I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: New York Times

It’s A Good Thing?


The Masks We Wear

Martha Stewart is an easy target.  She seems to have no idea how ridiculous she comes across in her ivory tower of affluence, kind of like Effie Trinket from the Capitol in The Hunger Games.  I haven’t paid close attention to Martha since she was convicted of lying in 2004.  I’ve been aware that she has managed to have continued and impressive business and media success post-jail-time.  I certainly believe in redemption and that people should be allowed second (and maybe even third) chances.  Whether Martha has redeemed herself is debatable.  Truly I don’t know her, other than the masked persona she presents to the public.  I should not pass judgment.

I did admire Martha during her heyday in the 90’s.  Her approach to keeping a beautiful home and her emphasis on the importance of gracious entertaining was completely foreign to me and my upbringing where it was a miracle that Chicken and Potatoes (or some variation thereof) appeared at the kitchen counter for dinner every evening from 6:30-6:40 pm with two introverted working scientist parents who were clueless about how to host a party and so they didn’t.  I wanted to cook delicious food, have friends over for elegant dinner parties, and fantasized about being as organized as Martha.  Her calendar, published every month in her magazine, amazed me.  She was the tastemaker of the day (and an extraordinary business woman).  When I got engaged, I begged my mother for her book, Weddings, to inspire my planning.  My mother scoffed, as she scoffed at my desire for a wedding dress, but I wanted my one and only big party of my then-young life to be happy, tasteful, beautiful, and I did not trust myself to plan it without Martha’s guiding aesthetic. 

Since then, my values have shifted and my Martha aspirations have faded, betrayed by her jail stint.  So, it was with mild curiosity that an article in Thursday’s NYT caught my eye.  (The print edition, of course.  Where else would you have the joy of discovering and reading about topics that you might not see otherwise?)  The article profiled Martha describing her beauty routine.  Wow.  The serums and potions, the variety of high end products used, in conjunction with daily, weekly, monthly sessions with a retinue of beauty service providers, like her facialist.  There was not a speck of humility or irony in this article.  No acknowledgement that she is incredibly lucky to have the time and money to live such a luxurious lifestyle and that most of us could never afford the products and services she uses.  And perhaps most of us would not choose to spend our money and time this way even if we could.  Though, wouldn’t it be nice to have the opportunity?

As I quickly jumped to judging Martha scornfully as ridiculous and irrelevant, I paused and backed up, asking why is the New York Times featuring this article anyway?  They must think there is an audience of women readers who will want to know what are the best skincare and beauty products we should all be using, according to Martha?  (Note to the New York Times, if you are interested in providing truly useful beauty service journalism, then a summary of the products mentioned would have been helpful.)  If Martha gets up hours before she needs to leave the house in order to slather creams on her face and body, should we all be doing that?   Just because my beauty regime consists of a shower and an occasional swipe of lipstick doesn’t mean all women are minimalists.  And maybe my ascetic and controlling minimalism is the flip side of the same coin.

Now, I am the first to acknowledge that appearances matter.  Plenty of studies have shown that attractive people are judged to be more competent and are more successful in life.  I’ve spent many days in my younger years panicking that I didn’t look “right.”  At this stage, I am a bit defiant about freeing myself from the constraints of time-consuming and money-consuming beauty regimes.  I would rather spend my money on healthy food, yoga and vacations with my family.  The article did make me wonder about the New York City audience that the NYT serves (myself included).  We take great pains to care about those less fortunate while we are thoroughly caught up in the striving, the effortful and materialistic striving to be on top.  Like Panem’s Capitol we are curiously bubbled, out of step with how the rest of the world lives.  Isn’t this the same newspaper that featured the plight of homeless children in a bid for reader attention and sympathy?  And now we are slavishly looking to Martha for beauty regimen how-tos?  Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Women and society need to have the confidence that beauty comes from within and from how you behave.  It is more important to figure out how to look and feel your best so that you can be your best self and contribute the best of yourself to your world without getting caught up in being beholden to a public persona, a mask, that requires so much upkeep.   Imagine how much good we could do if we devoted the money and time we spend on beauty products and our effortful and materialistic striving to helping someone else, to making a meaningful and productive contribution to our community?

Saying No to Botox


Beauty of a Certain Age

Newsflash!  According to the New York Times, the holy grail for beauty for executive women is “eternal early middle age.”  As if working women everywhere did not have enough to worry about, it is now crucial to achieve the “cosmetic sweet spot:  old enough to command respect, yet fresh enough to remain vital.

Phew, I am on trend.  At 50, I am situated right smack in the middle of the ideal 45-55 age range.  But I am closing in on 51.  Only 4 more years left to remain vital!  Only 4 more years to chase whatever elusive career goal I have been chasing.  I still don’t have a corner office.

Maybe I never will.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

When I first started working in the business world, I was very proud and eager to succeed.  I worked hard and moved up quickly.  I started managing people well before I was 30 and felt I needed to look older in order to command respect.  At 25, I was sometimes the only woman in the conference room which usually meant there was an expectation that I would clear the coffee cups.  I was determined to look the part of a successful executive woman and not be the one waiting on the older executive men.   Hello shoulder pads!

When I moved to a glamorous company in a senior managerial role, at 35, the first thing I did was makeover my image to be more sophisticated.  Perhaps if I looked the role, I would prove that I belonged in the role.  I bought new clothes with the help of a personal shopper and updated my hairstyle and took care with my makeup.  My anxiety about whether or not I would be successful in this job was fixated on “looking right.”

When I was brave enough to ask for and talented enough to get a 4-day workweek after the birth of my son, I made the mistake of not cutting back on my shopping.  You see, I was still ambitious for the corner office.  Still optimistic that I would get promotions and salary raises, advancing in my career and paying for my shopping crutch.  Still anxious that I needed to look a certain way in order to succeed, I filled up my insecurity with expensive clothes that the saleswoman picked out for me, because I did not trust my own taste to find my own style.  As I spent more money, I became more secretive with my shopping expeditions, hiding the packages in the back of my closet.  Of course this story ended badly.  My husband found my credit card bill and was shocked.  Rightly so.  It was shocking.  I had to take out a loan to pay it off and return to a 5-day workweek.  I jeopardized my marriage and squandered my precious time, precious time with my children, just to “look right.”

When “early middle age” hit (newsflash, it’s not eternal) and I realized that I was not going to achieve the corner office (and didn’t really want to chase after it any more anyway), and that it mattered what I did not what I wore, and that my kids were quickly growing up, I went to the other extreme.  Rather than cover up my gently sagging skin with more makeup and rejuvenating injections, I now wear less makeup than ever, barely managing a swipe of lipstick.  I don’t want to spend money or time on extravagant trendy clothing or weekly manicures.  What little disposable income I have now goes to the college fund.  And my gray hair?  So far, I don’t have a lot so I don’t color it.  I refuse to color it.   I’ve spent my whole life dressing up as someone I thought I should be.  Now I just want to be me.

I feel sad and somewhat dismayed by how much time, money, effort and energy we women spend on our appearance.  When young, we are so afraid we don’t deserve our job.  When middle aged, we are so afraid we will lose our job to a younger, more stylish and up-to-date competitor.  We are so preoccupied with other women and their appearance, judging them on how they look and not always on what they accomplish.

I am not naïve.  I know attractive people tend to be better liked and more successful.  I know that feeling good about how I look can help me feel and behave more confidently.  I know that if I had the money and the time and the corner office, I might gladly be swayed to spend it on rejuvenating treatments.  And who knows what I will do when I hit “late middle age.”  It’s easy to be defiant, even disdainful, when you still feel in your prime.

But surely there is something to be said for a woman of a certain age.  She has lived and loved and learned who she is.  She has experience to share.  She has earned her gray hair, her wider hips, her worry lines and her laugh lines.

I remember when Botox first became accessible for cosmetic use about ten years ago and thinking how strange it will be if no one’s face ages and no one’s face shows emotion.  At that time I decided I did not want to succumb to Botox but wondered if I would be able to stick with that decision as I got older.  My mother had a facelift after surgery left her with an ugly scar on her neck.  I was surprised that my beautiful-to-me mother felt the need to look younger and prettier…more vital.  If my mother couldn’t stand “late middle age,” how was I going to cope with it?

For now, the role models I admire are many.  Annie Lennox baring her face and her soul, when she was 48, on her solo album Bare.  Cyndi Lee embracing her gray hair in May I Be Happy.  Jamie Lee Curtis writing empowering children’s books on self-esteem and discussing body image with More.   Hillary Clinton, whose hair is still making the news and whose accomplishments are truly impressive.  Perhaps the best role models of all are my beautiful middle-aged friends (early, middle, and late) who still dance at the ballet barre or ace their serve on the tennis court or stand on their heads in the yoga studio or rule the executive suite or cherish their families.  My beautiful middle-aged friends awe me every day with their love, courage, resilience, intelligence, humor and grace.  Beautiful because of their wrinkles earned from living life.

When I look in the mirror, I visualize the same face I’ve always seen in my mind.  But when I really look in the mirror, and see, really see my face – I see the dark circles, the loosening skin, the mottled complexion with “age spots.”   I see the jowls (yes, jowls!).  I see the wrinkles.  I also see my clear and hopeful eyes that are no longer too shy to make eye contact with anyone, not even with me.

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone


Beautiful Boy

When I first saw the photos of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I was on the way to Boston with my daughter on our first trip to tour colleges.  We never made it to Boston.  Frightened at the attack and saddened by the losses, we diverted to Rhode Island, where we were transfixed by the manhunt.  I couldn’t bear the photos.  This beautiful boy with soft curly hair and soulful eyes looking at me.  How could he have performed an act of such horror and destruction?  He could be my son, my son’s friend, my daughter’s boyfriend.  A boy poised on the brink of manhood, on the brink of his unique life journey.   But he went terribly wrong.  How?  Why?  What made him face his array of possible paths and choose the violent one?  What drove him to feel so angry and hopeless, so angry and determined, that bombing innocent people made sense to him?

When the May 5th issue of the Sunday New York Times arrived with the photo of Tsarnaev on the cover, I couldn’t leave it lying around the house.  I read the article and then slid the front section with his photo, those eyes looking at me, under a pile of other newspapers in the recycling bin.  I couldn’t stand to look at his young face.  I wanted to hate him, as I hate the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th.  The profile that was emerging was of a young man who was a chameleon, moving quietly among different social circles, well-liked, compliant, private, unknowable.  As grown up life got more challenging and confusing, he seems to have been influenced by his brother and other extreme influences, inciting his anger and demanding his loyalty.  For someone without direction, it must have felt good to feel close to the brother he revered and to have a sense of purpose.  Even an awful purpose.

Two months went by and those of us not directly affected by the bombing went on with our lives.  Then that photo showed up again.  The same photo we all saw on television, the internet, and on the cover of the New York Times, but this time Dzhokhar Tsarnaev made the cover of Rolling Stone, with his rock star nickname Jahar.   Same photo.  New contextRolling Stone, the iconic magazine that confers rock star status with its iconic cover images.  The magazine with songs written about its power and glamour.  How dare they put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, recalling young Bob Dylan or Jim Morrison with their moody and handsome good looks?  My gut reaction was, and is, outrage – even after I’ve calmed down, read all the articles, and digested all the arguments defending journalism and free speech.

Having spent my entire career in the magazine industry, selling magazines, I know how impactful the cover is for branding and for selling copies.  A strong-selling cover can make a hugely significant difference in the profitability of a magazine.  Frankly, a compelling cover with important editorial content is what magazines are all about and why I love them.  I could imagine the meetings at Rolling Stone.  The excitement building.  It’s a gripping story.  It has some new quotes from friends and classmates.  Published in a timely way, just as Dzhokhar is pleading not guilty and back in the news.  The editor is under pressure to sell copies.  Magazines are under pressure to be relevant.  And who is going to say no to Jann Wenner?  I wonder how much they anticipated the backlash or whether they were beguiled by the thrill of knowing they had a story that would provoke tremendous publicity and sell a lot of copies?  I wonder if they considered putting an unflattering image of Tsarnaev on the cover?  An image vilifying Tsarnaev, like Sgt. Murphy’s now famous photo, might have gotten the same media attention and would have changed the context from rock star to anti-hero.  Now that would have taken guts.

If I worked at Rolling Stone, would I have gotten pulled into the excitement and optimism about having a provocative cover that would get attention and sell copies?  Would I have jumped on the bandwagon disparaging CVS and Walgreen’s for being cowards and refusing to sell the issue?  Or would I have had the nerve to say no to Jann Wenner?  Urged him to anticipate the understandably righteous indignation of Boston and the friends and family of the victims?  Insisted that the cover malign Dzhokhar not glorify Jahar?  Suggested that he put Jay-Z or Willie Nelson or Robin Thicke on the cover and Tsarnaev in a smaller inset?  Always able to see both sides of every argument and eager to be accepted into the inner circle, I suspect that I would have suppressed any misgivings and gone along with the collective corporate enthusiasm for a major piece of relevant long form journalism.

If the accused bomber looked more like what I have come to imagine a terrorist looking like, post 9/11, a bearded and menacing 20-something middle eastern man, would Rolling Stone have put him on the cover?  I doubt it.  It’s the image of a western-looking youth that is so jarring.  It is easier to hate someone who looks and lives so differently from us.  It is more deeply disturbing when it is the boy who lives next door.  Perhaps that is the point Rolling Stone was trying to make.  Mocking us for our racial profiling.  Demanding that we look at our assumptions about what evil looks like.  The magazine certainly achieved publicity, traffic, clicks, and sales through provoking controversy.  After deep reflection, I remain outraged by the cover and mourn the tragedy of it all.



Resilience (Part 2)

“Fuck You New York Times” was my first reaction.

“I’m not a good writer after all.  I can’t do it.  I quit!”  was my second reaction.

Whoa!  What?  Both reactions require me to be angry, depressed, hiding away licking my wounds in victim-y self-pity.  Swinging between the extreme undemonstrativeness of my father where everything I did got a “fair” assessment and the blind adoration of my mother where I could do no wrong, I am an odd mixture of hubris and anxiety that I am a failure.  Any success I have is dubious, because I am a fraud and have everyone fooled.

The experience of submitting my essay – in actuality – differed from the experience in my mind.  In my mind, the New York Times enthusiastically accepted my submission within 24 hours, eager to publish it immediately.  That Sunday!  I was planning the announcement to my community of friends, family, colleagues, and maybe a few frenemies.  (Hah!  See!  I showed you!)  I was the undiscovered great essayist they’ve been waiting for.  I would become famous and admired for my honest and beautifully written personal remembrances.  I would get a book deal!  True, I would have to confront going public with my stories, most frighteningly to my parents.  But I was ready.  If not now, when?  It was time.  How dare they reject my submission?  I had already planned out my future – all based on their acceptance!  Fuck the New York Times.  I must be a failure and a fraud after all.

That night, my husband was tired of kids’ tennis duty and asked me to pick them up.  I passively aggressively agreed.  This was cutting into my time – it was my night to work late or sneak in a yoga class or just go home and have the house to myself to write.  Besides, I was out of sorts from receiving the rejection email – one month, precisely, from the day I had submitted it, as promised by their precise submission guidelines.  I grumbled out of the house and got into the car and turned on WNYC.  And was transfixed.  The Moth Radio Hour was on.  In my heightened awareness of writing and story-telling, what could have been better?  Josh Axelrad was telling his story of gambling.  His word choice was sophisticated and intricate, his timing and intonation were amazing, his story was riveting.  Wow.  Now that’s how to tell a story!  Fuck the New York Times.  I must be a failure and a fraud after all.

Now what?  Deep breath.  Pause.  Take a day, or a week, or a month, to consider my next steps.  I don’t have to react immediately or impulsively or emotionally.

What now, is that after 50 years of rejections and acceptances I can find a middle ground.   I am a good but new and inexperienced writer.  Maybe the rejection has nothing to do with me and my essay.  Maybe it just didn’t fit the direction they want to go with the column.  Maybe I should submit it somewhere else.  I can do that.  I don’t have to quit.  I can keep writing, keep practicing, honing my skills, getting my 10,000 hours in.

At 17, I was not so patient.  I had been obsessed with ballet.  For all of 2 or 3 years.  Dancing 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, I probably had about 4,000 hours in when I decided to audition for New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet.  Not a city kid, my mother and I took the train from D.C. to New York, where I was overwhelmed with the monolithic gray busyness of the city.  We took a taxi from Penn Station to Lincoln Center.  We found the dark and cramped administrative corridors in the bowels of Lincoln Center leading to the seemingly enormous mirror-lined dance studios of the school.  I was too nervous to remember much.  My mother had made the appointment, so I had a private audition not a cattle call.  I went into the locker room to change and then they brought me to the studio.  Two older women with Russian sounding accents were there.  Not unkind, they looked me over.  I pliéd and did a glissade.  And that was about it.  Perhaps they had me do a small combination in the center of the grand old studio.  That was enough for them to know that I was not what they were looking for.  I was not tall enough.  I was not ethereal enough.  I was not uniquely talented enough.  I didn’t have my 10,000 hours in.  They suggested that I go to a college with a strong dance program and explore other forms of dance that were not so exacting.  Excellent advice that I could not hear.  I was determined to be a ballet dancer at the most prestigious dance company I was aware of.  That was the future I had imagined in my mind.  They rejected me.  Closed off to other possibilities, I quit ballet.  Later, I quit college to return to ballet – but with similar results.  Bouncing between extremes, I never let myself enjoy being good enough – open to possibilities other than greatness at something ridiculously hard to achieve.

Now what?  What now is that I can practice resilience, mindfully choosing flexibility and optimism.  Rejection is not a tragedy.  It is an opportunity.  Your loss, New York Times.  (sigh, still angry)  I will practice my writing and find other venues to publish and to reach an audience.  Just as there are myriad other profoundly amazing dance companies and dancers (which, regretfully, I was not wise enough at the time to explore – sigh, still sad), so there are other ways to tell stories.

Daughters and Fathers

Ah, Sunday morning with coffee and the New York Times.  I do love the serendipity of flipping through the newspaper and finding something unexpected that I want to read.  Long live print.

This past Sunday August 12th, the Modern Love column was written by Lucy Schulte Danziger, editor of Self.  She wrote a reflection on the passing of her father. 

I know Lucy, though not well, through our shared work history at now defunct Women’s Sports and Fitness magazine.  Lucy embodies many traits that I admire and don’t always feel I have.  She is confident, extroverted, energetic, and outspoken.  She is a writer and editor.  She is an athlete and a health & fitness expert.  She is at the top of her game.  I am developing those traits in myself, but they are new and fragile.  I tend to cede control to those who are more dominant and forceful, like Lucy.  More to the point, I am reevaluating my relationship with my aging father and am hoping to say what I want to say to him before he dies.  So, with that context, I was highly interested in reading what she had to say. 

My first reaction was anger and judgment:  Easy for her to feel love instead of debilitating grief: clearly she had a wonderfully loving relationship with her father who adored her.  Easy for her to feel love instead of debilitating grief: with her comfortable life, filled with a vacation home, affluence, and opportunities.  She is out of touch with the rest of us who have complicated relationships with our fathers, less money and opportunities, and are caring for aging parents in various stages of prolonged illness and wondering when it will be over. 

Whoa!  Wait a minute!  Let me reread what she wrote. 

Her father was a brilliant and celebrated leader in the book publishing industry.  What kind of pressure might that have been on his daughter – herself a high-achiever in the world of athletics and publishing?  My radar is up.  I can only speculate.  A triathlete, eager to compete and win?  A successful media executive, eager to compete and win?  Well, whatever issues they may have had, it seems they aired them and resolved them instead of letting them simmer unsaid.  Kudos to both of them. 

What can I learn from her without diminishing my own traits, talents, and successes?  How can I be pleased for her without feeling bad about myself? 

So, upon rereading and reflection, I have landed on a different interpretation.  We are all on our unique path, with different parents and different experiences shaping us.  We all struggle.  Maybe I am envious of her success and her graceful coping with death.  But I am not angry with her and no longer judge her.  In fact, I agree with her.  Her father is supremely lucky to have died doing something he loved.  And Lucy is supremely lucky to feel his love.  Instead of being angry, I offer my letter of appreciation:

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for sharing the story of your father’s death. 

It takes courage to express a point of view that seems to go against social norms – your experience of his dying seems bathed in love not grief.  I imagine, from what you’ve said, that while your father was demanding, he was also demonstratively loving and proud of you.  You have a confident, extroverted, energetic, no-nonsense personality.  His love and pride in you is apparent.  Sigh, I am jealous.  I am still sorting through the good and the bad of my father and how the complexity of our relationship has shaped me and my personality.   And perhaps that is why many of us experience so many complicated and negative emotions when a parent dies.  We feel forlorn – parentless and alone.  We feel frustrated at all the unresolved anger.  We feel guilty for feeling angry and for feeling relieved that they are dead.  We feel sad that they are gone.  We truly miss them and the shared personality traits and the shared memories.  We are afraid of aging and of dying.  I cannot think of a better gift than to parent a child so that they feel profound love when you are gone.  May I give my children that gift.  (And may we all die quickly and painlessly doing something we love – and not experience the prolonged death that so many people experience in this time.)

Thank you for sharing,


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