with Lynne and Leslie
Category Archives: Life

Work it! Own it!: Having the guts to get paid what I’m worth

by SweetMidlife

I’m Leslie! I’m worth a lot! I am! I mean it! (Photo: Rissa Miller at Balance Photography)

Leslie here!

I have done a lot of things I’m proud of lately – finishing a half marathon, selling a book, continuing to keep my child alive. But my biggest recent personal accomplishment was telling a nice old lady that I couldn’t speak to her nice old lady organization because they couldn’t pay me enough. And I felt OK about it.

More than OK. I feel darn good about it.

I love speaking. Not just in general, as I am super verbose and don’t shut the hell up, but also in formal settings, where I say pithy, moving things about everything from widowhood to local places to eat to whatever the hell’s going on with newspapers these days (That’s a whole other thing.) I’ve been speaking everywhere imaginable, from schools to retirement communities to libraries, for years now, and the more I’ve spoken , my skill, as well as my stature in my community, have increased and improved.

And when that happens, the conventional wisdom is that you’re worth more. Which means that if you charge for your services, which I do, you should get paid more. That’s the way things work, and if you’re serious about being a business person and being paid for the professional thing that you’re good at, you have to do the jobs that correspond to your worth. This means beginning to turn down the ones that aren’t, because you have to look out for yourself. I’ve been having the same conversation about this with my sister and another friend for years now. It’s about how as growing business people, particularly as women that people like, those people sometimes expect you to cut them a break, to give them a discount. I mean, everyone likes a discount, and believe me I get plenty of them, and I’m grateful.

But the truth is that if everyone gets a discount, that discount is now your price. I’m not established enough or rich enough to be giving stuff away for free. I’ve been a reporter for 25 years, a regular speaker for about 15, and I’m about to be a published author. When the paper I work for used to have a speakers bureau, they provided reporters like myself to the community for free and paid us $40 for the time, which seemed like gravy – the job I loved provided me some extra cash and the people I spoke to were nice and sometimes even gave me a bagel.

But that was a long time ago, and I’m worth more, although even saying that sometimes sounds ungrateful due to the conditioning nice girls like me get to feel bad about asking for what we’re worth. My price is now several times than what I used to get. I still want my bagel, tho. Knowing that, of course, is easier than making that happen.

Which came to mind very recently while standing outside of a fancy cocktail bar on a recent girls trip confirming to that very nice older lady that I would not be able to speak to her group. I kind of already knew that- when she’d contacted me a week earlier, already apologetic that her group had a small budget, the number she’d come up with was very, very small. Being a nice grandmother type well practiced in the art of subtle guilt, she’d floated the idea that even though I’m important and busy, perhaps I had some special affinity for her group and would be willing to give them a discount. I do love her group, but again, if you keep giving everybody discounts, the discount is your price. So I saw her grandmother guilt and raised her one case of widowed single mother who needs the money. She appreciated that. But then she said something else.

“Well, obviously. But also you work really hard and you’re worth what you’re asking. We just really wanted you to come. I’ll check with the board and let you know.”

Well, wow. The lady who had asked for a discount was letting me off the hook because she wanted me to know that while she might not be able to afford me, I was worth what I was asking. SHE KNEW THAT. So I had to, too.

The call on my girls trip was to let me know that the board, although really into me coming to speak to them, was unable to come up with the money. I could have sworn that there was the slightest pause to allow me to say “That’s OK! I’ll do it anyway because it’s you!” But if there was, the moment passed, and I told her I was so sorry it didn’t work out but that I’d let her know when I was speaking in the area.

As I hung up and went back to my drink I felt both pleased with myself and pathetic that I thought I needed a cookie to stand up for myself, to ask permission to get paid. It’s stupid. I’m told all day long that I’m awesome. I might as well believe it. It’s not that I’ve never been kicked in the proverbial teeth – see the part about being a widowed single mother – but as things get better, healing continues and my book gets closer to release, I have to embrace not only my awesomeness but my worth. I’m hardworking. I’m good at what I do. And I’m worth it.

Hear that, Leslie? You’re worth it.


The Discoveries You Find When You Walk Instead of Drive

by SweetMidlife

 

Lynne here! It’s a sunny day in Annapolis today, but yesterday was a different story at one point. It was really rainy in the late afternoon into the early evening, and my son had a music lesson in the downtown arts district of town. I decided to run an errand while he was there, and since parking in that area is dodgy, I armed myself with a large umbrella and took a walk. And it was wonderful. I drive down this street a lot, but I often miss things that aren’t directly in front of me, which is good because driving. But here are some of the things I noticed as I walked to the 7-11 to buy my son Doritos that I may have (and actually have) missed in my car.

Things I didn’t know
When you walk down a street and look at things deliberately instead of driving down it on the way to somewhere else, you find out stuff you didn’t know. Like the Subway I planned to buy chips at originally is gone. And I found out the they are building new things in that district because I had to cross the street to walk on the other side because construction chopped up the sidewalk. Plus, the sweet Irish hotel that my husband and I stayed at once as a present from my mom is now a Hilton Garden Inn with a really cool restaurant next door. And I picked up real estate flyers for cool places I won’t live in because I like my house, and also because I can’t afford it. But I love that kind of thing.

Ooh, and I had also missed a mural of the area painted ON THE GROUND. There was beauty under my feet. That sounds poetic.

Isn’t that lovely? It’s the Maryland State House! Painted on a crosswalk.

People-watching Galore
When you are walking, you can pay attention to the people walking past you, and you wonder about their stories. Like did that guy running down the street get caught in the rain, or is he running on purpose? The guy standing outside of 7-11: does he hang out there a lot? Does he know the lady who was buying lotto tickets inside, or are they making conversation? Do the people getting gas and driving notice the people around, or are they things that happen to be there as they go to where they really want to be? And how nice is the 7-11 manager? And I can answer that: very. Are other people as curious about other people as I am? I don’t know.

Things look haunted and beautiful in the rain and picture-worthy and I like it
I don’t know what it is about rain hitting things, but it makes me want to take pictures of it. The sound of rain often drowns out the rest of the outside noise, and makes this beautiful neutral hum. And it makes me wistful, and casts this natural film over things that looks better than an Instagram filter.

Misty pretty stoplight

So, this isn’t a really deep post, but just one about what happens when you literally slow down and take things in. You get an appreciation for things you see every day but don’t really see.


Kylie’s a billionaire at 20 so what are we all doing? A lot, turns out

by SweetMidlife

I come not to bury Kylie Jenner – I don’t know her and apparently she’s nearly a billionaire with her cosmetics empire so even if I tried she could climb out of the dirt on a giant pile of money. I do, however, come to say that almost no one else is a billionaire at 20, or at any age, and that it’s absolutely OK. More than OK, really.

There’s been a lot of hubbub about Forbes’ cover featuring Kylie in a serious business suit touting her as a female self-made billionaire, if you define “self-made” by starting your business with your own money, as she did with assets she made from modeling. Of course many, including me, beg to differ that one can be self-made with a modeling career made possible by both sides of her rich and famous family and her high media profile since childhood, and maintain that the admirable hustle she possesses was still built on a platform she inherited.

Then again, even Kylie’s sister haven’t made the money she has, so she’s doing something right. I am neither jealous nor hating. But I was among those who reacted with strongly to the snarky New York Post tweet that read “19-year-old Kylie Jenner is worth $900 million dollars…What are you doing with your life?” Um, what? I know it’s meant to probably award Kylie for her hard work, specifically at her age, but there’s an unfortunate implication that anyone who hasn’t done that – AND NO ONE HAS – has somehow wasted their lives and is a loser and should feel bad. You don’t have to put down other people to pull her up, New York Post.

A very wise attorney named Michelle Bhasin who I have never met but who I’d like to be my best friend, was one of several people who instead of saying “Umm, not being born into a rich famous family” decided to answer that snarky question sincerely. Bhasin talked about being a professional and raising her kids, one of whom is autistic, and about her community work with the homeless. Michelle Bhasin is not a billionaire, but she’s doing a lot.

Her Tweet was one of several that told big stories in a small amount of characters, of careers made from high school educations, from pulling oneself up from desperate family situations, from barely making ends meet but being able to look themselves in the eye at the end of the day. These were beautiful histories of strong people, mostly women, proud of their lives and their accomplishments, even if they were broke, because what they were doing with their lives was living well. I even added my own, above.

In this age of hate and division and, I believe, value put on the most horrible wrong things, this feed will make you feel good about some hardworking Americans who deserve to be billionaires. They won’t be. But that doesn’t make them any less impressive than Kylie Jenner. Not at all.


Dishes and Such

by SweetMidlife

HI! This is Lynne. We haven’t blogged in three months because other stuff. But I have been writing stuff on Facebook that would make good blog posts, and we have a blog, so I am using it. May not be deep. But writing out whatever it is will be cool.

So this has been a busy week and our dishes kind of piled up. And this morning I had the time to actually wash them. And I feel better. It would be nice to never go to bad with dishes still in your sink, like my grandma does. But I haven’t been able to do that consistently. So maybe every night it won’t happen. But that thing should not be soaking a whole week. Because if it’s that dirty, throw it away.

Dishes that got did. Good.

But sometimes things need to soak. I was getting all excited about getting everything done but there was ONE cup for the Magic Bullet that had stubborn blueberry stains in it, soI was thwarted and had to soak it. I love that word. Thwart. It sounds diabolical. The Magic Bullet cup thwarted it. But I did wash out this Tupperware thing that had chickpea flour in it. So that was a victory. Take that, Magic Bullet cup! That is your future.

My current nemesis. But we good.

So I was almost finished the dishes, and I was finishing up loading the dishwasher, and I could not open it all the way to put the last few things in it because something was stuck. So that was a whole thing trying to figure out what was stuck, and trying to bend low enough to see it and try to reach my hand back and move it. But I figured it out. And I feel like I have accomplished something.

Yay!

So now the dishes are going in the dishwasher, and the cup is soaking, and the dishes I hand-washed are drying. I have done what I can do there for now. And there is a satisfaction in that. But I still need to continue to eat, so this is a temporary victory. But that’s life. Doing the work. Enjoying the fruits of the work. Doing the work again. And enjoying. And remembering when you are doing one that the other fuels that.


Leslie’s “Yoga Every Day” Challenge: I can watch “This is Us” during yoga, right?

by SweetMidlife

I may have been watching a beloved fictional man die a heroic death while doing this yoga video. Or not. But probably.

Mondays always seem like a good time to start a challenge or a new thing, at least to me. There are theories for and against this logic, and of every diet or new habit I ever started on a Monday stuck, I’d have a body like Serena Williams, my room would be amazingly clean and I wouldn’t be stepping around shoes flung carelessly in a pile in the middle of the night.

I am still making my bed. Of course, I started that on a Saturday, so who knows?

Anyway, one of the things I have long tried to do in my life is a daily yoga practice. I’m not rich, nor do I have a nanny or an infinite amount of time, so I can’t go to either of the beloved studios within walking distance of my house every day, or even more than once in a blue moon. This is where Gaia.com, an online community chock full of yoga, lifestyle, spiritual and other videos, comes in (and no, this is not a paid post. There is no financial renumeration for what I’m writing, and I pay for my membership like everyone else.

There are offerings from beginner to advanced, and I’d say I’m a semi-advanced beginner. Perhaps not an absolute beginner, as David Bowie might say, but absolutely in the beginner-I-might-need-a-block-and-yes-this-is-as-far-as-I-bend zone. The Gaia people make it easy for us block-users, however, with some series that are geared to put you in the practice of having a practice. My favorite is “Yoga Every Day,” of which there are currently 358 episodes that run just 15-20 minutes. The site selects one of these for me a day, and since I keep forgetting to do it, I haven’t yet had the same one twice. This is a problem I’d like to have, honestly.

So since it’s Monday, and again, that seemed like a good time to do this, I am challenging myself to do one of these videos everyday for the next 30 days. They aren’t long, I can do them from my brand new yoga mat (also, incidentally, made by Gaia, and I bought that with my own cash, too) and they start my day in a good way because they make me do SOMETHING.

This morning’s was titled “Santosha,” the Sanskrit word for contentment, which at this point of great potential change in my life seems really appropriate. For me, it means that I hope that big things are coming for me, but that I am praying for contentment in my current state and appreciation and contentment in whatever those changes are. The teacher is Steph Schwartz, who I like because she has a calm voice and plays the accordion to start the class. It’s cool. I like her words about intent and peace, and know that she probably didn’t mean me to be playing last night’s “This Is Us” On Demand as I did this practice. But my DVR cut off the end and I only have so much time before my kid wakes up, so…Sorry, Steph.

I’m gonna be better. I have 30 days!


I made my bed today. Is my life going to change forever now?

by SweetMidlife

Just call me angel, on a made bed, angel!

Leslie here! I write you today from my hippie mommy grotto, lying on my scarf and twinkle light-strewn bed, which I made about a half hour ago.  You’re probably wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of making my bed, which I am, because it was cool that I did that and I rock. Because I am an adult person who learned the skill of bed-making roughly 40 years ago, one would assume it’s one I’d mastered.

And I have. I’m serious. I just never do it.

But there’s a train of thought, espoused by presumably put-together people like “The Power of Habit” author Charles Duhigg, that it’s worth it to take the time to tuck in my sheets, straighten up the comforter and even add some of these stuffed animals living around here doing nothing but being cute. Not only will it make my whole room look better, but it could be the first steps toward a great day, and even a great life.

Not convinced. But I’m listening.

Anyone who’s ever lived or gone on vacation with me knows that making my bed is not usually part of my morning routine (neither is neatly folding and putting away my clothes, but that’s a whole other situation.) It’s not intentional – I just don’t usually take the time to do it, because I feel super-busy from the moment I get up. I could blame it on being a mom, but I didn’t make my bed when I was childless, either. It’s not that I don’t know that doing so makes your room look prettier, and makes the bed a lot more inviting when you crawl into it at the end of the day.

I just don’t do it.

But this morning, after doing a yoga video and hanging up the clothes that have been looped over the footboard for a week, I changed my sheets that had child-deposited crumbs on them, replacing them with spiffy fresh-out-the-laundry ones, and then actually fluffed the pillows. I even moved the mail off and put it on my desk instead of just chucking it on a chair or something.

Why is this supposed to be important? Duhigg calls making the bed a “keystone habit,” that sets the tone for the rest of the day. He writes that “making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.”

He’s not the only one. According to the Huffington Post, there’s a whole mess of evidence that making the bed is important because it not only gives you a sense of pride (because you’re not a Messy Leslie) but because it sets an intention. I know about intention from yoga, the idea that everything in your life, from your yoga practice to what you eat to how you dress, is done thoughtfully and with purpose. And that makes so much sense – For instance, I am much more likely to stick to my healthy diet if I plan my meals. Ditto for my workouts – saying “I’ll probably fit it in at some point sometime today most likely yeah that’s the ticket” never works for me. I do better when I either do it first thing in the morning or plan some activity where there’s accountability, like meeting my trainer at the gym or walking my son to school with my mom. Even stronger than my messiness is my aversion to letting anyone down.

So this is where making the bed comes in – If I can take the time to do the most basic thing, just putting back together the bed I just got out of, that sets that intention – there’s that word again – to then make sure I do other things that should be habits, like flossing, or putting my shoes back neatly on the rack, or putting my son’s lunch bag on the doorknob so I don’t forget it. And that’s all before I left the house.

I am not expecting my life to change overnight – I’ve been loose-goosey with the organization and such for 46 years, so these bad habits aren’t going to be changed overnight. But the only way to see a change is to start one. Even a little one. Be the change you want to see in the world, they say.

My bed’s that first change. And it’s super pretty, too!


2017 was really awful. Taylor Swift personally had a good year. So did I. Fight me.

by SweetMidlife

 

 

 

We were happy in 2017, happier than in 2015. And that’s true.

This is Leslie! In 2015, I lost my husband Scott, making 2015 the worst year in my life so far. It handily beat 2012, the previous title holder and the year my father died. 2012 was also the year that Barack Obama won a second term and the year that my nephew Alex, a human so unspeakably cute that he may not be human (shhh!), was born. So good things happened that year – some wonderful things, but the overall mood, for me, was crappy, because my daddy died. Does that make sense? It was a bad year for me, but that doesn’t negate the good things that happened.

2017, in general, has been a dumpster fire for much of the world. As a newspaper reporter I’m not supposed to get into the political nitty-gritty (hello ethics!) but it’s not political to say that neo-Nazis are bad, murder is bad, racism is bad and not supporting health care for needy kids and old people is evil. 2017 is also the year that Roy Moore, a man who thinks that life was peaches when my ancestors were slaves, got defeated, that monsters like Harvey Weinstein got called out and some heads that needed toppling got toppled. Personally, it was the year that I became vegan, lost 10 pounds, continued to have a great relationship with my mom, who moved in with me to raise my son, got some health stuff under control, celebrated the first anniversary of my child’s adoption, rekindled my relationship with my father-in-law, who got to meet his grandson, and finished my first book.

That  is a good year. It does not negate the dumpster fire, but it does shine a nice light in the distance. Apparently Taylor Swift, a woman of whom I am not a fan but whose success and hard work are undeniable, had a good year, too. She released a hit album. She successfully sued a radio host for groping her, gave strong testimony and took her place in the pantheon of women who said #metoo, when she didn’t have to. She also just had a birthday, and wrote on Instagram that she could not have had a better year. She didn’t say that everything was great. She didn’t say “Screw you people.”

She said she had a good year. And people freaked out on her. They called her tone deaf and privileged. And maybe she is. But she’s also a person who’s made buckets of cash for writing about the crap in her personal life. So y’all gonna drag her when something goes right? She wasn’t talking about y’all. She wasn’t saying everything was awesome. She dared to have a great day. Let her live, OK?

2017 has been the worst for a lot of people that I love, with personal illnesses and scary uncertainty for jobs and livelihoods. The overall scope of this year might be a dumpster fire. But there are victories. There are good days. And if one of those people said “This amazing thing happened to me today” and some stranger said “You’re evil to be happy at all because polar bears are dying” I would fight them. We can be aware and vigilant in this fight against evil. But we can also celebrate the good days. Because we have them. I did. So did Taylor Swift.

Hopefully we will have more of them soon.


It’s all about ME: Jealously guarding your time to yourself, no matter what

by SweetMidlife

 

Getting to the root of the matter

This is Leslie, and this is a picture of me getting my highlights done. It is not the cutest photo in the world, nor would it ever see the light on my eHarmony or Match.com profiles, if I had not run fleeing from those sites because they have produced not a daggone thing for your girl. But there is something very vital, even beautiful happening here. See that smile under all those ridiculous and lovely foils? It’s the look of a mom who’s getting to sit in a chair for a few hours dedicated only to making her a more gorgeous, happy version of herself.

There was also day wine. But that smile was mostly because of the Me Time.

Me Time is important. I don’t think I really understood that when all of my time was Me Time, when I was single, and even after I got married, before my son. In a weird way, even my job is sometimes Me Time, at least the times when I’m writing first-person columns about my life or opinions. But it’s not really Me Time, because I’m on the clock, with parameters set by someone else on just how much Me I share, and when. Even still, before my little Brooks was in the picture, the time when I wasn’t at the office was mine, focused on what I needed and wanted. I could get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to Boot Camp, and as long as I was done in time for my next interview it was cool. I didn’t have to feed and dress another human being, look for something semi-nutritious to throw in his lunch bag, wipe the syrup off of the tablet I thought I told him not to use while eating waffles but am too tired to walk across the kitchen and take. Picking my battles. Deciding whether to count the calorie or two in the syrup I just licked off the finger I wiped the syrup off the tablet with.

I know I am not telling any of you who are parents, or other sorts of caretakers, anything about the lack of You Time, of really focusing on yourself. And I don’t mean painting your nails while you make lunch, or scarfing down an extra bag of Cheez-its while you wait for your conference call. I’m talking about taking at least an hour to get your own nails done – no returning work emails! – or taking yourself to a lunch and keeping your laptop in the bag. I’m talking about having a conversation that you’re not watching the clock during, or watching an episode of whatever you want without interruption from someone demanding “Paw Patrol.”

And not feeling guilty about it. And not making excuses, or cutting it short for anything less than an emergency. And knowing you deserve it.

You do, you know. I do. Even when I think I don’t. So there’s the story behind that smile, goofy under the foils. It’s the look of someone who was, before this photo, fighting the urge to check my email or do something about my grocery list. And guess what? Work went on without me. Nobody starved. But me? I got to breathe. I got new hair. I got to have a fun talk about pop culture and random conspiracies with my stylist who is also my friend. I spent hundreds of bucks on myself and I didn’t mostly feel bad about it. (I did for a few seconds and then was like ‘Thank you, New Hair!)

I can’t do it all the time, because then no one would eat, or have anywhere to live, and I’d get fired and don’t nobody want that. But in this moment, with all the shiny foils, I was all about Leslie. Because she deserves that.


Non-Zen thoughts that went through my head during this morning’s yoga class

by SweetMidlife

Yoga can make you as chill as this sleeping child on a plane. Of course, he was acting afool ten minutes before he passed out from foolishness-related exhaustion. But you feel me.

This is Leslie, and I am a bad yogi, I am more Yogi Bear, Including the picnic baskets.  

Still, I have been doing more and more breathing and moving on mats in tranquil rooms with twisty, Zen people all around me like a multi-generational Pinterest board. And my body, including my problem knees and gnarly runner’s feet, seem to like it. My mind does too – I admit to checking my text messages from my mat, my iPhone hidden under my yoga blanket, when I first started back, because I was a bad person. But that was Two Months Back Leslie. Current Yoga Leslie is better than that. Most of the time. Allegedly.

This morning, during a very chill but challenging Gentle Yoga class, I tried to follow the instructor’s suggestion to being present in the class and to clear my mind of the thoughts I brought into the studio. My mind is old and watches a lot of “Law and Order” when it’s not working full time, paying bills and talking a 3-year-old down from a sleep-deprivation tsunami of nonsense, so it welcomes the clearing. The problem is, I was so chill that it was hard to block the weirdness that flowed in to fill the spaces vacated by “Bob The Builder:” I swear these are actual thoughts I had while doing a seated Warrior 1. I’m sorry.

  • “I wonder what this is under my foot…is that a peppercorn? How did I roll a peppercorn into my yoga mat? Have I been eating risotto over my yoga mat in my sleep?”
  • “Where do they buy their sconces?”
  • “I wonder if anyone here is vegan. I could eat the heck out of some curry right now.”
  • “I must ask what this essential oil she gave us is. Lavender? Maybe. Smells like cookies. Are there lavender cookies? Or does every smell remind me of cookies?”
  • “Seriously. Where can I get some curry? Who should I ask?”
  • “I really should have lotioned my feet more. I got Ashy Yoga Foot.”
  • “These yoga pants are really big. Have I lost weight or can I not properly buy yoga pants?”
  • “Why can’t I get “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” out of my head? That is not remotely what that yoga ambient noise song sounds like.”
  • “She said we didn’t have to use a pillow but I’m not too proud to use a pillow because I ain’t trying to hurt my back trying to look fly in a Gentle yoga class.”
  • “Crap. Did I fall asleep?”
  • “I’ma look for some curry on my walk home.”

Pamela Smart, TV murder and who’s writing your story in the New Year

by SweetMidlife
Bang your own drum, or be content with someone else doing it for you. And that means they get to pick the tune.

Bang your own drum, or be content with someone else doing it for you. And that means they get to pick the tune.

Leslie here! One of my New Year’s resolutions – yeah, they’re mostly poppycock, but hear me out – is to spend less time reading other people’s writing and actually writing myself. I’m a writer after all. Says so on my business card and my tax returns. It’s almost embarrassing how not proactive I’ve been, particularly when you consider that I always thought I was. But if you don’t take careful possession of who you actually appear to be, and who is telling your truth, you are doomed. Like, “doomed” if you were reading it in Vincent Price’s voice. Like you’re screwed.

I was reminded of this on New Year’s Day, watching “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart,” a 2014 HBO documentary that’s not so much about the murder of a young husband by his wife’s teen lover and his friends that she’s accused of setting up, but why we think we know what we know about it. Smart, a former school New England school media coordinator who is serving life without parole for engineering the plot, still maintains her innocence, and director Jeremiah Zagar seems to think that’s possible. But that’s not what his movie is about. It’s about how Smart herself was set up as the unfortunate subject of a “ripped-from-the-headlines” culture in the early ’90s, before myriad studies on how media coverage effects both juries and public opinion. There were several books, a widely-scene TV movie starring Helen Hunt and even a wickedly excellent Gus Van Zandt movie, “To Die For” that was loosely based on the case. Even though the movies came after the verdict, there is evidence that they have tainted any chance Smart has of getting a new trial. Person after person involved in the case, from co-conspirators to reporters to even the filmmakers and writers who recorded it as history, admit that they have a hard time separating fact from fiction. They sometimes forget which details were in evidence and which were lines spouted by Helen Hunt on a TV set.

It’s eerie to imagine that a real woman could be sitting in jail for the rest of her life – she’s spent more than half of it there already – because she had the dumb luck of falling into a salacious situation of her own making. It possessed all sorts of nasty little made-for-Geraldo details like the seduction of a teen boy,  old found bikini photos made to look like they were taken explicitly to seduce the kid, a secret, damning tape and the like. Smart’s defense team, who decided that they didn’t want to try the case in the press, didn’t insist that she tell her own story. What they didn’t appreciate is that this story was going to be told for her, in so many televised testimonies and talk show punditry. Watching the court of public opinion bury Smart two decades later, in glorious early-90s big hair and shoulder pads, is claustrophobic, because of what we know now about how media can bury or salvage you depending on its whims. The case predated the present Casey Anthonys and even the Dalia Dippolitos – troubled women with a whiff of sexual inappropriateness and big doe eyes that make people either want to save them or smack them. Maybe they’re all guilty. But if they weren’t – like if there was video of someone else committing their crimes – some people would still refuse to believe it because we’ve all discussed it and decided that they did it.

So what I’m saying is this – whether you’re the First Lady or the lunch lady, you are a public person to someone. There are people who are curious about you, who are forming opinions about you based on your Facebook profile or your last ten Tweets, or your Pinterest boards or even what they saw you buy at the Winn-Dixie last week. They probably don’t even realize that these opinions are being formed, but they are being formed, all the same. I respect the right of everyone to have their own lives, to curate the details of those lives accordingly and to not have to justify anything they do to a bunch of strangers. But “Captivated” reminded me that if you don’t take an active role in telling your own story, it’s still being told. I will take that lesson this year as a person who posts about working out but doesn’t lose weight because I keep eating things you don’t see, as a writer who sometimes spends too much time watching TV someone else wrote and not writing herself. Stuff like that. I can say I’m one thing, in all the Pinterest and Facebook and Twitter I want, but if I don’t actively inhabit those things, I am not them. I am telling a different story. Be aware of who you are and how your life tells that story. It might be speaking louder than your words.


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