Considering My New Year’s Resolution to “Be Smart Again”

My friend Jimmy and I have a bit of a New Year’s tradition: on the first weekend of the new calendar, we go to a museum.

everyone has their own New Year's tradition... most involve wine. mine is no different
everyone has their own New Year’s tradition… most involve wine. mine is no different

Technically,  it’s something we’ve only done twice, but I’m pretty sure twice is two times enough to qualify as a steadfast tradition. We take it pretty seriously. Jimmy expects me to spew brilliant insights about whatever artwork we see. I expect we’ll end up somewhere we can order wine. We both expect to finish the day a little more cultured, to catch up on what’s happened since our last outing, and to share insights on what we hope for in the year ahead.

For 2014, our destination was the Frick Collection — a mutual favorite on Museum Mile — and the “Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals” exhibition. Vermeer’s famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and Hals “Goldfinch” had been drawing record crowds for the otherwise dozy (but outstanding) house museum, and so we bundled up and prepared to wait outside on the sidewalk… for an hour… on the coldest day in a decade.

Inside the museum’s galleries, standing inches from one of the most famous paintings in the world, I was at a loss for words…

No. Really. Like, here I was — the art historian/curator/gallery director — and all I could say was: gosh, gee, I expected the canvas to be shiner.

I had a painful realization: I used to be smarter.

Once upon a time, I could look at a painting from almost any time period and read it, or recall some interesting fact about its maker or its style or its period or… or whatever and spew out a short story. Like a fortuneteller and her tea leaves, I’d tell you about the things on the canvas you couldn’t see.

The Gainsborough portrait of Mrs. Peter William Baker that sparked a smile
The Gainsborough portrait of Mrs. Peter William Baker that sparked a smile

“There’s a smile on your face,” Jimmy noted as I stood staring up at a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough. “Why?”

“I like large pretty portraits of not unattractive women. They say a lot.”

“Like what?”

“Like, ummmm, you can never have too many feathers…

This was true, but the Gainsborough said a lot more than that, and I knew it, I just couldn’t explain it. Now, I see a painting and my brain starts recalling other images — artworks line up before my eyes, a dictionary worth of visual vocabulary with definitions. That is, I see the files with all the information back there in the recesses of my brain, but when I go to call them up to sort them together, it’s: Access Denied.

Remember when I used to write blogs about dating using artworks?

While I deal with artwork every day, I realize I spend very little time looking and talking about it any more. I’m focused on how to display it, or how to get people in to see it, or how to write a press pitch about it. My approach to a painting has changed. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. I was smart. Now I’m savvy. It would be nice to be both.

Have We Met Before?

The year I was 21 was the year of that reality show named “The Pick-Up Artist.”

You might remember it. It was that Vh1 reality show with the audacious failed-rock-star-type Pick-Up Guru who attempted to teach groups of men with no game whatsoever how to get any woman into bed. I only watched one episode. In it, Mystery (an appropriate name, since his marketability as a dating guru is a mystery to anyone who saw him) taught the young Jedis how to make a move on a girl who was on the move. That is, he showed these gameless men how to pick-up a woman who was walking down the street.

Gameless? Mystery's here to help......
Gameless? Mystery’s here to help……

(Now, for anyone that’s lived in a city, you know there are neighborhoods where any man can be successful at this without even saying a word. Thank you, Red Lights… obviously, the Pick-Up Artist found his disciples on farms…)

If Mystery was anything like Robert Downey Jr., who played in the late 80s flick of the same title, I might have ignored his fur-clad top hat and cut him some slack. I mean, did men take this guy’s advice seriously? I was doubtful… Until the following Friday night…

I was plowing through the lower west side, with a  few of my girls a few steps behind, all of us en route to a concert, when a short, chubby, blonde guy walked passed me, looked back and then cut in front of me.

“You look familiar. Have we met before?”

My jaw-dropped. Clearly he’d seen the same episode.

“No.” I pushed him out of the way and kept walking.

“I think that guy thought you were a prostitute,” my friend Maddie said when she and the other caught up.

Maddie always had a way of making me feel better…

You look familiar. Have we met before? <– that combo of phrases was the key to the approach.

It implied a kind of safety (you know me, so you know I’m not a serial killer.)

It’s an understated compliment (you’re memorable.)

It might also imply fate (I knew you before I met you.)

In theory, it’s a good approach.

I’ve rarely fallen for it. The answer is almost always “no,” unless you’re at an alumni event, and then it’s only vaguely likely (You studied in the architecture library!? Me too!… Oh, right… orientation week…)

Every once in a while, it’s worth taking the bait (like that time in the elevator with the Coulda-Been-A-Gucci-Model…)

Unless you’re wearing hoop earrings, stiletto heels, and are walking through that neighborhood where it’s easy for men with no game to pick up women on the move…

That was the last time I tried to harness my inner Pretty Woman....
That was the last time I tried to harness my inner Pretty Woman….

When It’s Time to Ask Yourself: Do I want to Try to “Have it All”

About a month ago, my closest male friend from college married the woman that became his better half. They’re a lovely couple, best friends really. They’re also both smart, funny, and driven career people. I admire them.

Marriage is an interesting thing. It changes everything. About a week ago, my friend’s new wife launched a call for help on facebook:

“To my ladies: do you think it is possible to have it all, amazing career and family life? Cause I really don’t see how one or both won’t suffer. Send some tips my way if u have any.”

We’re all her contemporaries, women in our late 20s, so most shrugged but praised their own mothers for somehow managing both a career and motherhood. Someone shared the famously talked about article in the Atlantic. Appropriate. I shared some advice I had heard a few days earlier from the keynote speaker at a luncheon…

Cut to the buffet spread in an upper crust Westchester suburban yacht club. Enter Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Judge Judy had some advice for the young women in the room about “having it all”

Yea, that’s right. THE Judge Judy.

I was at the Her Honor Mentoring 2012 kick-off luncheon. I had just re-met my mentee, a 17-year-old high school senior with a passion for all things art and aspirations to travel in adulthood. My fellow Mentors were the county’s leading businesswomen and government leaders. What was I doing there?

No matter. On to the speech:

“You may hear that you can’t have it all – a career and a family. But I’m living proof that you can have it all… if you learn how to negotiate…

In my day, you only left the house in either a white dress or a pine box. But I’m telling you that you don’t have to get married as a high school senior. Or as a freshman. Or as a sophomore or junior. Maybe, by the time you’re a senior you can start to look around to see if there’s anyone you find appealing. But just remember: you may have your act together when you’re 22, but they, well, they may not have their act together at 55.

So have your career. Set the bar for your career high and go out and achieve it. And then, and then start to look to have that family.”

It was a message I was surprised Judge Judy would share with a room full of college seniors yet to make their way and professional women who had all pursued unique paths in their lifetime. On the subject of “having it all,” it was surprisingly pragmatic. As I chuckled and applauded (I was the soul “ain’t that the truth, sister!” shouter in the room), it occurred to me that I was the youngest mentor.

I’m just starting in my career. Sometimes I feel like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes…

Unlike the other “dynamic,” successful career women in the room, I was really just starting out.

My mother married my father when she was 17 and he was 21. Two weeks ago they celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary. If you do the math, that means they were married some 24 years before I was born. Over that quarter century, my mother made a career for herself, allowing her to retire as a top banking executive when I was starting high school.

Since the Atlantic article came out, there seems to have been another resurgence of feminist talk — or maybe it’s more of another re-evaluation of feminism.

Did you catch this Sunday NYTime’s Opinion piece by Alissa Quart? The one about women hiding their pregnancies in the professional world?

What about the brief speech by a new character on the Good Wife?

What about that other op-ed piece about the “Myth of Masculine Decline” in the work place?

I guess I never questioned the idea of “having it all.” I grew up with Judge Judy’s advice as my own game plan because it was a successful path I had watched unfold.

But then my own life began to happen.

I don’t have an answer for my Californian friend. Or for any young woman in our position. Frankly, no one really does.

Here’s what I can say…

The women of our generation are lucky because we have choices. We can choose to be career women. We can choose to be career mothers. We can choose to be both careerwomen and mothers. None of the above paths are easy — none are achieved without sacrificing or without negotiations.

As for me, well, the question of “having it all” isn’t as relevant now as it will be later. But I will say Nicole Sheindlin’s words from that luncheon have stayed with me.

A career is a woman’s insurance policy for independence and self-confidence.

True that, sister.

Some Weekends, I wish I wasn’t a Sports Fan

These are the kind of headlines I’m used to as a New York sports fan…

When it comes to reading the newspaper, I tend to leave out all the sections that highlight “bad” news: News, Business, International, and frequently, Metropolitan. When I’m done sorting “bad” news sections from “good” news pages, I’m left with Sports and Arts/Style. Probably, to most people it would seem I get very little “real” news at all from my daily New York Times. Of course I beg to differ.

Sports and Art are the core of my being and the principle sources of my income, after all.

When you’re a New York sports fan, you’re not used to getting bad news. Mediocre news. Tragic news. Great news. Yes, all of those. But not bad news. And certainly not bad news on a regular basis about all your favorite teams at once. It’s one of the great advantages to being in a metro area with a professional sport franchise in every division in every league — even when one team in one sport is having a losing streak, another team in another (and sometimes the same) sport is on a winning run.

But then Mariano Rivera twisted his knee.

It was the domino that started the cascade. Sure, a day later the front page of the section ran with that quintessential photo of Mo running to the field from the bullpen and the headliner quote: “I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters.”

But that was the only spark of good news.

Rangers Fall Flat

Bats Go Quiet as Yankees Lose Again

For Rangers, Questions and Negative Answers

End is Likely for Knicks

Back when the Knicks Won One

I felt like someone had swapped out my Sunday Sports for the week’s Wall Street Recap. Were these articles secretly about Enron and Goldman Sachs? Because surely, they couldn’t be about my Yanks and Rangers!?

Luckily, by Tuesday, thanks to an overtime goal and 10 runs in Kansas City, the sports section is once again safe to read and chock full of good news.

Inside the Mind of an Online Dater on a First Date

The shoes a guy picks for a first date say a lot.

Okay. Here we go. I’m early. Should I text him? No, I’ll just wait. Well, what if he’s early too and already inside? I don’t want to be waiting out here like an asshole.

I’ll text him. Okay. done.

He’s running a little late. I’ll go inside. I hope they have bar snacks at this place. I haven’t eaten all day and I swear, I’ll eat my purse if they don’t have bar snacks and he’s much later.

Is my lipstick still on? God, I hate lipstick. Especially lipstick marks on my glass, from my own lips. Where’s my compact?

I hope he’s not shorter than me. He said he was 5’11, but that probably means he’s really 5’8, because if he was really 5’11 then he’d probably say he’s 6-foot. I mean, if I were 5’11, I’d say I was 6-foot. But then again, I’m 5’6 and I say I’m 5’5… but that’s because I’m a girl, and I wear heels. Technically, my height is adjustable. I don’t want to date a man who wears heels, I mean, this is not Louis XIV France. Then again, I like a man in cowboy boots and cowboy boots have heels.

I hope he’s not wearing cowboy boots. Unless he has a ranch. I don’t think he has a ranch. He’s from Brooklyn.

Okay, there he is. He’s walking right at me. He looks like he’s taller than me. Phew.

But I can’t make out his face. He was ruggedly handsome in his profile picture. Oh, no. His hairline –it’s not only receding, he’s practically bald.  Dammit! I should have known when he had hats on in EVERY SINGLE picture.

They’re always balding.

Always.

But hey! No big deal. Prince William’s going bald, and he’s still a catch. So let that one go.

What kind of shoes is he wearing? Remember that guy that wore the beat-up sneakers on the first date? The ones with the holes? What made him think that was a good idea?

He’s here.

Oh. Shit. He’s going in for the hug. Aim right!

Phew! He’s definitely taller than me. And he smells good. And those are nice shoes.

The bar didn’t have snacks. I probably shouldn’t order the bourbon. But I want a Manhattan. And, boy, am I gonna need it….

 

When You’re Having a Bad Dating Week Just Don’t Read “He’s Just Not that into You”

Jack Berger was my favorite S&TC boyfriend... even if he was insecure and emotionally handicapped

I’ll never forget the first time I saw that episode of Sex & the City where Jack Berger (incidentally, my favorite of Carrie’s emotionally inadequate boyfriends) bursts Miranda’s bubble with the simple phrase “He’s just not that into you.” The scene struck a chord as I had recently tired to tell a good girlfriend exactly the same thing:

“Listen, Jess, he took the evil red-headed stick figure actress to his office party. And the book signing. And dinner. He’s not dating you. He just d0esn’t, ya know, like you.”

Albeit, my phrasing was perhaps a big meaner. But frankly, we had consumed so many bottles of sake that she didn’t pay much attention to my solo shake-up in a chorus of “He’s totally waiting for the right moment to tell you he loves you.”

Gag me with a spoon.

Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy claims: A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment.” I’ve never been one of those girls. But that doesn’t mean that once in a rare, rare while, I haven’t found myself face-to-face with a man who ignites daydreams of the possible. Once in a rare, rare while, this pragmatic romantic loses the pragmatic and becomes a full-fledged romantic.

I think the post-it notes say it all...

And it was one of these rare, rare moments that sent me running to the book that came out of that Sex & the City episode, that book “He’s Just Not That Into You.” I had bought it to give to my aforementioned friend. I kept it instead. She clearly had no intentions to read it anyway.

The writers confirmed my intuitions — his lack of follow-up to our enjoyable early dates were sign that he wasn’t interested enough. The reasons were irrelevant, all that mattered was he didn’t like me as much as I had liked him. Ouch.

The book may have been right on some points, but it was wrong to tell me not to chase a little. Years later, when he was on to someone else, he confessed:

“I didn’t think you were that interested. If you had called, I absolutely would have seen you again.”

Some women are barracudas -- flashy fighters worthy of a trophy mount

New York is a man’s world when it comes to dating — this was a conclusion a male friend and I came to not so long ago over coffee. In NYC, an accomplished man with taste and half-way decent looks is the fisherman that doesn’t have to drop a line into the water to catch a fish. The fish just jump into the boat.

In a sea full of well-educated, well-dressed, good-looking fish, a man has options. Some of those women are barracuda — flashy fighters worthy of a wall mount. Which means sometimes, if you don’t want to lose out on a happily ever after, you have to get in the game and hop into that boat.