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Wednesday
Nov022016

Sadness at Beauty and the Beast's Truth

My approximation of the Sesame Street version of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, cleverly crafted from a carpet and a dog toy. Houston, Texas. October 31, 2016.

Vividly, I remember a Sesame Street hand-puppet rendition of Beauty and the Beast.

On the floor between our casual dining table and the kitchen in our open-plan den, we had a small television housed in a cabinet that, when closed, looked like a dresser. After elementary school, I sat in front of it on the brown tile to eat my snack.

In my memory of this particular Sesame Street production, a hand puppet crafted from brown shag carpet with glued-on googly eyes imprisons a girl in place of her father, torments her, and then manipulates her into falling in love with him.

At which point, they kiss.

The moment their puppet faces touch, he screams in agony, his shag-carpet tendrils shake with violence, and he disappears below the platform. A moment later, he pops above the stage as a “handsome prince.” (Of course, all handsome princes have white skin and blond hair. Even—or especially—the plastic ones.)

I had nightmares for weeks.

Bad enough that someone will trap you, harass you, manipulate you, and damage you psychologically. Adds insult to injury that, when you kiss him, he transforms from what you loved into something else entirely.

I don’t want the human, nonfairy-tale equivalent. What sane person would?

The tale, I believe, aims to teach kids that a person’s insides matter more than a person’s outsides. Instead, it shows the opposite: A prince-as-beast uses a woman to turn back into his old self—which, as far as I can tell, simply has a prettier coating on the outside for a horrible person on the inside.

I remembered the Sesame Street segment and its aftereffects when I read an op-ed by Jessica Valenti in The New York Times about what a lifetime of leering, jeering, manipulative men do to women.

Valenti’s essay reminded me of how many ways I’ve modified my own behavior to protect against personal, professional, and reputational fallout from male misconceptions. And I felt sad that I’ve had to coach young women to do the same.

Once I started to develop into a woman, I hunched my back to hide my chest in voluminous blouses and wore baggy shorts and pants to deflect attention from the boys, teachers, and assistant principals at my junior high who stared and commented and groped me anyway. (Yes, even the “adults.”)

For years, I wore pants to work because I felt a need to avoid femininity in a business setting, my goal to remove from the substance of the discussion as much of my female aspect as possible. I still tend to avoid anything form fitting for work even now, when wearing dresses.

I have my reasons. I’ve had to playfully tell men in business “no” and laugh off their advances, from the married client who sexted me without encouragement to the unmarried client who interrupted my presentation to comment on my ass. (His term, not mine.)

More examples?

A business-owner friend took down her fitness company’s website because, though pictures of her in athletic wear felt appropriate for the purpose, she had too much harassment and too many expectations from men who called to “use her services.”

Another friend, an independent consultant, talked to a client’s human resources department about one staffer’s continued advances, despite her requests that he stop. The company fired her.

Oh, I’ve got more.

I've sucked up walking into a board room and having one of the men say I look “pretty today” in a you-cute-sweet-silly-little-thing tone. I bite my tongue when male contacts ask if I have kids. (Men acquainted only professionally never initiate small talk with other men through questions about children.) I've ignored when men in a business setting refer to me as a "girl."

I've grown accustomed to men trying to make me feel small.

I’ve coached my younger female colleagues on how to defend themselves. I’ve taught them phrases they can use, explained clothes they should wear and not wear, and demonstrated ways to position their bodies to minimize groping opportunities. We've role-played responses to demeaning and belittling comments. I can prevent and penalize harassment and discrimination in my organizational ranks, yet these young women will venture into the world to business events and client offices where I can’t always take disciplinary action. (Although, yes, I have fired clients for mistreating my team.)

Again, I could go on. Yet… enough.

I’ve learned not to trust a man until he earns the trust. I’ve learned to stay on high alert. I've learned to slough off the sleights. I’ve learned to ignore, dodge, and parry and to do so as gently as possible to save the guy’s feelings, minimize awkwardness, and avoid angry backlash. (What about my feelings?)

In elementary school, watching Beauty and the Beast on Sesame Street, I couldn’t understand what upset me so badly.

I get it now.

I just wish that it had stayed a fairy tale.

Though I’ve learned to expect and deal with men behaving badly toward women, entrapping them, preventing their advancement, and stopping them from fully inhabiting their womanhood, I feel sad that I had to do so. Sad that other women have had to do the same. And many have had far worse experiences than mine.

I feel sad for the men who society has raised to think this behavior okay. Men miss so much when they don't make genuine connections with women. And I feel sad for the men who know better and who suffer the fallout from those who don’t. I know and love so many men who would never, ever do this to another human being.

Most of all, I feel sad for my niece. Sad that only time divides me and the younger females of this world from the rude shock of their first encounters with the Beauty and the Beast's truth. And yes, yes—experience it, they will.

Your thoughts? Your experience?

Wednesday
Oct192016

The Single, No Kids Follies

The garage of doom. September 2016. Houston, Texas.

Let me tell you about the time I pulled the car out of the garage and couldn’t get the overhead door to close behind me via the in-car remote.

Sounds fascinating, I know, yet bear with me.

Scene #1: The Garage

Frustrated and late for a yoga class, I exited the vehicle and dashed inside the garage to press the “close” button and dart back to the car. I’d figure out what caused the issue when I got home.

And then, as I stood in the garage with my finger still in the air, having just pushed the red button, the overhead door slammed to the ground, stranding me inside with no house keys or phone and leaving my car running outside with the door open and my purse in the console.

I managed to McGuyver my way out.

I won’t bore you with the details. Yet in the panicked minutes I stood trapped in my Houston-summer-hot garage with no method of communication to the outside world and no way to get inside the house or outside to the driveway, I wondered how long it would take for someone to find me, especially given that this had happened on a Saturday morning—meaning that no one would likely notice me missing until at least Monday (and probably not even until late that day, given the number of external meetings I have scheduled during the average week)—and with the likelihood that someone happening by would shortly steal my car, handbag, phone, and wallet, leaving nary a tip-off clue for my neighbors.

Scene #2: The Run

And let me tell you about the time I tripped over some road-construction debris on a run, breaking a rib and cracking my head and causing enough of a visible commotion to stop at least a couple concerned bystanders, who asked if I knew the name of the president and the day of the week. (I did, but I could hardly breathe enough with a broken rib to answer. Amped up my levels of pathetic a few notches, don’cha know.)

One of the bystanders asked me repeatedly—incredulously, really—who he could call to come get me and whether I had someone at home to take care of me when I got there. My family couldn’t have arrived to my location in any sort of reasonable timeframe.

And I had no one at home to help me.

I had to admit both to the rescuer, which made me quite the sorry character. In fact, his concern seemed so deep, especially as he dropped me at my front door and asked yet again whether I really, truly didn’t have anyone inside who could help, that after I finally managed to pry off my sportswear, I had a little pity cry in the shower.

The Dangers of Having No Tribe

As much as I enjoy living independently, having no tribe has its hazards.

First, let’s define “tribe.”

Though some strict definitions consider “tribe” a group predominantly allied through kinship, I prefer a broader definition from psychology and some sectors of anthropology that considers a tribe “a social group of humans connected by a shared system of values and organized for mutual care, defense, and survival beyond that which could be attained by a lone individual or family.”

Though I have a relatively close family, none of us call each other or see each other every day. (Well, the married and nuclear-family components do, but between these groups, we do not.)

I have no kids living at home or living remotely to check in with me.

I do not have a group of people for which I watch out and take care and that does the same for me, other than my company cohort (and even then, only on weekdays and during working hours).

Experts say people who live alone should have companion animals—and I’ve written about whether I agree. Yet Ramona can only look out for me so much. She can’t help me in a practical fashion when I’ve managed to hurt myself (go me, the eternal klutz) or have picked up an illness somewhere. She can’t do much if I don’t come home one night and haven’t called. And she can’t free me from the garage.

Given that more of us live alone today than ever, I have company in the challenge of living alone without someone to look out for me or assist me when stuck.

And so, other than getting one of the nifty necklaces with a button that calls emergency services when I’ve fallen and can’t get up, how do we solve this problem for the many solos out there in the world today? What services can we provide to address these needs?

Or will reverting to a communal-living arrangement end up the best solution, after all?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday
Oct052016

Will the Truth Really "Out?"

As children, my cousin and I told other kids we were twins. When we confessed the truth, they wouldn't believe us. As lies go, this one was relatively benign. Colorado c. 1980.

Turn the other cheek. Let people say what they like and don’t protest or counter, or you sink to their level and add fuel to their fire.

Eventually, the smoke will clear and people will see through to the truth.

Wrong. So wrong.

Say something loudly enough and forcefully enough, and people will believe you. Say something with enough confidence and charisma, and people will believe you.

The truth won’t out.

What feels consolatory when preparing for a speech or a presentation doesn’t comfort much when we contemplate how to determine the truth in a given situation. When we wonder who to trust.

Public figures and people in authoritative and leadership roles lie loudly and even get caught in their lies, yet their bluster saves them from downfall. Politicians have this down pat, as we’ve all seen to our collective dismay (no matter on what side of the fence you reside).

Studies bear out these impressions—studies that you won’t feel particularly heartened to hear summarized. (At least, I didn’t.) How do liars get away with it? Let us count the ways:

  • Rejecting information takes more brainpower than accepting it as true, found a 2012 study from psychologists at The University of Western Australia. The same study found that misinformation sticks more firmly when it conforms to previously held beliefs. Further, the study found that efforts to retract false information—to show lies as lies—reinforces mistaken beliefs through repeating fake facts.
  • Even with the energy to critically assess the truth or falsity of statements, a lot of people don’t have the capacity or foundation to do so. They don’t have the math skills to test the numbers. They don’t have the life experience to know better. They don’t have the critical thinking skills with which to approach information.
  • People search for evidence that—even when false—supports their beliefs, according to a paper published in the September 2009 issue of Sociological Inquiry. When facts challenge beliefs, people tend to ignore or discredit them.
  • Often, liars butter people with flattery. When you like someone, when you feel he “gets” you, when you feel he shares something with you or confides in you—especially when he comes with flash and status—you want to believe him. Further, social proof helps: A lot of other people believe him. Why should you disagree?

How do the experts recommend we address blustery liars bolstered by charisma? The psychologists from The University of Western Australia who published the study cited above suggest providing an alternative account to fill the void, focusing on the facts rather than the myths, keeping your message simple and brief, taking into account your audience’s core beliefs, and repeating your message to drill it home.

Although this method sounds simple, I can’t say I’ve seen it in action and effective in real life.

The way I see it, we have three options:

  1. We continue to keep silent. We maintain hope that time and distance will prove our points.
  2. We counter lies with facts. Yet how can we cut through the noise of the liars? Their attention-attracting antics? Many people who have exposed lies, no matter how bald and clear their supporting evidence, haven’t had much effect.
  3. We shout more loudly than the liars. Sure, we include the facts, but we fight fire with fire. We scream, yell, even slander. Even if we choose to counter only with facts, we state these truths with even more bombast than the liars do their falsehoods.

What have I missed? Could another path lie hidden somewhere in the weeds?

I’ve begun to believe that you must lend your voice, speak truth to power, and not simply assume that smart people will see it on their own.

And I’ve begun to believe that sometimes you must do more than speak up—you must shout. Loudly.

I don’t shout much. Shouting feels against my grain. Yet I figure the time has come to try. To learn.

How have you dealt with lies and mistruths in the past? How did it play out? Would you handle these situations in the same way in the future or would you take a different tack?

What solution would you recommend?

Wednesday
Sep212016

Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

The formidable foursome of things I can never leave home without. August 14, 2016. Houston, Texas.

Even men who only have pockets to pack have leaving-home essentials, right?

Other than wallets, keys, and cell phones (a relatively new addition to the list), all of us have items we need to feel complete when leaving the house.

Here’s mine:

Book

You’ll never regret bringing a book.

If you bring it on your phone or tablet, that counts. As a real-book person, my taking one along when I leave the house makes for a lot less convenience. Yet I do it anyway.

I’ve regretted not bringing a book when I’ve gotten stuck somewhere without one—in a car on high ground sitting out a flash-flood storm, in a waiting room, sitting at a coffee shop when the person I’d come to meet got caught in traffic—and have never regretted having one when I haven’t ended up with a reading window.

Need suggestions? Check my list of all-time favorites (so far) and check the “Writing” category on this blog for annual and biannual best-reads reviews.

What’cha reading?

Lip Balm

Who in the world—man or woman—can manage to leave the house without lip balm? Even in Houston, a veritable swamp, I use lip balm regularly throughout the day. Once an hour. Maybe more.

Sure, it soothes, but dry, chapped lips look kind of creepy, too. Who wants that?

My favorite is the Nivea Smoothness Lip Care pictured above, but really, any lip balm without the menthol stuff that just seems to chap lips even more (has anyone else noticed that this happens?) and without fake flavoring that I have to taste all day works for me.

Any I should try?

Sunglasses

Blue-eyed people tend to suffer from greater photosensitivity, my optometrist tells me.

I use this medical opinion as my excuse for buying the darkest possible sunglasses and wearing them even on cloudy days, which feel just as bright to me as the sunny ones.

My first album purchase as a kiddo? Corey Hart, of “Sunglasses at Night” fame. (My dad felt horror—on the record cover, Corey Hart has an earring.) I’ve worn sunglasses at night, too. Though not due to hiding from a love interest, like our friend Corey.

Seems like Dolce & Gabbana reliably makes sunglasses with dark-enough lenses that work on my face and don’t have a bunch of unnecessary bling (e.g., charms, rhinestones, scrollwork). I’d buy much cheaper ones if they worked as well. (So far, no luck.)

Found any cheaper options you like?

Tea Bags

Maybe you don’t drink hot tea. Then bring some sort of liquid flavoring along with you. The powder packets that make lemonade. Or Kool-Aid. Or instant coffee, if you like that.

Who enjoys going somewhere and not liking any of the drink choices? And yes, this does mean I will ask a waiter for a cup of hot water when the restaurant doesn’t have tea. (Restaurants actually don’t sometimes. Or offer only Lipton. Which doesn’t count.) If we have lunch or dinner somewhere, brace yourself for this possibility.

Now, tea that comes in tea bags tastes so distantly inferior to properly brewed loose-leaf tea that it feels laughable to name a favorite. I have liked the Stash plain green tea as an option I can buy at the grocery store, though finer tea options like Taylor’s of Harrogate do taste a bit better when you find them.

Any better teas I should try?

Surely I’ve missed something. What does my list lack? The rest of you have to have similar lists of must-have items for leaving home.

What don’t you venture out without?

Wednesday
Sep072016

Summer 2016: My Review

This post marks an attempt at something new on this blog, something more diary-style, though necessarily selective in its details.

We’ll see whether I keep it up. This may turn into a one-of-a-kind. Yet in case it becomes a regular feature, I’ve decided to craft it as a season in review, and to cover June through August.

Here goes:

Work, Work, WorkWorkWork

The FrogDog team's two wins at the IABC Bronze Quill Awards. June 2016.

Let’s get the professional matters out of the way first, as they probably have less interest for the most of you and, out of necessity, I can only and always keep relatively mum on specifics in this life facet.

In June, my FrogDog strategy team and I won two Bronze Quill Awards from the Houston IABC for our work helping a client redirect its marketing strategy and message through primary research and analysis.

Otherwise, the summer brought a number of evolutions to FrogDog:

  • We worked on setting an aggressive road map for the rest of 2016, for one.
  • For two, we started assessing our strategy for the year ahead.
  • And third, we had some staff changes: In addition to bringing on board an amazing new FrogDogger I’ve tried to team with for a couple years at least—a big win!—one of our staff transitioned out due to her husband’s transfer back to Australia and another left as planned a full-time MBA program at The University of Chicago. A couple other teammates moved on to other roles. We miss them!

Ahead for fall: Our end-of-year plan and our strategy work will kick into action, which excites me. Also, we’ve applied for the next award up from the one we won in June—the regional Silver Quill—for which the IABC will announce nominees in late September or early October.

Friends

For one reason or another, spending time with friends became a big focus of this summer. No huge doings: Just getting together over food, drink, fireworks, parties and celebrations, porch sitting, and even pedicures.

In most cases, these friends and I live near enough in Houston to see each other more often than we do—and shame on us that we don’t—yet a few of the occasions brought in friends from as near as Corpus Christi and as far as Guelph, Canada.

Life feels better on all levels with close friends to share it. Not long ago, I took my friendships for granted. Not so much in recent years, in which nurturing my friendships has taken priority.

Family

The gardens across the street from The French Laundry. July 2016.

In July, my mother and her husband, my brother and his wife and two young children, and I met up in Calistoga, California, for a long weekend of family time.

Nonstop time, actually, as the swimsuit and extra books I brought for relaxing and reading by the pool went untouched: We visited a couple wineries, saw some of the Redwoods, feasted at The French Laundry, ate at other fabulous restaurants (frankly, I munched my way through Napa Valley), and had a photographer come along to take varieties of posed and candid family photos.

After that, I needed a vacation from the vacation. (Didn’t happen.)

In August, a cousin threw a housewarming party that brought together members of the family I rarely get to see though with whom I grew up.

We didn’t have nearly enough time together as I’d have liked; it feels melancholy, a bit, to spend so little time with people you saw weekly as a kid. Though distance makes it a challenge, I call for more such gatherings in the future. (Too bad I don’t have a backyard pool to lure people!)

Dating

I’ll say here that dating this summer has held some interesting surprises. And I will leave it at that.

When I have more distance through which to distill the lessons learned, I might. Stay tuned.

Fitness

My blindingly, awesomely vibrant new Adidas boxing shoes. August 2016.

Can’t say much changed in the fitness arena—I still ran four to six miles four or so times per week and boxed on the nonrunning days—except that the importance of exercise increased with my eating. Even when not with friends or on travel, I managed to feast on everything terrible I could find, from cookies to chips to crackers to cake to… You name it.

This fall, I’ll need to keep my mouth shut in addition to keeping the body moving to atone for my sins.

Thankfully, I now have a pair of super-sweet Adidas boxing shoes that help. (Think I’ll blind ‘em?) And watching Claressa Shields, Heather Hardy, and Shelly Vincent fight on the national and international stages gives me motivation, as does a 10k with a good friend coming up on Thanksgiving morning. (Love when I can mix two loves at once: Friends and fitness!)

World Events

I can’t hark back to a golden era—a time during which truth and beauty and light infused the majority of this planet. Yet this summer, the world looked sad and dark, indeed.

I have so much more to say—and have written so much already on some of this summer’s predominant tragic themes—but I’ll hold the additional words for some other, future post.

Tell me about your summer.