Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day: Remembering "Mom Mom"

I wrote this two years ago in the Charlotte airport on the way home from my grandmother's funeral.  She died two years ago today, a few days shy of what would've been her 92 birthday.  Even though she wasn't your typical sweet and cuddly grandmother, I still miss her and hope this does her life and spirit justice.

Tonight, I drank a margarita in honor of my grandmother, Elizabeth, whose ninety-one long years of life my family celebrated this morning. Mom Mom, as we called her, wasn’t a particularly big drinker, but I distinctly remember the first time I visited her in her assisted living facility in Florida and asked her what she had done the previous day.  Expecting to hear about Bingo or perhaps an excursion to a local concert or museum, I was surprised when Mom Mom said “drank margaritas at our Happy Hour.”

Granted, the margaritas were probably glorified lemonade and were served in those small Dixie cups, but still—they were margaritas to her, and they gave her something to smile about, something to choose for herself in a world where those choices were becoming limited.

Mom Mom lived autonomously and proudly for the first eighty-eight years of her live, driving herself to and from “rummage” sales, church activities and the homes of far-away friends and relatives even after my grandfather passed away in 1994.  Fiercely independent, “assisted” living was certainly not her favorite dwelling place, though she tried her best to make it her own with her knickknacks, familiar books and pictures of family, all the while referring it to it as “prison.”  She managed to maintain that independence, sending countless staff members running from her room by screaming “get the hell out of here” if they were unfamiliar or didn’t treat her with the dignity and respect she deserved.  She refused to eat dinner if the meals weren’t pleasing to her palette. She selected stacks of books to read and re-read, and at her age, deserved the right to cheat more-than-occasionally during games of Upwards—most of which she could win outright without even bending the rules.  Her brain was sharp to the end, and she had an astounding vocabulary, probably gleaned from her love of literature.  Even in her advanced age and deteriorating condition, she commanded respect and was stubborn, even to the end—holding on out of sheer refusal to go before she declared it time.

These qualities—spunk, independence, and tenacity—probably not considered very “lady-like” for her generation are the ones her daughter, my mother, imparted to me and my sister, and I can only hope I live up to her great example.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

La Vie Boheme

Some people have mission statements and goals.  I have theme songs. 

Spurred on by my not-so-inner musical theatre geek (thank you, Glee, for making show choir cool), I chose Defying Gravity as this year's theme song.

Why?  Because I needed to let go of the fear.  

Of success.  Of failure.  Of what people do and don't think of me.  Of the unknown.  Of being unabashedly, unapologetically, authentically ME.
So I closed my eyes.  I leapt.

And with the help of so many of you, I found my way to the truth.  About my work.  About my life.  And yes, it's constantly evolving.  But it's also worth celebrating.

So, La Vie Boheme.*
(And sing along--you know you want to!).

To days of inspiration, playing hooky, making something out of nothing
The need to express, to communicate
To going against the grain, going insane, going mad

To loving tension, no pension, to more than one dimension
To starving for attention, hating convention, hating pretension
Not to mention of course, hating dear old mom and dad

To riding your bike midday past the three piece suits
To fruits, to no absolutes
To Absolut, to choice, to the Village Voice
To any passing fad

To being an "us" for once
Instead of a "them"
La vie boheme
La vie boheme

lyrics (c) 1996 by the genius Jonathan Larson.  Used only for sing-a-long and enjoyment purposes...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Confession: I hate PR

I have a confession to make: I HATE PR.

To be more specific, I hate being a PR practitioner.

Why?  Because of the unusually difficult expectations I place on myself and the inevitable disappointment; because I hate being pushy, especially with strangers; because in its traditional form, it's dying; and most importantly, because it doesn't feel authentic to me any more.

Which doesn't mean it's not the right profession for others, or that there aren't others practicing PR in new and exciting and pitch-perfect ways.  Because there are.  But I don't want to be one of them. 

When I initially started freelancing, I wanted to be a writer.  But PR opportunities kept falling into my lap.  And I kept taking them, because, let's face it, in the beginning stages of entrepreneurship, any money is good money.

And while my business philosophy has evolved into a more holistic approach to communications, I'm still known as the "PR girl."  And I still feel compelled to take on business that doesn't excite me, just because I can and it pays the bills.

At least I did until two weeks ago, when my oldest paying client and I parted ways.  It was an amicable parting (they are moving on to bigger and better things), and while disappointing, it was ultimately freeing.

I don’t HAVE to be a publicist. I don’t HAVE to take on work that doesn’t excite me. I don’t HAVE to do or be anything I don’t want to do or be.

Which doesn't mean my current clients won't benefit from my expertise in traditional PR and media relations, or that PR won't pay a role in future communications campaigns.  But it's only one piece of a much more comprehensive strategy.  I want to teach my clients how to create their own content and opportunities, to find their unique voices, to become their own best advocates.  I want to be more than just their publicist.

And that is something I’m passionate, excited and honest about, something I would be proud to market and sell to others.   Because it’s MY truth.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

On Motherhood

This morning, I read a brilliant piece by my favorite writer, Anne Lamott.  Of Mother's Day, Anne writes:

Mother's Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings...I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure.

While this may not be a popular sentiment, it's a very real one.  I love my mother and remind her of that as often as I can.  I admire my friends who are mothers.  But I also have friends who are struggling to become mothers and who have lost their mothers, for whom this day is a very painful reminder of that which they have lost and that which they may never have.

I have real issues with the whole cult of motherhood.  Mothers are no more saints or sinners than the rest of us.  And yes, being a mother is a wonderful experience and an amazing endeavor to be treasured and valued.  But not at the expense of those of us who through circumstance or choice are not mothers.  Who never will be. And yet still believe we possess the same grace, selflessness, tenacity, kindess, affection and love that we honor mothers for this day.  Let's celebrate that AND our mothers and surrogate mothers.  Daily.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Image Journey

I've always been a fashionista, as this early photo will attest.  And I'm the ultimate girly-girl.  My idea of the perfect day is lunch and shopping with girlfriends.  Nothing makes me happier than a new pair of shoes.  I drool over fashion magazines.  I fantasize about the dress Carolina Herrera would make for my Oscar appearance (should Renee Zellweger be a no show).

And while I think I've always been well-dressed and stylish, I've never really had A style.  I'll be the first to admit that my wardrobe over the first ten or so years of my professional life consisted of the typical PR agency girl's staples: black pants, conservative cardigans, sensible but colorful pumps.  I loved my long, crazy curly hair, but was forever putting it back in a bun because I didn't really know what to do with it.  And while I possessed entirely too much make-up, I never really had a clue how to apply it, so I'd rifle through a drawer full of stuff and end up wearing just lip gloss and mascara.

Add to this the fact that nearly halfway through my 30's, but most people I meet still think I'm 25,  and that after nearly three years into owning my own business, my idea of getting "dressed" for a meeting is taking a quick shower--well, it was time for a makeover.

The first step was cleaning out my closet.  I was only wearing a small fraction of the clothes in there, so I dumped anything I deemed too corporate, too fussy, to prudish, too boring, too young, too expected.  I donated every single suit I own, and my mom will be thrilled to know that black is no longer my favorite color.

Then it was on to my unruly mane.  Enter hair magician Stephanie Erxleben Turner, a friend from childhood who also got the heck out of Florence, South Carolina and has done well for herself in the big city.  Through the magic of Facebook, she contacted me and offered to cut my hair. 

I like to mock those people on What Not to Wear who bitch and moan about getting their hair cut, but honestly, I'm the same way.  But my hair had become a crutch and a burden and quite frankly, I was close to pulling a Brittany Spears because I was that tired of dealing with it.

And there's something about someone who knew you when your hair was bigger than your head, when you tight rolled your jeans and thought New Kids on the Block was cool, to inspire trust.  And Stephanie did not disappoint.

Best. Haircut. Ever. I immediately felt sexier, sassier, more confident--exactly the image I want to project.  And it was SHORT.  Yes, not short compared to most people's standards, but short to me.  Who knew?  I'm a short hair girl!

Then, it was on to make-up and what my friend Alyson Hoag calls the Image Journey.  What I love about this process is it's just that--a process, thoughtful and personal.  Aly created a look for me--using mostly the contents of my chaotic make-up bag--to develop a style that's uniquely me.  Inspired by not only pictures of some of my style icons (Cate Blanchett, Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johannson) and designers (Chanel, Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Alberta Ferretti), but words  and impressions (confident, fresh, flirty, feminine, soft, lucious, glowing, dreamy, graceful, clean).

The end result:

And what I love about this transformation?  It's still me, but it's grown-up, more confident, more poised successful entrepeneur me.  And yes, I still feel confident running to the store without make-up or meeting friends in my running clothes, but I now feel like the outside matches the inside.  That I'm projecting an image of strength, confidence and even boldness.  I now look the part.

And maybe, just maybe the next time I meet someone, they'll really believe I'm the president of my company, not the intern.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mental Health Day

From a few weeks ago...

I'm not an extrovert, but I play one in my life.  This week, I had no fewer than twenty meetings and six evening commmitments--including a networking event I hosted for nearly 100 people--in the span of four days.

Needless to say, I woke up exhausted this morning.  And then when I rececived an email with some not-so-good news, I did what any overworked, exhausted and completely depleted person would--I crawled back into bed, swaddled myself with sheets and bawled. 

This latest round of self-pity lasted for over an hour, at which time I could no longer ignore the beckoning sunshine and the crisp spring air blowing through my matted morning hair.  It was simply too beautiful of a day to stay indoors.  To mourn that which cannot be changed.  And then I had a realization--I should take a day for myself.  To do whatever I wanted.  No work, no rules, no obligations.

And then I sat there.  Nothing.

A run?  Well, that's kind of like work.  Write?  That would involve the laptop.  (hence why I originally wrote this with old-fashioned pen and paper), which I had zero interest in opening.  TV?  Too much stimulation.  Pilates class?  Another obligation.  Shopping?  No money.  Massage?  See the previous statement.  Walk?  I didn't feel strong enough to get out of bed.  Read?  Too much thinking.  Piano?  Too fragile to hear what I sound like after years of neglect.

It's scary to realize that you've been going, moving and doing for so long that you can't even remember what it is you'd LIKE to do, given complete and utter freedom.  I had absolutely no idea.

Last night, I read a great article on running and meditation, so I decided to give that a try.  Much to my cat's consternation (she's a big fan of the wallow), I reluctantly unwrapped myself from the twisted sheets and sat down on the floor.  I tried to breathe, to stay present, to relax and let go, to listen.

And then I decided that I wanted to go to the park.  Not to run, not to walk, just to be.    

I grabbed a blanket and some of my dog's toys, packed her into the car and took off--no agenda.  We played with balls and sticks and dirt, basked in the sun, and then took a short jog.  No watch, no goal, no plan.  I didn't get annoyed when she stopped to sniff or mark her territory.  I tried to soak in the colors, the air, the breath, the joy.

Then I was hungry.  And I'd been craving Chick-fil-A.  So, I got the usual--eight piece chicken nugget meal with lemonade.  I got home and the food made me think of more food, so I decided to watch Top Chef Masters on the DVR.  While eating fried, processed food.  I giggled a little, then cheered on a friend of a friend, grateful for the opportunity I had to eat at his restaurant back in January.  Grateful for food and for friendship.  The darkness lifted a little.

I decided to watch some 24.  To turn off the Blackberry.  To scream a little at the scary parts.  To just escape a little.

And then I put some clothes away and vacuumed the bedroom.  Not because I had to, but because I wanted to.  I put on loud music and danced.  Naked. And I'm currently sipping on some wine and enjoying the view from our rooftop deck.  I'm more relaxed.  I'm centered.  And I haven't touched work all day.

It's so easy to get stuck in the hamster wheel, to keep running and running until even the things you used to enjoy aren't fun any more.  Until you don't even know who you are or what you like.

Sometimes, you just need a day off to discover yourself again.


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