Ask Away

I got off the T this morning thinking, I need to stop by the Bostonian Tailor and ask if he'll give me a discount on the leather pants he's altering.

No, that's silly.  We already agreed to the price.

Ask anyway.

I opened the door.  A little bell jingled my arrival.  The tailor was sitting at his sewing machine.

“I know we've already agreed on a price, but I'm trying to practice negotiating,” I said.  “Will you give me a 10% discount?”

He laughingly, but warmly, wondered, “Why 10%?”

“Arbitrary,”  I answered.

“A 10% discount will make me neither rich, nor poor, and it will give you joy.  There is more to life than money. Yes.”

He made a notation and we were done.

I struggle to ask for what I want.  Perhaps you do too.  Today I practiced.  If I can ask for a discount, then I am one step closer to asking for a piece of my dream.

What will you ask for?

Oh, and in case you're wondering — I will most definitely go back to this tailor.

For more on asking and negotiating, click here.

A Good Grief

All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.  Karen Blixen

Dana King shared with me a story about Molly Jackson, a young mother who, after losing her 2 year-old daughter, has found healing through her blog A Good Grief.

Ms. Jackson writes “I remember thinking there is no way I would ever be able to move past the pain, that I would never find joy again. But I have.  Grief at losing a loved one isn't something you really overcome… but what you overcome is the deep feeling of self-pity and utter loss, the desire to ‘give in' so that you can again live with hope.”

Goodgrief

Psychologists have indicated that we can only overcome trauma when we talk about it to someone who can bear witness to our loss.  Whether we've lost a loved one, or simply traveled a boulevard of broken dreams, each of us has or will experience some seemingly unendurable loss.

A wonderful example of bearing witness has occurred over the past few weeks with a group of friends I'm interacting with online.  Each day one of the participants (some of us know each other, some don't) poses a question to which we have the opportunity to respond.  The questions range from ‘What is your most memorable meal?” to “What would you regret twenty years from now if you didn't do it today?” to “What do you do when a loved one takes their life?” and “What do you daydream about?”  In answering these questions and telling our stories, we are making discoveries about ourselves.  As we have listened, there seems to be healing.

When you and I are in a place of loss, we don't dream — because we can't.  If we are in that place, then let us grieve, give voice to the trauma.  Our loss will gradually give way to hope, to our dreams.

For what is dreaming if not hope manifest?

Listening To, Learning From..

Seeing oneself as acting in a movie or a play is not merely fantasy or indulgence; it is fundamental to how people work out who it is they are, and may becomeBenedict Carey

One of the best ways for us to ‘find our voice' is to listen to those who have found theirs.  Because so many women, even successful women, find it difficult to claim a central place in their lives and in their own stories, finding self-assured women within our circle of loved ones may be difficult.  It is equally problematic to find women within the annals of literature and film who have moved to the center of their story.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, you've occasionally heard voices other than mine.  They are lovely, compelling voices.  In June, you will hear many more.

AshleyG Storytime

Courtesy of AshleyG at Etsy

As we give utterance to our ideas and dreams, we experience the catharsis that comes with saying what we think and feel out loud, especially when there are ears to hear, and we are heard — really heard.

It has been said by a number of psychologists who study recovery from trauma that mourning without empathy leads to madness, and that the person who suffers loss must be able to give testimony to someone as a way of working-through and learning from this loss.  On these pages, we won't necessarily be speaking of loss, but the principle of ‘being heard' applies nonetheless.

And by listening to and learning from one another, we will experience systergy.

 

 

Read with Me

The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.  Harold Goddard

I love books.

I love bookstores.

I love to gift books.

I love to read.

By myself.

And especially with my children.

 

I eagerly read The Amaranth Enchantment to my daughter Miranda.  It was especially fun to brainstorm with her around a list of questions for Mother-Daughter book clubs.  When author Julie Berry posts some permutation of what we've written, I'll include the link.

I was also thrilled when my son David finally started reading Ender's Game, a book that has long been a favorite of my husband's and of mine.   It took some ‘righteous bribery' to get David to read the book (e.g. you can't play your video game until we've read a chapter together).  But he finally started, and once he started, he didn't stop; a week later, he's on the second read-through.

There aren't many things that I LOVE, WANT to do with my children…

But when it comes to reading, my children aren't doing the asking, I am.

Readwithmemontage
Courtesy:  Sarah Jane Studios

Why I love books and reading — and what this all has to do with ‘dare to dream', I'm not yet sure.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, perhaps there are clues in the question a reporter recently asked me.  It was —  ‘Why are so many Mormon women writing Young Adult fiction?'

Here are some answers, all with slightly different takes.

  1. Faith and good works
  2. The fantastic world of the Mormon Mom
  3. Mormon mompreneurs make their mark in literature and beyond

Here's mine.


Mormon women writing YA Lit is at the confluence of several cultural dynamics:  love of learning, an emphasis on stay-at-home mom-ing, and a desire for self-expression, but in snatches.

Love of learning
In our canon of scriptures there’s a verse (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36) which reads “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”   This verse is not only oft-quoted, it is embraced.   It has been said that Mormonism is one of the few religions for which religiosity and education are positively, rather than negatively, correlated.  More recently, church leader President Hinckley said, “Get all the education you can.”  From a very young age, we are taught to love and seek out learning.

Emphasis on Stay-At-Hom Mom-ming
Parenting is important to us.  We view God as our Father, which is why you will so often hear Mormons refer to God, not as God, but as Heavenly Father especially when we pray, at least that is how I refer to Him.  We place an especially high priority on mothering, on rearing and nurturing children, and doing so as stay-at-home moms.

Because nearly all parents want their children to believe what they believe, to love what they love, many Mormon mothers instinctively gravitate toward children’s books that clearly delineate between right and wrong.  One of my happiest childhood memories is of my mother reading to me.  My best-loved books are, in retrospect, those with a strong moral bent.  They include A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle and The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, books which I’ve read to my own children.

Self-expression in snatches
Many Mormon women have interests, hobbies, and an ambition to build or create something.   Money isn’t necessarily a constraint, but time is.   Whatever form self-expression takes, it has to happen during discretionary time – when the kids are napping, sleeping – at school.


Do you enjoy reading to your children?  What have you loved reading to them?

Why do you think Mormon women are writing YA literature?

15 for 15: Shane Battier

15 for 15:  '15 people that I'd like to interview for 15 minutes each'.

Some of you may be wondering — who's Shane Battier and why do you want to interview him?

Point taken.

Had my business partner not played with him at Duke, and had the NY Times article The No-Stats All-Star not been written by Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball, I wouldn't have paid the article any mind.

But I'm glad I did because the more I read, the more intrigued I became.

Let me share just a few quotes from the Lewis interview before I get to my own questions.

Shane Battier is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars.  And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.

Battier…seems to help the team in all sorts of subtle, hard-to-measure ways that appear to violate his own personal interests.

Shanebattier

Courtesy:  Robert Seale for The New York Times
 
Battier's game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths.  When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse.  He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates' rebounding.  He doesn't shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots…On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.'s most prolific scorers, he significantly reduces their shooting percentages.  “
[We] call him Lego.  When he's on the court, all the pieces start to fit together.

 

Can you relate?

Husbands, children, co-workers wonder what it is exactly we do – considering us at best a replaceable cog in a machine made up of superstars. And yet, because of who we are and what we do, whether in our homes, communities, or workplace, things magically work.

If I were to spend 15 minutes with Shane Battier, here's what I'd ask him.

  1. In junior high school, you were considered one of the most talented kids in the nation, whereas today you are frequently described as a ‘replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars'?  How does this make you feel?
  2. At what point did you realize that what you do best isn't frequently measured or counted?  How did you deal with this?
  3. If statisticians hadn't started counting what wasn't previously counted or measured, how would your professional career be different?
  4. In your interview with Michael Lewis, you made the statement, “Everything that I've done since [8th grade] is because of what I went through [in 8th grade]. What I did was alienate myself from everybody. I sort of lost myself in the game.”  Having lost yourself in the game, and mastered the art of blending in, do you ever think about not blending in anymore?  Do you ever want to stand out?
  5. What words of advice or encouragement would you offer to all those who do things that can't easily be measured, yet the pieces fit together when they are figuratively ‘in the game'?
 
Were you as intrigued by this article as I was?
 
What else would you ask Shane Battier?
 
Does it give you comfort to realize that as Einstein said, ‘ not everything that counts, can be counted?”

A 21st Century Country Bunny

March 21st, 2009 | Dare Dream Do | Personal

I recently re-discovered The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes, a book my friend Kathleen introduced to me several years ago.

The Country Bunny illustrates the feminine hero's journey: we observe the protagonist learning to prioritize, delegate, say no, and to get things done.

I'll comment on just a few phrases:

1)  “Some day I shall grow up to be an Easter Bunny: — you wait and see!”

All little girls have an ‘I'dentity — they know they are the archetypal Rachel.  But then many of us forget. The Country Bunny doesn't. 

Country bunny little red henPhoto courtesy:   The Little Red Hen

2)  “By and by she had a husband and then one day…there were twenty-one Cottontail babies to take care of.”

Do you recall that Psyche's 1st Task, the prototypical story of feminine psychological development, is to Sort the Seeds.  To become the hero of her story, the Country Bunny must (as must we) learn to sort through the seeds of possibilities in the face of conflicting feelings and competing loyalties.  She wanted to be the Easter Bunny and to marry and to have bunnies.  We make choices, and then we get to honor our choices.

3)  “And one day, when her children stopped being babies and were little girl and boy bunnies, she called them to her and said, “Now we are going to have some fun.”

Psyche's 3rd Task is to Fill the Flask during which she learns to delegate and to achieve goals against tough odds.  We too must learn to delegate, whether at home or in the workplace if we are to become the hero of our story.

Psyche's 4th Task is to Obtain a Box of Beauty Ointment, which requires her to learn to say no.  In delegating to our children, our spouses, to those who work for us, it may feel like we are saying ‘no' to them (so that we can say selfishly ‘yes' to our selves), but aren't we really saying ‘yes' to those in our tutelage when we delegate?

Look at how competent and capable the Country Bunny's children are!  And what CEO wouldn't want her/his corporation to run as smoothly as does Country Bunny Inc?

The Little Red Hen photo

Photo courtesy:  The Little Red Hen

4)  “You have proved yourself to be not only wise and kind, and swift, but also very clever.  Come to the Palace tomorrow afternoon, and you shall be my fifth Easter Bunny.”

Psyche's task of Gathering the Fleece teaches her to gets things done in a way that gives life to and revitalizes others.   She is innately wise and kind (deeply connected to those she loves) AND she is swift and clever (connected to her self).

If we are already swift and clever, have we learned to be wise and kind (I digress for this is probably the masculine journey…)?

SOOO…to those of you who are wise and kind, and the ones of you I know — indeed are!  Are you also becoming swift and clever?

Learning to connect to others and to self – to honor ‘you' and ‘I'.

Both/and.

Yes and no.

This is our hero's journey.

I am so happy to have re-discovered this book.

Will you go and buy it — and share with us your insights?

15 for 15: Peggy Noonan

March 6th, 2009 | Dare Dream Do | Personal

15 for 15 is shorthand for '15 people that I'd like to interview for 15 minutes each'.

Will I ever get to interview Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan?

The odds are higher than they were, now that I've said out loud and in a public forum what I want, but still very low.

Noonan

Nor is an interview necessary for ‘daring to dream'.

When you and I admire someone, it's almost always because we see a piece of ourselves mirrored in that person.  If we will articulate what it is we admire, what we'd like to learn from them, we are in effect saying, ‘This is a piece of my ‘self' I want to develop, that I have it in me to develop.  And my gut tells me that you, person-that-I-admire, hold some clues.'

For my first '15 for 15′, or perhaps better said, ‘1 for 15', my interview takes shape via a letter I sent to Ms. Noonan several years ago.


Dear Ms.  Noonan,

I am a 42 year-old Wall Streeter, mother of two, in search of role models.

In early February, I sat in a training meeting for senior level professionals at my bulge bracket firm.  Out of 30 attendees, only two of us were women.

Several days later, in browsing through an airport bookstore, I thought — maybe there are some interesting autobiographies.  Katharine Graham's book was there, which I had already read, and found riveting, but not much else.

Having read “What I Saw at the Revolution,” “The Case Against Hillary Clinton,” “When Character Was King“, “On Speaking Well“, I wondered — has Peggy Noonan written her autobiography?

My interest was further piqued as I spoke to a friend who once interviewed you.  Her comments, “SOOO smart, and absolutely delightful.”

Here's why I'd like to hear your story.

I want to find my voice. Happily, I'm beginning to find it, but would like to have done so sooner. My friends and I often discuss “finding our voices”.  We can learn from hearing how you found yours.

I want to be successful professionally.  Not by mimicking men.  Or by relying solely on feminine wiles. But rather because I've brought all of me, the essence of me, to my work. It seems you have figured out how to do this.

I want to grow old gracefully. I'm guessing you are about 10 years old than me; I like watching you age.  You seem to be becoming seasoned and wise.  I want to know about your journey.

If you decide not to write your autobiography, know that you have already been a role model. But, on the hope that I have indeed helped persuade you to put pen to paper, please ask your staff to let me know when you publish.

With warmest regards,

Whitney L. Johnson


I didn't ever hear back from Ms. Noonan's office.  Maybe the e-mail never made it past the spam filter.  I don't know.  For my ‘daring to dream' it wasn't necessary.  Because in writing the letter, in articulating what I wanted to know from her, I learned the following about myself:

1)  Finding my voice matters to me; interestingly, since writing this letter, I started my blog.
2)  I want to be successful professionally; since writing this letter, I left Merrill Lynch, and have embarked on a distinctly feminine entrepreneurial journey.
3)  Growing old gracefully is a priority, and problem to puzzle through; no answers yet, but I know that when I am 60, I don't want to behave like I'm 40, etc.

Who would be on your list of 15 for 15?  What would you ask them (e.g. what piece of your self are they showing to you?)

Book Club: The Amaranth Enchantment

February 14th, 2009 | Dare Dream Do | Personal

My ‘I' loved Julie Berry's debut novel The Amaranth Enchantment.

The heroine, Lucinda Chapdelaine, embarks on a feminine hero's journey; she connects to and cares for others AND she gets the guy.

Amaranth

Because Julie's my friend, you could argue I'm biased.

I am.

But here's what three of the industry's most reputable reviewers, including Publisher's Weekly (note the Starred Review from what industry insiders describe as “Coke to Kirkus' Pepsi”), Booklist and Kirkus have said.

Berry's enticing debut novel teems with romance, danger and suspense. Lucinda, a 15-year-old orphan, leads a miserable existence as a servant until she gains possession of an unusual stone belonging to Beryl, a reputed witch. As luck would have it, the gem is stolen and sold to a prince before Lucinda even realizes it is gone. Most of the plot centers on Lucinda's adventures trying to retrieve the stone from the prince, with whom she predictably falls in love. Fantasy buffs will delight in the author's playful use of fairy tale conventions—unlike Cinderella, Lucinda has the good sense to retrieve her lost slipper after attending a ball (“I considered leaving it there, but one footfall in my stocking feet on the cold granite changed my mind”). But the book's main appeal comes from the revelations of many secrets and unexpected twists, including the truth about Beryl. Lucinda has to work harder than most such heroines to acquire her happily-ever-after ending, but her efforts eventually pay off, while leaving readers with enough unanswered questions to set imaginations spinning. Ages 10–14. (Publisher's Weekly)

“Intriguing characters, fine plotting, and a richly worked narrative.”

“A lively, quick, stylish, engaging first novel.” (Kirkus Reviews)

My 8 year-old, Miranda, and I loved the book-signing; and at the book signing we attended, the young girls were riveted, accounting for nearly all the questions asked.   Miranda and I are reading the book together for a Mother-Daughter book club that we're in; Miranda is also lobbying to have Julie Berry come speak at her school.

When you get a moment, will you go to www.julieberrybooks.com and tell Julie ‘Atta Girl'?

Like Flowers in Springtime

January 26th, 2009 | Dare Dream Do | Personal

Last fall I took a hiatus from blogging.

There were a number of reasons that played into this decision.  One of them, which I didn't recognize at the time, had to do with the days getting shorter, the weather colder.

At night we sleep, and in that sleeping there is resolution and renewal, both physically and psychologically.

In the winter, we do something similar.

FirstFlowers

Source:  istockphoto

But because we can't fully hibernate, living off our mental and physical reserves the way animals can, there needs to be some activity.  Activity in which we tend to and care for ourselves.

We each tend to our selves differently.  The how isn't important.

What matters is that we do.

And when we do, and the long winter is over, we will again burst forth with life.

Like flowers in springtime.

What are some of the things that you are doing to nurture yourself this winter?

About the Atta Girl…

January 17th, 2009 | Dare Dream Do | Personal

I did not lose myself all at once. I rubbed out my face over the years…the same way carvings on stone are worn down by water.  – Amy Tan

We needn't look far to observe that most very young girls have a strong sense of self or ‘I'dentity — they are connected not just to the world, but to themselves. My friend Rebecca has a daughter who brims with a sense of self; perhaps that's why I find her so winning.

And why too I can't pull myself away from this Minerva Teichert painting.

In their jubilant dancing, I see ‘I'dentity bursting forth from women who are connected to themselves.

Teichert Love Story

So many of the women that I know work tirelessly to connect to and care for others, to nurture and foster the ‘I'dentity of husbands, boyfriends, children, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, community.  We do so, in large measure, because of our deep connection to and love for God.

I've observed, however, that we struggle to connect to ourselves.  I think we knew how to at some point, but have forgotten.

The ‘Atta Girl' is meant to help us to remember.

I do what I do each day because of who I am.  Because the good that I do is often difficult to recognize, and to name, it is sometimes hard for others, and even for me, to value my contribution.  As such, there is a grace and elegance to what I do and who I am which is, in fact, changing the world.

Or, in the words of Albert Einstein, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

If you are still scratching your head about my reasoning behind the “Atta G'I'rl,” you may want to check out the below posts:

 

Throw Down Your Pom-Poms and Get in the Game

 

Martha and Mary

Identity Crisis

Thank Heaven for Little Rachels

When Our Loved Ones Ask, ‘What About Me?'

Valuing What Women Do

Looking for the ‘I' in the Twilight Series


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