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CRITICAL MASS

What is it about women and criticism that raises the room temperature? Formerly, some managers gave female employees a pat on the head rather than an honest critique fearing that women might weep if comments were too frank. That paternalism has now been replaced by a more legitimate fear: cries of sexism!
Author Tara Mohr cites a persuasive study (NYTimes, 9/28/14), which found that women employees did receive more negative feedback than men, and 76% of it cited flaws in their personality or appearance (only 2% of males received negative comments about personal traits). The usual suspects—“abrasive,” “judgemental,” and “strident” figured prominently in the study. Incidentally, the managers studied were both male and female. No surprise— I’ve been there, heard that.
What to do? Instead of gnashing our molars, the author offers several observations that make sense to me. Remember that great line from Julius Caesar about the fault lying in ourselves and not our stars? If the duplicitous Cassius figured it out, why can’t we?
Women who mainline praise like heroin addicts must find a cure, toughen up and make a choice. Important work requires courage and the hide of a rhino, particularly when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune find their mark. (Enough about Hillary Clinton’s hair, please. What about the men without any?)
Don’t expect plaudits every time at bat. Be courageous and true to yourself. For heaven’s sake, shed the “Good Little Girl” image. It usually means you aren’t making tough calls or are incredibly sneaky and manipulative. Most of all learn to counsel the women and men that you lead in frank but positive ways. Then and only then will we achieve Critical Mass.

Praise for Swann Dive

 

WOW!! High praise for SWANN DIVE from best-selling author Carole Bugge (aka CE Lawrence). I’ve long been a fan of her Sherlock Holmes series and the creepy but engaging string of Serial Killer novels featuring hot, brilliant, troubled shrink Dr. Lee Campbell.

Swann Dive has everything – mystery, intrigue, romance, humor, and an appealing protagonist. What sets Kay’s writing apart is her jubilant, energetic voice – Eja Kane is one of the most charming sleuths to come along in a while, someone every woman can relate to. A novelist with a self-described “lackluster” liteary career, she battles her weight as well as sometime boyfriend Deming, who has a taste for beautiful, svelte women. When her best friend, CeCe Swann, misses a brunch appointment with Eja, her irritation turns to concern when she receives a call from a police detective. It turns out CeCe has an unbeatable excuse for not showing up – she was busy being murdered. And it’s up to Eja to find her killer. Arlene Kay brings her considerable skills and signature wit to bear in this delightful new novel – highly recommended!

Civility–The Lost Art

Civility–the Lost Art
I welcome the influx of tourists to Cape Cod.Frankly it’s heartening to see a livelier crowd for a change. Crowds don’t bother me. I’m essentially a city person who happily lived in NYC, Boston, DC, Tampa, Chicago,Houston, Dallas, and Detroit.
Do you sense a caveat coming up?
What I abhor is the maddening belief on the part of many that Vacation is an elevated state that absolves one from the constraints of civility. Little things like observing stop signs, waiting one’s turn, opening doors and yes– smiling–are lost in a mad dash to optimize leisure time. And don’t get me started on bicyclists, those foolhardy souls bent upon reaching their final reward prematurely.
An incident today proves the point: While minding my own business at the market I was gored by the shopping cart of a leathery skinned woman who should have avoided shorts under penalty of death. She NEVER stopped, apologized or acknowledged me. Instead, she bellowed: “Frankie–did you get the PINO? The PINO, Frankie.”
I hope so. That poor man deserves a drink!!

What Makes A Writing Group Effective

WRITE AND WRONG Consider this criteria: a congregation of motivated members with shared goals; the willingness to give and accept constructive feedback; commitment to furthering group goals over any individual agenda; mutual respect and support for members. Sounds fine but what are the practical implications? Motivated members regularly attend meetings and strive constantly to improve. There are groups for hobbyists but I submit that their needs are distinct from those of serious writers seeking publication. Some socializing is fun and productive but that should NEVER be the sole purpose of the group. Another cautionary tale: politics and religion are subjects best avoided in a critique group unless the writing itself deals with those topics. Even then, observations must be confined to the style not the substance of the presenter’s writing. Effective writing groups exist to offer counsel and to help every member to IMPROVE. Egos must be confined to one’s pocket or purse although a spot of friendly competition can often fuel excellence. My own writing group was proof of that. In our 7 years of existence we produced 4 traditionally published writers and 12 releases. Not a bad record in today’s frenzied publishing environment.

SCHADENFREUDE and Me

I abhor psychological claptrap and the jargon that accompanies it. Most often it excuses personal weakness and clouds the issue. But every once in a while those fuzzy headed practitioners of the mind really nail it.

Have you ever secretly cheered when a backbiting co-worker gets his comeuppance, or googled the tabloids for the photo of a ‘supermodel’ (is there any other kind?) caught with a patch of cellulite and no makeup? How about the implosion of the celebrity marriage that everyone proclaimed was “perfect”?

Most of us occasionally take a perverse pleasure in the misfortunes of those whose looks, social status or finances exceed our own. It’s a comparison thing which according to author Richard Smith (The Joy of Pain), is hardwired into most animals especially humans. Cutting the mighty down to size as the old saying goes isn’t charitable but it feels sooo good! This, my friends is Schadenfreude, and like many of you I have taken a few trips to the dark side of this social emotion.

Dr. Smith says it’s normal, healthy even. After all, Schadenfreude is a passive pleasure that arrives by happenstance and leaves us feeling better about ourselves. Best of all, it’s as guilt-free as a diet soda without the bitter aftertaste. Someone else’s seismic loss is our gain.

The late, great Gore Vidal declared, “Every time my friends succeed, I die a little.” He tapped into the vein of Schadenfreude within us all by acknowledging this brutal fact: the success of a peer may bring our own failings under merciless scrutiny.

Writers are especially susceptible to this malady. We read the work of our colleagues and quietly judge their output against our own. Commercial success may be equated with “selling out” as if healthy bank balances or critical acclaim are the work of Satan.

The multi-talented Clive James devoted an entire poem to the concept that underlies Schadenfreude. Read I beg you the entire work. You will chuckle, wince and read it once more. The opening line says it all:

“The book of my enemy has been remaindered and I am pleased.”

Hallelujah

Silly me. I have always loved Leonard Cohen’s beautiful song “Hallelujah” and figured it was sort of a homage to Handel. WRONG Yesterday I actually listened to the music with lyrics on YouTUBE and realized that the song was a sensual tribute to many things some of which were definitely not envisioned by Handel. I immediately downloaded my favorite version by the late Jeff Buckley and have been playing it while I compose some of the spicier scenes in my latest novel. Such inspiration! Now the song is even more meaningful.

The Talent Scout Across The Street

THE TALENT SCOUT ACROSS THE STREET avatar

Most mothers wheedle, coax or coerce their offspring into doing what’s right. If that doesn’t work, some resort to creative, even bizarre self-improvement strategies. My sister and I had less than perfect posture, a defect that drove my poor mother to distraction. After the usual inducements failed, she devised a solution that was pure genius.

An old Swedish lady lived across the street from my grandmother’s house. We never exchanged more than a hand wave, and it’s very likely that her command of English was limited. Still she appeared outside her home each day walking her white Spitz Queenie, and tirelessly sweeping her porch and steps. Winter or summer her garb never changed— always a dark babushka covering thick tufts of white hair and a short, thick woollen coat from which an apron protruded. And sunglasses—all year round she wore sunglasses.

We played on the patio, high above the street, under the watchful eye of my mother who always feared that a kidnapper would abscond with her precious girls. One day when I asked why our neighbor wore sunglasses, my mother swore us to secrecy and spilled the beans.

“Mrs. S. is working undercover,” said Mom. “She is a Hollywood talent scout for
Photoplay magazine
. That’s why you always have to stand straight and tall. Remember, she’s watching.”

At six years of age, the secret identity made sense to me. I never questioned why Hollywood would station an agent in Irvington, New Jersey instead of Schwabs Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard. It had to be true. After all, she wore sunglasses and my mother told me so.

For the next year, my sister and I promenaded past the house across the street—walking soldier straight—as often as we could. Mrs. S. never signed us to a contract or even said a single word. Just that brief wave every time she walked with Queenie. We moved away and Mrs. S. went to her final reward. It may not have been Hollywood but I know it was heavenly. My mother told me so.

THE IMMIGRANT QUANDARY

The Boston Marathon tragedy has prompted knee jerk responses as well as thoughtful, nuanced discussions of immigration policy. When confronted with unspeakable evil, rational thought is often the first casualty. It’s tempting and even comforting to cocoon ourselves in familiar things and spout Nativist sentiments—Until we pause, take a breath, and look around us.

Today’s Boston Globe recounted the events leading up to the capture of the miscreants. (I refuse to say alleged since the survivor has already confessed.) I was stunned by the surnames of first responders, police officers, and others who exhibited exceptional bravery in time of crisis. Irish, Italian, Polish, Hispanic—a veritable league of nations and races that reflects the strength and vitality of our great nation. Ironically, it was an immigrant from China who eluded the terrorists when they hijacked his vehicle, and sounded the final alarm.

My point: they are the true face of immigration, normal Americans with shared values who seek to help not hurt their community, to build, not to destroy. We have escaped the stagnation and decline faced by other nations in part because of them. The influx of talents, ideas and zeal from other cultures continually revitalizes America. We are better because of them, and our values are a constant rebuke to extremists everywhere.

Grandma Glam

Long ago, the grandmother image was safe and unassailable. Kindly ladies with open arms, permed hair and sensible shoes eased the transition from childhood to adolescence for many of us. They offered love and maternal solace focused on the next generation, sublimating their own unfulfilled dreams or personal achievements.

Not anymore. Enter the Baby Boom generation, a legion of female achievers whose horizons expanded far beyond the traditional hearth and home. Many grandmas today eschew support hose for designer duds and would never consider a tight perm. While their laps are taut and toned, they are no less welcoming. Their horizons include the boardroom, courthouse and eventually the presidency. Angela Merkel is a prime example of that as is Ruth Bader Ginsberg and many others. In addition to unqualified acceptance, they offer their grandchildren inspiration and belief in the possibilities.

My own beloved Grandmother did that too. Admittedly she loved her perms, hairnets and sensible flats, but she offered me wisdom and sage counsel too. This mother of five, who operated the family business when her husband fell ill, taught me this: Find a profession, support yourself and always keep your own money. You can achieve anything.

Grandma Glam is more norm than anomaly today and that’s a good thing. Little girls (and their brothers) learn that while aging is part of life’s continuum, dreams and goals don’t end at the kitchen sink.

So give her a hug and head down to Sephora with Grandma. Their makeup is truly awesome.

TEN MINUTE TIPS FOR WRITERS

I have delivered literally thousands of speeches/presentations over my career. In my former life, I taught aspiring Executives how to maximize their public appearances. (Disclaimer: I never taught them line dancing or encouraged participation in poorly scripted videos.) Consider this advice when you market your book.

Dos and Don’ts

1 – The Joke’s on you. (Don’t start with a joke unless your routinely do stand-up comedy. You’ll be memorable for the wrong reasons)

2 – Don’t imagine everyone in the room is naked to dissipate your nervousness. (REALLY! Look around this room. Would you really like to see most/any/all of your colleagues au natural?)

3 – Unless you are specifically reading from your novel DON”T READ! SPEAK to your audience. Use keywords on an index card if you must but not FULL SENTENCES. You’ll bore them into a stupor, possibly an irreversible coma. There are civil and criminal penalties for this offense.

4 – Humor is an especially effective tool when giving a presentation but only if it is NATURAL to you. Your goal is to make you AUDIENCE relax, have fun, and hear your message. Determine your own style and go with it.

5 – Read your audience—If they’re nodding off, it’s time to change tactics, or conclude your talk. Remember: leave them wanting more.

6 – Tip for the ladies: AVOID those little bitty, tentative voices that lack authority. You’re selling your product and yourself— confidence breeds acceptance by others.

7 – Tip for the gents: AVOID being pompous, especially in an all female audience. Don’t play the big man—Don’t take yourself too seriously—CALCULATED HUMILITY builds audience rapport.

8 – Move around the room a bit if you can—don’t stay glued to a podium. It relaxes you and your audience.

9 – Avoid sexist or other controversial uses of language. It interferes with your message, and you’re there to give a clear, unambiguous sales pitch for you & your product. Keep Mr. Hyde chained up at home while you play Dr. Jeckyll.

10 – HAVE FUN—If you enjoy yourself so will they. It also builds confidence and enhances your authority with an audience when they see that you have mastery of your subject.

Banish The Nice Girls

All their lives, women are urged to play fair and be “nice”. Often that is code for ‘don’t rock the boat’, or ‘know your place.’ Today with the passing of Margaret Thatcher the world lost a trailblazing feminist who showed us all that while niceness and popularity have their place, they are often irrelevant obstacles for women seeking to make their mark.

Lady Thatcher might well recoil from being labeled a feminist, but in the truest sense of that word, she embodied the triumph of courage and ability over gender stereotypes. She showed class conscious Brits that leadership was not the preserve of the monied elite, and forever laid to rest the belief that women were too timid, and weak to chart their nation’s destiny.

While the debate still rages in America over ‘having it all’, and ‘leaning in’, Mrs. Thatcher showed us how to do both. Wife, Oxford grad, mother of twins, chemist, barrister and awesome competitor, she neither asked for nor expected special consideration. She faced a barrage of fierce sometimes-vicious criticism, and soldiered on.

Women (and men) of all political stripes should identify with and learn from this iconic figure who embodied qualities not often seen on the public stage. How refreshing in an age of plastic politicos who rule by opinion polls and regurgitate meaningless pabulum to find someone willing to state her views and stand by them, despite the blowback. As the current debates over gun control and the budget illustrate, few of our current elected officials display that type of courage.

It is tempting to dismiss Margaret Thatcher as an irrelevant relic of the Cold War best consigned to the dustbin of history. I submit however, that her courage, grit and patriotism transcend time and provide important lessons to us all.

Was the ‘iron lady’ a nice girl? Heavens no! She was a role model in the best sense of the word.

Godspeed, Mrs. Thatcher. RIP

Mirror, Mirror

MIRROR, MIRROR

Are all observations about appearance off the table in our politically correct society? President Obama recently stepped into a buzz saw by noting what was clear to anyone with eyes: California’s Attorney General is one beautiful woman. Immediately the chorus of protest arose (mostly from women’s groups), about objectifying females and devaluing their professional attainments.

As a card-carrying feminist and author who has fought and won those battles, I have a different view. Appreciating beauty is a gender-neutral trait that is also a fact of life. Gorgeous women and sizzling men raise our thermostats to boiling and make even the monogamous among us sit up and take notice. We experienced that phenomenon in Massachusetts recently with the senatorial candidacy of Scott Brown, a respected attorney, legislator and astoundingly handsome guy who once posed for Cosmo. People noticed and that’s not wrong.

My novels are categorized as romantic suspense and I happily subscribe to the formula that the protagonists will ALWAYS include an attractive woman and an especially hot guy. Naturally, the hero is also brilliant, successful and fabulously wealthy, just like the men one meets every day. In speaking with readers of all ages, I find that my mostly female audience expects and appreciates male beauty. After all, reading transports us into a land where fantasy becomes reality for at least a short while. We all need a chance to dream. Reality pummels you every time you stand in line or use public transportation, and very often it’s not pretty.

To those who lament the tendency of men (and women), to celebrate physical perfection, I say this: Get over it! It’s normal to acknowledge everything a person brings to the table in both form and substance. Let’s keep that in perspective and discuss the things that really count.

“Empty-Nest Nuttiness”

I try not to overreact. Truly, I do. But when I see yet another publication lament about “bereft empty-nesters” (always women, may I add), I go CRAZY! Today’s Boston GLobe waxes on about women, “even those who worked full-time” who feel desolate when in the natural course of events, their children strike out on their own. It implies–hell, it outright states–that these unfortunate females have no more purpose in life now that their maternal duties have waned. I recognize that PARENTS may indeed long for and miss having their children close at hand.That’s a good thing, and not exclusively the domain of a female. But stable families forge bonds between parent and child that will never be eroded. I’ve heard far more grumbling about the “boom-erang” generation that returns to the nest.
Face facts: life has stages. That means change, growth and evolution. Don’t fight it–embrace it. And don’t consign all mothers to the group of aimless souls who bemoan the “Empty nest”. While you’re at it, please pledge never to use that absurd, essentially sexist phrase ever again.