversations with a weary reminder that fiction involves making things up, but tends instead to volunteer exactly what in each book has been lifted from his own life. One instance from 4321 is a basketball match, played by Ferguson 4, which ends with a miraculous fluke of a shot and a fight between black kids and white kids. He was at such a match, and it was very demoralising for me, he remembers, I was 14 and filled with idealism. He mentions a character who is a direct representation of a friends father a man full of wonderful stories of sea voyages and womens stockings and wireless, and his first martini. And I used my grandparents apartment, he adds, in a building on the corner of Central Park that wraps around to 58th St right to Columbus Circle.

    The borrowings go beyond incidents and places to include enthusiasms. Auster is able to indulge his well-known love of Laurel and Hardy when a troubled Ferguson 2 watches their films repeatedly at home on a projector screen. The novelist resurrects his own past as a student translator of French poetry (Ferguson 1 has a similar inclination) with a new rendering of a poem by Apollinaire. He even inserts into the narrative a text he wrote aged 19 called The Droons described as Ferguson 4s most crackpot effort so far which includes the incomparable line: After three days and three nights, I arrived at the village of Flom. It is pretty much word-for-word, Auster says: I thought: this is what I sounded like at 19, so why meddle with it?

    The narrative of the Columbia sit-ins is accurately told done as straight history. In 1967 Auster himself took part in the protests, got arrested, got kicked by the cops: Im very glad I did it. At one heady moment of student insurrection, he knew seven out of 10 men on the FBIs most wanted list.

    The retelling of anecdotes in Austers different books and the repetition of episodes from his own life have attracted some flak. Given Fergusons intellectual sparkle and progressive views, he might be said to have opened himself up to the charge, made by an early reviewer of 4321, that he has written a very long chronicle of his own genius. Another review has referred to the magnetic pull of Austers fascination with his own biography. Readers of the new novel who dont know his work simply wont care, and the novelist, who always has mischief on his side against the critics, knows there is no simple correspondence between himself and Ferguson, and cares little about any overlappings in his work: I am trying to represent in my fiction the world that I know the reality that I have lived through and experienced, which is so full of surprises, and befuddling, and just not what one expects at all.


    Auster likes to pinpoint his beginnings as a writer to the day when, aged eight, he met his baseball hero Willie Mays at a New York Giants game and, mustering all his courage, asked him for an autograph. But neither his father nor his mother had a pencil, and eventually the player shrugged and walked away. Auster cried, and hated himself for crying, but from that day on so the story goes never left home without a pencil: If theres a pencil in your pocket, theres a good chance that one day youll feel tempted to start using it (52 years after the game, Mays gave him a signed ball).

    Austers breakthrough with the New York Trilogy came when he was in his late 30s (and even then City of Glass was rejected by 17 publishers). He has written engagingly about the long years before that success, particularly in the memoir Hand to Mouth, which is subtitled A Chronicle of Early Failure (his early jobs included working on an Esso oil tanker). From 1971, he lived in France with the writer Lydia Davis, whom he had met in college. They eked out an existence as critics and translators and shared a belief that their poverty was romantic until the situation grew desperate. They eventually returned to the US, with nine dollars to their name, and were married in 1974. The following year, expecting a child their son, Daniel the couple bought an old house in Duchess County, New York. On their arrival, Auster knew they had made a mistake. On the back porch were old pro-Nazi pamphlets and a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and when moving a wardrobe Auster found a desiccated crow a classic omen of bad tidings.

    The following years were the bleakest of his life. He was so hard up, he touted around a baseball game he invented using playing cards and considered responding to an ad that promised Make Money Growing Worms in Your Basement. I had spent my whole life avoiding the subject of money, he writes in Hand to Mouth, and now, suddenly, I could think of nothing else. His turbulent marriage to Davis ended in 1978, and Auster faced what he has called a very bad crisis: the ground was opening up the things you clung to were no longer there.

    The death of his father, Sam, the following year (he had a heart attack while having sex with his girlfriend) triggered a change. Not only did a small inheritance enable Auster to keep writing, but he immediately embarked on a book of prose written in search of his remote, absent father, which became the superb memoir The Invention of Solitude. Most shocking was his discovery that in 1919 his grandmother had shot and killed his grandfather. She was acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity and her five children never mentioned the scandal; Sam Auster was eight years old at the time: A boy cannot live through this kind of thing without being affected by it as a man.

    In 1981, the year before The Invention of Solitude was published, Auster met Hustvedt at a poetry reading. The family joke, she has said, is that it took me about 60 seconds to fall really hard, and it took him several hours. It was a really fast bit of business. Auster has often said that she saved him: It sounds sentimental, because weve been together now 36 years, he tells me, but she is far and away the most intelligent person Ive ever known. She is always his first reader, and hasnt made a suggestion that I havent followed. Hustvedt has recently published a collection of essays entitled A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, and I ask Auster whether she has ever picked him up on his representations of women. Never, he replies. Ive learned so much from her over the years. Shes an ardent feminist and I agree with her in all her positions. They are mine as well.


    Austers life-changing meeting with Hustvedt is, for him, a perfect example of the befuddling workings of contingency. In the same vein, he says that had he not received a wrong-number phone call (twice) from a man asking for the Pinkertons detective agency, he would never have written City of Glass. Such an interpretation of events can be pushed too far, but Auster has a deep affinity for tales of coincidence and the uncanny. People who dont like my work say that the connections seem too arbitrary. But thats how life is.

    As if to prove it, between 1999 and 2001 he took part in the National Story Project on American public radio, in which he read out yarns submitted by ordinary people across the country true stories that sounded like fiction. His original call was for tales that defied our expectations about the world, anecdotes that revealed the mysterious and unknowable forces at work in our lives. It was a success; thousands of stories were submitted and a selection published as True Tales of American Life. Auster found confirmation that reality is truly as strange and incomprehensible as I thought it was, and that others too felt the pull of improbability: Im happy to report that Im not alone, he told the Paris Review. Its a madhouse out there.

    At the very beginning and end of 4321 is a joke about chance. Its an adaptation of an old joke about a Jewish immigrant to the US that is apparently used by tour guides to Ellis Island. Before being interviewed by the immigration official, Archies grandfather, Isaac Reznikoff, is advised by a fellow Russian Jew to choose a new, American-sounding name, such as Rockefeller. But when the interview takes place, he forgets the name, slaps his head in frustration and blurts out in Yiddish, Ikh hob fargessen (Ive forgotten). The official thus writes his name down as Ferguson a single moment with major consequences. (Auster says he originally intended to call the novel Ferguson, but had to change the title following the controversial shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri Now its a name thatll be in American history for a long time.)

    Auster produced 4321 keeping to his celebrated old-school habits in particular his dedication to writing in longhand, and his use of the trusty Olympia typewriter that has been on his desk since 1974. He has even published a book, with the artist Sam Messer, called The Story of My Typewriter, some of the original artworks from which hang above Auster as he talks to me. He likes the sound the keys make, he has said, but turns to the Olympia only once a paragraph he has worked on in his quadrille notebooks seems finished. He dislikes computers and thinks Amazon is the enemy. Each day, having worked for six hours on the new novel, he felt depleted: writing books is exhausting, physically and mentally. With Hustvedt, he would usually unwind by watching a classic film.

    According to Auster, only a person who really felt compelled to do it would shut himself up in a room every day When I think about the alternatives how beautiful life can be, how interesting I think its a crazy way to live your life. Dwelling again on Trump and the state of America, he remarks that he has often been tormented by the question he puts in the mouth of Ferguson 4: If the world is on fire, what use are works of fiction? When you have a social conscience, there is a great push and pull inside of you about how to spend your time and he has never really come up with an answer. But there remains the hunger to write, he insists, to keep doing it, even if the good sentences refuse to come. The excitement, the struggle, is emboldening and vivifying. I just feel more alive writing.

    4321 is published by Faber on 31 January. To order a copy for 15 (RRP 20) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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