Tag Archives: Charm School

Lessons Learned

Not even a month into this project and I already feel like I’m reaping some unexpected benefits.  I can actually feel myself being more polite, more interested in what other people are talking about, more tuned into what they’re feeling.

People–not just men–like to feel like they’re being listened to.  They like feeling like someone is treating them special, cultivating their feelings.  And more than just pretending to listen with a smile plastered on my face, I’m actually listening.

Fun Fact: Listening to other people distracts you from your own problems.  Even just listening to someone talk about what they watched on TV last night means you’re not thinking about all the garbage in your own world.  Do you have any idea how liberating that is?

In the last two months, my boyfriend almost lost his job, I botched a big story and we were briefly homeless.  I was getting so stressed that I had developed tremors.  But I kept being deliberately polite, smiling big at people who terrified me.


Pictured: Being Nice

And it worked.  I didn’t show them that I was scared, I listened to what they were saying, and by the end of the exchange, I had the upper hand.  Sarcasm and aggression only put people on edge.  Heck, even Patrick Swayze, who ripped a guy’s throat out, knows that the first rule is to always “Be Nice.”

How To Watch TV With a Man

“Draw out his ideas to which you can gracefully add your footnotes from time to time.” Arlene Dahl, Always Ask a Man

Bill, my father-in-law, is now one of the main men in my life.  Namely because he owns the house we’re staying in for the next six months.  So I decided to try this one out on him.


I will watch anything, literally anything, Walton Goggins is in.

Bill watches a lot of TV.  That’s not unusual for a 60 year old bachelor in the middle of an upstate New York winter (last year for Christmas, we made him a wool snuggie, which he boasts is one of his favorite gifts ever).  And the one thing he likes more than watching TV is talking about TV.  He would often regale us with something he heard on the news or a funny bit he saw on a sitcom or a particularly gruesome episode of Criminal Minds, which is normally too horrifying for me, even the episode with Walton Goggins.

Thursday night we watched  two episodes of Mystery at the Museum, and I asked him open-ended questions about other episodes, gracefully adding some notes about my own experiences with history (like the time Matthew and I visited the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) when the opportunity present itself (they were showing a barber chair that Albert Anastasia of Murder, Inc was killed in).  But mostly I let him fill me in, because the man is an absolute history buff.

Last night he gave me the choice between Cold Case and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  I am a huge SVU fan and have been since college (even though it has been terrible the last four seasons, and I think they should have replaced Chris Meloni with Michael Chiklis) but I remembered my quest and gently said, “Whichever one you like best.”  His logic was that Cold Case is only on one a week, so we watched that.

It was kind of nice.  Since we’re living in his house, I want him to feel like we’re not just taking over his life, and I think letting him dictate what he wanted to watch was a good way to do that.  Plus, I had never seen Mysteries of the Museum or Cold Case, and both were pretty awesome.

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.”