Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What's Your Value?


Today I had an interesting dovetailing of events.

I was making a design presentation for the lobby of a commercial space. The owners are a married couple and they loved everything I showed them until it came to the price.
I had gone slightly over budget, but the gist of it seemed that they had wanted a lot more 'stuff' for the money. 

I countered with the fact that they were getting quality goods that would hold up to the traffic the space would surely encounter. They countered by offering to take the custom window treatment I designed and hang it themselves.

 At least that was what they said to me. There were parts of the conversation conducted in their native language over the top of my head with 'dollars' being the only word left untranslated.
I felt like Elaine in the Seinfeld episode where she gets a manicure and is convinced the workers are speaking about her and laughing at her while they chatter in Korean.

On Sunday I picked up Mika Brzezinski's book, Grow Your Value from the library. There's a female in my life who I thought could benefit from her advice on how a woman could evaluate her work contribution and learn how to ask for commensurate compensation. Little did I realize that I would be needing the lessons in the book just as much. 

If Mika's last name sounds familiar, then you are 'of a certain age.' Her father Zbigniew Brzezinski was National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter.  Her mother, Emilie, is a sculptor, and she is the cohost of MSNBC's Morning Joe, a political news show. In short, she is well-pedigreed and newsflash...she doesn't have all the answers.

Back to my couple. I stayed firm on my price, offering them the option of doing the project in two phases and left. I didn't tell them speaking about someone in another language while they're standing in front of you is rude, but I did tell them good work deserves fair recompense.

I'm still waiting for their decision to go ahead with the project, but either way I feel my design would add value to their space--and whether they recognize that too is up to them.



 

 

Monday, December 21, 2015

...And the New Miss Universe Is...

Okay, let's just get it out there, we've all made mistakes. But this kind, the live T.V. moment on par with John Travolta's mangling of Idina Menzel's name at the Oscars, wouldn't have had much traction if not for our schadenfreude delight at other's failures.And the free-publicity for the Miss Universe contest has been priceless. 

As far as I can parse things, the two women who got dragged into Steve Harvey's mega-sized gaffe when he erroneously announced Miss Colombia as the winner of the Miss Universe contest instead of Miss Philippines, have both come out well served. As an aside, does anyone else think that Miss Colombia is a dead ringer for Sofia Vergara?

Anyway, the benefit of this mistake is that we all now realize that silly things like beauty contests still exist. I guess you can say that the Miss Universe contest has now been re-energized and maybe Donald Trump, who had recently sold it for 'lots and lots of money' is now the only loser here because even with his name attached to the brand he couldn't manage to bring in this kind of attention. 

And just to put the proper perspective on things, even though all three principal characters here were humiliated, demoted, and elevated in breathtaking speed, at least we can look forward to the quick 'get' by the morning shows who have probably already booked both 'Miss' contestants, thereby extending their fifteen minutes.

So yes, Miss Colombia, you might have been 'robbed' but let me say you are exquisite, as is Miss Philippines. I only wish all the 'news' shows who reported the mix-up had at least shared your names to have truly made the misery worthwhile. 

And on another note, you guys have just squeezed onto the Years' End List of whoever makes decisions about the inane year-end lists, so Happy Holidays!!

 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Does a Female Protagonist Need to be Likable?

Recently I sent my book, The Art of Stealing out to an agent. Although she said she found it well-written and an enjoyable read, she was going to pass on it because the main character,Valentina, wasn't always likable. To which I thought...who is?

Literature has shown that flawed characters are much more intriguing and last longer in our memories. So what exactly was her issue? When Blanche DuBois enters the stage, the scenery practically catches fire from the electric currents she casually beams out toward anyone within her radius. She's a train wreck and we hold our breath in anticipation as she self-immolates.

The lead character, Karen Bixen, in Out of Africa, is based on author Isak Dinesen's years running a coffee plantation in Africa. She is complex, intriguing and so unlike the other white women of her upper class status that she is looked upon with great distaste by her peers. She views them the same way with little care about winning them over. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the book's character or the steely portrayal of her by Meryl Streep, do yourselves a favor and check it out.

If anyone is a fan of Shonda Rhimes, then they know she mostly writes outrageous female characters that pull off all kinds of crazy, raising the stakes with each successive week: Meredith Grey--self-described as dark and twisty
Olivia Pope--claiming to wear a white hat who isn't above taking part in a murder plot or deceiving the entire continent of North America to save her wussy lover from political doom,  Annalise Keating--possibly the most bizarre, practically bi-polar type character to ever bloom from the fertile mind of Ms. Rhimes who defies the law with aplomb even though she is a principal of the court.  And speaking of bi-polar? Carrie Mathison, anyone? Enough said.

These women are strong and unerringly put their own needs first.

Sounds like a flaw whose time has come. 

So I'm going to take another hard look at my female protagonist, Esmeralda,  in the book I am currently writing and I think I'm going to get her crazy on. 'Cause I'll take moxie over mousy any day. 

Flaws can be beautiful too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Where is the Mystery?


In this era of transparency, what would happen if we didn't pull back the curtain and see that the Wizard was just a man?


In this past week's Sunday Times magazine  http://nyti.ms/1Pmxdy4  writer Jenna Wortham highlights visual artist Madelyn Beckles and other self-promoters of her ilk as they pull back the curtain on their internet searches revealing the dark data of who they really are when no one is looking. Is this a new concept? Teenage boys have been doing things when they thought no one was looking for centuries. And there are lots and lots of people who still do.

It's called Privacy. 

The same way we don't say every thought that comes to mind, most of us relish the fact that we have our own silent Walter Mitty-like fantasies that get us through the slog of the day. 

I find this 'share all conceit' off-putting to the say the least and probably bordering on dangerous narcissistic behavior. But the curtain of anonymity allows for all to be revealed without really revealing it all. Everyone is aware that 'reality TV' is no more real than a scripted show, and UnReal, Lifetime's brilliant, insider skewering of reality TV blazingly illuminated that.

But to all of these revealers I have one thought: Who cares? Apparently lots of people do, so I guess I'm in the minority on that because these screen shots of their haphazard and seemingly random searches will be displayed in a Toronto gallery and have been bound into an art book entitled "Babe."

The fascination here, other than the obvious one being that these internet searchers love themselves a bit too much is the dichotomy of what we project to the world and the down and dirty version of who we really are. We may think of ourselves as designer clothing and pearls, but our internet searches reveals bustiers and silk handcuffs is who we really are.

Again, sorry if I'm repeating myself but Who Cares? In the twitter-sphere of celebrity catfights and social admonishments by Lena Dunham and other peolpe with large numbers of followers weighing in on everything political or social, the whiny self-absorbed generation of relentless self-promotion is gauche and exhausting.

For those who think every one of their thoughts is worth sharing because they subsisted on reality TV growing up, I say stop...I beg of you, just stop. Of course it's childlike to wish for the naive days of believing in the tooth fairy but how about allowing for that natural process of discovery...that air of mystery? 

Isn't the most thrilling part of meeting someone new discovering the layers and facets of all of them? How interesting would it be if we all just handed each other screenshots of our internet searches and said Here's All of Me...um, yuck. 

Why don't we think that some things can be special or scared? Aren't we allowed to hold something dear? The best part about a crush is the secret of it...the delicious knowledge that the unreality of it will be way better than the actualization of it.

The best movie stars of yore...Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth...promised boundless possibilities with the raise of an eyebrow, a sway of a hip...call me old fashioned, but allow me a shred of my imagination to take me through the grimy subway rides and reality of life....sometimes the best way to get through a tough day is imagining you're someone else doing something completely different. The Wizard did more good before the curtain was pulled back, staying in the background as he allowed us to discover ourselves.


So please, indulge in your fantasies out of the glare of the public eye, and do us all a favor, and don't tell anyone about it.

Please!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Toya Graham--Mother of the Year?! Perhaps Not....

Much has been made of Toya Graham, single mother of six, who first came to attention as 'Mother in Yellow' (before reporters were able to uncover her identity) who stormed out of her house upon seeing her sixteen-year-old partake in the violence and mayhem on the streets in Baltimore last week.

She slapped him 'upside the head' in terminology I am now familiar with due to the incessant coverage of the incident, and in turn has found herself an unwitting participant in the humanization of the riots there that sells newspapers and advertising on national morning shows.

How we love our ten-second sound bites and headlines that tell only half the story.

They make us feel as if we are current, can participate in trending twitter feeds with a certain alacrity, and allow us to tuck our guilty conscience into bed at night before blindly following the newer hashtag and fresher soundbite.

I have a big problem with Ms. Graham--is that her maiden name, by the way, or the name of her first or second husband? Was she ever married...widowed...divorced...? I don't have the answers to those questions, and they aren't beside the point, because she's being lauded as the 'single mother of six' who dashed out of her house, unflinchingly in the face of camera phones and disciplined her son for all of us to revere.

The New York Post's headlines screamed: Toya Graham--MOTHER OF THE YEAR.
I would write a different one, how about: Toya Graham--MOTHER AND FATHER OF THE YEAR, because there's been no mention of Michael's father, or any of his siblings father's and even if they share the same father. I'm sorry if I'm being direct here, but anecdotally, black mothers in poor urban areas raise their children, not alone, according to Ylonda Gault Caviness, in Sundays Op-Ed at The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/opinion/sunday/what-black-moms-know.html?ref=opinion 
but with a cadre of other black women from the neighborhood with the occasional grandfather pitching in. There is no mention of fathers in her piece. 

I applaud Ms. Graham, but only with one hand. I'm happy her slaps to her son's head were the 'slaps heard 'round the world.' I'm not condoning the slaps or the four-letter words she used to get him in line--doubtless he's heard it all from her before and yet he was still out on the streets rioting.

And truly I fear her actions will have any real effect except for the moment, because until she is off the interview circuit and has to go back to work to feed and clothe the six children she apparently had through sperm-donor fathers, because the mark of a true father is one who sticks around to take responsibility and raises his family. 
I am clapping only one hand, because Ms. Graham perpetuated her family's cycle of poverty by allowing herself to mother her children alone, either by poor choices, or lack of understanding that A+B=Child. That excuse can really only fly for a fourteen or fifteen year-old, and truly, that pass is afforded only once, if at all.

I have a dozen more points I'd like to make, but there's little reason to because our collective attention has moved on. I would like to know about Ms. Graham's other children and what they're up to. I would like to have a follow-up report in a year to see if Michael has graduated high school and is making plans for a solid future. But I won't get to hear any of that because the media reaches for low-hanging fruit and we enjoy munching on it.

Sunday is Mother's Day. I'm applauding and giving a standing ovation for the mothers who chose their husbands and the fathers of the children well and are toiling day-to-day under challenging circumstances, whether financially, or due to illness, or widowhood to raise their children to grow up to be contributing members of society who can then in turn make considered choices about their futures. We are desperate for mothers like those.
Our society depends upon the health of family unit, let's not take the easy route and applaud a woman who after the fact, has finally done the right thing. 







Thursday, March 26, 2015

Angelina Jolie's Tough Road Ahead

Here's my question: Why did Angelina Jolie write an Op-ed piece for The New York Times chronicling in great detail her very personal and heart-wrenching account of her recent surgery and the decisions leading up to it?

In the event you're just re-entering the earth's atmosphere, Ms. Jolie had preventative surgery last week to remove her fallopian tubes and ovaries in order to remove the key organs where cancer could set up shop. She had surgery in 2013 to remove her breasts to forestall cancer there as well. She will no longer be able to bear children and is thrust into immediate and full menopause (something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy--well, maybe). Luckily, she has six children, three adopted, and hopes to see them grow up. Sounds like a perfect motivation for surgery.

Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Scandal, where the message is always: Get ahead of the story, Spin it your way. If that was the case here, if Ms. Jolie did write the piece (if she did indeed write it) a mere week after her surgery so she could own the moment before the media unearthed it, then I feel even sadder for our society than I already do. If she did it because she has an important message, and as newly-minted public ambassador for women's health and atrocities around the world (really, don't act like you don't remember when she and then husband Billy Bob Thornton wore matching vials of blood around their necks), then I'm wondering why she had to write it Right Now, when she is just recovering and has a difficult re-adjustment ahead.

I am not here to judge her, I simply want to throw out the question.

She appears to be a person of ethics and high moral ground. I believe she  believes she now has an important message to share and is using her very public platform to do so. To be honest, I find her decision brave, as I'm sure many women do, but I'm not sure the motivation behind it is entirely so.

However, if her story raises awareness and saves lives for those women whose reproductive organs and mammary glands that have given rise to life and the sustaining of that life within their bodies and outside of them, have turned into weapons then I'm all for getting the message out.

But if she wasn't a celebrity closely identified with being a gorgeous sex symbol (in a twist of irony one could never get away with in fiction) would we care as much?  

And what would that say about us as a society as a whole?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wherein Lies Success?

As I've stated in previous posts, I'm a part-time matchmaker, happily sticking my nose in other people's business in their pursuit of love. I had a strange conversation with a girl's mother yesterday that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. Generally I set up busy, young Modern Orthodox professionals who are marriage-minded. Sometimes I arrange singles events and allow for the free flow of conversation with some gentle directional nudging when I think a couple might suit one another. On a rare occasion, I will interact with a mother who is seeking a match for her child because in the highly religious circles she finds herself in, suggestions are pursued exclusively through a facilitator aka matchmaker.

The mother, who had gotten my number from someone I vaguely knew spent fifteen minutes extolling the virtues of her daughter's abilities--she could play any instrument (with no formal study), had been the star of the school play, could sew and design gorgeous clothing (with minimal training), was beautiful, incredibly accomplished and tremendously popular. The only problem with this list of qualities this stupendous girl seemed to possess was that she had never finished high school, choosing instead to study abroad in a vocational school (of sorts) and she was barely eighteen. And this mother had allowed all of this.

After I gasped and caught myself from shouting: Are you out of your mind? I was able to interrupt this mother's breathless praise and ask: But Why does she want to get married? What I didn't ask was: Why would you let her?

Her response: She's the kind of child who has wanted to get married since she was five years old, surely you've met girls like that? 

Well, I've met five-year-olds who want to be princesses and ballerinas and lots of little girls who play dress-up, my granddaughters, among them, and then they mature and realize Life isn't all make-believe. After asking several pointed questions that she responded to with more renewed affirmations and a healthy dose of blinders, I hung up as quickly as I could without seeming too rude. I knew I'd only heard half of the story and had zero interest in hearing the rest.

As parents we skate the thin line between indulging our child's wishes and acting as reality checker. This mother sounded batty to me and there were many layers of wrong with what she was allowing her child to pursue. I wanted to screech, Why Don't You Be A Parent? rather than indulge your child's every whim, from quitting school to making a life decision while still a teenager. 

At what point during our child's journey to mature, functioning adult do we switch from the confidence-building cheering squad and steer them to where we believe they can achieve realistic success?

How many times have I seen a young actor win a coveted award in their field and thank their parents for encouraging them to fulfill their dream and never give up. I wonder if I could be that kind of parent when the odds are so stacked against success. I am all about pursuing dreams and passions, but at some point, it simply doesn't make sense. Sure, there are doctors and firemen and astronauts who glommed onto that dream as five-year-olds and saw it through to fruition, but how many weren't capable of seeing that dream through? And as parents, how do we gently nudge their aspirations into a viable effort that yields real results rather than standing by and watching our child throw away years of life pursuing something too elusive?

One of the phrases that really drives me crazy is: "You can be anything you want to be." Um, not true, it simply isn't true. Malcolm Gladwell's ten-thousand hour rule exists after there is a certain establishment of raw talent that needs the man hours to polish and hone it. I would hate to see a tone deaf person practice trumpet for that many hours and never achieve his goal.

As parents, I feel our job is to manage expectations, cheer the victories, feel the defeats in our gut, and give our children coping skills for when life throws them a curve, which is bound to happen at least once or twice.

Yes, we get to sit in the front row of graduations, walk by their side down the aisle at their weddings, and get a VIP tour of their first major purchase: car/business/home. But in this culture where children on opposing teams are both told they're winners, the problem with going overboard trying to protect them from the big bad world is that they can't face losing and don't understand the word No

My father used to joke that when he grew up he walked to school uphill--both ways. 
Grit and true determination are vital keys to success. And so is failure. Defeat builds character and makes success all that more precious. We need to teach our kids that failures can and will happen, and as long as they get up each time, brush themselves off and try again, they will ultimately succeed.