Election Protests & Reacting With Grace and Style : Lessons Learned From NYTimes’s Bill Cunningham

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I had one of my usual circuitous, yet brilliant, conversations with someone from my team this week.  You know those dialogues that starts going in varied directions but then comes full circle as we start to see how these different directions connect?  I love those!  During this particular discussion, we touched on a range of subjects — from human insights, to NYC traffic, to learnings from the recent election.  We also somehow got to the topic of the late and much-missed Bill Cunningham of the New York Times.  For those of you unfamiliar with him, he gifted us with wonderful images and videos of the people of NYC.  When we got to the topic of Bill, we must have spent 20 minutes just gushing over how great he was — all his great work, his sense of curiosity, and his humble but so-uplifting attitude.  Even his intro music to his videos makes me smile wide!

Ah, Bill.

Despite Bill’s simple, unpretentious personal style (he rode an old-school bicycle everywhere, wore something akin to my father’s ordered-from-Sears office uniform everyday, and never tried to hide his Boston accent), he had a deep but fun appreciation for others’ sense of it.  You could feel his energy and absolute love for people.  The streets were his playground and canvass.  The people of New York were his subjects, the camera his tools, and his columns and quirky, lovable slide shows were his masterpieces.  People loved getting photographed by him — you can see it in all of their broad smiles — and fashion designers looked to his work for a sense of current looks.  Essentially, he peered into the mini-world of street style and elevated it for us.  Bill gave the people of NYC an extra dose of dignity.  He shared the amazingness of people’s everyday behaviors.  And he saw style as a way for people to express themselves.  Bill would say things like: “Everyone can put fashion down and that it doesn’t mean a thing.  But it does!  Because each morning when you get dressed, when you go out, it just lifts your spirits!”

You can imagine why Bill’s work should be celebrated in this blog.  We are all about embracing beauty.  But I’m celebrating him for whole other reason.  And it’s this reason that he randomly made an appearance in work conversation about the election and human insights.  (Note: our brains don’t just leap to random thoughts for no reason.  We may not consciously realize the connection at first, but our brains do!)  Bill surfaced because he represents EXACTLY what we all need to do post election: be humble, observant, celebratory of others’ cultures.  While he was not a fashionista himself, he could see and, more importantly, appreciate, the beauty of others.  While he didn’t put a lot of creative effort in his own wardrobe, he took such pleasure in others who did.  He recognized the small but brilliant behaviors we express to give our selves happiness, meaning and fulfillment.  And we ALL do this in different ways.  We just need to start appreciating both ourselves and others for it.

So what does this all mean, really?  What is Bill actually teaching us …especially with regard to the election results?

I think it’s something like this: no one is totally stupid, wrong or misguided for living the way they do or thinking the way they do.  We have to stop looking inwardly and crying in our soup.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest changes in government that we don’t agree with, like Trump’s pick today of Exxon CEO as new Secretary of State.  What I am saying that we have start looking outwardly with a keen eye and respectful, considered mindset.  We need to be more observant and try to understand and appreciate the brilliant behaviors that we so often overlook in others.  We don’t do things for no reason — whether its wearing chevron stripes or voting for Trump.  We have to give others the respect Bill gave every person on the street, i.e., observe, dig deep, learn and understand, and even appreciate others.  And by doing so we not only grow but we also give others a sense of dignity.

Oh another thing we learned? We can’t forget to have a bit more fun with what we and others wear too, of course! 🙂

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women's Independence?

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Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.
In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.
To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.
The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).
While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.
Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women’s Independence?

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.48.35 AM

Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.

In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.

To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.

The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).

While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.

Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Weekend Observations: Is Graffiti Art Worth It?

5Pointz
As I was getting a few minutes of “elliptical time” this weekend, I watched NY1 — the only channel my apartment gym gets these days.  Because NY1 only broadcasts the latest news around NYC, you end up seeing the same scenes and bite-sized stories about seven times over the course of a workout.
This weekend, one scene caught my attention.  Graffiti artists in Long Island City were pushing to have “5 Pointz” turned into a historical landmark.  Why now?  The City is looking to demolish it and build two residential towers in its place.  By turning 5 Pointz into a landmark, the graffiti mecca is saved
As a New Yorker, I totally sympathize with need to create more housing.  Apartments are in high demand and extremely expensive.  The more we can build, the better for everyone.
But in this case, I share the passion for the 5 Pointz protestors.  This site doesn’t represent just another mural on a side street.  It’s a museum of graffiti from a whole slew of international artists.
If you’ve read many of our past posts, you know that I’m a huge proponent of beautifying our cities.  But is beauty more important than housing?  Maybe.  While housing does shelter a large number of people, beauty enhances everyone who sees it.  And that enhancement can lead to happiness, inspiration and hope.
So, is graffiti art worth a protest, even the cessation of important construction?  Yes.
 

Weekend Observations: Why Street Art Matters

Hudson River Boardwalk Sculpture
Hudson River Boardwalk Sculpture

As Mayor Bloomberg begins to end his reign as leader of this great city, everyone has been talking about the gifts and the messes that we, New Yorkers, are left with as a result of his mayorship.  Since I’m not a major follower of politics, I can’t really participate in these discussions.  But one thing I do know is that he has left the city much more beautiful than when he received it.  From the High Line to the Hudson River boardwalk to the sculptures that have popped up over the decade, there’s no question that the city has become a more colorful, and lovely place.
Beyond the great view, though, this legacy of his has resulted in profound benefit to our society.  To see beauty around us not only brightens our day but, more importantly it inspires us.  For my children to see beauty around them gets them thinking, imagining, and, ultimately, believing that they too can make something beautiful.  And this is especially true for many of our underprivileged neighbors in NYC.  My children have been born into privilege.  And this means that they take for granted that no matter what they want to pursue, they will get the emotional and financial resources to make it happen.  But for children who don’t necessarily have the backing of their family or school, seeing solid examples of beauty can both inspire and remind them that they too may be able to make their creative dreams come true.
I’m not naive enough to believe that kids with fewer resources will have it easy.  In fact, as this beautiful and heartbreaking Guardian article by Chris Arnade shows, so many creative poor children give up.  But being exposed to beauty, at the very least, sparks their imagination and gives them the hope that maybe, just maybe they can turn their ideas into reality.

Pic of the Week: The Beauty of Raw Advertising

IMG_20131014_171553I’m walking to work yesterday and looked up to see this raw, simple ad for yoga.  I just love how it fits right into the landscape.  It is not only simple, and straightforward, like the buildings that surround it, but this ad communicates a quiet confidence that represents all of Chelsea, NYC.  The net result? Striking.

Pic of the Week: Who is Watching Whom?

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While it may look like a painting, it’s actually a typical scene from the Highline.  And though I feel so sneaky for capturing them via my camera, there’s no doubt they spotted me first on the streets of Chelsea!  How amazing it is that my commute to work is so full of beauty and fun.   Seeing this gave me a great jump start to the morning.

Weekend Observations: The Gift that Saved Me

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I was struggling.  It was my husband’s birthday this weekend.  And it was a big ONE.  But he didn’t want a party, any gifts and even a dinner out.
What’s a girl to do?  I have to do SOMETHING, right?
Then it dawned on me.  It’s not about the tangible gifts.  It’s about the experiences.
Lest I sound like every trite consumer trend study out there that claims that the “younger generation doesn’t want to accumulate wealth but accumulate experiences, ” I have to explain that for my husband, experiences don’t amount to sky diving or mountain climbing.  They amount to an organized apartment and great sex (sorry, mom if you’re reading this :)).
Soooo, this meant me spending a few hours organizing my drawers and cabinets, and, of course, amazing lingerie.
Now that I figured out the gift, the next question was, “what kind of lingerie do I get?”  In NYC, there’s no shortage of places to shop for such goodies.  There’s La Perla for the fancy mistress, Victoria’s Secret for the one-time-only, cheapie deal, and then the places in the Village for the crazy-ass stuff that really only should be worn on transvestites.
Hmm, none of them seemed right.  Then I did a little searching on Google and happened upon Sugar Cookies.  It had all the right qualities: near where I work, mid-priced and high class enough with a bit of raunch mixed in.
As all of you who follow us know, I don’t make it a habit of endorsing brands or products.  But every so often, I’m so overwhelmed that I MUST.  And this is one of those cases.  Sugar Cookies (with the great sub-head: Decorate Your Pink Parts) is a small boutique managed by the owner.  She is lovely and helpful.  While many of the items fall into the silky, white bridal sort, there’s still enough fun mixed in too.  And, there’s none of the cheapie element.  And if you want to pick up some nice sleepwear, they’ve got that too.
I ended up with what you see above.  As you can tell, I was able to satisfy my need for elegant plus a bit of sass.  Let’s face it, white and black can get tired!
I’m happy to report that the results were fab 😉  Sugar Cookies has a repeat customer in me.  I encourage you to take  a look for yourselves.  Who knows what kind of gifts you’ll end up with?  Hee Hee.

Weekend Observations: The Strength to Move On

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At the last minute, my son and I decided to join a few classmates in the Pediatric Cancer Foundation Walkathon.  It couldn’t be a better day — weather-wise — for a long walk along Manhattan’s Hudson River boardwalk.
Needless to say, I dressed a notch better than a schlub (that’s Yiddish for bedraggled person) given the activity.
One of the key organizers for the event is my son’s teacher.  She is so involved because she lost a child to cancer.
It’s hard for me to put this truth in writing.  I can’t quite fathom such a trauma.
Yet, this amazing teacher is able to go through life, day in and day out, taking care of other children.  And all the while she looks beautiful.  She stays in good shape, dresses nicely even though her students would never notice, and her hair always looks long and smooth.
I can’t imagine caring about how I look ever again after such a tragedy.  And yet, she does.
Perhaps looking good is her way of affirming life.  I don’t have the guts to ask.  But I admire her that much more for it.
Participating in a walkathon such as this and being reminded of my son’s teacher’s own tragedy makes me appreciate my kids’ health that much more.  But, also, seeing this teacher’s strength and self-respect compels me to make that extra effort — even at a simple walkathon — to look beautiful and affirm my own life.