Categories
Politics Women

Election Day

image003It’s Election Day, and here is a picture of me voting in 2008 for the first black candidate for President of the United States. (Note to self: your daughter is right, you have had the same glasses for years and you need to get new ones. Maybe that’s why things look blurry around this election.) I wrote about my excitement after he was elected. My hope for our future.

Today I will vote again for yet another first—the first female president. But that happy face is not what I wear today.

I’m terrified that there will be violence. I am sad about the friends and family whom I will never see in the same way again. I am humbled to realize that I didn’t know what so many of my fellow Americans were thinking, and that now that I know, I feel I must do something about it. So the unbridled joy and innocence I felt on Election Day eight years ago isn’t with me today.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the woman deserves it. I think the double standard she is held to is deplorable (yep, I chose that word on purpose). So Bush could put his e-mails on a private server and then say he lost 22 million of them after they were subpoenaed, and not a peep from anyone? Let’s leave all that bitterness aside; it serves no purpose. It just makes me crazy.

But the problem is that I’m not excited for the future.

Some memories from the past months come to mind.

I was in Georgia recently, speaking to a waitress who holds down two other jobs (yep, three jobs), and is raising her three kids as a single mom. Here is our conversation:

“You think I’m stupid, right?”

“No, I think you haven’t taken the time to be informed with accurate information, and so you are ill-informed.”

“I have three jobs and work sixty hours a week. I am running around with my three children. I don’t have cable at home. I don’t have Internet at home. Just when and how do you expect me to become educated?”

I started to cry; I was so ashamed of my pomposity. I told her I was sorry. She was right and I was wrong. I am so out of touch with my country’s citizen’s experiences.

Then, at the mani-pedi place in Dennis, Massachusetts this past weekend, I was seated next to two high-school juniors. They were friendly and told me proudly they were both AP students. As in Advanced Placement. Here is our conversation:

“Let’s play a game. I’ll ask you ten questions, and I will give you ten dollars for every correct answer you give me. Maybe I’ll be paying for your pedicure. You in?”

They looked at each other and grinned.

“Name the two men running for Vice President in this election.”

They looked at each other and laughed out loud. Not a funny haha laugh. An uncomfortable laugh.

“We don’t know, but it’s not our fault. Last year a teacher said something about Trump and a mother called in and now the teachers aren’t allowed to talk about the election. So they aren’t teaching us about it.”

First of all, I remember the mock debates we did in high school and how much I learned about what the candidates stood for. Seriously? Have we sunk so far that the debate that has owned the airwaves for 18 months is ignored in school?

“So … because you aren’t learning it in high school, you shouldn’t know it?”

They shrugged.

“How many senators are there in the United States Senate?”

“Four! I’m sure of that.”

“The Senate in Washington DC. How many in the Senate?”

“If it’s not four, I don’t know.”

“Okay, I will help you. Each state gets two. How many?”

“Forty-eight?”

And so it went. My money was safe. Our country’s future is not.

The last memory from the past months is the one haunts me the worst. A friend said she didn’t want the government to take away the inheritance she planned on leaving her kids, so that was driving her vote. That’s all she talked about regarding the election. Not fear of what a loose cannon like Trump would do? Nothing else. Her  money. Protecting her money. I didn’t know what to say.

A client said to me that she thinks people are voting solely on their self-interest, and not in the interest of their position in a global community. And I know she is right. And, I know that is what is wrong with this very dismal picture.

So there is no joy for me today in pushing the lever for the first female president. It’s not going to be okay tomorrow, even if she wins. It’s never going to be okay again unless we wake up and bring back the middle class, and the very wealthiest among us pay their fair share, and we have a congress made up of people who will cross the aisle and get things done. And, that those in government take better care of the money that is in our coffers, and that obstructionism is met with rejection by every American. Fight it out. Yell and scream. But not governing until your party is back in power is not an option.

Self-interest will be the downfall of our republic. I for one will remember that the next time I make a decision on behalf of my company and myself. I have already made some changes at Blue Shoe Strategy. I intend to make even more.

Vote today, Freesia readers. Please vote, and from my side of the fence, may the best woman win. If you sit on the other side of the fence, I do hope you vote too. I want to know what my country wants for the direction of our future so I know what I’m up against.

God Bless America. And, whether it’s great or not is not is not in the hands of those leading. It’s in the hands of those voting.

Categories
Politics Women

Here’s to the Women in Our Lives

imgresOver the last ten days I’ve watched Michele Obama blossom as a speaker giving voice to that feeling inside so many of us for so very long. Stronger than the Versace gown she wore at her last State dinner (was that fabulous or what!), she stood tall in New Hampshire (not a state that has been particularly supportive of her or her husband) and spoke about assault on women. Not the kind of assault that they take a picture of and put in a file at the police station, but the other kind of assault that we all know too well. The kind that hurts just as much, but sometimes sneaks in without knocking and announcing itself. The comments that you don’t notice until later. The kiss that is just too much. (A man who was a guest in our home stuck his tongue in my mouth after a dinner party, and I never said anything to anyone, including him.) The ones that by the time you figure them out have already permeated your head and are imbedded in you like a tapeworm. The damage isn’t easily repaired. It doesn’t show like a black eye.

When Michele first arrived they talked about her lips and her hips and she didn’t say much. She just worked for causes she cares about—things like childhood obesity and education. She represented my country—our country—with dignity all over the world. Not the Jackie O dignity of privilege, beauty, and silver-spoon upbringing, but rather the kind of dignity born of self-care and hard work. A regular girl kind of dignity. And, she went high when the comments were low.

And now, eight years later, as we are about to lose her to whatever future she decides to pursue, the country suddenly sees her for what she is: the best self we could actually be ourselves. She is not just some woman on a pedestal for us to gawk at in wonder. Nope, she is of us, living in a White House that she points out was built by other people of color, slaves, who never could have imagined that one day one of them would sleep there as President.

So we have Michele. And now Hillary enters.

Hillary Clinton looks to be on her way to being the first woman to be President of these United States. My United States. Your United States. And she is flawed—as flawed as the 44 who have gone before her, more flawed than some, less than others. Let’s not forget that the entire Bush administration was on a private GOP server when they were working in the White House, and when their emails were subpoenaed, they lamented that 22 million (yes million) were ‘lost.’  Yes, lost like those black cashmere gloves you bought at the end of last season on sale and can’t for the life of you find. She is the right person for the job at this moment, and a vote for her is a vote for a stronger nation, not just a vote to keep a crazy man from a position of catastrophic opportunity. I wrote a piece expressing my admiration for Hillary after she left her job as Secretary of State in 2012, and I stand by that piece now. Interestingly, Hillary’s popularity sours when she is in office. It soared when she served in the Senate and when she was Secretary of State. It’s when she is out of office that we don’t like her. Or when she’s running. She’s not a great candidate. But let’s not confuse running for President with being President. Two very different skill sets. Interesting.

imgres-1After the third debate was over and I breathed a sigh of semi-relief, hoping that the door was now closed on the crazy man, a friend posted this duet between Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. I watched it and wept. At first I couldn’t figure out why I was crying, but then I realized that song, which has traditionally been sung at the end of wars in our country, is out of reach. Happy days are not here again. There is a war left to wage by the women of my country. To change the male norm around behavior that can no longer be pushed under the rug. Happy Days Are Here Again was being sung by two women who have been maligned over and over again in the exact way described by Michele Obama this week. Barbra’s nose is too big. She’s a bitch diva because of her belief in excellence and her strident male-like way of demanding it. As for Judy, she was drugged and mishandled over and over again throughout her life by men who made their living off her talent.

So, happy days are not here for us women. It’s time to buckle down, the way Michele Obama has taught us, and prepare to expand the response to male assault of all kinds. We have to build on the strength of women that have come forward. We have to speak up at dinner parties and to our children and to each other.

First, though, can we all vote on November 8th and breathe a collective sign of relief?

Categories
Food Women

Debbie From Dunkin Donuts

Dunkin'_Donuts_Coffee_BoostI live on Cape Cod when I’m not traveling for business, which is at least half the month. I grew up coming to the Cape in the summers. My mom was raised here as were sixteen prior generations of our family, so it’s in my DNA. I feel connected to the earth here – really more like sand I guess – and when I’m on the Cape I’m calm and grounded. That said, my social life is more in New York City, so I might go a few days where I put my hair in a pony tail instead of taking a shower. They really are the same thing you know. Don’t judge me.

Anyway, each day, I load myself into the car first thing in the morning and go to Dunkin Donuts where I get a medium black coffee. This ritual ensures I do get dressed to go outside, and besides, I do love their coffee. I go to the Drive Thru where Debbie (I asked her what her name was a few years ago and then related it to my friend Debbie from Chicago so I would remember) hands me my cup of coffee and calls me ‘hon.’ She is the only one I will tolerate ‘hon’ from become I am a feminist and we don’t allow people to call us hon. I guess I allow it because she always looks a bit pained, or tired, or both, and I like that I know her name and she might be the only person I speak to that day who can actually see me, so I give her a hon allowance.

This morning I went at 4:00 a.m. to get my coffee. Long story, not worth going into.

She was there and handed me the coffee and I said, “Debbie, are you here alone? Not sure that’s a good idea.”

“I’ve been here alone since 2:30.”

“Why? You don’t open until 4:00.”

“We open the Drive Thru at 3:00 and so I have to be here, but the baker is in the back now so I’m not alone.” And then, for the first time in three years, she smiled at me.

Driving home I thought about Debbie going to work at 2:30 in the morning and handing me my coffee along with scores of other people, who maybe don’t know her name.

Then, because this is the way my ADD mind works, I thought about Peter Matthiessen’s book, Men’s Lives. The opening line says, “And it’s men’s lives we eat for breakfast.” I have thought about that line a lot over the years. I’ve pondered the enormity of how many lives go into me living mine easy, and here is Debbie, whose life I am eating (or drinking) for breakfast. And, I am not sure I really take the time to appreciate that her life is not as easy as mine, and I need to try even harder to make hers a bit more pleasant.

That’s it. A simple message from before I’ve finished my coffee.

Categories
History Politics Women

Considering Hillary

A note to women in their twenties and thirties.

imgresHillary. I am not a fan. Never have been. But truth be told, I don’t have to be a fan to vote for someone. I have to believe that they are capable of doing the job … and doing it better than the next ‘guy.’

I have spoken with a lot of young women in their late twenties and early thirties and they are not for Hillary Clinton. They ‘don’t like her.’ Her way of handling Bill’s infidelity. Her tone of voice. Her coldness. And so it goes. The polls say this generation of women just doesn’t find her appealing.

A friend sent me the documentary, Makers Once and for All, about the the Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1994 when Hillary gave the keynote – and she took a major risk, and she changed the course for women across the globe with it. You young women were not around for those moments. That moment with Hillary. Anita Hill. The first woman voted into the senate.

I’m asking you, begging you actually, to watch from 28:29 on the documentary for just five short minutes to understand that while you might not find her personally to your liking, her overall contribution to society over the past forty years might, just might, deserve your voting consideration.

Categories
Politics Women

Kayla Mueller

Kayla-Mueller-and-_3194506bThere are those that travel parallel roads to ours that show us another way – a singular lifetime dedication toward helping others. Kayla Mueller was one of those people. When I read her letter to her family, I realized I’d heard the sentiment before. Anne Frank wrote much of the same.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” — Anne Frank

“I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”  — Kayla Mueller

So rest in peace Kayla and thank you for your service. I will print out your letter and read it from time to time to remind me of your sacrifice.

Kayla’s letter in full.

If you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released. I have asked them to contact you + send you this letter. It’s hard to know what to say.

Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy(put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness. I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn’t know if my cellmates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.

If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness. I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else….+ by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.

I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another…

I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation. I have had many a long hour to think, to think of all the things I will do w/ Lex, our first family camping trip, the first meeting @ the airport.I have had many hours to think how only in your absence have I finally @ 25 years old come to realize your place in my life.

The gift that is each one of you + the person I could + could not be if you were not a part of my life, my family, my support. I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time. This should never have become your burden. I have asked these women to support you; please seek their advice. If you have not done so already, [REDACTED] can contact [REDACTED] who may have a certain level of experience with these people.

None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes.

I wrote a song some months ago that says, “The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left…” aka -­ The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength. Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.

All my everything, Kayla

 So rest in peace Ms. Kayla. I will print out your letter and read it from time to time to remind me. Thank you for your service.
Categories
History Movies & TV Women

Anita Hill Documentary

imgres1991. Anita Hill.

I lived in New York City and had just started The Women’s Resource Center when Anita Hill came out of the closet and spoke what she said was her truth. I watched a Berlin Wall of white men strangle her with ridiculous, repetitive questions on TV for what I think was two straight days. She barely reacted. She just kept answering the same questions over and over again in the same way. They didn’t make a dent in her, but as it turns out, they didn’t need to. Preventing Clarence Thomas from being appointed to the Supreme Court was not the point of what they were doing. It was supposed to be the point but it wasn’t. I’m not sure what the point was, and Anita brings that home. It was a required exercise in futility, with Democrats and Republicans both doing the same thing. Anita was put on trial, and it was a hung jury. Maybe she was lying. Maybe she wasn’t. But no one on that Senate committee was her advocate, and it is really interesting that none of them paid for that mistake with us female voters.

At that time no one knew what to do with what Anita was saying. Sexual Harassment? Mumble. Bumble.

I remember talking about the situation over dinner with H2 (Husband #2) and a couple of our friends. H2 was Vice Chairman of a major investment banking company, and our companions were a billionaire friend and his wife. Those two men were titans of industry, rarely at a loss for words or for opinions—but they stammered. They didn’t know what to say. They were uncomfortable, and they surely didn’t understand that it was all about power. That if you have someone working for you, you have all the power. You have the power to make sure they never get another job. You have the power to keep them held up in a job holding pattern that rivals Chicago O’Hare at rush hour. And like the rest of the men in the country, they just wanted this whole thing to disappear. They weren’t defending Thomas; they just didn’t want it on the radar, and to be honest, I’m not sure they thought that what he’d done would make him a bad judge. I think a lot of people thought that.

So now there is a movie about the whole drama called Anita, and watching it brought the entire time back, but in a different way than I remembered it. I didn’t see the nuances of it all at the time. I didn’t think about the fact that Kennedy needed to sit silent, as he was having his own female issues at the time. He would surely have spoken up otherwise, right? Joseph Biden was in charge, and he let Thomas turn it into a black white thing when it was nothing of the sort. History will have to hold Biden accountable for not delving deeper into the accusations. He never asked for additional testimony. He never asked Anita about the fact that she had been willing to take a lie detector test.

I marched for Anita in New York. I attended a gathering at Hunter College where she spoke. She was not a mover-shaker speaker. She was cerebral and I wasn’t, so she didn’t call me to do more, and when it was all over, we basically went back to our lives and didn’t let it affect our vote the next time around. Shame on us women. When will we own our power and start to make people accountable?

Why is this movie important? Because it’s our hestory. And our girls need to see it. They need to see what one woman gave up to tell her truth, and while I won’t be so stupid as to say I know she was telling the truth, I know she was telling the truth. Download this film on iTunes and watch it with your daughters. Tell them what you remember of that two-month period. Oh, the times they are a-changing, and watching how it all began will help to ensure that it doesn’t continue.

Oh, and Joe Biden? You just lost my vote even if Hillary doesn’t run.

Categories
History Women

Meet Reggie, a Cryptologist During World War II

imgres-2Sometimes my work makes a lucky girl. I do strategic marketing, and we have a client — Extended Family, out of Portsmouth New Hampshire — that is launching something called Ageless Lifestyle, which is all about providing information so you can minimize the effects of age by adopting a lifestyle that allows your body to be its best self all through your seventies, eighties, and nineties. As someone who has been way too busy to chat with my body much over the past 60 years, I’ve found it to be an eye opener.

One of the things we are doing with them is setting up “Ageless Interviews.” These are interviews with people who have gone before us, one or two generations ahead, in which we learn something fabulous about their lives.

I met Reggie when we were working on this project, and she and I hit it off. I was graced by her presence. I was graced by her life, and the possibilities it suggested for my own life … and my daughter’s life, and her daughter’s life. She was a trailblazer. I just didn’t know about her.

Reggie graduated from Barnard College in 1942. Following graduation she went with two girlfriends to DC, where she worked in the Japanese Code Breaking Group. Oh, my goodness! I asked her when we first met if she had seen the message they sent us declaring war, and she said she’d seen a copy of it at the office. Of course she had, because we all have copies of things like that lying around our offices too. I couldn’t get enough of her. After the war she worked for Glamour magazine from 1946 until sometime in the early fifties. We will be posting videos of those stories as well. Reggie is in her nineties; she lives alone with the help of Extended Family, and she has so many stories to tell that I can’t wait to go back on my own and take her to lunch.

Take a look at the video of her describing her work in Washington during the war. It’s worth the three minutes. Trust me. (Yes, that’s my voice in the background asking her questions. Do I really sound like that?)

This experience made me pause for a moment. How many other stories are out there in our communities? Stories that should be told, that must be heard by us all? My grandparents were long gone before I hit my teens. My mother and father have both passed away within the last three years. My biggest regret is that I didn’t take more time to sit with them and hear their stories. If you are lucky enough to have people in your lives who have untold stories, take a moment. Make a lunch date. Ask the kinds of questions they will not answer without some prodding. Then e-mail me. I want to hear them all.

 

Categories
Books History Women

My Friend Maya

20130519-sss-maya-angelou-quotes-1-600x411I want to pay tribute to my friend, Maya Angelou. She passed away today, and I want to say a few things about her.

Maya was the first one to teach me about good energy. She believed that if you spent time lessening the worth of another by speaking ill of them then the negative energy would be part of you. When you entered her house, you were not allowed to speak of others unless it was positive, and off color jokes or political attacks were simply not permitted. On one occasion, in front of ten or so people, she walked up to someone, held out their coat, and said, “I think it’s time for you to leave now.” The person left, and the lesson was learned.

It wasn’t just that she believed in positive energy begetting positive energy that made me sit up and take notice of that experience. Perhaps more important to me was that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to anyone. Standing up for that in which she believed, regardless of the personal loss, was always worth it to her, and so it has become worth it to me. In the years since the incident, I have left behind more friends than I have made, and I don’t regret a one of them. I could walk up to someone and ask them to leave my house now. I hope I never will, but I think I could which is where the lesson and the growth of me as a person lives.

When she was seven she was raped. She told a group of people what happened, and they beat the man to death. She believed that it was her voice that did him in. She felt so guilty that she stopped speaking for five and a half years. Her grandmother told everyone she would speak when she was ready. And, she did. I am in awe. Five and a half years. You learn a lot in that much silence. Perhaps that is why words went from being a weapon inside her to her gift to the ages.

And, what a way she has with words. I’m not going to list all the Maya words that I have held dear over the years, but the quote I hear inside me the most, the one that has lifted guilt from me at my darkest times is “when you know better, you do better.” When you know better, you do better. I say it out loud and hope that I do offer my best, which is sometimes lacking in the brilliant potential that is mine. And, when I realize I haven’t, I regroup, and I do better. Try it, it’s better than confession.

20130519-sss-maya-angelou-quotes-3-600x411Then there was the time she said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” It made me realize that I wanted to start acting the way I want to be remembered. Oh what a gift my friend and mentor Maya has left behind for us all.

I have to add her poetry. She is the first poet in whose work I saw my own reflection. And, she is the first poet that woke up the cobwebbed inner shelves of my mind to the wonders of what I might become and what I have done. Take a moment to list to her Woman Phenomenally. Do yourself a favor.

And, her books. Have  you read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? I hope so, or maybe I hope not so you can read it for the first time now. The first time for something that amazing is always the best.

Maya is the first of my mentors to die because she was old and her life was lived to its natural conclusion. I think that makes it worse. That her time has come, rather than being snatched before she gave me all she had to give, means that she gave me all she had to give. I’m a greedy girl to want more when she gave so much. Shame on me. And, how to hold her close? To squeeze everything she had to offer – to respect her by listening to lessons over and over again? I will try to continue to go back to her lessons and the memories she left behind. Often.

I guess I should mention I didn’t personally know Maya Angelou. I know I write about her here as if I did, and that is a credit to her, not to me. She was a close friend to all that wanted to listen and to learn from her. So, I’m allowed to say she was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend. She would smile at that.

 

Categories
Women

It’s Nobody, Just Me.

images-1We need to rethink the word ‘just.’ Not as in being a just person, which is a fine use of the word, but rather the way I hear women (why is it men do not do this?) use it time and time again.

Tonight I went to a new memoir writer’s group, where a lovely women answered the door.

“Hi, I’m Christine, a new member of the group.”
“Hi Christine, I’m Anna, but I’m not in the group, I’m just the other half of the man who is.”
I smiled my best, I’m not an ass smile and said, “Well, I’m sure you are the other half, but not ‘just’ the other half.”

Words matter.

Then I went to get sushi after the group ended by myself.

“Just you?” the lady said when I walked in.
“No,” I answered firmly. “But it is me eating alone tonight.”

Then there are the messages on my cell phone. “Hey, CM, it’s just me. Call if you want. Catch up soon!”

I’m not just one. I’m not just Sarah’s (the fabulous daughter I’m not allowed to blog about. Did I mention she is a lawyer?) mother. Or, just visiting. Or, offering just a little something I made for dinner. Trust me, if I make anything for dinner, it’s a big deal. A big deal. So we are moving ‘just’ out of my life for 2014.

Let’s make it interesting. Moving forward, if anyone I know and love and reads this blog uses ‘just’ the way I just described it when you are in my presence, you owe me $50. Ok? Just a little bet to keep you on your toes.

Categories
Books Fashion Women

Ooh la la! Book Review

Ooh la la! Book ReviewI must start with a few disclosure disclaimers. First, Jamie Cat Callan, Ooh La La’s author, is in my blogging group, and I actually like her a lot, so if I were not inclined to give her a good review, I would not have reviewed the book. Second, and perhaps more relevant, I was married to a Frenchman for a number of years. He’s the father of the fabulous daughter Sarah, about whom I am not allowed to blog. Although Yves-Andre (get the picture?) lived most of his life in the United States, he is very, very French. I have been to France more times than I’ve gone through tollbooths, so you can imagine. Also, I’m very, very American — that is, not French — and the thought of reviewing a book called Ooh La La did not thrill me. To be honest, I found the French less than friendly, especially when I was ordering Diet Coke in a five-star restaurant. Or when they wouldn’t let us fly over France to bomb Libya, which they really should have done themselves, but were afraid to do. All that bitterness aside, I do so very much admire French women — the way they carry themselves, and the way they wear their age with grace and joy. Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the book.

I didn’t expect to take Ooh La La seriously. The name alone sent me running. I’m more of a “Really?” person. Not Ooh La La. Lightweight, I assumed snottily. Frivolous. Fun, but without depth. Just goes to show you should pay attention to the old adage that says not to judge a book by its cover. This book is an important look at American women and how we may be selling ourselves short, and how the women in that strange land called France may have much to teach us. It may change you.

It is filled — filled, I tell you — with self-help tidbits told in charming, easy-to-stomach prose and stories that illuminate a subject that has been the Holy Grail for so many of us here across the pond in America — aging gracefully. “Aging gracefully” is an oxymoron where I live. You must be young to be graceful and relevant. Not so in France, and the book takes us behind the scenes to show us why. Combine it with Lean In, and you could change American women forever.

“Oh, and she’s old, so she’s got all that experience,” says someone Cat Callan interviews in the book. Right. Experience. That’s worth something? Oh my! I realize now that I need to wear my experience on my sleeve, and that I needn’t hide my age in nondescript clothing the way I do. Step to the front no matter what your age! Stand out! It reminded me of shopping in France and noticing that Valentino goes up to a higher size in Paris than it does in the U.S. I once asked Valentino why, and he told me that thin American women do not like to see larger women in the same clothes they are wearing. I am sure you are wondering why I was in a position to ask Valentino anything, and I’m not going to answer that. As we age, we women step to the back of the bus to give up the front seats to those who are younger. We dress down. We speak less. Ooh La La shows another side of us, a side that celebrates age and shows that you grow in worth with your age. Amazing.

In the same section, Cat Callan goes on to describe another woman’s home, and all the objects she has on the walls representing things that move her. She has clearly accumulated these things over the course of a lifetime. She talks about greens and browns and golds, and she says her living room is “awash” in those colors and objects of personal meaning. When I read that, I immediately got up to hang a few things that have been leaning against my wall since I moved in more than a year ago. I’m not kidding. Surround myself with things that make me feel good? That make me feel? Oh la la! And they somehow come together to tell the story of me? Forget the Story of O. I am going to start telling the story of me.

She talks about finding clothing pieces that are your icons. For Jamie, it’s a sailor shirt. For me, I guess it would be pearls. No, maybe a black cashmere sweater and pants. I love black on black, but I am happy to know it’s my iconic clothing image, rather than the darkest color I can find. It defines me. I was never defined by fashion before. Ooh La La taught me the context for my own personal style. Love it.

Jamie, you lost me in the lingerie department. Lingerie, Cat Callan’s interviewee states, is for the person wearing it, and no one else. Someone in France once told her that Americans, when they came to Plymouth Rock, needed to lose that part of themselves to survive. Well, that explains it. I’m a Mayflower girl — sixteen generations ago my people came to this land, so it’s no wonder I’m a black Victoria’s Secret cotton hipster person. Nonetheless, this is the one area I do not feel enlightened after reading about. I’m into comfort. But there was something I liked about the idea of wearing what you want underneath for you, not for anyone else. It’s like making your bed when you live alone, when you know no one is coming over. You feel better when you go to get into it. Note to self: Find undergarments (I don’t have the will to even call them lingerie) that are functional but a little different. I want to find something unexpected that no one else will see, but I will know is there. I will try some and see if I feel differently. Maybe it will nudge me to leave that ice cream to some other aging woman who doesn’t wear underwear for her own pleasure.

Perfume. I used to wear Hermes’ Amazon (Amazone), and I have no idea when I stopped. Most perfumes smelled too fru-fru for me. But when I smelled Amazon on one of those trips to France, I knew it was “me.” I finished the book and ordered it from, of all places, Amazon.com. I crack myself up. Buying $200 perfume at Amazon.com. I’m sure it would have been better if I’d gone to Hermes as part of the “experience,” but I live on Cape Cod and didn’t want to wait a month until I’m in New York to do it. I’m wondering if that might ruin its nuance. More importantly, I’d forgotten that I loved the way it smells, and the way I smelled wearing it. The book reminded me of the importance of saying, “It’s me, Christine, and this is the aroma I want to leave behind.” Wow. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

Bring it all together, everything the book talks about — fragrance, clothing, aging, environment, and yes, sex (that is a chapter I will leave to your private review; it was mind-blowing) — and you have a new you. The you you were meant to be. Ooh La La is a reminder that you get to choose so many, many things about who you are and how you want to be seen. Your own personal elegance. Jamie starts each chapter with a well-chosen quote from some French fashion person. I will leave you with my favorite.

Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.

– Coco Chanel

This book will help you do just that. Take possession of your future. Buy it. Read it. Gift it. Hurry.