Thursday, December 30, 2010

Prey or Play

I looked up the definitions of "stalking " and "predator" today before writing this post, as the words were on my mind and I wanted to make sure I was using them correctly.

Predator refers to an animal which survives/exists by killing and eating other animals. It has become common language to talk about sexual predators, those people who seek out vulnerable unknowing others for their sexual use, perhaps not for their actual existence, but certainly to fulfill some sick need. It is unfortunately easy to think about the most extreme examples that we read about in the news, but the everyday predators are who are on my mind today.

I just learned about an instance of sexual abuse by a parent i knew. Horrified, I began to investigate, and learned that it is common when a marriage is going sour for children to be at risk for inappropriate sexual behavior from the parents. Asking or demanding sexual favors from a vulnerable child in the course of a game seems to me like predatory behavior in the guise of play. Maybe that's too strong a word, but inexcusable and tragic nonetheless when a parent crosses the line into abuse. How do we protect our children, those who trust their parents to be their safe place? Is there really anything we can teach our sons and daughters to armor them?

In addition, I recently learned about the online stalking behavior of someone I know, behavior which this person sees as playful, social, and flirtatious, but which I am beginning to think of as predatory. The dictionary defines stalking as steadfast and stealth watching of an intended prey or victim. Today we talk about online stalking more casually, using the word to mean the following of our posts, thoughts, and whereabouts, whether on an online dating site or Facebook, by reading blogs or tracking public online interactions with others. But more sinister, I believe, is the stalking to harass and coerce, often in the guise of play, stalking when someone does not wish to be in communication, when someone is unaware of being observed. And this really bothers me. It bothers me when it is done selfishly and with the intent to harass or inflict harm in the name of flirting or friendship.

Privacy issues abound today, but I am beginning to think that the real moral issue to be confronted in personal privacy is understanding and respecting lines which should not be crossed. A child opens up a door to her heart through play with a parent she trusts, not expecting that trust to be abused. A person crowdsources for advice on Facebook, hoping for help from his friends, not expecting to be harassed. I open up my thinking through this writing hoping to share the human experience, not expecting to be publicly humiliated.

Humans are not supposed to be predatory animals, yet stalking, bullying, abusing and harassing are far too common, often done under the pretense of play, and I just can't stand it. My hope is that by talking about it, we can name it, shame it, and grow less and less tolerant of every example of treating others like prey. We are humans. We know better.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Designing Women

Although I tired of fashion trendwatching a while ago, I love clothes and have always enjoyed expressing a part of myself through what I wear. It has been a personal and professional mission for me for some time to find interesting clothing for mature women, clothing which allows a woman to express her femininity and individuality, make her feel comfortable and pretty, and act as that punctuation point to a wardrobe of go-to staples. How lucky I am, then, to now be able to do this as part of the Artful Home business.

I am currently enamored with the clothes of Cynthia Ashby. Working out of Chicago, Cynthia has been marching to her own drumbeat for more than a decade, applying an artist’s hand – a woman artist’s hand – to the design of her clothing. Clearly she is a master of the cleverly cut seam, and she manages to create designs which flatter and forgive, are attention getters but feel right at home.

I wore one of Cynthia’s pieces at TEDWomen a few weeks ago, and was stopped often by women, wondering where I had found such an interesting piece which transformed my basic black into something outstanding. This is what women want and need and deserve: clothes to feel fabulous in, clothes which recognize their curves and allow their flaws, clothes which celebrate the fun of getting dressed.

This was the original concept for my business, Fifty/Fifty, and I am thrilled to see it coming to light under the auspices of

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's Complicated

You know that part of your profile on Facebook where it is possible to designate the status of one's romantic relationship as "It's Complicated" as an alternative to single, married, divorced, in a relationship, etc.? I have never really understood that, thought it somewhat vague and bothersome, and now find myself irked by Facebook's commandeering of yet another word in the English language having to do with relationships.

Earlier this year I liked to joke that my life could have been called "It's complicated up in the air", based on some of the uncomfortable similarities between my life and the lives portrayed in the films "It's Complicated" and "Up in the Air". The challenges of navigating through a world of frequent travel and newly unmarried status in mid-life, the complexities of maintaining a relationship with my ex and engaging in a few with bad -boy types, the discovering of self and continued attempts to strike a work/ life balance all combined into an admittedly complicated state.

My emotional roller coaster put a strain on my closest friendships as i forced my friends - and me - to see parts of me i was not so proud of. We had to examine our boundaries and assumptions, our willingness to be honest even when honesty was really hard. It was complicated, indeed, and testament to the strength of our relationships that we could and still do work our way through the ins and outs of our needs and wants, our ups and downs, our abilities to give and our needs to protect ourselves.

Having recently been accused by someone with whom I have a rocky past and a very different communication style that I was making a friendship too complicated, I had to pause. Too difficult and without enough benefit may be an accurate assessment, but too complicated? Life is complicated, relationships - real, meaningful friendships - are complicated, and the only way I know to grow them is to deal with the full range of a person honestly and directly. None of us come a la carte with our qualities to be picked and chosen from.

It's complicated? You bet!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Goodnight, Arianna

When Arianna Huffington gave a short TED Talk at last week's conference about the need for sleep, my first thought was that she was wasting a valuable bit of everyone's time, that a woman as influential as she is should really be talking about something more weighty. The more I have thought about it, though, the more I really appreciate her statements and mission.

It really is pretty simple: Arianna is out to promote the fact that a good night's sleep helps life, helps critical thinking, helps attitude, helps energy. Why would she promote this? Because she thinks - and knows- that one of the ways that Type A's get all that we get done is by sleeping less, and that it has become quite a badge of honor to announce that one can manage with few hours of sleep every night. In integrating into a men's world of business, women often try to prove that we can be as good, as strong, as whatever as men, and the sleeping thing is part of that measuring up.

I used to know that I needed at least 8 hours of sleep a night. With motherhood and successively more executive responsibility in my career, I learned to live with far less. With menopause I learned to cope with interrupted sleep. Since the night my ex-husband nearly died and suffered his permanent brain injury, I have never again been able to sleep without medication, try as I might. Throughout an obsessive affair, I rarely slept well for months, whether I was sleeping alone or accompanied, and wondered how much of my loss of focus about the affair had to do with my constant sleep deprivation.

Listening to what our bodies are telling us grows ever harder in a competitive world. Our ability to communicate 24/7 makes it so hard to turn off. But I think Arianna is on to something, and perhaps I shall try her sleeping challenge for the first months of the new year, as she did at the beginning of 2010. It is a simple challenge: commit to 8 hours of sleep a night, take more time to recharge and say no to obstacles to sleep. It's not an extraordinary act, but I am hoping that it will help restore and revive me in ways so that I can, truly, do more.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pillow Talk

Yesterday I was listening to a friend as he talked about what he missed the most from not being in an intimate relationship. As he talked about missing the physical contact, it made me think about what I miss.

It is an interesting time for me to think about this, as I have only recently reached a place where I am comfortable, even happy, being alone. While I had been feeling desperate to be part of something, that desperate feeling is gone, replaced with a peace and comfort in my own company, on my own as a whole someone rather than as a half of something.

In fact, yesterday I prepared a big dinner party completely on my own. While cooking extravaganzas are nothing new for me, doing absolutely every step, from planning to prepping to decorating to cooking to last-minute fixing to cleaning up was all mine to do. Thankfully my wonderful friends at the party stepped in and lent some helping hands, because while I do love every single step of entertaining, it was a big task.

And what I realized was that what I miss is the pillow-talk, sharing the after-party clean-up and recollecting, the banter after all the guests have left, the partner to collapse with and whose hair also holds aromas of the dinner we've shared with guests, the you-wash-I'll-dry person to linger with and extend the joy of welcoming people just a little longer into an intimate conversation.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Second Acts

At TEDWomen, one of the overarching concept was second acts. At my lifestage, I am particularly interested in second acts, as I feel like I am in one myself. Post corporate world, post marriage, post childrearing, I see this time in my life as a time to live differently than before. While my introspective self-journey pales in comparison to some of those I heard about, I was excited and motivated by the examples around me, both in the speakers and in the attendees.

Again and again there were people who chose to do something different, who acted to change the world they were in. Sometimes the changes were from adversity, sometimes from horrendous circumstances, sometimes because of the ability to make a difference and the overwhelming desire to do so.

Take 18 year old Sejal Hathi, a young woman who, out of her battle with anorexia, went on to found the non profit organization Girls Helping Girls, already mentoring 30,000 girls globally. At age 18, she is well into her second act, and I imagine the world will be treated to acts 3, 4, 5 and more from this remarkable young woman.

Or Tony Porter, who recognized that his own socialization, and that of so many men, was such a profound reason for violence against women, that he founded A Call to Men, an organization dedicated to putting together high-profile male dominated organizations such as the NBA with programs dealing with domestic violence to try to change socialization practices, to try to change the components of what he calls "the Man Box".

And then there is wonderful Deborah Rhodes. Deborah is an internist who was frustrated that she could not provide a better answer to a patient about the accuracy of her mammogram. After a chance meeting with a scientist in a field she knew little about, Deborah went on to co-develop a new gamma Ray screening technology which is 3x more effective in screening women with dense breast tissue than mammograms, 100's of times cheaper than an MRI, and pain free. Getting the funding and approval has been another story, though, and it is shocking to know this is out there and cannot be implemented - yet!

The designers Donna Karan and Eileen Fisher, both pioneers as clothing designers with eponymous companies that truly recognized and satisfied the needs of working women, are now heading philanthropic programs, anxious to,as Donna says, "address the needs of women, not just dress them". As I engaged in brief individual conversations with each of them, it was obvious that this second act of their professional lives had lit a fire within them and that equally and in personal styles as different as their clothing styles, they were changing the world.

We all get into routines and ruts, and sometimes it takes a cataclysmic change or catastrophe to force us to behave differently, chart a new course, take action, and enter our own second acts.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Learnings from TEDWomen

How to begin collecting thoughts from TEDWomen?

I walk away with the overwhelming, overpowering impression of women who all want to do more, know they can do more, are committed to doing more. This was apparent in the presenters and attendees alike. Whether celebrity or soccer mom, accomplished business woman or artist, world leader or blogger, the people at TEDWomen were ALL hellbent about the possibility of more, the requirement of more, the relentless need for more. Some of us have to figure out what that more is, some have launched.

For my own purposes, I am trying to break my memories into a few of the most overarching concepts which emerged. I am not sure what I will do with them, but I know I must do something. Now.

The Other

Elizabeth Lesser introduced the concept of "otherizing" as a dominant negative force in our world, blue and red, feminist and tea party, Muslim and Christian, men and women, . She spoke of a simple concept for trying to bridge and overcome this force. "take the other to lunch" literally. As she described going to lunch with an outspoken female Tea Party activist, she suggested creating ground rules so that you could have the opportunity to ask the questions of someone from the other side, questions you have always wanted to ask. Ground rules: 1. don't try to persuade, defend or interrupt. 2. Be curious, conversational.

The concept of getting to know "the other" permeated the conference, whether accidentally or on purpose.

One of the most moving moments of the conference for me, and the greatest example I can possibly imagine of getting to know the other was a presentation made by two mothers: Phyllis Rodriguez, mother of a victim of the 9/11 attacks on the world Trade Center and Aicha El-Wafi, mother of Zacarias Masaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker. These women spoke of reconciliation and compassion, forgiveness and activism. Imagine the sight of them, holding hands, shedding tears, both mothers having lost sons, both women refusing to cave to hatred of "the other", both committed to ending terrorism and social injustice.

But then there was the amazing Caroline Casey who has dedicated the past 10 years of her relatively short life changing how global society views people with disabilities. Why is Caroline amazing? Is it the fact that she is legally blind and did not even know it until she was 17? Or the fact that she refuses to let it limit what she sees and does in the world? She talks of looking at people with disabilities not as "others", but simply as people with a defective part who perhaps have so much more to offer, a different perspective, not to be avoided but to be included.

And then there was Mona Eltahawy - busting through stereotypes that Muslim women are "only about headscarves and hymens". How many Muslim women do I know? And have I asked them anything about their lives and beliefs? What about you?

I am interested in watching how much I will now not only try to recognize "others" in my life, but attempt to know them. I don't have to like them all, nor them me, but ignorance is no way to bridge differences, difference which I am frequently too happy to rant about.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

TEDWomen Part 1

The sessions have yet to begin, yet I have already gained knowledge, met amazing women and have had my brain stretched. Where else can you have lunch with a National Geographic journalist, the founders of Women Move Millions, a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, a star of Greys Anatomy, a major art collector, a self described "just a mom", and a discoverer of a plant which could help solve world hunger? What do all these women have in common? The desire to leave the world a better place for girls and women than the one they were born into. Simple. Strong. Committed. What a gathering!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Wake-up Call: Risk and Reality

If we are lucky in life, we get wake-up calls, experiences which indicate that we have been playing with fire or ignoring signs, experiences which force us to stop and notice some parts of our lives which we have been trying to stuff under a rug and pretend are not there. I am afraid that I have gotten a few over the past month, the most recent being Friday night.

As I was driving on the freeway on my way to an anticipated weekend with my son, I got stuck in stop and go traffic, a common situation and one which always begs me to entertain myself with anything - anything! - but driving. My radio, my phone, my email all called out to me like sirens, and I, a master multi-tasker, was sure that, as always, I could beat all the statistics about multi-tasking while driving. Not so this time; the photo of my beloved car depicts the results of my distraction when I became yet another statistic and slammed into the stopped car in front of me on the freeway.

While embarrassed, shaken up and annoyed by the situation, it made me look long and hard at how much I indulge in the behavior of assuming "it can't happen to me". And this is my wake-up call - that it can and it did, that as much as I thought that somehow I was superior in some way that should make me be able to get away with dangerous behavior, I am not. And I need to stop.

I once dated a man who could - and did - text and drive, googling and looking up directions while driving, sometimes on two devices, and it both terrified me and thrilled me, thrilled me to watch someone else defy the odds and terrified me knowing that he was putting us both at risk, to say nothing of the risk he posed to other drivers on the road. I didn't ask or demand that he stop his behavior nor did I absent myself from it, and I realize now that while partially I was afraid of being seen as a wimp, I was also motivated by the thrill of the bravado of the risk and beating the odds. Macho behavior can be attractive and seductive; if it wasn't, we all would have stopped engaging in it or responding to it long ago.

My injured little car is proof that I am not somehow magically exempt from the risk. My bruised ego is proof that I was just fooling myself. I am grateful that this was only a wake-up call, and feel fortunate that I caused no greater harm. As I drove on the freeway today, I could feel those impulses calling out to me to glance off to my phone, to see if something important was happening outside my car. It was then I realized that learning to wait was something I badly needed a crash course in.