Beauty and Rituals in Unprecedented Times

At Book Club earlier this week, my girlfriends and I started comparing notes about the changes in our beauty routines brought about by COVID-19. Mostly, these changes are “minuses” – we are doing less – and DIYs. We are wearing less (or no) makeup. We are wearing extensions (hair and lash) less. We are washing our hair less frequently. We are doing our own pedicures. We are coloring our own hair. We are no longer wearing heels. After all, we are working from home, we are not attending glamorous events, we are not being photographed out, indeed, some of us are not going out at all. We are being seen by so fewer people, despite constant Zoom calls. 

This conversation led to another one – one about what we do (and continue to do) for ourselves, versus what we do for others. And we identified a number of rituals we are sticking to, even though they are seen by no one other than ourselves. 

Many of us still light fragrant candles in our homes. Not because we are inviting people over, but because we love how they smell and they make us happy. 

One of us still buys fresh flowers for her home on a weekly basis. For her own pleasure. This may be something that I need to start doing… 

One of us continues to buy art for her home, despite not hosting her usual fabulous dinner parties. 

Has your beauty routine changed? And which rituals are you sticking to, even though no one sees them?

A Well-Timed Virtual Book Club

Last night was book club, and the most fun night I have had in weeks. Book club is always a highlight of my month, the last one was “Before”, on March 5th. Last night’s book club was virtual, since we are “During,” and it was a smart, stimulating, emotional evening spent discussing The Only Plane in the Sky, written by Garrett Graff (an amazing thinker, historian, and friend) who was with us virtually. 

For those of you who have not read it, The Only Plane in the Sky is a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, oral history of 9/11. We picked this book to read, and this date to meet in early 2020, and I must admit the timing seems uncanny. Reading about 9/11 during the COVID-19 global pandemic was both maddening and reassuring. 

This is the time to read this book. Perhaps even the time to share its stories with children who did not live through the events of 9/11 and are of age to understand them. If you prefer to listen rather than to read, the book on tape version won the 2020 Audiobook of the Year Audie Award. 

The most insightful moment of our evening was when Graff spoke about Will Jimeno. William J, “Will” Jimeno was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer. He was trapped under the World Trade Center for over 12 hours and survived. Today, he spends time coaching and inspiring people include veterans and addicts, helping them work through their hardships. Graff reminded us that in effect, we all go through moments of “I feel like I am buried under the WTC” – whether due to the loss of a job, a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a global pandemic, and everything in between. 

While today, none of us are actually buried under the WTC, we may very well feel like we are. There is no hierarchy in pain, fear, loss, grief; these feelings cannot be compared or quantified, mine are neither graver nor lighter than yours – they are simply mine. We are each entitled to our own feelings, and should not add the guilt of “I shouldn’t be feeling bad right now because I have a roof on top of my head and food on the table” to the list of negative emotions swirling around in our head and hearts. 

Rather, as Graff reminded us, we should focus on the fact that what defines us is not external events, but how we respond to them. This was my reminder to be resilient, graceful, kind (including with myself), patient (including with myself), and hopeful. 

PS – for those of you not ready to start this book, but interested in reading about Graff’s perspective on what is happening right now, this article is a must-read. 

2019 Books

“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading.” – Lena Dunham. 

As 2019 draws to a close, I realize I have read 31 books this year. Fiction, non-
fiction. Short, long. Great, less great. For book club, not for book club. Here are my favorite, in the order that I read them.

  1. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de St. Exupéry. I started 2019 with this book, which I have read a dozen times at least. There is a reason why this novella of love, loss, friendship, and loneliness is one of the best-selling and most translated books ever published.
  2. On Becoming by Michelle Obama. I miss the Obamas. That is all.
  3. Love you Hard by Abby Maslin. I don’t often cry while reading, but this memoir of love, loss, and marriage is a real tear-jerker (in the best sense of the word).
  4. The Banker’s Wife by Christina Alger. The author is a friend of a friend and a fellow Harvard graduate, and discovering her writing is one of my 2019 highlights.
  5. The Darlings by Christina Alger. I am addicted.
  6. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.The best book I read this year, this Theranos exposé is proof that reality is indeed stranger than fiction.
  7. Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing by George Cloutier. A powerful reminder that profitability enables the mission.
  8. Girls Like Us by Christina Alger. Christina, please write more faster.
  9. The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy by Michael Lewis. A must read in today’s political climate. (Truly, anything by Michael Lewis is a must read).
  10. The Friends We Keep by Jane Green. A touching book about friendship.
  11. The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins. A lovely story about a small town and the power of books.

My goal for 2019 was to read a book per week. I did not quite get there – although I do plan on reading four more books before 2020:

This has been on my reading list since this past summer. It is time.

Business Books

The Business Books That Make Me Smarter

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog about the email newsletters that make me smarter. Today, I want to share some of the business books I have read and loved, and learned from.

Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury.

An oldie but goodie, this book was published in 1Roger Fisher981 and is almost as old as I am. It is still the best book on negotiations that I have read, I go back to the five propositions on a weekly basis:

  1. “Separate the people from the problem.” (watch out for emotion, make sure the negotiation builds the relationship, instead of destroying it)
  2. “Focus on interests, not positions.” (what are they really asking for?)
  3. “Invent options for mutual gain.” (grow the pie)
  4. “Insist on using objective criteria.” (commit to a real conversation)
  5. “Know your BATNA.” (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)

Love Is The Killer App by Tim Sanders. 

Other than the amazing title (the world needs more love), I return to this book almost daily for the way Sanders suggest we treat others in the workplace. Every day, I try to be a “lovecat.”

How? By sharing my knowledge, my network, and my compassion and love. Because, “Those of us who use love as a point of differentiation in business will separate ourselves from our competitors just as world-class distance runners separate themselves from the rest of the pack trailing behind them.”

Good To Great and Built To Last by Jim Collins.

From Good To Great, I go back to the idea of the bus: get the right people on the bus, then figure out where to drive it. Not necessarily the other way around. “First who, then what.”

From Built to Last, I go back to the acronym BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal. I ask myself, is my BHAG big enough? It is clear and compelling enough?

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Duhigg explains habits as cue, routine, reward. He also explains that you can’t stop or extinguish a bad habit, but you can work on the cue and the reward, and thus change the routine, change the habit.

The concept of keystone habits (the habit that makes every other good habit easier) is also eye-opening.  

On that same topic, on my reading list next is Atomic Habits by James Clear.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

I love lists. But am I using my various lists in the most impactful, efficient manner? This book is about how to create the right checklists, and how to use them to save lives (in hospitals or in the airline industry for example) and make businesses work better. I read it twice, and still feel like I would learn more by reading it a third time.

The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma.

There are so many lessons from this book, I wrote a separate blog post on it after finishing it. It is a reminder to think about our thinking. Indeed, as Sharma puts it, the “one thing that makes us fully human is our ability to think about our thinking.”

Think about your thinking. And read books that help guide, improve, challenge, grow your thinking.

What are your favorite business books?

Lunch with the Godfather of DC

A delicious lunch on a Thursday at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown is nothing to avoid. That same delicious lunch featuring Carol Joynt’s Q&A Café with former DC Mayor Marion Barry is even better. And that lunch after this week’s book club, which was on Dream City, a book by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood about Marion Barry is even better. Timing is everything…

Fellow book club member and bestie Kate and I had the opportunity to listen to the “godfather of DC” answer Joynt’s questions. More often than not, he answered her questions with a question… and a twinkle in his eye. Some of the highlights of the interview are below.

The most fun part of the lunch, however, was meeting him. I have to admit that having now met the (in)famous Barry, I like him a lot more than when I finished the book. I had brought Dream City with me, I wanted Barry to sign it for me. For those of you who have not read Dream City, it does not portray him in a very favorable light… I went up to Barry at the end of the luncheon, with the book open on a page with a great photograph of him, and the jacket off the cover. I asked him to please autograph his photo. “What book is this?” he asks, not a fool… I say “the Sherwood book, please…” he chuckles, I plead sheepishly, he asks for my name, and signs the photo. Highlight of my day.

Kate and I sit back down, finishing our coffee, when we learn that Jaffe, one of the Dream City co-authors, is at the table across from us. Now this is a small world, and indeed, timing is everything. After meeting the subject of the book, we met the author of the book. Funnily enough, other book club member and bestie Cathy had called Jaffe out of the blue (they have a Washingtonian Magazine connection) on Tuesday morning (the day of book club) to ask him a few questions, and invite him to come. While he couldn’t on such short notice, he promised to come, with Sherwood, later this winter. Would he autograph my book? He did, and I didn’t even have to hide the jacket…

Q&A Café highlights:

On Georgetown

Barry: I love Georgetown, I love every part of the city. Georgetown residents just don’t want to have anything change.

On Presidential Politics

Barry: I am a lifelong liberal progressive democrat.

To Joynt’s question about Romeny’s comments on the 47%, Barry merely replied by saying that he has “fought against injustice and discrimination all of my life.” “The majority of that 47% are not victims. They are not poor because they did wrong.” Indeed, Barry admitted that it was unthinkable for him to imaging Romney as president.

Barry: Obama will win the race.

On DC Home Rule

While Barry thinks Obama has indeed been good for DC, he wants more. He wants statehood for our Capital.

Barry: Democracy depends on democracy, yet we don’t have democracy in our own home. We need statehood.

On DC Politics

Joynt also brought up the topic of the current City Council and mayoral scandals.

Barry: I won’t call names.

Barry said he would be voting for Philip Mendelson as Council Chair. Should Gray be indicted, should he resign, Mendelson would then become the Mayor of DC. Joynt: Is Washington DC ready for a white mayor?

Barry: Some people are, some people aren’t.

Joynt: What does that mean? Which people are you?

Barry: I’m ready for democracy.

Joynt: Could you campaign for and endorse a white candidate?

Barry: That is a “what if,” I don’t get into what ifs.

Joynt: Are you going to run for reelection?

Barry: I’m smarter than that… than to answer that question.

On Family

Joynt asked Barry about his family. His son Christopher, now 32, lives in Ward 8 and runs a small business. “He is struggling, like most small businesses” admits Barry. And of course he is interested in politics “he’s been around me his whole life…”. About marriage, well, Cora did come up in conversation.

Joynt: Are you still married?

Barry: Technically, yes. [chuckle from the audience, pause] Cora and I separated.

On Addiction

Barry: The FBI spent 10 to 15 million dollars to frame me. The good news is that I have been clean since 1990. Joynt: You can only blame the government for so much.

Barry: I am a victim. They set me up. The jury understood that. Like many, I got caught in an addiction… 90 percent of those who get addicted don’t kick it. I’m proud of that.

Overall, Barry says, that was “just a chapter in my life. Well, maybe two chapters.” It’s just about being a human being, about “human being issues, like traffic problems and girlfriend issues.”

On Racism

Joynt: Where are we on racism?

Barry: There is racial division all over America.

Joynt: Do you think you are being racist when you slur against Asians?

Barry: No

Joynt: Are there any Asians on your staff?

Barry: No

Joynt: Are there any Latinos on your staff?
Barry: No

On the Media

Barry: The media in DC does not give me a fair shake. Absolutely not. That’s their nature. Newspapers are supposed to report the news, not make the news.

On Power

Joynt: Whoever becomes the next Mayor of DC, do they need you?

Barry: Absolutely. I’m probably the most successful politician in Washington DC.

Joynt: Mayor for life. Who are you really?

Barry: I’m Marion Barry.

Book Club: Mortal Friends by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to read more. As I was taught in business school that goals need to be quantifiable and measurable, I decided that I should read one book per month. And as my Mom taught me that nothing gets the job done more effectively than having to answer to people you respect, I decided to start a book club with a group of BFFs to help me be true to my goal.

Tonight was our second meeting. In theory, it was meant to be our third (it’s our third book), but life happens. We decided early on that our theme was going to be DC (DC author, DC personality, DC story, DC character), and that we would alternate a fiction book with a non-fiction book.

First book: I picked Right as Rain by George Pelecanos. My Swiss uncle, of all people, had been asking me about this author, saying he had read all his books and wondered if DC was as it was portrayed in these crime stories. I didn’t know how to answer him until I read this introduction to Derek Strange and Terry Quinn. After reading the book, I emailed him to let him know that these are not the areas in DC or MD that I usually hung out in.

Second book: Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero, by Chris Matthews. If you read my blog regularly, you might remember that two years ago during my week-long vacation on the paradisiac island of Tinos, the theme I picked for my beach reading was the Kennedys. I read eight books about the Kennedys, many of them recommended by my literary connoisseur BFF Stephanie, many of them recommended by equally Kennedy-fascinated BFF Judith. I loved them all. Adding to this fascination, reading the Chris Matthews biography, I for the first time grasped JFK’s constant physical pain, on-going loneliness, and PT 109 rescue story.

Searching for another fiction book with a DC-theme, Stephanie again recommended a winner: Mortal Friends by Jane Stanton Hitchcock. I love Stephanie, I listen to Stephanie. Always. In particular when she says she might be able to get the very Jane author to stop by our book club get-together.

Which brings me to tonight. I grew up with art, with parents who owned (still own) a contemporary art gallery. That is where my appreciation for art comes from – from the ability to speak to living artists and better understand from them directly, what it is they wanted to create, what message it is they wanted to convey to the world, what difference it is they wanted to make with their art.

I never have had the opportunity to have such a connection to a living author – that is, until tonight. Jane arrived promptly at 6 pm, dressed in a gorgeous black cocktail dress. I couldn’t quite believe it… For three hours, she regaled us with stories about how she started writing (her first book was Trick of the Eye), and how she started her career as a playwright and screenwriter (including a comedy directed by Harold Pinter). As soon as I am done typing this, I will be ordering her New York-based Social Crimes and its sequel One Dangerous Lady.

Given that tonight’s book club meeting was about Mortal Friends, of course we chatted about the DC social scene (per Jane, “there are only two reasons to go to a party: to get a job or to get laid”). We also talked about girlfriends, about the relationship between Reven Lynch and Violet Bolton. About whether or not you ever get to know anyone for whom they really are. About whether you tell your deepest secrets to your BFF. About whether you would tell her something that might hurt her, but that she would want to know. We talked about the difference between “social friends” and “best friends.” Jane said that her loftiest goal was loyalty. She talked about how loyalty with girlfriends doesn’t (typically) get side-tracked by the physical relationship typical of complicating things between a man and a woman. “In love, I can forgive anything.” In BFF relationships, without sex to confuse things, loyalty should be first and foremost and unending – as the friendship between Reven and Violet illustrates.

After such a fabulous evening, I want to:

  1. Read all of Jane Stanton Hitchcock’s other books.
  2. Continue book club forever.
  3. Let all of my girlfriends know how much I love them and how I will always be loyal to them.

Thank you Jane.