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Friday, July 25, 2014

Tips from Baba Wawa

A quick note before I retrieve the 15 year old from her summer dance intensive. We’re getting ever closer to 11th grade over here, and I’m experiencing trepidation. You’re shocked, aren’t you, Readers? After all, I usually face challenges with total equanimity. A veritable Dalai Lama of calma. That’s me.

For the journey, I’ve fortified myself with Barbara Walters’ first book, How to Talk to Practically Anyone About Practically Anything. I’ve decided I need a better approach to small talk – better than turning myself into a dog-and-pony show of self-deprecating neurosis. I’m thinking there might be more to conversation than that. Perhaps enquiring about the other person ostensibly listening to me? I’m not sure. I’ll have to see what Barbara says. Or said. She wrote this in 1970. Her intention was to help women – men, too, but women – because women had just recently begun moving out into more visible roles in the world. Interesting, at least to me.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Baba Wawa’s book, attributed to “Mrs. Eugene McCarthy, during a television interview I conducted with her at the time her husband was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.”

I am the way I am; I look the way I look; I am my age.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Lingerie of Success

I’m having such a block about writing a blog post, Readers. I don’t know why. That’s not entirely true. I do know why, in part. Because of me. Me and my tendency to lock myself up in internal conflict. Which is why I began this success blog – to unlock myself. That I’m still prone to locked internal conflict these many months – okay, let’s be honest, years – later, is discouraging. To put it mildly.

I’ve just come home from our local coffee house, the one with dozens of Dave Matthews Band posters framed along the walls, the one with the sunny back room and the darker, cooler front room, and the patio, with the music and the wifi and the mellow vibe. I had coffee there with a new acquaintance, let's call her Kay. Kay graduated a few years ahead of me from my alma mater. We met a few weeks ago at a local alumnae gathering. I was discussing whether I wanted to continue writing or go in a new direction, maybe back to school for a Ph.D in Positive Psychology, or an MSW, to become a therapist. And she invited me out for a coffee to talk about changing tracks, which she had done. She completed her Ph.D about four years ago.

Her take on the Ph.D: don't do it unless you really need it. 

Do I really need it? No.

Of course, eventually, I asked her how she defines success. “To be happy where you are in your life,” she said. After a second, she added, “But I don’t think many people define it that way.”  She told me one of her classmates wouldn’t contribute to class notes for the alumnae magazine until she worked for the State Department, because she didn’t feel like her life had been worthy of note. When she got that State Department job, however, she began contributing. She wrote things like,“My husband and I travelled to Far Off Place with the State Department. Our daughter is in private school in New England.” While these things were technically true, they finessed a couple of important details. Such as, that this woman was a secretary at the State Department, not Under-Secretary of State. Such as, that the daughter did attend private school in New England, but it wasn’t a fancy prep school, it was a school for disturbed students. Minor details adjusted to make her life sound golden.

We mused on why our education did this to us – created this need to come across as successful in a particular way. We came to no conclusions. However, I did recently listen to a Philosophy Bites podcast about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social philosophy. Apparently Rousseau, writing back in the  mid 1700s, believed that to feel good about one’s self, one needed to have self-love (self-esteem) and the approval and admiration of others. Amour de soi and amour propre, to use Rousseau’s terminology. It’s French, after all, and you know how I’m into French Chic. So here’s an example of success chic, dating all the way back to before the Revolution. An eternal and classic definition of the underpinnings of success. The lingerie of success, one might even say. Amour de soi and amour propre. The French chic definition of success. Times and fashions may change, but this is eternal, apparently. Just like French style.