Friday, December 17, 2010

A Rambling, Ranting Reflection on the Season and the Current State of Humankind

I remember going Christmas shopping with my parents and my older sister when I was a small child. We would always try to take a trip up to the big city to do our shopping and to see The Nutcracker. When my sister and I were old enough, we would sometimes make this an overnight trip; ballet one night, shopping one day. We would dress up and make a true adventure of it. It was special, it was sacred, it was worth stiff, patent leather shoes and a bow in my unruly, blond curls. It was worth a hair brushing. (And if you knew me as a wee-one, you would understand how bold a statement that is).

Now, as an adult, living in a different, but similar big city, I am constantly struck by the fact that no one makes shopping an event, an adventure. It is just a thing to do. All day long, I sell lingerie to women who spend thousands of dollars on what they wear in the bedroom but come to buy such things in yoga pants and a hooded sweatshirt. Spending money is just part of existence. We consume, we discard. And we do it over and over and over again. I’ve also begun to notice that the same trend seems to be true of how people treat one another and, given that this is a season meant to encourage love of one’s fellow human beings; sharing, caring and so on, I thought this issue of consumption worth a few (thousand) words.

The other night at work, I was closing and a customer came in a few minutes before the store was set to close. The details of the transaction are not important, but the overall impression of the experience was. You see, she was a brash, loud, demanding and self-conscious creature spending a day traipsing around in her sweats and maxing out her credit cards (no joke), just so she could feel productive, useful, beautiful, worthwhile. We now base a persons worth on what they have, not who they are. As this particular customer kept asking me the same insipid questions over and over, “Does this look HOT? Is this SEXY?”, I wanted to grab her by she shoulders and scream, “STOP SPENDING MONEY! GO FIND YOURSELF AND ATTEMPT RECLAIM AT LEAST ONE SHRED OF DIGNITY, DAMMIT!” But I didn’t. I told her she looked hot, she bought expensive lingerie and left feeling a little prettier, a little more valuable for one moment in time and, thus, she could put off facing herself, her own mind and the truth of her existence for one more day.

The following day, my day off, I set out to start my Christmas shopping. I went to the Mecca of all toy stores, FAO Schwartz to find a truck for my boyfriend’s son. He is four and a half and he loves trucks. Fair enough. I wanted to get him a simple Tonka dump truck. Yet, the selection of cars and trucks available was appalling. Race cars with advertisements written all over them, trucks with so many colors and gadgets and gizmos there is no room left for that fabulous, mythical, wondrous thing called IMAGINATION. It struck me then that we are a society who is anti-thought. Children are supposed to play and imagine things, but only the proscribed things that we want them to imagine. This is a travesty. I left FAO Schwartz in disgust. I have yet to find him a simple dump truck.

Sadly, the more we put off thinking and the more we pigeon hole creativity, the more we consume, use up and discard only to consume more, the less we value one another. Working in retail, you see how horribly human beings treat one another. And it goes both ways because the salesgirls (some, not all) see the customers as commission and the customers (some, not all) see the salesgirls as indentured servants. No one party treats the other as an equally valuable, worthwhile, human being.

So what does all of this add up to? Well, I think we, as a society, have lost something. We’ve lost sight of what is really important, our relationships with others and our relationships with ourselves. We have also lost respect for the objects in our lives. In the age of sky-high credit limits and virtual shopping, the dollar is no longer valued and we have lost the sense of pride that comes with working hard for what you have. I don’t know if there is a way to turn back the clock on these issues, but I certainly refuse to get swept up with the tide. I do and will continue to work at valuing each person I encounter, no matter how unkind they may be to me, and valuing the possessions I have. Every experience can be an adventure and nearly everything we have access to in this country is a privilege and I think we should be mindful of that and make the most of it, but more on that in my next post.

For now, I’ll leave you with this parting thought for the impending holiday, courtesy of “The Muppet Christmas Carol”: "It's in the singing of a street corner choir/It's going home and getting warm by the fire/It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas/A cup of kindness that we share with another/A sweet reunion with a friend or a brother/In all the places you find love it feels like Christmas/It is the season of the heart/A special time of caring/The ways of love made clear/It is the season of the spirit/The message if we hear it/Is make it last all year!"

Until next time,


Betty B. Goode

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Unexpected Discovery, or, Self-Congratulatory Reverie on a Cold, Dark Night

Despite waking up in a totally foul temper at 1pm, feeling fluey and wanting nothing more than to avoid the frigid out of doors on this, one of my few and precious days off, today actually turned into a remarkably productive, Betty-type day. After much anxiety regarding the upcoming holidays coupled with a crazy work schedule (hooray for retail! hooray for holidays!), I finally decided to suck it up and venture to the market (a whole half a block away) because my wee kitten was in need of food. If I was already going, I figured I might as well pick up something for dinner so I snagged my Betty Crocker Cookbook from the table and thumbed through until I found the soups. Chicken soup was exactly what I needed.

Chicken stock (broth), however, takes a long-ass time to make (go figure), so I opted for what has since been dubbed “The Working Gal's” version of Betty’s chicken noodle soup: grab some organic chicken broth, carrots, celery and thin spaghetti. Throw it all in a pot and let simmer for a good long while until the veggies are good and soft. Throw in some salt and pepper to taste. Ta-Da! Working Gal's Chicken Noodle Soup! It is a simple soup, certainly not something I would serve to company but perfectly adequate for myself. And, compared to my last soup attempt which involved the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and leeks (‘nuff said), this was a masterful triumph.

Next, I decided to make some spiced cider. (I was cold. Does it show?) I picked up some apple cider along with the soup stuffs and cat food at good ol’ Pioneer market. I have a lot of baking spices in the house so I figured I’d have what I needed to spice up the cider. So wrong. Excuse me, recipe book, for not having cardamom pods at the ready. I almost gave up, but at the last minute I spied something promising at the top of my cupboard. All I can say is, “Thank you, sister, for being the kind of person who buys things like mulling spices, just to have around the house in case you might need it sometime.” I found a packet with cinnamon sticks, allspice, orange peel and something else in it and thought, “Screw it, let’s throw this on the stove and see how it goes!” It. Was. Delicious. It is delicious. I am actually sipping a cup of it right now. Too bad I don’t have any rum to add to this delightful concoction. (PS and by the way, if you’ve never tried spiced cider with rum, you are missing out big time and it is your mission to go out and try it TODAY. Right this minute. I'm not kidding).

But, did I stop there? Oh, no. I then proceeded to do laundry (both in the washer and the sink for delicates), a load of dishes, self-cleaned then wiped down the oven, built a dresser (assembled, really. Fanks, Ikea!), cleaned the living room and started sewing a baby pillow for my sister’s best friend who is expecting oh-so-soon. Betty, much?! Try Betty, Rosie the Riveter and Wonder Woman all in one. AND, I actually picked up toilet paper BEFORE we ran out. I win!

Seriously, though, all self-congratulatory brouhaha and joking aside, I am constantly amazed by the sense of accomplishment and purpose that completing these kinds of tasks brings. I actually think I may be glowing right now and not because I’m sweating. (It’s too cold for sweat). So, what has today taught me? That I actually like housework? Meh. Sometimes, maybe. When the mood strikes. More than anything, however, today showed me that doing anything domestic, even if it’s not as impressive as making chicken stock from scratch or sewing a prom dress, can lead to a feeling of productivity and satisfaction if you are willing to appreciate the little things. Hopefully, one day, I will be comfortable whipping up homemade chicken soup, bread and apple pie for dessert while knitting a sweater and pressing a suit to perfection, but, today, I made Working Gal’s Chicken Noodle Soup and Spiced Cider out of a packet and I am totally okay with that. More than okay. I’m proud.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Long, Long Climb

Tonight, I attempted to make dinner. I did succeed in making what I set out to make (woohoo!) but, as I sat in my room, in front of my computer, eating my meal of chocolate chip pancakes and milk without a napkin or silverware, splitting my time between surfing the web and attempting to wipe spilled syrup off my lap, I began to realize how far I have to go to become a proper Betty. Holy goodness, I have a long, long climb ahead of me!

I mean, honestly, as of today, it is an incredibly victory for me if I manage to do something as simple as make myself pancakes for dinner. Cleaning the house is a phenomenal triumph I experience once in a blue moon and laundry? Oh please, if I do a load from start to finish including folding and putting away, I get so smug, you’d think I’d won a Pulitzer! Housekeeping is not “my thing”, nor are cooking or mending or any of the other domestic arts. Thus, in order to actually DO The Betty Project, what I DO is not the only thing that will need to change. I need to rethink my definition of what constitutes an acceptable way to live.

Now, I realize that to SAY that you’ll do something is a far different thing than actually doing it. And, at this point, I’ve said I’m going to do this thing called The Betty Project but am not entirely sure how I’m going to go about accomplishing it or even what “accomplishing it” will look like. I’m intimidated and overwhelmed. So I will try to channel my mother and, as she advised me time and again throughout my adolescence, I will try to take this “one little ducky at a time”.

Therefore, the first three months of The Betty Project I intend to spend pursuing Betty numero uno: Betty Crocker. I will (try to) focus my energies on the home: cooking, cleaning, mending, and so on. I also feel the time has come to take a bit more pride in my appearance. After all, women back in the day would put on a dress, heels, stockings, a hat and gloves just to go to the market. The least I can do is put on a shirt under my sweatshirt and TRY to wear pants without holes in them.

My starting point is tonight: an apartment in utter disarray, at least three loads of laundry waiting to be done, not a single table surface free of clutter, dishes in the sink and on the counter, utter chaos accompanied by a dinner of chocolate chip pancakes and milk eaten with my bare hands in front of my computer in my plaid pj pants and a striped t-shirt. Really and truly, there is nowhere to go from here but up…

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why Betty, You Say? Let Me Explain...

When I was a little girl, I remember hearing the phrase, “What a Betty!” an awful lot. I knew it meant something good and I also knew the women it was used to describe were not, in fact, named Betty. Thus, the question constantly floating about in my mind was: Who is this Betty?

My first thought was that Betty must have referred to my grandmother’s friend and colleague, Betty Jo, a very kind woman with a splendid garden. But no, that couldn’t have been it because this compliment was never given with any allusions to flora. The next Betty I encountered was Betty Grable in "How to Marry a Millionaire". She was 36 at the time this movie was filmed. She was funny and pretty. Perhaps this was the Betty we were all supposed to aspire to?

Then came Betty Crocker. She came to me in the form of frosting, devoured straight from the can on minimum days in middle school. I would be a-okay with becoming this Betty! Much later, in college, I became acquainted with a couple more Betties, Betty Page and Betty Brosmer. Could I *blush* ever imagine being THAT kind of Betty?! I’m sure that’s not what my grandmother, mother or even *gasp* my great grandmother could have meant when they called women Betties. Right?!

Now that I am older and wiser, with 26 years of experience under my belt, I think I have a bit of perspective on this whole Betty phenomena. I have come to realize the phrase “What a Betty” doesn't actually refer to any one Betty in particular but, rather, a woman who embodies all of them together. A beautiful, funny, wholesome, provocative, alluring, competent, happy, healthy housewife-type circa 1953. And that is precisely what I am aim to become. After all, Betty Page didn’t start modeling until the age of 27 so, technically, I’m ahead of the game.

Enter: The Betty Project.

This project came to mind last spring, when I had no job and no prospects of getting one anytime soon. I invented The Betty Project as a way to learn new things, feel productive and live an all around healthier, more confident and, perhaps, more fulfilling life. I set out wanting to learn to dance, cook, model, sew, and do housework. (Okay, the last one I actually KNOW how to do but can’t seem to ever force myself to get it done, so I snuck that one in there to make sure I’d do it for once).

I’ve lived on my own for many years but, like many young women of my generation, I, sadly, do not know the basics of running a household. I also find myself constantly at odds with my own femininity. In a world where we are taught that we either need to use our feminine wiles for evil (getting ahead in the workforce, luring rich men into marriage, etc) or to deny them completely (in order to be taken seriously, of course), I’ve found it very difficult to make peace with the fact, let alone embrace it, that I have boobs and they aren’t going anywhere. And, no matter what I do, other people can SEE them. And will look at them. My bum, too. And hips. And, I suppose, eventually my face. And maybe then I’ll get to talk. And, if I’m lucky, the person I’m talking to will actually be able to hear me and may even look me in the eye from time to time. Seriously. And it’s not just men. Women do it too. We all judge on appearances, thus I spent nearly all of college camouflaging my form beneath men’s sweatpants and sweatshirts in the hopes that people would take me seriously if they couldn’t tell I was a girl. That’s just twisted. Seriously. Really and truly.

And have I mentioned the fact that I can’t cook? Cause I really can’t. I just never have. I need to learn. I do. I get hungry. I eat out and spend too much money, especially given my current part-time employment situation. I also have gained ten pounds in one year. I’m only 5’2”. Ten pounds on a 5’2” frame is kind of a lot and not good. Don’t get me wrong, I am no twig and do not wish to be one. Healthy, curvy (embrace it, embrace it), content. These are the goals.

The dancing, well, I threw that in for fun, really, cause I love to do it, it’s era appropriate and it’s a skill I think everyone should acquire, to some degree. And there you have it. I’m going to become a cooking, cleaning, mending, dancing, pin-up vixen-type lady-bird who embraces all things stereotypically feminine, soft and charming.


This is gonna be really hard.

But I have further justification for embarking on this mission. Oh yes, I do.

Other than the aforementioned reasons (embracing my womanhood, blahblahblah), there are two major reasons why I want to participate in this throw back to a mid-century mindset: I want to feel useful and I want to slow down.

I have a Bachelor’s degree from a very good, private college. Not only that, I have a freakin’ Master’s degree from an Ivy League Institution and, yet, I feel like I know nothing. In all my years of schooling, I honestly don’t feel like I learned a single useful thing. Yes, I can think. It's true. I can think long and hard and well about many difficult and important subjects, but I can’t DO anything. I want to DO things because even though making a casserole or hosting a dinner party isn’t going to solve world hunger or bring peace to the Middle East or make me immortal, I get a greater sense of accomplishment from doing the simplest things (be it laundry, vacuuming or sewing on a button) than I ever got from all my years of study. Maybe it’s because an academic’s job is never done. There is always more to learn and there are no definite answers in the world of the intellectual. As marvelous as all that is, however, and without discounting its importance, (as an aside, I do firmly believe in education and would not change any of the decisions I’ve made in my life thus far) for now, I’ll stick to finite tasks and the pride that goes with completing a job well-done.

And as for that second point, well, it may be a bit obvious, but I honestly think we all have a problem. We are moving way too fast. As I said, I’m older and wiser now that I am 26 and I’ve realized that, no matter what I do, I’m going to die. (So are you, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed yet). So, why not learn to slow down and enjoy things? There were many things about the 1950s that were not so awesome (segregation, sexism, racism, the Cold War, rampant xenophobia, that list goes on and on), but there were no computers, no cell phones, the TV was new, an amusement to enjoy as a family and not yet the addiction it is now, needing to be satiated daily. People still wrote letters, drank coffee together in the kitchen, did homework with a pencil and paper. Women wore gloves and a hat to go grocery shopping because every outing was an event, an adventure. Care was taken in the preparation of food, the presentation of the individual and the manners displayed in public and (theoretically) in private. These are the things I admire and what I aim to practice.

So, there you have it, The Betty Project: Embracing Femininity, Usefulness and the Enjoyment of the Day-to-Day Humdrum of Life since 2010.

You may be asking yourself: This all sounds fine and dandy, but who will pay for this year of self-indulgent, personal-growth-type-brewhaha stuff? The answer: I will. Yes, I will be an enlightened, elegant, emboldened, epicurean entrepreneur!!!

In keeping with the times (of this project and of the real world), I will make my way not only as a part-time shop-girl, but also by selling vintage clothing, accessories, housewares, kitsch, and so on, on Etsy. Check it out! Buy stuff! Support The Betty Project!!!

Thanks for reading. Until next time,

Betty B. Goode

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Revelation. Or, How It All Began.

I was on the phone with Mom a couple weeks back and I had a seemingly insignificant, albeit completely amusing, revelation: My life is my bra size. Strange, but true.

For years I operated under the illusion that I was a 34C, going through life purchasing and wearing bras that fit adequately but not well. I figured, "Hey, nothing's perfect in life so why would I expect my bras to be?" It was only recently I learned that I have been living under a terrible misapprehension via-a-vis my brassieres. My case of mistaken identity was exposed during my first weeks at my new job, selling lingerie for a delightful and decadent company. We had a fitting as part of our training and it was there, in a tiny pink and black fitting room, where I learned the error of my ways and discovered what I truly am: a 32D. As I slipped in and out of luxurious lace and sensual satin bras in my size (at last!), I realized what it meant to have a bra that fit perfectly. Well, almost perfectly.

Alas, while a 32D felt much better than the shoddy 34Cs I'd worn all my adult life, something still did not feel quite right. So, upon arriving home I pulled out my trusty tape measure and took matters into my own hands. And finally, when reviewing the numbers I'd jotted down, I realized what was wrong: I am a 33 C and a half.

And that is my life or, at least, how I feel about it. I'm in-between sizes. None of the ready-made, off-the-rack options work. Some professions/personas fit me moderately well, but none that I have found thus far are quite right. But, while I find I can suck it up and tolerate a less-than-perfect bra, the same is not true for my life. I need a custom-made life, with a pattern cut just for me.

The problem with that, however, is that I do not know my exact measurements and there is no tool or trusty tape measure that can acquire them for me. I know many things that do not fit or flatter, but not what does and, therefore, I am twenty-six years old, working part-time selling lingerie and experimenting, on my days off, with potential styles, colors and cuts; careers, passions and professions which may suit me. But, I am finding that, while I am experimenting and trying on; twisting, tucking and tweaking; discarding, disassembling and reconstructing my custom life, I'm beginning to feel the worst way a human being can feel: superfluous. I understand how Sartre felt when he wrote "Nauseau". Nihilism seems reasonable. I'm having an existential crisis of epic proportions. This is not good. Very bad. Something must be done.

It was from this fear of insignificance and lack of purpose that The Betty Project was born.