Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. (Or Any Time)

Hilary Rushford, Personal Stylist and creator of the Dean Street Society, has created four “#StyleMe” challenges. You can read about my #StyleMeMarch experience here. You can see my #StyleMeMay pictures here. #StyleMeJuly has just started (today is “swish your skirt” day!). Then there’s #StyleMeSmartly, which was the June hashtag. June’s challenge centered on a concept, an idea, a view of the world through the cigarette-smoke clouds of a particular era (the 60’s).

 Although I did not do any of the June photo prompts, I read the book (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson), participated in the online book club, and watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

One of the big takeaways for me was the “how times have changed” sense that I got from all of #StyleMeSmartly month images. To go even farther back than 1960 (when Breakfast at Tiffany’s was filmed), I just finished listening to an audiobook (The Chaperone) in which the protagonist (Cora) visits former silent screen star Louise Brooks, who is in a reclusive state after her fame has waned. Cora is shocked to be greeted by Louise, who is wearing (be ready to gasp) slacks!  She says (paraphrasing here), “I had seen Katharine Hepburn wearing slacks in movies but I had never seen a woman in real life wearing slacks.”

Fast forward to #StyleMeSmartly. We learned that the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Holly/Lulamae’s husband shows up from Texas was changed from a reference to them being “divorced” to a reference to the marriage being “annulled” instead, to be more palatable to the Production Code Administration. We read the press release issued by Paramount Pictures Publicity while Breakfast at Tiffany’s was being filmed that said (in part): “….her married life, her husband and her baby, come first and far ahead of her career,” in addition to “This unusual role for Miss Hepburn brought up the subject of career women vs. wives — and Audrey made it tersely clear that she is by no means living her part.” (November 28, 1960). I chuckled when Audrey and Paul were strolling through Tiffany’s and musing about how the only thing they could afford was a Sterling Silver Rotary Phone Dialer for $6.75.The second big takeaway was the discussion of how “perfect” beauty is less powerful than imperfect beauty. One of my favorite discussions during the #StyleMeSmartly month was:

“The first paragraph on page 8 lists all of Audrey’s physical ‘strangeness’: ‘Her legs were too long, her waist was too small, her feet were too big … and a bust no bigger than two fists, she was hardly desirable.’ And yet we know she’s been considered beautiful for decades. What physical parts of yourself did you used to find ‘strange’ & downplay? Have you learned how to dress for them? Or since accepted them?”

This question gets at a lot of what I and my friends (and our daughters) struggle with. One of the threads this discussion took had to do with the dichotomy between Marilyn Monroe’s physical “perfection” and her insecurities. Whereas Audrey Hepburn had her “strangeness” but she attracted the viewer’s eye and interest nevertheless.

I mentioned that I just finished “The Chaperone.” In one passage, again after Louise’s beauty and popularity have faded, Cora discusses how Louise had never fully come to terms with her insecurities, Cora says (paraphrasing again), “maybe if her face had not been so perfect, if her nose had been askance a bit, she would have had harder times that built stronger character and security.”

I don’t have a perfect body; there has never been a danger of people liking me for what I looked like as a bigger factor than something I said, wrote, or did. But I have seen girls with the perfect physical components of beauty ruin it with poor posture, poor attitude, or poor confidence. I have seen women with hardly any “traditional” beauty attributes exude beauty based on how they act, how they wear their clothes, how they carry themselves, how they meet their goals. In one reference to how Audrey carried herself, the author talks about how Audrey’s background as a dancer influenced her presence. He says, “She wasn’t dancing, but she might as well have been.” (p. 9). I also agree with the author’s contention, in a discussion of the famous “Little Black Dress,” that “pure understatement radiates confidence.” (p. 130)

My next to last “big takeaway” is the immersion into New York City images. If you know me, you know how fond I am of NYC, and I got my fill between the book and the movie. Now I know that “Dinty Moore” is more than a stew (it was a celebrity hot spot in the 50’s). I loved the line in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Audrey says to Paul, “We’ll spend a whole day doing things we’ve never done before.” What an adventure in NYC. I loved that they went to the model boat pond, mirroring an experience I have shared with my daughter. I loved the simplicity of Audrey singing “Moon River” on her balcony – simple and profound moments in your life can happen with an urban cacophony right around the corner. The passion for New York that infuses all of this #StyleMeSmartly concept is why I called this post “Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m., Or Any Time.” I would happily ensconce myself on Fifth Avenue at 5 a.m. ….or any time!

Lastly, I can’t let go of this post without pointing out Mr. Wasson’s incredibly fine use of vocabulary on page 40, a passage referring to Audrey’s first visit to Givenchy’s showroom, where she was tasked with choosing a wardrobe for Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “To those who looked on, she betrayed no sign of the uneasiness she might have felt at having to make such an expensive and indeed perspicacious decision.”


This Is Not About You

I would be a really inept private detective. In deciding to write the blog post that follows, I may have made a conclusion that is 100% wrong. But the subject weighs heavily on my heart and mind so I am going to write this post, and if the audience I am writing to reads it and scratches their heads, saying, “What on earth did she think we said?” then I’ll just hope something about the message still edifies or entertains someone.

This Is Not About You

The office grapevine came back around to me with the message last week that I had hurt people’s feelings with my YouTube videos. Specifically, with the impression that I had stated that people I work with are poorly educated. For 24 hours, I scratched my head about this, prayed about it, lost sleep over it, and (the only good thing) used the stress to fuel a great workout. Then it hit me, the acting monologue that I had recorded to be included as part of my “Faster, With More Energy” post in April 2010 talks about call center representatives who, despite being college graduates, “have the vocabularies of fourth graders.” Here it is:

If you don’t have time to watch and/or don’t want to endure a minute and 35 seconds worth of my amateur acting (trust me, I wouldn’t blame you!), here’s the monologue, word for word:

I talk to the American People on the phone every day as part of my job, and I can tell you — they’re dumb. And petulant. And worse than 5-year olds. Are they dumber than they used to be? Hell, yes! How else do you explain two terms of George Dubya? Worst president, ever! I don’t suppose you could say this is the dumbest country on the planet. There are worse, I’m sure. But the other countries have excuses: famine, war, oppression, plague. We did it to ourselves! My co-workers are college graduates. Those under the age of 30 have the vocabularies of 4th graders. If I had a dollar for every “like” “you know” “I mean” and “awesome” that comes out of their mouths, I could vacation in Reykjavik. Or in some other interesting city whose name Americans can’t spell and about whose geography and history they haven’t a clue. And let’s not even discuss their writing skills. It’s like dealing with foreigners who have learned individual English words but who can’t yet put them together into sentences. What’s the point? Everybody’s connected to their iPod, surfing porn, getting down, being cool…. Dumb’s #1!

This monologue is from Minute Mouth-Offs by G.L. Horton. When I was choosing a monologue, I liked this one because I have been involved in a lot of call centers, so the topic of a call center did not feel foreign to me. And haven’t we all been in the position of the consumer contacting a call center who had a less than stellar experience? 

That video is no more directed at anyone in my real life than I am really pregnant in this scene from “An Impossible Marriage” that I did in December 2010:

This Is Not About You

When I cross the threshold at work every day, my mindset is “This is about us” — what can we do as a team to help the uninsured children of Florida?

In Lori Deschene’s “25 Reasons to Embrace Criticism,” she opens with an Aristotle quote: “Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”  True. 

My favorite reason of her 25 was number 21:

Learning to receive … criticism … without losing your confidence is a must if you want to do big things in life. The more attention your work receives, the more criticism you’ll have to field.

I do want to do big things in life. I want my children to grow up to be happy, decent, fair people. I want to slay the debt monster once and for all. I want to write a book that chronicles the blend of courage, patriotism, and humanity that overtook Carrabelle in the early 1940’s in the form of Camp Gordon Johnston. I would love to write a blog post or vlog that makes just one person (or 1,000) say “I am going to do something differently today because of what you wrote (or said).”

I do want to do big things.

But I will never, ever do that by intentionally making someone else feel small.