Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bridezillas and Self-Love

The other day Davie and I watched the TLC show "Say Yes to the Dress." It focused on one very high end bridal store and the "consultants" who work there, trying to match brides with their perfect gowns. Needless to say, it confirmed our idea--shared by many--that weddings these days have truly gotten out of control.

As I watched middle class families pick out $9,100 designer dresses for one day's use, I struggled to figure out how all this fit with the big picture of a woman's wedding day. True love...romance...a celebration of lifelong intimacy...sure, the elements are there for one mighty important day. But the brides on this show exhibited a true sense of desperation, even panic, when it came to choosing the right dress. Why should one little ingredient in the day be so crucial, I asked myself?

Then it hit me. For a lot of women, the thing that sets their wedding day apart from every other day in their lives is that silent, understood contract between the bride and all who attend the celebration: for this day, she is the loveliest, most important person there. For this day, she is a princess, she shines brighter than anyone else, and regardless of how plain or unattractive she feels every other day, at her wedding a woman is beautiful.

And seeing as there will be no other day she can be guaranteed of that, the poor bride is terrified something will go wrong to spoil her only chance at unrivalled beauty. There can be no screw-ups to distract or put off the guests. The party has to be at least as big and fancy and flawless as any other wedding the guests have attended. And above all, the dress has to make the bride look her best.

If she chooses one that doesn't flatter her figure perfectly, or is slightly the wrong white for her complexion, or is too plain, or too gaudy, or too commonplace, could spoil everything. And she has one day, that ONE DAY, to get it right. Every other day of her life, no one may even be paying attention to her, much less entertaining the idea that she is beautiful.

What awful pressure to put on yourself! I can tell you right now, my dress and my hair the day of my wedding to David were not at all the best I ever looked...probably not even in the top ten. I'm putting in this post a photo of my in my favorite dress ever...I bought it for an office Christmas party and I just got lucky. Life can not be planned with quite that much accuracy. We had a lot more fun planning our wedding to be a day that expressed who the two of us are, particularly as a couple, and we shared in all the preparations and had a blast.

Alas, it is far more common nowadays that the groom lays low for the year of planning, hoping at best to placate his future wife and mother-in-law, and to avoid as much as possible the stress afflicting them. Instead of the planning process bringing the couple together, it separates them. And frankly, I don't see how that does anything to make the bride feel more desirable to her husband.

But she will feel, of course, that if she has the right dress, the right hairstyle, the right flowers, he will greet her with joy and adoration at the altar. And I admit most grooms do just that, fortunately. But the sad part is that the bride feels she can never again be the princess, the most beautiful and admirable person in the room.

Truth is, when women focus not quite so much on appearances, and rather work to discover their individual charms and gifts, they can feel beautiful even on some random Tuesday in February. If they expend the effort it takes to plan a wedding instead on nurturing intimacy and shared fun with their partner, that too will bring a more permanent feeling of desirability.

What turns perfectly nice women into Bridezillas is that desperate need to feel beautiful, sexy, and loved. No dress can do that: only we can, by recognizing our great qualities and accepting ourselves as lovable and lovely creatures.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

These Eyes, This Face

Your eyes hold all you are...

Kind, with a hint of mirth;
They tell me, come here little one,
I’ll tell you a long story
of adventure, beauty and truth.

Your eyes are steady,
sure and fearless;
life holds no threat to you--
it is your ally, your accomplice.

When I look in your eyes
everything is inside out;
you are everywhere,
and within you is Planet Earth.

Your face tells all you are...

Brows that dare trouble,
cheeks bronzed and rough with beard,
lips that say, this is serious,
all the while hiding a smile.

Within that set and certain jaw
you hide all your songs;
behind those golden eyes,
you keep your visions.

Just now in your face I see
the eternal quiet of arctic ice,
immovable yet so alive,
so vast, so strong.

But in an instant it can change
to the brilliance of an ocean bay--
sparkling, laughing,
warm and dancing and bright.

They are a symbol for your soul:
these eyes, this face;
and gazing on your countenance,
I find my safest place.

Non-Starving Artist

Personal stuff today.

As you know, I’m an author, but you may not know that it is my “avocation” only. Well, very few people make a living writing fiction, so it will probably come as no surprise. My “day job” is doing marketing and webmastering for a machine parts distributor (which, as I always tell people, is much more fun than it sounds).

I grew up wanting to be nothing but a writer. I’ve always wanted to be nothing but a writer. But I also always have known how difficult it is to make a living writing, even as a journalist. My first several years after college, I had to put my first husband through school. As soon as my kids were in school, I needed to get back in the work force to make ends meet. For a time I was their sole provider. It is only recently that I arrived at last at an income where I no longer worry about paying bills. And happily, I have enough time and energy to supplement my day job with a lively career writing and publishing fiction. Things didn’t turn out so badly.

Nevertheless, there are days I wish I could devote all my efforts in life to the writing. I have to admit things didn’t turn out like I dreamed they might, when I was a grade schooler penning my first stories. No Pulitzer or Nebula Award, no piles of my books in the windows of bookstores, no movie deal. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

Today I finished one of the finest books I’ve read in a long time, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Mr. Rothfuss is a friend of a friend from a nearby city, and it is his first novel, ten years in the writing I hear. This book deservedly found a big publisher, and equally deservedly just won a Quill Award, and is apparently under consideration for a movie deal, which would make me very happy.

I couldn’t help but feel wistful that this fellow had managed to make all my dreams come true. I don’t begrudge him any of it--he is brilliant, and I can only dream of writing so well--so at least that aspect doesn’t bother me. (There are plenty of A-List authors I think are pretty amateurish; just ask my family how much I complain!) No, more power to Patrick Rothfuss. Nevertheless, I wonder if I had worked harder, devoted my whole self, if I couldn’t be in some similar spot.

I visited Patrick’s blog, wanting to find out more about this talented man, and it was there I ran into some information that made me think again. Candidly, he admits to rejoicing over the arrival of his first royalty check, because he needed the money. Okay, first of all, I know how long this book has been’s still pathetic to me how long conventional publishers make their authors wait to be paid. Secondly, I can’t help but consider the fact that I have never needed a royalty check.

Now let me interject that if there is any justice in this world, Patrick Rothfuss will soon be in a position to not need royalty checks. I mean, his advances, his past royalties, and his movie deal money ought to, before long, make him snugly in the upper middle class.

But I had to rethink my priorities...maybe I had them in the right order after all. Okay, my first priority is family, but second has always been writing. And writing, fortunately, is free. As long as I have time to write and hands to put to keyboard, I’m happy. My next priority, and the hardest to come by, is readers. I envy Patrick his readers, for while mine can be measured in 5 figures, his are already many times that. This priority has always taken a back seat to another: money. Yes, I have traded readers for financial security, and there’s the rub.

But financial security is nothing to sneeze at. My husband and children have depended upon me for that. My health (I’m diabetic) requires I have good health insurance. I like having a nice home, swell electronics, the ability to travel a little, the peace of mind that I have funds for retirement. And all these things mean I am free to make choices I otherwise couldn’t, like having my own publishing company. This in turn has enabled me to write whatever I want, whenever I want it, and be beholden to no one.

You will not see me on a POP display at Borders anytime soon. But I pay cash for my cars, my kids have straight teeth and college educations, and I can afford all the craft supplies I want from Michaels’.

And as for the readers...well, I will pine for them till the day I die, I’m sure.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Google Takes the Place of Dear Abby

“what does a man really mean when he says your a wonderful person attractive, cute, funny, sexy and real but I don't want to fall in love with anyone right now”

The other day my tracking indicated that someone found this blog by searching on that. Yeah, that entire phrase. My first thought was, “Wow, now that’s some aggressive use of Google.” Immediately after that, I thought, “This poor person! If only she’d actually found an answer to her question!” And my third thought was, “I’m surprised she clicked on the particular result that led to my blog, whatever crazy entry it might have been.”

The particular result was the archive page for March 2006, which just happened to include several of those 31 words. However, in March 2006 I said nothing helpful to this woman, unless she also wanted to know about my personal list of favorite aliens--not likely. And I can’t help but feel sorry that my archive page didn’t offer her some guidance, sympathy or comfort.

31 words, 30 of them different, one of them misspelled...if only it were enough to have some clue how to reply?

My first inclination would be to take the guy at face value, even if it’s hard to believe. Sure, personally, when I meet someone I find wonderful, attractive, cute, funny, sexy and real, I’m all ready to go! (Or I would be if I weren’t already married to someone like that.) But my point is, many of us females think that little list is more than enough to motivate a person to fall in love. How can this guy resist? Well, he’s a guy--and maybe he really doesn’t want to fall in love with anyone right now. Maybe he’s very focused on some other aspect of life: dealing with issues in his job/career, figuring out who he is and what he really wants, saving money to travel, even getting over another relationship. A woman often finds it pretty easy to set aside other priorities when a good guy comes along, but a man doesn’t necessarily put love at the top of his list.

A second possibility is that our hero isn’t being so entirely truthful. He may recognize all these good qualities in you but there are a few things about you that he knows he can’t get past. Nevertheless, he doesn’t blame you for them or feel comfortable listing them to you. Maybe he’s Baptist and you’re Catholic and he doesn’t want to explain why that matters to him. Maybe he likes Amazon women and just can’t personally get turned on by a petite waif like you; what’s he going to say, “You’re too skinny for me”? He’s thinks you’re a really fine person and wants desperately to avoid being negative.

It’s a possibility...but not the best translation of the 31 words. That’s because most decent guys won’t even bring in the words “fall in love” unless they have really good reason to.

But there are the not-so-decent guys who don’t mind toying with a girl’s feelings. The 31 words could possibly translate to “I think you’re hot but want you to know right up front that I don’t want a commitment.” He could figure if he’s made such a statement to you, it counts as full disclosure so you can’t come back later and say, “but you led me on!” If he says this, and continues to flirt with you, beware of actually agreeing to sleeping with him, unless he’s amended his statement.

So how to tell which translation is closest to correct? Well, I guess you have to know the guy to judge that. If he seems upstanding and trustworthy, take his words at face value. If he might be a player and continues some sort of flirtation, get clarification before you make any important choices.

Of course the heart-breaking part of this little scenario is that our 31-Words Woman has reason to believe this guy she likes has this wonderful, high opinion of her. What can a girl do when someone says something so sweet? It just fans the flames of hope, regardless of the crushing phrase that follows. Sadly though, it’s that second clause that a person has to focus upon. If the guy was truly motivated to pursue a relationship with you, if he were the kind of guy who wanted to put you first, in other words, if he were a guy worth being with, he wouldn’t say it. No man seeking love, even considering the possibility of love, is going to tell you “I don’t want to fall in love right now.”

And if that’s what you hope for from him, sadly, he just told you quite plainly not to hope for it.

This “lovelorn column” business can be pretty sad! Well, Dear Abby I’m not...I’m just a romance author wishing she’d had a better response for a confused woman than “I had a crush once on My Favorite Martian.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Self-Image Mine Field

Last week I discovered the new advertising spot for Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, entitled “Onslaught.” In the short film, a sweet-looking, happy little girl gazes at the camera with hope and interest in her eyes. Then the commercial shows a torrent of rapid-fire images taken from billboards, print and TV ads for beauty products. There are countless sexy and beautiful women; a string of female talking heads promising “thinner,” “smoother,” “softer,” etc.; photos of diet pills; shots of a woman on a scale with her body size, waning, waxing, waning again; clips of women undergoing plastic surgery. It is indeed an onslaught of disturbing images, all sending the same message: you fall short of acceptable attractiveness and must dedicate yourself to doing whatever it takes to reach the impossible goal of perfect beauty. The commercial closes with another shot of the little girl with her school friends, and the tagline “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”

Juxtaposed against the image of this innocent girl, the various shots and clips have a distinctly obscene air. And yet they are precisely what every woman in the industrialized world has seen daily, everywhere, all her much so that we take them for granted when we are still as young as the schoolgirl in the commercial.

Upon first watching the spot, I was horrified and angry. I was upset for myself, realizing that from childhood and without knowing it, I had been duped into believing I couldn’t even dream of myself as pretty. I was angry on behalf of young girls today who if anything have an even more difficult time. And I resented our culture for having created just one more challenge every female must face.

Today’s women have a tough enough time shouldering the double-burdens of their domestic duties and, typically, working full time. On top of this they must struggle daily, sometimes hourly, with these constant reminders that they do not look good enough. Perhaps you are a fine wife and mother, perhaps your career is going well, but don’t forget that you are not thin and beautiful and sexy. You never will be, but even so, you must never stop trying.

Meanwhile, I suspect the male of the species will never be able to fathom the impact of the self-image minefield the media is for females. I showed “Onslaught” to my husband, and after it was over, he stood there looking at me rather blankly. “I think that commercial is really powerful,” I told him, hoping to prompt a response, and added, “it shows how hard it is to be a woman.” “It looks terrible,” he replied before leaving the room, but I couldn’t be sure if he had been moved or was just having one of those classic husband situations when a guy must try desperately to come up with the answer his wife expects. I got the distinct impression he had drawn no real conclusion himself.

I’m sure men must believe they have the same problem competing with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and their ilk, but it’s really not the same. Men know full well that funny-looking guys get hot chicks all the time. They understand women have different standards. Meanwhile, they most certainly know that other guys, and authority figures like employers, teachers, cops and lawyers, don’t care what they look like. In other words, it’s possible for a man to succeed in every way, from his career to finding a mate, without doing more than staying clean, getting his hair cut, and not dressing like a homeless person.

How can men possibly understand? I’m sure they feel vaguely guilty, feeling that in a way, every time they are attracted to some actress or model they are perpetuating the problem...but really, they can’t help that, so how bad can a man feel about it?

Enough whining. We all see the problem, ladies, the question is, what will we do about it? I think Dove is on the right track, and the key is not to neglect nurturing the self-esteem of our daughters, each other, and ourselves. Sexual attractiveness does not make the world go round--in reality there are a thousand things that matter more. Recognize that the most precious qualities women have to offer are not their physical beauty, but rather the skills, talents and abilities with which each of us is blessed or to which we can realistically aspire. Be proactive about acknowledging to other females the various assets and gifts they possess. Go the extra mile with praise and encouragement. And don’t forget to praise yourself.

“Mythbusters” host Adam Savage likes to say, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” Well, it’s time women--and, dare I dream, men as well--rejected the “reality” the beauty industry has contrived. It’s time we substituted for their dreamland a world where women are for real, have bellies, and hips, and freckles, and gray hair. It’s time we laughed at the ridiculous Victoria’s Secret commercials and recognized that real men may fantasize about such females, but they befriend, work with, love, marry, and yes even have sex with, women who look just like us. And they are happy about it, too.

I’ll close with a cheerful little anecdote. I may have mentioned a time or two that I was married for 15 years to a gay man. You can just imagine what that did for my self-esteem! I was faithful, and therefore lived as a married woman does, not open to any courtship rituals. After my eventual separation from my husband, I entered the dating world at age 36, a not-quite-pretty, almost middle aged woman. Much to my disbelief, I found men flirting with me, flattering me, willing to date as young as nineteen!

All those years married to a man not attracted to me, I had taken cues on my desirability from the beauty industry and figured I just didn’t have the stuff. Now that I got to “poll” real men, I discovered reality! And what a happy truth I learned!

Let’s all leave the minefield that so puts our self-esteem at risk, and get ourselves more in touch with reality. I think, ladies, we’ll be delighted to discover just how beautiful we really are.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

8 Random Facts You Probably Don't Know About Me

I've been tagged by Cherie Burbach for the Random 8 Meme.

The Rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. List eight (8) random facts about yourself.
3. Tag eight people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving them a comment on their blogs.

My Random 8:
  • I know how to do ecclesiastical embroidery.
  • My first celebrity crush was on Ray Walston as "My Favorite Martian."
  • I once wrote a "theme and variations" for pipe organ that was actually performed publically, even though it was too hard for me to play myself cause I couldn't do the feet.
  • One of my fondest childhood memories is of when my family built a hot air balloon and launched it successfully 13 times before getting it stuck in a tree.
  • I've been over Niagara Falls in a helicopter (flying, not barrel-style).
  • I'm saving to buy my next car in 2009 and it will be a 2007 copper-colored Chevy Cobalt.
  • I have appeared on Quebec radio and television speaking in French.
  • My unfulfilled dream is to play drums in a rock band.
I'm tagging (sorry, besides Cherie, I only know four people personally who blog!):
Amanda aka Z