Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You Can Go Home Again

Credibility is an interesting thing. I’ve given two presentations this week, both well received. At the first, my credibility came from my resume - people were receptive because my career accomplishments are recognizable and because they occurred in a context similar to the audience’s context (law school, then a law firm, then a company, and so on). The second presentation, though, was at one of the law firms where I actually worked. And I noticed a difference – not in the receptivity of the audience (both groups were great), but in the effect my words seemed to be having. There was something about my having actually worked at the firm that personalized what I was saying and prompted reactions that looked to me like epiphanies. I’m pretty sure I saw "Wait – she did that here?!" expressions on more than a few faces and I’m also pretty sure that the messages I was communicating had even more force as a result. It’s much harder to maintain negative thinking, fear and uncertainty in the face of someone who actually accomplished - at the same place and with many of the same people - a thing or two that you suspected might be impossible.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One of the Many Reasons I Love Las Vegas

So I'm leaving tomorrow for 10 days of travel. Once my presentations were prepared and my suitcase was packed, the only remaining to-do item was to get some cash for the trip. With every intention of going to the bank, I got in the car and headed out. Before I was even a block from my house, I decided there was no point in going to the bank when I could go to a casino instead. Why take my own money when I can take money that earlier today belonged to the Venetian or the Bellagio or the local Station casino? I realize there's some risk to my approach, but I figured I'd give it a try - the bank is really close to home, so a stop there on the way back, while depressing, wouldn't have been inconvenient. But it all worked out and my wallet is now nicely full of crisp $100 bills that a few hours ago didn't belong to me at all. Every time I spend one on the trip, I'll smile and think whatever I've bought was basically free. My only problem will be remembering to turn the big bills into smaller ones. I keep forgetting that outside of Vegas people consider it odd to pay for a pack of gum with a C-note.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Dying Art of Customer Service

I ordered a birthday gift for my sister from a website I order from frequently. The gift card instruction box gave me pause at the time – instead of the usual "check here if this is a gift" type thing, the site had a weird instruction to "note that it’s a gift in the comments box." It was totally unclear how you included a gift message, but I decided to type that in the comments box, too, and hope for the best. (I felt rather like my grandfather, who always spoke to answering machines as if they were secretaries. "Please ask Debra to give me a call," I would hear when I played messages.) Today, I heard from my sister that she got a great gift with no card or indication of who sent it. Luckily, she guessed it was me. I emailed the website to complain and got (very promptly, which was nice) an apology along with a statement that the card WAS included and the recipient no doubt overlooked it. Basically, the response was "Sorry, but we’re right and your gift recipient is wrong." How is it possible for anyone not to get that the explanation totally undercuts the apology and makes this a bad response? Even if it were true, where's the corporate upside in telling me my sister is wrong? And what ever happened to "the customer is always right?" It would have been fine with me if the apologizer had typed "I’m sorry you were disappointed. We make every effort to assure that cards get included, but sometimes, blah, blah, blah," then hit send, and called me something unflattering to the person in the next cubicle. I don't expect groveling, but it seems to me that businesses might seek customer service reps who understand that corrective rebuttal is probably not the most effective approach to customers.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Everything Old is New Again

I was in Chicago right before the White Sox made it to the World Series the year before last, and I'm heading to Chicago next week, so I was feeling pretty good about the Bears' chances against the Saints today. Still, you can't be a Bears fan without knowing there's a good chance the horrible team instead of the great team will show up. What a gratifying game for a long-time Bears fan to watch! Solid play throughout, only one penalty, great defense, not-only-not-harmful-but-actually-decent offense - just a thing of beauty from start to finish, right down to the snowflakes, which reminded me of the wonderful playoff game I attended at Soldier Field in 1985 when the Bears shut out the Rams and snow started to fall in the 4th quarter. I hope it's once again the Bears vs. the Patriots in the Super Bowl and with the same result as in 1985-6, too. And I can't wait to see the Art Institute lions wearing their Bears helmets next week - makes it worth it to have to leave sunny Nevada for wintry Chicago. Go Bears!

Friday, January 19, 2007

New-Wave Feminism?

I was poking around on and discovered (among the cheesy and the dreadful) a couple articles that piqued my interest because their tags included the words "sexism" and "Feminazi." The first was an article decrying women who want to call history "herstory." I can agree that the word thing is silly – I've always wanted the real thing with words and titles I've earned; the word "chairman" may be sexist, but it is what it is and I'll be damned if I'm going to let it become "chair" or "chairwoman" when it applies to me (an opinion sharp-eyed readers will know I share with my character, Jane). But I’m appalled that anyone would consider such wordplay to be proof that feminists are "feminazis" and feminism is "crap," as one commenter pithily (if not elegantly) wrote.

The term "feminazi" evidently started its life as a label for man-haters and other extremists. It didn't surprise me to learn that Rush Limbaugh is credited with broadening the use of the term to mean any female who is intolerant of any point of view that challenges militant feminism. Every movement has its fringe elements and even its thugs. True feminism, if you ask me, is nothing more or less than the belief that women, like men, are human beings entitled to social, political and economic equality.

The second article stated that women who grew up in the 80s consider sexism to be something they grew up largely without and feminism to be a movement they no longer need. Because I prefer not to think that a whole generation of women is either blind or half-witted, I trust that the article is wrong. According to it, though, the mindset of the majority of 20-somethings is post-feminist and they think the word "feminist" conjures up negative images. Apparently, they consider the "angry feminist" to be at best a relic and at worst a feminazi.

Well, what a load of crap that is! I've never been able to understand why any woman wouldn't be a feminist – and, given the rampant inequality that still plagues society even in 2007, at least a provoked feminist, if not an angry one. Don’t even get me started on listing examples of current sexism; I’d exceed the limits of what I can store on this site in no time! Angry feminism is not outdated nor is it necessarily extreme; it's a completely suitable (if not always the most effective) response to ongoing inequality. Despite anger, and despite what those threatened by the notion of social, political and economic equality for women may choose to believe, feminism has nothing to do with hating men or, for that matter, with hating marriage or children or other women who make different choices or anything else. It’s not about hate. It’s about refusing to tolerate inequality and seeking to eliminate sexism.

"Feminazi" is a horrible term, despite its catchiness. It connotes fascism and the notion that one group is superior/dominant relative to another. Evidently, the term is used by (among others) liberal, self-identified feminist women to deprecate other women who hold "extreme views." (Perhaps another thing women who grew up in the 80s grew up without is an understanding of the repressive and dangerous impact of Nazis and fascism.) For solidarity as well as linguistic reasons, I don't think this is where we want to be heading.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Eyebrows & Mountains

What is it about fantastic eyebrow waxers? For at least 10 years, every time I've found a great one, she's pretty quickly left town or moved to a different salon (one located as inconveniently as possible for me) or just disappeared like a thief in the night. I call to make my supposed-to-be monthly appointment, which is inevitably more like an every-six-weeks-or-so appointment and I hear, "Oh, sorry, she's no longer with us." Infuriating. I hate having to explain what I want ("as thick and arched as possible, you know, normal") to someone new whose personal eyebrows are all too often a pencil-thin crime.

Anyway, the most recent vanishing esthetician was too good to lose (and smart and kind enough to let me know where she went). And Las Vegas isn't as big or as spread out as Chicago, so I decided to follow her to her new digs. Of course, people here think I'm crazy - who would drive 25 minutes each way for a 5-7 minute appointment? Well, I did just that today and discovered that it's ridiculous how little it takes to make me totally happy. The drive was a pleasure - all 80 mph on a brand new road with no traffic (I picked my time carefully), and simply incredible mountain vistas as I drove north. We had a few clouds today and reddish-brown desert mountains are even more spectacular when there are clouds to contrast the light in the ridges and dips. I was listening to a great mix CD (Ben Folds and assorted country - thank you, Annie). As I drove, I realized anew how much I love my new home in the Silver State.

I routinely drove much longer than 50 minutes round-trip for things in Chicago and the scenery never made my heart sing. Well, ok, coming down Lake Shore Drive with that gorgeous skyline spread out before me and the lake on my left was pretty sweet, but I'd lived there too long. I'd stopped reveling in the beauty. Mostly, I tried to contain my irritation at the traffic and to avoid both the potholes and my tendency to scream words I really shouldn't use. But Nevada is still new. The scenery, in addition to being amazing, is so different from what I spent my first 50 years looking at. Sunshine and mountains and novelty are apparently going to take longer than 2 years to fade into unnoticed background for me. I like that I'm constantly struck by my surroundings and I like seeing things from angles I don't see every day. Hard to believe that driving seriously out of my way for an errand would prompt a singing heart, but it did. And my brows look great, too.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Writing Epiphany

I woke up yesterday morning with a short story in my head. The press of words was so great that I got out of bed WAY too early, went immediately to my computer and started writing. The next thing I knew it was dark, I hadn’t eaten all day, and I was still wearing boxers, an old flannel shirt (of a print and color that don’t even begin to coordinate with the boxers) and the ancient Ugg boots I use as slippers when it’s cold. The outfit was suitable only for a recluse whose husband is used to her peculiarities, but the story came out beautifully.

Writing is more basic somehow, more direct and less fragmented, than being a lawyer or an executive. Happily, it's equally satisfying and more mesmerizing. It’s cathartic, even – and gratifying in a somehow more personal way. Kind of the way physical activity differs from intellectual activity. At first, I thought this was because as a writer I don’t have to deal with other people’s agendas. But then I realized that’s not true. My characters are very pushy, and I have to deal with their agendas. That’s what writing is: getting out of my head and expressed just right who these characters are and what they do. I think the real difference between writing and my original career might be that I don’t have to deal with my own agenda. My conscious will is never anywhere in the vicinity when I work to find the right words to express the feelings and images and people crowding my mind. For me, writing is like taking dictation from fascinating dictators. That’s why I lose track of time and appetite (and apparel).