Brand Me

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I was talking with my friend, Brenda about this very blog.

“You have to brand yourself,” she told me.

Now, I know enough about branding to know that she wasn’t talking about a flaming piece of metal to my flank. She’s talking about the marketing kind of brand.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as: “A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers”

Companies do it all the time. The Pillsbury Doughboy is the playful provider of family baked treats, and Zappos is the online provider of shopping made easy for all the shoes you could want. Or at least, that most people could want. Maybe not me, because I have a true shoe addiction. But that’s a blog for another day.

So, I guess in that sense, branding myself is setting myself apart from everybody else out there. And that’s kind of a problem.

Talk about uncomfortable! I went to school to be a journalist. This was back in the Woodward and Bernstein days, when the reporter – well, reported – the story. You stayed in the background, didn’t let your real opinion show, and just gave out the who-what-where-when-why.

That’s not me! I’m not the story! I don’t want to be a brand!

How can I maintain a consistent brand when I’m still figuring stuff out? Even at my advanced age, I’m still making it up as I go. Heck, on any given day, you don’t know how I’m going to leave the house – dressed in Earth Mother flowy clothes, or a sharply tailored dress. It all depends on my mood.

Moodiness is fine. But, what Brenda explained to me is that I’m all over the place. I have this lifestyle blog called, “Stilettos Not Required,” that lets me get really up close and personal. And I have a podcast called, “Keep it Juicy!” that lets me act as the objective interviewer. I have followers on both.

But, unless you’re my husband – or Brenda – you probably don’t know about each other.

So, this blog is an introduction.

Stilettos, Meet Juicies. Juicies, meet Stilettos.

I think you’ll like each other.

Stilettos Brand GIF

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You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

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Before I tell you this story, I have to set ground rules. I’m not posting photos. Not gonna happen. You’ll get clip art and like it.

So.

I think I get what old age is going to be like: it will be making up heroic adventures to explain injuries sustained in the most mundane ways.

I think I cracked my rib.

And, for my readers, I’m going to be honest about the injury.

I was posing for my husband, a photographer who is always frustrated by the lack of cooperation his spouse exhibits whenever a camera lens is turned her way. I do not like the way I look in photos. I have an image of myself, one that props up my self esteem, and I do not care to see it contradicted in four-color glory.

But, finally, in a burst of what-the-hell, I agreed to let him take photographs of the boudoir nature. I had lost weight. I wasn’t getting any younger. He finally asked often enough. Whatever the reason, the date was set.

My husband set up a privacy cabana of hanging bedsheets on the upper porch to ensure privacy and capture the best daylight. And there we were.

I decided to try a pose on my stomach and then I remembered someone said that Kim Kardashian simultaneously arched a bit and sucked in her gut for the best photos. So I tried. Slowly. But even moving with caution on the hard wooden porch, I heard a crack from my left side.

The pain went all up my side for a second before settling beneath my left breast. No, not a heart attack. This tale is a comedy, not a tragedy.

Now, the day after, it hurts to press on my sternum, hurts to twist certain ways, and god help me if I sneeze. The rib is either cracked or bruised, neither of which can be treated with anything but time. But that story is just for you.

For anyone else who sees me wince, I’m going to expound on how I saved an entire city from a villain, super-hero style and got injured in the battle. Because, who would believe the truth?

pinup-girl-sexy-wearing-pink-bikini-84986312Check out Helen’s podcast, Keep it Juicy!

Written Under the Influence

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There are so many sex best-sellers – erotica – that I’ve been thinking there must be something there.

But when I read the books, I’m frustrated by the emphasis on the compliant/innocent woman and the bad-boy-with-a-heart-that-can-be won trope. It’s boring. And it doesn’t fit anybody I’ve met in real life.

My people have never been a color-inside-the-lines folk. While I admire art that is precise, it is the great leaps of color that draw my tribe into any gallery, or even the subversive pointillist, creating whole worlds and whorls of color so tiny that you have to step back to see how far outside the lines of convention they have painted.

I see myself as one of these defiant ones, walking with long strides, flirting, refusing rejection. I have been the one to push for one more drink before the bar closes, the one who leaps out of the plane as a dare to myself, who has taken the challenge of one taste of that cricket-as-food, chased by deep-fried ant.

I always assumed I would bring my loud, colorful self to any situation and, either they would embrace me, or fuck em.

I’ve reconsidered.

I’ve gone quiet and dark.

I have had a back spasm going on two weeks.

Back spasm is such a gentle word for the gut-twisting, breath-stealing pain that freezes me in my tracks, too much in pain to complete the movement, too much in pain to move another inch that might relieve the pain a bit.

Sitting up in bed is a negotiation of inches, clutching the mattress and pushing with my arms. Going to the bathroom is a slow shuffling race to see if the shocking pain will void my bowels before I can hobble slowly, pre-pull the toilet paper (because bending and twisting is out of the question), and slowly, holding onto my quivering thighs, lower myself down.

I have had pills, I have had shots. The relief is short, like hope dangled and snatched.

Writing deadlines are sliding – it is hard to concentrate when all I want to do is sleep from the cocktail of medicines keeping my body from clenching. If only I could write the sweaty dreams the drugs give me – now those would be some fine horror genre writing — but they wake me with a gasp then roll away swiftly like morning fog.

And when I sink into sleep, I do so knowing the price upon waking is the agony of getting my spine upright.

I have newfound respect for those living with chronic pain, more so when they write with beauty and clarity. I find that the pain intrudes in every story: “Their gazes met and she slid over on the seat (ow!). He bent her back to kiss her (“no, no, not like that, oh, god, my back isn’t moving that way, help me up!”). He threw her legs up to enter her (“Oh god, I can feel that all the way up my spine, how about legs down? Yeah, but now you’re rocking my body and that hurts. Oh god, god…no, these aren’t good oh god! Can you just get off and hang around until I can levy myself up to go to the bathroom and then can you just wait to make sure I make it in time?”

Sexy stuff.

I know that sex is possible long after those of us who are younger would like to believe. No one wants to think of granny getting it on, but they do.

I want this pain to go away, leaving just a smudge on my memory. When I’m not drugged, I have so much more to say, so much more to write, and it’s not Granny Grinding.

Man With Back Ache

Love Lists

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A decade or so ago, a hurricane buffeted my marriage.

Storms of anger and hurt blew through, the kinds that hit every marriage and shakes its foundations, but I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know there was an “after,” and my marriage dangled by a tenuous thread, swaying with leftover ill winds.

And, so we each made a list.

Why we loved the other.

I don’t know whether one of us had seen the idea in a magazine, or why we decided to do it. It was a long time ago. We were tentatively making our way back to each other.

The list was not easy for me. Top of mind were all the reasons my husband was unloveable. That would have been an easy list. But, to play fair, I thought hard. And then, they came to me. Slowly at first, and then more quickly. The reasons that drew me to him in the first place; the reasons I would stay.

Years have gone by.

And the other day, I found the list and read it again. The person who wrote that list seems alien. My list may have said more about me than about my husband. I would have a hard time re-creating such a list today.

Not because I don’t love my husband. I do. But the love has gotten so vast and so deep that it is almost diffused. The forest is so vast and deep, I’ve lost sight of the individual trees. Not loving my husband would be like not breathing. I don’t think about it; it just is. The individual characteristics and quirks that stood out all those years ago have merged into one: the beloved.

Still, it was fun to read the list again. It was fun to see my husband as “other” again. Because the reasons are still valid. I would, and I do, all over again.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I wish everyone love, no matter who it is you love. The kind of love that can rock you like a hurricane. The kind of love that makes you lose yourself, and the kind of love that helps you find yourself.

My Body is a Jerk

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Sometimes you can cast about for a New Year’s resolution. And sometimes, one walks up and slaps you upside the head.

For the past few months, I have been battling annoying but not fatal illnesses. Food poisoning. Kidney infection. Strep throat. Back spasm. My body has been kind of a jerk to me.

And I am so grateful.

I lived most of last year inside my head.

Lots going on there! Freelance writing assignments, this blog, figuring out how to create a podcast as I was launching it, getting accepted to a writers’ retreat and then realizing that (ulp!) I have to actually finish my novel’s first draft so I have more than the paltry beginning pages that got me accepted.

Not to mention the endless worrying about a year that seems to have more than its share of disasters, both natural and man-made. I watched the news like a woman obsessed; I was slowly creating my own personal disaster.

It happened gradually. A few yoga classes sacrificed because I wanted to finish something. Refusals when my husband invited me to walk the dogs – it was too hot, too cold, it got in the way of a deadline. Add in a heavy travel schedule with its indignities, canned airplane air, and timezone juggling.

Soon, all that fevered mental activity started reaching tentacles into my body. A couple of restless nights. A headache in the morning. Weight gain. Little taps from my body on the shoulder of my heedless mind. Hey, remember me?

Ignored.

And so, an ill-advised hot dog at O’Hare led to violent illness. Sure, I lost some of that weight – the hard way – but I also lost out on a trip to visit my daughter and see the house that would become her very first. Because there was no way I could sit for an entire flight without being sick.

Still, my husband and daughter Face-timed me as they walked the house and it was almost as good as being there. And I did have more deadlines, so I just put my head down and kept going. Mind over matter or, in this case, over body.

And then, a cramping in my lower back that the trainer couldn’t roll out.

“Usually you have problems on the left side. Weird that it’s on the right this time,” he said.

Yeah, weird, because it wound up being my kidneys and no amount of stretching was going to fix that. Still, Thanksgiving was coming up and a trip to Los Angeles to see my in-laws. And if I couldn’t drink as much because of the antibiotics, and if family photos show me looking unattractive and puffy…well, no time to worry about that, and that’s what Photoshop is for.

And then, Christmas loomed. I couldn’t find the holiday spirit anywhere. We bought a tree, but only because my husband – usually a champion Grinch – suggested it. He put up lights. I threw some ornaments onto the tree, not even bothering to get down all the boxes from the attic.

I couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

Christmas day was going to be quiet for us, with the real celebration a few days later when we joined my daughter at my ex’s house in D.C. But a quiet Christmas was hardly the problem since we’ve switched off hosting every other year since my daughter was 2.

Other years have certainly been harder. Four years ago was my first Christmas without my mom. Last year, the first without my dad.

So, where was my spirit this year? I tried submerging myself in the Hallmark Channel’s sappy Christmas movies. No joy.

I wasn’t sad, I was just…not happy.

Feeling resigned to a “meh” Christmas rather than a “merry” one, I was reading the paper when I felt that dry, cotton feeling in my throat. Uh-oh. I know this one.

Sure enough, by morning, my throat was on fire, my voice a painful squeak, and I was shivering from fevered chills. Strep throat. Flat on my back or curled tightly fetal to stay warm. Too exhausted to read or watch television, I slept for 24 hours.

There was no more living in my head. My jerk of a body demanded attention. Hey, you remember me NOW?!

And when the days of isolation and pain passed, I woke up with the kind of pre-alarm energy I used to. My body felt so much lighter – as well it should, after fasting for a few days. But it also felt good. Not just an absence of pain, but really good.

And that, finally, was what my body had been trying to tell me all along. You can’t just ignore one whole part of you. I know this. I even preach this. But I forgot that shoveling food into your body – even artisan, farm-to-table food – without savoring it, and sitting at your computer all day – even writing some of your best work – without remembering your body’s needs, is ignoring one whole side of the foundation. It’s going to topple.

Apparently my body wasn’t quite done – a nasty rash in reaction to the antibiotics and a killer back spasm in reaction to long drives and freezing weather accompanied the turn-of-year champagne.

So, that resolution? BALANCE. Give my jerk body equal time with the frenetic squirrel in my head. Because, if I don’t? My body is enough of a jerk to hold me hostage until I get myself back in balance.

Balance

The Dance: #MeToo. And 3 and 4.

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Every day, another man is brought low by #MeToo. Some men are alarmed and comparing it to the Salem Witch Trials (men who apparently are unaware of irony). Some women are angry and cheering, some women are angry and skeptical.

My own reaction is mixed.

My mama taught me how to flirt. Flirting was a dance of flattery and smiles that made life more charming, flattered those who could help you, made even the rudest man puff his chest up and offer to carry something. I was such a flirt that my principal in kindergarten – kindergarten! – dubbed me “Kissyface” because I kept trying to go after the older boys for a smooch.

Obviously, flirting was a dance I was still learning the steps to.

When I got to that age where curves softened my body – way younger than my peers – older boys still looked my way. And men. I had something but I didn’t know what it was or how to use it – or what the consequences could be. I was clumsy. I probably hurt people. And I got hurt, too.

Because the consequences for that dance of flirtation were that some men tried to join in and lead me to dark places. There was the drama teacher who promised an easy “A” if I just followed flirtation with what he called friendliness. There were countless bosses who said things just to watch me blush and to watch and see if I would say yes. And the alcohol-fueled date rape after college.

So yes, #MeToo. And Three. And Four. Like the beat of a dance you can’t stop.

Even years away from all that, I still wonder. Was I too flirtatious? Was I just so sexually powerful that the men couldn’t help themselves? I mean, that’s what some of them said.

“I’ve never done this before…”

“You make me so….”

Always my power making powerful men helpless.

Maybe they were just awkward at the flirtation dance, and not evil. Maybe they were just guilty of #MeToo Manslaughter and not #MeToo Homicide. Well, except for the rapist.

I asked my friends how they felt. Granted, the survey isn’t scientific and the “n” is almost nil, but I found it interesting.

I asked my friends to check all that apply and I did a different survey for women than for men, thereby probably invalidating the whole methodology. Still. Here are the results when asked how #MeToo made them feel:

Women:

Vindicated that women are finally being heard – 54.17%

Empowered -16.67%

Uneasy because not sure how this will play out – 45.83%

Angry that the issue is so widespread – 45.83%

Angry that these women are speaking out – 0%

Skeptical that there is such a widespread problem – 8.33%

None of the Above – 0%

 

Men:

Afraid to Interact with Women in Workplace – 0%

Neutral – Doesn’t affect me – 0%

Angry – These guys getting a raw deal -0%

Angry – Those poor women! -50%

Sad – Had no idea the problem was so prevalent -50%

Resolved to change my future behavior – 0%

None of the Above – 0%

Women added comments ranging from being traumatized at having to relive their own experience, to anger that the attention would be fleeting, to hopeful that we’d reached a tipping point. Men didn’t comment and – perhaps all my friends are really evolved males – but none doubted the women who have stepped forward.

I want to believe that some of these men being brought low – and I am NOT talking about people who brag about grabbing pussies, or who date girls so young they have to ask their mothers’ permission – but maybe some of them are just as clumsy at knowing the dance as I was. But I doubt it. Because I know that if these things happened to my daughter and not to my own young self, I would have no mixed feelings.

My dance of flirtation brought me the illusion of control. The difference, I think, is that most of these men have actual control. When you have the power in a relationship, the steps aren’t a dance anymore. A dance is choreography for two. #MeToo is an advance by someone with power, and retreat by someone without. It’s not a dance. It’s a goose-step. Complete, apparently, with goosing.

The survey is still open and I would love to hear your responses.

Women can take the survey here

Men can take the survey here

Sexual Harassment

 

 

Keeping It Juicy

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I’ve always wanted to start a salon. Not the place you get your hair cut, but the old-fashioned salon in which rich women (because it was usually women, and they were usually rich enough to have leisure) invited the cultural luminaries of the day to eat, drink and discuss.

When I was in college, I read the biography of Misia Sert, who had such a salon in Paris. She hosted Renoir, Monet, Debussy, and Toulouse-Lautrec. She became the muse for artists Vuillard and Bonnard.

I wanted to grow up to be Misia Sert. But my husband’s anti-social tendencies and my own hosting anxieties meant smaller and more infrequent gatherings than Misia Sert practiced.

Still, I wanted to be able to talk to smart, funny people even beyond my own smart, funny social circle.

And, so I’ve started a podcast.

I call it Keep It Juicy! because my ideal is to take great, ripping bites out of life and let the juices run down my arms like a ripe peach. I decided to target it at over-50s because, not only am I there myself, but it seems a bit too easy to keep it juicy when you are young and ripe yourself. And I started cold-calling people I’d only read about.

And they’ve said yes.

These are people who stare down fear or grief or anxiety, and step right through. They don’t back down or, if they do, they get right back up and take a different path. I call them “Juicys.”

And, somehow, in interviewing them and in stumbling through sound editing and recording and audio publishing, I’ve found my own “juicy” in life. And I’m going to keep on taking big bites.

Check out the podcast over on my Keep It Juicy! website.

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