Brave

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A few weeks ago, I posed for a publication that I write for and I did it with no makeup. The magazine, Skirt, is one I write for regularly and this was their “Age Is Not An Issue” issue. So, I trusted them when they asked me to pose with no makeup. I even talked a friend into doing it with me.

Afterward, I heard lots of “how brave” comments. My friend and I were on the older end of the photo shoot spectrum. The youngest was a reality TV star who has done some modeling and the ones in between could all be models, if they aren’t already.

So maybe the comments were because I was an old broad without apology and without blush. As though I had shown not just my makeup-free face, but some more intimate part of myself.

That was not comfortable.

But it was not brave.

Here’s what’s brave:

The woman who survived a childhood as a Rwandan refugee and grew up to write the beautiful, “The Girl Who Smiled Beads.” If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. I thought I understood what it must be like, but I had no idea.

Brave is anyone who has kicked cancer’s ass, and anyone whose ass has been kicked by cancer.

Brave is anyone who deals with depression or mental illness and is still here and still fighting.

People who have been kicked in the teeth by love but still believe that true love is out there? They are brave.

People who have been bullied or abused who figure out a way to make that violence stop before it gets its oily fingers on another generation. Those people are brave.

And if you stand up to a bully or an abuser, whether you’re the one being abused or whether you just see it happening? That’s brave.

It’s brave to take the time to talk with a homeless person, especially if they stop long enough to make eye contact. I remember reading a book forever ago by Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children, that quoted a homeless man as saying that the worst thing about being homeless wasn’t the cold or the hunger; it was the feeling of being invisible. When you spend your days with no one meeting your eyes, you start to question whether you are there at all.

People who figure out what it is that scares the hell out of them – could be jumping out of an airplane, could be public speaking – and goes ahead and does it. They’re brave.

Anyone who has the grace to speak honestly but kindly is brave.

All of those things are brave. But showing my face without makeup? That’s not so brave. I may look more tired than normal in that photo or older. But it’s not a brave face.

Curious…what does “brave” mean to you?

Age Is Just A Number by Jenn Cady Photography

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Guilt-Shaming for Charity

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Let’s talk social media. Not the Russian infiltration or the zombie screen-starers it has made of all of us. I want to talk torture by my friends, wonderful people who ought to know better.

First, I have a confession to make: I didn’t get you anything for your birthday. You and I don’t have that kind of relationship.

I do celebrate the day you were born – you wouldn’t be my friend if I didn’t feel that way. But we don’t have the kind of friendship where we get each other birthday gifts.

So, why, I have to ask you, did you think I would send money to your favorite charity in lieu of the gift I was never going to get you?

If you’re like me, your social media feeds are filling up with virtue. This friend and that friend are saying that, for their birthday, they are raising money for their favorite charity. Well, bully for them.

I have my own charities. They’re meaningful to me because of the things I’m passionate about. Animals. Children. The environment. And when I am feeling charitable, I give to them. But I’m not expecting my passions to be yours. You do you.

And, while I’m at it?

No, I won’t post photos of book covers or album covers. I know these people mean well too, but honestly, life’s too short for me to play these reindeer games of tag-you’re-it online.

And that goes double for prayer chains, angel chains, cut-and-paste-this-content posts and the WORST – the self-pitying “I’ll bet you won’t read to the end because you’re not a real friend.” No. Just stop.

You may believe in prayer. Cool. I believe in energy and sending good, loving energy and that’s probably pretty close to prayer. And I will send positive energy out for loved ones or even friends’ loved ones who are in trouble. But don’t blackmail me into it. Don’t guilt me into prayers, because that kind of thing? It’s bad energy, and it’s the opposite of prayers.

And, as long as I’m being cranky, here’s my final plea. No more photos of abused animals. I think people who abuse animals should be sent straight to hell, stopping only long enough for some in-kind torture along the way. But I can’t bear the photos. They don’t help the animals, and any monster who tortured an animal in the first place? They’re beyond the ability to be shamed on social media.

My birthday is in March. But you can give me my gift now. Do something nice for yourself. If that means giving money to charity because you enjoy the endorphin rush of helping others? Go for it. Just don’t tell me about it.

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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.

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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

 

 

Be Still

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In the pre-dawn hours, the thunder snarled right above my roof. One of my dogs trembled and burrowed into my side. A particularly loud clap began with a boom and ended with a sizzle, and then my bedroom was suddenly darker than dark.

The power had gone out, taking with it the glowing alarm clock numerals, the lights on the box next to the television that does magic I can’t explain, the nightlights aimed low for our aging dog’s nighttime navigation.

And, with the darkness, a silence so thick it felt like another blanket on this summer night. Between the cracks and grumbles of thunder, it seemed as though even nature had paused to listen; no night birds, no wind to ring the chimes outside my bedroom window, no errant yowl of a night creature. Just silence.

Gradually, I could see the darker outlines of my two dogs, of the frame of the closet door. And, as my eyes adjusted to the black around me, my ears too adjusted. I heard the restless shifting of the frightened dog on the covers next to me. I heard the undisturbed breathing of my husband, seemingly able to sleep through the storm. And I heard my own breath, a lullaby of steady rhythm.

Sights too often overshadowed by electronics, and sounds too often drowned out by hums and clicks of our everynight life.

In an essay about the book called, “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere,” author Pico Iyer is quoted as advocating for, “sitting still as a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”

So last night, between thunderbooms, I fell back in love.

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Leave the Gun AND the Cannoli – Grab a Book

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We are all so very angry today.

If you’re not for us, you’re a-gin’ us.

We are all so righteous and we are angry that the “other” cannot concede our obviously correct point of view that we spew vitriol on social media and to our friends.

Stupid President (either the current or the past, depending on where you stand). Stupid Congress. Stupid Bigot, Stupid Racist, Stupid Sexist, and Stupid Snowflake Liberal.

The truth is, we are as unable to see others’ truth, as they are to see ours.

This kind of anger and frustration leads some to pick up a pen, others to pick up a gun.

The solution might be to read a good book.

A 2006 study cited in a recent Wall Street Journal article says that psychologists in Toronto found a connection between reading fiction and being more sensitive to others.

For people who read fiction (and it seems that it had to be fiction) that transported them – the kind of transport that jolts you when the book ends and you find yourself back in your room – there was an increased ability to see the world through others’ eyes.

Another study three years later reproduced the study but stripped away variables like age, gender, stress or loneliness, and English fluency. They found that fiction readers had higher levels of empathy (and, interestingly, better social networks in real life).

A later study in 2013 refined the findings down to genre – literary fiction that requires the reader to figure out characters’ motivations using more subtle cues had the most empathy. It seems that trying to figure out what the flawed protagonist is going to do next is good practice for trying to read our fellow humans.

A much-loved quote from the movie, “The Godfather,” is to “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” While I love pastries, we might all be better off if we “Leave the gun AND the cannoli. Pick up a book.”

 

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Catching Creativity

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(Editor’s Note: This appeared initially as a blog for SKIRT Magazine)

I was never much good at catching fireflies.

In my youth, fireflies would twinkle in the soft light, creating magic on the back lawn.

My cousins would burst out into the twilight, armed with glass baby food jars, their legs streaked with the blood of the last swatted mosquito like some kind of warpaint. The evening would be filled with the fwop-fwop sound of their palms slapping to seal the fireflies inside the jars. They compared who would have the brightest firefly nightlight at their bedside.

I would wander much more slowly through the dew-slick grass, an ambler where my cousins were marching warriors. The fairy lights attracted me but once I captured a firefly, it looked puny in its glass prison, its magic diminished with captivity.

Eventually, I let the fireflies be.

As an adult and a writer, I found that the bright sparkle of creativity too would diminish the harder I tried to tame it. Grabbing onto a muse was like trying to pick up a raw egg yolk with your fingers – it slipped and slid just out of your grasp.

Creativity is supposed to be a spark, implying that you can just strike two blunt things together repeatedly until it happens.

It doesn’t work that way for me. I can’t force creativity directly. I can’t even sneak up on it. If I stare at it directly, it wisps away. I can only catch it out of the corner of my eye and let it sneak up on me.

Creativity sparks when I shamelessly eavesdrop on other people’s dramas, the tears of an overwrought stranger watering my creativity. It sparks when two disparate things suddenly seem related, like butterflies and physics. And it sparks when it is most inconvenient – nudging me awake at 3 am to get up and capture a scene or a dream.

But, the times I sit alone before dawn at my keyboard, hammering out the words that seem to come at the speed of light?

Creativity hovers like a bright cloud of fireflies.

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