Tag Archives: Better Than Beauty

Here, Dear, Alone With All Your Letters

As you start to write, visualize the other person and talk to him, then write the words down.  Write the sort of letter you would like to receive.” Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson Better than Beauty

I have long been a letter writing advocate.  How I adored getting an envelope address to me, whether at camp or at home, a postcard from the shore or a card from my grandmother.  Oh, and the love letters!  My favorite.  Every man I’ve ever loved has sent me love letters, many of which I still have.  My boyfriend, Geza, who had silver eyes and jet-black hair, sent me a letter every single day when I was at the Silver Bay Young Writer’s Retreat, all full of the longing and poetry only a teenage boy can have.  Martin wrote his in gold gel ink with J-Pop song lyrics, Catch with green ink and Sin City quotes, Mike in spidery ballpoint pen on loose leaf paper.

In college, Ian wrote me twice a week, packing his envelopes (which he made out of ads, because he’s an artist) with clippings and postcards and all sorts of goodies.  My friend Liz and I primarily communicate with letters and have since we graduated.  Our whole lives are written down for each other, records of our changing careers and movie star crushes, highs and lows, new boyfriends and new apartments.   After all, you can’t send an Uglydoll in an email, like my friend Corey did to announce that, heck yeah, she was moving back to New York after five years working for NASA. (Yes, my friend is a rocket scientist).

A few years ago, I was at a conference in Bloomington and I met this guy, Jake.  We wrote each other a few weeks worth of long emails before I suggested that we start writing letters.  That was three years ago.  In that time, I’ve read about his grad work and graduation, job searches and play rehearsals, meeting Anne, getting engaged to her and marrying her.  We’ve never talked on the phone and only exchange emails when it’s something time-sensitive, but we know everything about each other’s lives just through words put on paper. We have this recorded history  of each other when I, for the longest time, only had a vague recollection of what he looked like.   

(Read his blog Video Game Underworld.  It’s awesome.  Somewhere I have the letter where he was asking me how he should do it.)

Find or make some awesome stationary (I made postcards out of CD liner notes with brown bag paper glued on the back) and write a letter to a friend. Ask them to write you back and get a pen-pal thing going.  Get some kooky postcards (I have some Onion front pages that always get a laugh) and mail them to everyone you know, just for fun.  

Advertisements

Purse Envy

“No matter how neat a woman looks, a sloppy, overfilled purse is a dead giveaway.” Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson, Better Than Beauty

I have always lived out of my purse.  Working long hours, sometimes two jobs in one day, I had to make sure I had everything on me–bus fare, discman/CD, my uniform(s), my notebook, pens, lunch–because if I didn’t, I was out of luck.  I carried big, ugly bags, usually black, basic, utilitarian, covered in pins and patches.  I did have one sweet one that I made out a tie and this great houndstooth fabric, but it didn’t hold much, so it didn’t get used very often.  A nice handbag was an expense I couldn’t afford and a hassle I didn’t need.  I was a modern, liberated woman, I didn’t need no stinkin’ handbag!

About a year ago I decided that, damn, it, I was modern, liberated and worthy of a big bright beautiful statement purse.  I went straight to TJ Maxx and bought a cute little fuchsia Betsey Johnson hobo bag for $24.  And I instantly felt more confident, like a woman instead of a college bimbo.  And I could still fit what I needed in there–my cell phone, iPod, a notebook, a pen, some Dr. Pepper lip gloss, a wallet.  (I also have a houndstooth Betsey bag that Ian got me for Christmas, and a big bold leopard print Betsey tote that I use when I travel.  First time in my life I’ve had more than one purse in rotation!)

But even that’s too much stuff sometimes! 

I have always envied my friend Lexa for a variety of reasons–one, she is pretty and blonde and wildly successful and secondly, she always looks so polished and put together, with this wonderful elegance that only NYC women have.  And the last time I saw her, she was carrying a slim envelope clutch purse, and I was so, so jealous.  I keep meaning to make one, but I suffer terribly from ProCraftination, the symptoms of which are me buying craft supplies and then never actually doing anything with them.

Image

Lot of Spaceballs References This Week . . ..

But I did keep that style tip in mind when I went out for brunch with Rachel, Nina and Tiffany.  I took only what I needed to survive–a twenty, my license in case I wanted a Belini, my fan and my Moxie lip gloss, all of which fit neatly into a #10 envelope-sized red leather clutch purse Ian’s mom brought me back from Costa Rica.

How classy a girl looks with a clutch!  It draws attention to her lovely hands, makes her look charming and delicate, a bit mysterious.  What could she possibly have in that little thing?

In an age where we’re expected to be tied to our smartphones, which have our entire library/record collection/work/social lives stored on them so that at any moment you can be reading a work email while talking to your mother and making arrangements for the babysitter, to go out into the world free of all those things, trusting and living life as it was happening (brunch was lovely!) was a completely liberating experience!

 

“Drinking is not a social asset, like learning to dance well.  it is only a matter of personal preference.  Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson Better than Beauty.

I just read that Cat Marnell is getting paid five hundred large for her memoir about being rich and a drug addict because she’s TOTES INTERESTING, YOU GUYS.  I’ve read some of her stuff, and, like hanging out with your drunk/high friends, it’s utterly boring.  Because, newsflash, drugs make you insufferably dull.

But I’m not here to criticize Marnell’s boring, uninteresting, faux-edgy scraps of notebook garbage. No, rather, I’m here to write about yet another problem we women have to face, and that’s the pressure to be a “hot mess.”

I’m pretty straight-edge.  I drink tea and coffee, sure, and I have a glass of wine once in awhile (like, maybe once a month) I’ve never smoked or touched drugs, and I even hesitate to take prescriptions.  In the literary sense, that means I am boring.  I don’t know if it’s some sort of misguided attempt at feminism (GIRLS CAN DO DRUGS JUST AS WELL AS BOYS!!!) or what, but the rich-girl-on-party-drugs memoir seems to remain a trend long after the publication of Prozac Nation and Smashed (both of which were boring and made me want to hit the narrator).

At the risk of sounding old, doing drugs does not make you interesting.  Being rich and doing drugs makes you even less interesting.  The fact that you were strung out at Fashion Week, Ms. Marnell, does not a good story make.  Instead of making you seem fashionable, it merely makes you exactly what you are–a spoiled, selfish, rich whiny tramp.

But driving to go see Jurassic Park the other night, a bunch of drunk girls staggered out in front of our car, screaming in the face-melting banshee way only drunk girls can scream.  One of them, the fat friend of the group (in Oneonta, the ratio is 3 party girls to 1 fat friend), was wearing cutoff shorts crammed so far up her chubby cheeks they could be considered a g-string and a shapeless crop top with considerable flab hanging out over the acid-washed waistband of the aforementioned shorts.  And all I could wonder was did she look in the mirror and think damn, I look good!  And at the end of this night, when she’s puking her guts out in the garbage can of the dorm room of whatever guy drew the short straw to take her home, will she still be thinking damn, this is the best night of my life!

I don’t know.  I’m not one of those types of girls.  Maybe it’s because I never had the money or the glamour to get away with it.  Maybe D.A.R.E worked, I don’t know.  But one time I asked Matthew if he though I was boring because I’d never done drugs (or even been drunk, for that matter) and although he said “of course not,” I wish I could go back to that Me and tell her “Even if he (or anyone else) says yes, darling, he can go cook a radish, because you are more interesting than any angel-dusted trollop could ever be.”  

The End of Lent . . . and the Beginning of Something Better

Happy Easter!  Lent is over, with $40, a buck per curse word, in the One Great Hour of Sharing envelope.  One curse word per day–that’s a considerable change from my usual vulgarity.  AWP tried my fortitude considerably, but otherwise, I held pretty strong.  Even during G.I. Joe: Retaliation. (I cannot get over how completely idiotic this movie is.  It’s become a bit of an obsession.)

But I’m not looking forward to getting back to celebrity gossip and cursing.  I won’t have to put a dollar in the kitty each time I do it, but it wasn’t like I was counting down the days until I could drop a casual f-bomb or see what Lindsey Lohan was up to (spoiler alert: no good).  I feel a little cleaner, a little less weighed down.  It’s a feeling you can only get on Easter Sunday, when the sun is shining and the Peeps are peeping and it finally, finally seems like spring might actually arrive.

Ash Wednesday

“Profanity today may mean anything from bad taste to weak vocabulary to a superficial talent for doing as the Romans do.” Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson Better Than Beauty

Heck Yeah Star Wars Pogs

Yeah, I Had Star Wars POGS. ‘Cause I’m Awesome.

I love Ash Wednesday.  Growing up in a Jewish household (my mother converted when she married my XSD; though my father took us to the Presbyterian church) I was always jealous when one Wednesday, a whole bunch of Catholic kids would disappear from school and return an class period later with ashes on their forehead.  I thought that was the coolest thing in the world, even cooler than POGS.

So when I started going back to church a few years ago, I was overjoyed that they were doing imposition of the ashes.  Growing up, I thought only Catholics got to get ashes.  So I went and when Rev. Mark drew the cross on my forehead, a little thrill went through me.  It was the thrill of doing something new, something that seemed forbidden and hidden when I was growing up.

I gave up swearing for Lent.  Not only for this project, but because I wanted to give up something I do every day that I truly enjoy.  I could give up chocolate, yes, but I don’t eat chocolate every day.  Swearing is something that is unbecoming in most company, clutters up my language, and makes me lazy.  Already today I caught myself inserting an F-bomb into a just an ordinary sentence, and I stopped myself, and I felt good.  There are better, more creative ways to express myself.

And if I do swear, I’ll make a checkmark.  Every check = $1, and on Easter Sunday, I’ll donate that much money to my church as my Easter offering.

A woman working in one of the erstwhile masculine strongholds, such as a newspaper office or a printing house, may find strong language an ever-present help in getting action. — Helen Valentine & Alice Thompson, Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm, (1938)

I am a second-generation journalist.  My dad ran The Daily Editor for a good chunk of my childhood, and I always thought he had the coolest job.  I got a B in journalism in college, but still somehow managed to get an amazing job with a local paper, where I get to interview cool people (including The Amazing Kreskin, the women who inspired A League of Their Own) and, when I’m really lucky, listen to people bicker at meetings.

But my office is anything but masculine.

The only man in the office is Jim, the owner, editor, publisher and Greatest Boss Ever.  Everyone else–the sales team, the graphic artist, the office manager, the associate publisher . . . all women.  Ian is the photographer, there’s a columnist named Tom and the computer guy, Shawn, but none of them are in the office.

And needless to say, there is no “strong language.”  Things occasionally get a little heated, and once I heard my boss say the word “Chippendale,” (we were talking about The Amazing Race; The Beekman Boys are from our area and we were all discussing how awesomely they were going to win, which they did.).  But otherwise, we keep it pretty PG, even on press nights.

Sometimes Jim tells stories of his old newspaper days, when everyone kept a bottle bourbon in their desk and once someone died at their typewriter.  Now I love swearing (and I’ll be giving it up for Lent!) and I can’t help but picture myself in that office, with a fashionable hat and red lipstick, calling out for more typing paper and a cup of coffee in a loud Lauren Bacall voice.

If anything, my plain office means that I don’t have to change my tone when I return home . . . if anything, my tone changes when I go into the office.  I’m a little meeker and a little modest, trying my best to be charming and polite even when I’m exhausted from the long toil of the newspaper work.  But you really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Point is, it pays to be charming.  Man or woman.  After all, George Clooney is far more charming than Kanye West.  No one likes a loudmouth for long, even if it does help you “get action.”