Thursday, April 30, 2009

3-Day Thanks! ...

Thanks to Patty, Ryan and family, Marta, Jen, Jill, and Jess for their contributions during my one-day fundraising blitz for the the 3-Day!

And while I'm thanking contributors, thanks to Rick and Julia, Ethan and Marlena, Bill, David, Lenore and family, Qusai, Cathy, Henry and family, Rosemarie, Danny and Kelly, Melissa, and Mike, too!

Your support means the world to me.

Favors ...

Every morning, within a few minutes of waking, my computer is humming. I shut it down every night and boot it up every morning. I could turn off the power strip underneath my desk, but I don't. But I should. Because now I feel guilty.

Anyway, checking my e-mail – and yes, Facebook – is part of my morning routine. And yesterday, I received an e-mail from a friend with the subject line "big favor, a really big favor ...". Assuming he wasn't offering to do a really big favor for me, I opened it and read it, noting the 2.1 MB file attached.

He's launching a new business and was asking me to edit the executive summary of his business plan.

"A new business?", you're asking yourself. "In this economy?"

Yup. Because he has a very good idea and he is incredibly smart and self-assured and if anyone will make a success of things, it's him.

And so, once I returned from my walk and downed several cups of coffee, I dove in.

And it felt really good to use my brain again.

Some of you may not know that I'm unemployed at the moment.

Not surprising, as the unemployment rate in this country is the highest it's been in decades.

But unemployment has psychic side-effects, one of which one being stealth doubt. Many tell me, "Wow, your resumé is impressive!" but when applications don't convert into interviews, I can't help but question myself.

The good thing about my resumé is that it's a handy two-page reminder of all I've accomplished, and I do indeed have a lot of which to be proud.

The bad thing about my resumé – so far, at least – is that potential employers must be looking at it and thinking either, "We can't afford her" or "She'll get bored with this job and leave."

Now, it's true that I don't work for nothing, but my price tag isn't as high as my resumé leads people to believe. And yes, I might get bored with a job, but that will be because the job is boring.

And then there's this: It is not a good time to be a word person. Newspapers are slashing staffs if not outright shuttering operations. Editorial positions are often trimmed out of business units. So some days, it's hard not to question the value I provide.

But then along comes a day like yesterday, when I was able to fire up my brain and meld my business-writing and IT knowledge with my inner feature writer and massage a couple of pages of prose that wasn't quite hanging together into something that will entice a reader and hopefully help land the funding my friend seeks.

(Hey, it's only a few million. Bill Gates probably has that between the cushions of his couch.)

And later, I went out to lunch with my mom, and saw the word "sandwitches" (and a lot of other typos) on the bill of fare and realized that there will always be a need for word people after all. Even if I have to build a business around editing menus.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One-day Fundraising Blitz ...

First, I started on Facebook.

Then, I moved on to Twitter.

Now my one-day 3-Day fundraising blitz has come to my blog.

The Chicago Breast Cancer 3-Day is slightly more than three months away, and I have miles of fundraising to go before I walk ... 60 miles. In August.

So today I'm posting the link to my web page for the 3-Day and asking everyone to consider a contribution in whatever amount is comfortable for them.

This will be my sixth event. Which means, to date, I've walked just shy of 300 miles to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research.

I'm happy to do the walking, but I need my friends and family to contribute to the effort so that I can participate.

I know this economy is putting the squeeze on a lot of us, but contributions start at $5.

And all those little amounts really add up. Skip one trip to Starbucks this week. Drink the coffee in your office instead, and contribute the cash you would have handed over for a latte and muffin to the 3-Day.

Heck, rummage between your sofa cushions and car seats and contribute whatever you find.

And if you'd like to contribute to my effort in another way, post this Tiny URL – http://tinyurl.com/ah8qwr – to your Facebook or Twitter feed and ask your friends and followers for their help on my behalf.

Thanks, friends! I literally cannot do this without you.

And when you contribute, please let me know if you're making a contribution in memory or in honor of someone who's had breast cancer. I collect all their names and carry them with me on the event.

Peace to you and those you love,

Beth

Monday, April 27, 2009

Show And Tell ...

Last week – Friday, perhaps – I spent part of the afternoon camped out at my desk, plowing through a pile that had accumulated and wouldn't go away. Funny things, piles. They just sit wherever you put them. How unhelpful of them.

Among the pile were some past issues of O, The Oprah Magazine, and Reader's Digest. I finally took the plunge this year and became part of the O nation. Many of you know of my magazine addiction, but I've let several subscriptions lapse and two others went away on their own. Two of my favorites. Dammit.

But I'd flipped through O at Doreen's house and Amazon was offering a two-year subscription for $24.95 and, for a limited time, $5 off any magazine order.

Two years of Her Oprahness for $19.95? How could I not?

So I subscribed. And now, each month, she shows up in my mailbox, one airbrushed cover after another.

And on Friday – yes, I'm quite sure it was Friday – I was at my desk, leafing through two issues, tearing out articles to send to a friend. (Doreen does the same for me. It's nice, getting a Doreen-o-gram in the mail, an envelope full of things she thinks I might like to read or comics that will make me chuckle, so I've adopted the practice, too. And so can you. Send someone a note today, won't you? It's so nice to reach into the mailbox and pull out something that's not a credit-card statement or the fifteenth solicitation of the month from DirecTV.)

(And Rhonda, since I'd torn into those issues, I'll start sharing with the most-recent issue, the one that's still intact. I'll be by with it soon.)

Once I was done with Oprah, I picked up the lone Reader's Digest. The lone Reader's Digest on my desk, mind you. I have a stack of them in them in my office closet. My mom has read it for as long as I can remember. I renew her subscription each year and she gives me her issue when she's done with it, but the fine folks at RD decided to send me a no-cost subscription to "thank" me for subscribing for my mom, so now I get twice the RD in my house every month.

And so there I was, holding the Reader's Digest in my hand, staring at the coverline, "How To Hide Anything," and I thought, "I don't want to hide."

I thought of that bit on Monty Python of the man hiding behind a rock in the middle of an otherwise empty field.

It's pretty hard for me to hide. I'm too tall not to be noticed. I don't blend in. And yet, I have been hiding. From the world in general.

There's a lot I want to do, yet I let fear hold me back.

I let it. Isn't that stupid? I give it power. So, logically, I simply need to cut off that source of power. Feel the fear and do it anyway. I have a book with that title that I borrowed from a friend. I never did read the whole thing. But the gist of it is that people don't act because they fear they won't be able to handle a situation if it doesn't turn out as expected or planned but that almost without exception (death comes to mind), we will be able to handle the outcome. We'll get past any potential unpleasantness and life will go on.

Nifty, huh?

The good news is that, in recent months, I've begun to change. No, not change. "Change" isn't the right word. I'm not becoming a different Beth. I'm becoming the Beth I was born to be. I'm growing into my Bethness.

I'm getting rid of past issues, in terms of both periodicals and problems. Instead of feeling guilt for not reading every past issue of Reader's Digest, I'm chucking the pile into the recycle bin and starting fresh. Instead of letting problems weigh me down, I'm facing them, despite some substantial psychic pain at times, and moving into a new place where I refuse to accept what is unacceptable.

It's a process. Some days I make steady progress. Other days, I slip. But there is a net gain, distance between where I was then and where I am now. One of the quotes on the wall of my office is from Confucius: "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."

So I persevere. And I'm learning not to beat myself up when I falter. I just get back on the bike, as it were. (Note to self: Get a bike.)

There are days when I'm sad. Letting go of aspects of my past feels like a loss. But then I realize that I'm making room in my life for the people who will complement me, people who will encourage my growth, not keep me rooted in the past.

And some mornings, like this morning, I wake up laughing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What I Want To Say ...

Truth is, I don't much like research.

Which is funny, because there was a time when I thought it might be nice to become a doctor and find the cure for cancer.

Not much research involved in that. Nope.

Though, perhaps research in the name of science would have suited me. I like to work with my hands. And labs are full of all kinds of nifty gadgets.

But book-learnin'?

Meh.

I was a good student. A good-enough student. My friend Qusai once said to me, "Beth, do you realize that with just a little effort, you could be a straight-A student?"

To which I replied, "Yeah, but with almost no effort, I'm an A and B student."

And we won't tell the kids, but once you get out of college – assuming you're not going back to college – your transcripts mean bupkus. I've never once had anyone ask to see my college transcripts. (Disclaimer: I was an A and B student in my major. We won't talk about the occasional less-than-desirable grade in math. Or German. It's not that I couldn't learn German, it's just that there was no point, other than that the university required two years of a foreign language for graduation. To this day, the phrase that sticks in my mind the most from all four years of German – two in high school, two in college – is "Der Fernsehapparat ist wieder kaput." Translation: "The television set is broken again." Yup, that's going to give me an advantage in the global economy.)

But even before that, in high school, my apathy was well-developed. (Teenagers excel at sleeping and devising ways to get out of work.) English Teacher Dave, a dear friend to this day, had the challenge of teaching a gaggle of us who fell under some sort of Honors English banner. Or something like that. (High school was a long time ago.)

Now, I like reading. I like books. I like writing. I just don't necessarily like writing about books that I'm required to read. (So I became an English major in college. Good plan, Beth! But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

One of my high-school assignments with Dave was a report on Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. I wrote it. I turned it in. I received it, graded. Dave wrote on the evaluation page, "You left out the class struggle in this book."

To which I thought, "It's amazing that that's all I left out, considering I didn't read it."

Ah, this is all so funny to me now.

Yes, I know that I was only cheating myself. But I can read A Tale of Two Cities someday if I'm really moved to do so. I can't imagine that day will ever come, but it's nice to know that every copy of Dickens won't spontaneously combust before I have the chance to not read them.

Anyway, the point is that I don't much like research.

(At some point in my life, perhaps when I as in high school, perhaps not, I ran across this "Calvin and Hobbes" strip that in four panels perfectly summed up my scholastic attitude. I gave a copy of it to English Teacher Dave and he had it blown up and laminated, a copy for each of us. Mine hangs right next to my computer monitor. Click on it to see the larger – readable – image.)


Which is why, while I can report and write a story and have, many times, it's not where my heart is at. I don't want to talk to other people and write about their lives. I want to write what I want to write. (Hence why I've been blathering away in this space for more than four years now.)

I'm reading my friend Jeff's book, The Girls From Ames, and I'm enjoying it. (Jeff, I'll finish it this weekend and drop you a line.) Jeff spent a whole lot of time talking to the girls from Ames and a whole lot of time writing the book and I've no doubt that he has another bestseller on his hands.

But Jeff is the consummate reporter.

I, by comparison, am not.

And so, I have an idea for a book. It is not yet fully formed, but it will be a story that comes from inside me, not from extensive research and interviews and analysis. It will not be fiction because I do not fancy myself a writer of fiction, as much as I admire those who are. It will not be Eat, Pray, Love because Elizabeth Gilbert would probably be pissed if I copied her book and put my name on the cover.

But it will be project. And I need a project. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saddened ...

The Chicago Tribune made another round of cuts yesterday.

An astonishing level of talent and knowledge is being shoved down the stairs and out the door.

Fifty-three people lost their jobs in this latest round.

But this latest round of cuts was originally projected to be nearly 100.

So I fear that yesterday was simply an installment.

My heart goes out to my former colleagues who lost their jobs.

My heart also goes out to those who remain. It must be hard to go to work every day, wondering when your job might be the next to go.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bittersweet (Chocolate) ...

I've had a hankerin' for chocolate chip cookies. Homemade chocolate chip cookies.

I can't remember the last time I made them, but it hasn't been weeks or months, it's been years.

So today, at the store, I made a detour into the baking aisle and recalled that Cook's Illustrated recommends Ghirardelli chocolate chips. But bittersweet or semi-sweet? On that point, I blanked.

But I'm all about dark chocolate. The dark chocolate I buy for noshing is 72% cacao, so I opted for the bittersweet chips, 60% cacao.

And once the butter I'd put on the counter was softened sufficiently, I mixed up a batch of dough.

Oh. My. God.

My days of Nestlé Toll House morsels are behind me.

Chocolate chip cookies made with Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips are the only chocolate chip cookies from now on!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sump Pumps And Sadness ...

The emotional tumult of the past couple months has largely leveled off. My brain has processed and accepted the reality of several situations and I move through each day with relative ease.

But every so often, seemingly out of nowhere, a wave of grief hits me and I wonder, "Where did that come from?"

There are no obvious triggers. Take the most recent episode, last week: I was shutting down my computer for the night and was suddenly sobbing, a torrential emotional release that superseded even my ability to breathe.

Of course, I felt better afterward. I always do. But it led me to try and understand the genesis of those moments. And I finally hit on the right analogy: grief and emotion work the same way as water in a sump pit.

Really.

When it rains heavily, the sump pit fills with water and trips the sump pump at regular intervals. Each time, the sump pump evacuates the water from the pit.

Eventually, though, the rain stops. But water remains in the ground. The flow into the sump pit, however, is slower and therefore the sump pump trips on and off with less frequency.

It may cycle on and off every 30 seconds during a heavy downpour, but water continues to filter through the soil so that even a day or two later, the float on the sump pump eventually trips the pump on, even though the sun may be shining.

And so it is with grief. For me, anyway. But I suspect the phenomenon applies to most people.

In the throes of a loss, grief is intense and expected. But as time passes, as life returns to some semblance of "normal," as we move further away from that epicenter of sadness, we focus less and less directly on the loss.

But we continue to process emotions. We are simply less aware that we're processing them. But that emotion continues to build, in the background, as it were, and when it reaches a critical mass, it's expressed.

Hence the other night when I was shutting down the computer. Nothing about shutting down the computer reminded me of any of the recent events. My grief had simply built up to the point where it needed a release.

So the storm has passed. But the after-effects continue. Predictably, though, sun follows rain.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Whither Writing? ...

I have several posts in the Draft stage.

None of them, however, feel right.

Usually, when I write posts, they spill out of my head and on to the screen.

Lately, though, a lot of what I start feels stilted. So I save it as drafts, thinking each idea might contain a kernel of something decent that I can make pop at a later date.

Or not.

But after three false starts tonight, I'm throwing in the towel.

Maybe, like so many other bloggers these days, I'm simply feeling the effects of writing for more than four years. Maybe blogs have life spans and the sun is setting on Finding My Voice.

Maybe that's because I'm close to finding it.

The singing is picking up steam. My confidence is growing.

The writing will always be a part of me, but perhaps it's time to channel it into a book and reap some financial reward.

Perhaps Finding My Voice is the blog equivalent of training wheels and it's time for them to come off.

Then again, perhaps not.

But I suspect the answer is not to be found in between yawns at 1:23 a.m.

Off to bed, then. Let's see what the morning brings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Perfect Timing ...

Today was not a good day.

Tonight was not a good night.

But a little while ago, I sat in the darkness, still, and focused on my breathing. And I began talking to myself, telling myself all the things I needed to hear today, reminding myself of all the things I tend to forget.

And then the phone rang. I got up to check the Caller ID and recognized the number: College Boyfriend David, who rarely calls because his life is more insane than any other person I know.

He was on his way home after a very, very long day at the college where he teaches and was calling because, in his mind, I would be the antidote to his too-taxing day.

I was happy to oblige him with a chat, but it was, in fact, him who was the antidote to my day of doldrums.

Or we were antidotes for each other.

Either way, it was very nice of the Universe to send him to me exactly when I needed to hear from one of my cheerleaders.

Note to Karen: Your e-mail was very well-timed today, too!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

'Why He Didn't Call You Back' ...

Disclaimer: This post contains generalities. I am well aware that not every situation applies to every person.

I have a theory.

I believe that men, just like women, have lists that define who it is they're looking for, a collection of traits for their Build-A-Mate.

And that's where the similarity ends.

Because women use their lists to clarify what they seek. It's like going shopping: If you know you're in the market for a great pair of black trousers, when you walk into the store, your eye can search out all things that are black and trouser-shaped.

Women, though, also recognize that their lists are guidelines, and, metaphorically, if they're in the store and walk past a really great red skirt, nine times out of 10, they're gonna stop and try it on.

Men, though? More and more, I'm convinced that men use their lists as "Get Out of Relationship" free cards. (Mind you, I'm using the word "relationship" lightly here, "relationship" as in "two human beings relating to one another for any amount of time, however brief" not "relationship" as in "commitment.") And lest you think I'm simply a bitter woman living in her own head, thinking that she understands men so well, let me assure you that I've run this theory by several male friends, some married, some not, and all of them have agreed that I'm basically right. The hopeful part of that statement is that some of them are married. Of their own volition.

But as I was saying, men, unlike women, I believe, have lists that contain a slew of qualifications, not because they want to find a woman who embodies them all. Oh, no. Just the opposite. I think men think that they're being clever, that they're saying to themselves, "Heh. We'll never find anyone who has everything on this list!"

And therefore, they never really have to make a decision. They can always cite the list: "Sure, she was great. But she didn't own a Vespa. I can't be with a woman who doesn't own a Vespa."

Yes, I know I'm being ridiculous. That's the point.

The other day, I pulled Why He Didn't Call You Back by Rachel Greenwald off my shelf. (I didn't buy it, if you're wondering. It's a galley proof.)

Rachel, over the course of a decade, talked to 1,000 men in Exit Interviews and compiled data on the reasons men don't call women for a second date.

This book, like Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and Dr. Georgia Witkin's It's Not You, It's Him, contains three Ps. Rachel's are: preparation, presentation, and perception. She writes, "First dates are actually a lot like job interviews. In a short period of time, you try to make a favorable connection with the person across the table while you are being skeptically reviewed."

Swell. We all know how much fun we have on job interviews. The one saving grace with dating, then, is the potential for the presence of alcohol. Alcohol is generally more acceptable on a date than on a job interview. Though it might be fun to whip out a flask the next time someone asks me, "So, Beth, where do you see yourself in five years?"

But I digress.

Rachel's book is built on the premise that women really have no clue why men aren't asking for Date Numero Due. Sure, we think we know, but it turns out that we don't.

Yes, Greg Behrendt told us "He's just not that into you," but this book, in excruciating detail, lays out the answer to the follow-on question, "Why not?"

Mind you, I really like Dr. Witkin's shrug-and-move-on "It's not you, it's him" refrain. But I had this book on my shelf. So I thought I'd spend a couple of mornings finding out what's going on in the heads of men.

Ladies, I regret to inform you that what goes on in the heads of men is not pretty.

It's petty.

This book may single-handedly convert an entire generation to lesbianism.

Mind you, I really like Rachel. I like that she was brave enough to enter the miasma of the collective male mind and report her findings. I like that she reveals that she is often annoyed by the feedback she's receiving.

But what she reports in this book is so unbelievably discouraging, I wouldn't be surprised if an awful lot of women simply said, when it comes to finding a compatible relationship, "Oh, forget it."

Rachel presents the stereotypes that emerged from her research: The Boss Lady, The Debbie Downer, The Ex-Factor, etc. In each section for each stereotype, she presents anecdotes gleaned from interviews and offers a checklist for women to determine if they might be being perceived as one of the stereotypes. And then she suggests how we might tweak what we say and do to successfully navigate the first date and get to the second. Her point is that no one can truly know who we are based on one date, so we need to get past the first-date hurdle so men can get to know "the real us" better.

Fair enough. Based on a recent first-date experience, I realized that it's not fair to rate anyone on their first-date performance (unless they're simply a complete jerk or show up at the door wearing a bloody hockey mask). We're all nervous on first dates. We all want to make good impressions and might come off as a little "too" something.

But women seem much more inclined to give a guy a second chance for just those reasons, whereas guys seem much more inclined to write a woman off for the most minor transgression.

What I took away from this book was this: There's nothing you can do or say or not do or not say on a first date that will guarantee a second date. Any guy, for any reason, at any time, may deem something you do or not do, say or not say, as objectionable enough to erase the chance at a second date.

On a Post-It Note on the cover of the book, I wrote, "So, be mute but look hot? No, because then he'll say, 'Hey, she has nothing to say!' "

Care for a glimpse of my Post-It Noted pages? Here we go:

After my sticky note about Rachel's three Ps, my next note flagged this: "Also, men repeatedly told me that longer hair is more appealing (longish layers, shoulder-length or below)." I'm tellin' you, as someone who has let her hair grow out over the past couple years, long hair is magic. Men flip over it. So, I have that going for me. Not that it's enough. Read on.

Page 56: " 'Nice' and 'perfect' have become euphemisms for 'nothing's wrong ... but nothing's compelling.' It seemed to be all about standing out in the crowd. It's not that men in my research were saying they didn't want someone nice or perfect, but rather that those traits are generic."

That's right, ladies: Perfect is now "generic." It's not enough to be perfect, you also have to be compelling. Rachel writes, "Finding that elusive chemistry with a woman begins with her energy level, a feisty attitude, and sensuality."

(Note: I stuck a lot of Post-It Notes in these pages. I'm not going to regale you with everything that irked me – again, about men, not about Rachel – but that may result in this post seeming selective, as if I'm merely picking out details to support my position. You should read the book for yourself if you're so inclined. Perhaps you'll be grateful for this information. But I can't help but think that while a lot of women will buy this book because of the excellent title, a lot of women will be fed up with this book, too. I'm envisioning a lot of book spine-shaped dents in a lot of walls.)

Page 114: "Paul, a thirty-seven-year-old graphic designer from Toronto, Canada, was on a first date with a girl he met on a ski trip. When the waitress asked for their drink orders, his date asked for a sparkling water. She explained a few minutes later that she doesn't drink liquor because her mom is an alcoholic. Paul didn't know much about alcoholism, but he knew one thing: it can be hereditary. I told Paul that I thought life was full of unknowns—maybe the odds that his date or her kids would become alcoholics were no greater than her being hit by a bus crossing the street. He said, 'Yeah, I guess ... I know it sounds a bit irrational, but that's just what went through my mind ... I guess anything potentially negative is "strike one" on a first date ... hey, you asked me to be honest!"

So, then: Anything is a potential "strike one" on a first date, but "perfect" is generic. Got it.

Moving on. To the next page.

Page 115: "Glenn, a thirty-six-year-old photojournalist from New York, NY, remembered a fun date with a woman named Laura where the sparks flew. He was really attracted to her. At one point, he remarked to Laura, 'I told my shrink I had a date tonight.' She laughed and said, 'Hey, I told my shrink I had a date tonight too!' They joked about their therapists for a while and later made out passionately in the taxi before he dropped her off. He promised he'd call her, but he never did. He said the more he thought about Laura, he realized he was potentially repeating a pattern of his: getting involved with emotionally unhealthy women. In the past, his therapist had observed that the dynamic never ended well for him. I said, 'How do you know she's emotionally unhealthy?' Glenn replied, 'Because she told me she's seeing a shrink. Who knows what her issues are, but I have enough issues of my own to deal with.' "

All righty. So never mind that Glenn brought up the fact that he's seeing a shrink first, so he obviously has issues that he's dealing with. But he's not willing to date Laura because she must be "emotionally unhealthy." First of all, who among us doesn't have something wrong with us, and second of all, assuming Glenn meets someone amazing who's not seeing a shrink (which seems to be what he's seeking), why should she have to put up with a guy who's "emotionally unhealthy"? I'm not saying that only those seeing shrinks should see each other or that only those not seeing shrinks should see each other, but what gives Glenn the right to expect to find a woman who's willing to accept that he's seeing a shrink when he's not willing to accept a woman who's seeing a shrink?

Next up: Mind your quirks, ladies! In the stereotype The Flasher, Rachel discusses women who reveal, intentionally or not, something quirky about themselves. (I can't help but wonder whether actual flashing would be a date-doomer.)

Page 118: She writes, "The Flasher label expands beyond revealing physical or emotional issues. It encompasses anything unusual revealed to a stranger who doesn't have a broader context than a first date in which to process it."

Sigh. See what I mean? "... anything unusual ..."? There's a minefield. Who decides what's "unusual"? I'll tell you who: The guy sitting across from you. And you have no way of knowing what he'll find interesting or disturbing. Again, the best course of action seems to be to say absolutely nothing.

Suddenly, the movie "Lars and the Real Girl" is making more and more sense.

Page 134: Of "The Bitch-In-Boots," Rachel writes, "Awareness is nine tenths of the dating law. Know that every story you tell, every detail you give about yourself, every opinion you express, is fodder for him to extrapolate how you would look as his future girlfriend or future wife."

Sensing a pattern here yet?

I could go on. And on. And on. There are a lot of Post-It Notes in my copy of this book. Page after page after page of me scrawling incredulous questions and comments. One of my favorites is "Anything is OK with men so long as it's on their terms."

But this one thing really leapt out at me:

Page 186: "I heard numerous references to the morning-after 'thank-you e-mail.' Most guys admitted mixed feelings about it: they appreciated it on one level, but it definitely signaled that the woman was (too) interested. This often tempered their eagerness to pursue her."

As my friend Stacy would say, "Christ on toast!" My Post-It Note reads, "The thank-you e-mail is bad?! I have a friend who writes women off if they DON'T!"

Again, it appears that there is no one thing you can do or not do that will or will not doom your chances.

All of which leads me back to my appreciation for It's Not You, It's Him.

The good news is that this book has become the last book I'll ever read on male/female relationships. (Not that I've read so many of them in my lifetime. The three I've read in the past month have been a collective anomaly.) I'll either meet the man I'm meant to be with or I won't.

I won't irk you with specific quotes from men about why they didn't call for a second date. I suspect you're irked enough already. I will, however, end on a lighter note.

Rachel includes a chapter titled "Why You Didn't Call Him Back," which discusses the male stereotypes she encounters most often in talking to women about dating, including The Puppy Dog, The Yuck Factor, The Garbage Man, The Not-So-Macho Man, and The Mr. Big (one woman reported that a date said to her, after dinner, "Congratulations, I'd like to see you again").

Rachel also includes "outtakes," some of her favorite anecdotes from interviews with women. I leave you with my two favorites. First:

"We went to a movie and he pulled his shirt up over his nose. He sat there like that during the whole movie, with no explanation. Very strange! I know this may surprise you, but this was a deal-breaker for me."

And the pièce de résistance:

"After a romantic first date, he asked me a rather surprising question: whether or not I had a problem with him being married."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Grace In Small Things, April 9 ...

In my earlier post today, I mentioned that, through Whoorl's blog, I encountered the concept of Grace in Small Things.

As I said, being grateful for small things is not a foreign concept, of course. But actively noticing them and writing them down isn't something I've done before.

I was able to come up with five between the time I opened my eyes and the time I posted that post, sometime before 10 a.m.

1. My warm, fluffy bedding

2. The pattern cast on my living room wall from the sun shining through antique lace curtains

3. Hazelnut coffee goo

4. Gino Vannelli's "I Just Wanna Stop," which I'd forgotten was in my iTunes library

5. My morning "conversation" with Rick

And then, as the day wore on, I made note of other things:

6. The bespectacled girl in the cell-phone commercial who deadpans, "She thinks you're super delicious"

7. Hearing The Rolling Stones and remembering when I was younger and I thought they were singing, "Hey, hey, you, you, get off of my clown!"

8. Introducing friends

9. INXS's "New Sensation"

10. Papermate medium-point pens with blue ink

11. A woman I noticed in a car as I was heading to Target who bore a striking resemblance to Hallmark's Maxine

12. Jay's mix CD

13. The woman who pushed the Target shopping cart into the cart corral that had been left in the middle of the parking lot by another shopper

14. Finding Kashi Trail Mix bars again for my mom

15. The oh-so-sparkly green bunny on the back-seat ledge of the car I parked next to at Home Depot

16. Sneaking in under the wire, right before I shut down the computer for the evening: Haddaway's "What Is Love"

Will This Be The Day Everything Changes? ...

Recent events in the lives of some of my friends have made me ponder the nature of the everyday.

Some days – many days – of my life lately have strung themselves together, each day feeling remarkably like the days that have come before, lulling me into a sense that life will carry on thusly.

But no. On any given day, at any given moment, anything – everything – can dramatically change.

And change, of course, can be either good or bad. Though, philosophically, I suppose the argument exists that change is neither good nor bad but is simply change. Whether or not we want or welcome the change determines its goodness or badness.

The sudden changes that have previously sprung to mind – my mind, anyway, which is a decidedly moody place; if my brain was a geographic location defined by its weather, it'd be England – have been "bad": illness, death, break-ups, etc.

But yesterday evening, quite out of the blue, I thought that "good" changes can occur just as frequently as "bad" changes.

Today might be the day I meet a new client.

Today might be the day I find the next song I want to sing.

Today might be the day I reconnect with a friend with whom I'd lost touch.

All of those things are entirely likely. All of those things have happened before. But I don't view those as changes in the same way as I view the more-wrenching events.

This morning, on Facebook, I had a note waiting from my friend Lance. Lance is one of the most upbeat people I know. In his note, he mentioned that someone he knows recently told him that they're tired of him being happy all the time. But, as he wrote, "To be perfectly honest, though, I think a person puts him/herself wherever they want to be through their perspective on life. If you see good things happening, they happen."

Absolutely. [Marc, I can hear you squirming in your chair. : o ) ]

Change happens every day. Opportunities to learn happen every day. Everything is relative.

I don't spend enough time zeroing in on the small things that enhance my life.

Through Whoorl's blog, I encountered the concept of Grace in Small Things.

Not that being grateful for small things is a foreign concept, of course. But actively noticing them and writing them down isn't something I've done before.

Logically, it makes sense to write them down right before bed, to take a few minutes to reflect and capture the day's goodness. Or perhaps it makes sense to write them down as they present themselves, lest I forget them (my brain, after all, is now entirely Cream of Wheat).

Writing them down in real time (I'm never that far away from a pencil) will also likely yield more than five items a day.

But today, I'm sure I can come up with five small things that I've appreciated since I've opened my eyes:

1. My warm, fluffy bedding

2. The pattern cast on my living room wall from the sun shining through antique lace curtains

3. Hazelnut coffee goo

4. Gino Vannelli's "I Just Wanna Stop," which I'd forgotten was in my iTunes library

5. My morning "conversation" with Rick

Five things already. And it's not even 10 a.m.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dear Genius ...

Several weeks ago, my pal Rick shared with me the link to this video.

Today, he reminded me of it.

I had, of course, completely forgotten.

But today was exactly the right time for me to hear this message.

For anyone who has ever, even for a moment, entertained any self-doubt about their creativity, please take 20 minutes to watch this:

Monday, April 06, 2009

'How To Lose Friends & Alienate People' ...

Just wondering: Why isn't Simon Pegg a super-ginormous star in this country? I have yet to see a movie featuring him in which I did not find him utterly endearing. Even if the films themselves aren't outstanding, Pegg always shines.

I must have seen a trailer for this flick on another DVD and added it to my never-ending Netflix queue.

It's predictable, sure. Most movies are these days. But two of the performances really make it worth the two-hour investment: Pegg, of course, and Jeff Bridges, who sheds his Jeff Bridges-ness, dons some long grey hair, and amuses greatly. (I presume his character was based on Graydon Carter with the fictional magazine standing in for Vanity Fair?)

Gillian Anderson leaves Scully far behind in her turn as uber-publicist Eleanor Johnson, while Kirsten Dunst remains, interminably, Kirsten Dunst.

On Sunday, on the phone with my e-pal Rick, he asked me how I pronounce my last name. I know, I know, I have a Polish surname and anything that ends in "-ski" automatically gives people hives, but I told him that I don't understand why people can't at least attempt to sound it out. I am forever being called "Miss Kowalski." Why? Why do people insert an "L" into the pronunciation of my last name? There is no L in my last name!

But there is a Mrs. Kowalski in this movie, which I found completely charming given that I'd just had my "Kowalski" conversation with Rick earlier in the day.

Also completely charming: Pegg's delivery of the simple line, "Oh, that's grim!" Perfection.

Now if Pegg and Ricky Gervais will kiss and make up and make a movie together, I'll be in heaven.

Very Short Movie Review Of A Movie With A Very Short Title ...

W.: I watched fewer than 10 minutes before I had to turn it off. I, along with the rest of the country – or half of the rest of the country, I guess – suffered through 8 years of that nightmare, so I could find no compelling reason to devote two more hours to the insanity. Though Richard Dreyfuss was frighteningly Cheney-esque.

Very Short Movie Reviews ...

Seven Pounds: Good performances, annoying plot structure.

Changeling: Good performances, sickening premise but based on a true story. Angelina Jolie is even more stunning than usual in '20s wardrobe, hair, and makeup.

Rachel Getting Married: Yup, Anne Hathaway deserved her Oscar nod. The wedding itself was almost surreal. It was nice to see Robyn Hitchcock.

Funny Face: I'd only seen very small snippets of this movie, so it was good to finally sit down with it. But did anyone, for a second, believe Audrey Hepburn when she told Fred Astaire that she thought she had a funny face? There's humility and then there's implausibility.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

'It's Not You, It's Him' ...

The other night, headed out to pick up dinner, a thought struck me as I put on my coat: "What's wrong with you, Beth? Why are you willing to accept crumbs from men?"

I am not the crumb type in most aspects of my life, but when it comes to men, I have been far too tolerant and have accepted less than what is acceptable.

This morning, coffee in hand, I wandered over to my bookshelf to find something to read.

I've had this tome on my shelf for more than a year, having rescued it from a bookcase overflowing with review copies in a friend's office. But there, on my shelf, it languished. Until this morning, when I plucked it from the pile and proceeded to read the whole thing. (Despite the bite-size title, the author, Dr. Georgia Witkin, has more to say; 174 pages worth.)

But let me assure you (and all the men who may be raising their hackles), a man-bashing book it is not.

On the heels of reading Steve Harvey's Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man (you can read that post here, if you're so inclined), I thought today was as good a time as any to give equal time to a woman's take on this crazy little thing called love.

Unlike Harvey's three Ps that he says define the behavior all men – Profess, Provide, and Protect – Witkin supplies three Ps of her own, suggesting that many women have begun to believe that they're single because they're too picky, too pushy, or a princess.

But no, she says: It's not you, it's him.

By which she means that every relationship that hasn't worked out hasn't worked out because it wasn't the right relationship.

This book strikes me as the sequel to He's Just Not That Into You, the answer to the inevitable question, "But why?"

Because when relationships end, many women wonder what's wrong with us, and we run through every reason we can conjure and check one or more mental boxes:

❏ I'm not thin enough
❏ I'm not pretty enough
❏ I'm not smart enough
❏ I'm not _____ enough

And then we vow to change. But change to attract who, exactly? The guys who just dumped us? Future guys who might dump us once they meet us and decide that we're not "enough"?

Witkin's not suggesting that women shouldn't change. She is, however, suggesting that we should change to make ourselves happy, "not to get the guy or so that the next guy will find you more lovable."

When it comes to the "But why?", sometimes we just have to accept that we may never know, we may never understand. "You can't make someone love you," she writes, "and you shouldn't try."

The key to Witkin's thinking is that we're all fine as we are, "perfectly lovable," she writes. Today. And that somewhere out there are men who will love us for who we are today, not who we will be once we lose 20 pounds or who we will be once we earn that master's degree or who we will be once we get nipped or tucked or otherwise made over.

Live your life, she says. Don't hang out in sports bars hoping to snag a man unless you love sports, too. She writes, "Look at it this way: when we go on dates, we act like dates and find dates; when we go to singles bars, we act like singles and find singles; but when we go our own way, we find others who are going the same way. In other words, when we go on with our life, we find life partners. So be out there, going where you love to go, wearing what you love to wear, doing all you love to do, and men will find you. Then you can choose your great mate from among them."

I find that at once both painfully obvious and astonishingly revolutionary.

I once worked with a woman who wanted to snag a rich guy, so she started taking sailing lessons, figuring that men at yacht clubs would necessarily be somewhat loaded. I didn't know her very well, but nothing I knew about her ever suggested that she cared a whit about sailing. Now, sailing doesn't seem like it sucks, so maybe it wasn't hard for her to get into, but it always struck me as awfully manipulative, as though she were predicating any future relationship on a charade.

Witkin also tells women to "lose the list." Forget your type, she says. Don't automatically dismiss guys because they don't fit the notion of who you think you want to be with.

Because you've probably dated guys who fit your parameters and you're still single, aren't you? So maybe it's time to broaden your horizons. "[M]en are real, not ideal. Perfectly lovable, never perfect," just like us. "[P]ick which traits you must have, then let the others be a surprise. ... A perfect match does not exist; the man who loves you does."

Still, timing is everything. "Sometimes, the only thing wrong with a 'perfect' man—the man who matches everything on your list—is that he doesn't want to marry you. But that's the biggest imperfection of all. If he's not ready to be with you, then he's not the perfect guy. Not now. Maybe not ever. Don't wait. Don't try to change his mind. Let him go."

Yup. Been there.

"You need to spend your time looking for someone who thinks you're perfectly lovable—and who is ready to commit to you," she writes.

Very few men, though, are truly commitment-phobic, she writes: "They may be avoiding marriage, but not because they are incapable of making the decision or would suffer from panic attacks if they did. It's more likely to be immaturity, unrealistic expectations, reluctance to share, romantic notions, disinterest, or career concerns. In other words, just bad timing. And it doesn't really matter. Instead of figuring out fancy diagnoses, move on."

She sums it all up nicely thusly: "Love should make you feel good—if you feel bad, it's not love. Wait for the real thing."

Sometimes, out and about, I see the most unlikely of couples, and I smile, thinking, "There really is a lid for every pot."

We just need to find each other.

Witkin writes, "You are a mix of your temperament, your knowledge, your experiences, your talents, your challenges, your vulnerabilities, your feedback, your traumas, and your victories. As with a cake, the ingredients can't be changed once they're all baked together. Add a layer if you want. Ice it. Decorate it. But most of all, enjoy it!

"And as for his cake—it's also already baked. Too late to add more sugar or salt to the batter. If it's not your taste, don't try to remix it. You'll end up with crumbs. Acquire a taste, or save your appetite for the next one."

And with that I say, "No more crumbs."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The 3-Day: Why I Walk ...

Every year, I participate in The Breast Cancer 3-Day.

Me and thousands of other walkers in cities across the country lace up and take to the streets, each walking 60 miles in three days, each raising funds and awareness to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Yesterday, on the phone, a friend who lives in suburban Atlanta mentioned Lake Lanier.

"Oh, that's where we kicked off the 3-Day in 2001," I said. "We walked from Lake Lanier to downtown Atlanta."

"You walked from Lake Lanier to downtown Atlanta?!" he asked, incredulously.

"Yep."

"That's really far," he said.

Yes, it is.

You think 60 miles is far in a car? Try walking it sometime.

Folks ask me why I walk and my answer is always the same, always this simple: I walk because I am able to walk.

And I will continue to walk until we find a cure.

But I literally cannot do this without your help.

Last year, on Day 2, the sweetest little girl handed me a Barbie dollar. (If you'd like to read my take on last year's Chicago 3-Day click here.) I cherish it and I will carry it with me on this year's walk. Unfortunately, Barbie dollars don't count toward my fundraising goal.

I know the economy is putting a strain on many of us. But I'm asking you to contribute whatever amount is comfortable for you. My event page is here.

I thank you, most sincerely.

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