Talking About That Little Lady

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Pondering What it Means to be Ladylike in the Modern Era


Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

Several years ago, my husband and I had some friends who were members of one of the Yacht Clubs in San Francisco. We would occasionally join the couple for dinner after a day of sailing.

The views were fantastic, the bartenders gave a deep pour, and the food was good (but not great).

San Francisco is well known for its more liberal political leanings, but the yacht clubs are where the more conservative (i.e. wealthy) can be found in the notorious hippie city. The rules of the yacht club dictated that we had to mind our p’s and q’s while there.

On one memorable night after a hearty dinner, the four of us retired to the bar with drinks in hand and began a rousing and competitive game of liar’s dice.

Just as things really got rolling, as it were, an Admiral of the club who was a huffing old man with a bulbous nose blooming with red capillaries, bustled over to us. He leaned over the bar and blurted, “Ladies do NOT throw dice in bars!”

Remember when you were a kid riding in the front seat of the car? And that moment when your mom would hit the brakes and throw out that strong mom arm to protectively keep you from flying through the windshield?

That is roughly the approach my husband took to keep me from getting very unladylike in a real hurry.

After the adrenaline dissipated and another drink was poured, I remember thinking how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.


The George Moro Dancers at El Rancho Vegas, 1949 — Photo by Don English, photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau

These days I’m a lot older and a lot less inclined to take any guff off of anyone, particularly a stuffy old rich man. But this concept of “being a lady” and acting ladylike is still something I think about. In fact, as I age, it’s on my mind more than ever.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and had me late in life so I ended up with a more old fashioned set of values than many of my peers in school. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, women weren’t having kids into their late thirties, so my parents were a generation older than my friend’s parents.

Where they had cool bell bottom pant wearing moms and sideburn wearing dads who were easy, open, and permissive, my folks were stodgy and carried a depression-era sensibility about almost everything, including but not limited to: money, discipline, and politics.

But to their credit, where many of my female friends grew up with their parents saying, “When you grow up and get married…” mine were saying, “When you grow up and graduate from college…”

Pretty forward thinking for my ultra conservative folks.

So I followed their advice, went to college, got a post graduate degree and these days I work in operations to support scientists, including both physicists and engineers. While the percentage of women in the various STEM fields is still small, it is certainly growing. I am lucky to work with a lot of strong women in non-traditionally female professions. This has me thinking more and more about what it means to be a lady.

If clothes make the man, does how a woman dresses define whether or not she is a lady? With each passing year, the dress code of employers becomes more casual. Both men and women can wear khakis and a button down, so maybe clothes are no longer a deciding factor.

Once the measure of being a lady was being demure, subservient, speaking in low and melodic tones. My mother’s 1950’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook explains that my job as wife is to have the children clean and tidy for when my husband comes home. I should dress in a pleasing way and greet him at the door. That advice was prudent for the times, but is no longer the measure of what makes me, or anyone, a lady.

I’ve been noodling over writing this piece for a little over a month. I had started getting down the words when the Be a Lady They Said video went viral. I saw it posted on all of the social platforms. I didn’t want to seem like riding the coattails of that sentiment so I set this story aside. Perhaps I’m not the only one thinking on this topic.

This question of what it means to be a lady continues to rattle around in my brain so I dusted this story off and starting thinking about it again. As I enter the time of my life where I will no longer have the ability to bear children, an aspect some say defines the very nature of womanliness, I wonder who and what I am now that I am no longer young, with the power and energy that youth brings.

My face in the mirror is changing, my hair is rapidly turning gray, and what it means to be a lady, for myself anyway, is also changing.

So I haven’t yet answered the question of what it means to be a lady, and maybe I never will. Or maybe the answer is being a lady means whatever I want it to mean.

And for the record, ladies most certainly do throw dice in bars.


Royalty Free image from corbisimages.com

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

When The Word Artist is Used as an Insult

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The Careless Use of a Beautiful Word

 

Photo by Елена Можвило on Unsplash

As both an artist and a career business professional, I embrace both and switch back and forth in my brain, depending on the situation. One pays the bills, the other pays my soul.

I am currently on a business trip for a fairly important meeting and at these events it is customary to have a group photograph taken by a professional photographer.

To that end, yesterday we were told to gather in the lobby for this year’s group photo. We were told we were going outside where it was a bit cold, so the photographer was going to arrange us inside then we’d head outside for the shots in front of a lovely green space.

Immediately the carping began “Why are we going outside, it’s cold out there!?” The photographer’s answer, “Because it’s very pretty outside and will make for a much nicer photo.”

“Can’t we just do it in here?” The photographer’s answer “Yes, but we want a really good photo and the lobby isn’t very nice.”

Then the photographer began to evaluate the shot and arrange us by height, clothing color, and other aesthetics he wanted to see.

Herding about 20 bossy people is no small task, but this photographer is an old hand and firmly took command.

“You in the blue shirt, would you switch places with this person in the charcoal jacket?” and so we’d switch around, moving forward and back as he studied the pose.

More than once I heard a comment along the lines of “Artists, sheesh! Just take the picture!”

Or “Why all this fuss, let’s get on with it!”

Or “This is an awful lot of trouble for a picture, can’t we just use a cellphone and be done with it?”

With this, my hackles began to rise. You see, a business professional is what I do, an artist is what I am. To hear this kind of careless talk is not unexpected, but fully disheartening. I took it personally.

Maybe people don’t see photographers as “real artists” or maybe because the photographer is employed by our institution and not hired from outside he is subject to coworker’s careless talk, but I found the comments rather tactless.

What stings me the most is when the word “artist” is said in an unkind and sarcastic way. As if being an artist is somehow bad.

It is not the first time I’ve run across this in my work setting, only the most recent.

I have been at my creative work for a long time, and I’ve long since grown past any discomfort or sheepishness I have in calling myself an artist. In other words, I own it and I’m well beyond trying to defend it. It just is.

However, I somehow have not gotten past people going “pfft, sure” when I describe myself that way.

Photo by naeim jafari on Unsplash

I think there is a perception that an artist is a hippy-dippy, flowing skirt, wacky hair, free spirited, out of touch soul. And why not? But in my experience a working artist is also a nuts and bolts, down to earth, hardworking soul with enormous amounts of self-discipline, organization, and drive.

In this instance, I get that people don’t like having their photo taken, but if a photo is taken, people certainly want it to look nice. Good work takes work.

People love to consume art, but for some reason underestimate the work it takes to produce quality art. A few minutes in the Choosing Beggars sub-Reddit offers a few sobering examples.

I do sometimes feel like there are two of me walking around in a one-human unit, and that’s okay. My business side brings some discipline to my art and my artist side brings some creativity to my business work.

So while I grimaced a bit and noted the careless and arguably rude undertone in the use of the word artist, I chose to move past it (under the guise of “pick your battles”), moved where the photographer told me to stand without comment, and thanked him when we were done.

Because artists must support artists, always.

Burned Plastic and Gasoline

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Turns out I have a new neighbor. I had no idea the new tenant was moving in, but then *boop*, there was someone new trooping around the ol’ neighborhood.

Not sure what unit this one lives in. In fact, I’ve never even set eyes on my new neighbor, but I know they live nearby.

You see, October in Northern California is gorgeous. Really, it’s the best time of the year, bar none, to be here. The days are warm and pretty, and the evenings clear and cool. Indian summer lasts a real long time here and it’s a wonderful thing.

Every evening after a long day of work, The Good Man and I throw open the windows and the back door and let the stuffy apartment drink in all of that cool, clean air. Perfect for a good night’s sleep.

Over the past couple weeks, right around 7:30pm or so, the rancid odor of burning plastic and gasoline and the hinges of hell begins to seep into every room of the house. It hits one of us (usually me) first.

“Arrwhagggh!” is the approximation of the sound I make.

“What?” says The Good Man, alarmed, and then “Oh bleah!”

Yes, it’s true. My new neighbor is…Dun dun duuuuuuuun

El Zorillo*

Pinche zorillo. I haven’t been able to lay eyes on the beast, probably because by the time I get the eye watering jet wash it’s moved on to the next yard.

I fear this cabrón lives under my front stoop but I can’t be sure.

And every time this happens, like watching reruns of Lucy and Ricky, The Good Man and I have a conversation that goes a lot like this:

Me: “I just need a .22 and I can take care of this problem.”

Then The Good Man reminds me that we live in California and this state takes a dim view of shooting varmits in its urban neighborhoods.

“A bb gun?” I ask, like that kid from the Christmas movie. “The pump action kind.”

The Good Man says, “You really think you can hit a [insert rodent name here, we have this conversation a lot] from here?”

“Try me,” I say, standing up straighter. “I’ve been shooting since I was a kid, my dad saw to that. I’ve shot everything from a cap gun to a Browning over and under and my aim is pretty damn good.”

“No,” he says.

“Pellet gun?” I plead.

“What the hell state do you think you live in? We don’t shoot old hot water heaters out behind the Snappy Mart around here!” (I may or may not have introduced him to the rasquache joy of my home state.)

Then he tacks on, “We live in one of the most densely populated areas of the United States and the police, they have no sense of humor in this city!”

And then I sigh, and quickly cover my nose and cough because I took in too much skunk air when I started the sighing process.

Of course he’s right. So I went online and did some reading and discovered that if I can figure out where my new neighbor lives, animal control might help.

Problem is, when I get the aroma, I kinda don’t want to dash out there to get a good look at where the beast is going.

I think I’m going to need a trail camera. And camouflage. And maybe some other cool things like a Buck knife and a camp stove and a new tent! Oooh yeah…

And don’t anybody tell me that it’s a cute fluffy creature worthy of love and affection. When the original engineer designed the zorillo, it wasn’t with a love of humans in mind.

Or dogs, I think our awesome next door neighbor dog got hit last night. Poor growly bear of an adorable dog.

(This just in: I was texting with The Good Man telling him I was writing this post and he said, “I trapped some skunk stink in my closet last night. Kind of surprised myself this morning.”)


*a skunk





“Whatever. Haters gonna hate.”




Image found here.




Where Credit is Due

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For all the ways she made me who I am…


Today is the celebration of the birth of my own dear mom. I don’t think she would mind me saying that today she is 79 years old. If you met her on the street, you’d probably guess her age was much, much younger (like early sixties). That alone inspires me.

If you have read my blog for a few years, you will have learned a bit about the patience and understanding of my mother.

Here are a few choice places to get caught up:


There was the time I threw a snake at my mother.


There was the time I shot her in the arm with a BB gun.


Or when she thought I’d drowned in the bathtub.


And one of the many times I crushed the aspirations she had for me.


But mostly, a story about when she was just being, quite frankly, awesome.


I am the sum of all my parts and much of the good stuff I owe to my mom.

I am proud of her and I’m lucky she was kind enough to give me life.

Happy Birthday, Mom! You deserve cake!





Easter 1976, Albuquerque, NM. We are a good looking crew! Thanks mom!




Image from the family photo albums.




The Bell Curve Beat Down

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Me and the bell curve are going to tussle today. We are going to mix it up real good and you can bet’cher sweet ass it’s gong to be significant…statistically significant.


It’s that time of year again. The part of the annual work cycle that makes managers everywhere cry, cringe and procrastinate.

Yes, it’s performance review season. We are game ON.

I have been a manager for over a decade and I have written lots of these bad boys, but they never get any easier.

This year at the new company I have found an HR process that is the most confusing of any I’ve ever known. And that’s saying something.

First, they make us use an archaic file sharing system. The damn thing is so old the original software publisher doesn’t even support it anymore. Hell, they won’t even admit they ever owned it, it’s so clumsy.

Then there are the confusing and overblown review forms to be filled out. It takes about two hours per performance review to fill out every section in the twelve page document and do a decent job of providing good constructive feedback.

Then there are four levels of review. This goes all the way up to C-level people who, I kid you not, read every single review. (downsides of working for a small company, I suppose)

Then the obtuse guidance from HR on due dates and what has to be done by when.

All of that said, I am fine wading through the morass of bureaucratic argle-bargle, but there is one aspect that gives me pause.

Just like college exams, it turns out that our performance review ratings must adhere to a bell curve. There must be some small quantity of poor performers, some small batch of extraordinary performers, and a fat-in-the-middle quantity of medium performers.

So if you have a team of five and four knocked it out of the park this year…good luck with that. One can get a great review and the rest will get a middlin’ review.

That’s not fair. That’s not an actual evaluation of performance.

Yes, I know that my company isn’t the only place that does this, but it drives me absolutely bonkers.

And! It gets worse. All of my peers and I had a big pow-wow with our department head. We went through every employee’s performance and gave ratings, defended our ratings, argued our ratings and finally after many hours, we all arrived at our department wide bell curve.

Fine. I was told to go forth and write my reviews. So I did, with supporting evidence for the ratings I had agreed upon for my team.

But wait! There’s more!

Once reviews were written, my boss then took our ratings to her boss (a C-level) and they did this rating argument across the entire division level. And scores were again forced into a bell curve which means some ratings changed.

Based on this second meeting I was told to modify some of the reviews based on new ratings. So I did.

And now comes news that the boss’ boss has to take our ratings to her boss, the head of the whole ding-dang institution. Once again everything will get shoved into a bell curve and ratings may change again.

Oh. Hell. No.

Now I’m worked up. Now I’m on fire. Now I am officially Cheesed Off.

You’re making me revise performance reviews three times and you are comparing my team to all the other departments in the company who do totally different work? And not it’s not just that four of my five people don’t get their deserved awesome reviews, but all of our high performers across the department my succumb to bell curve’itis.

Did I mention that rating = how much salary increase is handed out?

Gah!!

And we wonder how we can better incentivize our employees. Har.

I really hate bell curves. They may have been my friend in college but they give me zero love now.







Image found on FaceBook and several places on the ‘net.