Friday, April 22, 2011

Caryl writes: Begin Here

Those are the first two words from one of my favorite authors, May Sarton, in one of my favorite books, “Journal of a Solitude". Sarton, by the way, wrote more than 60 books--fiction, nonfiction, poetry, children’s books--well into 80s. She and her friend Helen Bevington (her "Maryl" to Sarton's "Caryl") were brilliant chroniclers of Second Lives. In Solitude and “Plant Dreaming Deep”, Sarton, dissected her rich inner life from the solitary vantage point of her New Hampshire house and garden. She realized, however, her quiet satisfying life in New Hampshire had its dark side. "I became haunted by something I read years ago to the effect that when the Japanese were in a period of peace they only painted fans," Sarton wrote. When she found her creativity and passion waning, she moved to a rambling Victorian house on the coast of Maine where her writing room looked out on the sea and the woods and an infinite sky. Begin anywhere.

Helen Bevington, Sarton’s longtime friend, was a creative writing teacher, lecturer, essayist--and nomadic soul. In one of her books, "The Journey is Everything,’ she recounts her many wanderings from New Mexico to New Zealand. After the deaths of her husband and son, Bevington was often on the move: everything was journey. She writes about travels of all kinds . . . “in books, in memories, among people living and dead, a light-hearted search for Eden on this planet but a more serious search for survival in the troubled decade. . . .” according to the book jacket notes.

By the time you read this, I will be on my own journey to India, my fifth trip in as many years. This time I am going to the tribal villages of Orissa well off the “Incredible India” tourist path. I am fascinated by textiles, the artisanal kind where every stitch is made by hand, the dyes are natural and the cloth organic. Mostly, I am attracted by the people, predominantly women, who make them and the stories behind their crafts. Last year, I bought a quilt from Sophia, a young Muslim woman who lives in a clay hut near the border of Pakistan. The quilt covered with embroidered bits-- broken mirrors actually -- took her more than a year to make. Sophia was grateful for the rupees I paid her but also for my appreciation of her handiwork. And I was grateful for this artifact of a disappearing culture that now rests peacefully on my bed sparkling in the sunlight

The traveler takes a notebook and writes: Should we have stayed at home wherever that may be?
---From Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Maryl writes: Keeping Up Face


It’s important to keep up appearances in our second lives.  It may require a different regimen than before; as we move on in life so does our skin.  But confronting a skin care section of a favorite department or drug store is daunting and expensive so you don’t want to make too many bad choices.   (A lot of brands offer coupons or trial offers on their web sites which is not a bad idea.)  Vitamin C, seaweed, avocado, caffeine, botanicals, green tea and an assortment of berries and acids…..I’m taken in by all the ingredients and promises on the labels and wonder if a product is that good, why do we need plastic surgery?

I came up with my own method for assessing the many possibilities.  I think what’s in the cream or lotion is more important that the brand although I do have my favorites.  I read a few articles by dermatologists and checked with my own and concluded that I needed something with Retinol and another with a peptide.  They both stimulate collagen production and a few other things.  So I got a prescription for the first and shopped the cosmetic counters for the second. 

A lot of creams contain collagen but according to my findings, you can’t apply it topically and expect any results.  The product has to be able to penetrate the skin in order to spark its growth, such as StriVectin.  This  is of course the product sold in department stores for $100+ that first made us aware of what a peptide is.   All sounds good but at a $100 a pop?  Instead I settled on Olay Regenerist serum and have been relatively happy with the results.  But then what did Olay do?  They came out with four other skin care lines all seemingly promising the same thing.  I was back to being confused again.

So I went to the Olay web site and did the online consultation and was moved right up to their more expensive Professional Pro-X line.  Not sure why and when I inquired whether it contained the same amino peptides as Regenerist couldn’t get a straight answer.   I trust Olay so I’m giving the Repair Lotion and Tightening Serum a try.  I’ll let you know whether I go back to Regenerist or not in a month or two.

For now I’ve chosen not to go the path of surgery or injections and don’t see myself reconsidering that decision down the road.  Aside from applications, I do like the idea of massage (who doesn’t?) and that of using heat to activate the dermis or lower layer of skin.  That procedure using RF technology is called Thermage and with a laser, Titan.  Either one involves a pulsating magic wand (my name) that slowiy moves over your skin surface resulting in a tingling sensation.  I like tingly too.  If nothing else it doesn’t hurt and you’re good to go right after.  I’m checking out Thermage next time my friend goes for a treatment.  Be back to you on the before and after on that one too. 

We’ve all got something to say about skin care products.  You have to share here.  Some sources for more discussion are:
1)      Want a non-surgical path to firmer skin?  ThermageTitan?
2)      Choose you skin products by their ingredients.
3)      Some more considerations from our friends at More.
4)      And the winners of the 1st Annual Good Housekeeping Anit-Aging Awards are

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Caryl writes: Black--and Blue: The Many Faces of Cathie Black

Last week after less than 100 days in office, New York City schools chancellor Cathie Black lost her job. During her brief but embattled term, Black was criticized for public blunders (she suggested jokingly that birth control was an answer to overcrowding in schools), incompetence (she failed to understand the city budget process despite substantial tutorials) and inexperience (she knew nothing of the complicated public education system when she was appointed and seemed to know little more at the time of her abrupt departure).

But what really bothered Cathie Black about her three months in the cross hairs were the news photos of her. “The worst pictures!” she was quoted as saying the day after her 'resignation'. At least one reporter thought she was directly referring to an early cover story in New York Magazine. (see above)

Black was new to public service, public scrutiny and photojournalists on the run. Her prior position was head of Hearst Publications which publishes such glossy titles as Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar and O, the Oprah magazine. She is more used to seeing photos of herself from glamorous social events with perfect hair and makeup and jewels to match. Or, on the cover of her own best selling book where no doubt air brushing or other photo shop tricks make her look remarkably youthful after a 30-year long career in magazine publishing.

Black indicated in a post-resignation interview that she thought she might have been unfairly treated because she was a woman-- and, I'd add, a woman of a certain age: in her case, 66. She was in a taxing new job with long hours, a steep learning curve and plenty of stress, not to mention a hostile education department that considered her appointment a kind of social nepotism. It takes its toll as recent pictures demonstrated.

I doubt that Mark Nagly, the Getty photographer that shot New York's cover picture, set out to take an unflattering photograph of Black. (He has shot pictures of the new New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Martha Stewart who don't look much better.) Nagly is a news photographer; his pictures are generally unposed, taken in existing light, and seldom touched up beyond cropping.

It is possible that the editors of New York magazine chose an unattractive photo of Black to add a one-two punch to their snappy headline, to make their point that she was undergoing a public hazing--and looked it. But they’ve done it to plenty other cover subjects before her. Remember Bill Clinton in drag?

I've found, however, that women in the second half of their lives (to distinguish from their second lives) generally don’t like how they look in current photographs. Maybe because their perception of themselves is different than the reality. They imagine looking younger, prettier, more stylish until they catch a reflection of themselves in a mirror or store window. Then they see at best, their mother, at worst, a tired, old woman. Have you ever noticed in the paid obituary section of the New York Times that the photos for the women who have died are often from several decades earlier while the men’s head shots seem to be recent?

One of the reasons we started Second Lives Club was to document the triumphs and travails of this stage of life, to celebrate our age alongside our accomplishments, to highlight the beauty of a confident face and engaged mind (See Second Looks). We hoped--and still do--to de-stigmatize aging.

I too was stunned by Black’s photographs. I remembered her as quite attractive in person. I have had that same sinking (or shall I say disgusted) feeling when I look at my own pictures. You should see the photograph taken for my India visa only last week-- but you won't.

Yes, almost from the first day of her tenure, Cathie Black looked tired, stressed, preoccupied with an almost impossible task at a nearly impossible moment. The picture (above right) is evidence that she had taken on a difficult new job that she was deeply serious about accomplishing more than being just competent. The picture shows a woman shouldering the fate of 1.1 million school children.

Next time you see a picture of her from a party or a benefit, she'll be just another pretty face.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Maryl writes: A Start Over, A Clean Slate

I have several friends who are writing books…..their first books. One is giving me her manuscript to read soon. She won’t tell me what it’s about. I’m looking forward to it but afraid I’ll recognize myself in one of the characters. We worked together at several companies. I think she’s getting back….not at me but at them. Oh well, I’ll be brave.

Anyway she called frantic because her laptop was getting a bit fluzzy on her and she needs to finish this draft by Sunday. She’s had her computer since two jobs back. It was time. She called back quite thrilled. She bought an Apple Macbook. She went back to that operating system remembering how much she liked it when working at an advertising agency. Her subsequent corporate jobs pushed her into the PC world.

But even more poignant than what system or brand she had bought was that her excitement seemed to stem from the feeling she was starting fresh with a clean slate so to speak. It seemed kind of like getting a new binder or notebook the first day of school. You hadn’t made any mistakes yet; you could only do good and you were going to ace this class.  So knowing my friend I’m sure she left a lot of  baggage on her old hard drive and is making a fresh start this coming semester.  That’s a second life….not a do over, another start over.  I can’t wait to read her book.    
Is a new computer really a symbol of a second life? Something to think about…..
   1) Hm,
Apple or PC? Which operating system to buy.
   2) Everyone has a
book in them.

  3) Cynthia Cooper got back in her book, "Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower"!