All posts tagged #storytelling

Why I Like Mad Men

Sally wearing go-go boots

Sally wearing go-go boots

Mad Men begins it’s final episodes this Sunday and I thought I would share a piece originally written in 2012 and published in More.com about Why I Like Mad Men. I’ll give you a hint. She’s a little girl.

“WHY I LIKE MAD MEN”

It’s all about Sally. Really.

It’s not because I spent the majority of my career in advertising. It’s not because I love the show’s fashions. It’s not because I think Don Draper and Roger Sterling are handsome. All the above is true, but it’s not why I really like Mad Men.

I like “Mad Men” because I relate to Sally. Sally Draper who has grown up from a little 6-year old to a prepubescent 12-year old. Sally who is one year older than I was in 1966, the year of Season 5. I like “Mad Men” so much because I’m reliving my coming of age in the mid-60s from the introduction of mid-century modern design to the picket lines and protests.

Of course I came of age in Dayton, Ohio not New York City. My parents were married, not divorced. My dad was a second-generation engineer/construction man and my mom, while pretty, was never a model. However she did wear gloves and smart looking shifts like Betty Draper.

Television characters have often spoken to me. They provided insight into how to role with the punches while trying to figure out this thing called life. In 1966 I started watching “That Girl.” The show’s protagonist, Ann Marie, was the first single workingwoman on television. She lived in New York City and pursued an acting career at the same time I studied acting and dreamt of an Oscar.

In 1970, the “Mary Tyler Moore” show’s character Mary Richards, a 30-year-old progressive workingwoman came into my television room around the same time as women’s consciousness raising groups gathered in living rooms. Not that I was fully aware of the latter. However I was aware of the statement Mary made and challenges she encountered as a never married single career woman, not necessarily looking for a man to support her.

During my 30s I watched two programs with special resonance. The first was “thirtysomething;” a program attuned to my life experiences. I identified most with Ellyn who worked at City Hall and dealt with the challenges of being a singleton in the midst of coupledom. The second was “Murphy Brown.” I recognized her glass ceiling struggles and admired her chutzpah for living life on her own terms.

It’s been a long time since I’ve identified with a television character. So it struck me when I realized that Sally Draper and I are in the same cohort. I’m interested in how Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, will portray the generation gap and the rise of the baby boomer generation’s influence on society and culture. I’m interested in how Sally will react to the changing landscape. And because I stand today watching a new generation shape the world in different ways I’m interested in how Don, Roger and the rest of the middle age crowd will adapt and thrive, or not.

I will stay tuned.
originally posted April 2, 2012
More.com

Smile and Say Thank You

ESD-New-Orleans copy

Mom didn’t teach me to cook. I wasn’t much interested and I don’t think she was either. She tried to teach me to sew but when she insisted that to be a good seamstress one had to learn how to rip out and redo the seam I decided I didn’t have the patience. She did teach me penmanship with limited success. I may have looked just like her but I scribbled like Dad.

She did tell me that the best thing to say when someone offers a complement is a sincere and simple “thank you.” I had/have a tendency to defer the compliment, deny the reason why it was given, or deliver a full history of how whatever is being complimented came about.

Most of the lessons I learned from my mother were delivered silently as I watched her go about her day, which included saying the rosary at 4:30 every afternoon. The lessons I learned from my mother were delivered when I watched her laugh until she snorted when her sister visited and coo endlessly at my baby brother after his bath. The lessons I learned from my mother were about living with caution because you might get hurt and how unexpressed grief manifests itself.

My mother’s first husband died in the aftermath of the D-Day invasion. One night when I was 9-years old, my father took me into the living room after dinner to have a talk. I knew I hadn’t done anything particularly bad that day and was excited to see what Dad wanted to share with only me. He sat on an ottoman across from me in the big armchair in the corner of the room. My saddle-shoed feet stuck straight out.

There he told me that my mother had been married once before. That her first husband had died in the war. That my oldest brother was from that marriage. That my Dad had adopted my oldest brother. That we did not consider my oldest brother to be a half brother. He was a full brother.

Years later it struck me that Mom didn’t tell me this news. Or that Mom and Dad didn’t tell me. It was her news, her life. Mom wouldn’t talk about the man she married at 24, who died less than two years after their marriage. She once said that her parents told her she was lucky. She might have lost a husband but she had a good job, a wonderful son, and family to help her. She learned to keep her grief to herself and adjust to her situation.

The main lesson I learned from my Mom wasn’t directly imparted to me. The lesson I learned was to be in control of the narrative of my life. If I hurt, hurt. If I love, love. And if I have to laugh, laugh until I snort.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Fashion Faux Pas or Face Plant?

bth_red-and-white-gingham-check-a4-1

Coming of age in the 70s I was more than a fashion faux pas, I was a fashion face plant. Nothing can explain away the dress I wore to the junior prom. I looked like a picnic tablecloth on the bottom with a matching place mat on top. Since I can’t find the picture, which I know I saved, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Large red and white checked gingham fabric. Long skirt accented with a ruffle. Halter-top attached to the skirt, also accented with a ruffle. Straps crisscrossed in the back and buttoned into the top of the skirt. My father made me dance around the living room to make sure nothing fell out of the square piece of material over my chest. Since my chest amounted to nothing at the time, I was safe.

Ruffles play a major role in my best wardrobe worsts. My early choices for formal dances at college all had ruffles on the bottom and unfortunately a few had gathered sleeves with ruffled edges. And there was the ruffled yellow dotted swiss bridesmaid’s dress accessorized with a matching floppy hat. Of course that was chosen for me and truth be told, the whole time I wore that dress I squelched the urge to cry out, paraphrasing Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, “I’ll never go dotted swiss or ruffles again.”

Of course it took a whole new decade and career before I found my ruffle replacement. Half the fun of going to work in the mid-‘80s–for me¬–was wearing the businesswoman’s bow tie. Floppy or stiff. Bright red, blue or black. It didn’t matter. I simply liked the ritual of tying it. And it announced my competence without me saying a word.

I first learned about power dressing from The Women’s Dress for Success book written by John T. Malloy. His advice to women hoping to be taken seriously by others (men) in the workplace: look like those others (men) as much as possible. My closet was full of men’s styled dark colored suits that I wore with white, blue, or an occasional pink shirt, when I felt rebellious, and a bow tie. Simple jewelry, gold or silver stud earrings and maybe a pearl necklace rounded out the corporate career gal’s look.

I took all of Mr. Malloy’s advice and added my own twist. Looking at my first-day-on-the-new-job picture I wish I had applied Coco Chanel’s advice: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I wore a dark gray pinstripe suit with modest shoulder pads and a light blue wing-collared shirt with pleated front. A bow tie in the same color as the shirt flopped under my wing collar more than it stood at attention. A necklace of alternating silver and lapis-colored beads lay under my tie. Thank goodness I just wore matching silver studs.

In the 90s my bow ties and starched shirts gave way to flowing scarves and silky blouses. Then I went casual, business casual and then work from home casual. Today the most flounce in my wardrobe is found in the pashmina-style scarves warming my neck in overly air conditioned and under-heated environments. I am aware of the return of the bow blouse to the workingwoman’s closet but have resisted. Much as I have resisted anything in red and white checks. Neither bows nor gingham fit my style anymore.

What Kind of Blogger Am I?

WhatKindOfBloggerAreYou1

According to a study of blogging styles and attitudes conducted by Zemanta, a content suggestion engine (according to Wikipedia), I’m a Life Stager/Hedonist/Life Improver. Translation: I write about How to Enjoy and Survive Midlife With A Smile on Your Face, or My Face, as the case may be.

If that sounds like a mish mash of styles and attitudes, it is. According to the study, I’m not alone in exhibiting more than one blogging persona. And that, my blogging friends, is comforting to know for a couple reasons.

I’m forever being asked what my blog is about. I’m forever finding myself searching for a one-word answer because people like one-word answers that quickly categorize who you are, and because I teach marketing. I tell my students that an effective brand positioning statement is consumer-centric and singular in its promise. It is the rare branding success that offers two benefits in one drink. (Miller Lite’s Great Taste…Less Filling!) So if my blog is a brand or a product, it should offer something singular. Something it can own.

Here are some of the words I’ve tried on their own: Transition, Humor, and Midlife. But they don’t work on their own. Transition from what? What’s funny? And midlife, what does that mean? Midlife is about as broad in definition as Middle Class. Far as I can tell, Midlife means you’re not wearing diapers.

However, I also teach my students that a target audience or consumer can’t be defined narrowly by demographics. A brand’s consumer is more nuanced than a woman between the ages of 45-55. My students learn how to develop consumer personas, which include a demographic description along with information on attitudes, goals, lifestyle, and behaviors related to the product.

The Zemanta study highlights, for me, that while a blog has a brand identity, it also has a persona attached to it. Maybe I have difficulty describing my blog in one word because I can’t define myself with one word. Maybe I’ve just rationalized why I shouldn’t even worry about coming up with the one word. Maybe I should just focus on the one thing that differentiates me from the rest of the midlife bloggers talking about the midlife journey with a touch of humor. Right now the only answer – and it is one word or two, depending upon how I express it, is: Me. or Julie Danis. Only I can own that.

220px-Codex_Manesse_Ulrich_von_Liechtenstein

“Some day your mouth is going to get you in trouble,” my mother would say.  This wasn’t such a difficult prediction given the number of times I brought home a report card from elementary school with a check mark next to the words: “does not exercise self-control.” That was Catholic school code for “doesn’t know when to stop talking.”

The nuns were just agreeing with what a school psychologist had told my parents earlier. “Julie’s mouth and brain don’t operate at the same speed.” This led to talking without filtering, speed talking, and non-stop talking.  And to check marks and verbal gaffes. Gaffes that could have been avoided if I had just known my audience

Understanding whom you are talking to is the key to effective communication. Talking without understanding often leads to unintended consequences.

If I had known my manager at one of my first jobs, for example, I would not have confronted him after he reprimanded me like a drill sergeant in front of a row of administrative assistants.

I understood that he was upset. I understood that there was a check mark next to my name for “did not meet deadline.” But if I had understood his management style, I would have known that ignoring his outburst versus asking him to not talk to me like that was the key to keeping one’s job.

If I had understood the makeup of a typical comedy club audience I would have never entered the contest to find Jay Leno’s sidekick when he took over the Tonight Show in 1992.  I headed to my hometown, Dayton, Ohio to perform a two-minute stand up routine.  Mind you, I wasn’t a stand-up. I had studied and performed improvisation sketch comedy. I gave 20-minute talks as a business humorist. I was just a marketing consultant looking for a creative outlet.

I whittled down my material, donned my red power suit, and froze when I entered the club. I was not like this hometown audience. This audience did not work in corporate cubicles or talk corporate speak.

This audience laughed till they cried and ordered another beer throughout the stand-up routine before mine – which was filled with tales of working for the man, men behaving badly, and scatological asides.

This audience did not smile when I performed. Thankfully, they didn’t laugh me off the stage. Thankfully, I still had my day job.

Just two weeks ago I accompanied Husband to the Principality of Liechtenstein for official diplomatic business. Husband is the Honorary Consul of Liechtenstein to the Midwest, and I his unofficial chief of staff.  Our program included meeting the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, which I was excited about, until it came to packing.  What do you wear when meeting a prince?

On the first day of our visit, a young diplomatic officer met our group at breakfast and accompanied us to the Prince’s castle for Liechtenstein’s National Day ceremonies. The young diplomat sat next to me on the bus and I asked him how to spell his first name.

“U-l-r-i-c-h,” he replied and then asked about my family and work back in the States.

“I’m a former advertising executive,” I said. “Currently I teach on the university level and I’m a freelance writer/blogger.”

“What do you write in your blog?”

“I write personal essays and cultural commentary for women of a certain age who are reinventing themselves. Going through transitions.”

“I imagine there is much to write.”

We talked easily about my writing, my teaching, and my impressions of Liechtenstein.

If I had known my audience I would never have told Ulrich that the title of my last blog post was:  What to Wear When Meeting a Prince”

‘Well, I can imagine that might be difficult to determine,” Ulrich, the diplomat said.

“It is. I’ve never met a prince before. I don’t know anyone who had met a prince before. I want to be appropriate”

I proceeded to give him a synopsis of the endless options listed in my blog:

Formal or semi-formal, long or short, pants or skirt, cocktail, business or business casual, and so on. I did not share my quandary about whether or not to wear pantyhose.

“Later this week I’ll be posting about what I wore when I meet the prince.”

“I will read your blog. Perhaps you will write and tell your friends that you have already met a prince,” Ulrich said, and smiled, and bowed with his head.

And I remembered that when he introduced himself at breakfast I thought he called himself Something Something Liechtenstein, but I thought that can’t be right and let it go and focused on the pronunciation of his first name. Ulrich.

“You. You’re a prince. Of course, you said Ulrich Liechtenstein. Are you a cousin? Oh, I am so embarrassed. Have I hurt Husband’s appointment?” I stammered along until I just had to ask: “Well – what do you think – how am I dressed to meet a prince?”

“Quite fine,” Ulrich, the Prince said.

“You’ll learn your lesson one day,” my mother would say. The best connections are made when you know your audience. Whether it is one person or a group. However, some of the best consequences happen serendipitously when you are just truly yourself.

What Happened When I Met The Prince?

494px-Coat_of_arms_of_Liechtenstein.svg


“Seriously? You met a prince and it’s all about what you wore?” my sister wrote, referring to my most recent post.

“Yes, but if you read the post prior to the unveiling of the LRD  you would understand why,” I wanted to respond.

Recap: Last week I met Prince Alois, Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein. Husband is Honorary Consul General of Liechtenstein for Chicago/Midwest. When I learned about the princely introduction I thought to myself (and aloud), “What does one wear when meeting a prince?” I figured that out and here’s what happened.

As we approached the castle I realized I didn’t know what to call the Prince. Your Excellency? Your Highness? Prince? Sir? Before I could ask Husband, who was several paces behind me, or the Ambassador, who was moving our little group along, we were ushered upstairs to a receiving room. I’m not sure that’s what the room is really called but since that is where we were received that’s what I’ll call it.

Prince Alois met us at the doorway and the Ambassador prepared to introduce each of the four Honorary Consuls and the two HC Spouses in attendance. Husband motioned for me to go ahead of him.

“I don’t want to go first.”

“Please, go ahead.”

“No, you speak the language and I don’t know what to call him.”

The Ambassador introduces Husband and he says something in German that makes the Prince smile and shake Husband’s hand a little longer and harder. I see a friendship blooming in front of me.

“And this is Julie Danis,” the Ambassador says, and indicates that I’m with Husband.

And so the Prince shakes my hand with a great smile and says something engaging–in German.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I only speak English. He’s the German guy in our house. It is a pleasure to meet you, thank you so much.” And I move on, quickly, realizing I had no idea what to call him so I just avoided the greeting all together, much like I do if I can’t remember someone’s name and don’t want to be found out.

“Shall we do the photographs first,” the Prince suggested. We moved to another room/hallway/photo op location. The official court photographer (I’m assuming) positioned us around the Prince and took a gazillion pictures.

“Don’t squeeze my upper arm,” I say to Husband.

“What?”

“Smile.”

After the picture session the Prince steps to face the half-moon of Honorary Consuls and Spouses.  The Ambassador explains where we are from and what we have seen and done in Liechtenstein for the last several days. A server passes beverages and light canapés.  It’s only 4:50pm and a glass of wine sounds like a fine idea.

I wouldn’t say I was star struck, but I felt speechless and the need to talk at the same time. Like the time I met President Clinton and was at a loss for words until I couldn’t stop myself from telling him: “We share the same birthday along with one of the Wright Brothers. I’m not sure which one but I think It’s Orville.” (It is.)

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked about the format of this meet and greet. Clearly my obsession with what to pack/wear had pushed all other thoughts of protocol out of my mind. Against my late mother’s better judgment (she always said my mouth would get me in trouble) I leaned over and whispered to the Ambassador, “Would it be appropriate if I asked the Prince a question?”

How couldn’t I ask a question? I’m the “why, why, why” girl, according to Husband. Always wanting to know why he’s done, said, or thought something. That’s a hazard of being a consumer insight professional. I need to know the why behind the what.  And truth be known, I had been thinking of what I might ask, if he opportunity presented itself.

“I think that would be fine, okay,” the Ambassador responded.

At the next lull in the back and forth I interjected, “Sir, Prince (I still didn’t know what to call him), if I may, if you can…we’ve had a wonderful program full of meetings with different departments and offices and the university…and I’m wondering, if there’s one thing you would want us to take back to our different regions, one message about Liechtenstein, what would that be?”

Phew. That was the longest, rambling question ever. Why didn’t I just ask the question I really wanted to ask, the one I often asked consumers and clients: “What keeps you up at night?” Because I was afraid it might be misconstrued as personal, and therefore definitely inappropriate.

“Hmm,” the Prince started.

“Feel free to have two or more,” I offered, not wanting to constrain him.

I wish I could quote his answer, but I can’t. I believe his message is this: Liechtenstein’s economy is feeling the effect of being reliant on exports to the EU. The country is small but mighty in entrepreneurship, education, high-tech manufacturing and self-reliance. Increasing awareness and interaction between the United States and Liechtenstein is what Honorary Consuls can do.

Our group agreed that we could carry the Prince’s message back to the United States. We all thanked him for his time and energy. In the end it was a perfect visit, except for one small thing, which I’m sure he would have never noticed or remembered.  I just wished I had said: “Your Serene Highness, I think I can do that.” Because that’s how you address a prince.

Broad Shoulders

My first ever podcast, produced by Broad Shoulders, is now up and streaming at www.storyclubchicago.com/podcast Broad Shoulders is a collaborative effort of the live reading and open mic nights in Chicago committed to bringing the Chicago live lit community to a broader audience. If you didn’t know, Chicago is the self-proclaimed live lit capital of the world. And I’m happy to be part of it, broad shoulders and all.

Thanks to Nico Lang of inourwords.com, Dana Norris of Story Club Chicago, and Keith Ecker of Essay Fiesta. I had a great time writing the piece, performing it at Story Club, and finally taping it. So much fun that I don’t even mind that I was introduced as Julie Davis in the opening segment. That really doesn’t bother me because I was later introduced as Julie Danis (just like Davis but with an N) and my name is spelled correctly on the website. Maybe I should have changed my name after all. That last sentence won’t make sense unless you listen to my story about getting to marriage in mid-life, all the way to the end.

Happy Listening.

www.storyclubchicago.com/podcast

Click on Podcast

Installment #3 – I hope you enjoy the whole podcast, but if you want to skip to my story I’ve included the time codes below.

2:47 Julie Davis mention

15:17 Julie Danis introduced

15: 50 Julie Danis tells a story

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers