Saturday, May 29, 2010

What were you thinking, Eileen Fisher?

I remember reading in the press about the "updating" of the Eileen Fisher line of clothing. The New York Times gave the story a lot of space. It seems that the company determined that a freshening of the brand was necessary, that attracting a younger customer was necessary, that the clothing needed to reflect a hipper outlook.

I cringed when I read all this, able to imagine only too well what was going on inside corporate headquarters, as the sound of the story was one I have heard played out at company after company. I'm sure that Eileen Fisher hit the wall with the Great Recession, that their core group of affluent boomer women customers realized they could stop spending money on clothing and be just fine. When Nora Ephron described the brand publicly as one for women who had given up, it must have really hurt to hear that. And so, rather than merely coping and staying true to their brand, the company started flailing and reaching for new directions.

I had always been an admirer of the brand, even though I was only an occasional customer, as it was a brand with a very clear purpose, outlook, and promise: to provide mature women with a simple, pure, unadorned, modern wardrobe system in high quality fabrics. While I have found many of the clothes to be much too shapeless for my liking, I have understood the great appeal, and have, indeed, found pieces which have become indispensable to my wardrobe. I had never been that Zen woman on the beach in the advertising, but her sense of freedom and confidence really spoke to me

And now, look what they have done. Now, the assortment is a confusing mix of the old shapeless plus the new braless. Yes, braless. Summer tank dresses meant for willowy figures, flouncy silhouettes bowing to trends, jumping and scowling models marching to everyone else's beat - these are definitely not for the EF core customer. Nor is the company exhibiting the need stated by Ms. Fisher herself, to be modern and relevant. Instead, as with so many other brands, the company is just not getting it!

Some of us over 50 have gained weight and lost our waists entirely. Some of us have not, but know that the tighter fashions our daughters are wearing are all wrong for us. Some of us have changed from wearing size 34B bras to feeling like a new size should be invented called 34Long! But I am comfortable saying that all of us want to be treated as if our needs are understood. It is sad to watch this brand, this woman, this icon lose touch. Perhaps there actually is room in the world of business for 50/50...

Friday, May 28, 2010

17 All Over Again

One of the things that has been a total surprise to me in my return to the single life is getting in touch with my inner 17-year-old all over again. Never in a million years did I think that I, a responsible, mature 57 year-old woman would revert to emotional behavior much like that of my 17 year-old self. It's been pretty crazy how the emotional psyche works!

When I first started thinking about dating, I found myself obsessed - to be liked, to be noticed on online dating sites (as close to virtual high school as it gets!), thinking that every hair had to be in place at all moments, that I needed to be available for the phone to ring, the email to arrive, always waxed, tweezed, polished. I found that the modern equivalent to waiting for the phone to ring was waiting for the red light on my Blackberry to indicate a message or email. No wonder I related to Ke$ha in "Boots and Boys"

"I think it's time that I mention
I've got myself an obsession
For the smell, for the touch
I know I got myself a habit
But I've got to have it now
I dont care where ,work it out
(let me break it down)

Boots and boys
They bring me so much joy
I wear 'em both so pretty as I walk in the city
Boots and Boys
(give me boots and boys)"

It was as if all the strength and confidence I had developed over the years about who I was had disappeared in a moment, and that obsessed teenage girl returned. (At least pimples didn't arrive along with the obsession!)

I can't say that over this past year I have totally pushed that 17 year-old away and replaced her with an entirely emotionally mature woman. But as each potential romantic encounter is no longer a "first-time", as I have gotten comfortable with my independent life as a single woman, as I have shed that childlike desire to define myself by the company I keep, much of the obsession has quieted. One of my favorite men is very good at reminding me to look in the mirror. One of my favorite women is very good at reminding me that I am who I am regardless of whether or not I have a man in my life. One of these days I will remember all these things on my own.

Shedding the emotional responses of a young single woman for those of an older, wiser one feels great. I can still be giddy about love and crushes, still get excited about romance and meeting new boys (and boots), but leaving that old stuff behind - that's what I'm working on!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Performance Anxiety

The phrase "performance anxiety" is most often associated with men and sexual performance. I can't really imagine what that version feels like, either physically or emotionally, yet I realize that I have my own version of the phenomenon. And I suspect that I am not the only woman with it. Mine, alas, often gets mixed up with what I wear.

Just last week, I was unexpectedly invited to join a friend for a weekend in Boston. Not long after I accepted, I began to go into a performance anxiety mode: What if I couldn't look good enough for the weekend; would I be OK, good enough, worthy of the invitation, living up to imagined expectations? I realized that my favorite, sexiest clothes were back in San Francisco, where I couldn't get them in time for the weekend; my new hot shoes for the season were, indeed, back there, too. When I found myself thinking that I needed to run out and try to buy something so I could look good enough (for what?!?) on this trip, I stepped back to notice this reaction. Had I really been invited for the weekend so I could perform as a fashion accessory? Who did I think was judging me and against whom did I think I was performing? Why was I so concerned about my appearance - is that why I thought I had been invited along, to be eye candy?

This kind of anticipatory anxiety was certainly exhausting and preoccupying. I imagine it is not so different from what men go through when they begin worrying about whether they can perform well enough as lovers. Once I let go of the impossible expectations I was imposing on myself, I found I was able to relax into the weekend and just plain enjoy myself. I showed up for the day in a tunic and leggings that always make me feel good, and for dinner on Saturday night in a dress I had with me in Madison, and guess what? I had a great time - just being me, not trying to perform up to anyone's expectations of style icon.

I'm not saying I don't love dressing up, dressing for an occasion, expressing myself through what I wear. But letting go of the anxiety about how I might be judged based on my sartorial choices and being in the moment was a breakthrough. Hey guys, are you listening? There might be a lesson here!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Midlife Crisis?

It is hard for me to believe that my beloved little midlife-crisis car is about to turn 10 years old, and even harder for me to believe that it is nearly 10 years since I started worrying about turning 50! When I got the Audi TT, my (male) boss at that time told me he thought the car was too young for me (or I, too old for it!) My kids wondered why I had gotten something that clearly was not meant to cart them and lots of friends around. My husband wondered what had come over me, and I felt rather guilty about indulging in something that was so much just for ME!

The TT was pretty symbolic for me. When I first laid eyes on it, the designer part of me felt that it was the embodiment of a product in which the designer got to design exactly what he/she wanted, without some panel of experts announcing what should or should not be done. It was clearly a fusion of love and design, looking so modern and like no other car around, yet referencing some of the great classics of earlier years. I fell hard for it, for all it represented and for all it was - fast, statement-making, adorable, and my choice.

I have to laugh about the comment about the car being "too young" for me. Not long ago, I went to a party at which two other women my age also had silver TT's - for all the same reasons I had. While I am sure that the designer or marketer never said "What can I design that will appeal to established, professional women over 50 who think of themselves as pioneers and individuals?", this is, in fact, what he or she has achieved. Rather than this turning out to be a car in which many women pretend we are younger, these little TT's seem to help us express a confidence in our older selves, a willingness to identify ourselves as fast, sexy, style-aware women.

My intention when I got the car was for it to be the last car I ever bought, for me to take care of it until it became a classic, for it to age gracefully beside me. We'll see if I carry through with that. As "Little Silver" is getting creakier, I find myself wondering if her days might be getting numbered. I may have to trade her in at some time, yet I'll never want to forget or replace the feelings I have associated with her: that I could turn 50 and keep moving ahead in my life; that I could surprise myself and others with an unlikely choice and be OK with that; and that I could choose something which was just for ME, and it didn't make me the meanest, most selfish woman/mother/wife in the world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Desire and Temptation

I am surrounded by beautiful things every day. I am lucky enough to have a job in which I am exposed to beautiful things as an everyday occurrence, things which I can imagine living with, wearing, and enjoying, things like jewelry, sculpture, fiber art, paintings, furniture, and rugs. I find myself uttering the words "I love that" with frequency, and often mentally checking my bank account , wondering whether I can afford a piece, whether I deserve that piece, whether I should give into that immediate desire and temptation.

For a fickle person like me, this is an ideal environment, one in which I can fall in love over and over again, be moved enough to welcome the newcomer, whether that newcomer is an artist or a work of art. But whether or not I need to purchase that work is a whole other question. I first saw this wonderful Amy Nguyen jacket in February, fell in love, but waited until I saw it again today in May to take the plunge.

Not surprisingly, I compare my response to art to my response to new people. I realize I have a pretty quick response of "I love this person", (or not) which is not so different from "I love that necklace". It is an immediate, visceral response, a response which comes from lots of signals hitting me at once before I have much of a chance to analyze, edit, or truly consider. With art, I have found that it really helps if I stop, take a breath, question myself after a few days of whether or not I can or want to live without that piece. Then I go look at it again, and often find that it is not quite as beautiful as I remembered, or not so indispensable.

With people, I'm not so good at stepping back, waiting, and listening. I am ready to dive in, because I need to dive in in order to know if that person is so beautiful as I remembered, or not so indispensable. But unlike with art, with people I am often ready to color in what is not there, perhaps making that person who I think I want him or her to be. I'm trying to take a lesson from my response to art and apply it to new people, trying to see them for who they are and not who I wish they might be. It's an interesting new approach!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Curly Girls

I have to admit that I was thrilled to see Michelle Obama sporting a curly hairstyle at the state dinner last night. Yes, it is presumptuous of me to assume that Michelle (may I call you Michelle?) has had internal battles about her hair, but anyone born with naturally curly kinky hair has had that internal battle, that "I hate my hair" sentiment. And clearly, Michelle has chosen for the most part to have gone on the defense and fight as hard as she possibly can against that with which she was born.

I did the same thing for many years. My ninth grade school photo shows me sporting straightened hair with a center part, all carefully shellacked in place. It took so much work, but I believed at the time that it was worth it, that having straight hair would help me fit better into the world, would make me more popular, more lovable, more desirable. No more labels of "brillo head" for me; straight hair would be my key to confidence and success. That mythology kept me out of swimming pools for years, and slave to miserable nights sleeping on hard oversized hair curlers.

One fateful summer day I had enough, and decided to plunge into the ocean with my friends, let my hair get wet, and live with the unruly consequences. My boyfriend of the time didn't quite know what to make of my transformation, but I didn't care. I had jumped off the straight hair dock forever.

The funny thing is that my curly hair became a definer - a positive definer, in fact - for me. In the late 60's and '70's, everyone wanted my hair, or so they said. And throughout my corporate years, my curly hair, though short and tidy, remained for me a reminder of individualism. When I let it grow to its current unruly length, it was a conscious move, a move meant to express my comfort with being me as well as a symbol of my arty side - and I've never looked back. The fact that I am a devotee of hair salons that cater to curly hair has a lot to do with there finally being a club which I was meant to join!

Who knows if Michelle Obama is truly embracing her inner curly girl, or if perhaps, for one night only, she was just trying her on. But I was tickled to see this photo of her, and I imagine a lot of other girls and women were, too. Hell, if Michelle can make it OK to be tall like your husband, to wear clothes that show off your body, to eat healthy foods, to be a great mom, to speak your mind, and to let your curly hair be itself, what a great message of self-esteem she is sending!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trying on New Dresses

Over the past year or so, I have come to think of my post-marriage behavior as akin to trying on new dresses, and seeing what fits, what is comfortable, what might be an interesting new way to live my life. Needless to say, not all the trials thus far have "looked so good on me".
(I'm not so sure the "Goddess" dress is quite right!)

With dating, I have been hellbent to "try on" men who are completely different from my former husband, as well as men who are a more familiar "fit". I don't want to assume I have a "type". Likewise with shoes and dresses. It's not that I am looking to be someone else, but I am trying to see if I have been limiting who I am comfortable with, what my experiences can be, and how I want to be dressed for different occasions.

I have been searching for summer dresses recently, and this exploration has played itself out quite literally. I have tried on - and purchased - a group of knit dresses and had an "is this me?" moment with each of them.
(This one is cute. Am I OK being cute? And can a woman my age wear something this length without looking like she's trying too hard?)

When I reached the last one on a recent search, it felt just right - like Goldilocks with her final bed.The dress was fitted and swingy, body conscious but not too-much so. It feels like home. It feels like I could wear it every day.

But the others feel like Goldilocks on a vacation, Goldilocks experiencing something new. And like vacations, they are not meant for every day necessarily, but they are part of my life for enjoyment and pleasure. Like new relationships, these dresses are worth trying on and seeing if they might be great new "home" options.

Forever Grateful

It seems I have been packing a hundred pounds of potatoes into a 50 pound sack for the past few days, and so am allowing Anita Renfroe to speak for me today. Hallelujah for women like this!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Great Boots!

It was cold and grey in San Francisco in the morning, with an onslaught of what is otherwise known as "June gloom", so I found myself reaching for boots again before heading out to meet with some artists at their studios. And yes, it was for another pair of cowboy boots that I reached. I hesitated before putting them on, as my therapist recently posited to me the phallic associations between boots and feet, so I've not been able to think about my boots the same since!

Nonetheless, I pulled on what I tend to think of as my "I can handle the attention" boots. I can't wear these when I feel like hiding, because they often elicit the "great boots!" comment wherever I go. While I don't always want to be noticed, I have come to find that with these boots I interact more with people around me who I don't know. Complete strangers who would otherwise rush by quickly on the street stop and make the "great boots!" comment, thus engaging me in a way so uncommon in a big city. And that I absolutely love!

Real examples: As we were all madly texting and checking our phones at the airport, these boots had the ability to stop the texting madness and make people talk to each other for a moment. At a trade show where we were all focused on booth after booth, these boots had the ability to get weary women out of our separate worlds and laughing with each other. And on a grungy sidewalk where I was ready to pretend that a homeless person was not part of my universe, these boots brought us together, if for only moment, to a land where "great boots!" delighted us both.

When I bought these boots on a lark in Dallas, I wondered if I would ever really wear them, and in fact, presented them to my daughter (who smiled kindly, and never wore them.) I had no idea the hold they would end up having on me.

Love Letter

25 years ago today I began a love relationship with a - then boy,now - man that continues to grow and evolve. I had no idea what I was getting into, was scared, excited, anticipatory, and completely ignorant of what it would take to make this relationship work. I thought I knew; I had read book after book, had tried to make myself as prepared as possible, had tried to keep myself looking good for the part, had created an inviting love nest. And then it happened. The relationship began. My beautiful son, Nicholas, was born.

I was such a scared new mother, and he was such a fussy newborn. I was an accomplished professional completely thrown by all I didn't know about being a mother and the lack of mentors or handbooks for the role. Nick was an accomplished miracle of nature and ready to learn everything, no handbooks necessary. What a pair! But somehow we stumbled and experimented and giggled and cried our way through calamities and challenges, school projects and performances, humiliations and triumphs. While Nick and his encyclopedic brain devoured one subject after another, I learned ( and often forgot) about rain forests, dinosaurs, baseball and the military so that I could be part of his world.

The thing that I never understood as a new mother was that ultimately there would be two measures of whether or not this relationship was successful. The first measure was if he could leave me. And the second measure was if, after leaving, we could develop a new version of our relationship, one in which we continue to love just as intensely, but not be so needy of one another.

And so, here on the amazing occasion of Nick's 25th birthday, I am not decorating his room with streamers nor carefully building a cake shaped like a castle. The boy for whom that would be wonderful has, indeed, left me. Instead, throughout the weekend, I'll be listening to music at clubs with this great guy who is at the top of my list of favorite dates. That we cook together, confide in each other, listen to music together, and then go our separate ways is as good as I ever need life to get. Happy Birthday, Nick!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Be My Wife, Please!

I am giving a dinner party tonight, an experience which always gives me extreme pleasure. I love to cook, plan, entertain, make my house all pretty, pick good music, put interesting people together. What I don't like to do is pick up the dry cleaning, take out the garbage, run out and get that one forgotten ingredient - and then the next one, too, replace the light bulbs which always seem to burn out on the day of my gathering, take out the dog - you know, all those things a husband might do - if one was in the picture.

When I had a husband, I was probably too harsh, wished he would do all those things better, imagined that somewhere out there was someone who just "knew" all those things that needed to be done without my telling him. This, I realized, was a metaphor for much in my life. I had always liked to be "in charge", yet had wanted to be taken care of. I had wanted someone to magically know what I needed/wanted without my having to express it.

As a working woman, there have been many times, and continue to be many times, when I feel like I could use a wife. (When I used to be doing kids' laundries at 5 AM before getting ready to go to work, I often wondered if my male counterparts were doing the same.) A few friends of mine already have personal assistants, another one is hiring one to help pick up many pieces. I suppose that with a personal assistant, the spoken agreement is for the employer/needy one to state exactly what she/he needs, and the hired one to provide that. While it is not a relationship of equality, like a marriage should be, it surely seems like good practice for expressing what one needs outright. Maybe I should get an assistant just so I can practice asking for what I want!

On the other hand, I am also enjoying owning the state of doing it alone, and learning the strength of independence and self-sustenance. Recently I successfully assembled my new bed, a most husbandly task if ever there was one. And today I assembled my new tables, cursing like any red-blooded man in the process! So as I continue my preparations for my dinner party, I realize I am pretty proud of doing it alone. I just wish some magic person would show up to take out the garbage!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Jiggity Jig

Home. I came home on Friday night, and from the moment I got off the plane in San Francisco that warm, wonderful wave of "rightness" washed over me, that feeling that I was HOME, safe, rooted, OK.

The whole concept of "home" is one I've thought about a lot over the past few years, particularly since I've been splitting my time between "home" in San Francisco and "spending time" in Madison. I use the two words on purpose, because it continues to intrigue me that in spite of my having apartments in both places, one feels like home, the other feels like shelter; one feels like me, the other feels like me hibernating.

Of course, the fact that I have my stuff in San Francisco is one component. But even more than that, I realize that the feeling of home for me has to do with anchors - those people, places, and things that make me feel like I know where I am. When I was vacillating about my separation and coming home to a husband I no longer wanted to live with, my house did not feel like home. That anchor of marriage had been uprooted, and all the familiar belongings in the world did not relieve me of the suffocating feeling at home.

It's different now. My home is smaller by half than when I was married. It largely contains much of the same art and objects, with the exception of my wonderful new bed and bedding(hmmm, wonder why I picked those objects to replace!), yet it is my sanctuary where I am as comfortable creating a feast for 10 as I am lolling on the couch with a friend for hours, as I did yesterday.

The anchor of friendships, of familiar places, of true connections seems to be at the heart of the feeling of "home", as does the energy of the community. While there are many places I have visited that I really enjoy (Madison, among them), the human energy of kindred spirits, some whom I know already, others out there waiting to be met, really seems to make the difference. I even dare to extend that "home" feeling to the experience of dating. In my "home" cities, I have met men with whom I have enough in common to feel those sparks of excitement and connection. In my "spending time" city, it's just been dinner at best.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Women’s Work

The attraction to all things textiles is a strong one for me. Long before I trained as a textile artist and fashion designer, I sewed, knit, quilted, embroidered, and crocheted. (My parents refused to support my clothing "habit", so I started sewing my own at age 13.) Long after my training and a career switch out of designing, I remain a serial knitter, and a lover of fiber work. I also love the community that often forms among women who work with their hands in the multi-media of fiber. These communities have American traditions of quilting bees, sewing circles, knitting store gatherings, this decade’s Stitch ‘n Bitch groups, and most recently Knitta, an activist group which embellishes public structures with knitted cozies.

When looking through work at Artful Home, which I’m lucky enough to have to do as part of my work, I was struck by some commonalities in work – by women artists – referencing Amish quilts.

Amish quilts seem to strike a chord in so many people. For me, the idea of women whose lifestyle demands sobriety creating quilts which reek of exuberance is as compelling a part of the attraction to these quilts as is their dazzling beauty. To create these quilts requires a willingness to “color outside the lines” while maintaining a semblance of order. (Hmm - kind of like the approach of the quilters from Gee's Bend, Alabama.) So when I see these Amish quilts, as I did recently at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, I see communities of women, united in purpose, following their own rules, creating things of beauty – their way. Women's work, indeed!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Who Am I ?

I would have expected that by the time I reached my 50's, I would have stopped questioning who I was. In fact, all through my 40's it was easy to label myself: mom, successful executive, and wife. You know, Superwoman. I gravitated toward books and stories about women who were trying to have it all, trying to do it all, often feeling that those books were written about me. I felt that while I looked good to the outside world, I was never filling any one of my roles perfectly, thus failing. So, in actuality, I knew who I was: Flawed Superwoman.

I certainly knew how to dress as MVOS (My Version of Superwoman) with a closet filled with Prada shoes, Donna Karan staples, a little Dries Van Noten, and Anne Demeulemeiester. With the perks of frequent business travel to Europe, you can fill in the rest.

Then, in rapid succession, many changes happened in my life: my long-term position at Eddie Bauer came to a crashing halt; I left my dream home in Seattle (ooh, that kitchen!) and moved my family to California; I left the fashion industry; my kids left for college; I turned 50, and with that the inevitable hormonal changes; and I realized that the thin ice under my marriage was truly broken. The changes only continued, with a healthy dose of death, illness, success and therapy thrown in.

As a person who uses clothing as a form of self-expression, my wardrobe changes have mirrored the journey of self-discovery. I no longer have the income which can support my closet of years past, but more importantly, I am no longer dressing the part of some preconceived role. No more Superwoman. No more fear of what "they" will think (whoever "they" are). Just me. So if I feel like wearing my motorcycle boots with a dress, I do.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Phone Sex

I have a few friends with whom I engage in what we lovingly refer to as "phone sex". No, not that kind; but art phone sex. When we come across some great art that we are dying to share with one another, we send a photo or a link, comment back and forth, and jump on the phone to look at pictures together - you know, the next best thing to being there!

It is not that we are looking for approval from one another. Once upon a time that might have been the case: "Should I buy this?" and "What do you think?" have given way to, "Look at this cool thing I've fallen in love with" or "Boy, this isn't my taste but I think it has your name all over it".

Take this rolling head, for instance, by Bruce Chapin. I met Bruce at the Smithsonian Craft Show last month and instantly was attracted ( OK, I admit it, to him, and) to his work. After examining each and every piece, and determining jointly that he was not about to leave his wife and run off with me, I knew that while I was not going home with Bruce, I could not go home without this rolling head. It just totally spoke to me. Then I sent the photo to one of my best friends in California along with a link to Bruce's site. Within moments, my phone was ringing and the phone sex began. The conversation was excited, intimate, and spontaneous. She wanted me to check out other pieces and describe them to her, inch by inch, crevice by crevice. See why we call it phone sex?

This whole experience wouldn't be possible without camera phones and the Internet. But it also wouldn't be possible without having reached a point in life where my friends and I are confident about our likes and dislikes, and equally confident about expressing them. Phone sex, the literal kind, is all about knowing what turns someone on and simulating that over the phone. Sounds fun, right? Art phone sex is not so different and differently provocative. And, as with the wearing of cowboy boots at a certain age, has a hefty dose of , "This is what I like and how I like it - take it or leave it".

Girls in Summer Dresses

It was hot this weekend when I was in New York, the sort of hot that inspires women and girls to enjoy their femininity and wear flirty little dresses. I was happy to participate in this ritual with the one dress I had packed for my trip. This dress, a recent purchase, reflects my ongoing search for clothes which celebrate being a woman, which reveal (but not too much!) the body, which say , "I'm proud of who I am, but not trying to look like a kid". (I often come up empty-handed in this search, and thus the seeds of inspiration for 50/50. But more about that in an upcoming post.)

My 16 year old niece was busy debuting her newest summer dress, albeit a dress her mother deemed way too revealing. It got me thinking about the complete change in thinking that young women of today have about their bodies than we had when I was growing up. OK, not complete change, but considerable progress in terms of acceptance of their bodies. My generation was the generation that was not allowed to wear pants to school (!), that got sent home for skirts being too short, that defied convention by abandoning our bras (more or less successfully, depending on our anatomy) but still obeyed so many of the rules of propriety. As we blazed our pioneering paths in our careers, our independence, and our roles as mothers, we often ended up adopting fairly conservative styles of dress. To us, being daring was wearing jeans to work.

Now we have a generation of daughters who we raised to be far more comfortable with their bodies than we ever were. We have told them to accept their unique shapes, colors, and sizes - and they have! Their comfort with skin-tight clothing, low-slung pants, and plunging necklines, regardless of body type, is truly a tribute to this change in attitude. And oh my God, what have we created!

We can certainly learn from them. As I explore fashion, I often hear a little voice in my head saying "I could never wear that". Or I hear my friends say ,"Oh no!" when I suggest they try on something new. The question back needs to be, "Why not?". "Because I never have, because I am embarrassed about my body, because it draws attention to me" are not good enough answers. Listen to our daughters. Feel comfortable in our skin. Enjoy summer dresses and sway our hips a little when we walk in them. That advice certainly felt good to me this weekend!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Creativity,Passion, and Success

When I describe my family to newcomers, the first response is usually, "Wow, such an arty family". The reason for this response is that my ex-husband was a composer, my son is an actor, my daughter is a designer and fashion blogger, and I have worked in "creative" fields for all my career, from design to marketing. I am then usually asked two questions: how did this happen, and is anyone making any money?

The way it happened is pretty simple. I was, and am, a firm believer in allowing kids to pursue, explore, and find their passion, then go full blast pursuing it. Too many kids have no passion, or no chance to explore and find out what really turns them on. As far as I have been concerned, when my kids found something which they wanted to do, which stretched them and exposed them to a world they could make their own, I was all for it. To watch these young adults (now 25 and 21 respectively) out there trying, struggling, and adjusting gives me a great deal of pleasure - along with a hefty dose of anxiety!

I have recently gotten to know a man who has a daughter who is a budding film-maker, and when he describes her and her pursuit of her practice, the twinkle in his eye and smile in his voice is evident. Just this weekend I spent time with another new friend whose son is about to enter college to pursue his dream as an actor, and the sparkle she evidenced when talking about him indicated she couldn't be more pleased with his choice, though she's worried about his income. What we all have in common as parents is that combination of pride and abject terror. We all happen to have had success in our own careers, and wonder if our kids stand a chance to experience their own successes.

Watching my smart, talented son work at an Italian deli by day, and audition his heart out by night and weekend is not necessarily the future I might have predicted nor hoped for for him. Some may think that the "investment" in his great education has been squandered. Certainly he has chosen a path that yields far more heartbreak than reward, at least monetarily. (At his first college interview he was told that the unemployment rate for Equity actors was over 96%! Gulp.) But he is working away at it, trying to make a go at what he loves. He grew up watching me pursue my career and passions, watched me succeed, fail, and pick up again.

I heard some of this same concern and anxiety when I spoke to RISD students next week, students who were about to graduate and then....what? Choosing the creative path has never been an easy choice; there's not a set path like internship and residency in medicine, and the measures of success are not so clear. But I am confident that those kids who get to follow what turns them on, whether it is acting or medicine, programming or woodworking will figure it out. I did!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Interesting Women

Last week, a man I'm pretty crazy about posted on Facebook that he had just had a glass of wine with "one of the most interesting women I (he) had ever met". He was not talking about me.

After I got over my momentary pang of jealousy, I got to thinking about the interesting women I have met recently, and there have been many. In fact, since my separation, I have been meeting an extraordinary number of incredible people, men and women, and it's gotten me wondering about friendships: how and when they're formed, and how and when we are open to them.

I have two best friends, the best friends any one could ever hope for, (one of whom I am pictured with here), interesting women who I have known and loved since my 20's. Together, though often in different cities, we have lived through birth, death, heartbreak, joy, extreme illness, and extreme fun. Our connections are deep and irreplaceable. Through the 33 years of my marriage, these two women remained my best friends and still are, and I made only a handful of other truly close friends.

Since I've been on my own, though, I have met and rapidly formed close friendships with so many more women . Just yesterday I had lunch in NYC with a new friend I had met in Boulder two weeks ago. As soul sisters, we had connected immediately, and I know that I will know her for the rest of my life. And a similar thing keeps happening wherever I go. It's not that I am suddenly less discerning, nor that I am just imagining these bonds with interesting women. The reality is that I am more open to new relationships, more willing and ready to reveal myself and connect with new people than I had been while married.

So, while I too, could post on Facebook that "yesterday I had lunch with one of the most interesting women I have ever met", I prefer to celebrate this new friendship, bask in the glow of this new bond. Maybe it's a guy thing to need to compare and rank people, or maybe it was just a woman thing to read comparison into that original FB posting, but regardless, I think about welcoming interesting people into my tribe. In addition, I also realize that should I ever end up in a committed or long term relationship with a man in the future, I will never again turn off that part of me which is open to connecting with new people and forming new close bonds. There are just too many interesting people in the world to get to know and enjoy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Talking 'bout My Generation

Wow! I just left two days at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where I had been invited to participate in a panel speaking about "Making Meaning in the Marketplace" sponsored by the American Craft Council. While I often speak in front of large groups of people, it has been a long time since I have been in an academic setting, to say nothing of an art-academic setting, where there is a vocabulary all its own.

I was once an art student at the California College of Arts (and Crafts, as it was then known), and once an avid participant in deep heady conversations. The conversations then (in the 1970's) were often about art vs craft, and how we (mostly) women students could justify working in a medium (textiles) so strongly identified with women's handicrafts, yet consider ourselves serious artists. And how could we be taken seriously as artists by the previous generation when we were rebelling against them so strongly. And how to get a gallery to show our work. My, how things have changed - and not!
There were two conversations with students in particular that really struck me. The first had to do with the concern about having a unique work vs selling out, being unique and being knocked off. In this globalized world into which they are graduating, the Internet and mobile computing has changed everything. Students don't know whether to hide their work or show it, don't know if millions will view their work or no one. We used to be concerned about a few hundred, maybe thousands seeing our work. Now, in the age of American Idol and Yelp, everything is up for grabs to be voted on by our fellow citizens. Such a different pressure...

But the final conversation of the day really struck me. A young woman asked me, essentially asked my generation, to take her seriously - to take the fact that she and her generation approach things so differently than my generation did. Specifically, she talked about the fact that the 20 year olds of today often have multiple interests, and have been comfortable pursuing them, thus their resumes post-college may include a mixture of talents and experiences. She has found that that is often being considered "unfocused" or "inexperienced" by employers of my generation. We spoke of the irony that the mature adults of today, those who fought so hard against the constraints of the '50's and '60's, were now imposing their '80's and '90's-based work ethics on the new workforce of the '10's.

This caused me to reflect on my daughter, a young woman who is perfectly comfortable identifying as a designer/artist/photographer/art director/blogger. She is interested in all these things, damn good at all of them, and wants no one to box her in to one category. As her mom, I know that boxing her in would be the dumbest thing for any employer to do, that this would never take advantage of all that she has to offer. So then I thought about some of the people who work for and with me now: the finance guy who is also a painter, the marketing manager who owns a roller derby team, the merchant who is also an interior designer. Their whole life perspective walks into every meeting we have, but do I really value that? I sure hope so. As far as the finance guy goes, I know that the fact that he was a painter meant a lot to me in hiring him in the first place, but little did I know that he would write a monthly Controller's report that is actually interesting to read!

Really, in the end, is my quest to live as a successful businesswoman, a trusted friend, a desired lover and a style arbiter so very different?