Thursday, January 31, 2008

Powerful 'Talk' about race in America

I've been listening to NPR's "Talk of the Nation" for years now, but today's discussion totally blew me away. Host Neil Conan went to Morgan State University in Baltimore for "Barack Obama and the African-American Vote," a conversation about the intersection of race and politics.

Whether you follow politics or not, the program was an insightful conversation about race on many levels: civil rights movement followers vs. the hip-hop generation; the definition of what is "black enough"; the question of if we as a culture will ever move past race being an issue in America and more.

But by focusing on Sen. Barack Obama, issues of race were brought into stark relief. The conversation seemed to be almost cathartic as comments I had only heard among other blacks were out for all to hear. There was talk of people who remember the civil rights era and are convinced that no black man will ever be president in their lifetime. Talk of being called a "race traitor" if you're black and vote for someone other than the black candidate. Talk of believing Obama is arrogant and "uppity" because he went to a prestigious school and hasn't "paid his dues" like the black leaders who came before him. Fears of voting for Obama, because to support him might make him too viable a candidate and get him assassinated.

The conversation was punctuated by eloquent comments from the guest panel, audience members and folks who called in. My eyes welled with tears as one caller recounted his memory of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and his wish that no one ever go through that again. It was powerful stuff. If you've ever been curious about what blacks think about race relations today, or you've ever wondered if you're alone in how you feel during this historic presidential race, I think you would really enjoy this program.

Click here if you want to listen to and read more about the "Talk of the Nation" episode; you can also download a free podcast from iTunes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Share a life story

Here's a unique opportunity to have your life experiences recorded for history.

StoryCorps is a nonprofit project whose mission is "to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening." It's oral histories on a grand scale; almost 30,000 people have contributed stories with their families and friends. Conversations are recorded on a free CD and archived at the Library of Congress.

The organization's mobile recording booths will be at the main branch of the Charlotte and Mecklenburg County public library for three weeks, starting Feb. 7. I've heard commercials for StoryCorps on WFAE, the local National Public Radio station. From what I can tell, you sit in the recording booth and interview each other, or just tell stories. One of the commercials features a 10-year-old girl interviewing her mom. Very cool.

StoryCorps sounds like a great opportunity to share something unique with those you love. The fact it's saved for generations to come makes it extra special. No matter how boring we may think our lives are, we've all got a story to share.

Reservations for the second half of the StoryCorps visit will open at 10 a.m. Feb. 8. Click to learn more about the project.

Monday, January 28, 2008

To wear or not to wear a wedding band

There’s the tall, dark and handsome man sitting at the bar, and you carefully watch as he picks up his glass of Merlot with his left hand. Nope. No wedding band. You’re good.

Then, there’s the attractive brunette in the crowded business meeting who has a smile that makes you feel fuzzy inside. You watch as she passes the meeting notes. Score! No big diamond.

Before you get your hopes up. Guess what? Those potential dates you're gawking at -- they're both married.

The wedding band is a ubiquitous symbol of attachment and a lifelong commitment to your partner, but who’s to say if someone isn’t wearing his or her ring then that means they’re unfaithful or disrespecting their spouse?

Some women stop wearing their rings because they gained weight and it no longer fits. A few men don't wear their bands because it's considered a job hazard. Most couples know they made a commitment to each other -- not to the ring. Other couples would face nasty repercussions if they were caught without the left-handed jewelry.

Every couple has his or her own reasons, and I respect that.

Miss Manners, in an online article, sums up my thoughts exactly: “A wedding ring is a symbol, not an announcement to prospective consumers of what to expect. You must have noticed that rings are easily removable, so they do not offer much protection against unscrupulous advances.”

Friday, January 25, 2008

If you want him, act like it!

A friend recently had a frustrating run-in with a woman, and I want to share it. File this under "things you don't do when you're interested in someone."

My friend had dated this woman before, and he knew she admired a certain artist. When he found out the artist was having a show, he invited her to see the exhibit, and he'd buy dinner after. She agreed and said she would meet him at the gallery at 6.

Well, 6 o'clock on the appointed night came and went. The woman didn't show at the gallery and didn't call. My friend is looking at the art and talking to people, but he's getting worried. Around 7 she calls, and, as my friend puts it, "is like, 'what's up?' as if nothing's wrong." He explained he'd been at the gallery for an hour waiting on her. She didn't apologize, she just said that she had run errands. She asked him to stay there and she would arrive in half an hour.

At this point in the story I complimented my friend on his composure -- because I would have gone off -- and his patience in giving her the benefit of the doubt. And she did show up half an hour later, but get this. When she explained her tardiness, she said it was because she stayed late at the office to do some work. No, she wasn't on a deadline; she just decided to do it. Then she ran errands that weren't necessary; she just took care of them. She didn't even bother to lie! And yes, she said she knew he was at the gallery.

I was slack-jawed at the gall of this woman. She made it clear the last time they'd seen each other that she was interested in pursuing a relationship. So how could she treat him like this? You don't make plans, then come sashaying in at your own convenience. If she was "testing" him, she was the one who flunked. He'll never call her again.

I think her behavior was inexcusable, and she was lucky my friend didn't cuss her out. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Your definition of high maintenance is...?

The routine is always the same.

Get out of the shower, grab two towels – one for the body and one for the long hair – and then get dressed. Total time in the bathroom, maybe 15 minutes.

One evening, the routine changed. Once finished with the shower, eyebrows needed plucking, extra Calvin Klein “Euphoria” lotion was smeared on legs, arms and cleavage, and the hair curler set required attention. Total time in the bathroom, at least an hour.

I walked out of the bathroom, dressed to the nines, and my husband says, “Wow! You look great, but you just spent an hour in there. You’re sooooooo high maintenance, Alisha!” His nervous laugh meant he was trying to be semi-funny, but also semi-serious.

I, on the otherhand, found little humor in his comment. Me?! High-maintenance? What?! No way!

I told him if he thought I was high maintenance, he obviously had a skewed idea of the definition. How could one night of spending a couple hours on prepping to look good translate into me being labeled as a high-maintenance chick?

In my viewpoint, someone who is high maintenance is in constant need of attention, is rarely happy with anything substandard and tends to focus on the monetary value of tangible things instead of the overall worth.

It seems everyone has a varying idea of what accurately describes a high-maintenance person, and the divide in definition appears even more obvious from a man's perspective versus a woman's.

Is it greed? What about neediness? Could it be an exaggerated view of self-importance? Or is it just when a woman camps out in the bathroom with her best friends OPI and Redken Guts 10? Can it be when a guy refuses to learn how to cook?

It'd be nice if we all could agree on one concrete definition -- so when the hubby says you're high maintenance, you'll know if it's a good thing or not.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Love hurts - read all about it

Here's an interesting recommendation that landed in my Inbox, courtesy of The book "My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead," edited by Jeffrey Eugenides. He's the author best known for "Middlesex," a literary saga about a hermaphrodite. The award-winning novel got rave reviews, was featured on Oprah's book club and was devoured and much-loved by just about everybody I know.

"My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead" (and I would've recommended it on the awesome title and cover alone) is an anthology of 26 love stories. As Very Short List puts it: "In his introduction to "My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro," Jeffrey Eugenides makes an important distinction between love and the love story: 'Love stories depend upon disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.' "

Valentine's Day is coming. I'm so reading this to get in the mood!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A fresh way to clear out the closet

Cleaning out one’s closet might be the hardest thing for some women to do. But thanks to some advice from Vivienne Westwood – a British designer with a penchant for flesh-revealing outfits and bondage wear such as patent leather short-shorts and platform shoes tall enough to give the wearer nose bleeds – I cleared mine out quite nicely over the weekend.

I heard a BBC interview with the quirky designer where she was asked about the state of today’s fashion. She deplored the spread of big chain stores that offer cookie-cutter style with little in the way of individuality, and said she wouldn't be caught dead going to the grocery store in a T-shirt and jeans. But here’s what really stuck with me: Vivienne said you should dress for the people you want to attract.

With the designer’s words in my head, I headed for my closet and storage bins. I scanned my clothes. What kind of people would I attract with my wardrobe? I didn't like what I saw: lots of casual clothes and once-sexy club gear that no longer fit, and few outfits suitable for fancy occasions.

What kind of people – specifically men -- was I hoping to attract? I asked myself. A man who wants a 38-year-old tomboy who can’t be bothered to attend a cocktail party or dress for a really nice night out? I want a smart, funny, fun-loving, adventurous and diverse man in my life. A man as willing to go to the ballet as he is to a baseball game. My wardrobe certainly didn't reflect that.

Suddenly, most of the items in the closet and storage bins were unacceptable. I was finally able to let go of adored pants and dresses that used to fit … three sizes ago. It was time to face reality: if I ever got thin enough to wear them again, I’d want to buy new clothes. I got rid of all the stained, faded, stretched sweats, sweaters and T-shirts. Dumped old jeans. Whenever I started to get upset about parting with certain items, I would take a break to knit, and calm down enough to start again.

I filled two big bags with clothes to give away and two with clothes to throw away. I emptied one of the storage bins, almost completely cleared the closet shelves above the racks, and finished knitting a scarf.

When I looked at my newly spacious closet I had a moment of panic: I don’t have anything to wear! I told myself. To which I quickly answered: you wear the same five or six things over and over again, anyway. But that's gonna change.

Besides, I now have plenty of room to restock my closet with new clothes – a conscious blending of what I like, along with a new found awareness of who I want to attract. Opens up a whole new shopping world. Plus, if I have the clothes, I'll be more likely to expand my social range ... and I'll look great!

Thanks, Vivienne.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Stogies, stilettos and sex -- at church!

Alisha: Deirdre and I did something we've never done together ... We went to church!
Deirdre: My mom would be so pleased! But we were on a mission: To check out the "Stogies and Stilettos" series at Watershed, a church community that meets at Actor's Theatre in uptown Charlotte. The five-week series purports to help attendants better understand the opposite sex.
Alisha: We were intrigued to uncover how the church would integrate uncensored conversation on relationships into its theological mission. It was interesting, indeed. I especially enjoyed the video montage that included funny - and very much on-cue - phrases about the differences between men and women. Here's one from American writer Oliver Herford, "A woman's mind is cleaner than a man's: She changes it more often."
Deirdre: HA! And I liked the funny scene from "Hitch," the flick where "date doctor" Will Smith helps dudes score the ladies they want. I was surprised to see cute quotes and a film clip in "church." But I dug it -- and I'm sure that was the whole point.
Alisha: I was shocked a church would name such a series, "Stogies and Stilettos." The concept was refreshing -- there was a good mix of religion, where you felt as though you had really been to church, and at the same time, there was a hearty dose of realism about sexuality and how we engage each other in day-to-day interaction. It was preachy yet relaxed, and modern yet traditional.
Deirdre: I agree, but I will say I hoped for more on the topic. The first week's program was entitled "X & Y," and while I came away with the basic message -- that we should be good to each other and take care of each other, and while it's totally cool to admire another person's beauty, lust is NOT cool, because it's all about what that person can do for you and that's it -- I wanted more substance.
Alisha: You summed up my thoughts to a tee. The church is planning on four more messages in this series, and I hope they delve more into the topic because obviously a church planning to discuss sex freely was enough to get us to attend.
Deirdre: Well, one of the co-pastors said conversations over the series would get "raw." I'm sure it'll come nowhere near what we'd consider raw, but the very fact a church community is willing to explore communication issues between the sexes is a welcome event. It never would've happened in the church I grew up in, that's for sure.
Alisha: Just make sure you know there is prayer, Scripture readings, and hymns, so if you go expecting just a Mars vs. Venus speech -- you're in for a big surprise.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Man runs into wife -- at brothel

From the "we couldn't make this up if we tried" file of stories is this one out of Warsaw, Poland. Click here for the entire story.

Brief synopsis: A husband goes to a brothel and runs into his wife who has been making some, um, friends, and oh, some money on the side.

I sure hope the couple, who are now divorced according to the story, do not have kids. What do you tell them? Your mom was earning money the hard way, and well, your dad was spending money the easy way?

This type of story is funny because it's unusual and reeks of unfortunate circumstance, but the sad reality is people's stupid actions often affect innocent bystanders, and that is not so funny.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Talking about a 'Common Secret'

I heard an engrossing interview this morning on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show." Diane spent an hour talking to Dr. Susan Wicklund, whose focus is women's reproductive health. Specifically, abortions. She's written "This Common Secret," a memoir about her time on the front lines of the abortion wars in the Midwest.

You can hear the interview here and read about her memoir on, but I'd like to talk about the main thrust of the interview: the secrecy alluded to her book's title.

Abortion is one of the most taboo topics in America, and one of the most divisive. It seems that we as a culture can't talk about it without screaming. And yet, it's a topic that's not going to go away. We have sex to reproduce, but also because we really like it. No matter how vigilant we try to be, accidents do occur.

I'm one of countless females who have experienced, whether it was for a millisecond or a terrifying span of days, the nausea that comes with uncertainty -- Did I take my pill this morning? That condom didn't really break ... did it? -- and was spared an unwanted pregnancy. But I know women who have had abortions. It was the toughest decision of their lives, and one they felt they had to hide, out of fear of reproach and humiliation.

Dr. Wicklund, author of the book and focus of the interview, had an abortion herself -- a difficult one at age 22. (She's also a mother.) It was when she became a doctor that she realized the number of women struggling with unwanted pregnancies and the desperation to keep such information a secret.

I don't think I have to tell you what a desperate, pregnant woman will do if she feels all her options are gone.

People called into "The Diane Rehm" show during the hour, some women to tell stories of their own abortions and to thank Dr. Wicklund for what she does, others to excoriate the doctor for all the babies she's killed. There were discussions about viability outside the womb and nerve endings and talk of God's plan.

And throughout the interview one thought kept returning to me: At least we're talking about this without screaming. It's a start.

Monday, January 07, 2008

If she's drunk, does she really like you?

Alisha: It's easy to get signals crossed, and I've recently heard some guys complain about women they have met at parties and bars who have given out their phone numbers and then days later when the guys call, the chicks do not remember a thing. I feel for the guys on this one. Under the influence of some drinks, I think women are definitely more flirtatious, more touchy-feely and give off the gotta-have-you-right-this-minute vibe.
Deirdre: I think it's amazing your friends reached the chicks at all. I've known plenty of women who give out fake numbers or if they give out the real one, they make sure to never answer the phone.
Alisha: But if you're drunk, it's much easier to blab out the real digits instead of a fake one, no?
Deirdre: True. It's also much easier to not think about the consequences when you're drunk.
Alisha: Good point. The guys just wanna know how to tell if a woman is being flirty because she really likes them or being flirty because Captain Morgan is what's making her warm inside.
Deirdre: Heh -- or being flirty because they're buying the Captain Morgans. I gotta say, some women just like to knock back a few drinks and flex their feminine power by getting their flirt on. They want to practice, but not play ball ... and that's hard to recognize when you're screaming to be heard over Soulja Boy in a crowded club.
Alisha: My best advice for the guys who have been hit on by a tipsy gal and aren't sure if a legit interest exists would be to recognize the situation for what it is and let the chips fall where they may. If her flirting was the real deal, odds are good she'll find you -- post-hangover or not.
Deirdre: Something else to keep in mind: Don't get your hopes up too high. You both might get an unpleasant shock if you meet again in a more "sober" light.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Are you happy?

Maybe it's because we're at the beginning of a new year and people are all optimistic, but I seem to be hearing a lot about happiness.

I've heard radio shows and read articles about the benefits of stress reduction (after all, 'twas the season), but it's more than that. I listened to interviews with the authors of three books in particular: "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia" by Elizabeth Gilbert (she spent a year soul-searching and self-discovering after a bitter divorce); "Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone" by Beth Lisick (she spent a year trying self-improvement methods, including Buddist monks and Richard Simmons); and "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner (the "self-described grump" spent a year traveling the world in search of happy places).

The one thing I took from all those interviews is that striving for happiness is a sure way NOT to achieve it. Happiness is a state of being -- it just is -- not a destination. Sure, where you live might play a part (according to Weiner the happiest places aren't tropical paradises like Hawaii or Tahiti or Bali, but the wintery wonderlands of Iceland, Finland and Switzerland), but by no means does your location guarantee contentment. Nor does a healthy collection of stuff -- houses, cars, designer clothes, jewelry. Happiness comes from within.

Ask yourself right now: "Am I happy?" Is your answer an enthusiastic "Yes!" or are you like me, unsure if you even know what true happiness feels like?

One thing's for sure: where you are psychically affects all of your relationships. So if you're not one of the lucky ones who consider themselves happy, maybe the key is to not strive for happiness, but to simply allow yourself to be open to its existence.