Recently Read: Enter Helen

Book cover showing picture of Helen Gurley Brown sitting on a stool, wearing a red dress.

Just recently, I finished reading the book Enter Helen, by Brooke Hauser. I wanted to make sure that I wrote about it before too much time passed and I never got around to it. Which has happened with many books. Far too many books.

Enter Helen is about the life of Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who made Cosmopolitan magazine what it is today. I had no idea that before she took over Cosmo in the 1960s, it had been a literary magazine. Boy did she change it!

The magazine was suddenly all about the young single woman in the city out on the prowl looking for men. But also about fashion, style, food, work, money, travel and more. She modernized the lifestyle magazine for women after making a career for herself writing books about the same demographic. It’s impossible not to think about the appeal of Sex and the City, when reading about Brown’s life.

While Brown had never been an editor, through connections she got the job and succeeded in bringing the magazine to heights it had never seen before through a lot of hard work and determination. Sadly, it was also because she wasn’t always a stickler for the truth. Making up sources and/or compiling several people into a fictional person wasn’t a problem for her. She knew how to get advertisers and how to sell. As a freelance writer, it was especially interesting to read about the inner workings of a magazine.

By any means necessary was her motto — in my opinion in interpreting her actions. In her early life, she had no problem using sex when it got her money, work and status. She had fun and didn’t care if the man was married either. Brown didn’t consider herself pretty, but was a charmer and used her charms to get what she wanted.

Her life story is told within the context of its time. The women’s movement is the backdrop of much of the book, along with commentary by Gloria Steinem. Brown and Steinem had a complicated relationship fraught with tension based on their different takes on how women should “be” in the world.

It was quite interesting to read and surprising to see how their careers and lives crossed. Steinem did freelance writing for Cosmo and even appeared as a model. They were so different, yet had so much in common. Especially with Steinem co-founding Ms. Magazine. Quite interesting to note that both of these magazines are still around, when so many magazines go out of business.

After reading the book, there are many things that I don’t like about Brown. But I have to respect her and her accomplishments. Enter Helen is well written and researched — a truly fascinating read. I highly recommend it. A great book to add to your summer reading list!

Free Donuts + Sunday Shopping at Shake The Tree in the North End!

A picture of a dozen different flavored Union Square Donuts in a box.

Since discovering Shake The Tree while strolling around the North End several years ago, I’ve been a fan.

Shake The Tree is the perfect little shop to find clothes, jewelry and other quality items that are unique and fun. Both for yourself and others.

While speaking with owner Marian Klausner, I learned that she used to be an attorney. On my old blog she was one of the first people to participate in my interview series called Back To Law School.

For that interview, Klausner told me that surviving law school gave her “a tremendous sense of self-confidence.”  She practiced for eight years before opening her shop.

Law school and the experience of day-to-day practice gave me the sense that I could achieve any dream I had, if I really worked for it. I never thought of myself as exceptionally brilliant before law school but I did well academically and that made me realize that if I focused on something I wanted to create, I could really do it!

Her story is inspiring and I love how she often collaborates with local shops that sell the best sweets.

So, if you’re looking to shop small and local over the next two Sundays (12/11 and 12/18, 10am – 12pm), I definitely recommend going to the North End and stopping by Shake The Tree.

You can get some free Union Square Donuts and enjoy discounted parking while you’re there. Parking validation is $3 for 3 hours at the Parcel 7 Garage, next to the Haymarket T on Sudbury Street.

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Image: Shake The Tree Newsletter

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Quiet Audacity: A Conversation with Eileen Fisher & Susan Cain

Quiet_Audacity_Eileen_Fisher_Susan_Cain

For people who are most beloved by the masses, one of the things that people most often say about them after they die is that they were always themselves. They were authentic.

Somehow during their lifetime, they found the courage to be true to themselves and showed it to the world. However, like most things in life, it’s easier said than done.

After the Memorial Service for Muhammad Ali yesterday, many of us have had the chance to reflect on his life. The choices that he made and what we most respect about those choices. He risked and lost everything in order to be true to his beliefs. He had moral integrity.

As we reflect on our own lives, it’s easier for some of us to take a stand in public than others. For those who are naturally extroverted, it may not be quite as difficult.  For the introverts among us, myself included, it’s a bigger stretch to speak out in public. Many of us are natural writers and work well behind the scenes.

I just watched this video showing a conversation about introversion between Eileen Fisher, famous clothes designer, and Susan Cain, who started a Quiet Revolution and has made it her life mission to show the value of introverts. One of her most recent projects is Quiet Schools Network, so that introverted students are not overlooked in school.

This video is inspiring to watch. It’s a bit long, just over an hour. But it’s well worth the time. I had not known much about Eileen Fisher, except for her beautiful clothes that I wish I could afford.

After watching, I learned that even though she built her widely successful business from the ground up, she was painfully shy and introverted. Which is probably why most of us have not known much about the woman behind the brand. She did not want a public life.

With Fisher’s recently launched Learning Lab, she is pushing her boundaries and working on this new project that means so much to her. It’s very much in the beginning phases, so she is bringing us along on the journey to see what it will become.

The actual lab is located in an historic building overlooking the Hudson River. She has events and workshops that you can attend in person, then she makes them available online for us to watch for free.

I love the idea of this experiment, because that’s all that life really is. We’re all just trying to figure it out and experiment with what could be.

So that we all can try to live a life as well-lived, remembered and cherished as Muhammad Ali.

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Screenshot: Eileen Fisher Learning Lab

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Recently Read: The Woman I Wanted to Be

The Woman I Wanted to beHappy Holidays to you!

Time is more than scarce right now, but I wanted to make sure that I wrote about this book before Christmas. It would be a great gift for someone if you are still shopping.

The Woman I Wanted to Be, by Diane von Furstenberg, is truly inspiring and has changed the way that I start and end each day. What an amazing woman!

Even if you don’t buy this book, read it. Borrow it from the library. Read it in the store. But read it. Especially if you are trying to start something new and find your own way. If you are seeking inspiration and confidence, you will find it in the pages she has written.

Her philosophy has been that she wanted to live the life of a man, but in a woman’s body. She wanted the career, money, and freedom that used to only be in the reach of men, but she wanted to be able to do that as a woman. And she has!

Because of this book, each day I ask myself the question, “Am I closer to being the woman that I want to be?” If not, I try to make little changes to get closer the next day. If yes, well, then I smile!

Most of us know of von Furstenberg as the creator of the wrap dress. She has had a life full of glamour and leads a very jet set existence. But in the book, she still comes through as being very down to earth. She was part of the Studio 54 scene and knew all the stars. But it’s not like she is being fake and making things up. This was her life!

Her mother was a Holocaust survivor and her story provided core values and great determination that were passed down to her daughter. Regardless of her deep strength, we learn about the ebb and flow of confidence in her life by how she wears her hair. Plus she tells an interesting story about a very young Bruce Springsteen.

My curly hair had become an asset. I felt confident and free. That confidence didn’t stay with me all the time. My hair became a barometer for my self-esteem, and in the early nineties I started to straighten my hair again. Those were not great years. I was yet again in search of myself and was a bit insecure. As I regained confidence, I let the curls come back. I learned how to master them, how to use them and let them be a part of the true me. I even started to welcome humidity because it adds so much volume to curly hair.

It might seem trivial to give that much importance to hair, but I know all women with curls will identify with this struggle. So will some curly-haired men, I recently discovered. During a vacation last year on the boat of a friend, entertainment mogul David Geffen, I was having a conversation about hair with the women on board when Bruce Springsteen the macho, superhero rock star chimed in. He, too, used to hate his Italian curls when he was fifteen and starting out, he confessed, and so did his teenage band mates, The Castiles. They all wished they could switch their Mediterranean curls for straight bangs like the Beatles. So, at night, they would go secretly to a beauty parlor for black women in Freehold, New Jersey to have their hair straightened!

I laughed out loud with that story! Especially as a black woman and having gone though my own natural hair journey. The book is full of so many interesting stories and they all make their points. The introduction to her book sets the stage and summarizes what her life is about. I really like this quote from it as a nice takeaway.

As a girl, I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be my own person, independent and free. I knew that freedom could only be achieved if I took full responsibility for myself and my actions, if I were true to the truth, if I became my very best friend.

I liked this book a lot. And feel like I’m becoming a better person for having read it.

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Screenshot: Simon & Schuster

Live Your Dreams: Lupita Nyong’o Shares 7 Things You Must Do

Lupita Nyong'o on how to live your dreamsAbout a year ago, I learned that Lupita Nyong’o would be speaking at The Massachusetts Conference For Women.

The conference usually sells out and tickets go fast, so I bought my ticket right away. From seeing Lupita in 12 Years a Slave and winning the Oscar, to her many appearances on talk shows, wowing everyone with her stunning looks and spot-on fashion sense, she was a star outshining them all.

But it wasn’t just her looks and acting talent. Her poise and elegance never failed and she doled out many words of wisdom. After all, she’s a Yale School of Drama graduate.

The conference wasn’t until December. But time flies. And before I knew it, I was there. Lupita was down to earth, emotional and honest. She cried during her speech, because she is so grateful for her life and what she has dreamed up into reality.

She shared how to live your dreams with seven tips. This post should have gone up back in December, but things happened. So it’s a bit late. But I think this is an important post. One that I can look back on, because the time is always right to live your dreams.

Based on the notes that I took at the conference, this is what she recommends. I think it’s great advice and hope you do too!

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1.  Tell Yourself What You Love To Yourself.

Before you can have what you want, you have to admit to yourself what it is that you really want. Even though it may seem silly or impossible. She talked about how she always knew she wanted to be an actress, but it seemed ridiculous to say to herself that she wanted to “make pretend” for a living.

2.  Have 4 Stretcher Bearers.

You need at least four people who will help you and “carry you” when you can’t do it yourself. When you are feeling down and ready to give up, you need people who know how important your dream is and will help you to keep going.

3.  Remember Where You Come From.

Part of what she said was that in our lives, we have been inspired by certain things all along. Certain stories, books and people who resonated with us along the way. At the time, they may not have seemed particularly relevant to our lives, but there was some spark. Remember that part of who you are that was inspired.

4. Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Writing Goals Down.

One of the things that she wrote down was that she wanted to do films with meaning and spend a week in New Orleans. Soon after, she was filming 12 Years a Slave just outside New Orleans.

5.  Breathe. Meditate. Pray. Be Still Within Your Soul.

6.  Always Allow Failure To Be An Option.

7.  Step Forward. Repeat.

 

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Screenshot: Lupita Nyong’o on Instagram