Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Resources, Because We Can't Do It All On Our Own

And finally, some resources. Please chime in if you know of others, these are in no way exhaustive.

Let me say first that I have always had the High WASP suspicion of following one's bliss. Bliss is a rather untrammeled emotion. We don't feel comfortable in the world of untrammeled anything.

Another problem is that my bliss might lead me to try to get paid for sitting on the sofa, looking out the window. Or, as an alternative, lying on the sofa reading Us Weekly.

People will only pay you for what you do. Not for what you hope or dream. And people will only pay you for doing something they think has value. So if my bliss involves grandiose schemes and there be dragons maps of faraway places, I might hesitate. But if my bliss is a little friend, perhaps with fur, that shows up, takes my hand and says, "Just take the first step," well, that bliss I might follow.

In any case, it was a wise man who first said those words. To read more of Joseph Campbell's thoughts, you can start here.

Smith Barney famously said, "We make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it." If that inspires you, and doesn't make you want to hide under the kitchen counter deviled by feelings of inadequacy, look here.

For contrarian, cantankerous, brilliant writing about how to have an audacious career, (and life for that matter,) read Penelope Trunk. Her most recent post is on why she loves Kate Gosselin.

For what to wear to work and always feel confident, read Corporette.

For how to approach the topic of self-development, which may turn out to be necessary once you have figured out what you want, you can read communicatrix, The Happiness Project, or RealDelia. Even High WASPs have come to understand that humans have feelings, and that a stiff upper lip, or even a stiff gin and tonic, won't necessarily put everything to rest.

You can read a quote from The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work at even*cleveland, or EmilyStyle's excitement at her new career direction here.

If you are actually interested in my field of work, you have to read The Cranky Product Manager. Title says it all.

Or you can say never mind and instead pick up the phone and call someone you know. Who might know someone who knows someone who knows someone. And that someone will want to help you because, here's the thing, it makes them feel valuable and good at what they do.

My final piece of advice from the ripe old age of 52? Going on 53? Press Talk. Or Send. Or even Submit.

Now let's go find some more fun khaki.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Career Risk Changes With The Decade

Over the last two weeks I have been writing about my thoughts on how to address your career. You know what? It's exhausting. You can't Polyvore career advice, or Flickr it, or quip it. It's a huge topic, and in order to do any justice whatsoever, there's a bare minimum that has to be said. Plus I have to muster my declining testosterone and get all square-jawed. Phew.

But I'm almost done. At least for this go-round. There's one more really important idea.

Your risk profile changes over time. Getting off the sofa, literally or metaphorically, has a different impact at each decade of your life. Being 20 is not the same as being 30 which is not the same as being 40 which is not the same as being 50.

Risk is cheap when you are in your 20’s. It may not feel that way, my saying so may not lessen the usual panic, but I can promise you from the vantage point of 52 it’s true. Risk is still manageable in your 30’s, although less so. It gets much more expensive in your 40’s, especially if along the way you have decided to have children. At 50, it appears that in fact risk gets cheaper again. Probably because said children are usually on their way to their 20’s.

So. Here's a little cheat sheet on why we might do work stuff in each decade. Leaves out the blood and sweat and tears and joy but we are all struggling with information overload these days. So.
  • In your 20’s you are doing stuff to learn. It doesn’t matter too much what, as long as you do it with your eyes open.
  • In your 30’s you are doing stuff because this might be it (whatever it is). If it isn't it, notice that fact.
  • In your 40’s you are doing stuff because you are really good at it (whatever it is). If you aren't good at it, you could probably do better.
  • In your 50’s you are doing stuff because you have something to offer. Yes. In your 50's if it's been all about you up until now, that will change.
And as yet I don’t know why I will be doing stuff in my 60’s. With any luck because I like the way it feels. But probably in order to have enough money to retire on without worry when I hit 70.

And of course, if you didn’t get around to the tasks of your 20’s when you were actually 20, have at it later in life. After all, as they say, 30 is the new 20. I think if you push it 40 can be the new 20. But 50, mmmm, not so much. Still, that gives us a lot of time. Happy Monday everyone.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Honest Scrap Award From Little Bow Prep

Little Bow Prep has given me an award. She is a high school student, working hard and worrying, as most high-achieving high school students do, where she will go to college. And looking at fashion along the way. I am flattered to get an award from a teenager. It means I have not passed over to the land of old people who must be avoided. And I support her for blogging and slogging her way through the college admissions process. Thank you Little Bow, and BTW, clever name...

The award has rules, as these things do. I prefer, however, to call them requests. Here they are:
  • Each blogger to whom the award is given must post these rules (we will just call them requests...).
  • Each blogger to whom the award is given must list ten random facts/habits about themselves and pass the award on to other recipients.
  • The award recipients then need to do the same.
  • Don't forget to leave a comment telling the recipients about the award!
I would like to receive and pass on this award in the spirit of my current post thread, i.e. careers, because, no, I am not quite done. So. How about 5 not so random facts about my career to date?
  1. When I was in high school, my mother thought I would be a poet when I grew up. At 52, poetry is one of the few genres of literature that I don't much like.
  2. When I was in college, I wanted to be an actress. I still like to stand in front of an audience and talk, but I no longer want to perform as someone else.
  3. When I got out of college, I took classes at San Diego State in economics and calculus, to prepare myself for a future MBA. This turned out not to be necessary.
  4. When I took my first job after college I lived in London and worked for Sir Cameron Mackintosh (think Cats) for 6 months. He hadn't been knighted yet. I had nothing to do with his future success.
  5. The work assignments I have most enjoyed to date have been: running the team that launched a dot.com site, presenting on e-commerce to an industry conference, and leading a project that required rapid analysis of the nature of financial exchanges. I could have known I would like standing up and talking in front of people. The financial exchanges thing probably surprised everyone. Some things you can know in advance, some things you can't.
I would like to pass this award along to the following 5 bloggers. In this case, I am congratulating them for their initiative in starting new things and following through on what they began.

Vodka Mom at I Need A Martini Mom. She writes about her experience as a kindergarten teacher and tells very funny stories about what kids say. Recently there was apparently some consternation in her work environment about her blog, but she hasn't quit. Still making us all laugh.
Maureen at IslandRoar. Maureen lives on Martha's Vineyard (one of my all time favorite places) and just recently started up a blog. She is dedicated to writing posts that have real personal meaning. This is my favorite, about an older man she visits with.
Allie at Summer Is A Verb. Again, a fairly new blog, one that tells what I think of as the High WASP story from a lighter perspective with lots of fabulous stuff to covet including skin care, my personal weakness...
Colleen at communicatrix. Colleen is well-established in the advertising/marketing industry as a speaker and consultant but is doing the difficult thing of reaching out to readers to drive referrals. It's always hard to ask but it's always a good idea. Her blog is a good resource for personal growth inspiration.
Kate at love you big. Adorable crafts/art/little creatures from Australia. Recently she posted a new craft project every day in May. I admire her sheer persistence but true cuteness is an extra added benefit.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Morning At 6:17am

My daughter has finished her first week at the new job. She called me every day on the way home from work. I love to hear what she is experiencing, to imagine her in this new life, and to give advice. But I have been surprised by how often I have to say, "I don't know honey. It depends." Although I am more than familiar with corporate life, I lack first-hand information about her particular job, her company, its culture and processes. Companies are different and knowing how to navigate them requires direct and detailed observation. I will never have that opportunity. I met her high school teachers and her college thesis adviser. I highly doubt she will ever say the words, "I'd like to introduce you to my mother," to her boss. Can you imagine? I'd look him in the eyes and shake his hand. And let's say I showed up with something from the Oriental Trading company for my daughter's desk? No. No. Your kids get older, they do things you haven't done and will never do. Another reason to live a full life in your 20's. Takes longer for your kids to know more than you.

She did say that people liked her new shoes. Yeah. Old dogs have old dog tricks.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Khakis For The End Of The Week

Khaki is another High WASP all-time favorite color. The best kind of khaki trousers are the kind that show up in your wardrobe, coming from you know not where. Mystery khakis. They belonged to your son, or your daughter's friend. They are a little too big to wear anywhere but home. Walk in the front door, kick off your heels, drop the laptop case, purse, and car keys, go into your bedroom. Off come the navy blue linen pants and the white t-shirt and the work-appropriate bra. Off comes the makeup. Re-emerge in khakis, sane bra, tank top, flip flops. Go pour a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Wander out front and smell the second bloom of roses. Not as sweet as the first, but appreciated for their perseverance.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

What To Do Now Because Doing It At 50 Will Be Hard

  1. Sit down. Stand up. Sit down. Stand up. Silently. Don’t say "Ugh!" or "Umph." or "Oh..."
  2. Hurry. Walk fast and talk at the same time.
  3. Cook three courses while drinking a glass of wine.
  4. Decide that grad school was a bad idea.
  5. Ask someone a question. Remember the answer 10 minutes later.

*Or sing Thriller one last time, fall in love, bare your soul. If you were Michael Jackson. R.I.P.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Risk And What To Do About It

You may not like your career, now, or as you look into the future. If this is where you find yourself, you have two reasonable options, in my opinion. First, increase the amount of risk you are willing to tolerate and act accordingly. Adventure out onto the high seas. I have to tell you though, this is terribly difficult. This is to be or not to be, and screwing your courage to the sticking place, and once more into the breech dear friends. This is what the self-help people make a lot of money on. How gurus make their name. Why patients spend years with psychoanalysts. And at the end of the day tolerance for risk and stress may just be something built into your soul and not worth battling.

Your second option is to reduce the risk of finding a satisfactory career. In a systematic manner. Reduce the risk of failing at what you want to do. Reduce the risk of succeeding at what you don’t want to do, which can be almost as bad.

In some industries, where job requirements are known and rewards are high there is an ENORMOUS infrastructure built up to reduce risk, to winnow out those who can’t do the job. Law school eliminates those who can’t handle the workload of a law firm. Venture capitalists screen startup management teams. There are other such systems. Think hip hop producers. College and high school basketball scouts. American Idol.

For the rest of us, aiming for a career less visible or more spontaneous, we have only one option. We have to find stuff out. Get information. There is no other answer that I know. Not even the California summer. We have to find out what the jobs we think we want feel like day to day and what it takes to succeed. Then compare what you have found out to who you know yourself to be. That’s all I mean by, “Stories stories stories. Stories stories.” You are your very own American Idol. You have to assess, can I do it? And as important, will I like it? You cannot do that without knowledge. There’s enough risk in the world without adding your own by operating in ignorance. Even innocent ignorance. This isn’t news. I say this remembering the fear I felt at 23 about what I didn’t know. I wish I had known it was normal, not a flaw, not a weakness. Wouldn’t have made me unafraid, but would have made my feelings about my fear less powerful. Which is the equivalent of bravery.

So. How to find stuff out? Not complicated. Not always easy.

Mostly you have to get off the sofa. You can do some research in the virtual world and by all means should. But the majority of what you want to know you will learn from other people. Whom you will need to sit opposite and talk to. Of course the best thing is to simply find a job and try it. But the next best way is to talk to people who have the job already. Reaching out can be scary. I remember when I wanted to work in the New York theater management world I sent out 17 blind letters to producers and theaters. 17. Then I called every contact and asked if I could have an interview. I was terrified. But I was more terrified of sitting on the sofa. Oh, and I got a job. At the end of the day bravery is a series of pretty mundane actions. Actions and some of your time. Which if you don’t decide how to use will just pass from your hands like dried grasses at the end of a harvest. Rise up like gnats and move off in a cloud without direction.

None of this is brilliant. It is only naming what we already know and might be embarrassed to acknowledge. Or what we have been shamed into believing is our own lack rather than a universal response. By the time you hit 50 you may say to yourself, with a that tone we reserve for finally getting it, "Oh, wait, I see. Why did I worry so? What did I think was at stake?" If you haven't hit 50, here's a voice from your possible future. It's a friendly voice. It might even ask you if you'd like a cup of tea.


Apparently Navy Is Now "Indigo"

Retrogurl at nitro.licious posts this announcement from Lancome.
Yesterday in Paris, the Lancôme makeup team unveiled their latest fall 2009 color collection, Declaring Indigo. Created by Lancôme artistic director for makeup, Aaron De Mey, this collection celebrates Paris in all its vibrancy. Aaron chose shades that represent the glamour, the energy and the passion of Paris—indigo blue, bright red and luxurious gold.
Apparently navy blue, here in the "indigo" incarnation, is tres now. It's even being declared. You see, when you have the same style all your life once a decade you become moderately fashionable.

Apparently one can even pre-order a makeup bag with navy blue brushes. Excuse me, I mean indigo.

Just when I was ready to move on to khaki. Sigh.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fierce At 50, Or, The Risk/Return Curve

In two years of business school, I learned 10 things that were worth the effort. Approximately. Almost all of these fell into the general category of: find a problem people have, make or do something that solves that problem, do it better than anyone else, find a good way to explain why your way is better, and then find the people who care and tell them over and over and over again. Or that accounting is a terrible, terrible invention. Or that good team chemistry can make almost any assignment bearable.

Never mind that. In the interest of how to have a career that keeps you fierce at 50, introducing, for those who are lucky enough not to have gone to business school, the Risk/Return curve. It was developed by exceedingly smart economists (whose names I can't remember) to understand financial investing. Why use a concept from the impenetrable world of finance and investments? Think about it. Every job you take is an investment of your time. I sound like one of those mellifluous voices on public television speaking to rapt audiences of middle-aged women but I can’t help it. From the vantage point of my 50's, this is true. Your time is what you really have in life, and you choose where to invest it.

You can interpret the risk/return curve as follows. ON AVERAGE, those investments with the highest probability of a big return are also the riskiest. They are the ones who also have the highest probability of little or no return. They are volatile. Those investments which have ON AVERAGE the lowest return are the safest. Low risk, very predictable, equals probable low return. High risk, higher volatility, equals possible higher return. You invest on what they call the Efficient Frontier. Where you are taking the right amount of risk for the possible return. No more, no less.

How does this idea work to model your career? It doesn't mean that risky jobs earn big returns. It means that risky careers earn big returns. The careers where you go after jobs and opportunities where success is not guaranteed, or where success requires a big investment in time. To earn a lot of money and fame, the returns on investment for your career, you have to take risks. You can incur the risk of going to school for a long time, like law school, or the debt risk of starting your own business, or the statistical risk of trying for a career that millions of people want in athletics or entertainment or at the top of the corporate pyramid, or the sheer win-loss risk of pure financial investing. But risks have to be taken to be successful in the ways of recognition and fortune. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to make money from your gullible self. The fear you have of going after your heart's dream? It's logical. To be expected. You are supposed to be afraid. Risk/return.

However, careers differ from financial markets in several ways. Most importantly, one assumes that the financial Efficient Frontier is pretty much knowable. That the information is out there for you to locate yourself right on the black line. This is the concept of a perfect market (which of course is always being broken by greed and manipulation and regulation and deregulation but never mind all that terrible stuff that forced me to watch hours of Saturday Night Live when I was in business school in order to recover from the sheer horror). Morningstar and Motley Fool and people who are good with quantitative analysis put enormous amounts of data into enormous computers and get numberish things back. Betas. Standard deviations. Makes me say eek. That’s how risk/return is understood in finance.

Life, that little sucker, is not a perfect market. We do not have perfect information. No trading pits for jobs which generate huge amounts of data to be analyzed by huge computers. The information is much more qualitative. Harder to find. And this is the task. Increasing our access to information to balance our risk with our returns. To stay on our own efficient frontier.

I am not done yet. However, to make sure I mislead no one, let me say I would never claim to have universal answers. Living until 52 and then misplacing your job and spending an inordinate amount of time sitting on the sofa and staring out the window doesn’t provide answers. No matter how lovely the roses. Driving on the freeway and suffering from raptures of the open horizon and California summer doesn’t provide answers. Even solving the problems of notecards and envelopes doesn’t provide answers. Just a glimpse of framework. A mode of thinking that can pare away emotion from a problem and leave space to consider.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

High WASP Stationery

I went to the Stanford Shopping Center today, the center for casual, Californian, flowering luxury that it is. The best urns of glorious colored flowers to be found anywhere outside of manor house entryways. I was headed for Papyrus, for stationery. I have to write thank yous to some of my family back east.

The High WASP mass market default paper company is Crane. That part was easy. I found these note cards.

However, I was not comfortable. The lining of the envelope, although you cannot tell from this picture, is actually an opalescent blue. I tried to make my peace with it. For a few minutes. But I couldn't. High WASPs don't do opalescent before 6pm. The dragonfly in real life is an Art Deco sort of gold, blue and greenish. So I bought these envelopes too. Celery lining. Phew. Crisis averted.
Other acceptable options would have been plain cards with a gold pineapple. Or a gold bumblebee. But Papyrus didn't have them. So I went crazy with a colored dragonfly. It's tough making sure you keep to the code at all times. Unless you are gardening. Then it's an absolute free-for-all.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Award From Wedding Planning In Exile

Bride at Wedding Planning In Exile has given me this award. As it happens, I've received it before, but since I am a ninny and don't put these things in my sidebar, how should she have known? Were I adhering strictly to High WASP precepts I would say nothing, NOTHING, about how I had received this already and I would just carry on. But in this transparent day and age I would like to propose a modification. I will confess to prior receipt and I will say thank you. Thank you very much. Deeply appreciated.

Wedding Planning in Exile is, as she says, planning a wedding on the East Coast away from her beloved home in Colorado. She's one of the graduate students getting married crowd, that also includes One Barefoot Bride, Accordions and Lace, and Sweet Tea (fabulous New Orleans wedding pictures) as a post-grad student bride. I love graduate student brides, they deconstruct. As an extra added benefit, Exile knows a lot about wine and will tell you something she knows about said beverage on most Wednesdays.

I would like to pass this award on to five bloggers. That's about the maximum number of similar items I can hold in my mind at one time.

the class factotum speaks - Writes about a) her libertarian attitudes b) living in Wisconsin c) her engineer husband d) her cats e) her travels through Morocco and Latin America - all in a dry, mildly cantankerous, sharply intelligent, make me shout with laughter prose. I imagine she will cough sarcastically at the sight of this award.

The Peak Of Chic - Design blog with a High WASP seal of approval for all-around casual elegance vs. the current aesthetic that involves making chests of drawers over by covering them with paper the of the type we used to put into the bottoms of our kitchen drawers. Not that I'd tell you not to cover something with sticky paper if you want to.

Beach House Dreamer
- A series of beautiful pictures of beach houses. Who doesn't like beach houses? My family has owned three that might count over the years and I'm not tired of looking yet.

Polka Dots & Paisley - Ashley seems to have a rare truly good heart. I like to support her.

Stella's Roar - Jill lives in El Paso and recently asked her readers whether to wear a leopard patterned- or giraffe-patterned dress to the zoo fundraiser that requested women dress like "trophy" wives. It's kind of like if you are a fairly buttoned-up High WASP and you have a red-headed bombshell for a best friend who makes you margaritas and lends you her gold bikini. You'd really look forward to days by her pool.

Note that I tend not to give awards to the bloggers with hundreds and hundreds of readers, as I am not sure they will find value. But, I think in future I will post celebrating those people too. Just because you are famousish doesn't mean you don't like to be appreciated.


Saturday Morning At 6:47am

I'm sitting at my kitchen counter. It's old. 17 years old. Butcher block. Which means that by now it boasts some fissures, a burn mark or two, and various mottled patches. Don't get me wrong, I scrub my counter with reasonable frequency. I'd be embarassed not to. But wood seems to have a memory that cleaning substances and Scotch Brite can't erase. Hmm, I see what looks like a pen mark too. Old homework relic. Time to sand. Rub it down with mineral oil. One of those house tasks that you carry in the back of your mind thinking to take care of. Whether you do it or not, who knows.

Last night my son said, "This is one of the great kitchen counters of all time."

Being a parent of young children is such a large job. It's like a camping trip, you pack everything you can into a car and take it with blind faith out to the wilderness. You get there and realize that you have forgotten your flashlight but you have the cayenne. You make something spicy to eat and sit by the fire. When you get home, some day when you are putting away the laundry or sorting the mail, your kid tells you, "Mom, you know when you forgot the flashlight? That was one of the great camping trips of all time." It's not just that you can't tell if you are doing it right, it's that you don't get to say what any indicators that you are doing it right might look like.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Shoes With Navy Blue, Redux

In fashion, there are always arbiters. To me, east side bride is an arbiter of cool. She may not want to be one, far be it for me to insist. However, as professors always say, for the purposes of discussion, let's just say she's an arbiter of cool. And let's just say, in this case because it's true, that she said she was tired of Converse and couldn't I get some Bensimons or some Tretorns. So, always one to respond well to authority, like a good High WASP, I did. Lots of them. Delicious. Rather like a berry salad, only for wearing on your tootsies.

Slynnro is also an arbiter of cool, if you ask me, which of course nobody did. A different kind of cool. A Texas kind of cool. Luckily for us there are many different kinds of cool. She said she would wear these with navy.

I'd ask Kappa Prep what she might wear with navy, (not at her future wedding, there she says pink) as another arbiter of yet another genre of cool. But she is in India at the moment. Um, riding elephants.

I expect that you are all arbiters of one sort of cool or another. Enjoy whatever you put on your feet. I had thought High WASPs by law were not allowed to be cool. I had made my peace with that idea. My sister, however, is cool. I am not sure how she gets away with it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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Telling Stories

OK. So never mind software. Or User-Centered Development. I use software development as a reference because it’s my domain, my particular expertise. The method, however, works more universally. I know from hindsight. From what I didn’t know I wanted. From what I didn’t know I was good at. From what I didn’t know I couldn’t bear to do at all. I can tell these stories now that I am sitting on my sofa, at 52. I didn’t tell myself these stories when I was in my 20’s and 30’s because the stories of I want to have babies and the stories of I want approval and the stories of I am afraid to be turned down from what I really want were telling themselves too loudly in the back of my mind.

It turned out OK anyway. I'm not complaining. High WASPs really hate complaining unless they are as good at it as Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker. I am just giving you the benefit of what I know here on my sofa, since had I known it in my 20’s I imagine my path might have taken me further in a direction somewhat more native to my self. A luxury, but hey, I'm all about luxury. So.

Write stories about yourself. The tasks you like. The environment you are comfortable in. Write them in detail about specific tasks you enjoy. Write several. For example. “I wake up early in the morning, sit quietly at the kitchen counter reading the financial news and drinking tea. I think it’s fun to pay my bills – I can figure my weekly budget without using a calculator. I love this time alone, no one telling me what to do, my schedule is my own.”

If you are this woman you are great at numbers but I don’t think you would be happy at an investment bank. You might be good as Director of Finance at a start-up however.

Write more than one story. Write lots of task stories, about all aspects of your life. If you don’t like to write, tell stories to a friend, “I go to a party and find myself in the family room with 6-7 kids, reading stories. I listen to the sounds of the party goers and am glad to drop the burden of adult conversation. I have read these books 25 times before but I still enjoy them because it’s new every time a different kid hears the story for the first time.” Um, way big clue.

You also have to write or tell your goals. The goals you have for what your job brings you. Not the rewards of liking what you do, the task and life stories will make that clear. I mean the rewards you get on top of liking your work. Or, in many cases, instead of liking your work. Let’s be honest. The salary, the prestige, the identity. You have to be honest and comprehensive in this part of the process, just like you have to be accurate and detailed in the life stories part of the process. You can say that you just want meaningful work that benefits society but if you feel a bitter burn in your gut every time someone in a BMW drives by then you have lied to yourself. And you can say you want fame but if you cannot stand constant scrutiny you are setting yourself up for distress. And if you say you don’t care about achievement, or recognition, when really you are afraid to admit your desires because you fear failure, again, future distress is pretty much guaranteed.

All these many words are based on the assumption that what we want is some kind of peace, some kind of resting shape, to our work lives. Even if it’s a really busy peace. That we don't want to live our lives with a constant, restless, dissatisfaction. That we don't want an ongoing lifelong internal dialogue of shame, humiliation, anxiety and resentment because that above all sucks the soul out of you. That we want life to align and provide the opportunity for moments of sheer joy at doing some things well that reward us as we want to be rewarded. Or close enough. I never did believe the flyers that say "Make $100,000 in one month at your kitchen counter!" I have spent a lot of time at my kitchen counter on the telephone and no one ever walked up to me and gave me $100,000.

Let me be clear. Looking at what you want and what you are capable of you may realize that you aren’t going to be able to get everything on your list out of a career. The sheer joy of doing something well that you love may not happen in your formal job. But if you disaggregate your conceptual “Career," you can find other sources for what your actual career isn’t going to dish out. To my way of thinking that’s a reasonable outcome, as long as you can come to terms with it, but you won't know unless you tell the stories.

And no, I’m not done yet.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Color Shoes To Wear With Navy Blue?

You have a lot of choices for shoe color for navy blue clothing. Here are some pictures of a few options. Because, despite all the terribly serious talk about careers and lifelong satisfaction, the momentary glee of a good pair of shoes, matched perfectly for your circumstances with whatever you are wearing, cannot be discounted.

And why wear navy? Well, navy is the High WASP color of choice, right? Do you need proof? There's no question that it's the best suit color for women. As well as the perfect dinner party dress color. And, finally, the defining characteristic of the most beautiful, classic outfit to hit the runways in a while.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Back Story

Theories and constructs and analysis get you only so far in life. Other people's mistakes are much better learning opportunities. Here’s how I did exactly what I just said not to do.

When I got out of college I said to myself, “I know! I like theater, and I like to be in charge of things. I will go into theater management.” Nice try. Except the part of theater I liked was being on stage in front of many people. And the part of being in charge I liked was having everyone listen to me. And in theater management, real, marbles on the floor, theater management, you don’t get to act and nobody really listens to you. They listen to the talent. Which is as it should be. I made the mistake of taking the two blue velvet bags of “Theater” and “Management” and trying to put them together. Which landed me answering telephones, word processing (that’s what we called it in those days), and helping people who were to become movie stars learn their lines for Hamlet. Not quite what I had in mind.

Before I went to graduate school, I told myself, “I know! I like to write, and I am interested in business. I will go get a joint degree in journalism and business!” I applied to Northwestern and to Columbia, both of which had joint degrees, and flew off to India where I wandered around for 3 months writing my first newspaper article ever. When I returned, I had been accepted to Northwestern for both programs and to Columbia for an MBA. Rejected from Columbia’s journalism school. Unsurprisingly. It was the best program in the country at the time and I had never done a lick of journalistic anything in my life. I didn’t want to leave New York. So I went to business school. I was 25. I figured it would be a fun adventure. Little did I know.

At 52 I now understand that business journalism would have been the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I like to write, sure, but the part of business that interests me is the strategy, the structure of industries, or else the juicy gossip about who is a real jerk. Not what many business journalists get to write about. Business journalists mostly get to write about numbers. Numbers scare me. When business journalists write about people they have to be nice or public relations agents come and kill them.

Again, I took two bags of marbles, cats-eye, steel, speckled, and tried to make one big bag. When really what I wanted was just the speckled ones. I failed to disaggregate. I should either have gone back to business school for a Ph.D. so I could give endless lectures on strategy and industry structure, or I should have become a gossip writer. As I said, little did I know.

And no, I'm not done yet.


Fierce at 50, Or, User-Centered Development

What job? What career? I am not an expert. But I have had some great jobs, some truly horrific ones, and am now in a position to sit on my sofa and think. To ask myself, what could I have done differently in my 20’s and 30’s so that at 50 my career would be better than it is? Better for me that is. Me as I am.

It’s an enormous question.

The only way I can address enormous questions is to break them into pieces and go after each piece separately. Take the blue velvet bag of marbles labeled “Career”, throw all the marbles on the floor, and step back. Look at the patterns. The marbles are separate, the glass ones, the metal ones, the cat’s eyes, the blue ones, the rainbows. Then you lay the marbles out again. According to the patterns. Disaggregate. Refactor. Break down. Rebuild. Take that amorphous concept called "Career" and break it into the smallest possible meaningful ideas.

Don’t worry, I have a somewhat less abstract way to explain what I mean. Comes from software design. "Quelle surprise," as my mother would say. There’s a practice known as User-Centered Development. The theory is that if you want to design good business software, although it’s important to outline the General Manager’s goals, i.e. how much revenue she wants to bring in and what sort of costs she wants to reduce, most importantly you have to tell the story of the User and what task she is automating with the software. You have to break the User’s tasks down into her actual movements, thoughts, and needs. Throw those marbles right down on the floor.

For software, here’s a pretend example of a User Story to build call center software (real ones are much more detailed), “The User sits at her desk in a large room with 25 other customer service agents. She is drinking coffee and talking to her friend at the next desk. A call is forwarded to her from the central exchange. When she answers the phone the customers ask her questions such as, “How much is my bill…when did I pay last…can you apply my credit card to this bill…do you have my credit card number on file?” This story is very different than design begun by saying, “We need a drop down menu on the right hand side and then when you mouse over a button it turns yellow and the headers are all blue.” And of course even in User-Centered Development you need to define the General Manager’s goals very precisely, ROI, new customers accrued, market share, clicks, eyeballs, upticks, down dogs. Well no, but you get my drift. After all, it's the GM who pays the bills.

The problem in designing good software is that frequently the goals of the User and the General Manager conflict. The User would like to be sitting on a sofa, with a laptop, drinking coffee and talking to her friends. She wants to spend time with each customer because she actually thinks her job is customer service. As in providing service to the customer. The General Manager would like the User to be isolated in a virtual cubicle, or at least with headset on, taking call after call after call. Because the GM thinks the job is reducing cost of product support. But you won’t know if these goals conflict, if the tasks are not aligned, until you tell the stories. People like to live a large portion of their lives, particularly while working, in denial. They like to say what they want to be true, rather than what is true.

In terms of your career, you are both the User, and the General Manager. Your goals, too, will most likely conflict. You too will try to find a job by specifying that it be blue and has a drop down window in the corner and turns yellow when you mouse over it. And your User may rebel. They do, you know, generally in a quiet but devastating manner. Or your General Manager may want to fire everyone. Except you are everyone. You can train yourself. You can manage yourself. But it’s pretty hard to fire yourself.

And no, I’m not finished yet.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fierce At 50, Or, Having A Good Job Helps

I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently with young people about to take their first steps in the world. Otherwise known as 1100 new Princeton graduates sitting in chairs on a lawn in the sun. To say nothing of my daughter on the other side of the country getting ready to go to her new job. I’ve also recently had a reader do me the honor of asking if I had any advice on careers, as in, how to have one.

All of which has gotten me to thinking.

I do not believe there is any way around the reality that in order to be fierce at 50 you have to find a career that works. But once you figure out what clothes to wear, (nudge nudge wink wink), what else has to happen in order to have the kind of job which generates fierceness vs. draining it right out of your body? (As an aside I will point out right away that full-time homemaking is a career. Just not one that I know much about.)

Me, I’ve been alive for a while and I have had a lot of jobs. The ones that made me happy included; assistant to at a summer art class for 10-year olds (time spent making pretty things and when not making pretty things spent outside in the California summer), senior product manager at Sun Microsystems (working cooperatively and creatively with teams of terrifyingly smart people who thought I was wonderful), and VP of Product at a dot.com (leading teams of terrifyingly smart people who thought I was wonderful). The jobs that drained every ounce of my soul included; selling $1M/month contracts for industrial gases, (sitting in a car listening to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty trying to make myself cold call on yet another man who touched valves and pipes for a living), group marketing manager for a wunderkind (took me through Europe in a private jet and made me leave my children behind for two weeks), and VP of Product Management for a software company (had to lay off 25 people including one man who was at his wife's bedside in the hospital and had a very smart subordinate who was good enough at trying to take my job that he made me miserable but not good enough to ever actually get me released from that employment).

So how then could I have known in advance which were the soul-suckers? Most of them were in high tech, right? How to know which jobs would make me get up early and walk happily to the train station? Which jobs would bring me home at night stunned, unable to speak, looking forward only to too many glasses of wine?

Well there’s the question. I’m getting to it. But this is somewhat tougher than what shoes. As you might imagine.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Why, Were I 20, I Might Not Be So All About Navy

Via simple + pretty, the Isaac Mizrahi resort collection

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Sister's New Clothes

My sister, aside from being one of my best friends in the whole world and completely adorable, is exceedingly well-educated. She has a BA from Harvard, a JD from Berkeley, and an MSW and PhD from Berkeley too. As you might expect, her work involves other extremely well-educated people. And, in fact, in her new job she is supervising PhD students.

She called me the other day and said, "I'm dropping [x=10x cute daughter] off at Dad's house and I should be free at 12:30 and will have about 2-3 hours. Can you meet me at the shopping center? I need clothes for the new job."

As you can imagine, I met her there. We ran through Nordstrom and Banana Republic, at top speed. She had made the tour of J. Crew a few days before. And here's what she came up with.

If we deconstruct, this says, I am a manager (I wear a jacket), I am professional and in the mainstream (Banana Republic, J. Crew, Kate Spade), but I am just a little bit alternative, a little bit counter culture (the shoes). That's appropriate for graduate students in social work.

The deconstruction strikes some as complicated, or having a dress code. It might be complicated, but there's no code. It's just the High WASP highly-sensitized social signaling function. You want to make clear who you are and what you are doing, but you don't want to offend anyone. You really don't want to offend anyone. Said out loud, it sounds intricate. Lived, it feels articulated. Right.

BTW I left out all the periods in the degrees because it was just way too many...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Morning At 8:22am

Took the kids to the movies last night. The 21-year old and the 19-year old both wanted to see Up. Luckily I did too.

I cried through the first part. But I won't spoil it for others. I was terrified through the second part. Turns out that people who are scared of airplanes are really scared of flying houses. I laughed through the third part. Talking dogs, rainbow birds, and 10-year old cartoon boys will do that. I was terrified again through the fourth part. Dirigibles are just as bad as airplanes and flying houses. And cried again in the end.

By the time we left the movie theater I was a sweaty mess. We went for dinner. We had Lebanese food. I am wildly allergic to chickpeas. Had to make my way through the menu in a here be dragons mode. Managed not to blow up like a puffer fish. Phew. Living on the edge, I'll tell you.

Have a lovely weekend.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Neighborhood Rapture

I went on a walk in my neighborhood yesterday morning. First I passed a boy and a girl playing in a front yard. I could hear them chattering in the language of Pretend. “Let’s say we went to the movies, OK?” Pretending to go to the movies as they skipped across their lawn. Then I passed a park. A Chinese grandmother swinging her granddaughter. An Indian grandfather swinging his grandson. California is diverse. I like that.

On the next street I passed a medium-sized girl playing basketball in her front yard. She lost control of her ball and it rolled into the street. I bounced it to her. It was pink. I passed another park. A little toddler with a head of ringlets and lovely toddler cheeks, playing with her nanny and wearing purple heart-shaped sunglasses, waved at me. Repeatedly. While smiling.

Then I passed a young couple kissing and giggling in their driveway. She had on a short black dress and espadrilles with black ties. I don’t know what he wore, I didn’t want to stare. Ahead of me was a woman walking too. About my age. She had a great figure. Good for her.

As I came around the final corner to loop back to my house, I saw that more neighborhood kids had come out. 5 or 6 of them were across the street in front of a yellow house. The big boys, say, 9, 10, 11, were shooting each other with Super Soakers. Then they mustered the younger kids who gathered, waiting, at the side gate to the house. Waiting obviously for someone to come out of the gate. And get ambushed by squirt guns at 9:30am on a Thursday morning.

Today I went for another walk. Twice people asked me for directions, contractors looking for my very own cul-de-sac, once a mother looking for daughter’s dorm room at Stanford University. I knew the answer both times, because I live here.

Life is just so fun.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness Of The First Job

My daughter starts her job in a week and a half. As I have said before, it’s a real job. A talent development program, with health insurance. A great first step towards figuring out what role work will play in her life. Pays enough that she can live on her own. A very significant event, both as recognition of her accomplishments to date and as a platform for the future.

So needless to say I took her shoe shopping.

We went to a Marshall’s Megashoe something or other. This is not my territory. I usually buy Ferragamos or Stuart Weitzman from Nordstrom or even Neiman Marcus. I tell everyone that it’s because they are the only shoes that fit me, but probably those years of my mother taking us to Saks and having Mrs. Bailey find us clothes have left me psychologically damaged for the world of bargain shopping. Luckily my daughter has no such scars.

We got her a pair of black chunky-heeled open-toed slingbacks, a pair of tan and black delicate-heeled closed-toe slingbacks, and a pair of orange flats. Kind of like these. But way cheaper.

When I first started working I had no one to help me at all. No one in my family would have had any idea what shoes I needed to wear at work, much less how to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, or what career I was temperamentally suited to. After all, High WASPs aren’t supposed to have jobs, per se. We might have a profession, but we wouldn’t call it a job. I’m not complaining. After all I had my inheritance. Reasonable tradeoff.

Except of course that I turned out to need the money.

So I made my own way. Another story. What strikes me as funny now is that at 26, in my first summer MBA job, I worried most about what to wear. And what to do about my hair. I still remember my greige silk skirted suit and dark blouse with self-tie. I struggled with a curling iron, trying to give myself the hair I thought a proper MBA-possessor ought to have, thinking that if I could only get the look right, everything else would follow. Quite silly, really. Since in that first job the regional sales office politics were so severe I was nothing but shark bait. Throw me in the water, make me bleed, see who surfaces, shoot the ones with large teeth. If I died in the process, who cared? I was chum (obscure word of the day), albeit chum with well-curled hair.

But I survived that summer. And did eventually figure out the process for how to get the right look. Like this. Start by wearing the ultimate neutrals. Keep your head down, watch the natives, evolve into the shared culture of your work environment. Works every time and it’s worth it. For a woman at work the more anxiety you can eliminate about “Do I look OK?” the more energy you will have to fight the larger wars of petulant customers, dumb managers, and conniving subordinates. Oh, and I eventually figured out what to do when you are supposed to be shark bait. But that’s another story.

So I took my daughter shoe-shopping. Then we got manicures and pedicures. What color? Pale pink. There is so much advice to be given that sometimes it’s best to start with the manageable.

Black sandals: Aerosoles
Orange flats: Michael Kors via Shoes.com
Spectators: Magdesians via Zappos
Nail polish: Essie Mademoiselle via Nordstrom

Advanced shoe deconstruction.
Open toes? Orange? How are these neutrals? The answer is that when you are young a little lightheartedness in shoes is actually better than showing up all-Ferragmo'ed out. As long as you keep the associated clothing very conservative you will look respectful but like you know your position. Except maybe in law. Or finance. Not my field, either of them.

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A Brief Moment Of Navy. Maybe Two.



But not together. It's not advisable to match your housewares.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

High WASP Secret Code, Or, What Not To Say

I wanted to respond to comments made here by Julia and Judy. Judy asked me if High WASPs joined organizations like the DAR and the Knights of Cincinnati. Julia asked me if my interpretation of my cousin's remark about my dress had been correct. These two questions are in fact related.

High WASPs are characterized more by what they don't say than by what they do say. We don't mind if you join the DAR or the Knights of Cincinnati but please do not post documents confirming your membership anywhere we can see them. You may mention your membership, but only in very limited circumstances, and the mention must be accompanied by a sheepish or ironic grin.

We won't tell you outright that you are declasse when you wear the wrong clothes but we most likely will think it. Unless you come from another land altogether. In that case we may withhold judgment. If, however, you are from our culture we may say things to you like, "What did you wear to your OTHER dinners?", which will imply very carefully that what you are wearing now is a little less than perfect.

I have a theory as to why this is so. I have absolutely no proof, but never mind. When High WASPs came to America we were mostly merchants. Or preachers. Or cheese-makers. We weren't the aristocracy. In fact we were directly prevented for the most part from becoming the aristocracy, unless we went off to the Crusades to bring home loot for our lords, thereby nearly getting ourselves killed. As we accumulated wealth in our new country, we wanted to show off our new positions. But since no titles were anywhere to be found, and since aspiring to the aristocracy was deemed traitorous to the new ideals of the new America, we invented a secret code and a way of speaking and not speaking that made us insiders and, by default, everyone else outsiders.

Things have changed and are changing, mostly for the better. The world has become, on the whole, more socially mobile, more open. The Junior League now does many more good works, and much less elite social signaling. Basketball players, musical artists, hedge fund managers, and software architects are the new High (although I don't think a little training in manners would be such a bad thing). The secret language of the High WASP is fast becoming obsolete, like certain kinds of dialects once spoken in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.

Even what I say on this blog has always been taboo to discuss amongst my cohort. The secret code meant it was certainly not discussed outside the cohort, at least, not by us. I now mean no disrespect. There just comes a time in your 50's where you understand, finally, that one day you will leave this world. That one day you will become just one person among many in one generation among many. My kind are fading away. However, I believe that some ideals of the High WASP culture are worth hanging onto, doing a good job, showing up on time, never showing off. I also believe that in the public consciousness those ideals have been woven inextricably into images of Babe Paley by her pool, 3-strand 8-9mm pearls, and Jackie O's sunglasses. I'm deconstructing as best I can. As the only form of commemoration I know.

Everything I say is true. I don't know if it matters. That's OK. Life is short.

*Not that I don't just love that photo of Babe Paley...

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Story Of Our Dinner In Northern New Jersey

On the Wednesday after my daughter’s graduation we drove to stay with my 82-year old 2nd cousin once-removed-in-law whom I had not seen in 31 years. She put together a dinner party for us. She invited her son, his girlfriend, her daughter, her daughter’s husband, and a few other people from my father’s youth.

I had visited her and her husband fairly often while an undergraduate at Princeton. Unfortunately I spent much of my time uncomfortably watching the glamorous side of my High WASP family wear clothes I didn’t own and have conversations I couldn’t grasp. Her son and his friends lived in New York, they were the Gossip Girl cast grown up, they were Bright Lights, Big City, they were the late 20th century version of This Side of Paradise. In those days I was not far removed from the girl who showed up at Princeton with a bandana on her head. Sure, I was High WASP, but as the daughter of a slightly left-wing professor from Northern California, at that point I had the High WASP horror of being inappropriate without the specific expertise in how to avoid it.

But last Wednesday I had fun. I had fun as we all gathered in the garden room where someone in a white jacket poured us drinks. I had fun on the patio where someone in a white jacket brought us cheese and crackers. I had fun at the dinner table, set with what appeared to be family china, and ornate silver candelabras with hanging crystals, and what appeared to be Louis Comfort silver centerpiece holders. Where several people with white jackets served us dinner. To my surprise, my discomfort is gone. It’s gone. It turns out that, after 30 years of life rubbing down your raw edges, you can go home again.

A fashion deconstruction of Wednesday night might make this all clearer. I didn’t have the right clothes to wear. And I knew it. All I had was a green patterned silk jersey shirt dress from Banana Republic. Which I had thought to wear for my daughter’s graduation but left in my suitcase in the face of an early thunderstorm.

The other women came, almost all of them, in sherbet colored dupioni silk pants and jackets with striking Kenneth Jay Lane type jewelry. I’d show you pictures but these kind of clothes do not appear to exist on the web in 2009. The only other woman who forgot to board the dupioni train wore a Tory Burch tunic and jeweled sandals. She was from New York. That explains it.

My cousin even asked me, in that indirect way, what had I worn for dinners during graduation? As in, why are you wearing that dress, surely you must have had to dress appropriately on other recent occasions? I didn’t mind. Do you hear that? I wore the wrong clothes and I didn’t mind. Quite remarkable. I felt in that moment that if you are in a group of people for whom you feel nothing but affection, and you give your affection freely, and you look them in the eyes and shake their hands as I was taught when I was little, all can be well. All manner of things can be well.

The next day I told my cousin that the table setting had been so beautiful and she told me it was all inherited, except the china, they had bought the china. Sometimes things are terribly profound and sometimes they are not and you do not usually get to choose.

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Things You Don't Forget

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Long Drive Back From My Mom's House, #2

We drove back from Santa Barbara yesterday. Got home after 11pm, past my bedtime certainly. Nephew's team played in the consolation round of the tournament, winning their final game in a penalty kick phase after one period of overtime. I was aghast that they had 9 and 10 year old boys facing the anxiety of the penalty kick, an anxiety so severe and existential that a book has been written and a movie has been made about it. However, like many things fraught with the potential for existential anxiety it turned out to be just fine. Nephew was first up on his side and made his kick. I may have cheered and pumped my fist in the air, which might have caused my son to look at me with that special, "My mother is a doofus" smile. But it was worth it.

We stopped for dinner in Pismo Beach. I had seen for years a place above the freeway called F. McClintock's. Decided yesterday to investigate. Turns out it was a Dining Saloon. The 30-foot cowboy statue out front should have provided a strong clue. The menu consisted mostly of medium-sized and larger-sized pieces of beef. Those patrons who were not wearing cowboy hats were on the heavy side. Makes you understand that the American diet was made for cowhands, who must use up 10,000 calories/day wrangling cattle and riding around on bumpy horses. My daughter said, "Mom, why are there cowboys at a beach town in California?" She didn't know that central California is all about cows and just happens to touch the ocean at Pismo Beach. She will learn.

The waitstaff was incredibly cheerful and the beef was delicious and a good time was had by all. I was a little put off by the head of a hairy pig that was affixed to the wall above me, but I got past it.

When we got back on the road the sun was setting. The skies got darker and darker until it was night. Somewhere in the middle of the drive, somewhere with no towns, not even any cows, we hit a radio station playing Motown. My son is a Motown expert. Even he heard songs he didn't know, but mostly it was the usual suspects. The Supremes, "You Can't Hurry Love." Junior Walker and the Allstars, "Shotgun." Mary Wells, "My Guy." I can't think of too many things better than Motown on a California freeway late in a dark night.

Little boys and girls playing sports happily, cowboys feeding the rest of us meat, and Motown on a freeway. I say bring on the amber waves of grain. It's kind of corny but I can't help it. Some times I just love America .


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Saturday Morning at 7:19am

I am at my mother's house in Santa Barbara. On my step-father's computer. Sitting at his desk. It's a Swedish antique with a shredding leather top, embossed with letterpress wedding invitation-type flourishes. The desk, of course, not the computer.

I can see the ocean out the window, across a narrow strip of lawn, over the hedge at the end of the property, past a palm tree. The ocean lying flat and gray blue out in the distance. Fog and the Santa Catalina islands beyond.

My kids are sleeping over in the guest house. My sister's older kids are sleeping upstairs. My sister and her husband and her toddler are already awake watching a cartoon movie about talking backhoes. Privilege has little impact on some things.

Later today I will go with my son and watch my sister's older boy play soccer. Seven little boys on his U-9 soccer team. They will run all over the field and kick balls and bump into each other. My nephew has blonde hair that falls below his shoulders. I am sure that when he plays he puts it in a ponytail. Another lovely ponytail incarnation, little boys playing sports in California. I can't wait to see all those knobbly boy knees and to stand next to my son and tease him and remind him of how much he hated it when I cheered him from the sidelines. One of the remembered joys of motherhood, the part when you cheer and when your not-yet-teenaged son scowls at you from the field.

Have a wonderful weekend.

*Ooops. It's the Channel Islands. Santa Cruz Island to be exact. We have a lot of Santas in California...


Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Story Of My Daughter's Graduation

Tuesday I woke up early. I lay in bed. I knew that if personal beauty were my first priority I ought to wash my hair. And then blow it dry. But I hate blow drying my hair because it makes my arms hurt to hold them up over my head for that long. I decided not to bother. I justified my decision as follows. Justification #1. Due to jet lag, inordinate sensory stimulation, Katie Couric, drunken people in the streets late at night, and a comically loud air conditioner at the Nassau Inn, I had not slept much and was too tired to get up any earlier than absolutely necessary. Justification #2, I have read that washing your hair too much is bad for it, especially old lady hair. Justification #3, what’s the point of long hair if you can’t wear a ponytail? Justification #4, (had I needed more by that point), no one would care. Hair in a ponytail. So be it.

If personal beauty had been my first priority I would also have worn something memorable. Complications. The event took place in New Jersey. Where it rains. Where it is on occasion horribly hot. Sometimes both. Without warning for either condition. And I live in California, where it never rains at the same time that it is horribly hot. So I don’t own enough clothing to have smashed into my small suitcase all that would have been required to cope with these eventualities. Add the problem of having to walk around hither and yon and it might become clear what course of action I took.

Commonly known as throwing in the towel and going with a few unfair advantages.

I wore my 25th Reunion hat. A straw hat. Which has a band of tigers around the crown. Hideous, second only to my Reunions jacket covered in Tommy Bahamas tigers that somehow I left at home. The hat made it clear I was an alumna. Position of strength. Helped to counter any tendencies toward social anxiety. Navy linen Giorgio Armani pants and a navy cotton v-neck t-shirt from Target. Yep, Target. Target represents some of the best characteristics of America. No shame. Besides, I have blue eyes and navy happens to make my eyes look very blue. Position of strength #2, maybe even #2.5 except that I don’t get the thrill out of a Target bargain that I should. I wore flat closed toe shoes with a black trench coat and I carried an umbrella. I hate getting wet feet especially when grit gets caught between the sole of my foot and the innards of my shoes. Position of strength #3.

In fact, I did know that this graduation was not about what I wore. Not that my knowledge saved me from worry altogether but on the day that I become the Buddha I expect trumpets and so far the heavens are silent.

Tuesday turned out to be rather similar to much of motherhood, where events of inexorable significance unfold as you think about who might be thirsty, and does everyone have sunscreen, and who brought the camera, and how did I come to be holding all the important pieces of paper and the garbage at the same time?

I have watched my daughter from a distance during events with large audiences many times. It is always about catching sight of her red hair. The color of a new penny. Almost pink in spots, gold in others. I caught sight of her hair this time too. Her boyfriend’s mother took a picture. She is waving, her face turned towards us. Today I remember the thunderstorm that caught me standing in line, the heat where we sat not noticing that we wouldn’t be in the shade when the sun came out, the long speeches, and the curious sense of sinking in the numbers of people, lost below the current of the group meaning, like a little fish in a stream. My real priority in all of this, the reason I waited in line, and wore comfortable shoes, and sat mistakenly in the sun, was getting a picture of my daughter on this day. Done.

The graduating part, well that she had taken care of herself, really.
"Denique, parentes, ego tutus vos. Pro vacuus vestri diligo quod porro - patientia nos non polleo ut exsisto hic hodie. Nos, discipulus Princeton, gratulor vobis totus."

*The salutatorian gave an address in Latin. In English this means, "Thanks Mom and Dad!"

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Class of 2009

I am back in California where the sky is blue and the clouds are high and white and somewhere someone is mowing their lawn. My daughter has graduated from Princeton. My son is down the hall calling me to see his photos of Belgium and Paris and my best friend's family. My daughter comes home tomorrow for 10 days before returning to New Jersey to start her new, actual, pays a salary, has health insurance, job. Amazing. I go in to work for a day before heading down to Santa Barbara for the weekend with my mother, her husband, my youngest sister, her husband, their three astonishing children and my son and daughter. My life is not without its troubles as we all have troubles but at this moment, sitting at my kitchen counter in the late afternoon light, I feel with full certainty that I am a very fortunate woman.

I have stories to tell. Graduation and thunderstorms and sun so pressing I had to retreat humbly to the shade. Dinner with my father's side of the family, in Northern New Jersey, drinks outside on a flagstone terrace, cheese and crackers served by people in white jackets, the table inside set with candelabras, and china that changed with the course, and centerpieces of wild brambly berries of some sort and trailing greenery falling out of small silver bowls.

But these can wait. I want you all to know that I am also a very fortunate woman in that I have you to listen to my stories. It is a privilege. I thank you.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Katie Couric. Who Knew?

We heard Katie Couric speak yesterday at Class Day. She is now an honorary member of the Princeton Class of 2009. I had no idea who she is. I mean, I knew the name. But I don't watch morning television. Or the evening news, for that matter. So I had no idea about the woman herself.

My mistake. You know how sometimes you hear someone speak in public and it feels as though the two of you are sitting in your kitchen, or your office, just talking? And how rare that is? Who knew.

She said at one point, specifically to all the young women, that she imagined they wanted to have families. But, she said, just remember that things don't always turn out the way you expect. She went on to explain about her husband's early death, and how she was widowed at a fairly young age with two kids. How being able to make her own living was critical for her and for her daughters. Then she told the story of how many times she failed in her career even as she has succeeded.

I appreciated these messages to my daughter. And the meta-message, that even as you address several thousand people, and talk to millions on TV, you might be able to find a way to keep your authentic voice.

Thanks Ms. Couric.

Signed, Your New Fan.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Sitting in Princeton

Sitting in the Yankee Doodle Tap Room of the Nassau Inn in Princeton waiting to have breakfast with my daughter. Kind of says it all, no? Beautiful late spring day in the Mid-Atlantic region but in the way of places where weather isn't always wonderful, I am underground. The table of my booth is dark wood. Initials carved in everywhere. I know I am sitting in centuries of tradition, but since it's my turn to see my daughter graduate, at this point I have to make myself notice much of anything else. Sort of like, oh look, Michelle Obama is on the wall, well, that's great, where's D, what will she want for breakfast? Waiting to see that red hair round the corner. And I just spilled hot tea on myself. Right. Back to the centuries of tradition. Dark wood. Initials. I wonder if any of the people who did the carving spilled tea on themselves?