Being Brave is Not for Sissies

blogtattle

“Why don’t the good cops speak out and ban together against the bad cops?”

This was a question I saw posted on social media yesterday. I’m pretty sure I know the answer. It’s the same as why good teachers don’t speak out and ban together against bad teachers, why good doctors don’t speak out and ban together against bad doctors, and why good priests don’t speak out against the pedophiles among them: It’s actual fear  ̶ fear of being called a “rat” by your “tribe” of colleagues, fear of being ostracized or known as a “troublemaker,” fear of someone at a higher level in your workplace hierarchy destroying your reputation and your livelihood. (How many of us are old enough to remember Frank Serpico?)

When I was teaching in a New York City public school, here are some of the things well-meaning things friends and family said to me when I told them about the very sickening behaviour of one of the so-called ‘teachers’ at the school: “He has tenure, you don’t. And the principal doesn’t want trouble. He’d have to go through hoops to get rid of this teacher, so he’ll get rid of you, instead. Do you want that? How does that help the kids if they fire you?”

I heard from my then husband, “Why do you have to be the one to report it? Just do your job. We need your salary.”

I heard from a loving friend, “Can’t you at least wait until you get tenure too? Then they can’t fire you.” (At the time I was at least two years away from tenure.) And when I did report it ̶  of course̶  it was met by amazement ̶  not that it was happening, because everyone knew  ̶ but because I voiced it. And just as you’d expect, that teacher wasn’t fired, but I was on the administration’s black list from then on, until I finally left.

So there’s that.

But then, there are also those good cops, good teachers, good doctors, etc, who personalise it: “If you’re talking about a cop, good or bad, you’re talking about me.” Or my son who’s a cop, or my daughter who’s a doctor,” etc.

They think, “I hate hearing this and I don’t want to hear it.” This is the way society in general operates: “Not my country,” “Not my sports team,” “Not my senator. They didn’t do anything wrong, they couldn’t possibly have, because they belong to me.”

We stand up for those whom we think of as ours, no matter how revolting are the things that they do.

And in fact, this is the way dysfunctional families operate too. The one who calls mom or dad or uncle or sibling out on reprehensible deeds is the one who is targeted: “You’re lying.” “That never happened.” “That’s the way you remember it.” Other family members are told, “She’s always been unbalanced. She’s always been different, she’s never really been one of us.”

This is why brave deeds are called BRAVE: to stand up to that, you have to be prepared to lose everything that is valuable to you ̶ your job, your tribe, your income, your reputation. You have to be prepared to leave what it is you love̶  your school, your precinct, your medical practice, your family ̶  you have to be prepared for people to whisper about you for the rest of your life. And today, you also have to be prepared to be slammed on social media too. It’s not only your local citizenry who will know when you stand up and point a finger, it’s the whole damn world. With one click of “send” your protest against injustice can go viral and then perfect strangers will be judging you, based on their own fears, their own prejudices.

How do I know? Because it’s happened to me, over and over again. It’s happened to others I love. I’m proud to be among those who have that kind of integrity, but let me tell you ̶  sometimes it’s horrific and lonely. Doing what’s right, speaking the truth, can end up crushing your soul. Being brave is not for sissies.

 

Lessons Taught by Cardboard Boxes

Stuff

It’s funny how I’m sure I’ve learned a certain thing in life and then something (or someone) comes along to illustrate that I haven’t learned it nearly as well as I’d thought. This one is on the subject of what’s really important in life.

 
So, I’ve been stressed lately because we made a giant move in thirty days. I had to pack up my entire house by myself. I barely had time to say good bye to friends and colleagues who I really care about. Arriving at our destination to a house my husband has owned since before we were married, I now have to clear out my husband’s “bachelor stuff” which includes rusty, burned pots in the kitchen, piles of papers and magazines he’s hoarded since 1996, furniture he bought for no other reason than because it was cheap, and the bed he and his ex-wife used to sleep on before they got divorced, which, by the way, he did not tell me used to be theirs until after I’d been sleeping on it for ten years whenever we visited this house.  (Let’s not go there.)

Stress has been exacerbated because I’m on a time crunch to get it done because I’m going to Nevada for book events in August and then overseas in September. I’ve been losing sleep and not eating very well, not writing, not exercising except for running up and down steps carrying boxes, because “it would be nice” to come back in September to “an organized house.”

 
Apart from that, my agent is shopping my novel, but we now need to pause in showing it around to acquisitions editors until the end of August since the NYC publishing industry closes shop for the summer. So that’s an unresolved issue that’s been niggling at me too. “Did I pick the right agent?”  “Will she sell it?”  “Will we get more than one offer, and if so, which should I choose?”  “What are my options if she doesn’t sell it?”  And “Goddammit — I have bruises on my inner arms and upper thighs from hauling heavy boxes.”

The above has been what my husband has been listening to for the past three weeks. Believe me, it’s got to be a helluva of lot more exasperating for him to be hearing that non-stop from his wife than it is for me to get rid of his old papers and rusty pots.

So, move, packing, shopping a novel, and bitching about it all. That’s been me for the past month or even more and it’s been ugly.   Instead of looking at all that as though it’s really fortunate that I have a house to live in, that I have too much furniture and that I’m damned lucky to have an agent, I’m stressed.

(I’m sure I’ve bored half of you to tears by this point in this story, but hang in there.)

Some of you already know that I posted some of that furniture on Craig’s list as ‘for free’ and even made a joke about it at the expense of some of the people who came to pick up said furniture.  So it wasn’t a reminder to me that many of us don’t have a house to live in or have too much stuff, it was an opportunity for me to make a sarcastic quip on Facebook about meeting the people from the Star Wars bar in person. Funny at the time, maybe, but not so funny in the following context.

 
And then I met someone who came to pick up the very bed I couldn’t wait to get rid of, because he doesn’t have a bed.  He’s twenty-three years old, an ex-Marine and is missing three of the toes on his foot. (The other two will soon need to be amputated.) He’s in constant pain from other injuries he picked up courtesy of our involvement in Afghanistan. He was nineteen when he got married and last week his wife told him she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, so he left another state too, and drove to Colorado with whatever he could fit in his pickup. He chose Colorado not because he has any friends here, but because pot is legal and he prefers that to alleviate the constant pain rather than the pain meds the U.S. military prescribed to him that nearly made him an addict.  He gets about 2,300 dollars a month from the government because he’s no longer of much use to the military, but he left everything he owned to his wife and stepdaughter, and had seven dollars left to hold him until the first of August when his monthly money comes in.

 
Seven dollars until the end of July. We met on July 12.

In the six days since, he’s put up two shelves for me, disassembled yet another bed, put up two ceiling light fixtures, fixed the leak that sprung in the basement that I was also bitching about just a few days ago, because I’d stored all the packed cardboard boxes down there. He’s moved heavy furniture, took every bit of “junk” that I offered him because it’s not junk to someone who isn’t a well-taken care of, well-off writer.

The whole time he’s worked, he’s talked. I learned that his mother is an addict and he blames her habit for the birth defects his brother suffers. I learned that he loves his father very much. (In fact, he called him twice during the past few days to get his expert opinion on how to fix the leak for me.)  But it was his father who told him when he turned eighteen that he needed to get a job or get out, and that was the one and only reason he joined the military. I learned that his wife already had a two year old child when he met her, they got married when they were both still children in my opinion, but even so, his little stepdaughter calls him (and not her biological father) “Daddy,” because he’s been that loving to her.  He wanted children of his own but can’t have them because he was exposed to radiation in the military and is now sterile.

 
And as he was telling me all this, he was working happily, efficiently, with no resentment whatsoever towards me or my big house full of boxes and furniture. When we shook hands yesterday, he said, “Miss, you saved my life this month. I live off my odd jobs and try to save what the military gives me, so I can buy another house. I had one, but I let my ex-wife keep it if she’d promise me that I could see my daughter.”  

(By the way, this is practically word for word—I am not making any of this up or in any way embellishing it to make a better story.)

While I was listening to him talk, I was thinking about my own kids and how much we gave them, how much they have.  I was thinking about my own life as a younger woman which I truly thought had been challenging, and I was realizing how pampered I’ve become that a few boxes and some daily damn lucky living could be so stressful for me.

He went on, “I’m hoping you’ll tell your friends about me, so I can get more jobs. I will do anything that I don’t need to take a piss test for, because if I can’t smoke pot, I can hardly move without pain.”

So, I’m telling my friends. But most of all, I’m telling myself.

What does “The Good Wife” Teach Us About Female Entrepreneurs?

In Season One of “The Good Wife,” Alicia Florrick, wife of disgraced politician, Peter Florrick, stands at the podium next to him in a pose we’ve seen far too often in real-life politics: that of the stoic and silent spouse as he apologizes for his misdeeds which include, in this particular case, sleeping with prostitutes in a sex scandal that is only outweighed in repulsiveness by his corruption trial.  We watch as she battles with the fallout from his actions, both financial and personal, and those women who’ve dealt with a cheating spouse, or know another woman who has, empathize with her internal struggle to do what’s right for her children and herself.  In my case, there was also, I admit, the morbid curiosity of what might make a woman like Alicia tick. Why would a beautiful, intelligent, successful-in-her-own-right woman like Alicia “stand by her man,” who has proven himself to be nothing more than a very greasy ball of sleaze? If it’s not for the reflected power of being the spouse of such a public figure, if it’s not for love, as pathetic as that might seem, then, what’s it for?

We never really find out. But as for the rest of what we learn, well, I think the above publicity shot for the series says it all. The photo of Alicia, seated while holding hands with two men, standing over her, her cheating husband on the right, her lover (and boss) on the left.

 

Alicia is a woman who graduated from law school, and is purported to be, by one of the male characters on the program, “the smartest student in her class” at Georgetown. Yet, in the series she’s rendered paralyzed and helpless for a time by the realization of her husband’s perfidy. Okay, I can forgive that portrayal. Being betrayed rocks our world, no matter how competent and intelligent we are. Then, she cries when her children can’t see over the mounting bills that she may not be able to pay because she’s been out of the workforce for 13 years. Too true and I can accept that depiction too. But when we watch as her daughter, a girl barely in her teens, frets and worries over her mother, feeling that she’s fragile, that I just can’t forgive. Role model to growing daughter (and other young women who might be viewing) much?

 

The Alicia character is then offered a job as an associate lawyer at the law firm of her former lover, who’s not hiring her because she’s needed there, or because the notoriety of her name will do his firm any good, but because he still has the hots for her. She takes the job and I can forgive that too, because so far, it’s all too realistic.

But the writers lost me when in the midst of her still trying to prove herself at said firm, she embarks on a affair with the former lover, while still married to the sleaze bag who’s now in prison. That’s TV, and I guess I can forgive that too. But then, she hides her relationship with her lover from her children because it’s something that makes her feel “guilty.”  Ah, sexual guilt.  Is it written in because that’s the way women feel, or because that’s the way we’ve been conditioned to feel? And does her lover feel guilty? Of course not.

Although clearly their relationship is deepening into something more than sex and said lover has more respect for her than her husband clearly ever did, her guilt causes her to break it off with him and we see her, walking through the hallways of the law firm, in full view of other lawyers, secretaries, the whole lot, crying. Boo hoo hoo.  A woman crying over love in her workplace, where she’s trying to earn a right to not only be, but show herself as capable. The shot cuts to the lover, who is of course sitting at his desk, cool and composed, despite being devastated. Because girls cry and boys don’t.

In the next season, when the husband is released, the writers depict her having horny, uncontrollable urges. The lover is now out of her life, so in her mind, who better to satisfy those urges than her now no longer incarcerated, but still not living with, husband? So they go at it standing up his campaign trailer. I’m now feeling a serious yuck factor going through me. Women. Can’t live with them, but you can, as Alicia says, “bang” them whilst standing up in your trailer.

Her personal sexual principles aside, the character further evolves to: 1) help her husband’s campaign. (He’s now back in office. And I’ll hand it to the writers there– that is a realistic depiction of our current political process if ever there was one)She does this by helping to cover up the discovery of a stuffed ballot box. She even utilizes their son, who has been shown to have more integrity than any other male on the show, with this endeavor.  2) conclude that her feelings for the former lover will get in the way of saving this so-called marriage of hers. She schemes behind the lover’s back, who is still her boss, to start her own firm with several of the other associates. She even steals some of his clients, including a despicable drug dealer who we see, a few seasons back, kill his former wife, the mother of his son, for attempting to divorce him. Dang. Hell hath no fury like an emotionally twisted woman. (And naturally, the drug dealer is black.)

At the same time that this character had originally aroused some sympathy in her fellow sex, Alicia falls prey to the Hollywood writing stereotype of the scheming, sexually motivated, cheating, emotionally over-reactive, lying business woman who’d be nowhere (or perhaps thinks she wouldn’t) if it weren’t for her very attractive genitals and the powerful men she’s able to lure in with them.

M own husband, bless his heart, says I’m taking a TV show too seriously that’s, through his eyes, “strictly for entertainment.”  But, though I want to state for the record that he is a loving, supportive spouse who applauds my courage and my business acumen, he’s never had to hear from his colleagues that he’s “too take-charge,” too “rough around the edges.” He has never been called into his superior’s office and told, “there’s nothing wrong with your office clothing. It’s very professional. But I feel you should know that on you it looks provocative. But you can take that as a compliment.” He’s never been called “a bitch” by a colleague. He’s never had to deal with the puzzled and sometimes even poisonous envy of another woman who, having the learned mindset of an Alicia Florrick perhaps, a woman who only knows how to achieve through connections, sexuality or an advantageous marriage, doesn’t understand a woman like me or what it is I’m doing to get ahead. How could she? In a culture with a media that promotes females to behave like this TV character, a woman who is climbing her way to the top, inch by slow inch, utilizing nothing but her talents, drive, honestly, forthrightness and integrity, is too often not only considered an anomaly, but an actual threat. Business can cope with an Alicia in the workplace because she fits into the majority of the male executives’ view of the women they come across in their work day. (Don’t bother writing to me to tell me that she doesn’t, because in my extensive experience, she does.)

Where do these cultural norms and mores come from? The things we read and the things we see in the movies and on the telly, of course. This series, while highly entertaining and popular, is not really something I’d want my teenage son or daughter to watch.

Now, with no deplorable, sexually rambunctious male in sight to come rescue me, I guess I’d better get back to work.

When Bad Becomes Good

If I hadn’t have married the wrong man, I would never have foolishly given up my teaching career to move to Greece with said man. I would never then have been in a sudden desperate financial situation, which forced me to start my own business overseas. If I hadn’t started a business overseas, wherein my poor grasp of the local language, customs and business practices were challenged daily,I’d never have learned that I could be a more-than-competent, creative and tenacious entrepreneur. If I hadn’t learned that I was a competent, creative and tenacious entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have developed the confidence I needed to do what I really wanted to do, which was to write a book and see it published, then another and now a third, fourth and fifth. If I hadn’t written and published books, and weren’t looking forward to writing many more, I would never have had to promote them and myself, another skill which having my own businesses helped me develop. And if I hadn’t been putting myself out there to promote my books, I would never have met Siobhan Neilland.

If Siobhan Neilland hadn’t been forced by a parent into driving a getaway car when she was five years old, (“I did it with long sticks that reached the pedals”) and been taught how to shoot a gun that same year, if she hadn’t been using drugs by the time she was in elementary school and become addicted by the time she was nineteen, she may never have reached rock bottom. If she hadn’t reached rock bottom, she may never have learned that she had the strength to claw herself all the way back up to the top and then some. If she hadn’t done that and then sought out a reason to explain her journey, she may never have come up with the idea to start her clinics in Uganda. If she hadn’t struggled (and still continues to struggle) to achieve that goal, hundreds of newborns and their mothers would never have survived.

And if our paths hadn’t crossed on our individual journeys, one disappointing and challenging, the other downright heartbreaking yet miraculous, I would never have known what a truly strong woman is. I would never have realized that there was another woman out there, another entrepreneur who just like I, wants to generate not only revenue, but as she states it, “joy.”

Siobhan Neilland is an extraordinary human being. Over this past weekend, I had the honor of getting to know her during our session at The Marin Teen Girl Conference 2014, which we’d titled “Fighting for Your Joy.” Though we were jointly credited for this session and though I was the one who, knowing the organizers were looking for an inspiring presenter, had actually invited her to speak with me, it was Siobhan who was the star of the day. She stood up and told a room full of teenage girls that feeling joyful, worthy and purposeful is a “choice,” just as feeling unworthy and victimized is also a choice. She spoke to their hearts and spirits, and while they might be still be too young to have understood what “fighting for your joy” truly and deeply means, I understood it and felt I’d found a kindred spirit in Siobhan.

This Saturday was the first time we’d spoken in depth and with such honesty. But we’d met earlier than that through another fighter, Hyla Molander ,when both Siobhan and I spoke at Hyla’s “Women Rock It 2013” conference. Siobhan also brought her beaded necklaces, rag dolls and women’s clothing items made in her Ugandan village which help fund the clinic for display at my last year’s Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference where she received a Powerful Woman Award.

“I want to build 250 birthing clinics for women all over the world,” she told me. “But I’ve only built one so far.”

To which I replied, “‘Only’ one? I don’t think there’s another person in this room who’s built any.”

If Siobhan hadn’t lost her own child when she was a very young woman, many Ugandan mothers would have lost theirs. Siobhan has also created Shaboom Cosmetics, a for-profit, all natural cosmetics line to supplement her substantial salary as a consultant for amazon.com. A goodly portion of what she makes at the online retailer goes to fund her clinic and one hundred percent of the profits she makes from Shaboom goes to the clinic, too. (“Every four dollars spent saves two lives,” is what’s written on the home page of the cosmetics site.) She takes no salary whatsoever for her work at the clinic, which between consulting, running the cosmetics business and overseeing the Uganda project, brings her regular work week up to seventy or more hours. Jeff Bezos has no idea what a magnificent human being he has working for him. Someone should tell him, because Siobhan hasn’t. She rarely talks about herself, and has a tough time asking others for help. (Another thing we have in common.)

So, I’m going to do it. There are a lot of remarkable people here who read this blog. If any of you happen to have Jeff’s phone number, give him a ring, will you? Let him know that Siobhan Neilland, his employee, is saving lives in her spare time. Let him know that she wants to build 249 more clinics. Tell him that although he has a myriad of geniuses working with him and for him, he has at least one who has literally made Bad into Good. Tell him that it would be to his advantage to get to know her personally. Tell him that, at the very least, he might want to take her out to lunch.

And so should everyone else.

________________

www.onemama.org

What’s In a Name?

Shakespeare’s Juliet asked this question in self-reflection and came up with the right answer for her, despite the tragedy to which her conclusion ultimately led. My answer to the question, “What’s in a name?” is the opposite of Juliet’s: there is a lot of meaning in every one of the names of my characters in my upcoming work, Cooking for Ghosts and Lost Lovers.

This is a story I had been thinking about ever since my first visit to the RMS Queen Mary in 2008. I’d been given the honor of being asked to work on First Lady Maria Shriver’s California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, California. All the rooms at the conference center were booked. I could only find a room on the ship, which is moored near to the center. At the time, I knew nothing about the Queen Mary’s history, nor that she was considered “haunted.” When my eyeglasses were snatched off my nightstand and placed on my bed pillow, I returned them to where I’d left them three times before realizing that someone, or something, was moving them from one spot to the other.  There’s more to this event, but suffice it to say that I was determined to learn all I could about the ship after that, and my novel bloomed from what I discovered.

Over this six-year period of time, as I pursued other goals, this one story stayed in my head and grew into a trilogy of stories. My characters began speaking to me every day and night, until I finally put aside all else I was doing and wrote down what they were telling me about themselves.

Could this have happened because I was “visited” while on the Queen Mary? A fanciful thought, perhaps. But what isn’t fanciful is how real the people in my trilogy became for me. Upon reflection, I realized why: All of them are made up of the thoughts, dreams, fears and desires of people I know. Some of these people I’ve not met face-to-face, but have talked to on social media. For me, many of those connections have become as authentic as the connections I’ve made in person.

Let’s take  my father and son characters, Lee and Jack Branson, for example. Without giving too much of the story away, a friend I’d met on a blogging site once confessed in a heartbreaking post that he was only eight years old when his father left his family, never to return. He went on to write that though he knew on an intellectual level that the abandonment had nothing to do with him, as a child, he’d always believed his father left because he wasn’t a lovable enough son.  What went through my mind when I read that post (by this very lovable human being) was, “what if his father loved him more than he knew?” And so the father and son in my story bear that friend’s last name and answer, in my story, at least, what might make a loving father leave his son.

As for their first names of these two characters, there are several men I’ve had the privilege of knowing in my life who strive to always do the right thing. One of those men is Lee, a minister who’s fighting through his religious writings for the rights of gays to be accepted and welcomed into his church and other houses of worship. This fight comes at some personal expense, as you can imagine. As a result, though we’ve only met in person once, Lee has become one of my role models of integrity.   Another man who lives by this same code is my husband. I would have used his first name for one of these two characters, but then my father-in-law passed away. It was Jack Davis who taught all four of his sons, including my husband, to always do what is right, no matter how hard. All these men live (and die) by that code and I know my husband also taught his sons to have the same integrity.  So, there you have it—two characters named after three men I admire. (And since my husband is the only one of Jack’s sons who inherited his lovely blue eyes, both father and son in my story have those eyes, also.)

For those who might have an interest, the meanings behind the names of the other characters in Cooking for Ghosts and Lost Lovers are summarized below:

_________________________________________________

Angela Perotta – first name of a dear friend with whom I “grew up.” (Meaning although we were already grown, we blossomed and matured together through our experiences living as foreigners in Greece. We maintain a friendship to this day.)

Betty Montalbano – a detective who is named for two real-life law makers who helped with all the legal aspects of this story, including the crimes discussed. They are Betty Tsamis, a Chicago-based lawyer and Rosemarie Montalbano, Queens District Attorney. These women are amazing and their expertise helped prevent plot holes that may have occurred if I hadn’t had the legal information they so helpfully supplied.

Cynthia and Sarita Taylor – named after two beautiful blogging buddies and true fans of my writing. Cynthia and Sarita are main characters in my story but the actions of them both in the story, their backgrounds, abilities and experiences, are all invented by me. Thank you, Cynthia and Sarita, for being so inspiring and so supportive of my work.

Dolores Simpson – (this would be a giveaway, so I can’t say.)

Eric Gladwell – named for Eric Gladstone, a true-life food critic who writes for Bon Appétit. Without Mr. Gladstone’s patient and knowledgeable answers to my questions about running a restaurant, some of the descriptions and the dialogue that takes place in the galley of the imaginary Secret Spice Café would have been embarrassingly incorrect.

Inez and Marisol– two women who worked aboard the Queen Mary and told me of their encounters with the supernatural while they worked aboard the ship.(Marisol, who is only four in Book I, shows up again in Book III of the trilogy in a big way.)

Jane Miceli – another dedication to a very dear friend. She knows who she is and also knows the playfulness behind this first name.

Kathy Knight – a notorious, true-life murderess, whose crimes made me shudder.  But, no worries ─ she has no real part in the story at all. (I hope you’ll get a kick out of where you spot her name in the story.)

L’Oustau de Baumanière – one of the most amazing, true-life restaurants. Actually exists in France.

Michael – a name with many meanings, but one that sticks out is “patron saint of soldiers.” I hope those who read the story will tell me if I chose his name well.

Naag – An Indian name that means “snake.” Again, I hope those who read the story will tell me if I chose his name well.

Oliver Jenkins – again, a big give away if I tell before the book is out.

Raymond Thuilier – a true-life, great French chef.

Rohini Mehta – “Rohini” means “light” or “moon.” I chose her last name for Deepa Mehta, a film director considered to be the voice of “the new India.” Mehta is known for her trilogy of films, which includes, Water. This film took great courage to make and has done more than any other film to bring to light certain religious practices that are detrimental to women. Deepa Mehta is a true feminist, a woman I admire as much as my character, Rohini, does.

Tony Chi – a true-life designer. One of my favorites. But I have never met him and though he and his friends become inebriated at the opening of The Secret Spice Cafe, this is not in any way a commentary on his lifestyle. It’s simply something I made up for the story. I have no knowledge of this gentleman apart from his fabulous designs. (Check them out at the link.)

Vanu – means “friend.”

Village of Kambalwadi – a true-life, wonderful village in India that is leading the way in sanitation, self-sustaining farming, and women’s rights.  Read about it here.

Vincenzo Perotta and Douglas Rigby – First names and one last name of three dear friends of mine, who will know why I used their names (with love ) once they read the story.

Zahir – means “shining helper or supporter.”

 

 

Women’s PowerStrategy Conference 2015

 

The next Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference will be held in 2015. Speaker applications are not being taken at this time. Please continue to visit the conference website for updates and for photos and videos of our 2013 conference. For questions about speaker applications and all other inquiries please email womenspowerstrategy@gmail.com (Any queries here in the comments section will be deleted.)

Thank you for your interest,

Patricia V. Davis and The Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference Team

Note: Questions about speaker applications

Let’s Not Fight ─ It’s Christmas: Your Holiday Cheat Sheet for Making it Through the Family Gathering

You’re going to see your family for the holidays again this year. You don’t know why you’re doing it, because every year you feel as though you’ve visited a level of Hell Dante forgot to mention. Every year your therapist gets a call on December 26 for an emergency session in which you swear to him or her you’ll never spend another holiday with “those people” again. But for some reason, you’re still not ready to emancipate yourself from this torture and so, every year that promise goes right out the window along with your diet, your hard-earned independence and your meager self-esteem.

But I’m here to help. I’m here to remind you that Christmas dinner is after all, just dinner and not the one and only opportunity you will ever have to straighten out your family’s screwed up perspective on the universe, your country’s foreign policy, health care, Phil Robertson, or you.
The cheat sheet below is a guide to how questions aimed at you during your visit should be answered. Answering questions as suggested will have one of two effects ─ it will shut everyone up and allow dinner to be slightly more bearable this time around, or it will provide you with the entertainment value of watching everyone’s heads explode like the scientist in Scanners. Tear it out and keep it handy while you’re with your family ─ right next to your bottle of Prozac would work ─ and refer to it when they begin the barrage questions that usually lead to a meltdown.  IMPORTANT NOTE: All answers below should be delivered with your warmest, most sincere smile. You can do it. Practice in front of the mirror.

Category One: Questions About Your Appearance

  • As a matter of fact, I have gained weight. Thank you for noticing. I’ve been working really hard at it.
  • As a matter of fact, I do have a food disorder. I just threw up in your bathroom. I hope those weren’t your good towels.
  • As a matter of fact, I have had work done. Hang on ─ I’ve got my cosmetic surgeon’s card here somewhere. They’re having a special. Tell him I sent you.

Category Two: Questions About Your Sex Life

  • As a matter of fact, I am gay. But don’t worry, it’s not contagious. (Note: this reply about your sexuality should be used whether you are indeed gay or aren’t.)
  • I agree. I shouldn’t have married him/her. It was a terrible choice. (Yes, say this even if your spouse is at dinner, too.)
  • No, not dating anyone yet, but my therapist says I’m making progress with my (PICK ONE) obsession with my cat/fixation on Justin Beiber, so I should have a profile up on Match.com any day now.

Category Three: Questions About Your Career

  • I absolutely agree. It was a terrible career choice.
  • I absolutely agree. It was a great career choice, but as you say, I should have been promoted by now.
  • I absolutely agree. I’m never going to (PICK ONE) write that screenplay/finish my book/sell my paintings. That’s why I drink.

Category Four: Comments/Questions about Religion, Politics, Social Perspectives

  • I absolutely agree. Paul Ryan is terrible.
  • I absolutely agree. Paul Ryan is wonderful.
  • You’re so right, turkey isn’t really meat. But I think I want to save room for pie.
  • You’re so right, eating meat is murder. I cry every time I do it.
  • No, I don’t mind saying a prayer even though I’m an atheist. Let’s do all the verses.
  • You’re absolutely right. I should convert. Did you bring any pamphlets?
  • You’re absolutely right. I am foolish, naïve and a blight to mankind because I believe in God. What was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t.
  • I absolutely agree. I’ve done a miserable job as a parent. Just look at those kids ─ they’re monsters.

And finally

  • The meal was lovely. The day was wonderful. Thank you for having me/us over. See you next year.

 

The Little Pink Pill

 

What if someone told you that there was a little pink, tasty pill that if you swallowed it, every word that came out of your mouth would be extremely pleasing to everyone? You’d never ever have to worry again, about saying the wrong thing that hurt someone feelings or made you sound selfish? Would you take it? I know lots of women who would.

 

In fact, I swallowed that pill when I was a little girl and I am pretty sure it was my mother who gave it to me. She, like many women of her generation, was raised to be a “good girl.” Her parents liked her best when she was obedient and dutiful and respectful ─you know, all those qualities we’ve been told are “feminine”─ and naturally, she expected the same from her own daughter.

 

So I swallowed the little pink pill and it worked. I said all the right things; I never sounded selfish, or hurt anyone’s feelings and I was extremely pleasing to my mother, my friends and eventually to my husband.

 

But there were side effects to that pill that no one had told me about. Just like all the other pharmaceuticals we’re warned about in those obnoxious ads, swallowing the pink pill caused anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain, depression, low self-esteem, thoughts of suicide and even the occasional self-medication to alleviate these symptoms with vodka and grapefruit juice.

 

And the need to always be pleasing to others had other repercussions, too.  The “friends” I made were only my friends because they knew I would say the things they wanted to hear, even when deep inside, I didn’t want to say them and they knew I didn’t want to say them.

 

“Patricia, you’ll give up your weekend to babysit my three kids at your house, won’t you?”

 

“Ummm…sure…I guess.”

 

“Awww. Thanks. You’re so sweet.”

 

As for family, my husband and mother were great at giving me the “I’m-so-hurt-because-you’re-so mean” silent treatment should I ever even try to stick up for myself. And I was my mother-in-law’s go-to daughter-in-law for everything from dealing with her business for her at the Motor Vehicles Office to rolling her jars of pennies.  Two real fun jobs, don’t ya think? I still remember sitting there, being the pleasing one, rolling up pennies and seething while she sat and watched television.

 

And let’s not even talk about that husband ─ the one I’d “earned” by always saying the most pleasing things.

 

Believe me, there are special kinds of people leeches—I call them “pleeches”─ who latch on to you the moment they figure out that the only words that you can say are, Yes,” “You’re right” “and “Okay.”

 

I finally discovered that the only antidote for the little pink pill was forcing the word “no” to come out of my mouth.  The first time I said it I was 33 years old and I had a two-year-old son whose grandmother thought there was nothing wrong with holding him on her lap with no seat belt while they were passengers in a car.

 

I had very patiently, in my respectful way, of course, explained to her why this was dangerous and wrong, but since that was not pleasing to her she just ignored it, although I didn’t know that. Until one day, I happened to be out in the front garden when she drove up and I saw my two year old was sitting on his great aunt’s lap.  Wearing no seatbelt.

 

That was a defining moment, alright. I had this one child and I was going to lose him on someone’s whim if I didn’t get the word “No” out of my mouth, loud and clear. Despite the circumstance, it was much harder to say it than you might think. My knee caps were so shaky they felt like they’d been replaced by lemon Jello. But I had a choice that day: obey the pink pill and lose my son in a possible car accident, or say “no.” They didn’t like hearing it, but it worked. My son was always in a safety harness after that.

 

I’d like to say it was easy to say no since that happened, but it wasn’t. It took years of practice before “No” was a true working part of my vocabulary. In fact there are times all these years later when it’s clear that the effects of the little pink pill can reoccur. My “no“ sometimes still comes out too weak:

 

“Um, I don’t think that’s going to work for me.”

 

Or sometimes, because I’m afraid it won’t come out at all, too strong:

 

“NO, goddammit! NO.”

 

But a miracle has happened ever since I started saying it, whether said well or poorly. I have different friends and a different husband whose sole reason for their presence in my life is not because they can get me to “please” them. They like me, even if we don’t always agree. I have a new mother-in-law, too who respects me.

 

Yep. That’s the main thing that’s different: Respect. I am not always necessarily liked, which is still hard, but I am, most of the time, certainly respected.

 

And so, what I have to say to any woman whether she’s old or young, is this:

 

When it comes to taking that little pink pill that will turn you into a pleaser rather than as strong and respected human being, to paraphrase Lauren Bacall,

“Just put your lips together and say ‘no.’”

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Editor’s note: “The Little Pink Pill” was read by the author, Patricia V. Davis, on April 20th 2013 at Women Rock It with a Heart event, presented by  Hyla Molander and Evan Bailyn.  To learn more about this wonderful event that celebrates women, visit their website, or read Jen Duchene’s The Polite Woman’s take on the event .

March 26, 2013

A Better You Equals A Better World

By Patricia V. Davis

 

No matter what it is we do for   a living, most of us seek new ways to improve our skills, because we hope that improving professionally will lead us to a greater return. But what about our human being skills? Often our lives are too busy to even consider that if we make small adjustments in how we view and respond to the world, we could be sending out a more positive energy, an effort that will come back to us tenfold. Below are three simple suggestions on how building a better each of us will help build a better world.

 

1)      Instead of making resolutions, let this year be a year of “gratitutions.” Gratitutions are statements of gratitude made along with any criticisms you have of yourself or changes you wish to make. So, instead of saying, “This year I have to run that 10K” a gratitution would be, “I’m thankful my legs work well and I’m able to contemplate running.” Instead of, “I must get all the rooms in this house painted, “a gratitution would be, “I’m thankful that I have a home of my own.” This doesn’t mean you won’t run that race or paint those walls. A gratitution doesn’t keep you stuck in one place; it frees you up to help you appreciate where you are as you continue to go forward.

2)      Keep your ears open and your mouth closed when people disagree with you. We all have the tendency to get defensive when our opinions and beliefs are not validated by others. But instead of lashing out with angry comments or sarcastic comebacks, (one of the reasons many of us cringed as we read our Facebook feeds this past November) why not ask the person who disagrees with you, “What makes you feel that way?” And then genuinely listen to the answer. Most people have passionate beliefs because they’ve either researched the topic thoroughly or they’ve got a blind spot due to misinformation. So think of this: if they’ve researched a topic much more than you have, doesn’t it add to your knowledge base to hear what they’ve learned and what conclusions they’ve drawn as a result? You don’t have to agree, but the simple act of listening is a free education on the subject. Conversely, keep in mind that because people are unable to listen to new ideas unless psychologically ready, arguing with them will only pull them away and close a door, but a listening attitude can do wonders to open a mind.

3)      Do one good thing for someone who cannot help you in return. In many industries, there’s much talk about social networking and building relationships to improve our chances for “getting ahead.” The principle is simple: reach out to someone in a position of success and do something for that person that he or she will appreciate, so that when the time comes when those people can help you in some way, they will remember you. Though not always successful, this is a fair-minded and in some ways, organic way to grow your network and your reputation. But what about those who are no position to do anything for you ─ why help any of those people? Believe it or not, there is a return and it’s a very valuable one. It’s the knowledge that you were able to do something that’s made a difference to someone else. In the world we live in today, it’s easier for the average person to get a hold of a weapon than for them to get a hold of a kindness. An unexpected kindness bestowed with no thought of any reward for doing so can be more powerful and have more of a pay-it-forward effect than anything else you might accomplish.

Now it’s your turn: what suggestions might you have for self-improvements that might not only help you, but help all of us? And what gratitutions can you come up with? Feel free to leave them in the comments. And by the way, happy 2013.

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Patricia V Davis is the author of “The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know” and “Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece,” and the founder of The Women’s PowerStrategy™ Conference.

 

 

 

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