Order of the Good Write

That Magic Feeling When the Words Flow. A Blog by Debi Rotmil


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Wednesday Writing Prompt: Dreams Deferred

green dangling beaded dress

‘Ana La Habana’ Fashion

My mother came from Havana Cuba after a member of Castro’s staff told her to take her son and leave the country. This was 1959.

Ana Srebrenik was a single mother and shop owner. She ran a little lingerie store in the lobby of, what was then, the Havana Hilton. Castro and his team had their offices in the building, and every day (as I remember her telling me), she’d see he and his minions walk through the hotel after their day in the mountains.

She got to know his side men casually. One of them gave her the heads up about the revolution and how her capitalist ways were no longer going to cut it in post Revolution Cuba.

My mother immigrated to the US and settled in New York and built another business. This time it was a dress shop in White Plains. This time she designed some of the clothes and hired a tailor to run them up for her store. I believe she had a partner in this venture because I used to hear about a couple with whom she had to settle  when the store closed. Their names are forgotten.

Ana placed her career on a shelf, met my father, got married and had me. Maybe it wasn’t all in that order. I’m never sure. Details got fuzzy. When she was alive, she wouldn’t go into detail. I only knew she always thought she’d get back into her own store again. But she never did.

When she passed away unexpectedly in November of 2009, I had to do what we all have to do once in our lives: clean out the family home, send things to donation, organize estate sales, sell off property.

Among her things, I came upon a portfolio of her fashion sketchings.  They were likely done after she gave up her store. She always loved clothes and good fashion although she never allowed herself to buy many things. Mom would re-purpose old clothes, re-design a skirt, or use a scarf as a belt. Like Little Edie Beale of ‘Grey Gardens’, she’d find a perfect outfit for the day.

fitted orange dress

Smart business attire for the day. ‘Ana La Habana’

While going through these drawings, I see a creative side to my mother I had never explored. To me, she was the mom in the kitchen, the mom in the car driving me to school or to the store, the mom in the dark room. Her dreams stunted by responsibility placed upon her as a woman of a certain generation.

bluedrapeddress

Cocktails? ‘Ana La Habana’

Each dressed devised by her hand evoked glamour and chance situations. There was a bit of glory and opportunity with each sash and button. The lines and shading promoted a dream world she wish she could step into, or to allow a potential customer to live empowered through a frock devised by her own vision.

Yet, those ideas were left frozen on a page, hidden in a binder sitting at the bottom of a trunk. So many years ago, measured by the passage of time where she wouldn’t allow her true creative self to flourish. That it was her duty as a wife and mother at the time. That her way of handling a career and motherhood as a young single mother in Cuba caused a riff between her and her son.

Not this time, she likely thought when she had me. So she shut the dream down.

She encouraged me to be successful.

She was proud of my athleticism and independence.

I think back at the times she never brought up marriage and grandchildren. Never guilted me about it.

She once even told me I should run my own business.  But the everyday corporate life seemed like a societal obligation, having seen my father find security at IBM for entire career.

How wrong I was. The world isn’t the same.

I think of the song *”Days and Days” from the musical “Fun Home”.  It’s sung by Helen Bechdel to her daughter Alison after dealing with her husband Bruce’s closeted life for so many years. She had just asked him for a divorce.

Although the family circumstances are not the same as mine, the feeling of wasted days due to what was expected of her comes to light.

She sings of the ordinary, mundane things, “…lunches and car rides and shirts and socks. And grades and piano…and no one clocks the day you disappear,” and “bargains I made because as a wife I was meant to, and now my life is shattered and made bare.”

Days and days and days. Just like my  mother, married to a very nice, sweet, adorable man whom I worshiped, but held her to what was expected of her. He was likely resentful of her depression, not understanding what she needed.

There is no one to blame really. But lessons are learned. Parents strive for their children to have a better life than the one they leave behind.

I can hear my own mother say it in my ear.

“Don’t you come back here. I didn’t raise you to give away your days…like me.”

Writing Prompt:

What are your dreams? What have you sacrificed in order to live a certain way? What creative activity have you allowed to sit on the shelf?  And if you brought it out of the darkness to make it a part of your livelihood or your hobby, how will you continue to use that talent and never give up?

 

‘Days and Days’, from the musical ‘Fun Home’. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Words by Lisa Kron.

 

 


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Celebrity Lifestyle Branding: Build a Better You?

teabiscuits

Oh, the feel of a Brand. I love it. Everything about the idea and texture of a brand that resonates with my soul it alright by me.

Barefoot Contessa, Anthropologie, Apple, Crate & Barrel, CB2, Williams Sonoma, Ikea – hell, I’m on board. They conjure the lifestyle I want to snuggle up to. I mean – who doesn’t want to live in Ina Garten’s barn in East Hampton, cook splendid meals with stylish/functional tools, or live in a CB2 showroom while using an Anthro or Hugo Boss location as your personal closet?

Since I’m working on my ‘The Good Write’ brand, I’ve been exploring business images  that make me feel warm and fuzzy. (See the paragraph above).

I’ve written about branding before. I’m fascinated by how a brand makes you feel, how it enhances your well being – your lifestyle.

Lifestyle.  I mean, we all live a life, and we all want to live it to its fullest. Brands that provide expert advice on health, beauty, travel, arts, fashion, cooking, housekeeping, etc… are going to be pretty damn popular.

But here’s the interesting thing: When you Google “Lifestyle Guru” – you will find articles that list the top go-to people in this category are celebrities.

Celebrities. Mostly actresses with lucrative film and television careers – filling the lifestyle niche that sit nicely on top of the Google search engine with articles like “These Celebrities Want you to Live a Better Life”.

Gwyneth Paltrow,  Blake Lively, Zoey Deschannel, to name a few, have all extended their celebrity status into the lifestyle brand.  With research and a good team of people to help fulfill these branding goals, they have no doubt done their research. They know who they’re branding for. They know their customer avatar right down to the pocketbook she carries (Hermes? Michael Kors?), the nail polish she wears (Butter? Esse?), the daycare she uses, the organic food she eats and the vegan life she longs to fulfill.

I applaud these famous people.  It’s obvious they provide an amazing service to the person they have in mind – the person they are speaking to who yearns to find the best cleanses, money advice, physical fitness regimes and fun fashion suggestions.

This blogger is no different from those who actively seek out celebrity advice. When it comes to makeup and hair – YES, I want to know their secrets and the products they use.

But here’s my issue. Do these brands REALLY resonate with regular people who are seeking out celebrity “expert” advice?  How is their  lifestyle experience anything like mine or my friends?

Unless a celebrity found fame a bit later in life and had children to feed and bills they struggled to pay (see J.K. Rowlings, Loretta Lynn), Celebrities don’t gain their expertise from a gaping hole in the marketplace. They gain their expertise through the good stuff provided to them by well paid experts and swag parties.

Did these celebrities once have their own struggles? Sure. But their advice comes from the rarefied air that celebrity affords them.  These are brands built by managers who work to optimize their careers. They’re built via easy access to the best of everything in clothes, schools, trainers, chefs, nutritionists, money managers, nannies, doctors, spas, organic food, travel and many other important people who will take their calls.

If a celebrity can provide affordable advice on how to dress like them for less money – I mean LESS money  (not show a pair of $1000 shoes marked down to $500 and call that a bargain), then…cool! Maybe they are offering something in their brand we can relate to.

But can the average person really relate to them?

Can most of people who search for Paltrow’s “Goop” really afford the$200 denim shorts she promotes? Or the $500 hand stitched slippers?

Maybe the mom who just put the baby down and wants some “Me” time enjoys escaping into “Goop” or Oprah’s Super Soul. Nothing wrong with that. But can she afford these “must haves” for summer or do a major herbal colonic?

A brand created by someone who launched her business from nothing is more meaningful to me.

No top film gross filling up her bank account. No agent or manager to consult her and connect her with the right people. Just a smart, non-celebrity who saw a need in the market that was not being met and did something about it.

People like Joy Mangano who created the Miracle Mop, or Sara Blakely who created Spanx. Marie Forleo whose multi-passionate business model branded her the leader in helping other business people make a “business and a life you’ll love”.

They may not specifically be “Lifestyle gurus”, but they made something that real people need – both men and women:  A good mop, a good way to smooth out that booty, and a beloved coach that will teach you to give something valuable to the world while earning a living on your own terms.

So, enjoy the Goops and the Reese Witherspoons and the Kardashian brands. They’re offerings are fun to behold. Maybe we can gather some interesting advice on life and style from them.

But I’d be careful about celebrities who claim to want to help you live a better life. In the end, you’re on the receiving end of a career strategy carefully cultivated by a team of people who’ve invested time and money into the overall celebrity brand of this person.

You may be bettering their lives instead. $$$$